Answers from Jesus
Dr. Stephen Johnson
Mark 2:13-28
October 13, 2019


There is no better way to get to know Jesus than by reading the gospels. They give us a snapshot of what Jesus did, how he responded to those around him and what he taught.

Mark 2 records a series of questions asked of Jesus and his response informs our understanding of him and his reasons for coming to earth. Let’s read Mark 2:13-28

“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins - and the wine is destroyed, and so are th skins. But the new wine is for fresh wineskins.

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.

And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him:

how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

And 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.”
This is the word of God.

Three questions are asked of Jesus in this passage,

Why does he eat with sinners and tax collectors?
Why don’t his disciples fast?
Why do his disciples break the Sabbath?

While we tend to read these questions with a perspective that the scribes and Pharisees were always at odds with Jesus, the basis of the questions is the same.

How do we live out our lives as God’s people?

Let’s look at each question and Jesus’ response.

Why does he eat with sinners and tax collectors?

In our text we see Jesus walking along the way when he comes to a tax collector whom we know as Matthew.

I love the brevity of their interaction.

Jesus says “Follow me.”
And Matthew follows.

He doesn’t just follow Jesus, he starts inviting a bunch of his friends over for dinner!

And of course he invites Jesus, presumably either to say goodbye to his old way of life or to introduce his friends to Jesus.

They were tax collectors and sinners.

Tax collectors were despised by the Jews because they were considered traitors and because they were often, in fact, extortioners.

Sinners denotes those people who refuse to follow the Mosaic Law as interpreted by the Pharisees.

And this presented a problem for the scribes and the Pharisees.

They looked upon religion as consisting in conformity to the Law, and promises of God’s grace only to the doers of the Law.

At this meal, that Jesus consorted with those who openly refused to keep the requirements of the law as they understood it prompted their question.

Why does he eat with sinners and tax collectors?

Sinners - a technical term for a class of people who were regarded by the Pharisees as inferior because they showed no interest in the scribal tradition.

The scribes often dismissed as inconsequential the common people who possessed neither time nor inclination to regulate their conduct by Pharisaic standards.

And here Jesus was sharing a meal with them.

The scribes criticized Jesus because he failed to observe the distinction between the righteous and the sinners which was an essential component of their piety.

You are known by the company you keep.

As a teacher of the Law he should have recognized that it was inappropriate for him to recline at table with the men gathered in Levi’s house.

It was Jesus disregard of time honored custom that offended them and made them ask why he would do it.

To spend time with outcast and ignorant common people should have been out of character for a teacher like Jesus.

Why did Jesus do it?
Well, he tells us with one profound statement.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.”

Jesus came to bring salvation.

Salvation, not to the righteous but to sinners.

Of course this gets to the heart of one of the great errors of the Pharisees and those like them in our generation.

They genuinely believed that due to their rigorous keeping of the Law they were righteous. They had not need of being saved because they lived righteous lives.

They distinguished themselves from the sinners and tax collectors - they were better. They were deserving of God’s grace !

Jesus bluntly says “I came not to call the righteous but sinners.”

One translation renders it this way: “I’ve come to call sinners, not people who think they have God’s approval.”
In order to share in Jesus’ call is to salvation there must be a recognition of need. A self-righteous man is incapable of recognizing that need, but a sinner can.

The new thing in Christianity is not the doctrine that God saves sinners. No Jew would have denied that. It is the assertion that God loves and saves them AS SINNERS.

Jesus eating with sinners is a demonstration of his target audience. Rather than embrace the judgmental attitudes of the self-righteous, he offered forgiveness and fellowship rather than condemnation and avoidance.

The meal was an extension of the grace of God.

Jesus came to bring salvation to those who know they need it.

You know, there are three kinds of people Jesus cannot help:
1. Those who do not know about Him.
2. Those who know about him but refuse to trust him.
3. Those who will not admit they have a need.

The next question asked of Jesus elicits a longer response.

Why don’t his disciples fast?

In the Law, the only fast was on the Day of Atonement, but after the exile, four other annual fasts were observed by the Jews.
It is likely that the disciples of the Pharisees and the disciples of John were fasting for quite different reasons.

For the Pharisees, fasting was a sign of true piety.
The disciples of John were likely fasting in repentance.

Although fasting on the day of Atonement was mandated in scripture in NT times the stricter Pharisees fasted twice a week, (Monday and Thursday)

To them, fasting was an act of piety.
It seemed reasonable to expect that the disciples of Jesus would also fast. It is what religious people did.

In response to the question of fasting Jesus talks about a wedding, a torn garment and wineskins.

He mentions a wedding because it was a joyous occasion which sometimes lasted a week. To fast during a time of great joy and festivity would be unthinkable.

The lesson of the torn garment would be well understood by his first century listeners. They didn’t live in a throw away society.

They repaired their cloths, and you don’t sew new cloth onto an old garment because it will result in a worse tear.

The lesson of the wineskin, while not common to us, again would have been easily understood - you simply didn’t trust new wine to survive an old wineskin.

The point of these illustrations is simple.

The mention of fasting during a wedding, putting new wine in old wineskins and using new cloth to mend a tatter garment describe inappropriate actions. You just wouldn’t do it.

For his disciples to fast simply didn’t make sense.
The messiah has come. Fasting is out of place while he is here.

Fasting is generally a period of sorrow, repentance and sadness.

Jesus came to bring joy.

His disciples experience the joy of the Kingdom because they belong to him.

The time of the bridegroom signals the passing of the old and the coming of the new.

Maintaining the old (fasting as an expression of repentance in preparation for the judgment to come) represents a misunderstanding and a basic ignorance that the time of salvation has already come with Jesus.

With the coming of Jesus fasting is rendered superfluous

Jesus came to convert sinners, not to compliment the self-righteous.

He came to bring joy not sadness.

A new, joyful time has come to the people of God.

Now the third question.

Why do his disciples break the Sabbath rules?

Among the scribes it was assumed that a teacher was responsible for the behavior of his disciples.

Keeping the Sabbath was far more important in Judaism than the question of fasting.

And yet here they see the disciples plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath.

Although plucking ears with your hands was explicitly allowed in the Mosaic Law, the action of plucking grain was interpreted as reaping, an act of work in violation of the Sabbath rest - reaping on the Sabbath was formally prohibited in Exodus 34:21

Of 39 acts forbidden on the Sabbath by the Mishnah, the third was reaping.

How could Jesus allow such a blatant breaking with religious standards?

This is of course one of the biggies.
One of the Ten Commandments.

The Sabbath question is going to come up again and again and again as the Pharisees can’t seem to get their minds around the attitude Jesus had towards the Sabbath.

We still seem to have issues with the Sabbath today. Churches have split over when to celebrate the Sabbath, how to celebrate the Sabbath and even if we should have a Sabbath day.

And Mark is going to return to this same issue again next week as Jesus has the audacity to heal on the Sabbath.

Why doesn’t Jesus do something about his disciples breaking the Sabbath rules?

The problem the Pharisees had with the Sabbath rules is one which many continue to have today.

Keeping the rules proves your spirituality.

Or does it?

Jesus gives us what seems like a somewhat unrelated response.

He talks about David and something he and his men did which wasn’t on the Sabbath.
But it was forbidden.
Jesus doesn’t argue that David didn’t break the law, he argued that such violations under certain conditions were warranted.

Because human need is a higher law than religious legalism.

Jesus came to bring freedom!

To liberate us from the onerous rules of spirituality.

The Sabbath was not created for its own sake. It was a gift of God to man. Its purpose was not to put man in a kind of straight jacket. It was for his good - to provide rest from labor and opportunity for worship.

Jesus brought our attention to David because in both occasions pious men did something forbidden.

The fact that God does not condemn David for his action indicates that the narrowness with which the scribes interpreted the Law was not in accordance with the tenor of Scripture.

Jesus argues that the tradition of the Pharisees is unduly stringent and exceeds the intention of the Law.

In effect he says: Loosen up!

God’s purpose in establishing the Sabbath was a period for joy and refreshment.

The divine intention was in no way infringed on by the plucking of heads of grain on the part of the disciples.

The main point - the Sabbath was made for man’s enjoyment.

The Pharisees turned the keeping of the Sabbath into a burden.

Jesus came to bring freedom from legalism.

If we are stuck in a cycle of determining our spirituality or worse, the spirituality of others on the basis of how well they keep the rules - our rules - we desperately need the freedom which is found in Christ.

Legalism makes religion burdensome.

Weighed down by rules and regulations that are impossible to obey.

Life is not supposed to be a funeral!

In these three scenarios the scribes and Pharisees ask what were no doubt reasonable questions of Jesus.

Questions which we might as ask we attempt to live out our faith.

If you are known by the company you keep, then should we spend time with people of ill repute?

We want purity in our lives.
We want to reflect positively on Christ.
Doesn’t it make sense to avoid certain types of people?

But then we remember that Jesus came to offer salvation to sinners rather than the righteous.

And we need to guard against developing a self-image based upon who we associate with and who we avoid.

Staying away from those we consider to be sinners doesn’t make us righteous. For we also are sinners who must admit our need of a savior.

If we consider fasting to be a mark of spirituality it would be natural for us to ask why others don’t fast.
And you can replace fasting with almost any other spiritual discipline.

But Jesus came to bring joy.
Who fasts at a wedding feast?
While you can make an argument for fasting today, you are hard pressed to demand that others fast instead of enjoying the truth Jesus has come. Has offered us forgiveness and filled us with joy.

And what about our views on the Sabbath?

While we affirm that scripture tells us not to forsake the gathering together of the saints and that such gatherings often happen on Sundays.

Jesus offers us freedom the guilt so often associated with occasionally plucking some heads of grain on a day meant for rest and worship.

Legalism kills.
Whether it is legalism about who you rub shoulders with, what spiritual disciplines you practice or what you do on the Sabbath, legalism kills.

Jesus offers us salvation.
Jesus offers us joy.
Jesus offers us freedom.

And he can do so because the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath!




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