Posts Tagged 'Pharisees'

Plastic Plants and Plastic People



Luke 11:37-44


Jesus rarely turned down an invitation to lunch, even if it came from a Pharisee.  When our Lord ignored tradition – the Rabbinic tradition of washing before eating – His hosts were incensed.  This prompted Jesus to issue a series of “woes” or denunciations.  Many of the things He said about the Pharisees and the experts in the Law here in Luke sound a lot like the things He said of these same groups in Matthew 23.  But we are looking at two different situations and two different occasions.  The incident in Matthew took place during the Passion Week, and here this little luncheon at the Pharisee’s house took place while He was in Perea on His way to Jerusalem.  Still, it’s late in Jesus’ ministry and things weren’t as easy as they were in the early years.  Relationships with the religious elite were deteriorating.  His teachings were pointed and for some, now hard to accept.

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table.   (Luke 11:37 NIV84)

By now, most of the Pharisees were at odds with Jesus, so it is possible that this invitation to lunch was part of a larger plan to trap Jesus; to use His habits, which were well-known, or His words against Him.  But Jesus had a plan of His own, and nothing – not even religious leaders – would stop Him.  Part His plan involved these very religious leaders, the lawyers and the Pharisees.  Jesus had a message for them, and what better time to deliver it than over lunch?  So, the religious leaders thought they were in charge, but it was Jesus who used this situation for His purpose.  We will find out that these men, whatever else they may have been, were hypocrites.   We will also learn that Tennyson was right in his observations regarding these people who pervert the truth:

A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies! A lie which is all a lie may be met and fought outright, But a lie which is part of a truth is a harder matter to fight!

1.  A hypocrite is more concerned with the traditions of man than the truth of God

But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. (Luke 11:38 NIV84)

These so-called experts in all things having to do with the Law, the Old Testament, were actually far more interested in compliance to certain rituals that had nothing to do with Scripture.   In fact, these people were quite literally obsessed with hundreds of man-made rules.  They were constantly being handed down and enforced as if salvation depended on their strict observance.  In truth, the very simple precepts of the Levitical Law demanding cleanliness and ceremonial purity had been blown way out of proportion.   Jesus, by His action of entering the house and simply “reclining” at the table, was demonstrating what He thought of their precious hand-washing requirement. 

The Pharisees cared more about the traditions of the elders, which were always in a state of flux, being added to or altered, than they were with the true, unchanging Law of God or with the true dignity of Jesus’ divine character.  In truth, the true child of God ought never be put in a position of having to be bound by the opinions of man.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1 NIV84)

Living by faith, understanding that your position in Christ is a work of faith alone, sets the believer free from the notion of having to “earn” his salvation through man-made rules and regulations. 

But the hypocrite is the one who thinks – and insists that others think as he does – that salvation is a matter of God’s grace and faith, but also a matter of believing the right “doctrines,” as determined by some man or committee of men.  Jesus would have nothing to do with such nonsense.  Why, then, do we?

2.  The hypocrite is more concerned with being clean on the outside than with purity of heart.

Then the Lord said to him, Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”  (Luke 11:39 NIV84)

Jesus called a spade a spade!  His words here are strong, direct, but necessary.  The word translated “greed” means literally “plunder” or “robbery.”  His point here is that the only good side to the Pharisee is the outside; inside he is rotten to the core.  They live their lives for the eyes and scrutiny of other people.  These were the man-pleasers that continually got under the skin of the apostle Paul:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.   They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.   (Titus 1:15-16 NIV84)

Jesus went to to say:

Fools! Didnt God make the inside as well as the outside? Purity is best demonstrated by generosity.  (Luke 11:40, 41  TLB)

In typical hypocrite fashion, they were partly right but mostly wrong!  These religious types made sure the outside was squeaky clean, but they neglected to clean up the inside.  Erdman comments,

Jesus declared that to wash the body while the heart is impure is as absurd as to clean only the outside of the cup or platter.  God made both the body and soul, and is more concerned with the latter than with the former.

The precise meaning of these two verses is a little unclear, but Jesus may have in  mind the Pharisee’s predilection for being all talk but with very little action.  And our Lord may also have had in mind the numerous Old Testament passages that stress obedience to the more important aspects of the Law over obedience to ceremonial ordinances.  These passages might include:  Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8.  It’s not that Jesus is advocating a works-based salvation, but rather something akin to what His half-brother would later write:

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.   (James 2:17 NIV84)

But there is a deeper meaning here.  These hypocrites should have been giving unselfishly to help others, motivated not from the outside but from their inner most being.  But we get the sense that, in fact, the opposite was going on:  they were actually robbing  the poor.  That may be taken two ways:  (1)  by not giving generously, the Pharisees were robbing them; (2)  somehow they were literally taking what little the poor had away from them.  Perhaps in the form of offerings or  some sort of “temple” tax.  Either way, the shoddy way these men treated the poor showed them for what they were:  hypocrites who talked right but walked wrong.

3.  The hypocrite majors on the minors

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.  (Luke 11:42 NIV84)

It’s a fact that nothing good follows the word “woe” in the Bible!  The hypocrites eating lunch with Jesus observed scrupulously the tithing admonition taught in Leviticus 27–

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.  (Leviticus 27:30 NIV84)

What strikes you is that these Pharisees not only observed this part of the Law, but they observed it to the minutest detail!  They tithed…herbs!  Mint?  Why stop there…why not tithe a grain of sand?  Their absolute obsession such minor points of the Law blinded them to the needs of others.  They were strong on their knowledge of the Law, which Jesus never condemned by the way, but they had no love.  We don’t know why they were like this; perhaps they thought themselves above being charitable to others or it may be that as far as they were concerned being sticklers for the letter of the Law absolved them from getting involved with others. 

Jesus informed these men that it was proper for them to practice their tithing; the New Covenant wasn’t established yet.  It’s interesting that the Gospels mention the “tithe” only three times, all in connection with the Pharisees.  Tithing is also mentioned in Hebrews but only in a historical context.  We never read of any member of the early church tithing.  We do, however, read a lot about “generous giving.”  Christians ought to give generously, as God enables them to do so. 

But these religious men eating with Jesus, they were all about the minute letter of the Law.  That’s what motivated them. 

4.  The hypocrite loves to impress people with his “religiosity.”

Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.  (Luke 11:43 NIV84)

Yes, these hypocritical Pharisees loved to be seen in the synagogues and loved to be greeted in the streets.   And so are religious hypocrites today.  They don’t really care about adorning the great doctrines of the Bible, but like to be adorned by those doctrines.  In other words, the religious hypocrites of today use and warp Biblical doctrines to meet some need they have.  How many preachers and pastors are in those professions because they like the (imagined) power or for the prestige that comes from being introduced as “Reverend” or “Doctor” or “Reverend Doctor?”

5.  The hypocrite true character is opposite to what he projects

Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.  (Luke 11:44 NIV84)

This “woe” is a little different from the parallel “woe” in Matthew 23:27–

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead mens bones and everything unclean.   (Matthew 23:27 NIV84)

In Matthew, the Pharisees are compared to beautiful tombs that look clean and well-kept on the outside but full of putrid rot on the inside.  Here in Luke, though, the comparison is a little different.  Here Jesus says the Pharisees are just unmarked graves that anybody would walk over without even noticing. 

According to Jewish customs of the day, these kinds of “unmarked graves” needed to be whitewashed so as to be easily seen.  If, as Jesus said, a hapless Jew were to walk over one of those graves, he would have been ceremonially impure, so that’s why these undistinguished grave markers had to be whitewashed.  To the religious types listening to Jesus this lunch hour, this “woe” must have been particularly stinging because here they were, thinking they “all that”  and being looked up to and admired by everybody.  Yet they were like unkept grave markers; neglected.  The Pharisees had hidden their hypocrisy, presuming people were impressed with them.  Yet, according to Jesus, some people were not – they were, as it were, just walking right over them.

The true character of the hypocrite is the opposite to what they project.  So let’s be careful to make sure our hearts are right and our motives pure as we serve the Lord and lead others to Him.


John and His Preaching

Luke 3:7—18

What was it that motivated John the Baptist? He was an ordinary man on an extraordinary mission: to get his world ready for the arrival of the Messiah by preparing the hearts of those who would hear his message. John preached the “baptism of repentance.” He was the last of the Old Testament prophets; he walked from the pages of the Old Testament into the opening pages of the New. He is like a bridge connecting the two eras with a single message: the Messiah is coming…get ready!

His message resonated with the people; he had his followers. His message also attracted the ire of the religious elite. How did John respond to these religious people? Let’s take a look…

1. A tough question, verse 7

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

What a way to address your congregation! Just who was John the Baptist directing this question to? The answer is found the parallel passage, Matthew 3:7—9.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

John was addressing the two main sects in Judaism of his day. Who were the Pharisees? The name or title comes from the Hebrew word parash, meaning “the separated one.” Some scholars believe “pharisee” comes from another Hebrew word, perushim, which has a similar meaning to parash, but the separation is specified: from “unclean people.” In either case, we can see that aim of the Pharisees was to live away from the “normal folk.”

It was during the Babylonian captivity that Pharisaism began. During this period, the Jews had no Temple to worship in, so they became “people of the Book” in their everyday lives. The Law of Moses became central to their lives and the study and teaching of the Law became the obligation of the religious leaders. Later, during the Maccabean years, the Hasidim (the pious ones) struggled to keep Judaism free from the influences of the surrounding pagan religions. And during the time of Herod the Great, it is estimated that there were some 6,000 Pharisees practicing in Israel. The main task was enforcing the Law of Moses, as well as the myriad of other rules and regulations that had been added to the Law since the days of the Captivity.

The Sadducees made up the second largest sect in Judaism. They were made up of aristocratic priests, and while the Pharisees could be found teaching in and around synagogues all over the land, the Sadducees stayed in and maintained control of the Temple in Jerusalem.

It should be noted that the Pharisees, in spite of their obsession with the minute details of the Law, were much more popular with the people than the Saducess. They are mentioned 100 times in the New Testament while the Sadducees only 14 times. After the the final destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the Sadducees vanished from the face of the earth. It is not an exaggeration to say that Judaism exists today because of the efforts of the Pharisees.

These people John the Baptist addressed as “a generation of vipers.” Why he calls them this derogatory term is suggested by the question: “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Or, in other words, as far as John was concerned, the reason they were coming out to be baptized was simply to avoid God’s judgment. They were doing the proper thing but with the wrong motive.

2. An important demand, verse 8

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:9)

The Pharisees and religious people loved the symbols but had no interest in the substance of faith. This really rankled John the Baptist because he understood what real repentance was all about: turning TO God FROM sin. You can’t turn to God and take your sin with you! But that doesn’t stop many believers from doing just that. Certainly they were baptized, but they came up out of the waters of baptism the same person they were when they went in! To John, this was not true repentance. A new life must be manifested by a new way of living. The religious were proud of their connection to Abraham, but to John, father Abraham was incidental to manifest faith in God.

John may have been a simple prophet living out in the desert eating insects, but he could certainly turn a phrase! His retort to their reliance on religious pedigree was terse:  if God wanted to, He could make children of Abraham out of rocks. So, religious pedigree means nothing to God. What God demands is a change in moral character.

3. A testing crisis, verse 9

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Here is a powerful metaphor suggesting that God’s judgment is ready to take place. At any time, the lumberjack will pick up his axe and swing it. Every tree that is not producing its proper fruit will be chopped down and burned up. This is an idea Jesus would much later take up:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 7:19)

This is not exactly a message about God’s love! In fact, John the Baptist never preached about the love of God. His message was a dire one: turn or burn. This is the responsibility of every sinner who hears the Gospel message; once they hear it, they must respond to it. If they don’t accept it and repent, they will face sure and certain judgment.

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. (John 12:48)

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. (Luke 8:18)

4. A practical doctrine, verses 10—14

What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

In this paragraph, John the Baptist sounds more like John the Counselor. Even though some specific groups of Jewish people are addressed, John the Counselor gives universal principles that apply to all believers in all generations.

First, Christians should always manifest brotherly love. If a Christian sees a need, he should do what he can to meet that need. Showing brotherly love is a way to allow others, sometimes unbelievers, to experience the love of God.

Second, believers should be honest in their business practices. Tax collectors were in view here, but the point is much broader than just honest taxation. The real point here is that of all the people in the world who engage in business of any kind, the Christian should always be the most honest and above reproach; we ought never to take advantage of another.

Last, John addressed some soldiers. To them, his advice involves being content with your lot and not taking advantage of others in order to improve that lot. It’s all well and good to be ambitious and to take honest advantage of situations and circumstances to have a better life, but a Christian should never be so dissatisfied with their position in life that they would harm others to get ahead.

The fact that all this practical advice is given within the context of a sermon on repentance suggests that cheating others, taking unfair advantage of others, and not caring for others is the natural way of the world. When Christians repent, they must turn from that way of living. However, merely changing ones way of life is not what results in salvation. Repentance that does not lead to a life of faith in Jesus Christ is a repentance that should be repented of!

5. A humbling confession, verse 16a

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

Some of those listening to John’s preaching were so impressed, they thought he might be the promised Messiah, so John made it clear: he was NOT. While John may have been mighty in righteousness, Jesus is mighty in grace. John may have been an imposing preacher, and he may have preached with authority, but it wasn’t his authority, it was derived from Christ.

When John suggests that he isn’t worthy to untie the Messiah’s shoes simply means that as far as John was concerned, he wasn’t even worthy to be the Messiah’s servant.

6. The most significant statement, verse 16b

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Many religions and cults baptize people in water. In this, Christianity is no different. But, John stressed, when the Messiah finally appears, He will baptize His followers, not in water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

The first part of this statement indicates in no uncertain terms that there is a baptism in or with the Holy Spirit. But John the Baptist also says “with fire.” Bible scholars are split on what John meant when said this. Some suggest he was referring back to the “fires of judgment” the fruitless trees would be cast in to. In that case, the preacher is talking about the fire of final judgment.

Others teach that the Baptist is referring to the fires of purity, that is, when one is baptized in the Holy Spirit his life is purified; the dross is being burned off.

And others see the “tongues of fire” here. When the early church was baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit was seen as tongues of fire coming to rest of the head of each believer.

Given what we know about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of a believer, it seems likely that John is referring to life-changing work of the Spirit. He really does function like a blow torch sometimes, burning away the trash in our lives. Bishop Ryle’s statement on this issue is worth noting:

We need to be told that forgiveness of sin is not the only thing necessary in salvation. There is another thing yet; and that is the baptizing of our hearts by the Holy Ghost…Let us n ever rest till we know something by the experience of the baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of water is a great privilege. But let us see to it that we also have the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

There are three things the fire of the Holy Spirit does in the believer: (1) It warms; (2) It lights; and (3) It cleanses. This is what the Holy Spirit brings to the heart of every believer He baptizes. To walk in the Spirit is to live in the glowing fire of God’s presence. When we walk in the Spirit, the things of the Spirit become more real than the things of the world; they become more vital than the things of the world. This baptism, the Baptism of the Spirit, does not happen by working for it; you can’t buy it. It is a gift from the Ascended Christ. Have you laid hold of that gift? If not, why not?

7. A final warning, verse 17

His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

The same One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire also carries a winnowing fork in His hand. The same One who unites and enriches with spiritual blessings will also separate and judge. There will come a day when the Messiah will separate true believers from false.

This is really the summation of the sermon, and John’s point is sharp. Anybody can be baptized in water, Pharisee, Sadducee, common man, but that water baptism must be followed by corresponding evidence of the new life. Somebody that claims to be a Christian and has been dunked in the baptismal tank yet does not live in repentance of sin and obedience to God’s Word will face the winnowing fork. This didn’t happen when Jesus came the first time, but it will when He comes back. The Messiah will separate the true from the false believers, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds.

Studies in Mark’s Gospel

Religious Conflict

If we were to compare chapters 1 and 2 of Mark’s gospel, we would see an interesting contrast. Chapter 1 a chapter of  “the glory” while chapter 2 is the chapter of “opposition.” In fact, this chapter differs so much, that some commentators separate 2:1—3:6 from the surrounding chapters and suggest this section is a collection of incidents out of chronological order, which Mark has grouped together because they have a common theme: conflict with the religious leaders of the day.

There are a total five incidents which when taken together show the conflict that existed between Jesus and the established religious order of the day and also show the authority that Jesus exercised over both situations and the religious leaders.

As we study each incident, we should note that in each successive one, the struggle between the religious leaders and Jesus grows in intensity, to the point that by the time we reach the final incident in chapter 3, they are not only opposing Him, but plotting His death.

When we speak of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders of His day, we are struck with a paradox: did not these religious leaders, who professed to love and worship God, want the same thing for their people as Jesus did? In other words, couldn’t these conflicts been avoided? Of course, they could not. Jesus preached love, they legalism; He God’s holy law, they law-burying traditionalism; He freedom, they bondage; He inner attitude, they outward act. These religious leaders, much like religious leaders of today, hated Jesus because to surrender to Him would mean surrendering their prestige and their public persona. This they could not do.

1. Conflict 1: Healing a paralytic, 2:1—12

In verse one, Mark says that Jesus had come “home” to Capernaum. Capernaum was Christ’s “home base” in the early days of His ministry. The “home” was probably the house of Peter and Andrew, referred to in 1:19. In reading this account, the actions of a number of people bear comment.

  • Jesus. Here, in this very small, one room Palestinian peasant’s house, Jesus was bringing His gospel to the people. He was preaching; this was His mission during His earthly ministry. Healing the sick was secondary, though to those whose bodies were healed it doubtless seemed to be the most important. Sickness of the soul is infinitely more serious than any physical ailment could ever be.
  • The guests. In light of the amazement caused by what Jesus had said and done earlier (1:21—34; 38—45), it is understandable why the house was full. Friends and family members of the disciples were there, neighbors who had heard about Jesus were there, those who were genuinely interested in the truth about Jesus were there, and many who were just plain curious gathered.
  • Religious leaders. Also gathered there were the Pharisees and doctors of the law, according to Luke’s account (Luke 5:17). These men had come from all over the area out of curiosity and also hoping to catch Jesus on some theological misstep.
  • The paralytic and his friends. This poor fellow wasn’t really interested in the teachings of Jesus; somehow he and his loyal friends sensed that Jesus was more than just a teacher; that Jesus could heal a paralyzed body.

All these people, from various walks of life, were crammed into that small house, listening to and watching Jesus, all for different reasons. Suddenly, into this crowded house, four men lowered their paralyzed friend down from a hole in the roof. It was a remarkable sign of their loyalty to their friend and they dedication to help him. It was also a sign of something else, according to Jesus—

When Jesus saw their faith. (verse 5)

The proof of faith is works. The persistence of these men proved they had faith. Jesus recognized this immediately, and He also recognized something else—

Son, your sins are forgiven. (verse 5)

The point is not whether sin caused this man’s affliction, but, rather, the reality that Jesus saw in this paralyzed man a greater need than the obvious physical one and commented on it. He was a sinner who needed forgiveness and that is what Jesus was about to do. Jesus never took sin lightly. He never dealt with a physical need without addressing the greater spiritual one. Because we are carnal by nature, we always seem to notice and remember the physical healings.

The so-called doctors of the Law, who knew nothing about grace and who denied the claims of Jesus to be the Son of the Father, debated within themselves—not out loud—what was Jesus was doing. They were filled with “religious prejudice” and condemned Jesus to death (Leviticus 24:15). It is interesting that these critics of Jesus are seen sitting, perhaps in seats of honor, while so many had to stand outside.

Jesus knew their inner most thoughts and confronted them directly. Surely these men, so well-versed in the law knew the words of the Psalmist—

The LORD knows the thoughts of man;
he knows that they are futile. (Psalm 94:11)

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139:2)

As far as these religious leaders were concerned, they could no more heal the sick than forgive the sinner. Jesus could do both, however, and He chose to do the more important first. Jesus forgave the man’s sins, and then performs a healing miracle to make the inner spiritual reality—forgiveness of sins—obvious for all to see.

But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (verses 10—11)

The gathered guests could not see into the man’s now-cleansed heart, but they could see a paralyzed man, who was carried in on a stretcher, get up and walk out, carrying that same stretcher! By means of this amazing physical miracle, Jesus proved the validity of His words of forgiveness by the power of His words of healing (Ralph Earl).

But he emphasis of the story is clearly on Christ’s authority to forgive sins. This is made clear in the Greek, where the literal translation of five reads-

Forgiven are your sins.

The order of the words places the emphasis on “forgiven.”

2. Conflict #2: Eating with sinners, 2:13—17

This second incident began innocently enough with the calling of another disciple, a man named Levi, also known as Matthew, writer of the first gospel. He was a Jew, but was employed by the Roman government to gather taxes from his people. Jesus had apparently passed this man’s tax collection booth before, and apparently Levi was somewhat familiar with Jesus, for the moment Jesus called him, Levi dropped what he was doing and followed Jesus. Luke’s account in 5:28 suggests that Levi, Matthew, gave up a lucrative business and easy life to become a follower of Jesus.

Tax collectors were despised in those days, as they are today, and no self-respecting Jew would ever willingly associate with one. Yet we see Jesus actually dining at this tax collector’s home! What is interesting about verses 15 is the arrangement of the words in the Greek. The phrase synanekainto to Iesou, “eating with Jesus,” suggests that Jesus was the host, not Levi, even though they were dining at Levi’s home! Lane thinks this is highly suggestive:

When this is understood the interest of the entire periscope centers on the significance of the Messiah eating with sinners. The specific reference in v. 17 to Jesus’ call of sinners to the Kingdom suggests that the basis of table-fellowship was messianic forgiveness, and the meal itself was an anticipation of the messianic banquet in heaven.

Jesus’ critics knew that Levi and his associates were dining with Jesus and thought that was a deplorable thing for Jesus to be doing. The Rabbis had a rule: “the disciples of the learned shall not recline at table in the company of ‘am ha-arec.That is a somewhat derogatory term, roughly translated means “people of the soil,” or “uneducated rabble.” But to such as these “people of soil” did Jesus come. This passage makes it clear that the call to salvation is an invitation full and free, and extended not to “righteous people,” that is, those who think they are righteous, but to those who are most unworthy and in desperate need. This is not to limit the gospel to only the “desperate.” In order for Jesus to share His call to salvation, there must be a recognition of need in those hearing it. Self-righteous people have no such recognition, but a sinner does. Hunter comments:

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

3. Conflict #3: Fasting, 2:18—22

The law suggested only one fast in an entire year, on the Day of Atonement. However, over the centuries, many more fasts worked their way into Jewish religious tradition. Some would last a day, others a week or more. In this story, which is out of chronological order, there are two groups of disciples participating in a fast: John’s disciples (suggesting this event took place while John the Baptist was still alive) and the Pharisees. The latter group was probably observing their traditional biweekly fast. John’s followers were fasting, as some have surmised, because he was in prison at the time.

Regardless of the precise reasons, both groups saw fasting as an important, serious spiritual observance. Because of this, some wondered why Jesus’ disciples, and by implication, why He Himself was not fasting. If it was such a pious activity, shouldn’t this new spiritual teacher be practicing it?

Jesus answers their criticism with a parable. His followers had no need to fast, to demonstrate their mourning before God, because He, the Son of God, the great Source of all blessing, was with them. Now was the time for them to be rejoicing in His presence. To fast during a time of celebration or a time of great joy would be unthinkable. In the parable, Jesus is the Bridegroom, His disciples the guests. As long as He is with them they should rejoice. However, He will not always be with them in an earthly sense, and when He leaves, it will be the appropriate time for them to fast.

In verses 21—22, Jesus tells two shorter parables which bear on the idea of fasting and religious observances. In Jesus’ mind, mindless dedication to religious traditions, like fasting, was just as inappropriate as (1) fasting during a wedding feast, (2) pouring new wine into rotten, old wineskins, and (3) sewing a new patch on rotten old clothes. Those three things made absolutely no sense, just like it makes not sense (and is of no value) to participate blindly and mindlessly in tired religious observances.

4. Conflict #4: Working on the Sabbath, 2:23—28

Here is another event, probably out of chronological order, but grouped together with similar stories of conflicts Jesus had with religious leaders. This time, the conflict centers on something far more important that fasting in Judaism: keeping the Sabbath.

What the disciples did in verse 23 was completely allowable by law:

If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:25)

What the Pharisees objected to was that they did this on the Sabbath, and doing this went against one of their 39 forbidden acts on the Sabbath: reaping. It seems ridiculous to us that just picking a few grains of wheat and rubbing them between the hands would have been considered “reaping,” but the charge leveled at Jesus through the disciples was a serious one, punishable by stoning.

In answer to this charge, Jesus countered that human needs outweighed the dictates of the law, and used an example from the Old Testament to support his argument, an incident taken from 1 Samuel 21:1—7). When God’s servants were in need, it was far more important to minister to them than to preserve punctiliously the order of the tabernacle. After all, people are more important to God than ordinances. Jesus declared that the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.

It should be noted, however, that the Sabbath is to meet all of man’s needs: physical (rest), mental (learning the Word), and spiritual (corporate worship). Earl comments that “to ignore this law is only to prove its necessity.” It is essential that believers observe both the Sabbath and the Lord of the Sabbath, because failure to do so would eventually lead to the dissolution of the Church (Trueblood). Judah, with the Sabbath, survived the Exile, but Israel, without it, did not.

5. Conflict #5: Healing on the Sabbath, 3:1—6

This is last of a series of conflicts Jesus had with different religious leaders. This one takes place in a Synagogue on the Sabbath.

Jesus, like all His disciples and the early Church, attended Synagogue services on the Sabbath. Among those attending services this day was a poor man with a “shriveled hand.” Knowing Christ’s compassionate heart, the religious legalists watched our Lord closely; obviously they weren’t there for the religious service! The wording of verse 2 shows the extent of Jesus’ fame:

Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

Notice, it is not “could,” but “would” Jesus heal the man. Jesus was fully aware of the man’s problem, but also knew that He was being watched, and instead of ignoring the man or healing him in secret, Jesus boldly announces His intention and “calls out” His critics!

“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (verse 4)

The Pharisees were dead silent; they would not debate Jesus. Rarely do we see Jesus angry, but here He was angry; He was righteously indignant—a righteous man in the presence of stark evil (Wessel). As He looked around at these men, His anger was intense by brief. But His “distress” was continuous; it was caused by the state of their sinful hearts. They simply refused to recognize who He really was and why He came. They were, in effect, more concerned with maintaining their religious status quo than to open their minds, and their hearts, to the reality that a new age was dawning: the age of the Kingdom of God.


In each case of conflict, the results were the same. On the positive, an individual was healed of some physical ailment or some human need was met, as in the case of the disciples picking the grain. On the negative, the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders became more and more palpable.

We see also in these five incidents the authority of Jesus on full display. There was nothing that could stop Jesus from accomplishing His mission and there was nothing that could stifle the power of Jesus, not a physical debilitation or a clever question. Jesus has the authority to heal sickness, cast out demons, reinterpret the Torah, lay down His life and raise it up again.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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