The Provocative Authority of Jesus (Mark 2:13–3:6)

Written by admin on Sep 24, 2013 in - No Comments

(Due to technical issues there is no sermon audio for this week’s sermon.)


I invite you to turn with me this morning to the Gospel of Mark. We will be looking at Mark 2:13–3:6 this morning. If you do not have a Bible with you, you can find this passage located on page 866 of the pew Bible.

We concluded our time together last week in the first 12 verses of Chapter 2. In that story, Jesus healed a paralyzed man and made the pronouncement that this man’s sins were forgiven. And the reaction of the religious leaders who witnessed this declaration of forgiveness by Jesus was outrage. They were offended by Jesus’ claim to do something they knew only God could do. And hence, they labeled him a blasphemer. But when the paralyzed man stood up and walked before Jesus’ accusers, the proof was in the pudding. Jesus has the authority to forgive sins—an authority which the scribes knew from their Scriptures belonged only to God himself.

It is now clear Jesus is more than simply one of God’s prophets. Jesus is God in the flesh. The Kingdom of God has come near, because God has come near in the person of Jesus Christ. A new age has dawned, but the religious leaders aren’t ready to accept that reality. And any demonstrations of Jesus’ divine authority only provoke them to anger and frustration.

That opening story in chapter 2 brought us into a section of Mark’s gospel where Jesus is going to continue to run into conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders. And in our sermon this week, which will pick up in verse 13, Jesus is going to go head to head with the religious rules and systems of his day. He is going to demonstrate that his authority supersedes the authority of the Jewish religious leaders and their rules and regulations and even the law of Moses itself. In the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has burst on the scene and in the process it has burst the religious customs of the day as well. And the result is confrontation and controversy.

When Jesus demonstrates his authority, there are always those who are going to resist it and be provoked by it. And what Mark reveals for us in these stories today is a steady intensification of resistance by the religious leaders toward Jesus. Intensification to the point where they decide to kill him.

If you haven’t already, turn with me now to Mark 2 and I will begin reading in verse 13. Mark 2:13–3:6.

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 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. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 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.” 1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 2:13–3:6 ESV)

Controversy over Tax Collectors and Sinners (vv. 2:13–17)

In verse 13 we find Jesus out once again beside the sea of Galilee. We see that word about him has continued to flourish and the crowds are continuing to flock to him. But we also see that this does not change much about what Jesus was doing. We see at the end of verse 13 that he continues teaching them about the Kingdom of God.

But as we move into verse 14 we see that Jesus runs across a man named Levi. And Levi is a tax collector who has set up shop beside the sea of Galilee to collect taxes from the fishermen who were working in that area. Levi is a Jewish name. It is a Jewish tribal name and the people of the tribe of Levi are called Levites. But no pious Jew would be a tax collector because of the shady and crooked tactics that were required of tax collectors in that day and because it required collaboration with the Gentile Roman government. And so anyone of Jewish decent who worked for the government as a tax collector was despised and hated by other Jews. They were seen as traitors and cheats and were lumped together with thieves and murderers (James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, PNTC, 83). Tax collectors were expelled from the Synagogue, could not serve as a witness in court, were not welcome by their family, and some even insisted that coming into contact with a tax collector rendered your whole house unclean (Edwards, 83). And yet we see Jesus look over at this tax collector and say, “Follow me.”

Jesus is continuing to build up his inner band of 12 disciples. And for reasons beyond what anyone else can see, he calls this man named Levi who is hated and distrusted by the rest of society. If you have ever read much of the Bible you have probably noticed that God likes to use the most unlikely people to do the most amazing things.

And so at the end of verse 14, Levi rises from his tax booth and follows Jesus. And Levi apparently invites Jesus to his home, because we see in verse 15 that Jesus is enjoying a meal with Levi and other people identified as tax collectors and sinners. And this was an outrageous idea. It was totally scandalous. In Jesus’ day and in that Jewish culture, sharing a meal with someone by reclining with them at their table meant a great deal. It meant that you identified yourself with them, that you saw them as your equals in society and that you accepted them. And this could either hurt or harm your reputation. And so Jesus gathering around the table with those considered the dregs of society is going to be scandalous to those looking in from the outside. How could Jesus claim to be holy and the Messiah and the Son of God if he willingly and freely associates with these people? These were people who were despised by all self-respecting Jews and Jesus has come in and made himself at home.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, the most strict Jewish religious group in Jesus day, wanted to know what in the world was going on. They were still trying to figure out who this man named Jesus really was. And so they ask his disciples in verse 16: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Or, “Why does he violate the rules and traditions and regulations we have established regarding what types of people pious, God-fearing Jews should eat with and associate with? Does he not care about our rules? Does he not care about the traditions of the elders? He is stepping over all the barriers we have erected in this society! Who does he think he is and why in the world are you going to follow after this man who associates with sinners?”

And in verse 17, Jesus answers for his disciples. He says to the Pharisees: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus’ mission is to come and save sinners. And for him to shun sinners would be about as foolish as a doctor shunning a sick person.

Imagine if I went into the doctor’s office because I wasn’t feeling well. And after sitting in the waiting room for an hour I am taken back by the nurse and she begins to ask me some questions about how I am feeling and takes some vital signs. She writes some things on my chart and tells me the doctor will be in to see me in a few minutes. And then after waiting another 45 minutes, the doctor strolls in and says, “Mr. Tidmore, I am sorry I am not going to be able to see you today. My practice is only for those who are not sick and clearly you have a fever and maybe a case of the flu. I will need you to come back when you are feeling better.” Now that would be ridiculous. And that is exactly Jesus’ point. He is basically saying, “The reason I am here is to save sinners. And you expect me, because of some set of rules that you have concocted, to not associate with those I have come to save?” That would be about as foolish as a doctor who does not want to help sick people.

This story of Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners is very much related to the previous story in verses 1–12 of Jesus forgiving sins. And it is a reminder that Jesus does not only forgive sins, but he also forgives sinners. He is willing to pull up to the table with these sinners, and with sinners like you and me, and he is willing to do this while we are still sinners. Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were still sinners Christ came and died for us. Jesus doesn’t wait until we clean ourselves up to come near, he comes near us, and then he cleans us up. What if Jesus had the same standards for socializing with others that we often do today?

Brothers and sisters, are you more like the tax collectors and sinners in this story? Or are you more like the righteous Pharisees? Think about that for a minute and be careful how you answer that question. Because the question I am really asking is: “Are you someone who knows you are a sinner and in need of the forgiveness and acceptance of Jesus? Or are you someone who believes that you have it all together and Jesus is lucky to have you as a part of his church?”

Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners. And brothers and sisters we are all sinners. Sinners no more deserving of the grace and mercy of God than the worst sinner we can imagine. And Jesus has come to earth, taken on our flesh, and pulled up to the table with us. But this was too scandalous for the self-righteous religious rulers in Jesus’s day. He wasn’t religious enough for them because he associated with these dirty sinners.

Controversy over Fasting (vv. 2:18–22)

The ongoing struggle between Jesus and the Pharisees always boils down to their traditions and their rules and their flawed interpretations of God’s law. When Jesus does not follow these things, he is not religious enough for them. He doesn’t meet their standard. In verses 18–22 we see another example of this.

The Law of Moses required Jews to fast on the Day of Atonement. Just one day a year they fasted from food to direct their thoughts toward God and to be reminded of their spiritual hunger and need for spiritual nourishment. But, by the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had decided that regular fasting was a measuring stick of one’s religious piety. Frequent fasting had become a requirement for anyone wanting to demonstrate religious commitment. The law of God prescribed one day for fasting, but the Pharisees made fasting something that was a barometer of one’s standing before God.

But we do things like this as well. It changes over the years, but Christians and churches make decisions about what a “good Christian” looks like. We have done this with things like “quiet times.” Not just whether you have a daily quiet time or devotional time, but do you have it first thing in the morning? And is it for at least 30 minutes? Oh, wow you spend an hour every day in your quiet time! And you start at 5:00 in the morning! How impressive. You must really love Jesus.

Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t spend time each day in prayer and Bible meditation. Surely you know me better than that. But we have often taken man-made suggestions, like spending 30 minutes a day and doing it first thing in the morning, and we have turned what is certainly good advice into rules by which we measure someone’s faith and love for Jesus. And this is just one example. We could think of many more. How about giving pins for church attendance? No matter whether or not someone’s perfect attendance has done anything more than stir up pride in their heart… let’s give them a pin. Let’s make church attendance the barometer of one’s faith.

Do you see what I mean? It is not that church attendance is bad. It is not that quiet times are bad. It is not that fasting is bad. I wish there was a whole lot more of all of these things going on, but we can’t use those things as measuring sticks for someone’s faith. The Bible doesn’t do that and we can’t either.

Jesus has a very clever answer to those who want to know why his disciples do not fast. In verses 19 and 20, he compares his presence with them to that of a wedding celebration. His point is that you don’t go to a wedding celebration (which would normally last for a week in Jesus’ day) where everyone is enjoying one another along with the good food and decide this week you are going to fast. If you want to fast, do it next week when the wedding celebration is over. There is plenty of time for fasting, but you only have a limited amount of time to celebrate with the groom.

Again it is not that fasting is bad. Notice Jesus says in verse 20 that once the bridegroom is taken away, meaning once Jesus is no longer with them, THEN they will fast in that day. Now is just not the time for fasting. The one they are celebrating is at hand.

And knowing that what he is saying is radical to these people, knowing that it throws the status quo of the day out the window, Jesus leaves them with two short parables to ponder in verses 21 and 22. Both parables are meant to illustrate the relationship of Jesus and the new age he has brought in, with the traditional form of Judaism that is being observed by the Pharisees he is speaking to.

Jesus says, “Just like you can’t take a new patch that has not been preshrunk and place it on an old garment that has already shrunk from washing, you cannot just append me and my teaching onto your preexisting forms of religion. I am bringing in a new age. And just like you can’t take new wine that is still fermenting and expanding and place it in old wine skins that have already been expanded to their limit by other wine, you can’t try to cram me and my ever expanding kingdom into the boxes of your man-made religious structures. I am bringing in something new. A new age where salvation is available to all who are ready to stop the game of rule keeping and place their faith in me.”

Jesus has come and the Kingdom of God has come and it is going to stretch the old system of religion put in place by the Pharisees to the point that it explodes like old wineskins filled with new and still expanding wine. But that doesn’t mean that the Pharisees are going to roll over without putting up a fight. Look with me in verses 23–28 and we’ll see the fight continue over the issue of Sabbath observance.

Controversy over the Purpose of the Sabbath (vv. 2:23–28)

What we see in this story and the one that follows is that it is Jesus who has the authority to interpret Scripture, not the scribes and the Pharisees. Their interpretations of Scripture led to nothing but a bunch of man-made rules and regulations that often missed the point of God’s law altogether. And this was particularly true for the laws regarding the Sabbath.

In chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel Jesus summarizes the entire teaching of the Old Testament with the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He said, “There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30–31 ESV).

You see the issue at hand is that you can know intricacies of the Law of God inside and out, but if you do not know that the law is summarized by the words: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself,” you have missed the whole point. And the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had missed the point. The specifics of the law must be interpreted through a proper understanding of the intent of the law. And this is the issue Jesus had with the Pharisees. As knowledgeable as they were about the law, they had missed the point that the intent of the law was for men and women to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves.

The Pharisees had come up with all sorts of rules that were intended to help people keep God’s laws, by drawing boundary lines around certain behaviors and activities. But they did not concern themselves with love at all. They were concerned with putting in place a system that would allow someone to earn his or her own righteousness by avoiding a long list of things. And if that meant not eating with tax collectors and sinners, even if it was an opportunity to show them God’s love, so be it. If that meant walking on the other side of the road and avoiding a man in need of help because helping him would make you unclean (like in the story of the good samaritan), so be it. Law over love. Rules over relationship. But they were missing the whole point.

These religious leaders were the ones who needed Jesus the most. But Jesus offended them because he ignored their teaching. And he made them envious because the crowds were following him and not them. Since Jesus does not agree with their teaching, he is a blasphemer in their eyes. And look, he proves it by eating with sinners and by not fasting and now by breaking the Sabbath!

In the story beginning in verse 23 Jesus and his disciples were out on a walk on a Sabbath day. And as they were walking his disciples plucked some of the grain and began to eat it. And the Pharisees who had taken God’s laws about not working on the Sabbath to the extreme, accused them of breaking the Sabbath law. The Old Testament clearly prohibits work on the Sabbath, but it does not give many details regarding what it means to work on the Sabbath. And so over the years much was written by the Jewish religious leaders regarding what they believed to be work. And they elevated their beliefs to the same level and authority given to Scripture. And in their mind, plucking some grain as you are walking was to be considered working.

Sabbath observance was an important part of Jewish culture. And because it was so important, the religious leaders had put together a long list of rules and regulations that spelled out exactly what it meant to keep the Sabbath. They defined exactly what it meant to work on the Sabbath. They even defined exactly how many steps you could take before it was considered a journey. More than 1,999 steps and you had broken the Sabbath law (Edwards, 94). They missed the point of the Sabbath, that God gave men and women the Sabbath as a gift not as something that is to be a burden. This is what Jesus means in verse 27 when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

You have heard the phrase “he missed the forest because of the trees.” That is exactly the problem with the Pharisees. They are so concerned to make sure they are in a forest and thus analyze every aspect about the trees and what is necessary with regard to trees to identify them as a forest, that they neglect to notice the forest. They are so caught up with their interpretation of the law, when the Kingdom of God has come right next to them in the person of Jesus Christ, the person who all the law was pointing toward, they miss it. Because he does not fit their mental picture and he does not follow their man-made rules of conduct and behavior and religion.

If anyone knows the intent of the Sabbath it is Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, the one who was with the Father and the Spirit on the first Sabbath. We don’t have time to dwell here, but Jesus saying that he is the Lord of the Sabbath is another claim to his divinity. And also though we don’t have time to talk about this either, don’t neglect to notice that even Jesus appeals to Scripture here to make his case. He describes a similar incident from 1 Samuel about King David.

And Mark has more to say about the Sabbath. He has one more story for us just to make sure his point is clear. Look with me in verses 1–6 of chapter 3.

Controversy over Healing on the Sabbath (vv. 3:1–6)

In the previous story, Jesus and the Pharisees squared off with regards to the proper way to observe the Sabbath. And now that the Pharisees have learned Jesus has a different opinion than theirs regarding the Sabbath laws, they are apparently intent to watch him now every Sabbath in an effort to catch him breaking more of their rules. They are trying to build a legal case against him.

And so we see in verse 1 of chapter 3 that another Sabbath day has arrived. And the Pharisees are stationed at the synagogue looking for Jesus to come in and fall into one of their traps. And I suspect that when they saw this man with a withered hand walk in and then when they saw Jesus walk in, they were doing whatever the first century version of a high five was. They knew they had him now. They knew there was no way Jesus could resist healing this man with a withered hand. And just like in the previous story, if Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath, they would claim he was working, and then they would have another piece of evidence in their case against Jesus.

And as suspected, Jesus calls the man with the withered hand to come toward him. And Jesus, knowing that the Pharisees are watching his every move, turns to them and asks, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

And by asking this question Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who claim to be so concerned about keeping the law, but have no interest in the parts of the law that say we should help those we are able to help. By asking this question, Jesus makes their hypocrisy clear to them. And with hard hearts, the Pharisees just stand there and look at him in silence. They have no regard at all for this poor man who needs Jesus’ help. They are more concerned about the specific details of their interpretation of God’s law than they are about the details of God’s love and mercy and compassion. They are missing the whole point. They are missing the intent of the law. And Jesus is angry with them because of this. He is angry that the religious leaders, those who are supposed to be shepherds of God’s people, are more concerned with a person keeping their rules, than they are with the welfare of that person.

By his actions, Jesus is basically saying: “Do you know what it means to do good on the Sabbath? It means loving God and loving my neighbor. It means healing those who need healed and helping those who need help. Avoiding to do those things when I can, would not be keeping the Sabbath, it would be breaking it because it would be sin.”

And the irony in all of this is that while Jesus is concerned with saving and improving lives on the Sabbath, the Pharisees now begin to plot how they will take Jesus’ life. These men who claim to be the caretakers of the law of God are ready to kill the One who has come to fulfill the law of God.

Once again, Jesus is not saying that the Jews shouldn’t keep the Sabbath, but he is here saying, “You have missed the whole point of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given to man as a gift from God. He gave it to them as a day of rest from the burdens of life. And here you have made it more burdensome than every other day of the week. You’re missing the point! You have completely missed the purpose of the Sabbath when you won’t allow men and women to enjoy it because they have to keep your long list of rules that have nothing to do with God’s purpose for the Sabbath.”

One commentator explains it like this: “The Sabbath is truly obeyed only when its intention to aid human beings is recognized and factored into one’s behavior (DJG, s.v. “LAW,” 453). And this is something that the Pharisees could not care less about. What they are concerned about are their own traditions and rules.

But Jesus did not come to give approval to the burdensome rules that the Pharisees had added on top of God’s law. He is not going to bow to those flawed interpretations of the law held up by these self-righteous religious leaders. Jesus came to take on those interpretations of the law and the traditions and teachers who had built a hedge around God that kept those most in need of God separated from the worshipping community. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, is ushering in a new age and that means everything is going to change, including the laws which have governed the Sabbath for so many years.

It was not that Jesus was against the law. He said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” And Jesus was the fulfillment of the law. He is the one who all the law and the prophets of the Old Testament were pointing toward. Jesus has come and now any understanding of the law must be filtered through him and his teaching. Jesus was not against the law, he was against those who misunderstood and misapplied the law through some lens other than the lens of love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.


And it is in love that Jesus heals this man. And it is in love that Jesus heals this man knowing that in doing so he will ultimately bring about his very own death. But that is why he came. He came to die so that we could have life and have it in abundance. And he came to heal and restore a world that has been tarnished with the stain of sin. He came to heal a world full of people with both withered hands and hard hearts. And he came to die so that we could live in a world free from these things. He came to save tax collectors and sinners. And so when we see in verse 6 that “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him,” we should not be surprised. It is all part of God’s plan.

Where do you fit in that plan this morning? Are you like the Pharisees and the scribes who believe they are righteous based on their own merit? Or are you like the tax collectors and sinners and the physically afflicted who know they need the healing touch of Jesus to be made whole? As strange as it sounds, today I want you to be like one of the sinners. Know you need a physician and accept the cure he offers. That, brothers and sisters, is your only hope.