Mark 2:23 – 3:6

The pressure continues to mount between the religious authorities and Jesus.  Jesus continues to face close scrutiny and increased questions.  The Pharisees question what he is doing and what he is not doing.  In the two passages before us this week, they want to know why Jesus isn’t “honoring” the Sabbath the way they think it should be honored.

23One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”   Mark 2:23-24

The questions continue.  Here Jesus’ disciples have plucked heads of grain from a field, and while this would ordinarily not be an issue (c.f. Deut 23:25),  they have performed this task on the Sabbath.  They are accused of  doing what is “not lawful on the Sabbath.”  Remember in the 10 Commandments,  commandment number 4 requires keeping the Sabbath day holy and specifically forbids doing work (c.f Exodus 20:8-11).

Nowhere in Scripture is the specific issue taken up of whether or not it is acceptable to pluck heads of wheat on the Sabbath.  While we would affirm that Scripture is altogether sufficient in that it tells us everything we need  to know concerning our salvation and how we can glorify God, it is not exhaustive in addressing every issue under the sun.

The writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith understood this:

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture… and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed (WCF 1.6).”  

That the Bible is not exhaustive drove the Pharisees crazy.  And so they came up with their own list of do’s and don’ts for the Sabbath. In the Jewish Mishnah there are 39 categories of activities that are forbidden on the Sabbath – y0u can read the whole list here:     Mishnah, Shabbat 7.2.  Apparently Jesus’ disciples are accused of having broken number 3 on this list – reaping on the Sabbath.  Furthermore, they might have violated a man-made prohibition against traveling on the Sabbath.  Among the Dead Sea Scrolls was a document researchers call the Damascus Document.  This document says “None shall walk outside his city more than a thousand cubits (chapter 13 of Damascus Document).”  If Jesus and his disciples walked more than a 1000 cubits (less than 1/2 mile) to the grainfields, according to the Pharisees they have dishonored the Sabbath.  If this is true, one wonders what the Pharisees themselves were doing more than 1000 cubits from the city to witness what Jesus was doing.

25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”  Mark 2:25-26

Jesus essentially responds by asking – have you read your Bible?  He cites the story of how David who was the already anointed but not yet acknowledged king went to the house of God and ate the Bread of the Presence.  What is most intriguing about this story is what Jesus is not saying.  He is not insinuating that the law prohibiting anyone but the priests from eating the Bread is an absurd law.  He is not saying – isn’t this a silly law we have about the Bread of the Presence?  Not at all.  So what is he is saying?  What point is he trying to make?

27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”   Mark 2:27-28

See, he doesn’t engage the Pharisees over the issue of whether or not it is lawful to pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath.  The example from David is an example where the law was broken.  So what is he saying?  Why is it okay for his disciples to walk through the grainfields and pluck heads of wheat?  We see it here.  He is the Lord of the Sabbath.  It is okay because he says it is okay.  Jesus says he is the Lord of the Sabbath.  It’s not the Pharisees – it is Jesus who is Lord.

1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.    Mark 3:1-2

He puts this declaration to the test in the next section. He is going to live out in front of the Pharisees what he has just said: he is the the Sabbath Lord.  The Pharisees follow him to the synagogue and it doesn’t seem that they are there for worship – they are present to accuse Jesus.  To see what he might do this week that they can be angry about.

3And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.  Mark 3:3-4

He calls a man with a crippling but perhaps not immediately life-threatening condition to himself.  Now it’s Jesus’ turn to ask the questions – he asks the Pharisees a question they cannot answer.  Is it lawful to do good or do harm?  The Pharisees have no response.  They know what the answer is but refuse to accept it, and so they remain silent.

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  Mark 3:5

Jesus looks with anger on the hard heartedness of the Pharisees.  They refuse to see what is plainly before them.  They do not seek or want God’s mercy and so they will not receive God’s mercy.  Jesus looks with compassion on the man with a withered hand.   It took faith for this man to respond to Jesus – in front of this hostile audience.  But he does – and is healed.  Jesus has displayed before the congregation present on this day that indeed he is the Sabbath Lord.  I have heard many people tell me that if they were there in Jesus’ day – if they saw the miracles and heard the teaching for themselves, that they would believe.  If only they could see with their own eyes, then they would follow Jesus.  The problem is that this is not how it works when people actually witness Jesus firsthand.

The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.   Mark 3:6

Far from believing in Jesus the Pharisees who were present for much of what Jesus did, seek to destroy him.  They saw it all with their own eyes.  But their hearts were hard.  Ironically, the plot to kill Jesus begins on the Sabbath.  They seek to do harm – to kill – on the Sabbath.  The fact that the Pharisees were willing to cooperate with the much-hated Herodians shows indeed how hard their hearts were.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the accusation the Pharisees bring against Jesus’ disciples? (v.24)
  2. How does Jesus respond? What does he say? What does he not say? (v.25-26)How does Jesus’ statement in v. 27-28 confront the Pharisees view of the Sabbath?
  3. Jesus says the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Can you think of other examples besides the Sabbath that we get backwards?   How can we have a right attitude towards these things?

In the next section (3:1-6) Jesus is in a synagogue and prepares to heal a man with a withered hand.

  1. What point do you think Jesus was trying to make with his questions in v.4? How did the Pharisees respond? Why?Why was Jesus angry with the Pharisees in v.5?
  2. What evidences of faith do you see in the man with the withered hand?
  3. How did the Pharisees respond to this healing? What does this tell us about how they view Jesus’ claims about himself? Why is it significant they cooperated with the much-hated Herodians?
  4. How would apply this passage to your life?


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