The story is told of a group of soldiers who had been out in the field for a couple of weeks when their sergeant announced, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. First of all, the good news: Today we’re going to change our underwear. Now the bad news: Smith, you change with Jones. Andrews, you change with Murphy…”
Sueanne hates for me to use that story! But it makes the point that change isn’t always a pleasant thing and we often don’t like the concept of change. And even if we may like changes in some areas of our lives, there are some other areas where change is rather frightening and intimidating.
And there are some people who like change more than others. I remember when we lived in Boone and the news came that a Walmart was about to open. There were some people who thought that change was the most wonderful thing that could ever happen to Boone. There were others who thought that building a Walmart was the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to that community. But, in the end, whether people wanted the change or not, Walmart was built. And that serves as a reminder to all of us that whether you like it or not, some change is inevitable.
And that’s true in the church as well. There are some churches that are open to change, and there are other churches that are very resistant to change. How many times have you ever heard someone say, “That’s not the way we’ve always done it!” And, the truth is, some churches have been doing things exactly the same way for 70 or 80 years.
I can understand the resistance to change because any change that involves the church is scary to some of us. We don’t like things in the church to change. In fact, we may be somewhat uncomfortable if someone changes the order of the worship service. Some churches just about fall apart when they change preachers, or when they build a new church building.
And we’re especially concerned about all the changes that could come about as a result of church growth. The idea of new people and new problems is threatening to some of us.
I heard about a preacher, Thom Rainer, who was preaching for a church that was growing. His ministry was successful. But, one Sunday, there was a woman in his congregation, a long-term member of that church, who told him that God had spoken to her, and made it very clear that he was supposed to leave the church.
Rainer’s first thought was to wonder why God had told her and not him. It seemed like direct communication would have been far more efficient.
His second thought was expressed in a simple one-word question, “Why?”
She said, “Because all of these new Christians are messing up our church.”
And I think that reaction shows why we are so resistant to change. Because when you’ve got what you consider to be a good thing going, any change will be viewed as a threat. A lot of Christians have the feeling – “I think things are fine just the way they are, and I don’t want anything to change.” And the result is that we become more interested in simply maintaining the status quo, keeping things the way they’ve always been.
And it’s tempting for us to do that. Because any kind of change means that somebody is going to get upset. And unfortunately, some of us are so afraid of conflict and criticism that we feel like it’s easier to do nothing at all than to risk listening to the complaints of other people. And so, we end up living our lives not with the goal of doing great things, not with a desire to pursue great dreams, but with the single-minded obsession to not make waves, not to step on toes, not to rock the boat.
But as much as that may be true of us, it was never true of Jesus. Much of his ministry was surrounded by controversy. Jesus was someone who did make waves, he did step on toes, and he did rock the boat.
We continue this morning in our study of the gospel of Mark, and as we come to chapter 2, we find a transition in Jesus’ ministry. In chapter one, Mark showed us just how popular Jesus was. In chapter 2, Mark is going to show us that Jesus was also the center of a lot of conflict.
And while the crowds continued to flock to Jesus, there was a smaller, more powerful group that aligned itself against Jesus and the work he came to do. They were the religious leaders, the men who looked with suspicion at this preacher who didn’t do things the same way that all the other preachers did them.
And while Jesus wasn’t someone to pick a fight, he wasn’t afraid of the people who wanted to fight with him. And so, he stood toe to toe with them, fighting for what was right, fighting for people who were lost and needed to be saved, fighting for a proper view of religion.
And I think it’s important to recognize that the reason all this conflict came about was because of change. Mark stresses the point that Christ did not come to continue the status quo. He didn’t come to encourage the Jews to keep on doing things the way they had always done them. Rather, Jesus came as an agent of change, perhaps the most radical change agent the world has ever known. He swept aside everything the Jews were doing as they went through the motions of religion, and Jesus brought a new and fresh concept of religion.
But it wasn’t just religion that Jesus came to change. He also came to change people. Jesus’ message in the gospel of Mark is summed up with the word repentance and to do that a person must be willing to change his life. And it wasn’t just people back in the first century either. Jesus came to change you and me. He came to change our priorities. He came to change the way we look at God. He came to change the way we practice religion. He came to change the way we look at people and the way we look at the material things of the world around us. Jesus came to change things.
It’s not surprising that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t appreciate his emphasis on change. The scribes, the Pharisees, and the chief priests, they didn’t like change any more than we do. In fact, they were very resistant to any change. And so, it’s not surprising when we find that the religious people who didn’t want to change and Jesus Christ who insisted that things must change came into sharp conflict with each other.
As we read through chapter 2, I want us to honestly think about this question, “Are we prepared to accept the change that Christ calls for in our lives?” Because if our response to that question is to say, “I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be changed in my life. I don’t think there’s anything we need to change in the church.”, then we might as well go ahead and stand off to the side with the scribes and the Pharisees because that kind of answer will put us at odds with Jesus.
In Mark chapter 2, Jesus is still just as popular as he was back in chapter 1. You will recall from last week’s study that the people were amazed at what Jesus did, they were amazed at what he said and how he said it. And, as news about Jesus spread throughout Galilee, crowds flocked to see him.
And so, in chapter 2, verse 2, Jesus was preaching and “many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door.” In verse 13, “all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.”
But then Mark introduces another piece of his portrait of Jesus. Jesus starts to become the center of controversy and conflict. He makes waves. He steps on toes. He does things that “religious people” aren’t supposed to do. And when the religious professionals arrive on the scene in Mark 2:6, they aren’t as easily impressed as the crowds. They considered themselves to be more attuned to the so–called “important religious issues”.
And so, between Mark 2:1 and Mark 3:6, Mark records five stories of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, conflict which escalates to the point that Jesus is going to become angry and the Pharisees are going to begin plotting how they can get rid of Jesus.
But I think the most important part of this section is found in Mark 2:21-22. In these two verses, Jesus tells us why this conflict with the religious leaders was taking place. And he tells us that it all had to do with their attitude toward change.
This morning, I want to look briefly at the three conflicts that lead up to that point and then we’ll spend a little bit of time looking at those two verses and making some application into our own lives.
In each of these three stories, Jesus is going to do something that causes the Pharisees to criticize him. Now, the specific thing that Jesus does to irritate them is different every time. But the reason for the conflict is always the same. Jesus was teaching something that was different, something that demanded the Pharisees change their way of looking at things. And it was the Pharisees’ resistance to change that led to their conflict with Jesus.
1. Jesus heals a paralytic — conflict over forgiveness
In Mark 2, beginning in verse 1, Jesus is preaching in a house that is absolutely packed with people. Four men bring a paralytic to be healed and they have to let him down through the roof. We pick up in verse 5:
“And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
“And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.”
“And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!’” (Mark 2:5-12).
Here’s Jesus teaching in this house in Capernaum when four men dig a hole in the roof and lower a paralyzed man into the room. Jesus was impressed by their faith, and then he said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” But the Jewish leaders were there, and they didn’t like what Jesus said. They were outraged and accused Jesus of blasphemy. “How can you claim to forgive sins when only God can do that?” And, as we saw in our Bible class this morning, they were correct in that statement.
But Jesus went on to say, basically, “Anybody can claim to forgive sins, and it’s difficult for them to prove whether or not they can actually do that. So, let me show you the power that I have. And he then heals the paralyzed man so that he can walk.
Mark tells us that everyone was amazed. Well, everyone except maybe the Pharisees. They weren’t amazed, they were just upset. Jesus was obviously a blasphemer. It didn’t matter that he healed, or that he taught with authority, or even that he raised the dead. “No one can forgive sins except God alone! So, who in the world do you think you are?”
B. Jesus eats with Levi — conflict over sinners
Verses 13-17 tell us about the calling of Levi (or Matthew) to follow Jesus. Levi showed his appreciation by throwing a feast in Christ’s honor. And who came to this meal? He invited all of his tax collector buddies. And Jesus was suddenly surrounded by “sinners”.
When the Pharisees become aware of who Jesus was eating with, they were quick to criticize him. As they practiced their religion, a good Jew would show how holy he was by cutting off any social ties with sinful people. They wouldn’t touch a sinner with disposable gloves. They couldn’t understand how anyone who claimed to be holy could associate with people like Levi and his friends.
But Jesus said that his way of doing things was different. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). In other words, Jesus came to call sinners, and so it only makes sense that he would spend time with sinners. As Jesus put it, “Doctors spend all their time with sick people, so preachers ought to spend their time with sinners.”
The Pharisees must have been absolutely furious at that response.
C. Jesus refuses to fast — conflict over tradition
In verses 18-20, Mark tells us about a conflict that came about over a matter of tradition. In verse 18, “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.’” (Mark 2:18-20)
This third conflict is founded, like so many of the other conflicts we read about in the gospels, in the attitude of the Pharisees toward their traditions. Fasting wasn’t mentioned all that much in the Old Testament, but the Pharisees really stressed this practice as a means of showing other people just how holy you are. That’s why you’ve got the Pharisee in Luke 18 praying, “God I thank you that….I fast twice in the week.” (Luke 18:11-12).
But Jesus didn’t fast twice a week. And he didn’t teach his disciples to fast twice a week. In fact, it doesn’t look like they fasted at all. What kind of a Jewish teacher does he think he is? Every good Jew knows just how important fasting is! But Jesus explained that there was a time for fasting, but not while he was around. Jesus tried to show these people that they had to redefine their view of what it is that makes a person righteous. He was saying, “You can’t measure piety simply by the keeping of traditions or how much ‘religious stuff’ someone does.”
That made the Pharisees pretty angry with Jesus, and before long, they will get even angrier. Because what Jesus was teaching was flying in the face of everything they held dear in their religion. Everybody knows that all religious people fast. And all religious people are careful about who they associate with. Nobody goes around claiming to forgive sins.
And that’s when Jesus told his audience a parable. It’s a parable about something that’s old and something that’s new:
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins — and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2:21-22).
Jesus says that you would never put a new patch on an old garment. If you did that, the very next time the garment was washed, the patch would shrink (because it’s new cloth). But the garment wouldn’t shrink (because it’s old). The result is that the patch would pull away from the garment and tear it. And then you would need a new patch all over again.
And then Jesus says that you would never pour new wine into old wineskins. Wineskins in that day were made by killing and skinning a goat and basically turning it inside out and removing the carcass. After curing the skin, you had a useful sack into which you could pour liquid. The liquid that was poured into new skins was new wine. As the wine fermented, it would expand and the skin would stretch.
But old skins wouldn’t stretch anymore. Old skins could be used for water or milk, but if you put new wine into old skins, it would cause them to stretch so far that they would burst. So, you always were careful to put new wine into new skins.
As he did with all his parables, Jesus used a familiar occurrence in everyday life, at least for his audience (I don’t imagine that many of you have skinned any goats lately). But he did it to teach a spiritual lesson.
Jesus’ point was that there some things that are unwilling or unable to change. They hold their shape no matter what. They would rather die than change. Other things are willing to change. They’re alive, because by their very nature, they are changeable, flexible, and growing.
And anytime you have something that is changing and you bring it in contact with something that refuses to change, the inevitable result is tension.
Now it’s obvious here in these parables that the old garment and the old wineskins represent the Pharisees. Their primary concern was to protect the status quo. They wanted everything to stay the same, they wanted to continue to see things the way they had always seen them, they wanted to continue with “religious business” as usual. They were comfortable and wanted to be left alone. They didn’t want anything new. The old was good enough for them.
But Jesus was the new fabric, the new wine. His message was full of change. He came to call people back to God, to convince people to repent. He taught a new message. He taught a lifestyle that emphasized the heart more than the actions. He made people uncomfortable, challenged the status quo, and demanded that people change. And everywhere Jesus went, he was looking for new wineskins that he could pour this message into.
I think Jesus was saying through these parables that he was basically dismissing the religious leaders as the targets of his ministry. Those leaders weren’t willing to change their way of doing things. So, Jesus had to find a new audience. He would start over with new garments and new skins. His focus would be on people who were willing to change and grow.
I understand that there is a sense in which we need to view Christianity in terms of something that doesn’t change. As Paul says in Galatians chapter 1, we are not free to change the message of the gospel, or we will find ourselves accursed. But we sometimes confuse the gospel message with our traditions, and when we do that, we want to try to define faithfulness in terms of resisting change.
But we need to remember that the message of the unchanging gospel constantly challenges us to grow and to expand and to change. The message of Jesus Christ will always be “new wine.” And so, we need to try to be pliable skins that are able and willing to change when that gospel is poured into us.
I think this parable has application both to us as individuals and to the church as a whole.
To those who are not yet Christians, this parable is a reminder that Jesus is looking for people who are willing to change. Jesus offers forgiveness to all, but only to those who are willing to repent, those who are willing to change the direction of their lives. When Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you”, he also said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). Christ came to give you something better, but to receive it you have to be willing to give up what you already have.
Even to those of us who are Christians, the new wine of the gospel demands constant change. That means that we can never allow ourselves to think that we have already arrived spiritually. We can never get to the point where we think that we have all the answers and so we can stop asking questions. The Christian life means constant growth and constant study.
To the church as a whole, the new wine of the gospel means that we will continue to seek to find new ways to glorify God and reach people. We cannot keep our eyes fixed on the traditional forms of the past. We cannot assume that because something worked 50 years ago that it will always work. And we will not assume that just because we have never done something a particular way in the past that we should never do it that way in the future.
Faithfulness means that we never confuse the message with the method. We can never change the message, but we must constantly change our methods. The gospel can never change. We don’t dare change the old, old story. But the ways that we tell that story to people and the ways we minister that story to people must change.
I said earlier that this lesson is designed to cause us to consider the question, “Are we prepared to accept the change that Christ calls for in our lives?” The gospel is itself an invitation to change. Are we willing to be changed by the gospel? Are we willing to be molded and shaped into something that is different, and better, than what we are right now? Because Jesus came to make changes.