SERVICE VIDEO: link
TEXT: Mark 2:23-3:12
In the midst of all the kingdom-proclaiming, miracles, and inviting discipleship, our passage today gives us some insight into the real intent of God’s Word or Laws for human life. In two different scenes Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees for breaking the Sabbath, God’s law for resting on the seventh day. But in each case Jesus demonstrates that the purpose of God’s law is to bless human life. This has application for us as we consider the broad purpose of scripture for the Christian. It is not a bunch of rules to restrict us, but to grant us freedom to thrive. Let’s look…
SABBATH FOOD (2:23-28)
23 And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.
It’s easy enough to understand the scene. Jesus and his disciples are walking through some fields of grain on the Sabbath and the disciples pick some grain to eat. The Pharisees accuse them of breaking the Sabbath. And if Jesus is breaking the Sabbath, it undermines any claims to be a Rabbi, much less the Messiah.
There are two things going on here. For one, the disciples aren’t technically breaking the Law of Moses. It prohibits work, but the law specifically names harvesting time (Exodus 34:21). In fact, the scripture provides for just what the disciples are doing. If a traveler was hungry, they might pick some grain by hand to satisfy their hunger so long as they weren’t using a sickle to harvest the crop. Listen to Deuteronomy 23:24-25…
“When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, they you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket. When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, they you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain.”
The purpose of the law was to give God’s people rest, but not at the expense of health or hospitality. If a traveler was hungry or thirsty, it was specified that they could take enough to satisfy their need. Any more would be stealing and/or work. The Pharisees seem to have lost sight of this provision of the Law. Or more likely, they had made the Law more restrictive than it actually was, again losing sight of the purpose of the Law to bless God’s people.
Jesus could have answered with that scripture, but he answered with a different one, leading off with “Have you never read?” That was a bit of a sting to the so-called “experts in the Law.” Interestingly, Jesus cites a historical example of eating on the Sabbath, a time when King David and his men were in need of food. The high priest made an exception to the Law because of the pressing need. This actually lines up more with the previous teaching of Jesus about his disciples not fasting because they were with the bridegroom. He is explaining that they are living in unusual times and the exception was mora analogous to King David doing the Lord’s work. In citing this Jesus did more than prove himself a Rabbi who knew the actual laws; rather he made a claim to be the Messiah by comparing himself and his disciples to King David and his men.
He cements this claim by asserting the authority to say, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (vv.27-28) Guaranteed the Pharisees did not like that answer, and only a few verses later we will read of their conspiracy to kill Jesus.
SABBATH HEALING (3:1-6)
Chapter three continues with another Sabbath action. This time Jesus heals a man and the Pharisees confront him.
1 He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. 2 They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3 He *said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” 4 And He *said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He *said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
What was the complaint against him? It would have been that the man’s life was not in danger. In that case the Pharisees acknowledged that aid could be given. But Jesus heals the man anyway, explaining in verse 4 that it is lawful “to do good on the Sabbath.” It is a little mind-boggling that someone would accuse Jesus of working or law-breaking when he was healing someone, but by this point and after the claims made in the previous verses, it seems like the Pharisees were looking for any excuse to go after Jesus.
Jesus interpretation that the Sabbath exists for good again helps us understand God’s purpose in giving the Sabbath law as well as all the Law. God desires our good, our blessing. The Law and God’s Word, in general, aren’t there to steal our joy, but to give us life. If God’s Law and Word binds or restricts anything, it is our sin. But staying within the bounds of God’s Word brings blessing into our lives. I often use traffic laws as an example. The speed limit doesn’t exist to make us miserable, but to keep us safe. Seat belts may feel like they restrain us, but they do so in a way that protects us. So it is with God’s Word. It may feel binding sometimes against harmful things we want to do, but it guards and protects us and offers us blessing.
We read in verse 6 of the developing plot, with the religious Pharisees conspiring together the political and non-religious Herodians to ‘destroy’ Jesus. Side note: the Herodians were Jewish nationalists who supported Herod and depended on Rome to keep him in place. They would have stood against anyone deemed to be a Messiah, either as a threat to Rome or as a so-called “returning King of Israel.” Nonetheless, it was a strange alliance to have the religious Pharisees working with the non-religious Herodians, all to take down this Jesus.
SABBATH BOUNDARIES (3:7-12)
Let’s look at the final section:
7 Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, 8 and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. 9 And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him; 10 for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed around Him in order to touch Him. 11 Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” 12 And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was.
If the purpose of the Sabbath was creating life-giving boundaries for humanity, Jesus demonstrated is knowledge of this purpose by living out similar life-giving boundaries in his own life and ministry. We have seen that he withdrew to pray early on the morning after healing Peter’s mother-in-law. He will do that more times, including on the night before his crucifixion. In the final part of today’s text we se something similar. He knows he has a lot of work to do, but rather than burning himself out he seeks out boundaries and means to protect his health. In this case he had a boat ready in case he needed a little distance from the pressing crowd. In other situations, as we saw a few weeks ago, he takes time out to pray and spend time alone with God.
Finally, we read again of unclean spirits identifying Jesus as “the Son of God” when he cast them out. With Mark letting us in on the developing plot to kill Jesus, we can see why Jesus might want to limit his exposure at this time.
DO WE KEEP SABBATH?
Today’s texts continue to show Jesus as having authority to teach and heal. So the stories and the information grow. But in terms of application for you and me I would turn more to what Jesus teaches us about the Sabbath specifically, and God’s Word generally.
Do we keep Sabbath? We do in some senses. Christians moved the Sabbath day from the seventh day to the first day of the week after the Resurrection. But for many Christians it is still a day to worship, to be off of work, and to do things a little differently. Growing up in South Carolina, it was such a part of the culture that it was actually a part of state laws for many businesses to be closed on Sundays.
But let’s press deeper. Is our practice of Sunday Sabbath just a spiritualized version of the weekend? Is it basically Saturday with church tacked on? Or might we learn something from Jesus and incorporate it into our practice of faith. This becomes even more pertinent with the lines between work day and time off blurring. Working from home and expectations of 24/7 availability in many fields make Sabbath rest a real challenge.
But Sabbath is more than a religious law to keep. If God indeed meant it as a blessing, then we miss out on that blessing when we miss the Sabbath. My experience has been – and I don’t practice keeping the Sabbath as faithfully as I’d like – is that it does bless me and those around me if I truly rest from my labors one day in seven. Even the most secular person knows that some time off results in more productive employees than those that burn the candle at both end and never stop. God declared that from the beginning! Resting from work is not a punishment, it is a blessing. And certainly we aren’t supposed to turn it into another form of work – “working hard to keep the Sabbath.” If we are hungry, we eat; if we are tired, we sleep; if someone needs help, we help them. It is a time to spend with the Lord, with loved ones, with neighbors, with friends. It is a time to worship and to set down the work laptop and the e-mails. It is increasingly unusual and alien to our way of life in 2022, but those who practice it know the blessing it brings.
Try it. No punishment if you don’t… but I think a great surprise and blessing if you do.
God’s Word is the same… it’s not a bunch of rules to bring us down, but many gifts of God to lift us up. Would it change your view of the Bible and taking time to read it if that were true? (It is!!)
May God give us a hunger and thirst for His Word and opportunities to rest in Him and in His Word this week. Amen.
Some Music Used
- Simple Kingdom
- All Things New (choir)
- Come as You Are
- Rick Bean, jazz piano
- All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name
- Come to Me (VanderHeide)
- He Is (Crowder)
- Yes and Amen