Last week, we began a two-part study about four questions that people asked Jesus. The first question was, How could Jesus forgive sins? When the paralyzed man was lowered through a hole in the roof, Jesus forgave the man and healed him. By this, we learned that Jesus is God and able to forgive sin. The second question was, How could Jesus associate with sinners? When Jesus visited Levi’s house, his “sinner” friends were there causing religious people to wonder about Jesus’ associations. Jesus responded by telling them that he was like a physician coming to heal the sick. He had come to call sinners to repentance and so he spent time with them.
in today’s study, we will look at two more questions that people asked Jesus. The questions were about fasting and keeping the Sabbath day. While these may not seem very exciting topics, we will soon see that Jesus’ answers were very wise at the moment and can be very helpful to our own lives as well.
- How could Jesus not promote fasting? (Mark 2:18-22)
This week, I saw an announcement by one of my college friends that his father had written a book about fasting. The book was written to show the purposes and benefits of fasting from a biblical perspective. Most of us would rather eat than fast. It is not something we look forward to. But there have been times when I was too busy to eat or there may come a time when I am so overwhelmed by a situation that I will not eat due to sorrow or the need to pray. I think this is what fasting is for.
In our first section, a group of people asked Jesus about fasting. Let’s take a look at their question and Jesus’ response to it.
What it says
The disciples of John and the Pharisees were the ones who approached Jesus with the question. Both groups practiced fasting, but Jesus’ disciples did not. “During the time of Jesus, the pious Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), on the second and fifth day.”3 Several times in the gospels, the Pharisees are condemned for making a show of their fasting. In Matthew 6:16, Jesus noted how religious hypocrites disfigured their faces while fasting so people would notice. He also told the story of a proud Pharisee who announced to God that he fasted twice every week (Luke 18:12). If you are familiar with the Pharisees, this should come as no surprise.
But what about the disciples of John? Why would they be doing the same thing as the hypocritical Pharisees? First of all, we have to realize that fasting doesn’t have to be done for show. It can be done for good reasons. Think about the person whom these disciples were following. Do you remember John the Baptist from Mark 1? He was a preacher of repentance. “He emphasized sin and the necessity of turning away from it. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that he may have encouraged fasting as an expression of mourning for sin, the very reason which the Pharisees also gave for much of their fasting (cf. Matt. 6:16).”10
Add to this the fact that Jesus and his disciples had been feasting with Levi and his friends. “If the feast of Levi fell on the evening beginning either of their weekly fast days, the disciples of Jesus were feasting at the very time the pious Pharisees were fasting.”3 As they were keeping themselves from food, they would have seen Jesus and the disciples enjoying a feast with Levi and his friends. As they were supposedly fasting for God, this must have seemed very strange. But note this: “The Old Testament prescribed fasting for all Jews only on the annual Day of Atonement, as an act of repentance (Lev. 16:29), but the Pharisees promoted voluntary fasting on every Monday and Thursday (cf. Luke 18:12) as an act of piety.”1 Although fasting twice a week was not required by the Old Testament law, why did Jesus and the disciples not follow their religious tradition?
When asked why, Jesus “compares his … presence on earth with a wedding-feast.”11 He explained that the disciples were like friends of the bridegroom. These friends “were the groom’s attendants who accompanied him to the house of the bride to bring her to the groom’s house, which was now hers. … They shared in the joy of the bridegroom. [And note this:] Jewish custom exempted them from certain religious observances, including the weekly fasts. Weddings were occasions of laughter, merriment, and song.”4 A wedding is supposed to be a time of celebration not fasting. And this was what Jesus tried to tell them. While he was with them, they would not fast, but there would be plenty of times for fasting after Jesus was taken away.
He then talked about how unwise it would be to put a new piece of cloth on an old garment. “If a patch of unfulled wool … is placed on a garment that has seen better days, the result will be that, especially when this unshrunk piece becomes wet and shrinks, the bordering cloth of the badly worn piece of clothing will be pulled to pieces.”13 He also told them that putting new wine in old, brittle wineskins would be just as bad. When the wine fermented, it would burst the old wineskins. In both cases, new items wouldn’t work well with old items.
What it means
There are two things to understand in this section.
First, we have to understand what Jesus was saying about the bridegroom and his friends.
Jesus was trying to show them that His presence among them was something to celebrate. He had already brought healing to the sick, cast demons out of people, forgiven the paralyzed man, called disciples to follow him, and taught God’s truth like no other person was doing at that time. These things were a cause for rejoicing not fasting.
“The time would come when the Bridegroom (Jesus) would be taken (aparthe, implying violent removal; cf. Isa. 53:8) from them and on that day (His crucifixion) the disciples would fast in the … sense of experiencing sorrow in place of joy.”1 But that time had not yet come. So, they were right to feast together thinking of all that Jesus had done.
Second, we have to understand what Jesus was saying about the old and new cloth and old and new wineskins.
When Jesus talked about the old and the new, He was revealing that His presence changed everything. The religious leaders had made so many extra rules, that the truth of the Bible was obscured by them. It was time to remove all of those man-made rules and to follow the clear teaching of Jesus. His “presence with His people was a time of newness (fulfillment) and signaled the passing of the old.”1 Because of that, the people were not to add Jesus to their list of man-made religious rules. Instead, they were to leave all of that to believe and follow Him.
How it applies
You have to trust Jesus alone.
If you grew up in a religious home, you might still have the idea that your outward actions are required for you to be a Christian. You might think that what you do is what matters to God. But that is not why Jesus came and why He died on the cross. He didn’t die for your sins because you were able to do good things to impress God. He died on the cross because nothing you do can impress God. We are sinners who can’t earn God’s favor by the good things we try to do. There are no requirements or lists of things to do. He only tells us to repent of/turn from our sin and believe/trust Jesus. Nothing else will do you any good. You must trust Jesus alone.
- How could Jesus allow the law to be broken? (Mark 2:23-28)
Have you ever seen someone speeding past a stopped police car and nothing was done? I have seen it multiple times. During my travels, I will occasionally see a police car driving faster than the speed limit and several brave souls following him at the same speed. Hey! That’s not right! How can that police officer allow the other drivers to get away with breaking the speed limit? This is the same feeling some of the Pharisees had when they watched what Jesus’ disciples were doing.
What it says
The Sabbath was a day given by God to the Jewish people for rest and relaxation. No work was to be done on this day. On one particular Sabbath day, Jesus and the disciples walked through the grain fields. The disciples were hungry and plucked some of the heads of grain to eat. “This was legitimate (Deut. 23:25), but the Pharisees viewed it as reaping, an act of work forbidden on the Sabbath (cf. Ex. 34:21), so they demanded an explanation from Jesus.”1 They asked Jesus why the disciples were breaking the Old Testament Law by “harvesting” crops on the Sabbath day. “To ensure observance of the Sabbath law, the scribes had enumerated ‘the main classes of work: forty save one, among them reaping, threshing, and winnowing. But in their eagerness to ‘fence’ the law against violation, they had gone to extremes in stipulating acts that were regarded as work. Thus the Pharisees regarded the plucking of the heads as reaping, the rubbing of the grain as threshing, and perhaps the blowing away of the chaff as winnowing. The disciples were guilty of working on the Sabbath!”6
When Jesus heard their question, He ask the Pharisees if they had ever read about David eating the showbread from the tabernacle when he was running away from King Saul. The shewbread consisted of ceremonial loaves of bread which were placed in the temple for a week in honor to God. Every Sabbath day, the old bread was removed and could be eaten by the priests. It was meant only for them. So when David was given this bread, it was out of the ordinary. When he and his men ate this ceremonial bread, it was not a lawful action but God did not punish David for doing so. Jesus used this story to illustrate that the Sabbath was made for man not the other way around. He also stated that as the Son of Man, He was the Lord of the Sabbath.
What it means
Jesus used this event to teach two things.
First, He taught why the Sabbath was put in place.
Why did God give the Sabbath day? Was it designed to make people super careful about what they did on that day? Or was it designed for their rest and relaxation? By pointing toward David’s unusual situation, Jesus was showing “that the Pharisees’ narrow interpretation of the Law blurred God’s intention. The spirit of the Law in respect to human need took priority over its ceremonial regulations.”1 If God allowed David to eat this bread when he was in great need, couldn’t the disciples, who were poor and hungry, eat a little of the grain on the Sabbath day?
When Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath, He was showing them God’s intention. “The Sabbath was instituted (by God) for mankind’s benefit and refreshment not that people were made to keep burdensome regulations pertaining to it.”1 “The minute, arbitrary regulations of the Pharisees made man the slave of the Sabbath, making its observance a burden rather than a blessing. Their binding traditions tended to nullify God’s gracious purpose in giving the Sabbath to man.”8
Second, He taught that He was Lord over the Sabbath.
Who was in charge of the Sabbath? The Pharisees had come to the conclusion that their rabbis and traditions were what defined the Sabbath day restrictions. Their ultimate authority was found in the traditions passed on to them by their religious leaders. But this was not right. God was the One who gave the command to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. “God had made it what it was. it was the Lord, no one else, who had laid down his principles for sabbath observance. And since all authority had been given to the Son (Matt. 11:27; 28:18), who is one with the Father (John 10:30), with whom the Father is well pleased (Mark 1:11), and who was sent into the world by the Father (Mark 1:38; 9:37), … consequently”16 Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath.
This may have come as a shock to the Pharisees who were confronting Jesus that day. Was He saying that He was ultimately in charge of what was allowed on the Sabbath day? Who did He think He was? Sadly, many of them never understood who Jesus was and is. He is the Son of God, God who became human and lived among us. So, whatever He said to them was authoritative. And that day “He was using His authority to set aside the restrictive regulations of the Pharisees which perverted the divine intention for the Sabbath.”9 “Therefore, no one has any right to find fault with him when he allows his disciples to satisfy their hunger by picking and eating heads of grain!”17
How it applies
Have you become so wrapped up in keeping the rules that you have forgotten the reason for them?
In the Bible, we read a lot of things that God wants Christians to keep away from. We are to put off our old lifestyle (Eph. 4:22), stop lying (Eph. 4:25), not to be sinfully angry (Eph. 4:26), not to steal (Eph. 4:28), not to speak corruptly (Eph. 4:29), not to be bitter (Eph. 4:31), not to be fornicators or covetous (Eph. 5:3), not to tell dirty jokes (Eph. 5:4), not to get drunk (Eph. 5:18) and many other things.
Why did God give us all of those commands? Was it so that we can look down on other people and make ourselves to look better than them? No, God’s purpose for every command is for our good and to make us more like Jesus. We don’t do those things only when people are watching. We do them because we know God has our best interest in mind. His commands are for our good. And when we keep that in mind, they will not appear to be restrictions but helps.
Do you understand that? If you do, then your Christian life will become totally different than before. Instead of a list of dos and don’ts that fill you with anxiety, they will become a joyful practice because you know Who gave them to you and why.
During our study today, we have looked at two events that caused people to ask Jesus a question. The first was why the disciples didn’t fast. Jesus told them that having Him with them was a reason to celebrate. He then told them that it was time to leave their old traditions and to simply put their faith in Him. If you are someone who is holding on to traditions and rules in order to please God, I hope that you understand what Jesus was saying. God doesn’t want your attempts at pleasing Him by obeying rules or doing things. He just wants you to turn from your sin and put your faith in Jesus.
The second question was about keeping the Sabbath day. Why did Jesus’ disciples eat grain on the day when they were to be resting. Jesus used the story of David and the tabernacle shewbread to show the reason for the Sabbath. God designed the law to help people not to hinder hungry people from eating. As you consider what Jesus taught them, I hope that you understand why God gives us prohibitions. It is always for our good not to make us constantly feeling guilty. When you get to the point where you understand that, you will be able to enjoy your relationship with the Lord.
1 Grassmick 114.
2 McGee 170.
3 Hiebert 76.
4 Hiebert 77.
5 Hiebert 78 quoting Ezra P. Gould.
6 Hiebert 80-81.
7 Hiebert 82.
8 Hiebert 82-83.
9 Hiebert 83.
10 Hendriksen 99.
11 Hendriksen 100.
12 Hendriksen 101.
13 Hendriksen 102.
14 Hendriksen 105.
15 Hendriksen 108.
16 Hendriksen 108-09.
17 Hendriksen 109.
Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.
Hendriksen, William, Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975.
Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. IV, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.