September 8, 2019 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Mark 2:18–22
Something is different about this guy. Who is this guy?
Today is a different kind of encounter. Instead of jousting with the scribes and Pharisees – though I suspect they were close by monitoring this little transaction – the question here comes from the normal people. Normal people were taking note of the astounding things happening all around them: first, with the John the Baptist sensation; now, with the Jesus sensation. Clearly something big was going on. People were wanting to understand what it was that they were seeing.
Remember where we are in this gospel – we are in Chapter 2, very early. Jesus was early in his public ministry, but he had already made a splash. He was very specific about his purpose, proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” He amazed people with the authority of his teaching. He astounded them by commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man in the synagogue. He became even more famous by healing Peter’s mother-in-law with a touch, and then curing many who were sick and cast out demons. He touched the leper, restoring him to cleanness and life in the community. He forgave the paralytic man’s sins, and then demonstrated his authority to do so by commanding the man to stand up, take his mat and walk. He then went out and called Levi, a hated tax collector and – to the disgust of the scribes and Pharisees – hosted a dinner at Levi’s house where tax collectors and sinners sat with him.
I go through this recital of what had happened to remind you of how bizarre this must have seemed to people. Isaiah 61 was being fulfilled in their sight; that is, for those who had eyes to see. There was something different and captivating about this guy. “Who is this guy?”
The people were used to the Pharisees. They were familiar with the pious condescension, the rules-studying-and-applying-and-arguing, and the morality police. They had just become familiar with John the Baptist and his call to repentance. They saw a renewed fervor for faithfulness – like a revival – of those who followed John. It was like times they read about in Judges, when God would provide a prophet or a judge to lead the people to renewal and restoration of covenant righteousness. Now, this Jesus: this was something completely different than anything else they had seen or known. It was only natural for them to ask about the differences they observed. John’s disciples and the Pharisees both were fasting, and Jesus and his disciples were not.
“So, Jesus, why do John’s disciples fast and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?”
Good observation. Fair question. What’s the deal?
At the risk of spoiling the dramatic tension I try to build in each sermon, let me cut to the chase: Jesus’ answer was basically to explain how the kingdom of God is apples versus oranges different than what they have known as “religion.” He talked in terms patches and wineskins, but the point was this: he was saying the kingdom of God is different than anything they have seen or imagined. And, the kingdom of God was present in him. Hear that again: the kingdom of God was present. In him.
Now, let me unpack that a little bit for you.
Fasting was a well-known spiritual discipline. In the Old Testament, we find:
- In Leviticus 16:29, Israel is commanded to observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, “This shall be a statue to you forever: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall deny yourselves, and shall do no work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you.”
- At the end of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel that David and the Israelites fasted when Saul and his sons were killed. It was a tribute of sadness.
- Fasts were a way for Israel to devote themselves to the LORD. Through the fasts they sought the LORD and his counsel. In 2 Chronicles 20, Judah (the Southern Kingdom) was facing a large military contingent from the Moabites and Ammonites. “Jehosaphat was afraid; he set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the towns of Judah they came to seek the LORD.” (To make a long story short, Jehosaphat prayed, the people worshiped, and then they watched as the LORD acted to have the Moabites and Ammonites turn on each other, destroying each other and saving Judah.)
- Ezra proclaimed a fast, “that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions.
- Esther asked that the Jews fast so that she might find favor with the King.
- In Isaiah 58:3, the people ask the LORD why their fasts do not result in the things for which they pray? The Lord responded,
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
- In Joel, the prophet called people to a fast as a sign of repentance for violating the terms of the covenant and seeking God’s mercy to relent from the judgment and wrath that was coming.
- In Jonah, the people of Nineveh repented and fasted in response to God’s call – and much to the chagrin of Jonah, who wanted God to rain down judgment on his enemy.
- Finally, fasts were used as acts of devotion in thanksgiving to God. In Zechariah 8, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: the fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah; therefore love truth and peace.
So, you get the idea. Fasting was a known and regular part of life among the Jews. In the New Testament era, there were three major fasts: The Day of Atonement, New Year, and a national fast for previous calamities. In addition, some Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Monday and Thursday as personal fasts expressing penitence and contrition. Fasting was an expectation, it was something you were supposed to do.
When I was growing up, we had to wear a shirt and tie and nice pants and incredibly uncomfortable shoes to go to worship. Until I was about ten, it was a clip-on tie. Oh, man, it was awful; but that is what we were taught God expected of us when we showed up in the sanctuary. Just so you know, I fulfilled every stereotypical picture of a fidgety kid in the pews. I got every side-eye, angry mother glare, and stern father warning face that was possible as I scribbled all over the pew cards, squirmed in my seat, rolled my eyes at the music and sighed heavily through the prayers. I can only imagine how exasperating I was for my poor, horrified parents.
It was not fasting, but it was a measure of devotion I understood that God demanded of me – even though no one could ever point me to the place in Scripture where it says that a scratchy wool blue blazer is a requirement for the non-air conditioned sanctuary on a 95 degree/95 percent humidity July Sunday morning.
How many of you feel like that on any given Sunday morning? You come because it is expected of you to come. Are there mornings you dread coming because we are going to do the same things in the same pattern as we did them last week? I am not asking anyone to raise your hand so that I can scold you. Do you go through the motions sometimes because that is what is expected of you?
That’s the question the people asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples do what is expected?”
For Jesus, the question raised a much larger issue of the institutionalization of faith. It is why his response was so powerful – to the people who asked the question, to Mark’s first readers in Rome, and to us today. Jesus did not dismiss the importance of fasting; he simply pointed out that there was a time, place, and reason for fasting; and this was not the right time. Doing something just because it has always been done that way is not what God seeks. When faith becomes a matter of doing what is expected of you, it is no longer relational. When adherence to ritual becomes more important than the purpose for which it exists, it loses its value. Really? Yes, really. When worship becomes a “have to” as opposed to a “get to,” we have institutionalized it and made it an obligation.
That is why Jesus’ response was so powerful. His rhetorical question in response abruptly brought forward the fallacy of institutional thinking: “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?” The point of fasting was not simply to do what was expected because that was what they always had done; rather, the point of fasting was to seek God’s presence. Fasting was to express sorrow that their sin had separated them from God’s presence. If the sorrow of sin was separation from God’s presence; Jesus’ answer was that his disciples were not separated from God. They were in his presence. What, then, would be the point of fasting?
I. The Bridegroom
On the surface, we all get it: Jesus is the bridegroom. Things are good when he is around. What we may miss is the messianic message Jesus was communicating. Again, remember the context: on top of forgiving the paralytic man’s sins and hosting a dinner for tax collectors and sinners, Jesus now declared himself the bridegroom. The wedding feast was a common metaphor for the anticipated day of God’s salvation. Jesus was proclaiming, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near” – thus, describing himself as the bridegroom was a declaration that he the messiah promised by the prophets.
For example, in Hosea 2, the LORD says through the prophet that he will woo Israel back from her infidelity and straying.
Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. From there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Baal.” … And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. On that day I will answer, says the LORD, I will answer the heavens and they shall answer the earth; …And I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah, and I will say to Lo-ammi (which means you are not my people), “You are my people”; and he shall say, “You are my God.”
Who is this guy? You have to see this: Jesus was time-and-time-again revealing his identity. Jesus was on the campaign for the kingdom of God. He was advancing into new territory with each encounter.
It also is worth noting that this is the first time in Mark that Jesus reveals what will happen. “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and they will fast on that day.” It was an odd turn of phrase because the Jewish wedding custom was that guests leave – not the bridegroom. The idea of the bridegroom being “removed” from the wedding scene would have sounded off in the ears of Jesus’ first listeners. In the event the bridegroom were removed from the wedding feast, fasting would be appropriate because a great sadness had occurred.
II. New Patch And New Wine
After explaining who he is – revealing his identity (again) as the promised messiah – Jesus explained that the kingdom of God is different than anything they have ever known or experienced. He used two different analogies: the new patch and the new wine.
The new patch is fairly straightforward. It was likely as colloquial saying that Jesus simply adapted here, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.” In other words, he was not trying to improve on what the Pharisees had done; he was not trying to build on what John’s disciples were doing; what he was accomplishing was something completely different.
The fad term today for what Jesus was describing is “discontinuous change.” Discontinuous change. It is not incremental. It is not progressive. It is not cumulative. Instead, discontinuous change is disruptive, unexpected, and altogether new.
Tod Bolsinger wrote a book entitled “Canoeing the Mountains.” He used the experience of the Lewis and Clark expedition to illustrate the concept of discontinuous change. Lewis and Clark were charged with exploring the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. “They believed, like everyone before them, that the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east.” They prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. That was fine until they encountered the Rocky Mountains. As Bolsinger noted, “It is not going to do you any good to paddle harder.”
Jesus was proclaiming a kingdom of God grander than the encounter of the Rocky Mountains. He was proclaiming something new, something so profound, and something so powerful that people were drawn to him. Already in Mark, we see that: we see people asking, “Who is this guy? What is going on?”
The same point was made with the new wine. It is different. It cannot be contained in the old patterns. It cannot be housed in the old vessel. It is new. Trying to fit in the old would destroy both the old and the new; which would be bad because both had value. We see this later in Paul’s adamance in “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) The old ways and the old expectations were not applicable to the kingdom of God Jesus was proclaiming.
The contrast between the old ways and the new are important to recognize. Jesus was not subtle here: the old ways are sorrowful and lamenting; the new way is celebration and joy. Belonging to Jesus and being with him is to be saved to the kingdom of God. Itis to know the wonder of redemption, restoration, and renewal. It is to be washed clean, to have our brokenness mended, and to experience newness. It is to see forward in hope, awe, and wonder. Consider again the works he had done: taught with authority, delivered people from unclean spirits and demons, healed the sick, forgiven sins, and sought out sinners. This is the power of a new kingdom; one that is completely different than institutionalized religion.
So, I want to turn our attention to us. How does this message resonate with you?
Do you experience Jesus as the bridegroom? In one of our Hawaiian Island Ministry conference videos this summer, David Choi talked about being asked, “What is the look on Jesus’ face when you repent?” He pondered and could not answer. His mentor said, “He is smiling.” He is smiling, now. Can you believe that? Can you believe that God celebrates when you have your eyes set on him?
The kingdom of God is where we know and experience God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness – yes, for sure – but also his welcome here and now. We experience the joy of knowing we are adopted as children of God. We can trust that we are loved – deeply, more deeply than we can even express – by the one who has the power to do all things. This is good news!
Where have you experienced the transformative power of the kingdom of God in your life? Take a moment and think about that: where and when have you experienced the transformative power of the kingdom of God in your life?
If we think about Mark’s early readers – believers in Rome who were experiencing persecution and hardship – the message that kingdom of God was present – in the present – in Jesus was a powerful encouragement. The promise of the kingdom was not someday. It was not pie-in-the-sky-in-the-bye-and-bye. The promises and power of the kingdom were here and now. The difficult circumstances they faced were nothing in comparison with the joy of serving the one whose has power, authority, love and mercy.
Throughout history, the reality of the kingdom of God – and the joy of knowing Christ now – has shaped Christian believers in profound ways. The reality of the kingdom of God now is how believers can know joy in the midst of suffering. The reality of the kingdom of God now is how believers can have hope in the midst of oppression. It is how they can trust God in the midst of (and through) the most dire circumstances. No one ever enjoys the troubles they confront, but the hope of the joy set before them – the reality of the kingdom of God now and forever – has sustained them through all those other temporary situations.
So let me ask again, where have you experienced the transformative power of the kingdom of God in your life? Where and how have you known the presence of Jesus?
A few weeks back, I charged you to be praying for someone or several people who do not yet know Christ. Let me know challenge you to think about the times you have experienced the power of God as you are praying for that person and those people. Pray for opportunities to share your experiences with them, and pray for them to experience the power of the kingdom of God.
Friends, we are guests at the wedding banquet of the King of kings. We have been charged to extend the invitation to those to whom we have been sent: let’s share the good news. “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe in the good news.”
AFFIRMATION OF FAITH: Heidelberg Catechism, Question 32
Q: But why are you called a Christian?
A: Because through faith I share in Christ and thus in his anointing, so that I may confess his name, offer myself a living sacrifice of gratitude to him, and fight against sin and the devil with a free and good conscience throughout this life and hereafter rule with him in eternity over all creatures.
 Robert A. Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary, vol 34A, p. 109.