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MARK 2:23-3:6
Series:  The Good News of Jesus Christ - Part Nine

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 11, 2018

This morning we are at Mark 2 - starting at verse 23.  We are moving through a section of Mark’s good news account of Jesus where Jesus is encountering conflict - push back on Who He is and what He’s teaching.


Jesus Who is on a totally different page than the religious leadership.  There’s a growing conflict that’s there - conflict that eventually leads to the cross.  A growing conflict that - for the most part - that’s there because Jesus is challenging their understanding of God.  Their understanding of God and how God does things - verses Who Jesus is - God operating in ways they couldn’t process and maybe didn’t want to process.  Jesus is rocking their carefully constructed little religious world.  As He sometimes does to ours.  And probably should.


This morning we’ve come to conflicts number 4 and 5.  Which are related.  Because they both deal with the Sabbath.


If you’re able - please stand with me - and read with me - as we come together before God’s word. 


One Sabbath He was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, His disciples began to pluck heads of grain.  And the Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

And 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:  how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”


And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”


Again He entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.  And they watched Jesus, to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.


And He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”  And 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.


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.


The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.


Verse 23 introduces us to The First Sabbath Conflict - which comes in the form of a question:   “To pluck or not to pluck.”


To understand the conflict and the question we need to be clear on what exactly is the Sabbath and what the Pharisees had done with it.


The word “sabbath” is based on the Hebrew verb “shabbat” which means “to cease.”  Which is what God did.  Genesis - God creating creation - day seven God ceases to create.  Not because God needed to rest.  But God ceased creating because creation was complete.  (Genesis 2:1-3)


What God did in Genesis God ties to the Ten Commandments.  Commandment Number 4 being about the Sabbath:  “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath.”  (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)


God - as He is covenanting and commanding His people - right after He saves them from slavery in Egypt - Mount Sinai and the pyrotechnics and Moses and the stone tablets - God covenanting and commanding right after He saves them from Egypt.  And God covenanting and commanding His people through Moses just before God leads them through Joshua into the land that He’s promised and is about to give them - God sets aside the seventh day as a weekly day off to cease and commemorate His creation of the world and to celebrate His provision.

That’s crucial for us to hold on to. 
At its core the Sabbath is a day set aside to remind God’s people that God is the sovereign holy God of creation - our creator - and the God of their - of our - salvation. 


So for Gods’ people - in the wilderness and in the Promised Land - Friday at sundown became a time for feasting and singing - a time when families delighted in the God of their provision and protection and they set aside work to focus on God and to bond with each other.  Praise God and party on.


Then in 586 BC - when the armies of Babylon marched in and began hauling God’s people into exile.  Some of what we looked at last year when we looked at Ezra and Malachi.  During the exile - in Babylon - the Sabbath became something different in the eyes of God’s people.


On one hand they clung to the Law of Moses.  But during the exile the Pharisees became more prominent along with their religious system that was more legalism than Law.  Meaning that God’s grace and God’s reasons for giving His Law began to fade from the national consciousness and the Sabbath - by the time of Jesus - the Sabbath had been transformed by the Pharisees into something different that what God had originally intended.


Which - as we’ve been moving through this section of growing conflict in Mark - the Pharisees version of God verses Jesus and what Jesus is revealing about God.  We’ve seen that the Pharisees held to the belief that keeping the law was a primary religious duty.  Basing their relationship with God on keeping the Law and missing the purpose of the Law which was to bring them to faith in God who is gracious towards breakers of the Law.  God who is our creator and savior.


So in their legalistic - we need to do this in order to be right with God understanding of things - they’d determined that the law of Moses - originally 10 Commandments and instructions on how to keep them - they’d expanded that to 613 commandments - 248 “Thou shalts” and 365 “Thou shalt nots.”


Then they’d build a protective fence around those 613 commandments.   A fence carefully constructed out of a system of additional rules and regulations and interpretations that was set up to keep them and others as far away from the possibility of breaking one of the 613 commandments and the 10 inside the fence.  A fence intended to keep them living rightly with God by their own efforts at keeping the law.


Meaning that, by the time of Jesus, the fourth commandment about the Sabbath had been transformed into something way different than what God had originally intended when He was covenanting and commanding.  The Pharisees had transformed the simple command “cease” into a long list of specific prohibitions that ironically were more work to keep than just “ceasing” from work.

Here’s the list - “the fence”.   39 categories of specific prohibitions that for the Pharisees constituted “work”


39 Categories of Work













Chain Stitching


So, on this particular Sabbath as Jesus and His disciples are going through the grainfields and hungry they began to pluck heads of grain.  Which if you’ve ever done this is actually kind of tasty.  And which was permitted in God’s instructions to His people - God providing for His people - permitted as long as they didn’t use a sickle and start taking out large swaths of grain.


But the Pharisees with their fence saw that as work.  Plucking wheat from its stem is reaping.  Rubbing the wheat heads between one’s palms is threshing.  Blowing away the chaff is winnowing.


So the Pharisees - who were always scrutinizing Jesus and His disciples and looking for ways to score against Jesus - protecting their own religious Pharisee world by taking Jesus down - the Pharisees ask the question:  “Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 


To which we need to ask:  “Lawful according to whom?”  Not God.  Doesn’t even come close to God’s purpose for the Sabbath.


Verses 25 to 28 are Jesus’ Answer to the question.  Which begins with Jesus giving an illustration from the life of King David.


“Have you not read?” is Jesus putting the Pharisees on notice:  “You pride yourselves in being the very people who uphold the law, and your scribes teach others how to uphold the law, and yet you yourselves seem ignorant that this very law allowed its ceremonial restrictions to be ignored in the case of David’s need.  How is it you guys aren’t getting this?”


Let’s unpack Jesus’ illustration.


The time of Abiather refers to a period of time that David was on the run from Saul.  A time that almost seems like a “novella” or a “soap opera.”  Saul chasing David around trying to kill him.  David hiding out with his men having every opportunity to kill Saul but not killing him.


On one of those occasions when David and his men were on the run, they were hungry.  As Jesus puts it, “He was in need.”  They showed up at the house of God - which at the time was in Shiloh - which was a little ways north of Jerusalem.  And David ate the bread of the Presence and David gave some of the bread to the others who were with him.


The bread of the Presence was 12 loaves of bread representing the 12 tribes - that was placed in two rows on a table that looked like this one.  Which wasn’t very big.  The table was about 3 feet long and about 2 feet high.  It had rings for poles for carrying and was covered in lots and lots and lots of gold.


The table was set up in the room just outside of the Holy of Holies which is where God’s presence dwelt.  The location symbolizing God’s constant presence with His people.  Every Sabbath the old loaves were exchanged for fresh ones.  Symbolizing the offering of the people - consecrating themselves and acknowledging their indebtedness to God - their creator and savior who provides even for their daily needs.


According to God’s law the week old loaves were eaten by the priests - Aaron and his sons.  Meaning that these loaves were not for everyone.  It is consecrated - special for God’s purposes.


So David - running from Saul - in need - goes to Shiloh and the “house of God” and is given the consecrated bread of the Presence which is to be eaten only by the priests - and yet David eats it and even shares it with the others.

Verses 27 and 28 are Jesus’ first teaching point in His answer - what what David did illustrates.  Point being: 
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 


Meaning if David had a right to set aside a divinely ordained ceremonial provision when necessity demanded it then wouldn't similar conditions of need allow for setting aside totally unwarranted man-made Sabbath regulations?  The fence of the Pharisees.


God created the Sabbath for man - to enjoy - to draw man closer to God.  The Sabbath was given to man to meet his needs - to be a blessing not a burden.  Not to restrict his life and make him into lifeless rule keeping robot.


The Sabbath is about commemorating and celebrating God - God who created you and cares for you - Who provides for you and Who saved you.


Second - Jesus applies that truth to Himself - which is the bottom line truth of all of what we’re looking at this morning.  Jesus speaking of Himself:  So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”


“Son of Man” is a title that Jesus intentionally uses to identify Himself. 


It’s important for us to understand what Jesus means by that title.  What Jesus intends for those there - and us - to understand about Him - about His authority as “lord even of the Sabbath.”


Doing a quick - Genesis to Revelation - study of what that title means -the title encompasses the divinity and humanity of Jesus.


Emphasis Divinity.  Paul - writing in Colossians - Paul writes of Jesus:  “For by Him [Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers of authorities—all were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  (Colossians 1:16,17)


Jesus is God.  God Who created all of whatever has been created - including us.  The God Who gave us the 4th Commandment about the Sabbath which He created. 


“Son of Man” - emphasis Jesus in His humanity.


Jesus - using that title - is claiming to be the long waited for Messiah.  God Who has entered into our humanity to set right what is wrong in our relationship with God forever.


Jesus - the Son of Man - God entering into our humanity is the fulfillment of what the Holy God - our creator - is doing to redeem us in our depravity and sin.  Jesus fully God and fully man - on the cross - Jesus taking our place - taking upon Himself all of the wrath and judgement of God that should have been ours - to fully and completely deal with what separates us from God - Himself.  God’s means of “by grace” redeeming us from our sin.


So that when we welcome by faith what God has done - God takes our unrighteousness and puts it on Jesus and takes Jesus’ righteousness and puts it on us - and we are made righteous by God - redeemed and forgiven and made right with God now and forever.


Son of Man meaning that Jesus is the One and only One Who is God and Man and able to voluntarily and vicariously and victoriously accomplish all of that.  Jesus Who - anointed by God - with the authority of God - Who is God - Jesus Who is our High Priest - Who will sit on the throne of David forever.


Admittedly if that seems like a lot to take in.  It is.  But having that big picture Jesus using title “Son of Man” in mind - let’s see how Jesus applies that to Himself.


At the time of Abiathar - at the time David was running from Saul and eating the bread - at the time of Abiathar David had been anointed by Samuel as God’s choice for king.  The Holy Spirit had departed from Saul - who was king -  and had come upon David.  And while God had anointed David to be the king there was still debate and division and conflict over the identity of the true king.  Saul had refused to relinquish his crown - and so the cat and mouse chasing around the countryside drama - conflict.


So here - standing before the religious leadership of Israel - is Jesus - the King of kings and Lord of lords - in the line of David - anointed by God - in the midst of growing national debate, controversy, and conflict - His disciples having need - Jesus who has infinitely greater authority than the man-made laws of the Pharisees.

Which is why Jesus the Son of Man - standing there in the grain field with His disciples - answering the Pharisees - why Jesus - and Jesus alone - has the authority to claim authority over the Sabbath.


The law that can never be greater than the God who gave it.


The Pharisees can try to hang on to their place in the nation and give push back and try to stir up national debate about Who Jesus is.  But, it is unchangeable timeless forever and ever reality.  the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”  And one day even the Pharisees will need to bow in submission to the Lord Jesus the lord even of the Sabbath.


Chapter 3 - verses 1 and 2 - introduces us to The Second Sabbath Conflict.


“Again” not meaning “immediately” or “later that day” - but “again” meaning the next conflict - number 5 - which “again” deals with the Sabbath.


On the Sabbath Jesus enters a synagogue and a man is there who has a “withered” hand.  Some translations say, “shriveled.”  We don’t know why.  Could have been a disease.  Could have been an injury.  Point being that the man’s hand was useless to him. 


Along with Jesus and the man are the Pharisees who are watching Jesus.  “Watching” has the idea of close intense observation.  Like we might watch a dishonest store cashier count out our change.


The verb is in the imperfect tense which means there’s a bit of suspense - tension - drama.  They’re watching Jesus out of the corner of their eyes - spying on Him.  In silence their eyes darting back between Jesus and the man.  The man and Jesus.  WWJD -  “What will Jesus do?”  To heal or not to heal.  That’s the question.


In their watching - unlike other encounters between the Pharisees and Jesus - in their watching there is no pretense of good or desire for mercy or well-being on behalf of the man or anyone else.  Only the opportunity to accuse Jesus - to publicly criticize Him - to tear Him down.


The irony is that the Pharisees thinking they’re doing what’s right in seeking to condemn Jesus for doing what’s good are doing wrong to someone Who’s doing what’s right.  Which how messed up we can get when we get caught up in ourselves and our own little self-focused what we are doing for God world.


In verses 3 to 5 Jesus Answers their question.


First - Jesus proactively calls the man over to Himself.  A position of prominence standing next to Jesus - facing the Pharisees.  Most probably front and center in the synagogue.  Spotlight on.  Jesus making a point.  “Don’t miss this.”


Jesus being proactive meaning that Jesus could have delayed the whole thing.  There’s no record of the man ever asking to be healed.  Jesus could have waited until sundown - after the Sabbath.  The man probably had had the withered hand for some time.  What difference would a few more hours make.  Which is a tempting solution.  Make nice.  Catch up with the man later.  Don’t offend people.


Or, Jesus could have whispered to the man, “Psst...  Meet me in the alley after the service and when we’re alone I’ll heal you.”  He could have compromised.  Broken the Pharisee’s rule in private.  What’s done outside of church stays outside of church.  It’s a private matter.  Less conspicuous.  Less confrontation.  Maybe they’ll let it slide.


But Jesus chooses option 3 - which is to take His stand against His critics.  He steps right into the conflict.  Because this is a teaching opportunity that involves way more than a withered hand - however significant that withered hand and healing was to this man.


Jesus has an opportunity to confront and correct the faulty theology of the Pharisees.  To reveal to them and everyone watching -  God’s love - God’s grace - God’s mercy - God Who gave us His law as an expression of His love and grace and mercy - not a burden.  To restore God’s law to its rightful place.


As a teacher - Jesus re-frames the question going straight for the bottom line of the issue - leaving no middle ground.  It’s pretty black and white:  Failing to do good is nothing short of helping and encouraging harm - literally evil.  Doing good isn’t just permissible.  It’s an obligation.

Saving a life may have had to do with the man’s ability to work and provide for his family - for their needs - maybe even survival.  Saving a life verses destroying life.  Valuing the man’s life - a life that the Sabbath laws were given to bless.  To not save life is to promote death - the destruction of life.


Jesus - proactive - asks the question.  What’s lawful?  Before God, what is the right thing to do?


Answer:  Silence.  Meaning silent.  Totally unable to say anything.  Deafening silence.  The man with the withered hand standing there next to Jesus.  The rest of the people are watching - wondering what will happen next.  Chilling awkward uneasy silence.  We can hear the air move.


In that silence Jesus looks at them with anger and grief.


Anger.  Passionate - intense - emotion - outwardly displayed wrath.  The anger of God against sin.  Imagine that coming through the eyes and expression of Jesus towards you.


The verb tenses in Greek reveal that the outward anger was momentary - a flash or righteous anger.  The grief was deep seated and continuous.  Deep seated sorrow.


Jesus grieved by the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees. 


It’s not that they’re cruel or heartless.  But their reasoning and emotions have become resistant to growth - to change - to the work of God in their hearts.


They’re spiritually blind.  Jesus - more than anger - is grieved knowing their suffering - their bondage - their eternal future.


In that moment - in that silence - Jesus must act - now.  To not act would be interpreted as an admission on His part that the Pharisees are correct.  Social media being what it is - in the eyes of the Facebook crowd - whatever they might accuse Jesus of must be true.  Jesus has been put down - shamed.  The opportunity for the lesson would be lost.  The error compounded.


Jesus acts by commanding what was unexpected.  Jesus commands the man to do what up to now he has been unable to do.  “Stretch out your hand.”


Which he does.  His hand is “restored” to what it was before it was withered.  It is as well and as whole as the other hand.  The cure is instantaneous - complete.  Obvious to everyone - an act of God.


Which is what a miracle of God is.


Genuine - God did it - miracles are instantaneous.  There may be a process - spitting and here’s mud in your eye.  But they happen in the now not the maybe in a while.


God did it miracles are complete.  He stretches out his hand and it’s restored.  There’s no need for a trip to the doctor to check and see how things are going.  No need for additional physical therapy - prosthetics.  Healing complete.


God did it miracles are instantaneous - complete - and undeniable.  There is no room for a natural explanation.  They’re unmistakably an act of God operating in a reality that only God operates in.  An over-the-top display of God’s power that is intended to establish God given credibility - authentication - “authority” - to God’s representative - the message and the person speaking it.


If Jesus does the miracle then what Jesus claims about Himself has God given authority.  He really is the Lord of the Sabbath.  Jesus doing the miracle means that what Jesus declares to be true about the Sabbath and what it means to keep the Sabbath is true.  Plucking and healing.


To defy Jesus is to defy God.


Let’s be careful.  What Jesus is doing here is not a power play - one upping the Pharisees - but a teaching opportunity.  Right?


Demonstrating His lordship over the Sabbath - Jesus is making a point about the Sabbath - which is intended by the holy sovereign God of creation as a time of blessing as we remember Him and our salvation.  Jesus is making the point that He alone is able to provide that blessing.


The Pharisees - with all of their rules and regulations and their well constructed fence - provide only burdens and reminders of our failure.  Jesus alone is able to provide the grace we need to enter into the joys of living in obedience to the commandments of God because He alone is able to provide what we need to live rightly before Him.


Joy as we realize the ongoing blessings of God’s love and grace and mercy and forgiveness and redemption and renewal and provision and presence.  Which is why we celebrate.  The realization of God’s blessing - the good news of Jesus - that produces obedience - not legalism.


The Pharisees' Response - verse 6 - in all of their hard heartedness - unable to see past their hatred for Jesus - unable to celebrate the miracle - to congratulate the man - to thank Jesus - the Pharisees response is to immediately align themselves with the Herodians and conspire to kill Jesus.


We don’t exactly know who the Herodians - mentioned here - who the Herodians are.  They aren’t a political party like the Sadducees or the Zealots.  Probably they were in some ways connected with the dynasty of Herod the Great.


Which is really strange.  Since Herod and family weren’t really Jewish - behaved like Gentiles - aligned themselves with Roman Emperor - and considered themselves Roman.


That the Pharisees would align themselves with these people reveals the depth of their hatred for Jesus and ultimately the sad reality of their true relationship with God.

Processing all that…


Two takeaways.


First:  Rest is a blessing not a burden.


We live our lives on overdrive.  Constant demands from work and family and school and church and community.  Our lives are lived someplace between full and overflowing.  We multitask so much so that we don’t even notice that we’re doing 20 or 30 things simultaneously.


We’re over-scheduled, tense, addicted to rushing around - to pressure.  We’re frantic, preoccupied, fatigued, starved for quality time - whatever that is.  Free time is only more time to get more things done.


We’re exhausted at the end of the day and tired when we wake up in the morning - providing we’ve slept at all.


If you’re breathing independently you’re probably tracking with that.


Why - in all of that - why would we turn down an opportunity - given to us by God our creator - why would we turn down an opportunity to get quality rest?  To just stop.  And focus on God. 


And yet - have you ever heard someone say - or maybe you’ve thought this yourself:  “Sunday is my only time to rest.  I just can’t make it to church.”  Or, “I have trouble finding time for prayer or reading my Bible.”


Sometimes we get so busy doing things - trying to stuff more stuff into our lives - maybe even things we’re doing for God or think we should be doing for God - that just thinking about taking time off to rest - or to allow ourselves to be gathered together here to worship God - or to spend regular time alone with God - just thinking about taking that kind of time off just stresses us out.


But what’s recorded for us here should remind us that the Sabbath wasn’t meant by God to be a spiritual straitjacket - an obligation that we have to get through and endure while we’re waiting to get on with the real things of our lives.  Sabbath isn’t something that gets added on to an already overwhelming - oppressive - growing list of stuff that burdens us.


God - the lord of the Sabbath - created Sabbath for us.  The Sabbath is made for man. 


Which is about living in relationship with the God our Creator Who has saved us and desires to pour out His love on us - to take the burdens off our shoulders by reminding us of Who He is - to refresh us and renew us and bring His true rest to our minds and His peace to our hearts.


Isn’t that what we really long for?  Not an action packed Survivor week in Cancun - or with the professor and MaryAnn - but time well spent with God?  What brings us real rest at the core of who we are?


Question:  What keeps you from that?  Is it really worth it?

Second take away:  Actions speak louder than... theology.  Which is where our theology meets the real time of where we really do life.


Jesus probably more than anyone else - Jesus probably had His theology more accurate than anyone ever has.  Even us.  Just saying.


He’s correcting and teaching the best theological minds of the day.  Bringing them to silence.  Even as they hated Him for it. 


And yet we need to be impressed with the compassion that Jesus - over and over and over again - the compassion that Jesus demonstrates for the outcasts - the wounded - the oppressed - the withered of body and mind and spirit.  Even those who oppose Him - such as the Pharisees.


Because we want to imitate Jesus.  To be like Him.  To follow Him into the world.  Not just because we may agree with that theologically.  But because we have been loved and desire to respond to His love.


Question:  Who do you know who has need and is hungry for God?  Who do you know who’s got a withered hand?  Or a withered mind?  Or a withered spirit?  This week, how will you demonstrate the love Jesus to them?



Series references:

Sinclair B. Ferguson, Let’s Study Mark (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary, Volume 2:  Insights on Mark (Carol Stream, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2016).


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.