I’m thinking about what I’m going to preach in the weeks heading up to Good Friday and Easter. If you’re a pastor, what do you do? Or if you’re not a pastor, what does your pastor do? Continue the series you’re working on? Preach something special? I’m open to suggestions.
FEASTING ON THE FAST DAYS
(January 23, 2005 Sermon Notes)
Mark 2:1-3:6 is a chiasm, a pattern like a sandwich. Mark 2:1-10 deals with a healing and so does Mark 3:1-6. Mark 2:11-17 deals with eating and so does Mark 2:23-28. In the centre is our text, which explains both Jesus’ forgiveness and feasting with sinners (Mark 2:1-17) and His behaviour on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:6). Jesus the Bridegroom makes everything new.
To many, Jesus not only feasted with the wrong people (2:11-17); He also feasted on the wrong days. The disciples of John and the Pharisees kept all the fasts connected with the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the death of the last king in David’s line (Zech. 8:19) and they certainly fasted before the Day of Atonement as God commanded Lev. 16).
But Jesus didn’t. Why not? How can He teach His disciples to feast when the faithful are fasting?
Jesus identifies Himself as Israel’s Bridegroom. His feasting is a wedding banquet. The disciples are the groomsmen. The people feasting with Jesus (even the “wrong people,” the sinners who follow Him) are the bride. And you don’t fast at a wedding feast.
What Israel had been longing for has happened at last. God had taken His people as His bride (Isa. 62:5; Hos. 2). It would be inappropriate to fast for the Day of Atonement when you have Jesus with you, Jesus who can forgive sins apart from the sacrifices (Mark 2:1-10), or to grieve the destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem and the death of the last king in David’s line when you have the true Son of David who has been anointed as King and who is greater than the Temple and Jerusalem.
Here in church, we may not fast. We do repent of our sins and sorrow over them, but the service must end with joy and feasting at the Table.
Jesus then adds that His disciples will fast when He is taken away â€”Â a reference to His death (Isa. 53:8). Their fasting won’t be determined by the old calendar but by Jesus’ presence or absence. They will mourn, but their mourning will be turned into joy by Jesus’ resurrection (John 16:20).
Jesus’ coming calls for a party, but that party is disruptive. Jesus is new cloth and can’t be used as a patch on an old garment. He is new wine and can’t refill old wineskins without bursting them. He didn’t come to reform the old system but to change it and make it new.
Those who try to fit Him into the Old Covenant and judge Him by that standard will find their system destroyed. But those who follow Him become new clothes (wedding clothes) and new wineskins, filled with new wine (see Acts 2:13). They are His bride and as such they must celebrate.
The Bridegroom is here and there is no room for sourness and gloom. The old things have passed away. Look! All things are new!
Last week, I finished Anita Brookner’s Visitors. From a glance at some reviews of Brookner’s work, I suspect she may get tired of being compared to Henry James. I’ve read only one story by James and it was a while ago, so I can’t say if the comparisons are accurate. If they are, then perhaps it’s time for me to start reading James.
Visitors is by no means fast-paced. It isn’t full of adventure. In some ways, it’s simply the story of a retiring elderly lady whose relatives are throwing a wedding for a granddaughter and ask her to take in one of the one-of-town groomsmen for a couple of weeks before the wedding.
If this were Ruth Rendell, that premise would have been developed in such a way that you would be on the edge of your seat, waiting for something terrible to happen, as it so often does in Rendell’s novels.
But this is Anita Brookner â€” which isn’t to say that there is no suspense here. There is, but it is suspense of a different sort. Most of the action (to put it that way) takes place in the mind and heart of the main character, Mrs. May, who is forced to cope with what she perceives as a huge intrusion into her home, her routines, her life.
The story moves at Mrs. May’s own pace, slow as that is, and Brookner forces us, as readers, to slow down to that pace, to get to know Mrs. May from the inside. At the same time, she keeps us turning the pages, wondering what is going to happen next, before the whole thing reaches a satisfying conclusion.
Moriah and I both enjoyed this novel. I’m sure we’ll be reading more of Brookner’s novels. Anyone else read her?
The story of Saul begins with him meeting some young women at a well. In the Bible, when a man meets a woman at a well, we expect a wedding. There is no literal wedding between Saul and one of these young women, but the motif still points us in that direction. These young women represent Israel, and there is a sort of marriage relationship between the king and his people, between Saul and Israel.
As YHWH blew His Spirit into the nostrils of Adam, so the Spirit comes on Saul and he becomes “a different man” (1 Sam. 10:6). Saul is a new Adam who receives a bride, the people of Israel. But like Adam, he falls. And when he does, like Adam, he blames his bride, the people of Israel: “They kept the best of the animals instead of killing them.”
Samuel rebukes Saul and then turns to leave, and when he did, someone’s robe was torn (1 Sam. 15:27). But who tore the robe of whom?
In House, Leithart argues that it was Samuel who tore Saul’s robe, representing Yahweh tearing away the kingdom. In A Son To Me, Leithart’s more recent commentary on Samuel, however, he points to the parallel with 1 Kings 11, where the tearing of the prophet’s robe signifies the tearing away of the kingdom. That suggests that it was Saul who tore Samuel’s robe.
In this Bible study, we discussed the significance of the robe and its four “wings” (see Deut. 22:11-12). Spreading your wing over a woman was taking her in marriage (Ruth 3:9; Ezek. 16:8; cf. Ruth 2:12).
Does the tearing of the wing of the robe (whether Saul’s or Samuel’s) fit with this imagery? It seems as if it might. If putting the wing over someone is marriage, then tearing off the wing suggests divorce. The robe has been torn open. The bride is uncovered. Israel is being taken from Saul and given to someone else.
Later on, David will cut off the wing of Saul’s robe. In light of the symbolism of these wings and the holy tassels on them, cutting off that wing wasn’t just a practical joke or a harmless prank. It was a form of rebellion, a symbolic attempt to take the kingdom from Saul, an uncovering of Saul’s nakedness. That, I suspect, is why David took it so seriously and repented afterwards.
FEASTING WITH THE “WRONG” PEOPLE
(November 28, 2005 Sermon Notes)
In the Bible, forgiveness goes hand in hand with food. God promised to return to His people and feast with them (Isa. 25:6-8; 55:1-7) and that return is happening in Jesus Christ .
JESUS’ SUMMONS TO LEVI (2:13-14)
Jesus has left the synagogue and the home to go into the world around and the crowds follow him. Just as Jesus called the four fishermen from the water to follow him (1:16-20), Jesus now calls Levi from the water (“by the sea”). Like the dry land emerging from the waters in the beginning, like Israel emerging from the Red Sea, Levi also will be part of the new creation, the new Israel, Jesus is forming around himself.
But Levi is a tax collector, working for King Herod. To the Israelites, tax collectors were collaborators with a hated government. Besides, they were known for not keeping the Torah strictly.
Jesus, however, is the king of kings. He calls King Herod’s official to follow him and Levi obeys. Mark tells us that Levi “arose,” which is one of the most common New Testament words for resurrection. Jesus call raised Levi so that he could follow Jesus. Similarly, Jesus’ call raises us. It can raise even the worst sinner and restore the worst outcast to service.
JESUS’ FEAST WITH SINNERS (2:15-17)
When Jesus called the four, he went into their house, raised up Simon’s mother-in-law, and ate what she served them (1:29-31). Now Jesus, having called and raised Levi, eats in his house.
Eating is one of the main things Jesus did. All through the Gospels, we see Jesus at one feast after another. His feast is the messianic feast, the feast of God’s kingdom. But Jesus is celebrating that feast with the “wrong” people, with tax collectors and notorious sinners.
The Pharisees were disturbed. They believed that the bounds of table fellowship were the bounds of the true Israel, the pure Israel. They didn’t eat with Gentiles or with less-than-faithful Jews.
But Jesus does, and that bothers them precisely because Jesus has been announcing God’s kingdom. This feast enacts that kingdom, but the wrong people are there, people who haven’t offered the sacrifices for forgiveness. The church’s practice raised similar objections (Acts 11:3; Gal. 2:11ff.). Still today, we eat with all who follow Christ, no matter what they may have done in the past.
Jesus defends his practice. He is the doctor and doctors associate with the sick. He has come to call the sinners, not the righteous, and that means he must associate with sinners. His call heals them and all who are healed may feast with him. Anyone who doesn’t hear his call and repent, however, will not share in the feast and in the kingdom. But everyone who follows Jesus enjoys forgiveness and a place at God’s table.
The other day, Moriah and I watched The Village, the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie. We spent some time afterwards talking about it. It’s an interesting film, though not perhaps as convincing as some of his others.
I was glad to read Peter Leithart‘s helpful and thoughtful comments on the movie. I, too, was wondering what exactly Shyamalan’s target was and what he was trying to say about it.
At any rate, it’s an interesting movie and worth watching.
AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE
(November 21, 2004 Sermon Notes)
Ever since his anointing as king at his baptism, Jesus has been displaying his authority. He teaches with authority, unlike the scribes (1:22). He has authority over demons (1:27). He has authority to heal (1:29-34). He even has authority to remove what God has imposed (1:40-45). But that authority leads to conflict and that conflict erupts here in our text.
JESUS FORGIVES A PARALYZED MAN (2:1-5)
When Jesus returns to Capernaum, a crowd gathers (“synagogued”) at the house he’s in and as Jesus preaches to this new “synagogue” four men bring a paralyzed man to him, so that he, too, can share the blessings of God’s kingdom as the prophets had promised (Isa. 35:6).
The men can’t reach Jesus, so they dig through the roof and lower the man down to Jesus. Their actions remind us of a burial, and specifically of 2 Kings 13:20-21, where a man is lowered into Elisha’s grave, touches Elisha’s bones, and stands up again. Jesus will act as a new Elisha!
Seeing their faith in their actions, Jesus pronounces the paralyzed man forgiven. Through their faith their friend is benefited. He becomes the first to receive the forgiveness of sins John the Baptist promised (Mark 1:4). Jesus speaks for the Father and calls him “Child” and forgives his sins.
JESUS RAISES THE PARALYZED MAN (2:6-12)
Jesus’ earlier teaching in the synagogue led to a demonic attack (1:23-27). This time the attack comes from the scribes, whose teaching Jesus has surpassed. In their hearts, they accuse him of blasphemy. Only God can forgive sins and he has established the priesthood and the temple and the sacrifices as the way to receive that forgiveness (Lev. 4:31). But Jesus has bypassed that whole system. Who does Jesus think he is?
Jesus knows by the Spirit what they’re thinking. He asks which is easier: to declare the man forgiven or to tell him to get up and walk. Both are equally easy; both require God’s authority. If Jesus can heal, that indicates that he has the authority to do what only God can do.
And so Jesus does heal the paralyzed man. He tells him to arise (that’s resurrection language!) and the man arises.
Jesus has the authority because he is the “son of man.” That name is used for Ezekiel and this passage may remind us of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones (Ezek. 37). It also reminds us of Daniel 7, where one like a son of man, representing God’s saints, inherits a kingdom and authority to judge (see Rev. 20:4). Jesus represents his people and exercises this authority to judge, but he shares it with others (Matt. 9:8; 18:18; John 20:23).
The crowds praise God. This is the first time they’ve seen this kind of authority, authority not only to heal but to forgive. Jesus has the authority to bring people into God’s kingdom. The raising of the paralyzed man points forward to Jesus’ own resurrection, the ultimate proof of his authority.
The latest issue of Credenda is on cheese. Life is good!
I’m starting to read John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. I know that Milbank was Peter Leithart‘s doctoral advisor and was one of the major influences behind Leithart’s brilliant Against Christianity, and so I decided that one of my major projects this year would be to tackle his magnum opus.
Milbank is a profound writer, but I can’t say that he’s a good writer. Every page is a struggle. Milbank often seems to assume that his readers are fluent in Latin and well versed in the history of philosophy, theology, political science, and sociology. Alas, I’m not. To top it off, Milbank’s writing style is exceptionally dense, worse even than that of Cornelius Van Til.
Still, I do believe it will be worthwhile for me to work my way (however painfully) through this volume, not only because difficult volumes stretch you as a reader and thinker, but also because I think Milbank has much to offer. I was delighted to discover that I understood his first page. Here’s a quotation from it for you:
The pathos of modern theology is its false humility. For theology, this must be a fatal disease, because once theology surrenders its claim to be a metadiscourse, it cannot any longer articulate the word of the creator God, but is bound to turn into the oracular voice of some finite idol, such as historical scholarship, humanist psychology, or transcendantal philosophy. If theology no longer seeks to position, qualify or criticize other discourses, then it is inevitable that these discourses will position theology: for the necessity of an ultimate organizing logic … cannot be wished away. A theology “positioned” by secular reason suffers two characteristic forms of confinement. Either it idolatrously connects knowledge of God with some particular immanent field of knowledge â€” “ultimate” cosmological causes, or “ultimate” psychological and subjective needs. Or else it is confined to intimations of a sublimity beyond representation, so functioning to confirm negatively the questionable idea of an autonomous secular realm, completely transparent to rational understanding. â€” Theology and Social Theory 1.Â
(November 14, 2004 Sermon Notes)
Up to this point, Mark has been following a pattern: Jesus’ calling is followed by a battle with Satan. Jesus calls four men and then battles an unclean spirit in the synagogue. Jesus restores Simon’s mother-in-law to service and restores many in Israel and now Jesus confronts an unclean leper. Calling and restoration are followed by cleansing.
THE LEPER’S CLEANSING (1:40-42)
On one occasion, a leper came to him asking for cleansing. “Leprosy” in the Bible isn’t what we call “leprosy” today; it wasn’t a contagious disease, and houses and clothing could become “leprous.”
The word for “leprosy” is related to the word for “touch”: It was God’s touch, God’s affliction, God’s chastisement. Having “leprosy” meant that you could no longer live in town and you could not enter God’s special presence (Lev. 13-14). Leprosy is a vivid picture of how we are by nature: cut off from God and from close fellowship with each other.
The leper comes to Jesus and probably finds him in the synagogue. He does what no one else has done: He bows to Jesus. He even acknowledges that Jesus has the authority, not just to heal or cast out demons, but to remove a plague which was imposed directly by God. Jesus can take away what God has imposed.
And Jesus does. “Leprosy” was God’s touch and Jesus touches the man and takes it away. Jesus doesn’t become unclean; rather, the unclean man is cleansed. Now, through Jesus’ touch and word, he can celebrate Passover and gather with God’s people and live in town again.
THE LEPER’S COMMISSION (1:43-44)
After cleansing the leper, Jesus scolds the man and casts him out, probably because the man was in the synagogue and in the city where he had no right to be. The man must first go through the rituals prescribed in the Law before he can return to fellowship with God and with His people.
Jesus tells the man not to say anything but to go to the priest. Jesus wants healing to be a witness to (or even against) them. He wants his cleansing of the leper verified by the priests so that everyone will recognize that he can do what Moses’ law couldn’t. Jesus removes God’s curse.
THE LEPER’S RESPONSE (1:45)
The leper tells everyone what Jesus has done. Is he disobeying? Perhaps. But it’s likely that he first did what Jesus told him to. His proclamation is a legitimate declaration of the good news.
But what’s the effect? Jesus can’t enter a town openly. The former leper can because Jesus has cleansed him, but Jesus must live like a leper, outside the town. Jesus has taken the leper’s place. He is the substitute who removes God’s curse by bearing it in our place.