Today I was delighted to get to preach in our sermon series on Mark at Hope Crossing. Here’s both the audio and the manuscript of my sermon.
A Smattering of Mark | Mark 2:15 — 3:6
Good morning! For those of you whom I haven’t gotten to meet yet, my name is Brett Davis, and I’m the administrative pastor here at Hope Crossing. That’s a way of saying that I take care of a lot of office stuff—pushing papers, paying bills, blah, blah, blah.
But this is the first Sunday that I’ve gotten to do this with you.
And I love doing this.
Opening these ancient words with you and staring at the strange new world that they open up to us:
The world where the unknowable crafter of the cosmos has become part of his creation.
The world where we’re not only introduced to God but invited to call him “friend”
The world where death itself died on his cross
and where raw, unfiltered, unending life erupts from his empty grave.
I’m captivated by the world revealed by Jesus.
He gives order and meaning to our lives.
He gives us hope. He gives us peace. He gives us purpose.
So turn in your Bibles to Mark, chapter two, and let’s get into this.
While you’re turning there, this is actually our last week in Mark for a couple of months. Next week we’re going to starting a two-week series called “A Place for Everyone,” where we’re going to be reflecting on why we exist as a community and explore how we’re going to be growing together as a community.
Then starting on Easter Sunday, we’re going to spend a few weeks grounding ourselves in Jesus and exploring how the Gospel brings an incredible degree of simplicity to our lives, to our schedules, to our families, to our priorities. And then we should be jumping back into Mark right around the end of spring or the beginning of summer.
Today, we’re going to be reading a larger sweep of Scripture. I’m not going to try to explore every nook and cranny of this passage. Instead, I’m hoping we get the lay of the land in the book of Mark as whole and then see how this passage fits into it.
We’ll be starting in Mark 2:15 and plowing all the way through 3:6.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
My goodness—what are we to make of this?
Can you feel your brain trying to chop this up?
I think for most of us, somewhere along the way we’ve begun to think of the Bible as something like Aesop’s fables. We like our stories about Jesus to be like the Tortoise and the Hare or the Boy who Cried Wolf—we want them short, clever and with a good moral at the end of them. I want to come in Sunday, hear a short and sweet and to the point sermon so that I can go home and “apply it to my life.”
The trouble with this, of course, is that we’re not given Aesop’s fables.
We’re given gospels.
And sometimes they’re sprawling and cryptic and do exactly what this story does:
Go from one thing to the next thing to the next thing to the next thing.
From dining with sinners
to puzzlement about fasting
to discussing wine fermentation and first-century laundry
to walking through fields plucking grain
to debating the Sabbath
to healing a man on with a withered hand.
Boom, boom, boom, boom.
The story just keeps coming and we just think,
“How are we going to get a moral out of this?”
To be sure, there are plenty of stories in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that are short, pithy and make a great point—just like there are plenty of short scenes from Lord of the Rings that might be fun or powerful on their own. But there are some scenes—there are some parts of the story—that lose their power or become baffling when we lose sight of the bigger story being told.
So I want to spend a few minutes just looking at the Gospel According to Mark from a bird’s eye view:
What is the story that Mark is telling?
What do its beginning, middle and end look like?
I’m hoping that once we get a glimpse of the overall shape of Mark, a section of his story like we’ve just read will start to make a little more sense. And maybe in the process we’ll also the voice of Jesus speaking here today.
THE WINNING MESSIAH
So what kind of story is Mark telling? His opening gives us a clue: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.” This opening sentence is actually a pretty decent way of understanding the way that the entire story of Mark is going to unfold:
We could think of Mark as a two-act play about Jesus.
A two act play that is some kind of good news.
The first act of leads us to the confession of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah (or “christ” both of which just mean “anointed one”). Jesus is the one who will bring a climax, who will bring fulfillment the grand story of the people of Israel and Israel’s god, Yahweh. All of it— Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, the prophets, the land, the Temple, the land, the sacrifices, the covenants, the exodus, the exile—all of the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament) had been building to this moment.
Jesus is the Messiah—the king who will lead Israel to its destiny.
Throughout Mark, this is the easier thing for the crowds and the disciples to grasp and believe. Jesus is a man of action—banishing demons and destroying sickness and generally just defeating evil. Jesus heals. Jesus rescues. Jesus saves. They’ve been waiting for so long for an anointed one, for a messiah, for a christ, for a king to rescue them from the powers of evil and usher in the long-awaited rule and reign of Yahweh.
And it has been happening before their eyes.
No wonder Mark’s first act reaches its climax in 8:29 with Peter confessing that
Jesus is the Messiah.
He is the Christ.
He is the King they’ve been waiting for.
It’s easy for us to believe in a king, a leader, who is winning and conquering.
But once we reach the climactic moment of Peter’s confession,
and the conquering
THE DEATH OF THE SON OF GOD
A radical shift occurs in second act of Mark (about midway through chapter eight). The second half of Mark’s story has Jesus doing virtually no miracles, calling his followers to abandon their dreams of overthrowing Rome—their dreams of what true success and victory would look like—and follow him to the cross. He starts saying things like:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (8:34-35)
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (9:35)
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:42-45)
For all intents and purposes, once the disciples understand him to be long-awaited king, Jesus starts doing all the wrong things. Three times (in chapters 8, 9, 10) he insists that he’s going to die.
“Jesus, how are you going to lead us, to redeem Israel,
to vanquish evil, to change the world this way?!”
He should be talking about taking his throne,
about ruling, about reigning, about winning.
Instead, he’s talking about taking his cross,
about suffering, about serving, about losing.
He’s doing all the wrong things. And in this way, the Mark’s second act focuses on Mark’s other opening title:
Jesus is the “son of God.”
Now there were a lot different people claiming to be God’s son in the first century Roman Empire—Caesar himself is perhaps the most obvious example. What better way to reinforce your political power by connecting yourself with the gods? And according to Psalm 2:7, all of the kings of Israel were in some way considered to be adopted as God as a son. So when the earliest readers of Mark’s story read “son of God” in his opening words, they heard it as divine reinforcement of Jesus’ royalty.
Jesus is the king backed up by God himself.
Jesus is the king who gives us the inside scoop on what God is really like.
But interestingly enough, people don’t go around confessing Jesus as “son of God” in Mark. Others voices do call him this—just not human voices.
Chapter one describes heaven being “torn open” at Jesus’ baptism with God himself calling Jesus his son (1:11). God recognizes his Son.
And the demons say it a lot. When they see him (according to 3:11), they shiver and shake and quake and confess that he’s the son of God. The powers of evil recognize God’s son.
But no human beings do.
Until Jesus dies.
That’s the climax of Mark’s second act. As Jesus dies, we find the veil between the rest of the world and the inside of Jerusalem’s temple being torn apart—heaven being “torn open” again (the same word “ripping” Mark uses at Jesus’ baptism). And in 15:39, we finally find a human being confessing Jesus to be the Son of God.
But this is the wrong sort of person.
This person isn’t a disciple. This person isn’t even Jewish.
This person is part of the problem. This person is a centurion.
But someone has finally said it.
And with that, Mark’s story has reached it’s climax.
The good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Good news? How could this be good news at all?
There are still sick to heal. Impure spirits still run amuck.
God’s people remain in rebellion.
Rome still rules the nations and death still rules creation.
It’s good news, of course, because Jesus doesn’t stay dead.
Mystery of mysteries, Jesus comes back.
Resurrection invades the universe.
The powers of darkness and evil did everything they could to destroy him, but it wasn’t enough. He’s back. And he rules and reigns the universe. He’s the place in creation where death doesn’t rule anymore. And we’re invited to follow him. Invited to be embraced by him.
That’s pretty good news.
Mark’s story is good news because at its beginning and end heaven has been “torn open” to reveal a self-sacrificing God. Through the death of Jesus, God let us see behind the curtain.
He let us see the very heart of the universe.
He gave us the inside scoop on what he is like:
Self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-surrendering for the sake of others.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45)
This turns our understanding of the world upside down.
All our categories and definitions have to be constantly reworked.
We don’t have to command and conquer.
We only have to carry our cross.
We’re not called to be strong.
We’re called to be servants.
A successful life often means a suffering life.
But God won’t let Jesus stay dead.
The kingdom of God is established through the cross of God.
ALL THE WRONG THINGS
That’s the unbelievably good news of the story of Mark, and our passage today from the middle of Mark 2 and beginning of Mark 3 is early in that story and giving us a glimpse at it.
The disciples, the Jewish religious leaders, the various different rulers of Jesus’ own time—they were all playing the same game with the same rules. They wanted to win. They wanted power to be able to shape the world to be as they saw fit.
The Romans had followed the footsteps of the various empires that had come before them and had done a pretty impressive job of establishing the rule and reign of Caesar across the known world.
They had won the world for themselves.
The Jewish people—including the disciples—were all anticipating a day when another rule and reign would stretch across the world. The rule and reign of Yahweh—the kingdom of God.
Various groups within Judaism had strong opinions about how and when this kingdom would finally come about. The Old Testament tells the long, troubled history of their nation, and many of them—like the Pharisees—were convinced that Yahweh would finally act when they finally stopped repeating their mistakes. When they finally stopped falling into rebellion and lived as they should.
They wanted to win the world too—wanted to win the world for God.
Groups like the Pharisees found their power in their religious performance rather than their military might.
But both were obsessed with winning the world.
Fasting and keeping Sabbath were two incredibly important ways that the Jewish people kept themselves set apart as the people of God and kept themselves oriented on being God’s people in the world.
But here we find Jesus doing all the wrong things again.
He’s feasting when he should be fasting. And with the worst kinds of traitors and sinners, no less. Doesn’t he know that fast days were meant to help remind Israel not to fall into sin?
He’s pushing the legal limits of Sabbath—doesn’t he know that the Sabbath is one of the primary things keeping the Jewish people separate from the rest of culture?
He even seems to be trying to pick a fight about these things.
In 2:15, he’s feasting with tax collectors in full view of everyone.
In 2:23, his disciples are picking grain on the Sabbath out in clear blue.
In 3:3, he’s making a scene about healing this man’s withered hand, calling him up in front of everyone.
But if he wants to build relationships with sinners, couldn’t he have been a little more careful and discreet about it?
If he wants illuminate the truest meaning of the Sabbath, couldn’t he have found a more culturally sensitive way to do it?
Why can’t he just be meek and mild with his miracles and heal the sick with some kind of discretion?
Why does Jesus seem to go out of his way to make people uncomfortable?
The answer is that twofold: Jesus loves us enough to burst our wineskins.
Here we find a group of church-goers so concerned with the performance they’ve forgotten about people.
They’ve become so consumed with regulation they’ve lost sight of relationships.
They’ve developed a taste for control over compassion.
They’ll sacrifice mercy in the name of morality.
They trust power and legislation more than prayer and love.
I’m so glad things have changed in the last two thousand years.
We have a tendency to focus orient our lives and our churches around all the wrong things.
And Jesus loves us enough to confront all the ways that we become consumed winning. Especially when our service to him becomes another way to win.
He calls us again and again to trust him,
to orient our lives around him,
to ground our world in him,
to allow him to grow his heart in our chest
and to have his self-giving, sacrificing love flowing out of us.
So as we come to the table today, the question is whether we’ll allow God to turn us right-side-up through his body broken and his blood poured out.
Some of us have allowed our service to God and our approach to church to become more about us than about others. And today we’re invited to come to the table and ask God to heal our withered hearts healing so that we can be about healing withered hands.
Some of us have had a wrong understanding of God. We’ve thought of God as someone making impossible rules to crush us. Today we’re invited to come to approach the Son of Man—crushed and crucified—and relearn that God aches to guide us into life. That the Sabbath is made for man.
And perhaps you may be here and your life just isn’t working. You’re desperate and hurting and at the end of your rope. You feel like your life is splitting at the seams. Today you’re invited to trust, to believe, to recognize that Jesus loves us enough to burst our wineskins. And he wants to give us new ones—filled with the new wine of his life poured into us.
They’ll be handful of leaders in the back who would love to pray for you if you need prayer during this time.
Come to the table—to the Messiah’s body, broken and poured out.
Come be renewed and remade by self-sacrificial love of God the Son.
Come believe the good news of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.