Christ, Sovereign of The Sabbath: Part 1 (Mark 2:23-28)

Christ, Sovereign of The Sabbath: Part 1 (Mark 2:23-28)


Mark 2:23-3:6

We are arriving at a point in Scripture where the conflict between Christ and His enemies meets its breaking point in Mark’s account. We saw last week how Jesus demonstrated through two parables that His gospel message is incompatible with their self-righteous system. This is the very system through which they had established their own kingdom, and the tradition they oppressed the people of God with. It was a system that laid impossibly heavy burdens upon its adherents and crushed them. The promoters of such a system would hypocritically neglect the very laws they enforced. They mercilessly, and void of compassion, weighed down the lost and helpless with ridiculous rules. This is exactly why Matthew records Christ saying prior to this event:

28Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30For my yoke is easy, and My load is light.”[1]

The nation of Israel was weary and heavy-laden under the yoke of the religious self-righteous system. Christ beckons all to put on the yoke of His gospel which provides mercy for the helpless and ungodly. The gospel message is therefore incompatible with the Pharisees works based system.

Do we understand that implies every other religious belief out there, since apart from Christ they are all based on one’s merit?

This is what makes true Christianity stand apart from every other belief. Its emphasis is not on what works we do to earn God’s love, but on the work He did out of love for the unlovable and undeserving; that is true grace. The gospel message is calling people into that gracious rest found only in Christ Jesus.

Now, we are going to spend a few weeks here. Today we will deal with Mark 2:23-28. As we recall the previous conflict arose, because Christ’s disciples defied Pharisaical fasting traditions. Not for a violation of the Law of Moses.

At first glance this text may appear to present a different and legitimate issue pertaining to the Law; however, careful examination will reveal that Christ and His followers are again not submitting to rabbinical ordinances.

Let’s look at the text:

Mark 2:23-24

23And it came about that He was passing through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to Him, “See here, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

We can right away see the issue lies in the supposed breaking of the Sabbath Day. Understand, within the entirety of their false religious system keeping Sabbath ordinances was the pinnacle of their belief. It was their pride and joy! Christ is about to dismantle the entire infrastructure of their way of life.

Keep in mind that is what the Word of God does within every worldview. It completely fractures it and transforms it by teaching, reproving, correcting, and instructing from the very breath of God; His Word!

I want us to first look at what Moses teaches about the Sabbath day. We find the establishment of the Sabbath in the beginning of Genesis with God:

2And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all of His work which He had done. 3Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all of His work which God had created and made.”[2]

Who created and controls the Sabbath? God did and does!

Does God need to rest? No.

So, why did He? To provide mankind, who does need rest, with an example to follow.

This is clearly seen when God provides the children of Israel with the Ten Commandments:

8Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.”[3]

God then explains why they need do this:

11For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath Day and made it holy.”[4]

God demonstrated to His people the necessity of rest and commanded them to honor it for it will benefit them. Eleven chapters over God clearly defines what honoring the Sabbath looks like:

16For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD…17For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”[5]

Israel was to cease from doing the occupational work they did throughout the week, and enjoy rest. In other words, “Stop working and be refreshed!” It was to be a time of joy and worship.

Now, last week we saw what distortion the Pharisees had done with fasting. You can probably suspect at this point that they took the Sabbath to a whole new level. The Talmud, which was compiled after Christ, but contains the oral rabbinical teachings before Him demonstrates their legalism has no bounds.

The Talmud contains 24 chapters on how to honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. One chapter provides 39 forbidden acts:

“The principal acts of labor (prohibited on the Sabbath) are forty less one–viz.: Sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding into sheaves, threshing, winnowing, fruit-cleaning, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, wool-shearing, bleaching, combing, dyeing, spinning, warping, making two spindle-trees, weaving two threads, separating two threads (in the warp), tying a knot, untying a knot, sewing on with two stitches, tearing in order to sew together with two stitches, hunting deer, slaughtering the same, skinning them, salting them, preparing the hide, scraping the hair off, cutting it, writing two (single) letters (characters), erasing in order to write two letters, building, demolishing (in order to rebuild), kindling, extinguishing (fire), hammering, transferring from one place into another.”[6]

We obviously are not going through all of these, but there are a few we should hone in on. The Mishnah Torah goes in length to iron out the fine print within these acts; For instance:[7]

1.) If a person intentionally draws a line in the sand they are guilty of ploughing.

2.) If a person waters a tree on the Sabbath Day they are guilty of sowing.

3.) If a person grooms their hair or nails they are guilty of shearing.

4.) If a person pierces a blister they are guilty of hammering on the Sabbath Day.

In light of how extreme these get we should read Luke’s account of what the disciples were doing:

Luke 6:1-2

“…His disciples were picking and eating the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’”[8]

« Based on rabbinical teaching Jesus’ disciples were:

1.) Reaping: They picked the heads of grain.

2.) Threshing, Sifting, and Winnowing: They rubbed them in their hands to eat them.

The question that arises is:

Whose law were they breaking, God’s or theirs?

Listen to what God’s laws says, and keep in mind this is not contained to a six day period:

“When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain.”[9]

Based on God’s law they are innocent. This is exactly what they were doing! Matthew tells us they were hungry, so they ate.[10] The Pharisees hate it, because Christ and His followers are in direct defiance to their system. Again, it is this very system which the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot mingle, for it is void of mercy.

Let’s look at Jesus’ response:

Mark 2:25-26

25And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and became hungry, he and his companions: 26how 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 gave it also to those who were with him?”

Jesus directs them to an Old Testament portion that does not really high light the Sabbath Day. Rather He points them to the man in which all of Israel elevates to the highest degree, David.

What does He want them to see? David and a Priest break the Law of God. Not their law, God’s Law.

God’s Law established that the Priests alone were to eat the consecrated bread in the tabernacle.[11] Jesus brings up the time David was running for his life from Saul and was in serious need:

1 Samuel 21:1-6

1Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’ Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.” The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away.”

Put simply, the Priest exercised common sense. Mercy and compassion take priority over law when God’s image-bearers are down and out. This is why Matthew records Christ saying again:

“But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”[12]

Near the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, He publicly reveals the innermost being of these men:

Matthew 23:23-28

23Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.27“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

Mark 2:27

27And He was saying to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

God created the Sabbath to fit the mold of man. Man must work, so he needs rest. The Pharisees manipulated the Sabbath where man needed to fit within the Sabbath’s mold.

Mark 2:28

28Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Christ delivers a fatal blow to their system; the very system where they had made themselves lords who controlled the Sabbath Day. Jesus says, “You don’t control the Sabbath, I do!” He is the One Who made it after creation. He is the One Who commanded it. He is the One Who defines it.

Christ is the Sovereign of the Sabbath!


[1] Matthew 11:28-30

[2] Genesis 2:2-3

[3] Exodus 20:8-10

[4] Exodus 20:11

[5] Exodus 31:16-17

[6] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/FullTalmud.pdf

[7]https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/935208/jewish/Shabbat-Chapter-Eight.htm

[8] Luke 6:1-2

[9] Deuteronomy 23:25

[10] Matthew 12:1

[11] Leviticus 24:5-9

[12] Matthew 12:7

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