Wednesday 23rd February 2022

MARK 7

It appears that Jesus turns his criticism onto dyed-in-the-wool religious traditionalists who refuse to move with the times.  Smugly, perhaps, we think of churches and denominations to which we would like to send our copy of Mark 7 with copious highlighting.  But Jesus wasn’t talking about these people at all!  The practice of ‘Corban’ – an offering, devoting a particular object or gift of money to the exclusive service of the Lord – was based on a valid part of the Law (Leviticus 1:2), but had been used by the common people to divert the funds that they would have used to care for their elderly relatives towards the temple coffers instead – and sometimes not even for God’s work. 

You can see how it might have begun as a zealous encouragement to putting the ‘Kingdom’ first, but it had become an excuse to avoid the Fifth Commandment and was therefore evil.  The ceremonial washing of eating and drinking vessels and hands before taking in food was also an example of religious people totally missing the point.  Jesus applies the prophecy of Isaiah 29:13 to ram home the fact that human rules usually undermine the Word of God and the heart of our faith.

Don’t be deceived, this was not ‘tradition’ as we use the word – as in actions and attitudes of old people, old churches, and tired denominations.  The ‘Corban’ principle was relatively recent and had not even been written down until 130 years after the Resurrection of Christ.  No, this was what should be better known as a ‘fad’, a ‘trend’, a spiritual ‘fashion’.  The Pharisees were right up there in the forefront of religious zeal – they were the movers and shakers of their day, eager to disciple the masses into a greater commitment to the work of the Lord.  They were so keen to promote their own vision of where the Kingdom should develop that they forgot the timeless, eternal principles of the Scriptures – and sometimes contradicted them. 

As so-called Spirit-filled believers, we must guard against falling into the same trap.  Do we rightly promote ‘mission’ and ‘discipleship’ and ‘community’ but somehow miss the Christ-heart of all these three key emphases?  Do we throw the baby of ‘fellowship’ (Acts 2:42, 44, 46) out with the bathwater of ‘meetings’ in our efforts to channel our valuable time into the things that matter (and they do!)?  Do we make an idol of ‘spontaneity’ and demonise ‘organisation’ or ‘planning’?  Be careful: to be unbalanced in one’s actions is often more damaging for a church than being unbalanced in doctrine!

The remedy to these traps is the same as it was in 1st Century AD.  “Stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Jeremiah 6:16).  As we continually revisit daily the Scriptures and inwardly digest their ideas and principles, we have a God-given compass to navigate the jungle of fad, fashion, and tradition.  You cannot reliably walk with the Spirit if you ignore where the Spirit has already walked!  That is the main reason that we promote ‘The Big Picture’ and its reading plan so strongly.

Jesus picked up a particular point about eating and the food fads of the day.  At a stroke he swept them away by declaring all foods ‘clean’ (i.e. acceptable to God).  We must therefore be very wary – as Christians – to avoid imposing our own sensibilities and preferences, such as vegetarianism, environmentalism, or free-trade goods, as though they were binding upon all believers in pleasing the Lord – regardless of how compelling the moral case for these sensibilities is.  If we do, then we are in great danger of missing the heart of the gospel and being side-tracked (with the best of intentions) as single-issue activists, rather than mature disciples of the Living Christ.  Avoid another ‘Corban’ moment!  Let’s try to live a Zero-Corban lifestyle!

Then we take up the story of the Canaanite woman who had a demon-possessed daughter.  Notice how Jesus appear to do his best to put off her request: he ignored it, he excluded it from his calling, and he told her that Gentiles were not beneficiaries of Jewish spiritual inheritance.  Her response is stunning: “God cannot bless a nation without that blessing spilling over to those surrounding it”.  Jesus (smiling broadly, I am certain) joyfully accepted such a massive declaration of faith and its demand for blessing (how can God resist!) and gave her what she requested.  Sometimes the Lord apparently resists our prayers for healing (and for other good things), not to put us off, but to strengthen our faith to ask for more – rather in the same way that body-builders use increased weight resistance to build up stronger muscles.

EXODUS 33 and 34

Doing the right thing is only a part of being a believer; we are also given the right to experience the presence, the glory, and the power of God in our lives on a daily basis.  A Christian life framed only by duty and obedience is a pale shadow of the fulness that the Lord expects us to live and walk in. 

God, in Ch. 33, continues to ‘negotiate’ with Moses – in an intercessory sense – from a starting point of “I will fulfil my promise to get you into the Land, but don’t expect me to come with you or I might allow my sense of justice to take over, and destroy the nation”.  Moses knew better than to argue outright with the Lord.  What he did is a huge message to us all:  he devoted his time to building a strong and intimate personal relationship with God, meeting daily in a place God chose, and expecting to experience the presence of the Lord.  This is a gift given to all believers today and it is so sad that so few receive that gift regularly!

The ‘Tent of Meeting’ mentioned here is NOT the Tabernacle – which had not yet been built – but a small portable tent pitched just outside the camp.  God honoured these efforts by Moses to build a relationship, by parking the pillar of cloud just outside and by meeting face to face with Moses.  In scripture, a person’s face represented their presence, just as a name represents their identity and character (which is why names are so important).  We see from later in the chapter that Moses could not have seen the literal face of God (and neither did Jacob in Genesis 32:30), but nevertheless they spoke together closely and intimately like close friends.  An expectation of finding God when we seek him is what marks out a strong believer from a weak one – it is our birthright, for heaven’s sake! – and Hebrews 11:6 reinforces this.  Expecting the Lord to use us powerfully is the most potent self-fulfilling prophecy of all, since that is another definition of faith, that both pleases God and releases his power in our lives.

Emboldened, Moses then returns to the question of God going with Israel into the Promised Land, and basically says that if the Lord doesn’t go, then it won’t be worth them going at all!  Without the presence of God amongst them, they will be no different from the other nations on Earth; this is true of the church today too – a form of godliness without the power of God is the best way of vaccinating a dying world against the truth of the gospel.  We either go in the presence of God or we had better not go at all!

Emboldened further, Moses asks to see the full glory of God and God agrees to let him see as much as he can humanly stand – but not the full power of seeing God’s face, since then he would die.  (Jn 1:18;  6:46; 1Ti 1:17; 1Jn 4:12).  What God reveals is all his goodness, and his name – gracious and compassionate – and a partial view of himself to Moses.  This is done in the context of a new set of tablets of the Law being made – in other words, it can only occur within a covenant between God and mankind.  This is analogous to a marriage contract, which is the only place where deep human intimacy should be found.

After another 40 days – and no unauthorised metalwork this time! – the covenant is renewed and written on the two stone tablets; almost certainly these were two identical copies of the Ten Commandments (rather than half on each), since covenants provide for a copy for each party.  Both were later stored in the Ark as an everlasting reminder.

The glowing face of Moses, coming from his meetings with God, was a source of wonder for the Israelites, and Moses used to hide it shortly after each visit, so that they could not see that it faded (2 Corinthians 3:7-18 explains this).  For us, the presence of God in our lives never fades, but rather the glory should increase as time goes on.

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