Sermon Reading by Elder Andy Domondon (Prepared by Rev. Nollie Malabuyo)
Dear Congregation of Christ: This last week, Jon Steingard, the lead singer of a popular contemporary “Christian” band declared that he no longer believes in God. One of the reasons he cited why he now rejects his Christian faith is this:
Why does God seem so pissed off in most of the old testament, and then all of a sudden, he’s a loving father in the New Testament? Why does he say not to kill, but then instruct Israel to turn around and kill men women and children to take the promised land? Why does God let Job suffer horrible things just to win a bet with Satan? What does he tell Abraham to kill his son and then basically say ‘just kidding! That was a test.’ If God can do anything, can’t you forgive without someone dying?
His questions are all too common with many Christians, especially the younger generation, that their churches—if they even go to church—could not answer. Why can’t they? Because many evangelical churches and their pastors are biblically illiterate who cannot answer even the most basic questions about Christianity. So they produce biblically illiterate “Christians.” Steingard’s questions above are easily explained from the Bible. He also asks, “If God is all loving, and all powerful, why is there evil in the world. what about famine and disease and floods and all the suffering that isn’t caused by humans in our free will? If God is loving, why does he send people to hell?” Again, these are questions that are easily answered from Scriptures.
But we will not answer these questions here. If any of you are asking the same questions, we can discuss them in Sunday school, Bible study or another setting. However, one of the things we will study today is the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. Steingard’s question about God’s forgiveness requiring the death of Christ is essential to our faith.
In Chapter One of the Gospel of Mark, we read that Jesus started preaching that the kingdom of God has come with his arrival. He had a threefold earthly ministry: preaching, discipling and healing. In our text this morning, we again see him healing, discipling and teaching. But then, the scribes and the Pharisees begin to question and oppose him. So our theme this morning is, “And the Pharisees were Saying to Him, ‘Why’?” under four headings; first, “Why Does He Forgive Sins?”; second, “Why is He Friends with Sinners?”; third, “Why Do They Not Fast?”; and fourth, “Why Does He Violate the Sabbath?”
“Why Does He Forgive Sins?”
The setting of verses 1-12 is familiar to us who grew up in a church, attending Sunday school regularly. I remember even acting out this narrative of four friends of a paralytic man cutting a hole in the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching and lowering their friend down to Jesus.
But what I never heard taught in Sunday school was Jesus’ conversation with the scribes who were there. As a result of the faith of his friends, Jesus declared to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This did not sit well with the scribes and the Pharisees who were at the scene (Luke 5:21), for the Bible clearly teaches that only God can forgive a person’s sins. To them, Jesus just committed a blasphemy against God, because he is a mere man. Jesus knew what the scribes were whispering about, so he asks them, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” To which the scribes kept silence. Neither forgiving sins or healing the man was easy, because no mere mortal can do so. Then Jesus added, “The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” On another occasion, Jesus forgave the sins of a sinful woman who anointed his feet and wiped them with her tears of repentance (Luke 7:48).
The Bible teaches that God alone forgives sins. “[God forgives] iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exo 34:7). God “forgives all your iniquity. With [him] there is forgiveness” (Psa 103:3; 130:4). “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him” (Dan 9:9). “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Eph 1:7). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Therefore, when Jesus declared the paralytic man and the sinful woman forgiven of their sins, the scribes accused him of blasphemy. Jesus also claimed the title “Son of Man,” which is a divine title from Daniel 7:13-14. This claim, plus his claim to be the Son of God, plus his claim to forgive sins, were proofs to the Jews that Jesus committed blasphemy against God (John 10:33; Matt 26:63-65). And according to the Law of Moses, anyone who blasphemes the name of God is liable to death (Lev 24:16).
Note that Jesus commended the four friends for their faith, not the paralytic man. So we must ask ourselves, do we so love our lost friends that we will bring them to the feet of Jesus?
“Why is He Friends with Sinners?”
After healing the paralytic, Jesus went back to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, followed by the crowds. And as he was teaching the people, he saw a tax collector named Levi, who was also called Matthew, by his tax booth (Mark 3:18). Jewish tax collectors were some of the most despised people because they were used by the hated Romans. Often, they also overtaxed or skimmed some of the tax money for themselves. One of these tax collectors was Zacchaeus, who was a short man, but who was also rich (Luke 19:7).
Jesus then called Matthew, “Follow me,” and like the four fishermen whom Jesus called earlier, he left his tax booth and followed Jesus. Matthew then invited Jesus to dine in his house together with other tax collectors. Seeing this, the scribes and Pharisees asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (16). They accused Jesus of the same thing when he dined with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:7). In Matthew 11:19, the same Jews accused him as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
Knowing what the Jews were saying about him, Jesus declared his mission to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (17). He likens those who are “righteous” to those who are healthy, and lost sinners to those who are sick who need to be healed by a physician. Indirectly, he was indicting the Jews of being proud and self-righteous, when in fact, they are wretched sinners who need him as their Savior. Each one of us need to examine ourselves by asking the same question, “Am I righteous before God, or am I a sinner?” If we have repented of our sins with our whole hearts and believed and trusted in Christ alone as our Savior, then in God’s sight, we are righteous.
And we are not righteous in our own selves nor in our own good works. Rather, we are righteous solely because we have been given the perfect righteousness of Christ. When we stand before God as sinners made righteous by Christ, then we are not merely saved from God’s wrath, but we become his friends. Jesus assured his disciples of his friendship, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Therefore, there are two evidences of this friendship. The first evidence is our good works, as Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” The second is our desire to know more and more who Jesus is, his saving work for us, and his commandments through reading, studying and meditating on his Word (John 15:14-15).
The Biblical command to be separate from the sinful world does not prohibit us from mingling and befriending unbelievers. We have to watch out, though, that we do not participate in their evil works. But are we committed to loving them, praying for them, showing them the love of God in Christ, and to teaching them all that he has commanded in his Word?
“Why Do They Not Fast?”
After this, the crowds following Jesus noticed that he and his disciples did not fast. In the Old Testament, there are many kinds of fasting, but the only fasting required by the Law is during the annual Day of Atonement (Lev 16:19-31). Fasting is often associated with prayer and mourning over sin (Psa 35:13). We also read in Acts 13:3 that the church prayed and fasted before they sent Paul and Barnabbas on their gospel mission.
Jesus’ answer to the crowd’s question was indirect, something the Jews have to think about. It was also a two-fold answer. First, he refers to himself as the Bridegroom in his own wedding to his Church. While there was a wedding feast, would the guests fast with sadness and mourning?
(19) Obviously not. Therefore, while he was with his disciples, they will rejoice. But when he is taken away from him in his death, resurrection and ascension, his disciples will fast, waiting for his return. And when he returns, all fasting will end (20).
His second explanation about fasting is about old things versus new things, specifically old and new garments and old and new wine (21-22). Old cloths should not be used for new garments, and new wine must not be poured into old wineskins. When Jesus arrived on the scene, he inaugurated the new covenant, fulfilling all the old covenant laws, temple, priesthood and ceremonies. He made the old covenant obsolete. The old covenant was about obedience to the law, which was an impossibility. Under this old covenant, no one would be saved. The new covenant was about the perfect obedience of Christ which would be given to those who believe. Under this new covenant, those who repent and believe in him will be saved, all by God’s grace.
So, to where do you belong: the old covenant under law, or the new covenant under Christ?
And if you fast, is it to mourn over your sins or to obligate God to do something for you?
“Why Does He Violate the Sabbath?”
One Sabbath day, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a pathway in the field. After a long hard walk, they were hungry, and they started plucking heads of grain and eating the grain.
But as the Pharisees always did, they found fault in this instance. They accused Jesus and his disciples, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath” (24). Jesus gave an answer to the Pharisees’ accusation directly from the Old Testament. He told them about an incident involving King David’s men in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. After Samuel anointed David as Israel’s next king, Saul sought to kill him. On the run, David and his ragtag army of 600 men came to the town of Nob where the tabernacle was temporarily set up. Weary and hungry, David asked the priest for some bread, but the priest had no ordinary bready, only the holy bread in the tabernacle. Only the high priest was allowed to eat the Bread of Presence, so the high priest was bending the rules. Did Jesus condemn the priest and King David and his men for violating the law about eating the Bread of Presence?
First, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (27). In establishing the Sabbath as a day of rest, God gave the Sabbath as a blessing to man. God made man first, then made the Sabbath. Because man was created in God’s image, he is also to rest every seventh day. So God established this pattern of six-day work followed by a day of rest for man to be physically renewed and refreshed. And then on this day of rest, man has a day to worship God and be renewed spiritually by his Word and Spirit.
Second, he says, “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (28). Here, Jesus claims authority over the Sabbath. Since he is God, and by the word of his mouth, the world was created, he is above the Sabbath. He made the Sabbath laws given to Moses. Jesus condemns the Pharisees when they added their own laws and traditions to the Sabbath laws. Jesus did not abolish the Sabbath laws, but he has the final word about the provisions of the Sabbath laws. He is the Supreme Court when it comes to Sabbath laws.
God commands us to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy by not working on this day. But there are exceptions, which we call “works of necessity” and “works of mercy.” Works of necessity include the work of police, firefighters and soldiers. They can’t postpone their work involves life and death. Works of mercy are those that involve helping the sick, for example, hospital staff and medical emergency responders.
Jesus also honored the Sabbath and rested on the Sabbath by attending the synagogue. This was his regular, customary activity. As a human being, he worshiped his Father in heaven. Every Sabbath day, he gathered together with God’s people, read the Word of God, prayed and sung psalms with God’s people. So must we follow Christ’s example of honoring the Lord’s Day.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, we learned about two reactions to Jesus’ ministry. One is of the Jews hating him to the point of plotting to kill him. The other is of the astonished crowd who glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Do you bring your lost family and friends to Jesus’ feet? Do you tell them of Jesus, the Son of God who came to save sinners? Do you mourn over your sins? And do you celebrate the Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, by resting from your work and worshiping God together with the congregation?
Rev. Nollie Malabuyo is currently pastor of Big Springs Community Church (URCNA) in Montague, California. He is the founding pastor of Zion Cornerstone Reformed Churches in Pasig (Metro Mania) and Imus, Cavite.