Mark – Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?

Mark – Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?

Read Mark 2:18-3-6

It is clear that the Scribes and the Pharisees found much of Jesus’ ministry upsetting.  Much of what Mark recorded happened on a Sabbath – a day to which the Pharisees added extra laws to make sure it was kept holy. Even the next acts of Jesus – the healing of the man with a shrivelled hand (3:1-5) happened on a Sabbath.

Some interpreters of Jewish law prohibited any deliberative activity, or an activity that exercises control or dominion over one’s environment.  These included 39 categories of activities, e.g. plowing, tanning of leather, spinning or weaving, separating two threads, washing wool, writing two or more letters, erasing more two or more letters, travelling more than a Sabbaths journey (which was about 3,100 feet or 915 meters).

1.  Read verse 23:  What, in the eyes of the Pharisees, did Jesus and the disciples do to break the Sabbath law?  Were they reaping the harvest?

  A quote from 1Maccabeus illustrates the point clearly.  (See also the first chapter of this study: Introduction, Greeks, 1.2-1.3) .

At that time many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there, 30 they, their sons, their wives, and their livestock, because troubles pressed heavily upon them. 31 And it was reported to the king’s officers, and to the troops in Jerusalem the city of David, that those who had rejected the king’s command had gone down to the hiding places in the wilderness. 32 Many pursued them, and overtook them; they encamped opposite them and prepared for battle against them on the sabbath day. 33 They said to them, “Enough of this! Come out and do what the king commands, and you will live.” 34 But they said, “We will not come out, nor will we do what the king commands and so profane the sabbath day.” 35 Then the enemy quickly attacked them. 36 But they did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding places, 37 for they said, “Let us all die in our innocence; heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly.” 38 So they attacked them on the sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and livestock, to the number of a thousand persons. (1 Mac 2:29–38).



2.  Read Deuteronomy 23:25.  Is what Jesus and the disciples did on the Sabbath Day against the law?


The Pharisees were only too happy to have found a clear case against Jesus.  It is not that the disciples were excusable; it is that Jesus is to blame for the conduct of these disciples.  But what they based their charge on was not the Law of God, but the interpretation they themselves added to it.

Jesus asked them about David and eating the showbread.

3.  Read 1 Samuel 21:6.  The showbread consisted of twelve baked cakes, made of fine flour.  These were set in two rows, six to a row on the table in the Holy Place. It was the duty of the priest each sabbath day to place fresh or hot bread on the table (1 Sa. 21:6). Only the high priest could eat the “old” bread.



Like the priests referred to in these verses, ministers today “work” on the (Christian) Sabbath, but they surely do not trespass the law! The Law must always be interpreted in terms of the intention of the Lawgiver: to promote the relationship of His covenant partners with Him, the Covenant Maker.  This fact was completely missed by the Pharisees who, through legalism, sought justification of themselves, and in the process did evil, did not save, and in fact would as such be guilty of “killing” (see next). 

4.  Read Mark 3:4.  What is the point that our Lord wanted to make about deeds (or as the Pharisees saw it: work) on a Sabbath?



When desperate David and his men ate of the showbread not designated for them; the letter of the Law might have been trespassed, but not the spirit.

To Jesus the Sabbath was not created for its own sake; it was a gift of God to man. Its purpose was not to put man in a kind of straight jacket. It was for his good—to provide rest from labor and opportunity for worship.


5.  Read Mark 2:28.  The pharisees thought they could teach Jesus about the Sabbath, but what did they have to learn about Him?

6.  Read Mark 2:28 again.  What does “Lord of the Sabbath mean?

7.  Read Mark 3:4.  Why do you think the Pharisees remain silent on the question of Christ?


8.  How did the healing of the man with the shrivelled hand fit into the ministry of Jesus, the Son of God?

9.  Did Jesus do what was “unlawful” on the Sabbath, or did He give full meaning to the Sabbath.

10.  How should the church, as disciples of Christ, regard the Sabbath?



Mark’s Gospel teaches us that

  • Christ is the Son of God
  • He has come with the authority of his Father
  • He came to destroy the power of Satan
  • He has the power to forgive sin
  • He came to fulfil the Law, being more and greater than Moses and David

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