We come to the second part of the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. We call this second part the New Testament Scriptures. When we start to read the New Testament documents, it is helpful to know that over four hundred years passed since the books of Malachi (of the Twelve) and Chronicles were written. This seems like a long time without revelation in the storyline of the Bible, but the time from Noah to Abraham was longer. God allowed much time in redemptive history from the return of his people from exile to the sending of his Son, the Messiah. But God was acting in history until his time came (Gal 4:4).
The structure of the New Testament Scriptures – In general, it is much like the Old Testament Scriptures: historical narrative (the Four Gospels and Acts), commentary (the letters), and historical narrative (the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which is history presented in a symbolic manner). We will start with the Gospel of Mark, which is often referred to as the Second Gospel, because of the traditional order. However, I think it is better to start with Mark, because of matters related to the structure of the Gospels, and for its usefulness in evangelism.
Structure of Mark – “Mark’s account of Jesus’ life is presented to us in two symmetrical acts: his identity as King over all things (in Mark chapters 1-8), and his purpose in dying on the cross (in Mark chapters 9-16)” (Keller, King’s Cross, p. xiv, his emphasis).
- The identity of the King (1:1-8:26)
- The turning point (8:27-30)
- The triumph of the King (8:31-16:8)
Ideas and features of Mark
- John Mark was a New Testament prophet and a fellow worker with Paul, Barnabas, and Peter; Mark seems to have gained much of his information about Jesus from Peter; the Gospel of Mark seems to have a likeness to Peter’s “sermon” in Acts 10:32-43); Mark was probably written in the mid-fifties of the first century
- Mark tells us who Jesus is, what he did, and calls us to follow him; discipleship is not a matter of rules or rituals, but of a personal friendship with the Lord Christ; we see what he did, confess him as Lord, follow his teaching, and are transformed by a vital relationship with him
- In the book we read that Jesus is Son of God, Son of Man, Lord, Teacher (about 39 references to him in this way: Teacher, Rabbi, teaching, etc.), and more; pay close attention when Mark refers to Jesus by a title or description
- While Mark does record some teaching of Jesus, it more emphasizes his actions; a favorite term is the word “immediately” (or “at once”, “quickly”, “just then”, and equivalent translations), and he uses Greek verbs that present action
- The turning point of the Gospel of Mark is 8:27-30. After that event, Jesus explained his mission to the Twelve in more detail; three times (8:31-9:1; 9:30-50; 10:33-45) he uses this structure: prophesy of the events of the gospel (his suffering, death, and resurrection), failure on the part of the disciples, and Jesus teaching about discipleship
- Mark presents Jesus the Christ as God establishing his saving reign (kingdom); a thorough study reveals how many themes from the OTS find fulfillment in Christ
Exposition: In chapter one, Jesus suddenly appears on the stage of human history as an adult, filled with purpose, and intent on demonstrating his authority as the Son of Man (cf. Dan 7:13-14); Jesus is final authority and everyone owes him trust and the obedience that comes from faith (cf. Rm 16:26). What that in mind, we come to chapter seven where we encounter his authority as Teacher.
I. A challenge to Jesus’ authority (7:1-5)
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands.
1.They saw that Jesus’ followers did not observe the Jewish traditions about ritual cleansings. The law covenant required people to be ceremonially clean as God’s people, but these traditions had nothing directly to do with what the law required. They were external matters (easily observed) that sprang from a legalistic spirit. Legalism has wreaked havoc among American Christians in many ways.
2.Mark summarized the measures they adopted to try to make or to keep themselves ceremonially clean. All matters of external purity were fastidiously observed. The performance of traditional regulations becomes the most important matter.
Comment: I grew up among “Christian legalists” and even attended a university utterly ruled by such legalists. I could give many examples. But I pass by such matters to focus on Christ.
B.Their question – This was not a question to learn God’s ways from the Teacher sent by God, but it was to criticize. It presented two alternatives:
1.You must live according to the tradition of the elders.
2.Or you are unclean before God.
Apply: We must be careful how we answer questions like this. Do not give simplistic answers. Jesus, the Teacher sent from God, knew that its answer required explanation.
II. Jesus’ response to his critics (7:6-13)
And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. ’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die. ’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God) — 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.
A.Jesus exposed the attitudes of their heart (cf. Heb 4:12-13).
1.He authoritatively applied the teaching of Isaiah (Is 29:13) directly to them. (Jesus could do this because he knew all people, Jn 2:24-25.) He said that Isaiah prophesied about his critics.
2.Isaiah’s words pointed out that they said the right things but lacked a heart for God. In other words, they were unregenerate. They needed the new birth from above. A person can be very orthodox in their doctrine, but lack personal friendship with the living God.
3.Their worship was vain or futile. Their precise, scrupulous keeping of their traditions was useless. This is a trap too easily fallen into by many.
4.Jesus exposed what their worship was: they exchanged God’s word for human traditions. Many, many so-called Christians have done this. Depending on their church tradition, tell them to bow to cross themselves when they pray or tell them not to drink beer, and they are right with you. They think you’re a great Christian. Tell them to be compassionate, kind, humble, non-self-assertive, and patient (Col 3:12), and they say by their way of life, if not by their words, “I don’t have to do that,” and “I’ll never listen to you.”
B.Jesus exposed what they were doing, which was hypocrisy (cf. 7:6).
1.God’s law required them to honor their parents. “Honor” is a big concept meaning much more than simple obedience. Here, to say nothing more, Jesus shows that it means loving provision when necessary.
2.But they concocted a tradition by which they could say something was a gift to God, keep it for themselves, and not do anything for their parents.
Point: This is misusing the worship of God for one’s personal pleasures.
III. Jesus’ instruction to his disciples (7:14-23)
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand:15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” ( Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
A.He taught what could not defile people: outward matters of ritual
1.The main idea is that things outside of a person cannot defile a person.
2.Jesus plainly changed the way of life for the people of God. He sets aside the commands about food restrictions, which separated the Jewish people from the nations since Moses. The law covenant no longer directs how God’s people are to live. Earlier in Mark, Jesus asserted his authority over the Sabbath, one of the Ten Commandments. Here, he asserted it over another part of the law covenant made with Israel at Sinai. What was important then lacks any value not. (Enjoy a pork sandwich for the glory of God!) 1 Cor 10:31
B.He taught what does make a person unclean before God: sin, rebellion against God and how he commands us to live.
1.The sins that Jesus lists are more extensive than the Ten Commandments. They all are violations in some way of the Two Great Commandments.
2.The problem with all people is internal. Evil comes from the inner person of the heart, not from external circumstances. These evils make people unclean.
Apply: What can be done for people with hearts like this? How can people with these sins be right with God and know him as Father, Friend, and Helper? The only way is through the gospel. Christ died for our sins that we might be forgiven, and rose again that we might be right with God and have eternal life. Today is an excellent time to turn from the evils ways of your heart, of what you are, and to trust in the Lord Jesus, who is able to save anyone that comes to God through him.