Lord OF THE SABBATH Mark 2–3
“The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath” Mark 2:28.Jesus continued to act decisively despite opposition. In incident after incident Jesus demonstrated that He is the Son of God.
Most of the ministry reported in Mark took place in Galilee. In the first century Judea and Galilee were both predominantly Jewish districts. But the sophisticated men of Judea looked down on their coreligionists in Galilee as country bumpkins. Galileans were also viewed with contempt because they tended to be much less strict in their observance of multiple laws added by sages to the 613 statutes Jewish scholars had identified in the Old Testament. The Pharisees and “teachers of the Law” mentioned in Mark were almost certainly from Judea, come down to hear and evaluate the charismatic figure rumor held to be teaching and healing in Galilee. The critical spirit of these experts in Old Testament and rabbinical law is clearly seen in these two chapters. Jesus, however, continued to act as boldly and spontaneously as before, even when His action brought Him into direct conflict with men the people generally respected as Judaism’s spiritual leaders. In the conflict Christ not only claimed, but demonstrated, His lordship. As events make clear, one must either accept Jesus’ claims, or reject them. There can be no compromise in our attitude toward the Son of God.
Jesus’ claim to forgive sins (2:1–12), His association with sinners (vv. 13–17) and failure to fast (vv. 18–22) ignited opposition. Jesus’ claim of lordship over the Sabbath then aroused the Pharisees’ murderous hostility (v. 23–3:6). Yet crowds and His disciples still followed Jesus (vv. 7–19). Jesus denounced a charge that Satan was behind His miracles (vv. 20–30), and claimed relationship with all who do God’s will (vv. 31–35).
Understanding the Text
“Why does this Fellow talk like that?” Mark 2:1–12 The phrase “this Fellow” showed the contempt the erudite delegation from Judea had for Jesus and other Galileans. But they clearly understood Jesus’ pronouncement of forgiveness of a paralyzed man’s sin as an act that implied a claim of Deity (v. 7). The claim was proven when Jesus performed a healing miracle, after designating evidence of His power to forgive sins: the paralyzed man got up and walked out at Jesus’ command. Like many today, those religious leaders acknowledged the meaning of Christ’s words. But they were unwilling to accept the evidence of His acts. Yet this was Mark’s thrust. Mark intended to prove by an accurate report of what Jesus did in Galilee, that He is, as He claimed, the very Son of God. “When Jesus saw their faith” Mark 2:1–5. What was it that led to the wonderful exercise of Jesus’ authority described in this story? It was “their” faith. It was the faith of a paralyzed man, joined with and strengthened by the faith of friends who cared enough to carry him to Jesus, and then to dig through a roof to reach Him. Let’s learn from this story the importance of mutual support. We each need others who will trust God with us, and will come to the Lord with us. The flat roofs of houses in Galilee were made of mud, daubed on layers of beams and branches, and then rolled flat and smooth. The Mark picture of “digging through” the roof in order to lower the man down to Jesus is totally accurate. “Tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with Him and His disciples” Mark 2:13–17. A basic tenet of the religious in the first century was that to remain “clean,” they must isolate themselves from “sinners.” If they had any contact with sinners, they would surely be contaminated! To see Christ eating with such people shocked the delegation of religious leaders come to Galilee to pass judgment on the young Prophet. We need to take Jesus’ example to heart today, and meditate on His answer. Jesus came to heal the spiritually sick, not to retreat to some spa where He could lie around with the righteous. Nor is our mission to the spiritually healthy, but to sinners who need to be called back to God. Jesus lived, and teaches us to live, a dynamic kind of holiness. Our holiness is not attained by isolating ourselves from sinners, but by being constantly filled with love for God and for others. “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but Yours are not?” Mark 2:18–22 This kind of question is still asked often today. It’s not a question of theology—why do you believe what you do? It’s not even a question about morality—why do you live as you do? No, it’s a question about a nonessential practice. The Old Testament called for fasting on only one day each year—the solemn Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:31). Yet by the first century, the ultra-religious fasted twice a week, on Monday and Thursday. This was a 12 rather than 24-hour fast, from morning to evening. But it was something extra a person did in order to please God—or to appear especially pious. It was one of those “do’s” or “don’ts” adopted to set a religious person apart from the “less spiritual.” Jesus spoke of new patches that never fit an old garment, and old wineskins that split if filled with unfermented grape juice. The revelation Jesus brought simply would not fit in the categories of first-century Jewish spirituality. In the same way, the quality of a modern believer’s life in Christ cannot be squeezed into the categories some Christians use to measure behavior. So let’s concentrate on celebrating Jesus, and loving others for His sake. “What is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Mark 2:23–3:6 The Old Testament commanded the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath Day holy. But, aside from forbidding “work” on the Sabbath, and such things as buying and selling, no details of Sabbath-keeping are provided. Concerned lest anyone even inadvertently do what should not be done on the Sabbath, sages had over the centuries since the Babylonian Exile developed long lists explaining what one must not do. The restrictions were spelled out in detail. For instance, a person might spit on a rock on the Sabbath. But not on dry earth. The spittle might move some of the dirt, and thus “plow.” It was just this kind of detail that the Pharisees criticized when Jesus’ disciples plucked grain to eat as they walked. Old Testament Law permitted a person walking along a path to eat what grew next to it. It was simply that the Pharisees classified plucking the grain as “harvesting,” and thus “work” on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response dealt with the Pharisees’ approach to the Law. Scripture itself tells of a time the high priest violated a direct divine command by giving David and his companions altar bread when they were hungry (v. 25). Why then should His disciples go hungry for a merely human statute? When the same issue was raised another time, Jesus restored a cripple’s hand, saying, as Lord of the Sabbath, that doing good is always right, even on the Sabbath. Why did this make the Pharisees so furious? Because their entire claim to spiritual superiority was based on rigorous observation of just such man-made rules. And Christ dared to set such things aside as irrelevant! The passage forces us to stop and evaluate. Do we measure spirituality by some list of do’s and don’ts? Or do we take Jesus as our model, and concentrate not on our acts of piety, but on a spontaneous response to the needs of others for Christ’s sake? “Many people came to Him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan” Mark 3:7–12. While the religious leaders were repelled by Jesus, great crowds gathered to Him from miles around. The excitement was not generated by what He taught as much as by the desire to experience or see some of His healings. There’s nothing really wrong with this. We all probably come to Jesus first out of a sense of personal need, and in hopes that He can meet that need. But later we must learn to love Him for His own sake, rather than for what He does for us. “Designating them apostles” Mark 3:13–19. The word apostle means “one sent on a mission.” In New Testament times an apostle represented the person who sent him, and was treated with the courtesy due to his sender. At the same time, the apostle was to accurately and faithfully reflect his sender. The Twelve named here carried out that mission, even to the extent of driving out demons. What’s important for us to note is that, even in the Gospel era, the Son of God carried on His work through representatives. Today you and I also have the privilege of representing Jesus to others. Let’s rejoice that the effectiveness of our ministry does not depend on us, but on the Son of God who works actively through us. What we undertake, He will do. DEVOTIONAL
Your Considered Opinion, Please (Mark 3:20–30)
It sounds so grim. So final. The “unforgivable” sin. The thing that a person does which places him beyond any hope of salvation. I suppose it’s no wonder that some folks torment themselves wondering whether they’ve committed this sin. But the one absolutely certain fact is, that no one who is worried could possibly have committed the sin Jesus was talking about in this passage. Think about it. A delegation of religious leaders had come down from Jerusalem to see this young upstart, Jesus, who was preaching and healing without a license from them. They stayed in Galilee for a few weeks, questioning Him and watching His healings. It was increasingly clear that Jesus wasn’t someone they could control. And also that what He was teaching contradicted their approach to religion. In fact, He was a threat! But it was also clear that He was performing real miracles. Healings were taking place. And evil spirits were being expelled, crying out that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 11). So, what were the teachers of the Law from Jerusalem going to do? They had to either abandon their most deeply held beliefs (and their positions), or they had to find some basis for denouncing Christ and rejecting His claims. And this was what they did. They reached and announced their considered opinion: Jesus was in league with Satan! He was casting out demons because the prince of demons let Him. This is the key to understanding the “unforgivable sin.” It’s looking at all the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ actions, carefully considering the options, and then choosing to see what Christ did as the work of Satan rather than God. Why then did I say that anyone worried about committing the unforgivable sin today can be sure he or she hasn’t? Simply because if you’re anxious that Jesus won’t save you, you obviously believe that He can. You may be worried about the quality of your own faith. But your considered opinion is that Jesus is the Saviour. You haven’t rejected the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus: you agree with it! So what then should you do? Take heart. Jesus came, as Mark 2:17 reminds us, to call sinners. He is ready, willing, and eager to accept you into His family. And since you believe He can save you, all you need do is accept the gift of life He brings. Tell Him, “I accept” and, the transaction done, eternal salvation will be yours.
You and I meet the only qualification Scripture gives to applicants for salvation: we have sinned. And Christ died to forgive sinners.
“A man who believes himself a sinner, who feels himself sinful, is already at the gates of the kingdom of heaven.”—Francois Mauriac