A New (and opposed) Kingdom
Welcome—thank you for joining us. We are continuing our sermon series in the Gospel of Mark. And if you’re aware of the story so far, you’ll know that Mark’s big idea is that Jesus is the King. And in Jesus, the Kingdom of God has come, because in Jesus, God’s King has come. And Mark immediately backs that claim up by showing us what Jesus does—because a real King has authority, and so we have seen Jesus displaying his authority. Jesus has demonstrated his authority over people by calling disciples to follow him; he has demonstrated his authority over sickness by healing people; he has demonstrated his authority over demons by exorcising them; he has demonstrated his authority to restoring the ritually unclean by cleansing the leper, and he has even demonstrated that he has the authority to forgive sins. He is, indeed, a King like no other: He is God’s King, and in our passage today we see that he brings in a new Kingdom. But this new kingdom, as we’ll see, was not something that was welcomed by the religious leaders, and so the sub-theme of the passage is that this new kingdom is opposed.
So let’s dive in. Firstly, we see that Jesus has come to inaugurate a new kingdom.
A New Kingdom
A New Kingdom
A Kingdom of mercy (2.13-17)
A Kingdom of mercy (2.13-17)
Read v 14. Now, we miss the scandal of this passage if we forgot who tax collectors were. In SA, we rightly have a positive view of the tax revenue services, because taxes are used to help the poor and pay for essential services. But tax collectors in the first century were loathed, and Jewish tax collectors would have been particularly loathed. Now, tax collectors generally were hated because tax collectors made a profit directly linked to how much they could squeeze out of their constituents. Here’s Levi’s business model: as a tax collector in a particular locale, Levi would have made a bid in advance to collect taxes in that area. His profit came from the difference between the bid he paid to the Romans and the money he collected (much of which would have come from fellow Jews). So Levi’s business model incentivised him to overcharge in order to maximize profits; tax collectors were generally loathed, then, for their greed and dishonesty. But in addition to that, what would have made Levi particularly loathsome to other Jews was the fact that he was a sell-out to the imperial power. And not only was Levi ripping off his own people, but he was doing so in order to enrich the colonizing Roman Empire. Levi would have been hated. Absolutely hated by other Jews, especially Torah-observant Jews.
In fact, early Jewish literature reveals that Jewish tax collectors were disqualified as witnesses in court, they were expelled from synagogues, and they were a cause of disgrace to their families. Additionally, if a tax collector touched your house, the house was considered unclean. If a tax collector gave alms, receiving money from a tax collector was considered robbery! So Levi was hated, despised, and considered unclean. In fact, Levi would have been worse than a leper because leprosy was not chosen, but Levi voluntarily became a tax collector. So if you think that Jesus cleansing the leper raised eyebrows, then this escalated things further. But it gets worse because, as you saw, Levi isn’t the only sinner that Jesus is having a dinner party with. Read verse 15. “Many”! The offense metastasizes because what we learn here is that the call of a sinner is not an exception in Jesus’ ministry. It is typical of his ministry. Jesus is having a party with immoral reprobates and spiritual neophytes; Jesus has chosen to hang out with people that are totally unworthy!
It’s like Alex Ferguson coming to Cape Town, coming to Jubilee, walking past Stephen’s door, and inviting me out for lunch. I am completely unworthy! More than that, it causes offense to those who are ‘worthy’!
And the language in verse 15 indicates that Jesus was reclining at Levi’s house, a posture that indicates solidarity with those present. He is not standing stiffly in the corner—he’s on the couch, passing around the chips and listening to people’s stories. Jesus identifies with alienated and sinful people. He has come to connect with the rebels, the failures, the down-and-outs. And this would have been absolutely galling to the religious leaders, because the Jewish dietary laws were designed to exclude contact with Gentiles and sinners, but Jesus deliberately violating those boundaries. Jesus is sending out an open invite. And his disregard for this Jewish boundary marker provokes the rage of the religious leaders. Take a look at v 16 (read).
Read v 16.
So this illustrates the truth of 2:1–12: there Jesus pronounced forgiveness of sins, here he forgives sinners, entering their houses in fellowship and reclining with them at table. The purpose of forgiveness is relationship. This is radical grace, scandalous mercy, and it is summed up in a beautiful statement, verse 17: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Because Jesus’ mission is a mission of mercy, a mission of grace, it as as senseless for Jesus to shun sinners as it would be for a doctor to shun sick people. Jesus has come for sinners, because His new Kingdom is a Kingdom of mercy.
James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 85.
Question: how do you experience Jesus? Is he someone that annoys you, or is he someone that you connect with? Do you see him as the physician you need for healing? If you are sick with sin, he is your doctor. You may feel spiritually disqualified, you may feel enveloped by guilt and shame—but just as a doctor wouldn’t turn away a sick patient, Jesus won’t turn you away. You can come to him. Now, I especially want to encourage anyone here feeling burdened by guilt and shame: sometimes, when we are overwhelmed with our sin, we can withdraw from Jesus. But think about what He is saying to us here. When does someone need their doctor the most? When they are at their worst. When a person is at their sickest, they need their doctor the most. So when you are soaked in sin and shame, please don’t withdraw from your spiritual physician. He has the medicine that our sin-sick souls need. His Kingdom is a kingdom of mercy.
A Kingdom of joy (2.18-22)
A Kingdom of joy (2.18-22)
Read v 18. So a comparison is being made to two other movements, John’s disciples and disciples of the Pharisees. Now Pharisaism was a lay movement of about 6000 people in the first century (about 1% of the total population). There were other groups in Jerusalem at the time, but the Pharisees were the most influential and had a reputation for orthodoxy. They were ‘purists’ or spiritual elites, whose view of Judaism essentially set the standard.
Anyway, these two groups are fasting: which was a sign of humility and sadness. The OT law only required fasting once a year, but the Pharisees emphasized fasting; it was a way of saying, “we’re sorry for our sins, we’re sad, God please draw near to us.” It emphasized sadness and God’s distance. And they’re wondering why Jesus’ disciples aren’t doing that. And Jesus’ answer is that this isn’t a time to be sad—it’s a time to be happy. This isn’t a funeral, it’s a wedding! Read verse 19. You don’t fast at a wedding, you eat and drink! This is not a time to be sad, it’s a time to be happy! Like Levi and his sinner friends, it’s a time to hunker down and enjoy the feast. Because the doctor is in; because the bridegroom is here. And to think that this is an appropriate time to fast is to be emotionally out of touch with spiritual reality.
Now I wonder if you can relate to that experience—of feeling something that didn’t match the occasion. Have you ever felt really happy at a time when your joyful exuberance was out of place? I do! I remember being in a doctors waiting room, which was a sobering context, when my cellphone rang with the tune “I feel good!” It was inappropriate, it was emotionally out of touch. And the religious folks are not able to sync emotionally because they don’t know that Jesus is the bridegroom. Well, what does that mean? The prophets foretold that God would come back one day to marry his people. And as a bridegroom comes to marry his bride, so God would one day come to marry his people. And so by claiming to be the bridegroom, Jesus is claiming to be God. Jesus has come to marry His people, and so it is a time to rejoice.
A wedding celebration in a Jewish village normally lasted seven days
Now, weddings today are a lot of fun and are very joyous affairs. But back then it was even more so; a wedding celebration in a Jewish village would normally last 7 days, and the guests had no responsibilities except to enjoy the festivities. There would be an abundance of food and wine, along with songs, dancing, and lots of fun both in the house and on the street outside. It’s a real celebration, and the thought of fasting would be completely inappropriate. Because a wedding was not a time to abstain, it was a time to live it up. And this joyful celebration is directly connected to Jesus’ identity: those who understand that he is Israel’s bridegroom are full of joy and living it up (think Levi and his friends)! But those who have fundamentally misunderstood his identity don’t celebrate. Jesus’ Kingdom is one of joy, and the appropriate response is to be happy.
So here’s a question I think we could all benefit from reflecting on: How do you experience Jesus? Does knowing Jesus bring you joy? Does he make you happy? That question is often a question that a parent might ask a bride-to-be about the future bridegroom: Does he make you happy? Does knowing Jesus bring you joy? If you had to lose other things you valued and cared about, if none of your dreams came true, could you still be a fundamentally happy person because of your relationship with Jesus?
David Powlison’s illness: I can’t finish sentences—is God enough?
Jesus, God’s King, the bridegroom, has come. The appropriate response is joy and celebration! Knowing Him is a sufficient cause of happiness, because His Kingdom is a kingdom of joy.
A Kingdom of rest (2.23-28)
A Kingdom of rest (2.23-28)
Read vv. 23-24. The issue here was whether or not the disciples were ‘working’ on the Sabbath by reaping grain. Now, Sabbath observance was significant to the Jews. The Sabbath commandment is the fourth (and longest) commandment, and enjoined Jews to rest on the seventh day of creation. Here the issue (according to the Pharisees) is that the disciples are reaping, which was a form of work—something prohibited on the Sabbath. And I just love Jesus’ response (read v 25-26). Jesus appeals to King David when, in desperate hunger, King David entered the tabernacle and ate the bread that was meant for the priests. But Jesus doesn’t raise this incident from David’s life as an excuse; Jesus is not citing it as an excuse but as a precedent: in other words, just as King David’s followers broke with custom to get some food, so too will Jesus’s followers. What’s the point? Jesus is the new and greater King David. In the behaviour of Jesus’ followers, the Pharisees should see allusions to King David’s followers. So Jesus acts like King David acted. Let me put it this way: if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck—then it’s probably a duck. And if Jesus looks like a King, a sounds like a King, and even has followers that remind you of the followers of a King—then Jesus is a King.
And the King is a King who brings deep and true rest. Read verse 27-28. The point is simple: the Sabbath was designed to be a blessing not a burden; a gift rather than a yoke. In the Bible, Sabbath rest means to cease from your work. Sabbath rest provides balance and renewal, both psychologically and socially. Psychologically, because it prevents exhaustion and burnout. Socially, though, the goal of the Sabbath was to protect employees/servants from being exploited.
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.
But the life-enhancing law of the OT was distorted by the Pharisees into a burdensome yoke that prevented human flourishing. And man-made religions and rules often have this effect: they stifle, they restrict, they burden. But Jesus didn’t come to give you a burden, he came to give you a blessing. Jesus came to do the work that you could never do, to meet the criteria you could never meet. Because his Kingdom is a kingdom of rest. And because Jesus has the authority to interpret what the Sabbath means, well, he must therefore be the Lord of the Sabbath. God instituted the Sabbath (in ) so for Jesus to claim to be Lord of the Sabbath is for Jesus to claim that He is God Himself. It’s a Kingdom of rest, and the King declares it to be so. Jesus has come to bring us rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The difference between Christianity and other religions, is that where other religions say “do”, Christianity says “done”. Jesus has done the work, won the battle, found the cure.One of the great blessings of the Gospel is that in the Lord Jesus, we have received a rest that no-one else can give us.
One of the implications, I think, has to do with how well-rested we are. Are you taking the time you need to find rest? Are you finding rest for your soul? Now, specific habits and practices will differ from person to person, but it would be remiss of us to think about Jesus’ kingdom as a kingdom of rest while neglecting to think about what that means for us specifically. And I think this is more important than ever because we live in an age of global connectivity , instant access to information, and many of us may work or belong to organizations or institutions that have a bias to overwork. So it’s all to common to see people feeling burnt out, stressed out, and fed up. The overwork and exhaustion can be a symptom that we haven’t really figured out what it means for us to fully appropriate Jesus’ rest. But he is the Lord of the Sabbath, the Great King who brings us rest. So let’s strive to enter the rest that he has won for us.
So Jesus brings in a new Kingdom: a Kingdom of mercy, of joy, and of rest. Isn’t this beautiful? Don’t you think that, if this is what he brings, you can trust him? He hasn’t come to control or manipulate us—he has come to show mercy, to bring joy, to provide rest.
An opposed Kingdom
An opposed Kingdom
The religious leaders oppose Jesus because they have (rightly) discerned that his mission is different from their mission. His agenda is different from their agenda, and Jesus is provoking them to highlight just how different their agendas are.
Let’s review the passage to see how this works: instead of insisting of ceremonial boundary markers that separated holy people from tax collectors and sinners, Jesus openly defies convention and connects with the blatantly unworthy. Instead of joining in with the sorrowful fasts, Jesus says, “Cheer up! It’s a wedding not a funeral.” And instead of perpetuating the endlessly complicated series of Sabbath rules, Jesus authoritatively declares that the Sabbath is meant to be a gift not a burden. Each episode is a critique of formal religiosity, and a declaration that Jesus is advocating a very different agenda, a very different religion/spirituality, to that of the Pharisees.
And the Pharisees get it. They correctly understand the messages that Jesus is sending. Those messages are landing on the Pharisees loud and clear.. It’s so easy to remain fuzzy when exploring the claims of Christ, but the Pharisees didn’t—they quickly understood that Jesus was advocating a different religion to theirs. So their discernment was good. But what wasn’t good was their unwillingness to change. Despite the fact that Jesus provides them with supernatural evidence, with biblical arguments, and with patient engagement, they not only continue to reject him but they become increasingly irrational in the process.
You see, their initial concern at the beginning of chapter 2 was legitimate. But as time goes by, they become less reasonable and less rationale in the way that they engage. And I think there’s a lesson in here for us regarding the nature of skepticism. Being skeptical can be really healthy: it’s a sign that your thinking clearly, that your mind is engaged, that you want to think things through before committing to anything. But once we have asked questions, obtained the data, seen the miracles, we then need to make a response. We approach a crossroads, and we either continue to investigate, we open ourselves us to being persuaded, or we start to close ourselves off. That’s what the Pharisees are doing—they’re closing themselves off to the possibility of correction. It’s an intellectual disaster move, but we do this to ourselves all the time.
How to Think: a humanities professor who aims to help you think about why thinking is fraught with danger and error. One of his main ideas is that our cognitive processing gets hijacked by un-articulated desires and beliefs. Particularly desires to belong, and desires that protect our interests. So we are vulnerable, cognitively, to believing things that are not true in order to get social approval. And we’re also vulnerable to rejecting things that are true because, to believe them, would threaten life as we know it. And that’s what’s happening to the Pharisees. And that’s what happens to us.
We all actually have some kind of resistance to the authority of Christ. Even if you are already a Christian, we all find it hard to submit fully to the authority of the King because to do so would be to threaten us in some way. It might decrease our popularity. it might cost us in terms of time, energy, money. And this resistance, this opposition, is also true for those investigating Christianity. Part of you doesn’t want it to be true because if it is true then everything changes and that’s a scary unknown.
We all actually have some kind of resistance to the authority of Christ. Can you identify what that looks like for you? In what ways do you resist the authority of Jesus? Even as a Christian, I can find myself rebelling against the King (because I like to be my own King!). So although he has a wonderful new Kingdom, Jesus faced (and faces) opposition. But as we close, I want to highlight something remarkable this passage teaches: it is through that opposition that this new Kingdom comes.
So…can you identify what this opposition to God’s kingdom looks like for you? In what ways does your resistance to Jesus get manifested? Even as a Christian, I can find myself rebelling against the King (because I like to be my own King!). So although he has a wonderful new Kingdom, Jesus faced (and faces) opposition. But as we close, I want to highlight something remarkable this passage teaches: it is through that opposition that this new Kingdom comes.
It is through opposition that the new Kingdom comes
It is through opposition that the new Kingdom comes
Having told us that he is the bridegroom and that he has come to bring joy and make us happy, Jesus goes enigmatically on to say that there will be a day of sadness—the day that the bridegroom is snatched away (read v 20). The verb implies violence, and it is reminiscent of the prophet Isaiah’s prediction of the Messiah’s death.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.
This is the first prediction in the Gospel of Mark that the King will be killed. And it’s because His new Kingdom comes into direct conflict with the old religious structures. And he sends a clear message to the Pharisees that the two are completely incompatible (read verses 21-22). The new and the old cannot coexist. Jesus is the new piece of cloth, he is the new wine, and he cannot simply be incorporated into another, preexisting system. Jesus cannot be co-opted into traditional Judaism. He won’t conform to the agenda of the religious leaders. Which, the clear message to the Pharisees was, means that something has got to give. This is Jesus’ message to them: his arrival, as the new cloth and as the new wine, will render their traditions obsolete. The Pharisees understood exactly what Jesus meant, and so it’s not long before they are plotting his death.
And yet Mark’s gospel will show us that it is through that very opposition, it is through that very hostility and rejection, that God’s new kingdom gets ushered in. The hatred and jealousy of the religious leaders sent Jesus, ultimately, to being crucified. But in that crucifixion Jesus nullifies Pharisaism, demonstrated in the tearing of the temple curtain, showing us that his death on the cross provides us with access to God. We don’t need a system to get to God, we have a person. because in Jesus, God’s Kingdom has come: it possible for us to enter a Kingdom of mercy, joy, and rest.
On the cross, Jesus takes our punishment. He experiences God’s wrath, so that we can know mercy. On the cross, Jesus experiences deep sadness, so that we might know eternal joy. And on the cross, Jesus experiences the burden of our sin, so that we might find rest for our souls. The opposition to Jesus doesn’t hinder his kingdom, it ushers it in.
As we close, can we consider Jesus afresh? He has brought in a new kingdom; he is the doctor who has come to heal your soul. He is the bridegroom who has come to fill you with joy. He is the Lord Himself, who has come to bring you rest. Instead of opposing him, let’s embrace him.
Won’t you pray with me.