My Part to Play

Perhaps it’s just me who wants to have an impact. I wish I could honestly claim that I want that purely for the betterment of others, but I want to have an impact for selfish reasons. Perhaps not only selfish reasons, but they make up part of my thinking and desire to have an impact.

In the “culture” or “economy” of the “Kingdom of God”, it’s not about me, but about the King. The King loves me, He has my back, and I am at His service. He calls me to wait, worship, and walk before Him. And my life is all about Him, in reality. In my imagination, I hold out hope for a “leading role”.

In the “Parable of the Soils” (Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:4-8), Jesus describes a “sower sowing seed”. In the parable, the seed is the word, Jesus’ preaching. The soils are those who hear (“The one with ears to hear, let him hear”). The different soils represent the different ways people receive what Jesus teaches.

A parable, only in Mark also has a sower sowing seed. If the elements relate the same way, then this parable tells the story of the part played by the sower.

He also said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who spreads seed on the ground. He goes to sleep and gets up, night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. By itself the soil produces a crop, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And when the grain is ripe, he sends in the sickle because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29 NET

This parable is about the seed growth, but also about the part played by the sower. You and I, we are sowers. We spread about the teachings of Jesus to those who might actually hear. Those who hear, the “good soil”, produce up to a 100-fold of what is sown by you and I. But we don’t make them produce.

Did you catch the phrase in the middle of the parable, “…, though he does not know how.” Even though the “farmer” plows, plants, waters, and tends the crop, he truly doesn’t make it grow. I thought this might be different for modern farms but it isn’t. They still depend on the things they can’t control, like the amount of rain and snow fall in a year.

We try so hard to control our part in the Kingdom of our Savior. Or we avoid His Kingdom because we want to spend our time where we can “have an impact”. We desperately want this world, “our world”, to be about us. And it’s not. What a relief.

I don’t have to be good enough, know enough, or even have mad skills. That’s great, because I don’t have any of those three. And even if I did, it still wouldn’t be about me. I can’t possibly know enough to “save” anyone. It doesn’t work that way. Jesus died for us. He didn’t take an exam for us.

Good enough? I can’t get through a day without being a jerk. And my Savior sits with me anyway, pats my leg as He stands, and says, “Come on, let’s go for a walk.” Really? Why would the One forming stars want to go on a walk with me? I’m a jerk. I’m selfish. And yet, we walk.

What are you? Have you caught that the truth that the Kingdom of God is not about you is the good news? That is the “word” we sow. That the kingdom is about the King, and not about us, our politics, our philosophy, our religion, or our “mad skills” is the content of the word.

Jesus died and rose for us. Jesus did that. He is the central character in this play. Our world, your world, is about Him. It is about Him loving you, how He enables, empowers, and protects your walk with your Creator. It’s about Him. The seed grows, though we are completely in the dark about how.

I walk with my Creator. No other feature to my life truly matters. You can walk with your Creator. No other feature of your life truly matters.

So, scatter seed. Pitch it out there. Sure, it will fall among thorns, you know what it’s like to have thorns in your life. Some may fall on rocky ground. You know how hard it can be to find depth in your life. Some may fall on the hard ground, and be stolen.

But some will fall on good ground. And, when it does, go ahead and do your due diligence. But, the point will still be your Savior’s work in a person’s life. Relax into the peace and joy of all this being about the One who does know enough, is good enough, and Who has “mad skills” we could never imagine.

Perhaps the “Parable of the Secretly Growing Seed” will lead us into authentic worship, into peace, and into joy. When He pats your leg as He stands, and invites you to go for a walk, go. Don’t worry about the seed. He’s got it taken care of.


The Measure of a Person

What is important to you? By what standard do you evaluate others? On what do you base your choices?

There are a couple of places in Scripture where it seems that our Savior uses a measure with us that we choose to use with others. So, what we do to, or with, others, He does to, or with, us. Does that sound weird? Okay, here’s one:

“For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.”

Matthew 6:14-15 NET

This statement is so important, Matthew quotes Jesus saying something like it again in Matthew 18:35. It should be a very sobering thought. Like the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, there’s a balance between ourselves and others in the eyes of our Savior.

Here’s another of those “tit-for-tat” sort of comments by Jesus:

And he said to them, “Take care about what you hear. The measure you use will be the measure you receive, and more will be added to you. For whoever has will be given more, but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

Mark 4:24-25 NET

Only this one has another strange element to it, “whoever has more will receive more, and whoever has little will lose what they have.” That’s just weird. If you have never thought so, have you really thought about it? It is antithetical to the popular approach to society. That’s the opposite direction of redistributed wealth preached by our society.

Of course, this “measure used on others will be used on you” concept has a tag of “and more will be added” feature. That’s not exactly balanced. And, if you are particularly mean, should be even more sobering.

The context of the passage in Matthew 6 is prayer, specifically seeking forgiveness. The context in Matthew 18 is seeking forgiveness also. The context in Mark, though, is hearing and understanding parables. That seems different, yet, this concept of using our measure with us is used in both places.

We have an old cliche which says, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” The idea being that consequences follow our actions. Proverbs is full of this concept. Which, in a sense, is really all that God is saying to us (although read the accompanying parable in Matthew 18:21-35).

Here’s the thing: God, our Loving Savior, instigates the consequences. He is the One “punishing” with the standard we use with others. With the standard we judge, we will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2). The balance, or consequence, is thematic with Jesus, as it is in Proverbs. Which tells me my Creator thinks it is important.

We focus so much on the grace of our Savior, which saves us from our sins when we were incapable of saving ourselves. And we should. The grace of our Creator is truly Amazing as few things are. Along side that, let’s consider the “balance” used by our Savior.

So, when we are angry with another person, family, friend, or co-worker, let’s remember this balance. When we drive from point A to point B, let’s remember the balance with those on the road with us. When we deal with our kids, our siblings, our parents, let’s remember the balance.

I think the recent trend has been to teach “reaping and sowing” to get this idea across. It’s a good topic. It’s a vital life lesson. Keeping this in mind helps us grapple with the right deity, the One describing Himself in Scripture rather than one of our own imagination. And grapple we should. Let’s wrestle with God by the Jordan (Genesis 32:24-28)! We may walk away with a limp, but we will have a new name, and a blessing to go with it.

Balance. The center of our walk with our Creator and with our walk with others comes together on us. Like Jesus, let’s grow in favor with God and man.

Finding A Good Job

The sheer volume of employment services, applications, and supporting services can be overwhelming. I used to be a pastor, and I was surprised about how many sites there were to help pastors find churches, and vise versa. There is an entire industry centered around finding qualified employees and jobs.

You would think that, with such a robust industry connecting people with places to work, there would be no jobless people. But just because jobs exist, doesn’t mean finding a “good job” is easy.

I was recruited out of my first job with Thomson Reuters into my second. I didn’t look for it, it found me. When that position was eliminated during a reorganization, finding a good job where I lived wasn’t easy at all. Suddenly I was left with the challenge of finding any job. I love coffee, and wound up as a barista. From there I “graduated” to coffee roaster, a position I still hold with that company, even after I was rehired by Thomson Reuters.

So, good jobs aren’t impossible to find, but they’re not necessarily easy either. What if you were happily employed, family career, it paid well, your family was happy, and you were offered another job that would take you away from all that? It would depend on the job? Okay, how about one where you weren’t paid much, you had to travel constantly, your employer had no home and had to live with you sometimes, dealt with crowds constantly becoming mobs, and your employer intentionally moved from publicly popular, to a social pariah? Sound like a great job? 

Well, what if you were given specific responsibilities, though, authority, actually. Like this:

Now Jesus went up the mountain and called for those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve so that they would be with him and he could send them to preach and to have authority to cast out demons.

Mark 3:13-15 NET

See, that sounds better, doesn’t it? Can you imagine the “headhunter” pitching that job to someone? “You’ll love it! It includes travel around Galilee, Phoenicia, Samaria, and Judea! There is public speaking involved, and you will be given the responsibility, with authority, to cast out demons! I mean, seriously, where could you find another opportunity like this?”

Let’s just leave out the sleeplessness, missing meals, and crowd control duties. The authority to cast out demons! Who doesn’t want that? It may sound great, but it does sort of make you a “first responder” of the spiritual type. And demons are no fun. Being a fireman or police officer may start to sound more appealing.

And let’s not forget public speaking, that is one of the greatest fears of people in our society. Most people would rather die than speak in public. Isn’t that awesome? No, not really at all.

So, proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand, cast out demons, and heal any disease as proof. That’s the job if a disciple. Oh, and travel everywhere to do it. 

Jesus called a strange group of people. And He called them for a strange job. So, consider the power involved in carrying out that job. What has your Savior called you to do? Where has He called you to go? Notice that “He called for those He wanted.” He had many to choose from, but He called these. And He calls you.

It may not be our dream job, but Kings rarely ask what we want. It may not seem possible, but it is our “Employer” who provides what is necessary. Our part is obedience, and confidence. It kind of gives me the willies. 

Finding Good Help

Good help is hard to find. That’s how the cliché goes. The part of the world in which I live, this is shockingly true. The jobs aren’t scarce, and people aren’t scarce. Those willing to work are rare indeed.

Jesus found a lot of people, or, rather they sought Him out. He had plenty of faces from which to choose ones in whom He would invest. He chose 12, like His Father through Jacob.

A character study of these 12 is worthy, and, if you have, or can find, a copy of Foxes Book of Martyrs, you can read one. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the Twelve are listed in nearly identical order. But in Mark, we are given insight into Jesus giving three of them different names.

To Simon he gave the name Peter; to James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, he gave the name Boanerges (that is, “sons of thunder”);

Mark 3:16-17 NET

Simon becomes “Rocky”, and James and John become “Ragers”. You don’t see it? Petros is Greek for rock, and “sons of thunder” puts James and John the “category of those who are angry”. It really should be “anger” or “rage” instead of “thunder” (according to Strong’s Concordance). Maybe “hot heads” would be better, but you get the idea.

The rest are set off without much explanation:

and Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Mark 3:18-19 NET

There are some questions about Thaddaeus’ name, like what was it really. There are questions about whether Simon was really a “zealot” in the historical sense. And there are questions about Bartholomew being Nathaniel from John 1.

But set those questions aside for a moment. Matthew, a tax collector, sits with a “zealot”? Even if Simon were simply a fanatic for Jewish independence, and not one of that political movement/party, he still sits with Matthew. And sit those two with a couple of “hot heads”, “Rocky”, and the others, what do you have? Pandemonium!

And yet, Jesus keeps them all together, they seem to be at peace with each other (those stories aren’t told, probably), and they seem united in their devotion and awe of Jesus. It’s remarkable, or should be.

So, when you look for a church, a Bible study, a “small group”, or other religious group to join, are you looking for where you can get along? Do you tend to avoid potential confrontation by only associating with those with whom you can already get along? May I recommend a different approach?

Get involved where your Master places you, among those He places you, and don’t try to “figure it out”. “What are my spiritual gifts?” “What is my temperament?” “Where do I fit in?” are all about you, and miss the focus on our Savior.

I get it though. Who wants to be a part of a group that is rude, fights all the time, and where a “bully” surfaces to run things? I don’t. And, sometimes, this is what churches and small groups become. And sometimes, Jesus wants to gain control of those He loves dearly, and heal those angry bullies.

With all the churches from which to choose, among all the small groups from which to be a part, how do you know which one(s) your Master is leading you to be a part? I’m sad to say there is no formula. I wish there were, because that’s my temperament. But there isn’t. He simply lets me know one way one time, and another way another time. It’s really annoying. Honestly, for you, He may have a formula.

The point is to be obedient to the Holy Spirit when joining any group. And then, once you join, being obedient to the Spirit of Jesus in your participation. Really, that’s it. He chooses who makes up the groups. He chooses ones He knows will mix together to accomplish His purposes.

He chose twelve that didn’t mix well, including one who would betray Him. Use that as your “litmus test” of a group that He chooses. It’s not how we would do it, which is probably part of the point.

Can You Imagine?

In storytelling, one foundational rule is “show, don’t tell”. It means that, in a scene, don’t tell the reader about the setting, a character, or an action. You show the scene, what would the reader see? You show the character demonstrating their…well, character. You describe the action as it happens rather than simply stating that it happened. Of course, you have to know when to break the rules.

The idea of writing this way is that you draw the reader into the story. They should be able to imagine being there and seeing it, smelling it, feeling the wind on their skin. The more senses involved, the more vibrant the engagement of the reader. Which is great when the scene is important, the character central, and the place meaningful to the plot. Sometimes, the writer simply doesn’t have the time for all that.

This entry is being written during COVID-19 restrictions. So, the scene about to be described has a whole new feeling about it. But, remember back to large sporting events, tens of thousands of people, food vendors, crowds? You remember those? Well, this is like that, only with more stink. You see, like those events, people came from all over. Like those events, people moved in massive “herds”. 

But unlike those, these people included many sick and “demon possessed”. There was a smell of the diseased on top of already pungent smell of sweat, the heightened stress of mentally and emotionally unstable people and caretakers trying to manage moving their charges in such conditions. It was chaos, all centered on Jesus.

Then Jesus went away with his disciples to the sea, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him. And from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan River, and around Tyre and Sidon a great multitude came to him when they heard about the things he had done. Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him so the crowd would not press toward him. For he had healed many, so that all who were afflicted with diseases pressed toward him in order to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Mark 3:7-12 NET

There’s a lot going on here, but not a lot of detail is given. But let’s see if we can unpack some of it. Mark says that the disciples and Jesus traveled to “the sea”, which might imply the Mediterranean, except for the instructions “to have a small boat ready”. Now we know the “sea” is the Sea of Galilee.

The crowd is next. It’s HUGE! And it’s made up people, literally, from all over. Look a the map below. These people came from the north, south, east and west. They came because they heard Jesus about the things Jesus was doing. In order to manage His ability to minister to the crowd, Jesus tells His disciples to have a boat ready so He can teach, possibly heal, from just off shore. But it is basically, an escape plan.

The sick pressed toward Him to touch Him and be healed. It is pandemonium around Jesus, and the noise had to be deafening. Normal business along the shore was probably disrupted, which means normal “tax collecting” was probably interrupted, which tends to bring the attention of the authorities. And yet, with all this going on, it seems that the region simply rolls with it. Perhaps this isn’t the first time, Jesus isn’t the first “messiah” to roll through town, or they’re not actually in town, but along the shore outside of a city.

And then there are those possessed by demons. Why are they even there? Don’t the demons know what will happen when they get close to Jesus? They cry out who He is, and He silences them. Obviously, Jesus does not what that sort of advertising, but it only adds to the mayhem around Him.

Imagine it. See Jesus along the shore, the crowd, the arms, the shouts, Jesus’ disciples trying, in vain, to make space around Him. Is Jesus at peace amidst the chaos? Do you hear His voice yelling in frustration or calmly commanding the unclean spirits? What do you smell among the sick? What are they sick with, the sniffles or a retching, wasting disease? What are those with unclean spirits like? Can you see them?

Jesus gives instructions to His disciples to commandeer a small boat just in case. So, are they walking along the shore, or is Jesus still, standing beside a boat as the mass crowds around Him? Is it a clear day, or cloudy with rain? Is it windy and hot, made more hot and smelly by the mass of humanity?

How do you feel to be among the crowd? How do you feel seeing Jesus? What emotions does His voice invoke in you? 

This is simply a passage linking Jesus’ work and teaching about one thing to another set of teachings. Mark mentions it in passing. Yet, so much is packed into it, that when you allow yourself to wander into it through your imagination it can be an overwhelming experience. If you are an introvert, it’s terrifying. If you are an extrovert, it’s exhilarating. For both, Jesus may bring peace amidst the chaos.

Jesus entered into this intentionally. He wades into the mass of humanity doing exactly what they came to see, healing physically and spiritually. What do you learn by seeing Him beside the sea? What do you learn by following His example?

So, Which Is It?

One of the things that drives me nuts is inconsistency. Yet, I work with computers all day, nearly every day. If insanity is defined as, “Trying the same thing over and over expecting different results”, then computers breed insanity. With what other invention of humans can you do exactly the same points, clicks, and keystrokes, but get different results?

And yet, inconsistency seems to be part of this world in which we live, even the natural elements we, humans, did not make. In fact, most languages have a word for “inconsistency”, some have several. It is a universal element to our existence.

So, when Jesus gives two, seemingly incompatible, reasons for something, it should not be a surprise. If our Creator worked that sort of thing into everything He made, why not make it part of His answers?

Spoiler alert: Fasting is a Christian behavior our Savior refuses to clarify. So, you’re not unrighteous if you don’t, but there are benefits if you do. Confused? Then think through this segment of Mark with me:

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. So they came to Jesus and said, “Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don’t fast?”

Mark 2:18 NET

Mark first wants us to know that both the disciples of John (i.e. the “good guys”) and the Pharisee’s disciples (i.e. the “bad guys”) fasted. How did they know that each other were fasting? And how did they know that Jesus’ disciples did not?

To our modern ears, this may sound like these two groups asking Jesus how His disciples get away with not fasting. I can almost hear them whining. To their ears, it was not quite like that. There was an assumption about fasting, and the assumption applied to both John’s disciples and the Pharisees.

In the Mosaic law and the prophets, fasting was tied to remorse for sin or to sanctify (or re-sanctify) (see 1 Samuel 7:6 for one, and 31:13 for the other). So, to not fast was to declare yourself unremorseful, or unsanctified. Unless, of course, you are constantly in the presence of God. In which case, you are constantly sanctified by His presence, and forgiven by His “hospitality”.

Now, armed with that, we are ready for Jesus’ two-pronged answer:

Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they do not fast. But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and at that time they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20 NET)

The first “prong” is that He is with the disciples, so it isn’t the right time. Does this speak to the “remorse for sin” or the “sanctification” aspect of fasting? Flip a coin, and either way, you are probably right. It’s most likely both. Jesus sanctifies by His very presence, and, as He tells Peter later, in the upper room, they are already clean (or most of them are) (John 13:10).

But, in case that was actually clear, Jesus continues with His explanation:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear becomes worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins will be destroyed. Instead new wine is poured into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22 NET)

Now we have another two options, unshrunk cloth and new wine into old garments and old wineskins. But think about that for a moment: How is what Jesus does/teaches like a new “patch” for old ripped garments? Typically, I am a huge fan of overanalyzing Scripture, but this may be a place it does us little good. I don’t think there is an easy correlation to be found between the elements of cloth (old and new, ripped and patch), Jesus’ ministry, and that of John and the Pharisees. I believe the point is simply that putting new over old isn’t a good idea.

A lot more ink has been applied to the wine and wineskins “parable”. In fact, modern worship music loves the imagery. The thing is, it is also possible that this can be over thought as well. Keep in mind that, in Luke, we’re told the old is good, so this isn’t necessarily criticizing the old but rather, another illustration of how new things and old things do not mix well. 

What we’re sure about is that it was not the right time for Jesus’ disciples to fast, but that the time would come. What isn’t quite as clear is how the meaning and practice of fasting will change. Perhaps what Jesus says on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:16-18 is the “new” aspect of fasting, making it more “authentic”. 

We’re not told that the old is qualitatively bad, only different, in fact, Luke 5:39 says the old is good. So, which is it? How should disciples of Jesus view fasting? Is it an old thing that doesn’t belong in Jesus’ new teaching? No, He says the time will come. Is it a new thing not to be done the old way? Possibly. But how many ways are there to fast? Don’t eat. Next. It’s the other stuff that goes with fasting that could be the difference.

With fasting, let’s make sure it’s the right time, and make sure we do it for reasons that build our walk with our Savior. If we do that, we will fast correctly, the right wine in the right wineskins, the right patch on the right garment.

Religious Abuse

Remember back to a movie you watched, or a book you read, where, at the end, it was a total shock. The butler didn’t do it after all, or the bad guy repents and destroys the really bad guy, or the girl gets the other guy (who’s not a “frog” after all), and so on. It’s about to happen to you again…

Then Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. So he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Stand up among all these people.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” But they were silent.

Mark 3:1-4 NET

The scene is a synagogue, no surprise there. The man with a withered hand is where he can’t be missed as Jesus entered, weird, but not a problem. There is a “they” watching Jesus closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, as if Jesus would hide it. This is a trap…obviously (see Proverbs 1:17-18).

 You see the setup, you can probably guess what will happen next, but notice a few interesting details:

After looking around at them in anger, grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians, as to how they could assassinate him.

Mark 3:5-6 NET

Notice how Jesus feels. He is grieved and angered by their “hardness of heart”. The people had used a human being with an obvious problem, a problem they probably assumed was the result of sin. They may have even told him this was a way to “atone” for such a sin, but probably not. It’s likely they didn’t care, even that much for him. 

The man stands there “among all the people”, probably hiding his withered hand in his cloak, embarrassed and ashamed, wishing very much to be somewhere else. He is on display, something he probably avoided. And Jesus asks those people whether it was “lawful” to do good or evil on the Sabbath, to save a life or destroy. 

Time for the reversal: Who are you in the story? Are you one of Jesus’ bewildered disciples? Are you the embarrassed man on display? Do you see yourself as Jesus? Or are you “those people”? It is probably a good exercise for all of us to spend some time viewing ourselves as “those people”.

What do you do on Sunday that seems holy but is actually quite profane or common? What does your church do that uses the gathering of people, rather than experiences our Savior’s presence? At what point has your worship become more about you than your Creator? In short, when has your worship grieved and angered your Savior?

For “those people” in the synagogue that day, the Sabbath was more about their rules than a man who needed help. Their rules about the practice were more important than those practicing. This grieved and angered their Creator. And in many ways, we are they. And we often worship among them.

Jesus leaves them empty and frustrated. They wanted to accuse Him. Instead, He tells the man to stretch out his hand. There’s no rule against that. Jesus didn’t make mud, which is like the potter. No one was carrying anything. There was no rabbinic writing specifically prohibiting stretching out your hand, or miraculous healing on the Sabbath. But in their minds and hearts it was obviously WORK! How dare He!

Frustrated in their desire to accuse Jesus according to their traditions and interpretations of the Sabbath, they opt for assassination plots with the local Roman collaborating politicians. That is what these “faithful Jews” were reduced to in order to overcome Jesus. It is almost as if they said in their hearts, “If he will break the law, so will we!” But it is more likely that the law was never in view here, only their status based on how they used the law.

So, what frustrates us? Is it how people abuse the church, or how the church abuses others? Which option glorifies our Savior? Actually, I think it’s fairly obvious that neither option does. Those aren’t the only two options. Sometimes we can’t see the flaw until we view ourselves from the uncomfortable position. 

Here’s a better question: What did Jesus want to see in “those people” that He didn’t see? That’s what we are supposed to be, how we are to respond. We are to be the people our Savior wants to see. Let’s make our Savior smile. 


This is a post I wrote for a devotional blog at my company (not a “ministry” company). So, it sounds a little different:

The sheer volume of possible puns and clever titles dealing with the Sabbath is overwhelming. It seemed good to go with simple. When it gets right down to it, Sabbath is really about rest anyway. There is a very good chance that, even from Genesis 2, the Sabbath has been a metaphor.

By the time Jesus walked the very ground He created, the Sabbath had become anything but restful. In those days, due to the violent oppressive history of the Jewish people, they had gradually turned a day of rest into one of the most stressful practices of any religion.

The sheer volume of rules surrounding the practice of the Sabbath was so overwhelming, it is difficult to imagine how anyone kept track of all of them. For instance, there seems to be a prohibition to pick heads of grain and eat them on the Sabbath:

Jesus was going through the grain fields on a Sabbath, and his disciples began to pick some heads of wheat as they made their way. So the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is against the law on the Sabbath?”

Mark 2:23-24 NET

So, there’s this law, among the Ten Commandments, that says: “Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy.” (Deuteronomy 20:8 NET). Notice the total absence of picking heads of grain and eating them. “Oh”, but you say, “There’s more!” Which is true. Here’s the “more”:

For six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

Exodus 20:9-11 NET

So, do your occupation for six days (not five, by the way), and on the sixth, rest from it. I still don’t see anything about picking heads of grain to eat as you pass through a field. The Sabbath is for everyone, even servants, but the rationale given by our Creator is creation. He rested after making everything. So, He created the Sabbath too.

The religious leadership had tried to define the term “occupation” so tightly they might not unintentionally miss keeping the Sabbath. They over did it to protect from not doing it at all. But it started by asking, “what does it mean to ‘not do any work’?” When we start looking for “loopholes”, the answer isn’t a tighter net.

Jesus brings up another view to show the Pharisees the problem of their own. Notice that the Pharisees were right there with Jesus, close enough to see what His disciples did. They saw the activity of the disciples, but they were missing their own problem of perspective.

He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry— how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the sacred bread, which is against the law for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:25-28 NET

The event being described here is probably from 1 Samuel 21:1-6, and it is not exactly how it is written there. Even so, the point remains, David ate what was devoted to God, and reserved for the priests to eat. Jesus’ take away from this event is that “…the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”

What sort of “holy rules” have you, or those with whom you worship, instituted over time? Is there a ritual of music, of preaching, of lighting, or seating? One of the most amazing surprises of 2020 was how resilient even small churches were, adapting to “distance worship”, learning to do live webcasts with little or no warning.

The damage done to congregations has yet to be calculated, but the stories of impressive surprising adaptation are easy to find. The story of your congregation is probably your favorite (or should be). And what this taught us is that the “Sabbath” or “holy day of worship” need not be defined as we have always done it.

Our worship, practiced by congregations of called out ones gathered to declare the worthiness of our Savior corporately, is actually a rather flexible concept. Who knew? But it is also a gift from our Savior to us. We were not created for the Sabbath, but, rather, the Sabbath was created for us. And one day, disciples of Jesus will enter into an eternal Sabbath.

So, let’s work our butts off, and then, enjoy the rest of our Savior. Cue the massive pipe organ and the “four-creature” quartet! Holy Holy Holy is Yahweh Elohim El-Shaddai! All the earth is filled with His glory! I’m almost too excited to rest, but it sure beats working!  

Almost Anyone Welcome

We sometimes like to believe we are special, because we are disciples of Jesus. And, in very important ways, we are. Ironically, we are rarely special in the ways some disciples think. Jesus had to deal with this issue among His disciples, but also among “religious people” on the outside looking in.

Rather than Jesus being on the outside, looking in on the Pharisees, as they expected Him to be, they found themselves on the outside looking in at Him. That had to be very difficult for them to process. Sometimes, we can find ourselves in the same position, and, when we do, Scripture contains several calls to repent.

In such instances, repentance amounts to joining Jesus, not abstaining from something, turning around, or whatever. Repentance is first a change of mind and heart before it is a change of action. In the account of the call of Levi (Matthew), there is a call to the Pharisees to accept the perspective of their Creator, so He might become their Savior.

Jesus went out again by the sea. The whole crowd came to him, and he taught them. As he went along, he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him.

Mark 2:13-14 NET

I know, where are the Pharisees? But, trust me, they are there! Matthew is one of those “office” tax collectors, where people come to him, not him going door-to-door with a contingent of soldiers, robbing his own people. He still has the soldier(s), but not the requirement to trapes all over Galilee. So, he’s kind of important, even among tax collectors. And He’s probably “successful” (think “wealthy”) as well. According to the NET translation and “study note” for verse 14, the “tax booth” was for the collection of trade duties on merchants. The belief in the note is that Levi collected them for Herod Antipas, the regional ruler on behalf of Rome.

So, that is what Levi left to follow Jesus. In a similar way to Andrew, Simon, James, and John leaving their occupation, Jesus has called this guy from his. The massive irony to anyone familiar with the Roman practice of tax collection would be that, “you just don’t do that.” And Levi did. Not only did he leave the lucrative business, but he throws a party for all his “tax collecting” buddies, and other “sinners”…

As Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s home, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.

Mark 2:15 NET

Matthew (Levi) is not only leaving his “occupation”, but is happy about it. I suppose, but don’t know, that he could have had someone collect for him while he is off following Jesus. It never says that. Like it never says someone works the fishing business for Andrew, Simon, James, and John. We aren’t told they continue to get anything from it while following Jesus. The impression is that they truly left it, and all the benefits thereof, to follow Jesus.

Now, enter the Pharisees…

When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:16-17 NET

The Pharisees are, unexpectedly for them, on the outside, looking in at Jesus. And, to His undying shame, He’s obviously having fun, which He should never do, no self-respecting rabbi would. I just can’t help but think of the line from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where what really irritated the physicists was that they didn’t get invited to those sorts of parties. I suspect the Pharisees, deep down, felt the same way. They were caught between the life of “respect” they maintained fraudulently, and the life of “shame” they witnessed Jesus and His disciples enjoying authentically.

Don’t think for second, it was easy for the other disciples here. It had to be somewhat awkward for them as well. They were fishermen, sure, but still respectable Jewish men. Here Jesus was accepting into their number this guy, and then partying with him. The other four probably were more in agreement with the Pharisees than Jesus, at just that moment. And their feelings of “superiority” were about to be dashed by Jesus’ response.

Jesus had not come to call the “righteous” but “sinners”? Think that through for a moment. How “righteous” do you suppose Jesus thought the Pharisees really were? If you are not sure about that, look over Matthew 23 and Luke 11. So, if Jesus knows these Pharisees are not righteous, what does He mean? Obviously, “self-righteous”. Jesus has not come to call the “self-righteous”.

So, the question for you to mull over is, “how am I self-righteous?”, and you (and I) need to mull that over from time to time. Self-righteousness creeps in insidiously, and taints our walk with our Savior. Every time I make some headway in a struggle with sin, I feel proud of myself. How ridiculous is that? It wasn’t me, not at all, but I’m so proud of myself for taking a few steps with my Savior, as if, for the first time on my own. I’m a bonehead. You may not be, and good for you if not.

In this account, I find that I can drift into the lane of the Pharisees, only to discover that I’m now on the outside looking in at my Savior having authentic fun with “those people”. So, what do I do? What should I do? If I’m not in there with my Savior, then I’m not in a “right relationship” with my Creator. The corrective to such a situation is what we call “repentance”. In this case, for this particular problem, the answer (repentant activity) would be to join the fun. 

The Pharisees were actually invited to the party, but declined (see any number of parables on that one). They would not shame themselves to eat with “sinners”, and, in so doing, chose to be unrighteous. They could not make the paradigm shift to God’s paradigm, a paradigm that accepted anyone who authentically sought their Creator. There sat Jesus, the answer to every question their hearts held tight, and they could not let go of their perspective. He was too different.

What is too different for you? What is shaking up your world that you simply can’t wrap your head around? Okay, honestly that can happen a lot, in a whole host of circumstances that have nothing to do with God. So, let’s be more specific: Where do you see your Creator working as Savior that you struggle to accept? Who is He working with that you believed could never be reached? For you, who are “those people”? Are they defined politically? Are they defined economically? Socially? 

When faced with your Savior working with “those people”, the lesson from this passage in Mark is to go in and join the party. So, the message this morning is to “Party On!”, because Jesus only calls those willing to humble themselves, shift their paradigms, and enter into the party. Be one of those. Those who won’t, won’t be called. Don’t be that guy.

Party on!

Some Good News

I think most people like short sermons. In general, and unless the preacher is extremely interesting, I believe brevity is the most appreciated quality of a sermon, by most people. And that belief includes the understanding that there are exceptions among people, and among preachers.

So, when I read sermons in Scripture, whether the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian Scriptures, their length is always of interest to me. It’s one of the ways I evaluate the “sermon”. We have so few traditional sermons of Jesus, this example in Mark is one I find very interesting:

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee,  preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:14-15 NASB

The reason I find it so interesting is the amazing amount of information packed into so few words. It is nearly a string of jokes with the just the punchlines included; as if it elicits the same response had the terms been defined, but, instead, relies on the familiarity of the hearer. I believe this is, in fact, exactly what Mark has done.

But we are not necessarily familiar with the terms, or simply assume they are what we think they mean. Some of you may know exactly what they mean, but when was the last time you thought this sermon through, unpacking the words as you read it?

Here is what I mean:

  1. The time… – this is the opportune time, not sequential, calendar time. It’s not about dates having past as much as events having been accomplished.
  2. …has been fulfilled… – completely made full. The “todo” list has all of the items checked to make it the right, opportune, time. Don’t you wish you could have read that list, just to see what our Creator put on it?
  3. …the Kingdom of God… – Israel assumed this was Israel, but also understood it to mean “the sphere of God’s supreme influence”. It was simply understood that God would not exercise supreme influence unless Israel was free from Roman rule and religious corruption. This was a misunderstanding.
  4. …is at hand; – literally, “has drawn near”, it has happened already, and is a present reality. Even though Israel is still ruled by Rome, and the religious leaders remain corrupt, the sphere of God’s supreme influence has already taken up residence with His human creatures.
  5. repent… – we typically say, “turn”, which is another term sometimes used for “repent”, but it literally is a “change of mind” or “after thought”. Either way, it happens in the mind first. It is a “paradigm shift” to align our thinking with the thinking of our Savior. It is seeing and evaluating things as He sees and evaluates them, using the same priorities and values.
  6. …and believe… – a mental acceptance of information as valid and actionable.
  7. …the gospel. – Good News. This isn’t “news”, but specifically good news. This good news is about what has just been said, but also contains the record of the events in this book of Mark about Jesus. What makes it “good”, from the perspective of our Savior, is that Israel does not need to be freed from Rome, nor their temple worship purged of corruption for His sovereignty to operate in the lives of His people.

You might think, “Well, good for them. But what about me?” You mean you have not been waiting for some “filling” of a “todo list” of our Savior before the next thing happens? We look for His “appearing” with excited apprehension, or we used to.

If you are waiting for the “purification of God’s people”, then you are a lot like the Jews of Jesus’ day. If you are waiting for some political turn of events to signal the reign of our Savior, then you have adopted the paradigm of the Jews under Rome. If you are waiting on something else, you are sitting on the trailside rather than walking with your King.

The new paradigm of Jesus, the “good news”, is that God is sovereign right now, and we can walk with Him, right now.

Is the world wonky and off? Walk with Jesus, and you will influence the world for your Savior. Is your church squabbling and stymied? Walk with your Creator, and you will influence your fellow disciples for your King.

It is arrogance that drives us to belittle others. One of the ways we know we are walking with our Savior is how humbling it is. If we feel arrogant toward others, we have been walking with a god of our making, or worse. Walking with Jesus means we are very aware of our failings and His grace.

If you want people to be different, you cannot change them. Be that disciple you believe Jesus desires, and allow the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus to influence them. Live out Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Corinthians 13. Be that guy.