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  • Justin Dosch

Mark: S1 E9 - The Religious Replacement

Resource: Lead Pastor Justin Dosch

Topic: The downfall of legalism

Sometimes things come along that change the world forever. The printing press, the light bulb, refrigeration and the internet. Where would we be without those things? I mean can you imagine what life was like before light bulbs? Think about how it has changed the world? That smart phone, tablet or computer that you’re probably reading this on, would be worthless without some sort of artificial light making the screen glow.

But here’s an undeniable fact, there is nothing that has transformed the world like the gospel of Jesus Christ. And you don’t even have to believe that he existed to recognize that fact. He is the most famous person who ever lived. There might be more books, articles and information on Jesus than all other information combined. Do a Google search on that internet we just talked about and you will get millions and millions of hits.

The question I have for us today is this, do we really understand how truly astounding and unique the gospel of Jesus is? I would argue that most people do not and that it’s the primary reason so many people reject it. Not only that, but it’s the reason many Christians aren’t truly changed by it. You see, many people wonder what makes Christianity different from any other religion? I mean is it really any different than Buddhism, Hinduism or even Judaism for that matter? The answer is a resounding, YES, and that’s what I want to talk about today as we continue unpacking the gospel of Mark.

Now, when we last left off in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been hanging out with some unsavory people, tax collectors and “sinners,” and the ultra religious are NOT happy about it. This will be a trend that only intensifies as Jesus continues to do his thing. And that’s exactly what Mark shows us next, starting in Mark 2:18;

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Mark begins by telling us, “some people,” most likely a combination of Pharisees, John’s disciples and some curious onlookers came to Jesus with a question. They’ve noticed something about Jesus, a contrast if you will between the way Jesus’ disciples and all of the other religious people operate; they don’t fast like the other religious types. There’s something different about the way he operates. Jesus seems to know God on a different level, and yet He isn’t bogged down by all the rules and regulations like so many of the other religious elites.

Now, in order to fully understand the question they’re asking a cultural understanding of fasting is critical. The purpose of fasting from the very beginning is simple; it was meant to be a time of mourning sin, focusing on repentance and humbling oneself before God. It was meant to be a day of self denial where God’s people drew closer to Him for forgiveness and connection. Now the Mosaic Law commanded only one annual day of fasting, on the Day of Atonement. But the Pharisees were notorious for adding things to the Mosaic law, mostly in an effort to make themselves seem more religious. And so they didn’t just fast once a year on the Day of Atonement, they fasted TWICE a week. Every Monday and every Thursday they would not only fast, but they would flaunt it in public (Jesus actually calls them out for this in Matthew 6). They would walk around town looking all downcast and drawing all kinds of attention to themselves. Why? So, they could look more devoted to the Lord. The problem is it was all for show. They had turned fasting into a way to outwardly make themselves look better. They were motivated by legalism not genuine love for the Lord. But, in the way that Jesus often does, he exposes their hearts. by brilliantly using the illustration of a wedding celebration to call them out.

19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

You see, in those days a wedding celebration was an incredibly big deal. If you think wedding receptions are over the top now, they’ve got nothing on a first century Jewish wedding. It was a massive party with food, drink, and dancing that lasted an entire week! It was an incredibly important day and a time to truly be joyous. The fact is that you would never show up to a wedding celebration and not join in. You would never show up to a wedding and fast, looking all sorrowful and sad, because it would be an incredible insult to the bridegroom’s family who paid for all your food and drink. And an incredible insult to the bride and groom who were enjoying such a momentous occasion. To put it in modern terms, how insulting would it be to show up to an amazing meal that’s been bought and paid for at the finest restaurant and then not eat?

And so don’t miss what Jesus is saying; He is the bridegroom, He is in their midst, and this is a time for CELEBRATING! Fasting was a time for mourning, but this is no time to mourn. This is a time of incredible joy because the Messiah has finally come! There was no need to fast in this moment because you couldn’t get any closer to God than being in the presence of His son. This was not a time to fast, this was a time to feast! Jesus is saying celebrate NOW because the party won’t last forever. He tells them “the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away,” referring directly to his crucifixion. The greek word used here for “taken away” is the word apairō, and it means “snatched away abruptly.” One minute Jesus will be with them and the next he won’t. So don’t waste a second mourning while He’s there! The bottom line is they are mourning when they should be rejoicing. And why are they not rejoicing? Because they cannot see that Jesus is trying to introduce them to something so much better than what they’re clinging to. A new way of connecting with God that brings so much freedom, the gospel. Jesus has come to set people free from the works based religion that has plagued them for centuries. He has come to die on the cross and pay the penalty for their sins once and for all so that they no longer have to feel like they need to earn their way into right standing with God.

In case there’s any doubt about this, he drives this message home with two parallel illustrations that demonstrate just how unique the gospel really is to EVERY other false religion in the world. He begins with;

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.

He uses the illustration of an old, tattered, discolored shirt. First off, if you put a new patch on the old garment the color won’t match. It will be painfully obvious. And second, when the patch shrinks it will rip the garment anyhow. And the patch will be a complete waste. Jesus’ point? The gospel of grace can’t be patched into the legalistic traditions of Pharisaic Judaism. Jesus didn’t come to patch up the old garment of legalistic religion but to completely replace it!

But he doesn’t stop there, he gives a second illustration;

22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:18-22

In ancient Israel wine was stored in goat skin leather bags. When wine was poured into the leather bags gas formed as new wine fermented, causing the wineskin to expand. But have you ever seen an old piece of leather that has been dried out in the sun? Over time they lose their elasticity. And so everyone in those days knew, you never put new wine into old wineskins, otherwise the skin would break and you lose both the skin and the wine. Once again the illustration is clear, the new way of the gospel of grace doesn’t fit with the old way of legalism. They are incompatible. If you try to combine them, you ruin them both. It’s like when my kids try to mix milk and lemonade. I don’t know why they want to do this, but they always want to try. They don’t mix! All you get is something foul. And it’s the same with the gospel and religion. They don’t mix! Sadly, the Pharisees are not interested in the way that Jesus is introducing.

The gospel writer Luke, in his account, adds this; “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” Luke 5:39

He’s essentially saying that the Pharisees were so drunk off the old way that they no longer cared what the wine tasted like. Drunk on their old ways, they didn’t see any need for a new way. The old way was so ingrained they couldn’t fathom giving it up. And sadly the same is true for many people today. They have grown accustomed to a works based righteousness way of thinking and living, and they LIKE it. They like it because it means they can boast in their own accomplishments and receive the glory for their own salvation. But the truth is NONE of us can boast. As the apostle Paul tells us, “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23.

The bottom line; they wanted Jesus to be like every other religious person, but he wasn’t like any other person. They wanted Christianity to be like every other religion, but it’s not like any other religion. Every other religion in the world is “works based.” It says “you can earn your way into right standing with God.” The gospel says YOU CAN’T, but there is amazing news, Jesus Christ willingly died for your sin so that you can be set free from having to earn it and just experience the peace and joy of knowing you don’t have to. You see the problem with legalism/works based righteousness thinking is that it can only lead to two things; becoming arrogant or becoming defeated. It will either lead to you being overly critical of others or overly critical of yourself. Jesus wants to set us free from BOTH!

So, here’s what I want you to know;

Jesus came to replace religion with the gospel of grace.

I don’t know what you have believed about Jesus or Christianity, but there is nothing like the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do we really get that? You see the mark of someone who truly gets the gospel is someone who is no longer motivated to do good works in order to receive the love of God, but because OF the love of God.

Let me put it to you in some modern terms. Because I believe there are many people who are still living the legalistic life even though they’ve been set free to experience the gospel of grace. There are still some who are trying to patch the old into the new. Do you resonate with any of these;

  • The old garment says, I better read my Bible because if I don’t God won’t be happy with me. The new garment says, I get to read my Bible today and spend time with my savior; learning from Him, soaking in his peace and receiving his joy. I want to spend time with Jesus because without His daily connection I’m lost.

  • The old garment says, I better get to church on Sunday and be in a life group because God won’t love me as much if I don’t. The new garment says, I GET TO worship with and encourage my brothers and sisters in the body today. I need them and they need me and I’m not going to miss that time for anything.

  • The old garment says, I better give and serve because if I don’t God won’t bless me. The new garment says, it is my joy to use what God has graciously given me to build the kingdom. Jesus gave everything for me on the cross and I can’t wait to leverage what I have in serve to Him.

  • The old garment says, I better not swear, view/listen to inappropriate things, drink alcohol etc. because if I don’t God will be so mad at me. The new garment says, I want to honor my Lord and savior with my words and actions. I don’t want any kind of filth in my mind or body because I believe my body and mind belong to the Lord and I’m not going to pollute those things.

That is a very different way of thinking about our relationship with God. And it is SO FREEING. It is the ONLY way that truly brings life and real transformation. It is a relationship with God rather than a religion and a set of rules to be followed. This is what Jesus offers, and I implore you to grab it with both hands and never look back!

But I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you of a very real danger that I believe has crept into our culture: it is very easy in our effort to not be legalistic to become apathetic. While the gospel should free us from working for our salvation it should also motivate us to fully engage in following Jesus. If the gospel doesn’t BOTH set us free from the need to perform AND motivate our hearts to follow in love then we’re missing the point of the gospel.

Reading our Bibles, being part of a healthy Biblical community, giving our time, talent and treasure and obediently thinking and living the way Jesus calls us to ARE vitally important to the Christian life. To ignore those things is to take advantage of the incredible grace Jesus poured out for us on the cross. Jesus the bridegroom paid a great price so that we could fully experience a life without the weight of working for our salvation AND fully experience a life of kingdom building for His glory. May we each live fully in His grace and strive to honor Him in all we do!


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