New Testament Gospel of Mark Lord of the Sabbath

Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23- 3:6

Six-hundred and thirteen, this is the number of laws that are found in the Old Testament. Three-hundred and sixty-five of them speak of what you are not to do, and two-hundred fourth eight is what you are to do. A good Jew would want to be able to obey all of these laws. They would ensure that they would uphold the law in all aspects of their life. However, they became servants of the Law not the giver of the Law. The Pharisee’s wanted to uphold the law. They would not only seek to obey the 613 laws in the Old Testament, but they had many oral traditions that explained the law and how to apply the law to their lives. They would tithe on their herbs (Matt 23:23), because the Law explained “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year,” (Deut 14:22). The fourth commandment explains, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” (Ex 20:9-10a). They did not want to break the law, so various traditions would explain the phrase, “You shall not do any work.” What is considered work? How much work can you do? One example is that you should limit your travel, but everyone needs to be able to walk, but how far is too far? One tradition explained, 1999 steps is not considered work, but 2000 steps is considered work. This passage gives us two accounts that happen on the sabbath. These two passages follow a similar pattern 1) Setting the scene, 2) Pharisee’s accusation, 3) Jesus response to the Pharisee’s and this all culminates in Mark 3:6 with the first verbal plan to destroy Jesus.

I. Harvesting on the Sabbath (23-27)

Jesus’ disciples are walking through a field on the sabbath and as they are traveling down the rows of grain, they plucked some heads of grain and ate them. This made the pharisee’s furious. The disciples here not doing what is lawful. The pharisee’s reasoning was that Jesus’ disciples were harvesting and threshing grain on the Sabbath. The breaking of the Sabbath was a serious offence, Exodus 31:15 explains, “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” Jesus responds by explaining the situation of David when he was fleeing Saul in 1 Samuel chapter 21. David escapes from Saul and goes to Nob and meets Ahimelech the priest.[1] David asks for food and a weapon. However, they have no bread other than the Bread of Presence, which was only meant to be eaten by the Priests. Not only David ate this bread but also those who were with him. David and his men eating this bread was not lawful. However, Jesus begins by explaining to the Pharisee’s that David and his men were in need and hungry (Mark 2:25).

Jesus does not try and defend the actions of his disciples. However, the pharisee’s often would place the ‘easy’ laws at the top of their lists. They tithe on their herb garden but would neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness, which Jesus explains as the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt 23:23). Jesus explains that David and his men were in need and hungry. It was more important to show mercy, than to let them starve to death. The Pharisee’s self-made regulations were topsy turvy. They thought man was made for the Sabbath. But Jesus explained that the sabbath was made for man. They took the blessing of rest and made it into a burden.

The sabbath was established in creation, before Adam and Eve worked a day in the garden, they were given rest by God. Exodus 31:14 says, “You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you.” It is to be set apart for the people of God. The seventh day was a part of creation, God made the Sabbath. He set a part one day in seven to be a day of rest. God did not need to rest; he was not out of breath. He made the sabbath for man. Yet often when we consider the sabbath today we think of it as a burden. To speak of the sabbath today is labeled as legalism. However, God made the Sabbath as a blessing and delight for mankind.

II. Lord of the Sabbath (28)

They treated God as the law giver whose role was merely to give them the Law. All they needed was the 613 laws and they could keep it. Paul explains that he was the model pharisee, Blameless in the eyes of the Law (Phil 3:6). He had every reason to have confidence in the flesh. Yet the gain he had he counted as loss for the sake of Christ (Phil 3:7). Christ is paramount to everything, the Law is not god, but it points us to God. The sabbath is not the highest aim of life. Christ explains that the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). The Sabbath was made by God, we should not turn to human tradition or reasoning to seek to understand the sabbath, but we turn to God’s word to instruct us why he made the Sabbath for man. Jesus comes with authority and in this authority, he does not abrogate the sabbath but teaches us the reason why God made the Sabbath. For you and I. God gave us one day in seven as a day to be set apart for the worship of God, showing mercy to others and resting.

The use of the Christian sabbath is not be used as a legalistic activity in which one’s salvation is dependent. The Lord’s day is to be seen as a blessing given to his people for rest and worship. The promises of God do not come in the form of merit but rather rooted in joyous obedience to God as the creator and redeemer of his People. Our hearts are prone to wander, and our calendars reflect this we often fill our calendars with what we think is important. The Lord’s Day helps us prepare our hearts for our week focusing on God. The Pharisee’s missed the mark, they did not understand the law at all. They worshiped the law and not the law giver. The Sabbath was given to man as a blessing to be enjoyed rather than a burden to be upheld. Following Jesus means that he is our Lord, and hs is still lord, even on the sabbath.

III. Healing on the Sabbath (3:1-6)

Mark then gives an example of the upside down thinking of the Pharisees and also the authority of Christ, even on the sabbath. Mark begins again with a comment that sets the scene. As Jesus enters the synagogue there is a man with a withered hand. The pharisees are watching him closely to see if Jesus would heal the man on the sabbath, and Mark explains why they are watching him, “so that they might accuse him.” The tension had risen to the point where they would like to see Jesus ‘break the law’ so that they can accuse him and as Exodus 31:15 says, they could put him to death. The Pharisee’s did not utter a word yet Christ knows their thoughts and he sought to teach and instruct them. He calls the man over before him and asks a very poignant question, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill it?” The pharisees were seeking to see if Jesus would heal a man, and if he does then they might be able to kill Jesus. Jesus asks this question about the law to the Pharisee’s who should know the law, they have enough additional laws to explain everything, they can tell you how many steps is counted as work on the sabbath. Yet they are unable to answer the question. A simple question. Here they are hoping Jesus would heal a man so that they can accuse him of breaking the law and then put him to death. They don’t answer the question, and Jesus looks at them in anger and saddened at their hard hearts. They would rather be right in their own ways than repent. They would rather not answer the question because they know they are wrong. Their stone-cold hearts are the ultimate problem. Paul explains that the gentiles are “darkened in their understanding,” “alienated from the life of God” all because of their hardness of heart (Eph 4:18). The Pharisee’s appeared to be close to God they dress the part and play the part. However, they are dead on the inside, like a nicely dressed grave, inside is a rotting corpse with a putrid smell. They witnessed Christ show mercy to this man with the withered hand, and instead of rejoicing with him they went out and planned how they might destroy him. They did not want Jesus’s disciples to pluck a head of grain on the Sabbath, yet they were more than willing to commit murder on the sabbath (Matt 5:21-22). Right here is the first account of their plan to destroy Jesus the tension has been apparent previously but now they will seek any chance possible to accuse Jesus. It is because of this hardness of hearts and not heeding the word of God that Israel did not find rest in the promise land, they did not enter into his rest (Heb 3:7-19).


It is obvious when we read the Bible who are the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys. However, we share the same DNA as the pharisee’s. We might not be going around waiting to jump out of hiding when someone plucks a head of grain on the sabbath. But we all have the sinful heart which is often shaped by the culture we live in. We easily look at others and can see their sins and faults. However, in all of this we need to realize that without the work of the Holy Spirit coming and softening our hearts, we to are deaf to the teaching and Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus teaches us that he is Lord of the Sabbath, but also shows us how he is Lord of the Sabbath. He shows teaches us the sabbath is for man not man for the sabbath. He shows us that we can enjoy the sabbath, and enjoy it as a day of rest, worship, showing mercy and acts of necessity.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

Hebrews 4:9–10

[1] Mark explains that this happened “in the time of Abiathar the high priest.” If you would like to know more about this variance, please come and speak with me. Due to the length of this, I did not want to go into great detail of the various views.

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