Monday, September 30, 2013

New Wine (Mark 2:18-3:12)

Religion-Fasting, Relationship-Feasting

John’s disciples were not loved by the Pharisees, but at least they understood them. Pharisees were religious and they understood religious expression. John’s disciples fasted out of a true understanding of their insurmountable sin problem, and were expressing a deep sense of repentance. Pharisees didn’t fast in such a noble way. For them, religion was all about being good, controlling people, and being able to compare their level of holiness with others’. In part, that is why Jesus and His disciples disturbed them even more than John. Whereas John called them a brood of vipers and made them doubt their perfection, Jesus didn’t really keep with religious ritual. How could He be perceived as better than them when He hung out with known sinners and didn’t fast?

That is exactly the point, though. Jesus did not come to establish or perfect religion. He came to address sin, and religion—perhaps surprisingly—doesn’t help anyone with their sin. At best religion, as used by God under the old covenant, brings an awareness of sin. At worst, it is simply a man-made system using humanity’s longing for God to control and manipulate the masses while empowering a select few.

The New and the Old Do Not Mix.

Jesus paints a vivid picture of just what He is all about. He did not come to use old, religious systems to save the world. He came with a new message, a better way to God. Instead of rules, punishments, and manipulations, He offers forgiveness, relationship, and a way of living the way we were created to live. His message did not build on the religious interpretations the Jews had applied to God’s revelation—it destroyed them. He did fulfill the law, but not in the way people anticipated. He took the revelation that humanity was helplessly lost in sin and offered a free reconciliation to those who would recognize their desperate state and trust in Him.

Was man created to serve a system, or was the system established to help man?

The very next story Mark tells elaborates on this truth. Humanity was not created for religion. We were created for a relationship with God. Religion was invented by humanity after the fall, and was used by God as a part of the plan to reconcile humanity to Him. Religion was used to serve mankind by exposing our shortcomings and our need for salvation. Religious rules are simply tools, and those tools can be used to justify inaction or even to promote evil. Once a person is in a renewed relationship with God, God’s Spirit is a better guide than the rules used to expose sin. Sin takes rules and makes religion, the Spirit uses love to guide us to the life God wills.

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