“Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.” (Mark 7:1) Eating with defiled hands - not dirty hands but hands that were not washed according to man-made religious rules.
Jesus attacked the religious system of his day at every turn. He had no time for man-made observances, rules, and traditions. His verdict on the system was clear: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (7:8). Jesus attacked a system that substituted religious observance for goodness, a system that substituted man-made doctrines for the commandments of God.
Think of all the man-made observances, rules, and traditions today that masquerade as the church Jesus established. There are many doctrines and practices that you will not find in the New Testament. Those who maintain that kind of religious system claim it is Christian. Jesus quoted from Isaiah in describing this: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (7:6). How far away from God is your heart? The farther you get from the teaching of the New Testament, the farther your heart is away from God.
When someone or some religious group asks you to believe a particular doctrine or observe a particular practice, ask for the chapter and verse. Ask, “Was it taught and practiced in the church of the New Testament?” If not, it’s part of the same old system Jesus attacked. At Clark Avenue, we just want to be New Testament Christians only.
The crowds following Jesus were large. People wanted a glimpse of Jesus. A woman in need of healing pushed her way through the crowd, snuck up behind him, and touched his clothes (Mark 5). Immediately she was healed. But just as immediately Jesus knew power had gone out from him. He stopped and looked around at the crowd. She thought she could creep away unnoticed. She couldn’t.
Why did Jesus stop? Obviously the woman did not want to bring attention to herself. Couldn’t he have simply continued on in the knowledge that a woman had been healed? Certainly she was embarrassed ; she was “in fear and trembling” (v. 33).
There is something about faith that needs to go public to be fully developed. She was superstitious in her belief that his clothes were powerful. Her superstition was wrong; her faith was right. Jesus cemented that faith in him—not in things he touched. Jesus did it publicly because of the public. They needed to have faith in him.
Our faith is personal. Each disciple of Christ must have an individual relationship with Christ. But a personal faith does not mean a private faith. My faith in Christ is not reserved for me. My faith in Christ unleashes me to “go into all the world and make disciples.”
Did Jesus want that woman to be healed? Yes. But Jesus did not do drive by miracles. And he is not in the business of drive by faith—a faith that is personal, private, and uninvolved in the needs of people. Going public fully develops your faith.
Leprosy is a terrible disease. Look at the hands of a leper in India in the 1990s. In Europe during the Middle Ages, lepers carried the “leper’s bell,” like a cow bell, which they rang to let others know they were near. In Mark 1, we read of an encounter Jesus had with a leper who fell to his knees and said, "If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Then something amazing happened: “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” At that moment, the crowd watching the scene probably gasped - no one touches a leper. Could Jesus have healed the leper without touching him? Yes, he could have simply said the word. But he didn’t. He touched him.
Jesus is in some of you. And he still touches “lepers.” He reaches out through you to compassionately let those who feel isolated, hopeless, and needing help know that they are not alone and that they are worthy of our time and attention. Jesus has put you in the business of touching “lepers.”
Not everyone can do that. Jesus is not in everyone. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23-24). If you don’t obey him, he has no home in you.
If you can’t touch ‘lepers,” it’s understandable if Jesus has not found a home in you. You are stuck living for self. When you obey the Gospel, something inside changes. Through his Spirit he takes up residency in us. A new world opens up to us. We have his heart, his eyes, and his hands, and we touch “lepers.”
You play by the rules. You have a good reputation. You are religious in the best sense of the word. And you have prayed and prayed about something. But God did not answer your prayer. Why? You honestly have examined yourself and don’t have a clue.
Six months before the angel Gabriel visited Mary in Nazareth, he visited an old priest in Jerusalem. The priest was Zechariah. His wife was Elizabeth. They were probably at least in their 70s, maybe 80s. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and said, “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” (Luke 1:13) Imagine the thoughts flying through Zechariah’s head. “A son? At our age? You’ve got be kidding. I gave up praying for a child 30 or 40 years ago. This has to be a mistake.”
Of course it was no mistake. Elizabeth had a son, John the Baptist. For years they had prayed for a child, and finally, when it seemed impossible, they didn’t have just any child. They had the last prophet of the Old Covenant. The answer to their prayer was delayed, at least from their perspective, because God had something greater he wanted to accomplish. He needed the right parents at the right time to raise the boy of whom Jesus said: “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.” (Luke 7:28)
What about your unanswered prayer? If answered now, would it be too little, too late? Perhaps, from your perspective. But maybe God intends to answer it better than you imagined. Have you given up?
Have you seen the commercial on TV for Geico Insurance - a sumo wrestler figure skating? Figure skating and sumo wrestling just don’t go together.
Jesus also spoke of things that don’t go together in Mark 2:21 - “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.” In the context of Mark 2, Jesus is saying the day of patching up is over. Something new has arrived.
Sometimes we use Jesus like a patch; we sew him into our way of doing things. Add a little of Jesus’ teachings here, some more of his teachings there, and hope a little of Jesus is all that it takes.
Jesus said that new patch just tears away and makes the problem worse. Or as Jesus said in Revelation 3:15, "I know you well-you are neither hot nor cold; I wish you were one or the other!”
A little of Jesus and the Christian life just don’t go together. Jesus is not in the business of making little fixes to your life - I will live my life, and when I get in a jam, I will call Jesus to help me out. Jesus doesn’t work that way. He said (Luke 14:33), “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
The Apostle Paul described the Christian life this way: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Stop patching and surrender to the new life in Christ: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jesus in John 14:23).