If you have ever visited a great and beautiful building and arrived to see it under repair and covered in temporary scaffolding, you will have had that feeling of ‘let-down’, of second best. The same is true of the Christian gospel when legalism has been allowed to wrap itself around it – and Jesus was experiencing that frustration first-hand in Mark 3 (and Matthew 12 and Luke 6). He was about to do an act of compassion and a full-blown miracle rolled into one, when the Pharisaic ‘trade unionists’ of the day shouted “Hey, you there, brother: down tools, stop work and come back tomorrow; don’t you know it’s the Sabbath?” Their view of the way God operated was that he would be greatly offended if an act of kindness was done that day – even though an obvious miracle would indicate that God had no problem working himself! Legalistic Christianity has that dampening effect upon the work of the Holy Spirit though us, and it is as constant a danger to us as the opposite extreme of dancing to the world’s tune and values.
Jesus was having none of it and he made a point of doing this miracle as publicly as possible, setting the Pharisees an open challenge: Is doing good OK at any time? He was angry and distressed that they were so obviously looking for a fight rather than the truth, and he went ahead anyway and healed the guy. So unteachable were they that, in the face of overwhelming evidence, they formed a coalition with a nearby political party in order to get Jesus killed. Legalistic Christians can never be pleased or satisfied until they get their way; and even then, they don’t seem very pleased!
Having intentionally done something very publicly, Jesus then (verse 11) ticks the ‘No Publicity’ box in his next encounter with the miraculous. He was removing demonic influence from a group of people and the demons themselves recognised the pre-existent Son of God and began to shout it out. But he stopped them. Why? Probably two reasons: 1. He didn’t want the crowds to use him as a figurehead to spearhead an anti-Roman political revolution (there was Barabbas to do that!) and 2. He didn’t need the Enemy’s version of the gospel distorting the true message he was giving.
Mark 3:13-15 neatly sums up the Master’s method of disciple-making: Spend time alone seeking God for who your disciples should be; then call them to you and spend time with them, sharing your life with them; finally send them out with your message and your methods. For us, being with Christ is as important as going in his name – both are necessary simultaneously.
“Whose side are you on?”, Jesus must have thought when his mother and siblings appeared at an unusually busy teaching and healing session one day, in an effort to declare him insane and to take legal charge of him. Jesus’s natural brothers did not believe in him until after the Resurrection, but it is a bit surprising that Mary also involved herself in this. It is very easy for Christian parents to be over-cautious with their children’s lives and to actually hold them back in their walk with God, by ungodly expectations or outright opposition. Let’s be on our guard, parents!
And then there were those who were, by implication, guilty of an ‘eternal sin’ or ‘unforgivable sin’; this is the one that so many young Christians in particular seem to be concerned about: “Have I committed the unforgivable sin?” then ask. Well, the mere fact they are concerned and are asking is itself evidence that ‘No’, they haven’t. The sin against the Holy Spirit is to reject all his works in your life to lead you to Jesus, to convict you of sin and to cause you to repent and to change. It is to distort the work of God and label it as the work of the Devil. That is what those Pharisees were doing, and Jesus was essentially saying that there was no hope for them, because there was no other method by which they could be saved, other than through him. See also verses 22, 30, Matthew 12:31.
So ends another busy day in Jesus’ short life on earth!
EXODUS 23 and 24
Social justice was important too: the weak and defenceless, such as widows and orphans, were given special protection by the Lord – who quickly hears their cry. Lending money to a member of God’s ‘family’ could not be done at a profit (i.e., interest), although outsiders could be charged interest. Being a truthful witness was very important – and it was forbidden even to favour a poor person, where justice is concerned. There was encouragement to love your enemy by caring for his animals – that idea surely belongs in the New Testament, doesn’t it? Apparently, it is true here too! And leave the fields unharvested every seventh year, to allow the poor to obtain their food from them. (A Sabbath for the land.)
Three ceremonial worship festivals were instituted within the year – which all men were expected to attend.
Looking ahead to the occupying of the Promised Land, the Lord said that he would drive out the native occupants little by little, as the population of the Hebrews increased to occupy the land. God gives us ground today as we are ready to take possession of it – and usually not before.
Finally, in Exodus 24, the covenant was confirmed (in blood) and the priests and seventy elders saw a truly amazing vision of God up the mountain. Moses was then invited up to the mountaintop for forty days and nights, to receive the stone tablets of the Decalogue and to receive instructions on the construction of the Tabernacle and the ceremonies of worship and sacrifice. Forty days is a long time – and the rest of the people started to get up to mischief!!!