In Mark 2:18-3:6 we looked at three scenarios where Jesus was questioned by the people and the Pharisees. Their questioning was an attempt to expose Jesus as a fraud by catching Him in a moment of law breading activity. (At least the law define by the mountain of man-made prescriptions that had been developed and enforced by the Pharisees) They were not seeking Jesus to clarify His teaching on the Kingdom of God and their need to repent. They were seeking to justify their self-righteous, self-attained status in the religious view of the people of Galilee.
In responding to their questions Jesus could expose their hearts and, in the case of these Pharisees, hardness and wicked hostility was clearly seen. That's what Jesus does, His perfect and righteous life is a light that reveals the darkness that still invades our souls. Prior to salvation all that reflects from us is complete and utter darkness. But after the miracle of grace and our confession of Jesus as Lord our souls are given the capacity to reflect the light of Jesus to the world. Then as we consider the life of Jesus and compare our lives to His we can see areas that still need to be conformed to His image and He gives us the strength and grace we need to change.
The Pharisees instead respond with pride and hostility and plot to kill Jesus on the very same Sabbath day they questioned Jesus about. The reality is we all have the potential to be Pharisees. Their rules, while probably with good initial intentions of honoring God, became self-righteousness and judgment on others. How? We call it legalism today. Legalism is when we base our righteousness on what we can do instead of on what Jesus has done. It is the mindset that by living by a certain set of standards I can be accepted by God. They man made standards also become the measure of judgment applied to all others righteousness. The truth of the matter is that nothing we can do can ever reconcile our sin account with God. Only Jesus as the sinless sacrifice can offer payment for all our sins.
The problem with self-righteous living is that God is never the focus of the religious system. Self is the center of attention. Mark provides three warning signs that our religious practices are due to self-righteous pursuits.
The first is found in Mark 2:18-20. Jesus refers to the fact that no one fasts while bridegroom is with them. This is unusual since there is no mention of a wedding going on at the time. This is because Jesus is referring to Himself. Jesus is here it's time to celebrate not to mourn. So, the first warning is self-righteousness leads to missing Jesus. The Pharisees and those focused on fasting were totally missing the fact that the Son of God was in their midst and the opportunity to commune with Him was now.
The second warning is found in Mark 2:23-28. Here the Pharisees are so worried about satisfying their own requirements for the Sabbath that could care less whether the disciples needed food or not. Jesus reminds them that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (rest) and that the Sabbath was always about peoples' needs and not about justifying their righteousness. The warning here is that self-righteousness allows rules to replace people. Honestly this is easy to do. I can easily find myself as a father enforcing my rules on my kids before I understand their needs. Often when this happens I can embitter my kids and they respond with disrespectful attitudes creating a crazy cycle of turmoil. My measure of righteousness interprets the behavior of others and then paralyzes me from being able to be gracious and truthful in the situation. Lord help me to recognize this heart attitude in myself.
The third warning is found in Mark 3:1-6. Here the Pharisees are watching to see what Jesus will do. Jesus challenges them to do good and this challenge reveals the hardness of the Pharisees hearts. Mark reminds us here that self-righteousness hardens our hearts to gracious action. Gracious actions are the only reason any one of has any claim to righteousness in the first place. Jesus willingly offered His perfect life in exchange for our sin. He took the punishment we deserve, we receive His inheritance. (because of Jesus we are adopted sons and daughters of God thus sharing the inheritance of the son.) That's grace. Yet when we get focused on looking good before God or justifying our religious status by our religious actions we put ourselves at a severe handicap to offer grace to others.
The focus of this passage was based on the righteousness of Jesus and our need to make us new so that we can rest. But a side note to be gained from is the opportunity to evaluate why we do our religious acts. Are we attempting to be accepted by God for what we have done? Are we trying to emphasize our neighbor’s flaws by the way we live? Recognizing that our righteousness can only be found in Christ and Christ alone allows us the freedom to reflect that righteousness to our neighbors in the grace and compassion we extend to them. This doesn't determine our acceptance with God but instead reveals our gratitude for His gracious acceptance.