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Date:   4/10/05

Text:   Mark 2:18-3:6

Title:   The Newness of Christ

Theme: The message of joy, grace and mercy must supersede all human traditions.



  Pope John Paul II was probably the most liked Pope in recent church history. He was respected by people of all faiths and nationalities. He was a man with strong moral principles, speaking clearly and without compromise to the kings and presidents. People liked him, but also felt he was holding too tight to traditions.

  Don't we all have unique traditions in our personal lives, families as well as in this and other churches, and organizations? Isn't it also true that when there is the wind of change, it will make us feel uncomfortable. Should we change or fight to resist?

  This is what today's text is about. It is about tradition and change; conflicts and resolutions. When we read the narrative portions in the scriptures, such as the historical books and the gospel, like any novel, we will notice conflicts and resolutions. In Mark and other gospels, we will notice the occurrences of many small conflicts with different resolutions. These small conflicts eventually lead to the final conflict, Jesus' death on the Cross. There is also the final resolution, His resurrection from the dead; He is the ultimate victor over death, sin and Satan.

  In today's passage we find 3 conflicts. We will take a look at the nature of the conflicts and what they mean to us today.

  The first conflict is about Fasting. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were required to fast on the day of Atonement. It is a once a year fasting. The meaning and purpose of fasting is to mourn for one's sins. However, later on, the number of fasting starts to multiply. Such as for every 7 day; 3 weeks; 40days; fasting in the 5 th and 7 th month. And finally, as the Pharisees boasted; fasting twice a week. So, besides the once a year fasting, human traditions had included many other forms of fasting.

  The conflict is this: John's disciples and the Pharisees' and their disciples fasted, how come Jesus'' disciples did not fast? What was the resolution of this conflict? vs. 19,20, “ 19 And Jesus said to them, "“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast." 20 "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day." ” Jesus compared himself to the bridegroom. When he was with his disciples, with the arrival of God's kingdom, there was no need for mourning. Instead, it was a time of joy and celebration. But one day, when the groom was gone (hinting taken away by violence), then it was the time to mourn and fast.

  Take a look at his teaching and ministry. His teaching both revealed and explained God's heart for men. With his coming, the sinners' sins were forgiven and freed from the bondage of sins. The blind could see, the possessed were delivered, the sick were healed, the hungry were fed; fears were comforted, the wounded and broken ones were healed and wayward children were brought back to the heavenly Father. It was a message and ministry of freedom, love, grace and mercy. This requires joy and celebration.

  The second conflict is about how to keep the Sabbath. In Genesis we learn that after the creation of man, the seventh day, the Sabbath was set apart. Its original intent was for men to rest from his work. But later, the Jewish rabbis kept multiplying things one cannot do on Sabbath. There were 39 principal works. Each principal work was further divided into 6 minor categories. Therefore literally there are hundreds and thousands of things one cannot do on the Sabbath. Such as: one cannot walk more than 1 mile, cannot pluck grain from the field and cannot heal someone unless it was a matter of life and death. You see, the original intent of Sabbath was for men to rest from 6 days of work. But human tradition turned this day into a day of tyranny, with hundreds of things that one cannot do.

  In this passage we also read about the bread of Presence (or the show bread). In the holy place of the temple is a table. On top of the table were 12 loaves of bread arranged in two rows. The bread symbolizes God's presence with men, God's intimate fellowship with men. Every Sabbath these loaves of bread were changed with fresh ones and only the priests could eat the old loaves.

  In this second conflict, Jesus and his disciples were seen plucking the grains and ate on Sabbath. Vs.23, “ 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain ” This is forbidden by the Jewish tradition. Didn't Jesus know about this? Why was he doing something that was so clearly forbidden by their law and tradition? What was the resolution? Vs.25-28, “ 25 And he said to them, "“Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him:" 26 "how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”" 27 And he said to them, "“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." 28 "So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” ” Jesus said, look at David. He and disciples ate the bread of presence on Sabbath. They ate something only the priests could eat. Jesus was saying that to fulfill the basic human need is not a violation of Sabbath. To show grace and mercy on Sabbath is not wrong. Then he said that the Sabbath is made for men and not men for Sabbath. You see, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had it all wrong. Their laws and traditions implied that man was created for the Sabbath. Therefore one had to keep all those dos and don't's. No, Jesus said, it is just the opposite. Sabbath is made for man, and therefore man must not let those human rules and traditions lord over them. Moreover, the son of man, meaning Jesus who is equal with God, can decide what to do and what not to do on the Sabbath. Meeting one's essential need is more important than keeping human traditions. Jesus' message, the gospel and his ministry is a ministry of grace.

  The 3 rd conflict is about healing on the Sabbath. Now, it is another Sabbath day. There was a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. According to the Jewish tradition, a doctor cannot heal anyone on Sabbath unless it is a matter of life and death. Obviously a withered hand is not about life or death. So, what would Jesus do? The conflict is: If Jesus healed him, then he is not keeping the human traditions of Sabbath. Would he violate the Sabbath law again, like he did when he and his disciples plucked the grain in the field?

  What was the resolution? Jesus asked the man with a withered hand to come near him and asked the people, 3:4, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” The answer is obvious. Of course it is lawful to do good on Sabbath. This left the Pharisees speechless and Jesus healed the man. Jesus was saying the message and the ministry of Mercy was more important than keeping human traditions. Jesus was angry at the Pharisees. And they decided to get rid of him.

  From these three conflicts, a clear truth begins to shine forth. The gospel message of joy, grace and mercy must supersede any human traditions. This new message is fresh and powerful. It brings about changes in individuals' lives and in the society. However to accommodate such a message and its power, we must change how we think and how we act. The Pharisees, by holding onto their human traditions, failed to see the gospel of joy, mercy and grace. Its like old wineskins which cannot withstand the power of new wine. Likewise, a new patch of cloth over a torn old cloth, will only make the tear worse. For us to see and experience the power of the message of joy, grace and mercy, we need to let go some of our human traditions.

  Let me try to illustrate and apply this to where we are.

1.   Some general thoughts about traditions.

Here, Jesus is not abolishing all traditions. He fasted for 40 days. He taught his disciples to fast and they listened to him. He is saying that traditions, especially those man made tradition, without clear command from the scripture must not stifle the power and freedom of the Gospel message.

Traditions provide us with guidelines and security. However traditions at times can also limit our growth and creativity. Very often tradition causes us to say, I have never done it this way before, therefore it is not acceptable here. Traditions can hinder and kill my creativity and will not allow me to think outside the box. I will only stay with what is familiar and safe.

Do you have some of your traditions that you hold on tightly at the expense of the gospel message of joy, grace and mercy? I know it is kind of embarrassing, but I'llshare this with you. For almost 25 years, Monday is my day off. On this day, I usually do most of the things you may do on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons. I do errands. I buy things and when I find out they were not what I expected or not working properly; then return them one week later. I cook and do some of my laundry and some of my ironing. It usually keeps me quite busy. Then once in a while I'll get the call that so and so is in the hospital. I think you can guess what went through my mind. Why don't you check in tomorrow? I have let my own tradition stifle the gospel of mercy and grace.

Whether it is tradition or a new way of doing things, it must be subjected to the standards and doctrines of the scripture. The scriptures, God's word, are our highest and final authority.

2.   Some thoughts about worship style

No issue has caused the church more tension and conflicts than in the area of worship styles. In the 80's we see the rise of the Charismatic movement in NA. There are certain areas of their practice and teaching we may not agree with. However, it is recognized that one gift that the Charismatic movement has brought to the churches is a freer and more spontaneous form of worship. It has caused us to rethink what worship is and can be. This new form of worship often includes at times rather loud music, worship team, clapping and waving of hands. This is just not how we used to worship.

At a very contemporary service I attended during a conference last month, someone sitting behind me said, “This is too much for me. I can't stand this anymore.”

Is there a solution to this complex issue? It is important that we affirm what the scripture has taught, demonstrated and modeled for us the essential attitude and elements of worship. Such as worship in truth and spirit, confession of sins and praises to God. We know from the Psalms, all kinds of instruments were used to express our worship. However, there is very little instruction and command regarding how these essentials should be carried out. Therefore, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans and the Methodists all have their own unique tradition of expressing such elements in their worship services. There is really no scripture mandate to say one is more “Truer” than the other. Yes, personally I may not like the music or certain body movements, but when I see how sincere and free they are in their worship; I can only thank God for that. I may not quite like the liturgy of some of the Episcopalian and Lutheran worship services, but when I see how the believers in those traditions worship in truth and spirit, I can only thank God for them.

A person in his 70's and a long time Christian from a small community was brought by his preacher son, to a worship service in a big city church. The loud music, plus the youth wearing denim shirts and casual pants, and many of them with earrings on at least one ear, had clearly made him very uncomfortable. As he left the service, he met someone who had befriended him over 30 years ago. This man said to him, “Hi John, I know how uncomfortable this music makes you feel. I don't like it either.” Then he continued. “But look at all the young people who come to hear about the Savior. I have stayed with this church all these years, because God is using it even in ways I can't always appreciate.”

3. Some thoughts about the youth.

I have also been thinking about the younger generation. I mean anyone who is 40 and under. From time to time you hear me brag about how every Saturday afternoon I would go to my church for our youth fellowship meeting, or when I was in college I would travel 1 ½ hours every Sunday to go to church. I may not like how some of you are wearing those huge baggy cargo pants to church, or hair with funny colors. On Friday I was reminded that in two weeks 8 high school students will be baptized. Yes, I may be able to brag a lot about my past, my discipline, or my rigidity. But at your age, I didn't have the experience of having a youth minister like Jason or Conrad spend time with me, and explain to me about the essential tenets of our faith when I was baptized. I did not have anyone teach me that to be a Christian is to be totally transparent and honest to God. Nor did I have anyone, teaching me in church about money, priority, and lust and sexual sins and temptations. Yes, the young people will continue to wear their cargo pants for another few years, with colored hair and earrings, yet they are growing and maturing in their walk with the Lord. We thank God for these youths.

And then on some Sunday mornings or Friday evenings, I see how the young adults; the BASIC and College students worship God in their music, expressing their love, devotion and sincerity to God. It is so untraditional, so different from what I knew and experienced, but at the same time I feel humbled and sometimes even ashamed of falling short such devotion to God.


  Remember, we are studying the gospel of Mark as if Mark is telling us the story about Jesus Christ. As we read today's text, it is so easy for any reader to see how the Pharisees are being blinded by the tradition. They hold onto their traditions so tight that they have failed to see and experience the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, the moment we make this remark, this passage suddenly jumps out into the 21 st century. How about the readers, how about us? Do we hold onto any traditions that may have blinded us from both seeing and experiencing the power of the gospel message? The message of freedom and deliverance from sin? Are we still holding onto the old wineskin and trying to fill it with the new wine?

You see, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is a message of joy, mercy and grace. It is a powerful message that transforms lives. In order to experience this transformation, there must be change in how we think and do things. We must not be afraid of change. You see, changes had taken place before us. After listening to a modern rendition of “Amazing Grace”, an individual says, “ I don't like this. I prefer the original tune.” A friendly gently points out to him, “You know, the tune we like, is really not the original tune. It is a modification of the original tune.” Changes have occurred before us, they will take place after us. Because Jesus Christ, the son of God has come to bring changes in his people. It is here to change us into His likeness.