Mark 7:1-13 – Externals

Mark 7:1–13 1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“ ‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

7 in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Everyone makes their own rules for certain situations.  A point comes, and each one of us crosses it at one time or another, when we think that the rules and regulations we have set up make us somehow better than others.

This text, as it is written by Mark, gets us upset at these self-righteous Pharisees and inquiring scribes from Jerusalem.  We look at the overview of their washings, and we hear their accusations, and we are so glad that we aren’t like them.  Who would want to be aligned with that pompous, self-righteous religious establishment?

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees devoted their attention to three areas: dietary rules, Sabbath laws, and circumcision.  God in the Old Testament had given His people instructions about those things, and the Pharisees added to them.  But still, the Pharisees wouldn’t have said that the main theme of the Old Testament was to follow rules.  They would not have insisted that God’s promise resulted in these dietary rules, Sabbath laws, and circumcision.  God’s promise was to send the blessing promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through Israel.  The creed of Israel was still Dt. 6:4–5 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might….”

The Pharisees focused on dietary rules, Sabbath laws, and circumcision to create visible signs which distinguished themselves and those Jews who followed them from people who did not follow those rules and instructions.  They were the super-pious.  They were the “in-crowd” with God.

People are still labeled today.  You see a Volkswagen van plastered with bumper-stickers and people with long hair riding in it—you know that you have found hippies.  You see a man in the grocery store dressed in a suit and tie buying an apple and sandwich from the deli—you know that you have found a businessman.  You see someone get off a motorcycle with leather chaps, a bandana, a long beard, and tattoos all over his neck—you know to walk on the other side of the street.

We label others.  But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing especially if we allow ourselves to realize that our labels might be wrong.

So the Pharisees created all these rules and regulations about washings.  The Pharisees took the dietary laws of from Exodus and Leviticus that were meant for the priests, and they made all sorts of extra rules which people could follow to prove that they were obeying the guidelines that God had given.

These washings proved who was in and who was out.  These customs marked and labeled them.

It is interesting to see how Jesus speaks about the distinctions they made both in this text and next week’s text which will continue Jesus’ teaching resulting from this confrontation.

Mark 6 closed by saying, Mk. 6:54–56 54 And when [Jesus and the disciples] got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized [Jesus] 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

Jesus is frantically bringing the rule and reign of God (Mk. 1:14-15).  He is doing exactly what the Old Testament lesson (and many other OT texts too) said would happen: “the deaf hear, the eyes of the blind see, and the meek obtain fresh joy in the Lord; and the poor among mankind exalt in the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 29:18-19).

Jesus is doing these signs and miracles, and the scribes and Pharisees are concerned that the disciples are eating with hands that have not been ritually cleansed.  Because that’s important.

Jesus says, “You know, Isaiah did a great job describing You about 700 years ago.  You are a bunch of hypocrites.  You honor God with your lips and your heart is far, far from God.”

Then Jesus cites a specific example.  God had commanded, “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”  There was a man-made rule which allowed you to take your property which you could use to help your parents, but instead of helping your parents, you devoted that property to God but you could still use it.  You were able to use religion and devotion to God to get out of obeying a commandment that God had given.

Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy.  Look at how hypocritical those silly scribes and Pharisees were.  Aren’t you glad that you aren’t like them?  Aren’t you glad that you have faith and know what God really wants?

You are just as guilty of hypocrisy as they were.

There is a self-righteous Pharisee in every one of you that doesn’t want to die.  You want to be seen as the super-religious and super-pious.  You find all sorts of ways to distinguish yourselves from other not-so-great believers.

You fill your iPod with sermons and Christian music.  You wear your Jesus t-shirts.  You get up earlier in the morning than all your friends to do your devotions.  You repost every, “I-love-Jesus-but-only-1-out-of-10-people-will-repost-this” picture that you see on Facebook.  “You don’t smoke, and you don’t chew, and you don’t go with girls who do.”

You notice that others have a faith that isn’t as mature as yours, and you remember with a chuckle when you used to be like them; but now you have grown up.  Now you have your faith-life together.

You don’t get overly concerned about issues like doctrine; you just “love Jesus.”  Jesus even speaks about doctrines being bad here right?  “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

You do all of those things, and you still look for ways to distinguish your faith from the faith of others.  You search for ways to find a sense of superiority over others.  I know all those things are true about you because, they are true about me and Scripture teaches that they are true about every sinful human being.

You and I want to make ourselves right with God.  You and I have a messiah complex.  We need to quit it!  Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could be in God’s clique.

We get so caught up in making ourselves look righteous and pious that we lose all joy in life.

The commandments of men—our commandments and traditions—become as doctrine to us.  They lead to frustration and despair and, finally, death.

But there is doctrine which gives life.  God’s doctrine, the pure doctrine of Scripture teaches this:

Only one member of the human race was perfectly righteous, and He was the most inclusive, tolerant member of the human race.  This perfectly righteous human ate and walked and associated with the lowest of the low, sinners, prostitutes, thieves, and murderers.  The most pleasing human in God’s sight became a servant of all (Php. 2:5-8).  He suffered, died, and rose again for you and your sins.  He is now seated at the right hand of God the Father with all rule and authority.  He uses that authority to truly forgive sins, not by making you do your penance and meeting Him half-way by some work.  He forgives your sins and they are gone forever.

You and I, we have our messiah complex.  We want to make ourselves right with God.  The only human Who was ever free of a messiah complex was the Messiah Himself—your Savior, Jesus Christ.

And Jesus still lets His disciples eat with defiled hands.  His undefiled hands were pierced so that you could become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  He endured a death by torture so that all your pious actions become small potatoes.  He died an immoral death so that you could be freed from being bound to morality.

He, not you, makes you right in His sight, not so that you can be looked at as some banner of virtue, but so that when you are reviled because of the good deeds that He gives you to do, you turn the other cheek and press on being content with God’s blessing.  Amen.

May the peace of God guard your mind, body, and soul in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

John 6:51-69 – I Believe I Cannot Believe

There are not many things we do for six weeks.  For six weeks now, we have been looking at Jesus’ Feeding of the 5000 (men plus women and children) and teaching that crowd “the following day.”  We are considering Jesus’ final words about it means that this Jesus is the Bread of Life.

John 6:51-69—I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father through Jesus Christ, the Living Bread that came down from heaven.  Amen.

Lives are filled with choices.  Some choices have long-lasting consequences, and some, let’s just face it, are mundane.  Maybe some people sweat about whether to use Head & Shoulders to take care of their dry scalp or to use Herbal Essences so that they can feel like they are in a rain forest every morning.  Hopefully no one will wring their hands solicitously about what to do for supper tonight—whether to go out for an expensive meal or stay at home and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

But some tears might be shed about where to go to school?  Or what career to pursue?  Where to invest and when to start spending those investments?  Whom to marry?  Whether or not to have kids?  When to have kids, and how many kids to have?  Where to live?  To buy or to rent?  When to refinance?

We consider these to be “bigger” decisions which have more apparent and long-lasting consequences. Our lives are filled with decisions, and often the decisions that we make effect all aspects of our life.

I made a very difficult decision just this past Tuesday, and I have to live with the consequences of that decision, and those consequences still make upset me a little.

My wife and I went on a date to an ice cream shop in Minneapolis called Sebastian Joe’s where they serve dozens of homemade flavors of ice cream.  One of my absolute, all-time favorite flavors of ice cream is Chocolate Coyote from Sebastian Joe’s—chocolate ice cream laced with cayenne pepper and cinnamon.  Cold, chocolaty ice cream that burns in your mouth is a wonderful experience.  But Sebastian Joe’s also makes another kind of ice cream called “Pavarotti”: banana, caramel, and chocolate chip goodness that I wonder if it has been blessed by God Himself.

The problem is they do not make every flavor every day.  When Sarah and I were there Tuesday, they could special make Chocolate Coyote in a bowl, but then I couldn’t get Pavarotti.  So, I had to make a choice.  I chose Pavarotti.  To this day, and even this minute, I am regretting my decision.  As difficult as it is, I have to press on; I will have to live with the consequences which will probably stick with me until I get back to Sebastian Joe’s and get my Chocolate Coyote.

Our lives are filled with choices, some important and some not.  But it’s very important both in the Gospel text and Old Testament text, that we do not see the either “decision” of Joshua or of the people or of Peter as being decisions that they made.  Neither Joshua, nor the people of Israel, nor Peter “choose” to believe, fear, or trust in God.

In the Old Testament text (Jos. 24:1-2a, 14-18), Joshua calls the people to himself and recounts the history of Israel.  In the verses that get omitted (v. 2b-13), Joshua tells how God brought Abraham out of a foreign, pagan land where his fathers were serving false gods.  God took Abraham away from those people and gave him offspring.  God led Abraham through the land of Canaan.  Joshua  remembers God’s faithfulness to Isaac and Jacob and God’s continued faithfulness bringing His children to Egypt.

God continued to be faithful to the Israelites even while they were in Egypt under slavery.  God faithfully brought them out of the land of slavery and delivered them from the Egyptians.  God faithfully brought them into the Promised Land which was inhabited by pagan nations.  God gave them the Promised Land giving them victory after victory over all of these idolatrous nations and people who were stronger than they were.   God gave them a land “on which [they] had not labored” and “towns that [they] had not built.”  God caused His people to dwell there.  God gave them “the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that [they] did not plant” (Jos. 24:13).

Even though the Israelites did not remain faithful to God, He remained faithful to them.  Even though the Israelites did not serve God, God served the people.  God served them and delivered them and gave them things that they did not deserve.

Joshua reminded these people of all that God had done for them in the past.  Then Joshua gives the call, “Now therefore fear Yahweh and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness.  But if it is evil in your eyes to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve.”  Joshua boldly states that he and his house will serve Yahweh, and the people say the same.

In our Gospel text, Jesus asks a question.  “Do you want to go away as well?”  Unfortunately, we miss some of the nuance behind Jesus’ question.  It is absolutely clear that Jesus expects the disciples to answer His question with a “No.”  It could be translated, “You don’t want to go away as well, right?”  Peter speaks for the disciples.  He says (Jn. 6:68-69), “Where else could we go?  You are the One Who has the words of eternal life.  You alone are the Holy One of God.”

We think, “Wow, look at these great confessions; look at how strong Joshua and the people and Peter are as they say that they will follow God.  I wish I had that strength and conviction.”  But, if we get caught up in looking at Joshua and the people and Peter, we completely miss the point.

Notice, Joshua’s call is not to choose either Yahweh or the pagan gods.  Joshua’s little sermon calls the people to continue relying upon Yahweh Who has been faithful to them.  Joshua says, “Everything you have has been given to you by Yahweh, but if you really want, you can serve other gods.”  The people are free to abandon Yahweh and not serve and fear Him.  Joshua opens a catalog of false gods that the people can serve if they abandon the God of their Fathers, Yahweh, the Great I Am.  But those gods are no gods at all.  Joshua makes it clear right after our text ends that the decision is not between Yahweh and other gods, the people cannot chose Yahweh.  He says in Jos. 24:19, “You are not able to serve Yahweh, for He is a holy God.  He is a jealous God.”

Jesus says the same in our text.  “The spirit gives life; the flash is no help at all.  No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”  Jesus also says in Jn. 15:16,  “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you…”

Scripture is clear.  You do not come to God; you do not chose God; you cannot believe.  Believer, the God that you serve doesn’t like you because you are likable.  He loves you because He is love.  Your God doesn’t want you to serve Him; rather, your God wants to serve you.   Your God condescends to you to serve and save you.

You have been saved because of what God has done in Christ.  God reconciled you while you were still a sinner when Christ died for you.  When was Christ crucified?  It was a real historical event 2,000 years ago, but in God’s economy of time Christ, the pure, spotless Lamb of God, was crucified since “before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20).  And God chose you in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).  Salvation comes not by your choice but by God’s choice.

That is the Gospel.  God has saved you.  No good deed you have done, no religious service you have offered, no decision you have made has made you right with God.   God saved you when you were His enemy, and He sustains you.  He sustains you even when you falter.  If God forgive you in Christ while you were still a sinner and His enemy, He is not going to suddenly kick you out of the camp because your faith isn’t so strong or so great.

Jesus says that He wants to serve you; He wants to give you eternal life.  He is the Living Bread that came down from heaven.  Eat His Bread and live forever.  Feed on His flesh and drink His blood and have eternal life (Jn. 6:53-56).  Jesus’ flesh is true food; His blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on Jesus’ flesh and drinks Jesus’ blood abides in Jesus, and Jesus abides in him.  As the living Father sent Jesus, and as Jesus lives because of the Father, so also whoever feeds on Jesus will live because of Jesus.

Don’t worry about seeking for God; God has sought you, and He found you.  You were dead when He found you, but that doesn’t matter to Jesus Who is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:25).   Jesus will continue to sustain you; He will continue to lead you and give you His life.  When you feed on His food, you don’t have to worry about anything else, because His food will sustain you.  When you have His protection, you are safe from any danger in this world.  God will even keep you safe from yourself.

Scripture changes the question.  The question is not do you chose the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or some false god?  Scripture changes the question, God has already done everything to save you, where else would you prefer to go?  The answer or nowhere.  All other bridges have been burned.

Serve the God Who has served you.  Serve the God Who will continue to serve you through the rest of your life and even through your death.  Serve God who serves you even as your corpse rots on this earth until He raises you from the dead so that He can continue to serve you throughout all eternity at His eternal feast.  Amen.

May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus the Living Bread from heaven.  Amen.