Lesson 40—November 9, 2014
A Sabbath Lesson
Scripture: Mark 2:23-28; Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5
To learn how Jesus responded to the accusations brought by the Pharisees against His disciples concerning the laws and regulations of Sabbath keeping.
In the last portion of Mark chapter two, we see Jesus and His disciples in the fields on the Sabbath. Then chapter three begins with them inside the synagogue. These two incidents in Jesus’ life are also found in Matthew and Luke. This specific issue of the Sabbath becomes very important. “It is very important because it was on this question of the Sabbath Day that He broke with the religious rulers. From this time on they sought His death” (J. Vernon McGee).
(VV23-28) Howard Vos describes the scene:
One Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were walking through the grain fields and began to pick the grain as they went. Evidently the fields were on the edge of town because there was no accusation of breaking the Sabbath by traveling too far and they were in sight of the Pharisees who would never have broken rabbinical controls on Sabbath travel. As a matter of fact, a Sabbath day’s journey was 3,000 feet. The picture we get, then, is of the disciples walking on a footpath through the grain on the edge of a town. As they did so, they picked a few heads of grain and rubbed them in their hands and ate them. Evidently His disciples were hungry, and in such cases the law permitted picking grain in a neighbor’s field (Deuteronomy 23:25).
The question was not an issue of what they were doing, but rather when there were doing it—on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees had determined, by their own oral traditions, that picking any grain was “reaping” and rubbing it in their hands was “threshing,” both of which violated the laws of the Sabbath, so the Pharisees then accused Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath.
(V24) The Accusation of the Pharisees
“Look” – “behold,” This word carries the element of surprise or shock. The Pharisees did not question what the disciples were doing, but when they were doing it. They were doing it on the Sabbath.
Matthew tells us (12:1) that the disciples were hungry. They simply took enough grain to satisfy their hunger. They were not harvesting the grain to make a profit. They were not stealing the grain, for God’s law allowed for this kind of sharing (Deuteronomy 23:25). The disciples were not violating any divine law, but they were violating the legalistic technicalities established by the Pharisees.
The Pharisees made the accusation against Jesus’ disciples. These disciples, being unlearned in the details of ceremonial laws, would be guilty of the violation by their actions. But in the minds of the Pharisees, their actions were representative of the teachings of their teacher, Jesus. What kind of teacher and leader must Jesus be, if His disciples were so ignorant to the laws established by the religious leaders? The Pharisees are continuing to build their case against Jesus. What kind of self-respecting rabbi and teacher would be so misguided that his disciples would be guilty of outright law-breaking on the Sabbath?
(VV25-26) Jesus’ Response
Jesus responded to the Pharisees with a Bible lesson. The Pharisees were self-described experts on the Scriptures, and Jesus would address their question and concerns from the Scripture. He reminded them that David and his men were hungry and ate the bread which was designated and reserved for the priests (See 1 Samuel 21:1-6). Matthew records that Jesus also reminded them, in Matthew 12:5, that the priests ministered (worked) in the temple on the Sabbath.
(V27) Jesus went on to add that: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” God made the Sabbath to bless men. The Pharisees had made it into a burden.
The Pharisees’ only concern was the stringent regard for the safe-keeping of the rules about Sabbath observance. This legalism did not allow for compassion toward men. Jesus understood that man’s need was more important than ceremonial regulations. Pharisees were men of great knowledge of the Scriptures, yet Jesus began His response to them: “Have you never read…?” Brackin paraphrase: “How did you miss this in the Scripture?”
The Pharisees were accusing Jesus and His disciples of ignorance and disregard for the Scriptures, but Jesus revealed the Pharisees’ ignorance of the true meaning of the Scriptures, which they claimed to know so well. The Pharisees would have known the story of David and his men, but they had no discernment concerning its application and meaning.
Jesus justified His disciples’ actions on the grounds that they were hungry and that their need superseded the technicalities of ceremonial law. When Jesus compared himself and His disciples to David and his men, Jesus was saying, in effect, “If you condemn me, you must also condemn David.” Jesus was not condoning disobedience to God’s law. Instead, He was emphasizing discernment and compassion in enforcing the ceremonial laws, something the self-righteous Pharisees did not comprehend. People’s needs are more important then technicalities (Barton).
In their legalist zeal, the Pharisees had added all kinds of restrictions to the Sabbath, and in so doing, they had forgotten God’s purpose in creating the day. The Sabbath was a day God mercifully provided as a day of rest for His people—a day to set aside the normal duties and obligations of work and spend time being refreshed by rest and worship. The Pharisees had added burden to what God intended to be blessing.
Jesus responded to the accusations of the Pharisees by simply reminding them that the Sabbath was created for the blessing of His people, by the mercies of God, to provide them a day of refreshment. God did not create people or the Sabbath in order to place impossible restrictions and burdens on their lives.
Matthew writes that Jesus borrowed from the Old Testament prophet Hosea (see Hosea 6:6). This point made by Jesus was
a direct thrust at the harsh and critical spirit of the Pharisees in the accusation that they had brought against His disciples. Jesus chides them for their lack of spiritual understanding of the Scriptures. If they had properly interpreted the words of Hosea (6:6), they would not have condemned His innocent disciples. In their lack of mercy, they harshly demanded compliance with their exacting rules (Edersheim).
(V28) Charles Swindoll says:
No one dared to challenge the Pharisees’ exclusive jurisdiction as police, judge, and jury over all matters of the Sabbath. That is, until Jesus. His bold claim, “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath,” challenged the authority of the Pharisees who had tried to steal it from God. Jesus said in effect, “Because the law came from God, it can never be greater than God. The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Ex 20:11). I, the Son of Man, am the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not yours to control; it is mine because I am God. Therefore, I am taking it back from you.”
In today’s lesson, the Pharisees brought the confrontation to Jesus. In next week’s lesson, we will continue our study on the Sabbath, but we will find in the Scripture passage that Jesus deliberately challenged the authority of the Pharisees on what they would have considered their home turf.
Questions and Application
• In your own words, please prayerfully write a brief summary of today’s Scripture passage and the lessons we receive from it.
• It is important for us to remember that Jesus never broke any law of God. He did not break God’s law concerning the Sabbath. Why did Jesus’ response cause such a problem for the Pharisees?
• What lesson can you take from today’s study?
Lesson 40—November 9, 2014