Jesus made us a new family – Does church really feel like that? (Mark 3:13-35)

Churches can be like an old fashioned village. Small, parochial, cliquey. Alternately, they can work like a well-oiled machine. Or, there can be different political “factions” that oppose each other over everything from church finances to how the biscuits should be put out at morning tea. They can be hubs of support and love and care. And they can be enclaves of grumbling and toxicity.

What we forget among the brokenness, and even among the awesomeness, is that our church is supposed to be our family. We say it, of course, but do we really know what it means? What did it mean in the early church – for those who knew Jesus? And what did Jesus mean it to be?

In the early church they were suspected and accused of immorality and incest because their doctrine was love and they called each other “brother” and “sister”. A second century document outlines a mock debate that discusses the principle charges. In response to “we also hear that you meet in secret, even before sunrise, and the gross immorality that we hear goes on in those places is repulsive — especially the incest.

The second party says: “If you came to one of our meetings you would find that the lovemaking and intimacy you are so quick to imagine is of a totally different nature. We meet before sunrise because we are working people. We have jobs to go to. We do not always meet in secret, but we have no temples or synagogues, so we use somebody’s home which has enough room. We call one another brother and sister and pledge to love one another because that is what our Lord commanded us to do. And we greet one another and bless one another with a holy kiss, not out of lust but out of genuine love and concern for one another. Come and you will see that we demand the highest standards of morality among all who join us.

Source: https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/why-early-christians-were-despised-11629610.html

The concept of “family” for the Israelites centred on the household – that is, the immediate family, extended family and slaves and servants. All these made up the household. Outwards from this centre was the clan, which could refer to a group of households tied by kinship. Outwards from this orbit was the tribe, which included multiple clans within one of the 12 tribes of Israel. Each circle was bonded by close ties of kinship, patronage and obligation. We see this working throughout The Old Testament – Boaz was a kinsman redeemer to Ruth, under Jewish rules of kinship and obligation for example.

What we see in Mark 3:13-35 is a series of scenes:

  • 3:13-19 Jesus calls the 12
  • 3:20-21 Jesus’ family Part 1
    • 3:22-30 Conflict with the Pharisees
  • 3:31-35 Jesus’ family Part 2

The order of events is important here. In the calling of the 12, Jesus draws his “family” to him – and they are chosen. And, they include the one who will betray him. Jesus knows this when he calls him. I find that staggering. As God, Jesus knew this. As a man, I really feel for him. Imagine picking the people who you would work with forever, and included is the person who you knew for a fact would stab you in the back. How would you go interacting with them, working with them, loving them, knowing that they would do that to you?

Anyway, it’s significant that Jesus calls 12 – an embryonic new Israel, representative of a new covenant.

Next comes what is known as a “Markan sandwich” – its a literary device where Mark starts a story, then puts in another one, and then finishes the first story afterwards. So a meat in between two bits of bread if you will. Its a literary device but it has a purpose in bringing to light something the author wants us to see, so lets dig deeper.

In the first scene, we see “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.  When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Just as his own family say that Jesus is out of his mind, we switch to a scene in which the Pharisees – the leaders of Jesus’ Jewish “family” – say that he is possessed by Beelzebub. But what is it about this conflict with the Pharisees that provides the key to interpreting the “Markan sandwich” literary device?

The Pharisees say he is nuts because he is driving out demons in the name of Beelzebub. Note that they don’t disagree that Jesus is driving out demons – he seems to be doing this pretty successfully. They are arguing about in who’s name Jesus is doing it. That is remarkable. The miracles are real. They just argue about the authority behind them.

Jesus, by way of explanation, gives two responses. The first is “How can Satan drive out Satan?” and the second is “no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.” The former says basically, how can you have a civil war with both parties on the same side? They would just be killing each other for no reason and with no winner. So what the Pharisees are saying makes no sense. They are saying the spirits are from the devil and Jesus’s authority comes from the devil. Nope. No sense.

In the latter response, Jesus gives more. He is saying that something or someone has already gone ahead of him and tied up the strong man. Then the house can be robbed. So he’s saying that the devil has already been tied up and then Jesus can complete the work of casting him out. The devil has already been defeated! But what Jesus says next is truly astonishing.

“Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

What does blasphemy against the Spirit mean? Many conflate this with “taking the Lord’s name in vain” which minimises this statement to a slip of the tongue. In the context of what Jesus is saying here though, blaspheming against the Spirit is a rejection or a refusal to acknowledge the existence and work of the Spirit in people’s hearts and minds. The devil is defeated by the work of our triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To deny the Spirit, is to deny the Father – which is the eternal sin.

From here we go back to Jesus’ immediate family. Jesus’ mother and brothers had arrived. In Mark 6:3 his brothers are identified as James, Joseph, Judas and Simon. James, it should be noted, was not one of the disciples, but later became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and was martyred in the early 60s AD. At this point however, James and Mary and the rest of the family, were definitely not acolytes.

Both Jesus’ immediate family, and religious family, say he is out of his mind. This whole scene started with Jesus choosing the new representatives of the new covenant. And ends with his assertion that all those who do the will of God are his family. Again, this “family” includes Judas – his betrayer – and I’ll bet it includes all manner of other great people, boring people, annoying people, nice people and awesome people. They are not a group of shiny holy Christians surrounded by doves and soft lighting. They are the family of God, joined together in Jesus. This is the point of the Markan sandwich – showing the ties that bond the family of God outweigh the earthly ties of our other circles. This is a new society, a new covenant, a new age.

If we look around our churches, do they feel like family? Bearing in mind, that our church family is similarly not meant to be a perfect soft-lighting tableau either, but a rag-tag mixed bag of the good and the bad and the faintly annoying. BUT they ARE our family. We are bonded to them by Jesus – a source stronger and more profound than any other. And we will be with them in heaven.

This can be difficult, especially for those whose churches and ministers have disappointed them. I have no answer for that, and, in love, I pray everyone finds their home in a church that will love you exactly how you are and where you’re at.

But hurts meted out to us by the church or those who lead it, cannot drown out the scriptures. And Jesus says clearly that those who do the will if God are his family. However, in this Jesus is not abolishing his earthly family. He is however, establishing his church family along lines that would have been shocking at the time. The assembled “family” was not drawn along kinship or household lines, it was open to Jew and Gentile, any race and gender, and even cut across hierarchical lines. This is a new family whose primary allegiance was to God and whose citizenship was in heaven.

This includes us.

All who do God’s will are in Jesus’ family. That includes you. And what is God’s will? Go to Matthew 22:36-40 and Micah 6:8 which Jesus paraphrases in Mathew 23:23. Look at them. Meditate on them. Pray about them. They are not how you get into Jesus’ family – you’re already in it. These are the bedrock of our discipleship. These are the foundations of our familial obligations.

Look afresh at your church. They are you’re family. And look to your discipleship. Maybe it needs a kick start. Maybe it’s something to share with your Christian family. But above all, know that you are already in Jesus’ family. When he said “whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” he was talking about you.

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

  1. Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel
  2. Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20
  3. Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45
  4. Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17
  5. Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28
  6. Week 6: Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be. Mark 3:1-12

Why Christians are not immune to loneliness

As Christians, I often feel like we should be immune to loneliness. We have Jesus, right? But this is one of those areas where an inspirational Christian meme doesn’t really cut it. “Only God is enough to satisfy our loneliness” I read. And “You are never left alone when you are alone with God”. These are true, obviously, but not really helpful when you’re feeling the raw reality of loneliness.

If you google “bible passages for the lonely” you find lots of gems. “Surely I am with you always, till the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Also true. But this is part of Jesus’ great commission to his disciples, not a consolation to a person crumbling under the weight of loneliness.

And yet, there is acknowledgement in scripture that loneliness is real, but not necessarily in the emotional way we might think of it. For example, in Psalm 25:16 “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” The Hebrew word translated as “lonely” denotes more a physical state of being solitary – like a friendless wanderer or exile. Of course there is a psychological state associated potentially with that, but that’s not what the language denotes. Loneliness described and discussed as a psychological state is a relatively recent phenomena. That doesn’t mean it was any less real prior to the last hundred years, just that it wasn’t talked about the same way. In history, to be friendless or cut off from community was a social state and was the epitome of a fate worse than death.

We talk now about loneliness as a psychological and emotional state. It might include feeling cut off from community, but includes fear, despair, hopelessness – and as Christians we are not immune. Even though we have the truth of our salvation in Christ and an eternal relationship with the living God, we will still from time to time feel the awful chill of loneliness.

Loneliness can happen to anyone. Whether you are single or in a relationship, whether you are in a large family or none. It’s not the same as being alone. Personally, I’m quite content on my own. I am an introvert by nature and I enjoy reading, writing, knitting (badly) and so on. But being alone in this way is a choice. Feeling lonely is when we are alone in a way that we don’t feel is our choice – when we want to be with someone, or with family, or with community – and we can’t.

That’s when secondary emotions kick in. Disappointment that things aren’t different, anger at feeling powerless to change things, despair that things will always be this way, fear of a future that is uncertain.

Loneliness can feel cold and brittle. There is a stillness that you feel in the cavernous hollow of a dark mountain cave. You are the only living and breathing thing. There is a silence. There is nobody else and there is the thick rock cave wall between you and the rest of the world. If you screamed in this sound-deadened cavity, nobody would hear, and the only sound would be the echo of your own scream coming back to you. You are the only person who hears your pain.

That’s what loneliness feels like.

Loneliness is both our modern emotional understanding and the historical social understanding. You feel cut off from people. Even though our modern world is less constructed according to familial ties and community, we feel separated. And you feel the associated ragged emotional cuts of isolation physically and psychologically.

What is interesting is that even though the meaning behind the language has changed over time, scripture still acknowledges that anguish.

Psalm 142 gives us important teaching without ever using the word “loneliness”. It is attributed to David when he was hiding in the cave from his enemies. Verse 4 says:

Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.

This seems to be a perfect description of loneliness. And what does this psalm tell us?

I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.

I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.

Sorry to sound obvious but prayer is the first step when we are feeling pain. What is interesting here is that David says he tells a God of his complaint before he tells him his trouble. For David this might be his complaint about his physical situation (I’m trapped and alone) and then his “trouble” is then his emotional state – which he lays out in the following verses.

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me.

4 Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.

His spirit grows faint – he is feeling overwhelmed. People have hidden a snare – he is surrounded by enemies. Nobody cares for him. These are all things that resonate with us.

I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.

This whole psalm is a prayer – it is a conversation with God. David has told God his complaint (“I am alone”) and he’s laid out his trouble (“I feel so lonely and overwhelmed and frightened and this is too big for me…”). He continues this conversation, talking to God in real and raw emotional need. There is no prayer-formula here. There is no massaging of words to sound right, he just lets it pour out.

But what comes next is fascinating:

Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.

David doesn’t end with a hope that the loneliness will end at some point. He calls on God to deliver him so that he might praise his name. Then the righteous will gather around David – his loneliness and uncertainty will end. Not because of David, but because of God’s visible goodness.

This might feel confronting to us. Our prayers are requests but largely asking for God to empower us to feel better – as though God is a self help guru. What David does is directly and boldly ask God to change his situation (the circumstances of his complaint) and through God’s action, his trouble will be alleviated.

Sometimes, in our lack of confidence, we minimise God and our knowledge of what he is able to do. David, in the midst of his despair, asks God to essentially perform a powerful work so that in his responding praise, people will see evidence of God’s goodness and gather to him.

These are David’s words to God, but they are laid down as God-breathed scripture, which means they are words that God has given us to acknowledge our pain and provide a means and a language for us to reach him in those times. We must use them.

So, if you are like me and from time to time struggle with loneliness, we can use this approach to God. We can take the burden of self help off our already aching shoulders and ask God for help. We can not just speak words of complaint and trouble, but let them pour out of us. We can ask for deliverance. We can be bold because we are approaching our God who is bigger than any circumstance we have.

We are Christian and we have a relationship with the living God. But we are not immune to loneliness. God knows this and gave us real words to bring to him in our pain. Formula prayers and inspirational memes won’t cut it. In the Psalms he gave us these beautiful words that express how we feel – but he doesn’t leave us there. He gives us the means to move forward.

We need to give ourselves permission to be raw with God, be bold in asking him to take over our circumstances and deliver us from our loneliness.

Jesus wasn’t the man they wanted him to be (Mark 3:1-12)

I find it an interesting quirk of human nature that we turn on our celebrities when we find out they’re different to how we thought they’d be. If a hot superstar turns out to be gay, or a stunning model turns out to have cellulite, or a Hollywood couple get divorced and publicly scrap over the kids or if a mega-church pastor turns out to have problems with humility. We turn on them like a lynch-mob as if they had deliberately lied to us.

Of course what this means is that these people are normal. What it also means is that we somehow want them to not be normal. We want them to be something else. Something we don’t see in our ordinary, mediocre lives. We want to believe that perfection is real, that the hunky movie stars don’t smell when they sweat and they always look like they walked out of the gym. We want them to be their movie characters. We want them to be what we imagine them to be.

We want them to be what we want them to be.

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In Mark 3:1-12, we see two sides of this. We see the Pharisees wanting Jesus to be a bad-guy. And we see the people wanting Jesus to be a rock star savior.

Last week we saw Jesus communicate that he is the Messiah and the Lord by communicating he is the Lord of the Sabbath. As the Lord, he is the new wine. The old wine has been superseded, which was dangerous teaching. He was publicly saying that the established order was being renewed in him.

In that instance, it was Jesus’ disciples who had “broken” the sabbath (according to Jewish regulations). That’s why, in Mark 3:2, the Pharisees watch Jesus closely to see if he will heal on the sabbath (and thereby break it). They want him to break it. They want an excuse to accuse him. According to scripture, sabbath breaking was a capital offence (cf. Numbers 15:32-36). It should be noted here that what Numbers describes is not a prescriptive response to sabbath breaking. The man is punished for breaking the sabbath insofar as his attention was deliberately not on God – which was the purpose for the sabbath in the first place. The Jewish leaders had taken this to be prescriptive and so death was the punishment for all sabbath breaking. Again, we see the history of minimising God’s relationship through a misguided attempt to maximise obedience.

But since the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into sabbath breaking, why would Jesus make the man with the shriveled hand stand up in front of everyone? why wouldn’t he be a bit quieter about it? Doing it publicly seems to play into the hands of the Pharisees. Perhaps to highlight the point above. Jesus is performing a public sign for the purposes of teaching. The Pharisaical approach would be to do nothing in the face of need so as not to break the sabbath. What Jesus shows is the hypocrisy of their approach. What is lawful on the sabbath? To do good or evil? To save a life or to kill? If Jesus is saying that doing good and saving life is lawful, the corollary is that the Pharisees have made evil lawful.

It’s interesting that Jesus is angry and distressed. Even in the divinity with which he heals the man, we see the ragged humanity of his emotions.

The Pharisees, faced with the hideous truth of what they do, go away and plot in secret, away from light where their deeds could be seen clearly. To accuse Jesus of sabbath breaking at that point, would be to publicly admit that Jesus is right.

And think about that. The Pharisees need Jesus to be the bad guy. If Jesus is right about this, their whole approach to the Sabbath crumbles. And if that crumbles, fractures appear in their whole system of maximising obedience/minimising relationship.

Interesting side note: The Herodians and Pharisees were enemies. The Pharisees wanted the restoration of the kingdom of David. The Herodians were a political party and supporters of the Herodian dynasty: the client kings installed by the Romans. What each party wanted therefore was completely different – and yet in this they were united. They needed to get rid of Jesus. Jesus was a threat to both. If he ushered in the kingdom of God, the Pharisees and Herodians were out of business and out of power.

After this, we see Jesus withdrawing to the lake (that is, the Sea of Galilee) and people come from as far north as Sidon and as far south as Idumea to see him. “Beyond the Jordan” even refers to the area around the Decapolis. What we see here is people coming from great distances, and even from Gentile areas.

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Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_century_palestine-es.svg

What we see here is like a scene at a movie premier that everyone knows the star of the show is going to. The crowds are pressing and they all want something. They want to be healed. They want to be touched. They want to touch Jesus. They all want a piece of him.

What did they want of him? They wanted something he had, but not what he came to do. They wanted him to save them, but not in the way that he had come to do.

I guess I look to some people the same way. Bobby Kennedy is one of my heroes. I wanted Barack Obama to be the next Bobby Kennedy. I wanted him to bring light into a dark and dismal world. I wanted to believe that change was possible. I wanted to feel that there was something better, aspirational, inspirational. I wanted to believe.

The way the people press forward to Jesus feels familiar to me. There is a hunger in the crowd – a need. What Jesus was doing had spread by word of mouth so far and so quickly that people were coming from everywhere to see him. Were they coming because they believed? Or because they wanted to believe? Perhaps both. But what they wanted was only a tiny slice of who he was and what he had come to do. Because while they might have flocked to him as I would have to Bobby Kennedy had I been around in the 1960s, Bobby Kennedy was just Bobby Kennedy. The person they had in front of them was God himself.

But Jesus seems content to let them follow for the moment. When he casts out evil spirits, he commands them not to tell anyone. Why? Surely he would want to bring his followers along with him – we have seen previously how he was carefully controlling how his ministry was communicated. Surely now he can start communicating more clearly as the crowds press towards him?

I don’t think it was that simple. In John 6 we see Jesus starting to be more open about what his message is and what following him truly means and people turn away from him. Jesus knows that this will happen, but his ministry is too new for this to happen just yet. He needs his followers to learn as they follow at this point. In fact Mark as a gospel takes this approach – as we follow the story, we learn for ourselves the truth of who Jesus is.

Humans are horribly flawed. We have enormous expectations and we hold to them rigidly. Changing them requires time and gentleness, and largely we have to decide to change our expectations for ourselves. If others change them for us, we feel attacked and betrayed. For the moment, Jesus needs his followers to gradually learn the truth. As his teaching becomes more explicit, their expectations will already have been shaped and molded. People will still turn their backs when he turns out to not be who they thought (or wanted him to be), but more of them will represent the fertile soil in which seeds can grow.

This is why we still need the gospel of Mark. Today we like to see Jesus as the guy who is all about love and forgiveness. This is true – but before love and forgiveness comes knowledge of our sin. Just look at the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. There’s a woman convicted of her sin and comes to Jesus in repentance. After that, there’s justification but there’s also sanctification. There is work to be done in our relationship. This isn’t easy.

Some of us want Jesus to be the love guy whose name we can pray to God in for the things we need. This is normal and valid – because he is the love guy we pray to God in, and we are supposed to bring our requests to God. The problem occurs when he is only that.

Who do we want Jesus to be?

The answer is, Who is Jesus telling us he is. The work and person of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what we want him to be. He is who we need him to be.

And who do we need him to be? This is what we’ll explore as Mark leads us through the nuance of Jesus as a man, as God, as the Messiah and our Lord.

This blog is a stand alone piece but it is also part of a weekly online bible study. If you have missed any or would like to reference back to the beginning, the links are below:

Week 1: “Who do you say I am”. Introduction to the gospel

Week 2: The Beginning. Mark 1:1-20

Week 3: The Who, the what and the why. Mark 1:21-45

Week 4: Jesus didn’t come for the super-religious. He came for you. Mark 2:1-17

Week 5: There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan. Mark 2:18-28

A book every Christian should read

I had the privilege of reviewing the manuscript for Craig Hamilton’s new book “Made Man” before it went to the publishers And I loved it even then. Sometimes it pays to know people in high places. OK, when I say “high places” his house is geographically up the hill from mine.

This book is an astonishing endeavor. On the face of it, talking about the incarnation of Christ is relatively simple. God became man – easy-peezy, right? We’ve read about it, sung hymns about it and shared inspirational memes about it. But when you really look hard at it, it’s like mist. We understand it, but then you look harder and it shifts and disappears. Just when you think you’ve “cracked it”, it melts away and you realise you didn’t understand it at all.

That’s because the incarnation touches in several theological concepts that are really really hard – like the Trinity. It also incorporates a historical evolution of understanding of what Jesus said. God became man = easy. How does that work in practice = not so easy.

What Made Man does is lead us through these concepts in plain language that you don’t need a theology degree to follow.

What it also does is help us to truly grasp something so important and so profound about our God, that your faith with be enriched, deepened, widened and empassioned on many levels.

It helped me to see Jesus in many new ways, as though unpicking this concept was opening up lots of small windows on what God had always planned. In opening up these windows, it casts light and shade onto something I thought I knew but didn’t truly grasp.

Reading this book filled my brain and busted open my understanding of the theological concept that engaged my heart and my soul with God on a whole new level. I could talk heaps about this book, but my efforts would not do it justice – so think of this as a “teaser” to make you hungry to read more.

Highly recommend for everyone, everywhere.

Available from Christian bookshops and direct from Matthias Media here:

https://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/made-man

There is nothing you can do to start – or stop – God’s plan (Mark 2:18-28)

When I’ve had super high anxiety in times of deep distress, I developed some tendencies that bordered on OCD. I don’t say this lightly. At one point, I became so panicked about money and how I was going to make ends meet, I developed a “thing” about how I made the boys sandwiches for lunch. When I noticed it, I tried making the sandwiches a different way – make the honey sandwich first and then the vegemite sandwich. And I couldn’t. And I froze. It’s very hard to explain but the mere thought of doing it out of order made me panic and burst into tears.

Of course it had nothing to do with sandwiches or even the boys. It had to do with control and creating order in a situation I felt I didn’t have any control over. Thankfully I have an excellent psychologist who helps me work through these issues. Because if left un-checked, suddenly you have a “system” for dealing with everything you have no control over – and a deep anxiety about then not doing it that way, otherwise the thing you are trying to control won’t happen/will happen.

This could be money, relationships, work, the home and even our faith. We saw last week that the Pharisees had turned legalism into an art form. I’m not saying they were OCD but the effect was much the same. We must meet all these rules and regs or God won’t come – to the point where they fail to see that God has, in fact, come.

In our passage this week, we see this on steroids and the Pharisees see two of their most sacred cows (and yes, I’m aware of the irony) come under threat.

Fasting and the sabbath are two things which the Pharisees believed would actually hasten the coming of the Messiah. To not observe them was not just an insult to God, it would inhibit his coming.

What we see in Jesus’ handling of these issues however, is that the kingdom, which is centred on God, is therefore centred on Jesus himself. This starts to illuminate for us who Jesus is and, that if the kingdom is centred on Jesus, it does not cease to be centred on God – far from it.

So in 2:18 we see that the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist are fasting but Jesus and his disciples are not. This makes me wonder. The Pharisees fasting is obvious. Jesus actually is the Messiah and so he and his disciples don’t need to fast. We are not sure at this point if his disciples understand that, but they follow what he does. But John’s disciples? Surely they knew the Messiah was coming? So why are they still fasting? I wonder if John’s disciples only part-understood. John has come to prepare the way with his baptism of repentance. Given that that’s only part of the story though, his disciples understanding may have been stunted – especially as John has been imprisoned by this point (cf. 1:14) and so wasn’t around to explain it to them. But maybe they were doing it because it was habit – because that is how it had always been done – and not doing it…..well, maybe that was a step too far. There’s no real rhyme or reason. It’s just the way it always has been.

Anyway, enough of my musings. Jesus explains clearly that they have no need to fast because the “bridegroom” (ie the Messiah”) is already there – there is no need to fast anymore. In fact, to do so would be an insult to him, because it denies that the Messiah has come, but also it gives the people a demeanour of mourning when they should be rejoicing.

Now the Old Testament has many references to God as the bridegroom. It denotes a consummation of a covenant between two parties that cannot get any closer. It is a time of trust and relationship and festivities. So in saying he is the bridegroom, Jesus is saying two things – first, he’s saying he is God, and second, he is saying that new age has come.

Look for example at Joel 1:8 where the prophet says “Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the betrothed of her youth.” meaning that Israel grieves for God with whom they had a covenant (and which they have broken with their disobedience). Then in Joel 2:12 he says “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” And in 2:19, after the people have rent their hearts (ie repented) God says “I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully.” What is described at the end of Joel is a wedding feast, a celebration with the two parties reunited in a new covenant.

The Pharisees are stuck in Joel 2:12. Jesus knows they are at the wedding feast.

After giving a portent of his impending death, Jesus doubles down to explain more. He describes “new cloth” and “new wine”. In parable-speak, we see Jesus’ relationship to the old establishment. Let’s unpick this, because it’s significant. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them. And yet here he says that he is a new wine, not poured into the old wine skins but needing to be poured into new. Can both be right? If he came to fulfil the old, isn’t that him (new wine) being poured into old wine skins (the law)? This is more nuanced. He is the new but he is not new in and of himself. He is not a single final piece of a jigsaw puzzle. He isn’t a final piece that just finishes off the old. He brings a new age, a new era. And the old itself needs to become new with him. The new era brings with it a new framework that is linked to the old, that is a culmination of the old but which supersedes it.

What does this mean? Well, in the next episode, we see that the old is cherished for what God intended, but Jesus gives a new interpretation. I saw this with a hint of a smirk because his interpretation is not new – he’s actually reminding the Pharisees of what the sabbath is supposed to be about, but that in all their legalism, they have forgotten.

In trying to obey God to a tee, the priests had long before tried to set a list of dos and dont’s for the sabbath. This included things like not walking further than 1km from ones own house. And deliberate sabbath breaking was punishable by death – that’s how seriously it was taken. Breaking the sabbath was an obstacle to God’s deliverance of his people.

In a cornfield, Jesus’ disciples pick some ears of corn to eat. This breaks the sabbath. Jesus relays a story of David when the High Priest of the tabernacle gives David and his men consecrated bread from the altar because there is nothing else to eat, on condition they we ritually clean (which they probably weren’t). So Jesus shows that the local Pharisees are stricter than the high priest of the actual tabernacle was on King David. That’s how far their legalism had got.

He reminds them that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath. If man was created for the sabbath, that would place the sabbath above God – and this is how the Pharisees were treating the sabbath. They had idolised it. The sabbath was created for man by God for them to rest and remember him. That’s the point of the sabbath. By the way, if you’re interested in some history of the sabbath, you can read here one of my previous blogs.

So, where does this leave us? Jesus gradual revelation of himself is beautiful and simple. He is the bridegroom. He is the Messiah. This is not a time for fasting but for rejoicing. But he is also bringing in a new era. The obvious corollary is that the law and the Pharisees are old, fulfilled – superseded. This is dangerous. We can see why the Pharisees would be so determined ultimately to dispose of Jesus.

Jesus’ final words in this passage are “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28). He is the Messiah – and he is God. The sabbath was made for man. So if Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, he is also Lord of all man. This seemingly innocuous statement has such depth, and such significance that’s its earth shattering.

Don’t forget, they are on the other side of the cross and even though God is standing literally right in front of them, they are still waiting for him to appear. In addition, they are doing everything they possibly can to hasten his coming – fasting, observing every rule, squeezing the most out of every regulation so they can (supposedly) get closer to God.

But nothing they do, or could ever do, could bring God to them. Nothing that they did, or that we can do, can push “go” on God’s plan for salvation. By the same token, nothing we can do can stop it either. Jesus came. The plan has already happened – it happened at the cross. Nothing we do can possibly change the fact that God’s single act of salvation is already done.

We are in Jesus’ new era. We’re already in it. What we do now, is based on love and gratitude. We are obedient. We seek to grow in Christ likeness. We nurture our discipleship. We depend on God for everything, in humility. This is a work in our hearts that affects what we do, because our salvation is already done. The Pharisees wanted what they did to affect their salvation.

But it’s already done. And frankly, thank God. Because if I, in my anxiety, can’t make sandwiches a different way when my finances are out of control, I have got no chance of getting into heaven on my own efforts.

The new era has already come and it is in our hearts and in our relationship with God. That doesn’t mean we do nothing. He did it all, but we still progress in our growth to christlikeness. There is a work happening in us. Our sanctification is ongoing but our salvation is fixed. Once we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and saviour, there is nothing we can do but follow.

Note: This is a stand alone blog that doesn’t depend on any other piece. But it runs as part of an online Bible study in Mark and throughout there are links to previous observations. You can dip in and out or start at the beginning if you like. If not, that’s also fine – you don’t need to have started at the beginning to be able to get into this blog.

If you want to start at the beginning though, it starts in Mark 1 and you can follow along from here.