I’ve been writing some daily devotionals for the Bible Reading Fellowship. The assignment has me working through the Gospel of Mark.
This is the first-written and shortest of the Gospels. It is so short that it’s a favorite with actors and evangelists who have memorized the entire text so that it can be recited as a one-man performance on stage. Those recitations can be done in less than two hours, the same time it takes to watch a movie. I have enjoyed watching (and listening) to these presentations but I have to admit there’s something to be said for sitting down and going through the text slowly, line by line. I’ve been seeing some things I’ve missed before now.
I had reached the last part of the second chapter of Mark and glanced at the first part of Chapter Three. It hit me that Mark was still talking about the same topic: time. “Time” is just as much a part of God’s creation of the universe as rocks or gravity. But how are we to recognize a purpose in it?
The Pharisees never grew tired of criticizing Jesus and his disciples. In Mark 2:18, their complaint was that the disciples were not fasting. In reply, Jesus explained that it wasn’t the right time for that. “But the time will come…” There was no disagreement over the idea that fasting is a good thing, a right thing to do. But the sequence, the ordering of the events was significant. Part of the order God is restoring to His creation is an ordering of events in time, and in the seasons of our lives. The right thing done at the wrong time becomes the wrong thing. We need to let God order the sequence of the right things He wants us to do.
The next complaint that Mark wrote about was the Pharisees objecting to the way the disciples would grab up heads of grain and eat them as they walked along on a Sabbath day. “They are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath!” came the cry. This triggers a chiding response from Jesus as he reminds them how King David ate bread from the Tabernacle that was ceremonially reserved only for the priests to eat. His unspoken question to the Pharisees is, “You wouldn’t dare to criticize King David, would you?” But the deeper issue is how to define the purposes of these “times” we pass through. “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,” announces Jesus. The Creator of Time gets to define what it is for. Mark even adds a quote that is unique to his Gospel alone: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” That means the Sabbath is a gift within the fabric of Time, designated for man’s benefit. It is a regular and true rest, a respite from the burden of the punishment laid on Adam and all mankind to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow.
This lesson is reinforced in the next story recorded by Mark at the beginning of Chapter Three. This is the healing of the man with a shriveled hand, in the midst of the synagogue service, and again on a Sabbath Day. Jesus poses the question with frustration: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil?” Should we look forward to the arrival of the seasons God has appointed in Time, recognizing the intended blessings in God’s ordering of our days? Or will we fear them as further restrictions that deprive us from enjoying this gift of Life and the presence of our Savior?
If so, it’s time we got our heads straight, before it’s too late.