God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life (A Study of Mark; 2:13-22)
God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life
In the middle of last year, the University of Chicago presented a poll of Americans which found that 14% of American adults say they’re very happy. That number was half the number who said they were very happy in 2018. In 2018, 23% of American adults said they felt isolated. There is a correlation between happiness and friendships. By the same token, there is a correlation between unhappiness and isolation. No more than 29% of Americans have ever called themselves “very happy” since a survey was taken back in 1972.
There is no secret to being happy. It’s fairly easy to learn the formula for happiness. For some, it might take some time to get all the pieces in the right place, but the formula is not hard to understand. What is hard is to get people to do what needs to be done to be happy. It’s my observation that more people would rather whine and do nothing than do what needs to be done to be happy.
The first Sunday of each month this year, we’re walking with Jesus through the Gospel of Mark, to learn about God’s Guide to a Life Well-Lived. We examined all of chapter 1 in January. I told you then that we will not go verse-by-verse through every chapter of Mark. Today, we’re just going to look at 2:13-22.
How can we live a life well-lived?
LEARN JESUS’ TEACHINGS - 2:13:
Jesus went out by the sea and the multitude flocked to Him. Then what did Jesus do? He taught them.
By nature, Jesus was God in the flesh. By profession, He was a teacher. You know, there are a lot of people who just do not want to learn. There are topics they just don’t want to learn about. There are some things that I don’t want to learn about.
But there’s one thing we cannot afford to stay ignorant about, and that’s how to have a well-lived life. How to live a rich, fulfilling life. How to be a good husband, a good wife, a good father, a good mother, a good child, a good friend, a good citizen in our country. All of these things have one thing in common: if we want to live the good life, we’ll listen to Jesus.
He is the “Master Teacher.” This is so important to the life of Jesus that Mark uses the verb “to teach” seventeen times! All but one of those times refer to Jesus teaching. Jesus taught in the synagogue of Capernaum in Mark 1:21 and the people were amazed at His teaching because He taught as one having authority (1:22). That is, Jesus did not quote or refer to other rabbis. He spoke as if He knew exactly how to read and interpret the OT. People around Him could see that Jesus knew what He was talking about.
In Mark 4:1, Jesus taught by the sea of Galilee. A large crowd gathered around Him and He taught them in His famous parables. Common, everyday objects which Jesus gave spiritual meanings to.
In Mark 6:2, while Jesus was in the synagogue, the people were astonished at His wisdom. Wisdom is a quality that allows us to put biblical teaching into practice in everyday life. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Every where Jesus went, He was teaching (6:6).
When Jesus taught in Mark 6, there was a multitude of people who were like lost sheep and so Jesus taught them (6:34). When people are lost, they need to be taught. Now, that’s a problem with why so many people don’t want to be taught. They don’t want to change their behavior. They complain about being lost, about not having the marriage or family that they would like to have, but when Jesus teaches, they refuse to listen.
Jesus is a teacher. Among the things Jesus taught (8:31) is that He would suffer many things and be rejected, be killed, and raise again on the third day. Jesus repeated that same teaching in 9:31. He wanted His apostles to be prepared for His crucifixion, but also to anticipate His resurrection. But Christianity is more than believing in a crucified and risen Person. It’s the theology behind it that is extremely important. Jesus is our Savior and because He is our Savior, He is our Lord. Because He is our Lord, He knows exactly how we ought to live and that’s why we MUST obey His teachings.
Take a look at 10:1: “Getting up, He went from there to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan; crowds gathered around Him again, and, according to His custom, He once more began to teach them.” Jesus was a teacher. He taught and taught and taught. The more we teach God’s word, the more like Jesus we are.
In Mark 12:14, the Pharisees and the Herodlans (the politicians) came to Jesus and acknowledged that Jesus taught the “way of God in truth,” in other words, Jesus did not show partiality to anyone in His teaching.
If we want a “well-lived life,” we will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. If we want others around us, like our children, to have a well-lived life, we’ll teach them Jesus’ teachings.
FOLLOW JESUS - 2:14:
Last month, we saw that Jesus called two sets of brothers to follow Him. These were all business partners, in 1:16-20: Peter & Andrew, and James & John. Here, Jesus calls a man named Levi, the son of Alphaeus. When we combine Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we understand that this Levi is Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew.
He was sitting at the tax booth. In order words, Matthew was a tax collector. As you could expect, tax collectors were extremely disliked in the first century. Rachel and I knew a tax collector, an employee of the IRS, in a congregation in TN. He was a Christian and he was likeable. I think most of us as Christians don’t have trouble paying taxes if they’re not excessive and they’re not wasted and they’re not spent on things which the Bible teaches is sinful.
In the first century, the tax collectors working for the Roman Empire collected excessive taxes, which supported an exorbitant lifestyle in the Roman Emperor, and the tax collectors got their income from the taxes they collected. That meant that many tax collectors lived very well, charging a high tax rate among the Jews and they had the Roman Empire to back them up.
But when Jesus called Matthew, Matthew left his high-paying job in order to follow the Master Teacher. I don’t know if Matthew lived off donations, as apparently Jesus did, or if he started collecting taxes part-time. The Bible is not interested in telling us how Matthew lived. It is only interested in telling us that he chose to follow Jesus.
To follow Jesus, to have a well-lived life, means to follow Jesus exclusively. We cannot follow two people at the same time. If one person goes this direction and I’m following him or her, then I’ll go that direction. If another person goes the other direction, then I’ll have to choose to follow the first person or the second person, but I can’t follow both. The nature of following is that you can only follow one person at a time.
To follow Jesus, as the Master Teacher, is to give our complete allegiance to Him. Let’s look at a further example of Jesus’ teaching about following Him: Mark 8:34-38. We see illustrated here the exclusive nature of following Jesus. We don’t listen to Jesus and then decide if we want to follow Him or not. We either do what He says, or we’re not His followers. It’s just that simple.
Like so many Americans today, the rich young ruler wanted to follow Jesus in the things the ruler agreed with, but not entirely. He loved his possessions, but his possessions were getting in the way of his following Jesus. Jesus said, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21).
There are blessings to following Jesus. Peter asked about the rewards of following Jesus in Mark 10:28-31 and Jesus told him what would happen if he chose to have the well-lived life.
If we want to have the well-lived life, we’ll give our exclusive devotion to Jesus Christ and His teachings.
THE SICK NEED JESUS - 2:15-17:
This Matthew, Levi, the tax collector showed he followed Jesus by hosting a dinner party in his home and inviting a lot of other tax collectors and sinners who associated with tax collectors. These sinners might or might not have been who we would think of as “sinners.” In other words, we don’t know if these “sinners” were immoral people like adulterers and prostitutes or if they were simply Jews who did not practice the religious requirements of the Law of Moses. This is probably a more accurate picture.
The tax collectors would have been guilty of extortion, perhaps lying, perhaps lack of kindness to their fellow Jews. The sinners were guilty of ignoring the Law of Moses and its requirements for animal sacrifices or, perhaps, being guilty of immorality. “Tax collectors and sinner” are associated together in 9 verses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But the long-and-short of it is that they were sinners and they needed salvation. All of them needed salvation.
The disciples of Christ, like Peter, Andrew, James, and John and Matthew were there eating with Jesus, with these tax collectors and sinners. They saw how Jesus acted around them. They heard what Jesus said to them. They knew that Jesus was trying to get these people to change their behavior, to “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” as Jesus preached (Mark 1:15).
But there were some others, some religious Jews, who did not like Jesus associating with such people. The “scribes of the Pharisees” were men who were part of the strictest denomination of the Jews who were teachers of the Law. Originally, they started off being the ones who made copies of the Law of Moses for various synagogues. Because they knew so much about the law, they became teachers of the law. Their opinion was respected. The Pharisees had a high regard for the law but they also had a high regard for their own traditions which they had elevated to the law of God.
They see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners and they ask the disciples “why”?
Jesus gives a spiritual application from a common, ordinary, everyday practice. Healthy people do not go to the doctor. In our modern society with our wealth, we might go to a doctor for a check-up. Romanians did not go to the doctor for a check-up. You don’t go to a doctor unless you have to. If your symptoms can be improved by home treatment, then you do that.
That’s the way it was in the first century. You go to a doctor when you have to. The healthy don’t need a physician. But the sick do. Jesus is the “Great Physician.” Way back at the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, God identified Himself as “your Healer” (Exo. 15:26). In identifying Himself as the “Great Physician,” Jesus is identifying Himself with Jehovah God in the OT, the one who is able to heal people of the pain and ravages of sin. “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
Of course, Jesus would point out that no one is righteous in the eyes of God. That’s what King David said in Psalm 14:1-3. But those who are “self-righteous,” those who are righteous in their own eyes, will not learn Jesus’ teachings; they will not follow Him; they will not seek healing from Jesus. But Jesus came to call the sinners, those who mourn over their sins. He came to call them back to God, back to the way of righteousness.
Jesus came to make man, men and women, right in the eyes of God. He came to offer His blood as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28), and anyone who will listen to Jesus’ teachings and will follow Him exclusively, will find healing.
Some of the behaviors that hurt us and make us sick in the eyes of God are given by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like that.
Jesus came to heal us from the pain of those behaviors. He came to heal us from the destruction that is coming over those who practice those kinds of behavior. Jesus came to heal…
LIVE ACCORDING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT - 2:18-22:
This whole discussion is an illustration of the point that Christians do not live under the law of Moses. It is one of the most misunderstood points in Protestantism today, that we have to obey the Ten Commandments to go to heaven. This discussion points in a different direction.
First, the Pharisees and John’s disciples both questioned Jesus’ disciples about fasting. The law of Moses never required fasting. It did require humility. The Israelites ended up substituting an outward form for an inward virtue - fasting for humility. The Pharisees, as they normally did, took this to a ridiculous extreme by creating all types of days and reasons why Jews should fast but they almost completely ignored the point that they needed to humble themselves under the teachings of God.
So, they come to Jesus with this question and Jesus gives them a broader answer. First, the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast as long as the bridegroom is with them. Jesus is, of course, the bridegroom. He is with them. Why should His disciples fast? When the bridegroom is taken from them, that is from the time Jesus is crucified on Friday until Sunday when He rises from the dead, His disciples will have a reason to fast. But, once Jesus raises from the dead, He promises to be with His followers until the end of the world (Matt. 28:20) so that there is very little reason why God’s followers would fast.
There is so much ignorance and lack of Bible knowledge around our country and fasting is one of them. We won’t get into a deeper discussion of it but people today think that you should fast to get someone else to repent! That’s a complete misunderstanding of what fasting was during the OT and NT times. You don’t fast to get someone else to repent! You fast because you are repenting, because you are sorry for your sins.
However, in the same way that fasting was not required under the Law of Moses, Jesus does not command His followers to fast either. There are two examples of Christians fasting in the book of Acts (Acts 13:3; 14:23). After that, fasting is not really found to be a part of NT Christianity. It was a part of the old Jewish religion but it is not a part of the New Covenant of Christ. But humility still is!
To illustrate this point, Jesus uses the example of a piece of unshrunk cloth stitched into an old garment. If you wash that garment, the new piece of cloth will shrink and it will pull away and rip the old garment. That’s what happens if you try to force the New Covenant into the Old-Covenant forms. Christianity has some continuity with the Law of Moses but there are also some major differences. One of those, which we’ll examine tonight, is that Christians do not worship with mechanical instruments of music. That was a “form” that Christians left behind in the OT. We’ll talk about that tonight.
The second illustration is that you don’t put new wine, that is still fermenting, into old wineskins which have stretched as much as they can. If you do, while the wine is fermenting, it is giving off gases and causing the wineskins to swell and, likely, burst. Instead, you put new wine into fresh wineskins that the new wineskins will not burst.
Again, the New Covenant is different than the Old Covenant and we don’t try to superimpose Old Covenant forms onto the New Covenant. If you do, it is like trying to put square pegs into a round hole.
Take home message: If you wish to pursue God’s Guide to a Well-Lived Life, then learn Jesus’ teachings and follow Him exclusively. He will heal you of your sins. But don’t try to live according to the Old Covenant.