Last week we were thinking about the authority of the Lord Jesus to forgive sins. Do you remember? We read how some men brought to the Lord Jesus a friend who was paralysed. And when the Lord saw their faith, he said to the man:
Son, your sins are forgiven.
And then, to demonstrate his authority to forgive sins, he went on to heal the man so that the man was able to get up and walk. You see, the Lord’s words are not mere words, but they are powerful and full of authority, so that when he said ‘Get up’, the man got up; and when he said ‘Forgiven’, the was was forgiven. So, we were thinking about the Lord’s authority. And we’ve also seen his authority to call those who would become his apostles. Do you remember? He saw Simon and Andrew and James and John; and he called them. And he called them with such authority, that they left their work and their families and followed him. And then we saw his authority to teach and to drive out demons. In the synagogue, he was teaching the people; and they were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them with authority, unlike the teachers of the law who normally taught them.
And then, when an evil spirit caused a man in the congregation to cry out, the Lord silenced the evil spirit and drove the demon away. Then we saw his authority to heal: all kinds of people with all kinds of illnesses came to him to be healed; and he had the power and the authority to heal them all. Authority to call his apostles; authority to teach; authority to drive out demons; authority to heal; and authority to forgive sins. The Lord Jesus Christ possesses the authority to do all of these things.
And, of course, he possessed the authority to do these things, because he’s God the Son who had come down to earth. Or, he’s ‘the Son of Man’.
The Lord used that phrase ‘the Son of Man’ to refer to himself; and the phrase itself comes from Daniel 7 in the Old Testament, where Daniel tells us how he saw in a vision one like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven; and this Son of Man approached Almighty God and was given what? He was given authority and glory and sovereign power; and all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshipped him. And in Daniel’s vision he saw that the Son of Man’s dominion, his kingdom, was an everlasting kingdom that will not pass away or be destroyed.
So, in the Old Testament, Daniel saw this divine-like Son of Man who was given authority, and whose kingdom will never end. And here in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus uses the same title — the Son of Man — to refer to himself, because he’s the one who has come from God with authority and glory and sovereign power to establish his kingdom on the earth, a kingdom which will never end. He’s the Son of Man and again and again he has displayed his authority: to call his apostles; to teach his people; to drive out demons; to heal the sick; to forgive our sins.
But what do we find in today’s passage? Well, we see his authority again in various ways; but we also see that many of the people he met rejected him and his authority; they didn’t believe in him; they didn’t believe what he said; they didn’t believe in what he did. They opposed him; and their opposition to him escalates until at the end of today’s passage, they’re plotting together how to kill him.
So that’s what we’re going to look at today: we’re going to look at these four stories to see what the tell us about the Lord’s authority and the opposition he faced. And, of course, just as people opposed him then, so people oppose him today. The human race has not changed: we’re still sinners who sin and rebel against the Lord who made us and who rules over us. And so, these four stories have much to teach us about ourselves.
Verses 13 to 17
In verses 13 to 17 we read how the Lord once again called one of those men who would become an apostle. The Lord was walking near the lake where he had seen and called Simon and Andrew and James and John. Well, Simon and Andrew and James and John were fishermen. But on this occasion, the Lord saw a tax collector, named Levi. Levi is also known as Matthew. And when the Lord saw him, sitting at his tax collector’s booth, the Lord summoned him to follow him. And Levi got up from his booth, left his work behind, and began to follow the Lord. That’s the Lord’s authority to call those who would become his apostles.
Then we read how the Lord had dinner at Levi’s house; and many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were there. Now, we’re all sinners; but when Mark refers to ‘sinners’ here, he’s referring to those who were regarded as notorious sinners, people who were known for living immoral lives. And tax collectors were grouped with them, because tax collectors were regarded as greedy thieves who made themselves rich by collecting from the people more tax than was necessary.
When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw it, they wanted to know why the Lord was prepared to eat with people this kind of people. You see, the word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘separated ones’; and they called themselves ‘separated ones’ because they wanted to separate themselves from everyone who was morally unclean and sinful and disreputable. They thought that was the right thing to do; and they thought it was wrong for the Lord to mix with people like this. So, they asked:
Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?
Why did he eat with tax collectors and sinners? He tells us: just as a doctor will go to where the sick people are so that he can cure them, so the Saviour will go to where the sinners are so that he can save them.
Now, it didn’t seem right to them that he should mix with people like that. But instead of relying on what seemed right to them, they ought to have listened to him, because he’s the Son of Man with the authority to mix with whomever he wants.
Verses 18 to 22
Let’s move on to the next story. In verse 18 Mark explains that John the Baptiser’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And some people came to the Lord Jesus and asked him why they were fasting, but his own disciples were not fasting.
In the days of the Old Testament, fasting was required by God’s law on the Day of Atonement. On that special day of worship, everyone had to fast. And by fasting from food, the people demonstrated their sorrow for sin. Now, in those days, someone might also fast on other occasions for various reasons. And the Pharisees fasted more frequently; in fact the Pharisees used to fast twice a week. But these extra fasts were not required by God’s law.
However, here are these people, who have come to the Lord in order to find out why his disciples don’t fast the way the Pharisees do, and the way the followers of John the Baptiser do? Why doesn’t the Lord make his disciples fast more frequently? And what’s the Lord’s answer? Well, he explained that it’s not appropriate for his disciples to fast. Why not? Because fasting is a sign of sorrow; and his presence in the world, his coming into the world, is a reason for joy and happiness. Why be sorrowful when the Saviour is here?
And in order to make his point clear, the Lord used the picture of a wedding. Now, these days, we wait for the bride to come to the church; but in those days, everyone waited for the groom to arrive. You couldn’t start the party until he came; but once the groom had arrived, the party could begin. In the same way, fasting as a sign of sorrow was appropriate before the Lord came; but now that he has come, fasting as a sign of sorrow is no longer appropriate. Now that he has come, there should be joy, because the Saviour has come to save us from our sins.
Now, the Lord adds in verse 20 that the time will come when he — the groom — is taken away; then you can fast, he said. What’s he referring to? Well, he’s probably referring to the day when he was taken away by force to be killed on the cross. Sorrow and sadness will be appropriate on that day; but not now, not when he is with them.
And after answering their question about fasting, the Lord went on to talk about old garments and new garments; and old wineskins and new wineskins. And the point he was making is that his coming into the world was the beginning of a new era, a new age. And what was appropriate to the old age is no longer appropriate for the new age. So, just as new garments and new wineskins replace old garments and old wineskins, so the old way of worshipping God — for instance, by fasting to show our sorrow for sin — needs to be replaced because the Saviour has come.
It didn’t seem right to the people that the Lord should keep his disciples from fasting. But instead of relying on what seemed right to them, they ought to have listened to him, because he’s the Son of Man with the authority to determine how we should worship.
Verses 23 to 27
Let’s move on to verses 23 to 27 and to a dispute about the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy. Mark tells us how the Lord and his disciples were going through the cornfields on the Sabbath Day. And as they walked, his disciples began to pick some of the corn. The parallel passages in Matthew and Luke tell us that they picked the corn in order to eat it, because they were hungry. And Mark tells us that the Pharisees began to complain, saying that the Lord was allowing his disciples to do something that was unlawful on the Sabbath Day.
What unlawful thing were they doing? Well, it’s wasn’t stealing. The Old Testament law allowed the people to pick and eat the odd ear of corn from a field. That wasn’t forbidden. So, stealing was not the issue here. No, it seems the Pharisees were complaining because they believed that they were breaking the fourth commandment by working on the Sabbath Day. How were they working on the Sabbath Day? Well, the Pharisees would argue that, by picking corn, the disciples were harvesting the crop. And harvesting the crop was a form of work. Therefore they were working on the Sabbath Day. That’s the way they were thinking. In other words, they were taking one of God’s good and holy laws and they were interpreting it and applying it in a foolish way. Who in their right mind would say that picking a few ears of corn was work? It was nonsense. But that’s the way they were thinking and they were applying God’s law in a way which the Lord never intended his law to be applied.
And you see, this was just typical of the teachers of the law. Over the years they had added all these extra laws and rules and commandments to God’s law. And all these extra laws and rules and commandments had become a burden on the people so that they were almost afraid to move or to do anything, for fear that they would do something which the teachers of the law had forbidden.
And so, it didn’t seem right to the Pharisees that the Lord should let his disciples pick corn in the field on the Sabbath Day. But instead of relying on what seemed right to them, they ought to have listened to him, because he’s the Son of Man with the authority to interpret and apply God’s holy law.
And so, the Lord went on to explain that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. In other words, the Sabbath was given for our good; it was given to us for our benefit; it was given so that we could enjoy a day of rest and worship. And the Lord Jesus was able to say that because he’s the Lord of the Sabbath, the one with the authority to determine how the Sabbath Day should be used.
Verses 1 to 6
The fourth story today is also about the Sabbath Day. In verse 1 of chapter 3, the Lord was in the synagogue once again. And there was a man there, with a withered hand. And look: some of them — some of the Pharisees probably — were keeping an eye on the Lord Jesus, because they were looking for a reason to accuse him: they were watching to see if he would do anything which was forbidden on the Sabbath Day.
And it seems the Lord knew exactly why they were there, because he called the man with the withered hand to stand up in front of everyone. And then he turned to his accusers and asked them:
Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?
You see, if you asked the Pharisees, they would say that healing someone on the Sabbath Day was wrong; it was wrong because healing someone was a form of work. But here’s the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man; and as far as he’s concerned healing someone is about doing good; and it’s always lawful, always lawful and right to do good to someone, even on the Sabbath Day. And so, the Lord healed the man.
Now, it didn’t seem right to the people that the Lord should heal anyone on the Sabbath Day. But instead of relying on what seemed right to them, they ought to have listened to him, because he’s the Son of Man with the authority to interpret and apply God’s holy law.
It didn’t seem right to them that the Lord should mix with tax collectors and sinners. It didn’t seem right to them that the Lord should keep his disciples from fasting. It didn’t seem right to them that the Lord should let his disciples pick corn on the Sabbath. It didn’t seem right to them that the Lord should heal on the Sabbath Day. None of what he did or said seemed right to them.
But, of course, they ought to have listened to him. They ought to have listened to him, because he’s the Son of Man with the authority to tell us about himself and to tell us how to worship him and to tell us how he wants us to live.
But instead of listening to him, what did they do? Look at verse 6: the Pharisees went out and they began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. The Pharisees were a religous group; the Herodians were a political group. They didn’t really have much in common apart from this one thing: their hatred for the Lord Jesus Christ.
It all started in the Garden of Eden, didn’t it? Instead of listening to the Lord who had created them and who had commanded them, instead of listening to him, Eve listened to the serpent and she did what seemed to make sense to her. God has said they would surely die if they ate the forbidden fruit. But that didn’t seem to make sense to Eve. That couldn’t be true. On the other hand, the serpent told her that they would become like God if they ate the forbidden fruit. Well, that seemed to make sense to her. That seemed more likely to be true. And so, instead of listening to the Lord, she did what seemed to make sense to her; and she ate the forbidden fruit. And how foolish she was for relying, not on the word of God, but on what made sense to her. And how foolish the Pharisees were who would not listen to the Lord Jesus concerning himself and concerning how to worship God and concerning how to interpret God’s law.
And it’s been the same ever since, hasn’t it? When people are trying to make sense of God and when they’re trying to make sense of how to worship him and when they’re trying to make sense of his law, they typically rely on what makes sense to them.
I can believe this about him; but not this.
This seems true to me; but not this.
This seems possible to me; but not that.
They think they’re the ones with the authority to decide what is true and right and real and possible. And what they don’t take account of is that fact that we’re sinners, and every part of our being — including our ability to think about God and about worship and about his law — has been corrupted and spoiled by sin. Every part of our being is faulty, because we’re sinners; and we cannot possibly come to a knowledge of the truth on our own.
And so, how foolish to think we can know what God is like without listening to him. How foolish to think we can know how to worship him without listening to him. How foolish to think we can know how he wants us to live without listening to him and listening to what he has said to us in his word. The Pharisees and those with them ought to have been silent before the Lord; and they ought to his listened to him, because he’s the Son of Man with the authority to tell us the truth about these things. But instead of listening to him, they rejected what he said, and they rejected him; and therefore they rejected the one person with the authority to tell them the truth about these things and to forgive their sins and to give them everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
And perhaps there’s someone here today and you’ve been doing the same sort of thing. You’ve rejected what the Lord has said in his word about himself and about how to worship him and about how he wants you to live your life. And you’ve rejected the Lord Jesus Christ who is able to tell you the truth about these things. You’ve rejected him because you like to think that you know what’s right and true and what makes sense.
If that’s you, you need to do what the Pharisees ought to have done. You ought to repent of your unbelief and pride, and you ought to bow before the Lord Jesus Christ and seek forgiveness for all your sins.
But, of course, it’s not only unbelievers who think this way. It’s not only unbelievers who rely on what makes sense to them. The members of the church can think like this as well. When we think about what the Lord is like; when we think about how to worship him; when we think about how he wants us to live, we so often rely on what makes sense to us. Instead of acknowledging that we’re sinners and instead of acknowledging that our ability to know God and his will has been spoiled by sin, and instead of turning to his word and searching it to see what the Lord has said, we rely on what seems to make the most sense to us; and we rely on what seems right and true and possible to us. In other words, we rely on our own sinful human wisdom, instead of relying on the wisdom of God which we find in his word.
And so, instead of being like the Pharisees and those with them — who rejected the word of the Lord, and who relied on what seemed to make sense to them — we ought to be turn to God’s word and search the Scriptures to learn what he has said about himself and about how to worship him and about how we’re to serve him in the world.