Spiritual Rot Spoils the Sabbath

A Bible Exposition Of Mark 3:1-6

This is our fifth and final altercation between Jesus and the Pharisees in this section of Mark’s account. 

They will resurface again later. More conflict will come. But for now, Mark’s purpose is to give a smattering of what the conflicts looked like and he has given us 5 vignettes strung together.

As I was studying I just kept being struck by the struggle here. Jesus is hated right now by the Pharisees. They have quite a bit of water under the bridge so far. And as we said last week there is such familiarity with the accounts, that it is a challenge to think deeply and carefully about what we find here.

And one of the most fundamental questions that kept hitting me this week was asking, how did we get here to this point? How did things get so bad? Why the hostility? Why the threat?

First of all, Jesus is affirmed by John, who had already roughed the Pharisees up a bit. So they had been challenged by John, and then Jesus picks up this mantle.

What are all of the horrible things that Jesus has done so far? What atrocities and crimes has He committed that make Him so hated?

Jesus forgives sin and asserts Himself as being God (to them a blasphemer)… 2:7

Jesus befriends sinners (2:16)

He breaks the customs of the day, when he doesn’t fast (2:18)

He breaks the Sabbath according to their standards (2:24)

Who cares about all that stuff. Why would that make you so mad you wanted to kill somebody? He ate with the wrong people, and at the wrong time? 

If you were scheduled for first lunch in school and you went to second lunch who cares. Or if you were supposed to sit with one group of people and you sat with the others you might get harassed, but would people be so upset that they would want to kill you?

What if you were supposed to show up for an event on a Friday and you messed up the date and showed up on a Saturday. Annoying or disappointing, maybe. But angering?

There’s something else going on here that supersedes even the form of all of the issues. It isn’t the day of the week, it isn’t the ritual, or who Jesus is eating with.

But why do they hate Jesus so much? It’s because Jesus is actually tearing apart everything that these men stood for. He is removing the false comfort they find in their spiritual standards.

One pastor nails it when he identifies the problem as spiritual pride and describes it in this way:

“spiritual pride, is such a self-satisfying sin that it makes up for all that you have to forfeit. Listen, spiritual pride is like an aphrodisiac, it's like a drug. Spiritual pride is a high, walking around in overtly spiritual pretense in the way you dress and the way you conduct yourself and making outward pretenses and outward prayers and outward acts of manifest fasting, making an issue out of your giving for all to see. That's what they did. They found so much personal satisfaction in spiritual pride that they were willing to let other behaviors go. Spiritual pride is a very, very powerful, powerful sin. It's also a damning sin.”

I can still remember first learning this when studying the Sermon on the Mount. I always grew up assuming the Pharisees were miserable legalists oppressed by their own burdens. 

But that isn’t a Pharisee at all. Pharisees thrive off of their standards. They feel (if I can say that) righteous. They feel pleasing to God. They feel better than other people. And they feel like they want to do all of the rules. 

It satisfies their pride. It is their comfort zone. Their sweet spot.

So Jesus is challenging them and will say directly, “you are corrupt, you are inwardly dirty and inwardly like a tomb full of dead men’s bones.” Every time Jesus breaks their standards He is shoving them aside and exposing their pride.

And they can’t handle it. The challenge to their pride is so costly that they want to kill Him.

4 Steps As Jesus Exposes the Pharisees

     1.The Divine Setup (1-3)

     2.The Dividing Question (4)

     3.The Defiant Healing (5)

     4.The Disturbing Response (6)

Mark 3:1-3:6—1 He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. 2 They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” 4 And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

The Substance of the Sabbath

A Bible Exposition Of Mark 2:23-28

We have a lot of ground to cover so we are going to dive in quickly. This is the fourth vignette in a series of five where Jesus goes toe to toe with the religious leaders in Israel. Things are heating up quickly and Mark is on the move quickly establishing this for us.

The danger for us is that if we have been in Christ for any length of time, there is such familiarity with the words and the stories and the accounts, and sometimes we can almost dismiss the realities taking place here.

But these situations are raw and intense. The modern-day equivalent would be Jesus attending some gathering of pastors and priests and clergy. To a watching world it would be the spiritual leaders. And yet as He dives in He finds false systems of works righteousness, unbelief, confusion about the true Gospel.

And instead of exercising compassion, Jesus angrily indicts and challenges these pastors and priests. He is incensed because the spiritual leaders are misleading the masses. They are self-satisfied in their own righteousness.

The rebukes are public. They are piercingly clear and embarrassing for those who are indicted. He is cleaning house. This is the imagery of the lion and the lamb. Jesus is not soft, gentle, reserved, or tender right now.

He is angry. He is disturbed and perplexed. He is shrewd in His communication—to the point of belittling with sarcasm. It is motivated by a zeal for God. The Scriptures say that Jesus was consumed with this zeal (John 2:17, quoting Psalm 69:9).

In other words, Jesus heart and mind were so closely aligned with the purposes of God, and these leaders were so opposed to that purpose, that the righteous response was indignation. And so Jesus doesn’t help or encourage, but He admonishes (1 Thessalonians 5:14). 

Today He is going to provoke conflict.


We are going to take some time to set this thing up and then the text is going to unfold so naturally for us. Track with me for a little bit, while we bring ourselves up to speed on the original context. 

I’m going to take a while to explain the background to the Sabbath in v. 23 and then it’s all going to flow once we have that established in our minds.

5 Parts to the Sabbath Showdown 

     1. The innocent deed of eating (23)

     2. The incredulous accusation of lawbreaking (24)

     3. The insightful lesson from the Old Testament (25-26)

     4. The initial purpose of the Sabbath (27)

     5. The incredible claim of Jesus’ Lordship (28)

23 And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how 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 also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”