Text: Mark 2:13-3:6
Main Idea: Jesus came to save undeserving sinners not congratulate self-righteous rule keepers.
I. The Saints
II. The Sinners
III. The Scandal
A. Jesus didn’t come to condemn religious outsiders (2:13–17)
B. Jesus didn’t come to promote religious piety (2:18–22)
C. Jesus didn’t come to endorse religious traditions (2:23–3:6)
Many people live their entire life believing that God is most pleased by those who live by the most rules…
But, what we see in the text this morning is quite the opposite. Jesus is exposing the wholesale inadequacies of first-century Jewish customs. What I mean by this is that, he is not condemning the Mosaic Covenant, he is confronting those who have reduced their worship and pursuit of God to a burdensome list of man-centered rules. An exhaustive list of does and don’ts. An itemized religious checklist. A religious report card that enables religious players to compare their religious achievements against one another just like gamers compare their character stats, upgrades, and achievements.
And this is why Jesus is utterly scandalous to the religious leaders of his day—he didn’t fit the religious mold. Main Idea: Jesus came to save sinners NOT congratulate self-righteous rule keepers. And we see this clearly manifest three different ways in our passage this morning:
- Jesus didn’t come to condemn religious outsiders (2:13–17)
- Jesus didn’t come to promote religious piety (2:18–22)
- Jesus didn’t come to endorse religious traditions (2:23–3:6)
Normally these three points would serve as my outline. But, in an effort to cover this passage in one pass I’m going to take a different approach. I’ve organized my message as follows:
- The “Saints”
- The “Sinners”
- The Scandal
For the most part, Pharisees were highly esteemed in first-century Israel because they did everything in their power to live a life that glorified God.
From the very beginning the Pharisees were a religious reform movement that was rightly devoted to holiness, avoiding anything that might defile them carefully obeying every aspect of the OT Law. To accomplish this, they erected an additional fence or buffer zone around the OT Law as to guard against any possible failure. Think of it like an outfield warning track or the rumble strips on the side of the highway that keep you from drifting off the road or into the oncoming lane… their intentions were good!
And if you read thorough the Gospels carefully, Jesus never attacks their pursuit of purity and obedience. Rather, he condemns them for the cold-hearted inconsistent hypocrisy of their pursuit, in that they elevated their “buffer zone” regulations to the level OT Law!
What I mean by this is that they declared that the warning track didn’t really exist but was really out of bounds. And that the rumble strips on the highway were not an audible wake-up call, but a legal infraction and religious failure. But, by Jesus’ day, every aspect of religious life had been neatly categorized into wholly-inflexible black and white categories, which meant that there were only two classes of people: those who were “in” and those who were “out”… the saints and the sinners.
When Jesus calls Levi to follow him in verse 14, Jesus is calling the ultimate religious outsider into his inner circle of disciples.
First, History tells us that most of people named Levi in the first-century were, in fact, Levites. If this is the case, Levi is not merely a tax collector but a traitor who abandoned his religious calling so that he could serve Rome and line his pockets at the expense of his very own people.
Second, Tax collectors were utterly despised, not only because they abandoned their people to serve their Roman occupiers; but because they made their living from the money they could collect over and above the taxes owed. In other words, tax collecting was, by its very nature manipulative, corrupt, and oppressive.
The Jewish hatred of tax collectors runs so deep religious leaders declared that:
- If a tax collector entered your house it became ceremonially unclean (m. B. Qam.10:1). This put a tax collector on the same level as a leper or a dead body.
- The poor were forbidden to accept alms from a tax collector despite their neediness because tax collectors lived by extortion and legal robbery (m. Ṭehar.7:6).
- Rabbis even proclaimed that it was permissible to lie to a tax collector in order to protect your property (m. Ned.3:4).
Jesus’ contact with Levi was utterly scandalous not just because he was a tax collector but because he chose to have dinner with Levi and his friends.
First, sharing a meal in the first century was an external symbol of intimate friendship and acceptance. Meals affirmed your social status, clearly displaying which crowd you belonged to—the “in crowd” or the “out crowd”… kind of like the Highschool lunchroom.
Second by using the term sinners here, Mark is telling us that Levi’s friends are men and women who rightly deserve scorn and shame for their openly sinful lifestyles—unscrupulous, ceremonially unclean scum of the earth.
But, do you see the sharp contrast between Jesus and Pharisees—between the supposed “saints” and the “sinners.” Jesus reclines at dinner with Levi and his friends. The Pharisees stand on the perimeter in judgment. Levi followsJesus (2:14), the tax collectors and sinners followJesus (2:15). But, the Pharisees do not follow Jesus. Rather, they judge Jesus as a “sinner” and reject him.
The Scandal in these four accounts is this, the religious “insiders” realize that Jesus is playing by a completely different set of rules. A set of rules in which religiously meticulous “insiders” are increasingly exposed to be kingdom “outsiders.”
Jesus Didn’t Come to Condemn Religious Outsiders (2:13–17)
The scandal in this first encounter is that Jesus didn’t demand that tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners had to clean up their lives before they could spend time with him.
To put it another way, a relationship with Jesus is NOT like a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland… there is no moral or religious high bar that people need to measure up to before Jesus will spend time with them. Jesus never sends anyone away because they do not measure up to his moral standards. And that’s because no one makes the grade!
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
What we see in the text is that Jesus does more than preach repentance to sinners. Jesus isn’t standing on a soap box on the corner of the dinner party preaching a hell-fire and brimstone sermon. Jesus invades their world with compassion and gospel-purpose because they are not worthless pieces of sub-human trash; they are human beings created in the image of God.
The mere fact that Jesus accepts this invitation to Levi’s house helps us see the difference between his mission and Pharisees’ mission. They came to distinguish, enlighten, and judge. But, Jesus came to befriend and redeem.
Mark 2:16–17 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?” 17 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.”
Jesus is telling the Pharisees, you just don’t understand. I came to help sinners just like a doctor comes to heal the sick. Doctors give their entire lives to working in the most contaminated environments. But, no one ever thinks that the doctor is working with the ill so that he can be infected. No. everyone knows that the doctor serves the ill so that they can be healed.
In the same way, the kingdom of God is not contaminated by contact with sinners. Rather, it brings restoration, healing, and reconciliation to God. Condemning unbelieving sinners for their sin is like condemning:
- a disabled person for their disability
- a barren couple for their infertility
- a cancer patient for their cancer
- a deceased person for their deadness (Cf. Ephesians 2:1–3)
Sinners don’t need open hostility they need divine healing! Healing that will not come from religious piety or religious traditions but faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Didn’t Come to Promote Religious Piety (2:18–22)
Mark 2:1818 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?”
Fasting was an important display of religious piety within first-century Judaism that could denote sorrow, grief, repentance, or devotion to God. And by the time of Jesus, the Jewish calendar listed 5 yearly fasts. But, the Pharisees went far beyond this, fasting every Monday and Thursday.
This pointed question is really an indictment about Jesus’ religious piety. In essence they are asking him, how can you claim be a messenger of God’s kingdom, when your life doesn’t even come close to the devotion we display every single week? If you want us to take you seriously, you’d better start “towing the line.”
But, Jesus’ response makes it clear that he is not against expressions of religious piety—his disciples will have every reason to fast in the future. The wedding picture is simply this, “When it comes to fasting, it’s all about timing.” And his point is that if the disciples of John and the Pharisees understood who he really was they would celebrating too. But, their hostility, in this encounter, simply reveals the reality that they did not understand or accept Jesus. They were trying to understand him in light of the past Not the promised future.
Unlike the prophets of Old, Jesus didn’t come to call Israel to covenant renewal or to greater submission to the Torah. The parable of the patch and the wineskins demonstrate that Jesus didn’t come to champion religious reformation by “patching up” their pursuit of the Old Covenant. No. Jesus came to fulfill the Torah and inaugurate something completely new that the “old wineskin” of Judaism was never designed to contain—the New Covenant kingdom of God.
Deuteronomy 30:6And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Jeremiah 31:31–34“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Notice the New Covenant promise, God will put his law in people’s heart so that they will love, obey, and enjoy him as he intended. To put it another way, these people will follow the Spirit of the Law rather than following an exhaustive list of religious traditions and arcane stipulations designed by men to “rightly observe” the Law…
Jesus didn’t Come to Endorse Religious Traditions(2:23–3:6)
God didn’t ordain the Sabbath as a burden to be endured; but a blessing to be enjoyed in joyful praise, heartfelt worship, and thankful rest… it was “made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2:27). But in contrast, the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath into an excruciating day of exhaustive rule keeping, in which, 39 specific laws had to be observed—two of which appear in our passage: proscriptions against harvestingand healingon the Sabbath.
Harvesting: According to the “oral law,” plucking a few heads of grain to satisfy one’s hunger on the Sabbath was completely forbidden because it took “work” to separate the grain from the head. Therefore, the disciples were sinning against God by working on the Sabbath.
Healing: In very much the same way, the “oral traditions” allowed for medical attention on the Sabbath, if it was a life-threatening injury.But, this man’s disability wasn’t life threatening, which meant that if Jesus really honored God he would wait until the next day to heal him.
But, what are the Pharisees missing? They are missing the Spirit of the Law.
In the case of the disciples he wants them to see, in David’s need for food demonstrates, that human needs trump ceremonial commands.
In the case of the disabled man he wants them to see that seemingly religious people commit evil when they refuse to do what is good. It is not just permissible to heal on the Sabbath. It is right to heal on the Sabbath, whether it follows oral traditions or not.
Main Idea: Jesus came to save sinners NOT congratulate self-righteous rule keepers.
Matthew 23:1–7Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
Don’t build walls of separation in your life from the very people who need the gospel the most. Jesus calls us to be both salt and light.
Simply put salt necessarily impacts the food it comes in contact with, whether that be flavor or preservation like beef jerky. God calls you and I to be in close contact with this lost and dying world so that they can get a little taste of his gospel grace and that they might ultimately come to faith in Jesus Christ.
In the same way light illuminates the darkness, that’s just what it does. The smallest light can bring hope and peace by dispelling the blackest darkness.
The unbelievers in your life, no matter their history or lifestyle, don’t need your condemnation they need your compassion and friendship. Doctors don’t hide in clinics behind locked doors. These people need to see, in your friendship, that Jesus is the sinless friend of sinners who cleanses and forgives everyone who believes in him.
Don’t judge other Christians by your personal “high bar” standards of Christian piety.
What I mean by this is that Christians are always judging each other over things like: standards of modesty, acceptable entertainment, educational options, alcohol use, and political issues. Here is the deal, external conformity has no ability to change the heart or cause us to delight in Jesus. And even worse, too many Christians fall to the lie that there is spiritual power is in prescriptions, living as if rigid asceticism produces godliness.
Colossians 2:20–23 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Two people can do the exact same thing for totally different reasons. Just like two families can have the same house and the same furniture in the house, but have a completely different smell. Does it reek of judgmental legalism or does it have the sweet aroma of gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent grace.
Let us not be the kind of Christians who spend our time comparing ourselves to others but ones who truly stir each other up to love and good deeds while we actively reach out to those in our live who need Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 10:24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 29–30.
Strauss, Mark, 130.
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, 2002), 89–90.
““Both parables are about the relation of Jesus, of Christianity indeed, to traditional Judaism.” The parables illustrate the radical posture and presumption of Jesus. Jesus is the new patch and the new wine. He is not an attachment, addition, or appendage to the status quo. He cannot be integrated into or contained by preexisting structures, even Judaism, Torh, and the synagogue;” (Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 92).
Strauss, Mark, 149.
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 99.