This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
ln vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandment of men.” Mark 7:6-7
When we encounter Jesus, we encounter a choice – to embrace Him or flee from Him. Throughout the gospel of Mark, we witness the stark contrast between people who drew close versus those who pushed back. Today, you and I are presented with the same two choices for every Jesus-encounter that we’re offered. Our choice to embrace repeatedly or resist repeatedly will dictate our end-point – hardened like the Pharisees or in relationship with Jesus like His disciples. Ever wonder how the Pharisees got there?
Religion. Duty. Appearance. All for wishy-washy God-ish knowledge that makes us feel like we’re spiritually together. Ever known that kind of religiosity? It’s the kind that gets so caught up in adherence to spiritual routine that its form becomes all there is. The mess of repentance and vulnerability will become increasingly distasteful because we’re forced to expose our sin when we’d prefer to ignore it. Hardened hearts that resist repentance can soothe their sin by putting on spiritual airs and fooling many – including themselves.
Throughout the gospel of Mark, the respected religious leaders break into genuine sweats of confusion and inner struggle as they consider the teachings of Jesus. They repeatedly ask Why? Why would Jesus – a clear miracle-worker from God – eat with sinners (2:16); forgive sins as if He were God (2:6), and fail to adhere to common religious practice? (7:1-5, 2:18, 2:48) Jesus’ instruction was vastly different in content and form compared to the spiritual leaders’ – people marveled at its newness and authority (1:27).
The Pharisees didn’t know how to process their encounters with Jesus – they sought the rules but Jesus spoke of the Rule-Maker. But the Pharisees had long left the commandments of God in order to hold to the tradition of men. (7:1-5, 8-9) Christ’s encounter with the Pharisees was piercing – He declared them evil (4:5) fools who taught Scripture with ignorance (2:25).
Reasons for Resisting a Jesus-Encounter
The Pharisees’ knowledge of God simply didn’t match the God that they were witnessing (2:6) and they retaliated partially in pride. Instead of receiving Jesus’ accusations with humility and considering their potential truth, they hurled their own fiery balls of accusation back. Like them, we can become so convinced of our own superiority and so determined to control, that we become unteachable, even to wise counsel. The Pharisees felt worthy of the authority that they had fought so hard to sustain because they were learned in Scripture, and were upheld as spiritually elite.
The Pharisees also retaliated out of fear, and a common reaction to fear is to shame or remove it. When they could not accept what Christ’s words revealed about themselves, they sought how to destroy Him (3:6) and accused Him as being possessed (3:22).
In fact, His own family exclaimed that He was out of his mind! (3:21) The last person that they could accept Christ to be, was who He said that He was. Why? Because Christ’s claim of equality with God implied the bowing of their own hearts and dissolving of their current spiritual system and reputations. So instead, they reached for alternatives to soothe their fear and satisfy the anger that rose within them when His message didn’t change. (6:14-15, 8:28)
Jesus-Encounters Turn Us into Beggars
It’s so easy to look back at those ancient church leaders and wag our heads in disgust, yet we may find that their unteachable hearts are not so far from our own. Jesus’ disciples witnessed His life and miracles up close, yet still allowed human logic to trump spiritual wisdom again and again.
They accused Christ for not caring when their boat was about to capsize (4:39-40), they fled in fear at the very hour that they should have stayed true (14:50), they fatigued and forgot when they should have remembered and remained alert (14:34, 38). Even people who have met Jesus can refuse to submit to His authority when He speaks boldly into their lives – they run away instead of run toward. How can we prevent becoming Pharisees and keep embracing Jesus when we constantly mess up like the disciples? We beg.
To beg is to earnestly and humbly appeal to someone for something keenly desired. In Mark 5 we see a variety of Jesus-beggars emerge. A legion of demons begs for His permission to be sent into swine. Witnesses of this miracle beg Jesus to leave their region out of fear. The man who was healed begged Jesus to remain (5:18). We encounter Jesus every time the Word stirs our spirits to action in some way – service, conviction, repentance, and more. Jesus-encounters always turn us into beggars – we will either beg Him to leave or beg Him to stay (8:22).
Those who beg Him to leave because of convicting discomfort will become angry when He doesn’t and lost when He does. Those who beg Him to stay and change them despite the discomfort will be granted peace in the midst of it and greater intimacy at the end of it (4:39; 5:34). Repeat either one of these responses enough and we will remain soft-hearted to Jesus or become hard like the Pharisees.
The Power to Embrace and Not Run
When Jesus calls us to Himself we’re not left to fight for holiness on our own. When He called His disciple Simon, He immediately changed His name (3:14). Peter’s life would exemplify a strong spiritual rock of leadership who built His life on the Lord. Peter’s name wasn’t changed at the end of His life after He had proven Himself faithful. Peter’s name was changed at the start of his ministry because Christ was about to prove Himself faithful (3:16-17).
In Jesus’ faithfulness and power, we become His agents just like the disciples did – proclaiming repentance, becoming vehicles for the miraculous, demonstrating compassion (6:12-13, 9:41), sacrifice (10:22; 12:41-44), and unity (9:50). We will eat from the true bread of life; we will know peace and be satisfied in Him (6:42,8:8). The Pharisees sought to attain holiness from outward behaviour that works its way in. Jesus wants to enter the innermost temple of our hearts, throw out the ‘money-changers’ He finds, and transform us from the inside out (7:15; 11:11, 15).
Let’s learn from the lives of these ancient men and resolve to let every sin that encounters His holiness to turn us into beggars of Him staying, not beggars that He will leave us comfortably as we are. In His power we can move away from hardness toward child-like softness (10:13-16, 44), away from human pomp to godly humility, off of ourselves and into the world (16:15). How can we approach His holiness and embrace Him when we’ve run the wrong way so many times? Be encouraged – the disciples didn’t embrace Jesus rightly at every encounter and neither will you.
Our hope is that when Christ died the curtain of the temple tore in two (15:38) so that now we can approach Him with confidence despite our constant failures. At every Jesus-encounter we fail, His loving, holy presence beckons us back into the inner chambers of relationship to be forgiven and restored. So today, when His Word begs to change us, let’s run away from pride and fear and confidently sprint into the innermost sanctuary of His heart begging Him to stay and change us to be more like Him.