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Am I a Pharisee

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“Am I a Pharisee?”

Pt. 5 of “Who is Jesus…”                                                  Pastor Bruce Dick – BEFC

Mark 2:18-3:6                                                                                     April 29, 2007

            Of all the television shows and characters over the years that I have seen, perhaps none tickles me like Barney Fife.  Do you remember him on The Andy Griffith Show?  That wiry little guy who was probably 130 pounds soaking wet made me both laugh and drove me crazy.  The schemes he cooked up to show that he was a worthy deputy; I remember the episode he dressed up like an old woman  showing up to clean the bank to show how inept their old security guard was and got locked up in the bank vault!  And then his singing; he would try out for the community musical, commenting on everyone else’s singing, thinking he was the greatest when in reality he was horribly off pitch.  Oh the list could go on and on. 

            But I think that what characterized Barney most, when it came to his law enforcement, was that he was an absolute stickler for the law.  He had no trouble arresting an old grandma for jaywalking; he would measure how far in inches a car was parked from a hydrant; he would bring kids in, including Opie, Sheriff Taylor’s son, for about anything that bothered him that day.  He never made an exception for anyone; the law was the law and there was no wiggle room. 

            Barney Fife to me is a modern-day Pharisee.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very serious scholars of the Torah, the Jewish law.  They were the religious Barney Fife’s of their day; someone had to make sure the Law was kept to the letter; they were the guardians of the written and oral law.  As time went on, they realized the gaps in God’s law that God hadn’t answered, so they created new laws to add to the “old” ones so that people would be sure to know even more clearly what God had in mind.  The very term Pharisee means “separatist” and they did a good job of it.    They were obsessed with the law, ritual purity, tithing and keeping the Sabbath.  And where Jesus was concerned, they almost always knocked heads with each other.  To them it seemed Jesus was always breaking the law. 

            If Barney Fife was a Pharisee, Andy Griffith was more like Jesus.  Andy knew the Law and what was required, but he also looked into people’s hearts; he knew that Otis was a the town drunk but helped him with a Saturday night cell rather than a jail sentence; he knew that the old man on the hill who pointed his gun at anyone who came on his property would never actually shoot anyone.  He probably understood the balance between Law and Grace as well as anyone. 

            The question that I want to ask each of us this morning is this:  am I a Pharisee?  Am I the kind of person where being right is more important than being loving?  Am I the kind of person that the end is more important than the means or the process? 

            But on the other hand, being the opposite of a Pharisee isn’t good either.  I ask one question but the opposite is equally true.  Am I so gracious that the truth is secondary?  Am I so passive that I am unable to say “no?” 

            I have a small pendulum here with me this morning to express the way we often swing to one side or the other but showing that where we need to be is in the middle, with both.

            Where Jesus is such a great role model and a rabbi worth imitating is that he had the perfect blend.  When the apostle John began his gospel, in chapter 1 verse 14, this is what he said of Jesus: “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (and here is the phase) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

            Did you get that?  Grace AND Truth.  Jesus never let the pendulum swing too far one way or the other; he hung perfectly in the middle, balancing both grace and truth.  How about each of us here today – if our life was a pendulum, which side would it be swung?  I’ll simply confess that I am much more like a Pharisee than the opposite.  I love the details and the words and the commands.  Someone gave me a plaque a few years ago that hangs in my office which says, “Which part of ‘Thou shalt not…’ didn’t you understand?”  God.  I love that.  As Roger Cross told us last summer at our retreat, he is a “recovering Pharisee.”  Me too.  How about you?  But if you’re way over on the grace side, then you need balance too.

            In three short episodes, the Pharisees ratchet up their opposition to Jesus, emphasizing of course, the law.  They’re the Barney Fife’s stationed in their squad cars, slumped down, but watching every move Jesus and his disciples make, HOPING he makes a mistake, and today, they find three of them. 

            Bob read this passage for you, and if you have your Bibles open, that is great; if not, please open your Bibles to Mark 2 verse 18.  Jesus has been demonstrating his authority, his s’mikhah, in a variety of ways, from his teaching and preaching to his healing and casting out demons, to his authority to call sinners like Levi, a tax collector, to be one of his 12 disciples. 

            The first of Jesus’ three encounters today happens in verses 18-22.  Verse 18 says that some people who had observed Jesus’ disciples and John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees noticed something – Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast like the other groups did and they wondered why.  Now the law demanded that they all fast once a year on the Day of Atonement but as I said before, over the years, they added more regulations.  In Jesus’ day, the requirement was to fast twice a WEEK on Monday and Thursday. 

            Do you know what fasting is?  Fasting is basically to not do something you normally do for a period of time.  You normally eat, so to fast from food, you don’t eat for 24 hours or 3 days or even 40 days like Jesus did.  But you can fast from other things too, like certain activities or other things you would normally do.

            Well, why do it?  What’s the purpose of fasting?  Well, there were a variety of reasons like fear of demons – if that was your fear, you fasted to be sure they stayed away; fast for God’s mercy to forgive sins – if I show God I am serious, perhaps he’ll forgive me and reverse the consequences of my sin; fast in sorrow for the loss of a loved one.  You just showed your love for one who died by fasting for them.  But the bottom line is that fasting was a sign of grief.  This was not a happy thing you did; you were serious and sorrowful and you showed your grief by fasting. 

            So here are the Pharisees fasting.  Here’s what they did:  They actually whitened their faces, put ashes on their heads, wore their clothes in shoddy disarray, refused to wash, and looked as forlorn as possible. You could not be spiritual unless you were uncomfortable. They thought spirituality makes you do things you do not want to do and keeps you from doing the things you want to do.  (Kent Hughes)  That’s such a great description of how many of us view religion as a whole:  It keeps us from doing things you want to do.

            Well Jesus has a reply for them in verse 19; essentially says this:  “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?  (The implied answer is a loud, NO!)”  At a Jewish wedding, the couple didn’t leave for a honeymoon but stayed at home for a week of open house in which there was continual feasting and celebration.  Kent Hughes writes that for the “hardworking, this was traditionally considered to be the happiest week in their lives.”  (Kent Hughes)  There was a special rabbinical rule that said this: “All in attendance on the bridegroom are relieved of all religious observances which would lessen their joy.”  Get that; it would lessen their JOY if they fasted. 

            I can see the Pharisees looking around and saying, “So what?  I don’t see a wedding anywhere near here!”  Jesus replies that as long as the bridegroom is there, no fasting; but when he’s taken away, carried away, then there will be a time for fasting because that will be a very sorrowful day.  What is he talking about?  Himself.  He’s the bridegroom and as long as he is on the earth, they don’t need to fast.  So here’s Christ with his disciples, eating and joyful while the Pharisees are walking around gloomy in their required fast. 

            I’ll come back to this later, but does the joy of the Lord fill you on a regular basis?  I didn’t say “happiness,” but rather joy; they’re different.  I’m not saying you won’t have bad days; you certainly will; there will be days where you can’t smile if your life depended upon it, but you can still have joy.  We have something happen to us or said to us that destroys us, but in the midst of that, there is a spark of joy that just can’t be explained.  That’s joy from God.

            But Jesus isn’t quite done with this example; in verse 21, he says something interesting:  “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 tar is made.  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.”  OK, that’s nice, but what gives?  Why this statement?           

            His example of the patch would look like this.  Suppose you have a sailboat and you just got your boat out as the ice is going off Devils Lake.  And when you unfurl the sails for the first time you see a hole about 6” in the main sail; oh brother, the mice must have gotten into this.  Well, you’re kind of a handyman; you can fix this.  So you go buy some new sailcloth, and right out of the package you put this new piece of sailcloth on your old sail.  This old sail has seen its better days but this new stuff will surely be real strong and maybe last you another 10 years.  Well you get it on fine but as the summer goes on with some rain and then sun and heat, this new sail cloth begins to shrink.  And because you sewed it up so well, it begins to pull the old sailcloth, eventually causing more problems than the original hole.

            That’s one of Jesus’ examples; the other is of a wine flask.  In Jesus’ day, they made these wine flasks out of goat skin, partly tanned and sewed into the form of a flask.  So if you have this newly fermenting grape juice and put it in a new flask, as the pressure inside grows, the elastic, flexible flask will too.  But put that new wine in an old wineskin, the expansion is going to make a wine explosion before too long costing you both the wine and flask.

            What’s Jesus’ point?  The legalistic law that these Pharisees push is like an old sail or old wineskin.  It’s seen its better day.  In its essence, it has done its job; it did what God intended it to do – to point out our inability to reach God through the law.  Now Jesus comes along preaching a gospel of forgiveness, repentance and trust and it is like the new patch and the new wineskin.  And that new life that Jesus gives is like new wine expanding.  And all the while we grow and expand, our faith and our balance of truth and grace expand with it.  Life in Christ is not stale and static; it is alive and growing and incredible.  It is transformation not just reformation.  And both what is in side and what is outside will never be the same.  But they can never be what God intended inside those old systems and regulations. 

            But Jesus isn’t done with these Pharisees.  In verses 23-27 of chapter two he runs into them again.  In verse 23 he and his disciples are walking through on a foot path between two grain fields.  His disciples are hungry and they reach for the wheat or barley heads they can reach and eat as they go.  This is something the law allowed.  Essentially it said that as long as you didn’t bring a combine with you, you could take some heads of grain from fields along the road.  (OK, combine isn’t in the Hebrew; it was really a sickle!)  And by the way, it just so happens to be the Sabbath.

            Well, Barney Fife and his fellow Pharisees are slumped behind the wheel of the squad car and as soon as they see enough evidence, they sound the alarm!  They pounce on Jesus as the leader of these disciples and say, “Look!  See here!  Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”  Oh, they really have him now!  This surely will get him kicked out of the rabbi club! 

            I kind of see Jesus just hang his head and sigh.  But he’s ready; he’s always ready with an answer.  Remember, he’s the one who balances grace and truth.  He’s not opposed to truth or law, but he keeps them in balance perfectly. 

            He tells them what David did centuries earlier. The story is found in 1 Samuel 21 if you want to see the original story.  Saul is chasing David, who is not king yet. David is about to meet up with this band of men who are for him and fight with him.  So he goes to the priest of the tabernacle looking for food for them all.  He asks for 5 loaves of bread or whatever else there is.  The priest says he only has the 12 loaves that were kept on a special table in the presence of the Lord.  Each week 12 new loaves were placed there and then the priests got to eat what was left.  So he gives David the sacred bread and David and his men eat it and they don’t die.  God doesn’t send down a lightning bolt and a shout from heaven or anything.  There was a real need and the specific of the law was set aside. 

            But if the Pharisees are perceptive, they would pick up something else. David might not have been king in actuality, but he was the anointed king of Israel; he just didn’t have the throne yet until Saul died.  Here’s the thing; as the anointed king of Israel, even if he didn’t have a throne, he had the authority – the s’mikhah – to take this bread.  Do you get it?  If the Pharisees are paying attention they are horrified; this Jesus has the audacity to claim that he has authority like David did.  He is declaring his authority to have his followers set aside the Sabbath  laws to eat.

            And besides, Jesus adds in verse 27, Sabbath was made for man or literally, “on account of” man.  If God hadn’t created man, there would have been no Sabbath. God didn’t create the world, then declare a Sabbath rest and then put man in that.  No it was man first and Sabbath was created by God for man for him to rest and admire the work of his God. 

            William Hendrickson writes:  “It was made to be a blessing for man; to keep him healthy, to make him helpful, hence HAPPY, and to render him holy so he can calmly meditate on the works of his maker.” That’s really good.  Write this verse down so you can look it up later; Isaiah 58:12-13.  There God basically says the same thing.  “Look, this is a day when you can set aside your work; you give yourselves 100% to your work on this earth for 6 days; now turn your attention to the heavens for 1!  Take delight in the Lord!”  Note in Hendrickson’s commendation the opportunity to be happy.  Pharisees were always sober; the Christian should have this constant joy! 

            And frankly, Jesus adds, the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath – that’s his s’mikhah, authority!

            So for those of you who work on Sunday either because you have to or because you think you need to be in the field; hey, it’s not a legalistic thing to take Sunday off; it’s an opportunity.  The day was made for you not you for the day.  The older I get the more I see how much the Christian life is about opportunities. It isn’t sin to not take them, it’s just disappointing to realize what we missed.  So farm if you want on Sunday, but worship.  Put some Christian music on your tape or CD players; get the tape of my sermon; leave the radio off and realize how incredible this dirt is that you are seeding into and how little you have to do with raising the crop.  But again, there is a balance; the Bible also tells us not to neglect meeting together, not because it is a legalistic requirement but because you lose when you are not here.  I can’t think of a better place to be on a Sunday than right here and we do our best to provide an opportunity for you that you will hunger for so much so that you can’t wait to get back.  It’s about opportunities.

            Last fall, about a week after I returned from Russia, good friend Steve Bell was giving a concert in Winker, MB with a friend of his who is a writer from England.  Well, I wanted to see and hear Steve, so Trudy and I went to Winkler that evening to see Steve.  But here was the problem; the concert started at 7:30 and the border closed at 10:00 p.m. and we were 30 miles from the border.  So this concert needs to be 2 hours max and we have to get out of there.  Well, they start late and the friend who is the speaker is first and he’s real good for about 45 minutes and then they take a 20 minute break.  I’m getting nervous.  Then Steve comes up to us and says, “Hey guys, we have these friends in Winkler who are having a little get-together with after the concert and we’d like you and Trudy to come!”  Well, this is great; one of my favorite people on the entire planet and get to hang out with the British author and his wife.  Cool!  Ah, but we have the kids at Grandmas and no jammies for them or us and we’d have to stay overnight or go all the way to Pembina in the middle of the night.  Well, we’ll think about it.  So for 30 minutes of Steve’s music, I wrestle with this and wrestle with this; this is a golden opportunity, but the kids and I need to be at work on Saturday and what will people think if I take half a day off.  And 30 minutes into his music, my wife fuming, we get up and leave.  I have seldom been so miserable in my life.  Trudy’s mad at me that I can’t be spontaneous and I’m mad at her for not telling me what to do and well, it ends up feeling like a wasted night.  And I wonder what they talked about late into the night that night.  You see, that was an opportunity, like the Sabbath or Sunday. It wasn’t sin to go, but I missed the chance of a lifetime because I don’t have a spontaneous bone in my body. 

            How about you?  When God whispers in your ear, “Hey, stop your walk for a minute at the neighbors to say hi” or “Hey, call up Joe and Sally and meet them at the Bean; it’s been awhile,” or anything you can think of, what do you do?  The Lord of the Sabbath says that he has created opportunities for us; what will we do with them?

            Well, old Barney Fife hides back in the bushes again.  Two episodes down and still no one have won. Chapter 3, verse 1; it’s Sabbath again; not sure if it was the same one or another week; doesn’t matter.  Jesus is in the synagogue as he regularly did.  But in the synagogue is a man with a withered hand; if you kind of make a claw with your hand, that’s the idea.  Luke says it was his right hand if you care.  His muscles and nerves don’t work and over the years his hand his kind of closed in; you’ve seen this in some older persons.  Old Barney Fife has his bullet in his pocket and his hand is moving both toward his gun and his pocket; this is going to be easy; no way Jesus is going to miss this. 

            It’s like Jesus too knows what‘s coming.  In verse three he looks at this man and simply says, “Come here.”  There’s going to be no secrecy here.  This is a showdown of law and grace on display.  Jesus knows exactly what he’s doing and he asks a question, “It it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”  Let them give an answer.  Well, here’s the showdown and these guys aren’t going to play along; they don’t say a word. 

            And I want you to see Jesus’ reaction in verse 5 because too often we picture Jesus as ONLY this sweet, kindly Jesus.  “He looked around at them with ANGER, GRIEVED at their hardness of heart.  OK, he’s ticked off.  There’s no sin in his anger; it is a passion inside him that burns and it is appropriate and momentary.  But longer-lasting is the word “grieved;” it has the idea that it is continuous.  These guys just drive him nuts.  Their hearts are hard in the sense that they are so calloused; it is literally to be covered with thick skin.  When you’ve been hoeing in the garden for several days, that blister finally toughens and becomes a callous; well these guys are so calloused in their hearts that there is no way they’ll feel for the guy or for Jesus. 

            So Jesus demonstrates that he is lord of the Sabbath.  “Stretch out your hand,” something he hasn’t done for years.  But he does it and just like that it is as flexible and strong as it has ever been, instantly and completely.

            Now someone else is mad; they go storming out of the synagogue and things get serious. They go talk to those loyal to Herod and begin to plot how to destroy this fraud called Jesus.  They can’t prove he’s a fraud and he always makes them look like idiots but they’ll get him one way or the other.          

            You see, they are old wine skins and they won’t even try to put new wine in their flasks.  They are old sails with holes that won’t use new patches; they know that won’t work.  They’re Barney Fife, spitting mad with their one bullet still in their pocket; but one day they’ll use it by hook or by crook.

            So let’s go back the original question:  Am I a Pharisee?  Am I on the opposite side of the pendulum with only grace and very little truth?  Do I have the balance that Jesus did.  Do you and I get bent out of shape when our kids are 1 minute late?  Do we get offended when someone we know well says something that hurts and we cut off that relationship?  Do we complain when there aren’t enough choruses or hymns or the message isn’t what we wanted?  Ouch.  Do we hang on to our children so tightly with the hope that if we do, they won’t make the same mistakes we did?

            On the other hand, for those on the other end of the pendulum, do we have a “whatever” attitude?  Do we simply say, “Well, kids will be kids; after all, I was no saint”?  Do we simply throw up our hands in exasperation and simply hope that things will turn out and then quit?  Do we fail to provide appropriate discipline because that went out with the 50’s?  Do we cheat on tests because everyone else is doing it? 

            You see, what I’ve just painted it two extremes, both of which are wrong.  And lest I be misunderstood, I’m not saying that compromise is in the middle.  I think that full truth and full grace can be and must be operation al all the time. 

            I want to tell you one example of my journey to be a recovering Pharisee.  You may ask for my resignation and call a special congregational meeting after I tell you this; maybe I should have Ethan turn off the tape player because my parents are going to hear this in about a week and I’ll be cut off from their will, and we can’t have that!   Trudy and I have allowed our oldest daughter, a 7th grader, to attend 3 dances this year!  Oh my goodness.  Now you have to understand Trudy and my backgrounds; in my book, Trudy grew up a flaming liberal theologically (she was Presbyterian!).  And I’m a card-carrying Mennonite.  How did we ever get together?  Trudy went to dances when she was young and this might be hard to believe, but she even went to more than one prom! Heaven forbid!  So Mikaela is in 7th grade and she announces that she wants to go to some dances this year.  Well, this is an easy one in my book – no!  Why?  Well, your ancestors would turn over in their graves if you did and that’s somewhere in the Bible.  You know what they do at those dances or worse what they do after them – at least that’s what I was always told. 

            Well – sorry, mom and dad for letting you down – but we let her go to 3 of them this year; the last one was a week ago.  She did OK; she didn’t get too corrupted, at least as far as we can tell, but Barney Fife is watching her from the weeds!   Grace.  Freedom.  Boundaries.  Truth.  She can represent Christ there too and we invite her to.  I heard a preacher this week on my iPod say that we Christians are the ones who are free; why are we so petrified to be with non-Christians?  They need what we have and we won’t take what they offer.  Grace and truth.  Pharisee or anti-Pharisee.  Which are you?  Don’t find balance as much as find both.  Live it.  Seek it. Teach it.  Model it.  Paul the apostle wrote, “For FREEDOM Christ has set us FREE; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)  For some of us freedom needs to be releasing our grip on the legalism that binds us like a noose; for some of us, it means grabbing on to the rock that is higher than I, the person, work and word of God.  What will it be?  Don’t stop till you find both grace and truth at work in your life.  Don’t quit till glory.  Let’s pray.

“Am I a Pharisee?”

Pt. 5 of “Who is Jesus…”                                                  Pastor Bruce Dick – BEFC

Mark 2:18-3:6                                                                                     April 29, 2007

Introduction:

Jesus perfectly:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (and here is the phase) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Three “Collisions” with the Pharisees – do they describe me?

v  “Why aren’t your disciples fasting?”  (Mark 2:18-22)

o   Fasting…(v. 18)

§  Mostly it was a sign of _____________.

§  Does the joy of the Lord fill you regularly?

o   The wedding feast… (v. 19-20)

o   New patch on old garment (v. 21)

o   New wine must be in new wineskins (v. 22)

v  “You can’t ‘combine’ on the Sabbath!” (Mark 2:23-27)

Sabbath:  “It was made to be a blessing for man; to keep him healthy, to make him helpful, hence HAPPY, and to render him holy so he can calmly meditate on the works of his maker.” (William Hendrickson)

o   It’s not a legalistic ritual to take Sunday off from work, it’s an ____________________ !

v  “You can’t heal on the Sabbath!” (Mark 3:16)

v  Where am I when it comes to Grace and Truth?                    Where will I allow God to begin to move me?

Jesus – Full of Grace & Truth
Grace
Truth

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