Legalism can take the joy out of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. When I attended Philadelphia College of the Bible I was shocked by the amount of rules that we had to follow. We were not allowed to wear jeans to class, we couldn’t go to movies, we had to go to church twice on Sunday, we had a curfew when we had to be in our dorms, and we certainly were not allowed in the girls’ dorms. I had thought that once I was in college I would be allowed to make some of those decisions on my own instead of someone else making them for me. It created a puerile environment where the students were dictated to them their dos and their donts. You wonder at what stage do you learn to take responsibility for your own actions and not rely upon an administration to tell you what rules you have to follow for life.
Jesus in these verses is speaking to the Pharisees and basically tells them: people who love God do not need to be given a list of rules to follow, but rather what actions we ought to take should come instinctively . All of our actions ought to be pleasing to God, and what we desire ought to be pleasing to God. If we find ourselves in sin and unable to control our actions then we are not trying to please God and so we are not a disciple of the Lord. Let me explain. We are disciples of Jesus Christ not out of fear that salvation will not be ours. We love Jesus because of an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what he did for us on the cross. Our lives are an attempt to give thanks for what he has done for us. If we are desiring to do that which we know will make Him unhappy, then maybe we are not grateful enough.
This approach to faith, where we live lives of response out of gratitude as opposed to fear of damnation, is a seismic shift in our thinking. The Pharisees encouraged the people of Israel to rely upon them, the church leaders, to understand the Scripture and what was allowed and not allowed. Jesus was more than willing to interpret on his own what was allowed on the Sabbath and in life. This was not permissible and it was so threatening to the church leaders that vs. 14 tells us that they conspired to destroy him.
That is one aspect of the Presbyterian Church that I so embrace. I am not going to tell you the laws of Scripture and that you have to follow them and the specific way in which you have to live your life. I will interpret Scripture for you in such a way that I hope you are able to make that decision on your own without me looking over your shoulder to check on whether you are worthy are not. But some people need to be told how to live their lives. I can do that as well, but I would prefer that people try to understand the freedom that we have in Jesus where he provides us with opportunity, and not laws or rules.
The latter part of this chapter deals with Jesus and his second coming. He tells the crowds that with John the Baptist and him present then they have no excuse for opting out of seeing the Kingdom of God at hand. Jesus has come to clean our houses of all that which would take us away from God. If we then choose to do nothing with what he has given us, full salvation from our sins, then we leave ourselves open to an even worse future. Our future is then even more bleak than before because it is much harder a second time to turn to Jesus than it is the first time.
This chapter ends with Jesus and his family obviously at odds with each other. His mother, Mary, and his brothers are waiting for him outside of the house where he is teaching. We can only imagine what it is that they want. We read elsewhere in Mark 3:21 that they thought he was out of his mind, at least that was what some people were saying about him. That makes sense. If we were living a life where the only thing that mattered to us was our status as a disciple of Jesus Christ then our family just might think something was a bit strange with us. But Jesus recovers and points out that our real family are those who are invested in establishing the kingdom of God.
I don’t want to read too much into that, but we will see again in Mark a verse that is equally shocking where it states that we must “hate” our mother and father if we are to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. At this point you might check out and say, well, that’s not for me. Hang in there until we get to Mark and we can see why Jesus says that.