God’s special day
Mark 2:23-3:6 (NIV)
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
1 Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked round at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
God created the world in six days and rested the seventh. That day is called the ‘Sabbath’, meaning ‘cessation’ or ‘rest’. The importance of keeping apart one day in seven for God, as far as we can, is underlined in both Old and New Testaments. Read, for example in the Ten Commandments, in prophetical books, in Nehemiah, in the Gospels, in Acts, in Corinthians, and in the Bible’s last book, Revelation. No-one can be saved from sin by Sabbath-keeping, however. Legalistic insistence on how to keep the day, based on others’ views or preferences, is wrong. The Bible gives clear principles and guidelines to follow and apply. God promises blessing to those who keep His special day holy.
The Pharisees oppose Jesus again. They claim His disciples break the Sabbath by picking and eating heads of grain as they walk through the fields with Jesus. Clearly Jesus had not stopped them eating the grain! The Pharisees observe many superficial rules about what is permitted on the Sabbath. Their rules are not in the Old Testament. The Pharisees furiously oppose Christ’s disciples’ liberty to keep the Sabbath sensibly and biblically.
Jesus answers them by underlining the real spirit of Sabbath-keeping. He indicates legitimate God-allowed exceptions to the ‘no work’ principle. They still apply today in keeping Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as the Christian Sabbath, which also celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
First, Jesus shows that King David’s ravenous followers ate the priests’ consecrated bread in the Temple. Survival was more important than religious form and ceremony. It is right to prepare and eat food on the Sabbath. Jesus says that The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath and that the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. He wants the Sabbath to be kept properly and sensibly.
Doing good on the Sabbath
Criticised for speaking to a man about healing his withered hand on the Sabbath in the synagogue, Jesus simply asks if it is right to do good or to do evil. Should He save life or kill on the Sabbath? They remain silent. Distressed and angry at their hypocrisy, Jesus heals the man’s hand. His example shows it is always right to serve sick and needy people on the Sabbath. That is an excellent use of the Sabbath, or Jesus would not have healed the man then.
Again this produces cruel and unjustified opposition from the hypocritical Pharisees. They plot together with their traditional enemies, the Herodians, a secular political party supporting Rome, to kill Jesus. Opposition to Jesus and His gospel is never logical. It comes from sinful rebel hearts.
As Jesus heals, His opponents scheme to kill the only completely innocent Man! If Jesus’ healing of the man is supposed to be wrong on the Sabbath, how much worse is their murderous intent? It is easy to criticise those whose lives put ours to shame.
 . Genesis 2:1-3.
 . Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Isaiah 56:1-8, Isaiah 58:13-14, Jeremiah 17:19-27, Ezekiel 20:10-32, Nehemiah 13:15-22, Nehemiah 10:28- 31, Mark 2:23-8, Matthew 24:14-23, Acts 4:10-12 (cf Psalm 118:22-24, Ephesians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:4-8), Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Revelation 1:10.
 . For example in Matthew 12:1-22.
 . 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
Questions on Chapter 9
Mark 2:23-3:6 God’s special day.
A. What disciplines, blessings and advantages can Christians expect in keeping the Lord’s Day, Sunday, as the Christian Sabbath? Why do you think that relatively few Christians seem to take it seriously today? Mark 2:27-28 Exodus 20:8-11 Isaiah 58:13-14 Matthew 7:6-9
B. In this passage, what does Jesus do on the Sabbath, and why? Mark 3:1-6
C. Can you gain forgiveness by keeping the Sabbath? Can you lose eternal life by not keeping the Sabbath? If salvation does not depend upon keeping the Sabbath, why is it so important to keep it? Galatians 2:16 John 3:15-16 Romans 6:23 1 John 5:11-13