Expository Sermon on Mark 2 and 3
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 3/20/2021
©2021 by Maylan Schurch
To listen to the entire worship service, click the link below:
Please open your Bibles to Mark chapter 2.
Today’s sermon is another in the new series I have just launched called “Journeys with Jesus.” What we’re doing is watching for those times when Jesus was walking along with His disciples, and teaching them, often in response to a question someone had, or crisis someone approached Him with.
And I believe that what Jesus teaches on these road trips, briefly and sometimes abruptly, and sometimes not only with His words but with His actions, is at least as important as what He taught when speaking to large assemblies of people. I believe we need what He teaches on these journeys.
By the way, if you’d like to read or listen to these sermons again, you will always find them on the YouTube channel under the Worship tab at our church’s website, bellevueadventist.org. I uploaded last Sabbath’s sermon in a print version as well, in case you don’t have time to listen to the whole message on YouTube.
So, today, once again, we find Jesus traveling with His disciples. Let’s watch what happens – and listen for what’s in it for us.
Mark 2:23 [NKJV]: Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.
When you slow down and read this verse, you suddenly realize that there are two extremely shocking things happening here. It’s the Sabbath day – and what seems to be the first shocking thing is that Jesus is leading His disciples through some grainfields. Doesn’t He know that this will tempt them to do what generations of rabbis said not to do on the Sabbath – thresh grain?
The Mishnah is a collection of thousands and thousands of rabbinic teachings, most of which were in force during the time of Jesus. The Mishnah contains a large section on the Sabbath, and it lays out 39 kinds of work which are illegal to do on the Sabbath. I’ll quote a little from the section called “Shabbat” (Sabbath). This is what you’re not supposed to do on the Sabbath:
“ . . . Sowing (of grain), plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing crops,” and so on. Mishnah, “Sabbath,” 7:2.
Now, anybody who grew up going to synagogue every Sabbath, and who lived in a culture where the Sabbath was carefully observed, already knew these regulations.
If you plucked the heads off of wheat stalks, you were reaping. And if you rubbed those wheat heads between your palms – as I have done in South Dakota wheat fields – you were threshing, and you might also have been “cleansing crops,” also, because you were getting rid of the chaff so you could pop those wheat kernels into your mouth and start chewing.
(By the way, when you do that, you are making gluten. You blow away the husks from your palm, and then you start chewing on those kernels, and soon they soften up into a very satisfying wad of wheat-flavored chewing gum. Delicious.)
Anyway, Surprise One here in verse 23 is that Jesus seemed to be deliberately leading His disciples into “temptation,” leading them close to grain, where they just might start disobeying the rabbis’ rules.
And you know what I think Surprise Two is? I think that Surprise Two is that the disciples just nonchalantly started harvesting those grain heads and threshing them. I mean, the Gospels are not shy about telling us about times when the disciples disputed among themselves about other things, such as who would rank as the most important in God’s kingdom.
But here, there’s no squabbling. We don’t hear a single person saying, “Wait. What are we doing here? Should we be doing this? Master, is this okay?”
Instead, everybody unthinkingly just reaches out and starts threshing and winnowing and chewing. What has happened to these conscientious Jewish men? I mean, did Jesus set the example? Was He the one who reached out for that first fistful of wheat?
Well, whatever happened, for some strange reason we have a group of Pharisees strolling along with them. The Bible doesn’t say that this is happening just after breakfast and they’re heading toward the synagogue, snacking as they go. It could be the middle of the afternoon.
But whenever it is, this snacking isn’t done in private. The Pharisees see it happening, and they immediately talk to Jesus about it.
Verse 24: And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
Now watch carefully. The Pharisees have asked a question, and Jesus is going to answer them. They won’t return the favor later, when He asks them a question. But listen to what He says:
Verses 25 -26: But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
And sure enough, if you go back to Leviticus 24, you see Lord describing how the priests should arrange the bread on the golden table within the tabernacle. And in Leviticus 24:9 He says: “And it [the bread] shall be for Aaron and his sons. . . .” Only the priests are to eat this sacred bread.
But then in First Samuel 21, David comes along, followed by a group of men who are accompanying him. They are on the run from King Saul, who want them dead. They’re hungry. David comes to the tabernacle, finds the high priest, and begs for something to eat. The priest tells him they don’t have anything but the holy bread, so he gives David the bread.
So here is a law of God which was deliberately broken to provide for the needs of some hungry people. Notice verse 25 again:
Verse 25: But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:
The rabbis and Pharisees were saying, “Don’t reap or thresh or winnow grain on the Sabbath. And if you’re hungry, and if the food you’re looking at wasn’t prepared the day before, you’ve just got to starve until sundown.”
But that’s not what Jesus would say.
Let’s have a talk about legalism. Because that is what the Pharisees – and the generations of rabbis who came before them – were infected with.
What is legalism? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, legalism is “Overly strict or rigid adherence to the law or to a religious or moral code.”
The key word there is overly. Law keeping is good, and essential. Obeying God is always safer than disobeying God. But, as usual, Jesus puts everything in perspective. After He tells the story about David and his men eating the holy bread, He says this:
Verses 27 – 28: And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
Okay, let’s lay down the first sermon point here. The Pharisees’ teaching is full of unreasonable Sabbath legalism. Because to them, the holy Sabbath is more important than human nourishment.
Here comes what I would consider Sermon Point One. What’s one danger of Sabbath legalism?
Legalism makes Sabbath the master, not the servant.
And we have to be careful here. If we think about this too superficially, we might say—as a lot of Christians have mistakenly said– “Oh, hey, this must mean that Jesus is cancelling the Sabbath commandment. This must mean that the Sabbath is subordinate to me. So this means I can do anything I want on the Sabbath.”
That’s why we need to read both verses 27 and 28 together. The One who said that the Sabbath was made for humanity is the very one who created the Sabbath. He claims to be the Lord of it. Jesus was the active Creator at the foundation of the world. He worked six days, and then He rested the seventh. And He’s the one who has told us (and modeled to us) what it means, and how to treat it.
On Sabbath, Jesus didn’t go out and play golf—or whatever recreational sports were popular in His era. He didn’t go shopping, He didn’t mow the lawn. He rested. And He told us to rest. And He made the seventh day holy. And in Isaiah 58:13, The Lord had Isaiah insist that we take our feet off the Sabbath, and stop trampling around on it, doing our own pleasures.
But that doesn’t remove delight from the Sabbath – because the next verse, Isaiah 58:14, says, “Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord.”
So if you treat the Sabbath the way Jesus designed it, you will shift your delight from your usual recreational pursuits, and you will discover that the Lord is immensely more delightful.
I used to have a hard time believing this as a kid. There were things I wanted to do, non-Sabbath games I wanted to play, which I delighted in. I knew that God was good, and that He loved me, but nobody taught me how to delight in Him at least as much as my hobbies and toys. But it’s really possible to do this.
If you’ve been keeping track of the Perseverance rover and its journey along the landscape of Mars, you probably know that this is the very first Mars mission to carry microphones along with it. That means that for the very first time we are able to listen to the wind on Mars. And we can also hear the sounds of the Rover’s metal wheels traveling across the rock-studded ground.
To me, that is very thrilling. Because the same Jesus who did His best to set the Pharisees straight about His Sabbath was the one who created the planet Mars and swung it into orbit.
And Jesus is also the one who created the six or seven robins who a few days ago sat staring silently at me from the lawn of our neighbor across the street.
Jesus also created the technology to display the amazing rainbow Shelley and I saw a week or so ago – a perfect semicircular rainbow with a faint double rainbow above it. (You can see it on our church website in the Daily Photo Parable section. It’s my March 20 entry.)
If we can keep in mind that the more you study into it, nature in all its wonder offers true delight, then every Creation “Memorial Day” can be a delightful one.
But let’s move on to another danger of Sabbath legalism. Now we step ahead into Mark chapter 3.
What we’re about to read is technically not a “journey” Jesus is making out on the road. But since it is followed the journey we just talked about, and since the subject has to do with the Sabbath, I inserted it here. Because here we’re going to discover what I think is an even greater danger of legalism.
Mark 3:1 – 2: And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.
Now get ready, because we are about to see Jesus get really, really mad. As far as I know, this is the only place in the Gospels where it specifically says in so many words that He got angry. Let’s see what causes this rage within Him.
Verses 3 – 4: And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” . . . .
Notice what’s happening here. A few verses back, in the grainfield story, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question, and Jesus calmly responded—He reminded them of a Bible story. But now, it’s Jesus who is asking the questions, and listen to what happens.
Verse 4: . . . Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent.
So what’s the problem here? These Pharisees, who are so quick to speak and accuse, so quick to defend the law, are suddenly silent.
Why were they silent? There may be several reasons. First, they evidently had no good answer to Jesus’ questions here. Second, they probably thought they would entrap themselves if they tried to manufacture one.
Third—and this must have been intensely irritating to Jesus–third, a thoughtful, intelligent meeting of the minds was not their purpose here. They didn’t want to learn. They didn’t want to submit their ideas to the guidance of Scripture. Instead, they just wanted to trap Jesus into making a comment they could arrest Him for.
How long Jesus let this answer-free silence linger on, we don’t know. And all this time the poor man with the shriveled hand is standing there, as Jesus had commanded him, in the spotlight, the focus of attention. There is no indication this man had come to synagogue that day to be the center of attention. He did not ask to be healed.
But he may be standing close enough to tingle at Jesus’ anger, even though he wasn’t the focus of it.
Verse 5: And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts . . . .
That word “anger” is a very powerful Greek word. It’s the word orge, and it’s the same word John the Baptist used when he challenged people to “flee from the wrath to come.” In John 3:36, it’s the word used for the “wrath of God.” In Revelation, it’s used several times.
But notice why Jesus is angry. He doesn’t seem to be angry because these accusers are sinners. Jesus knows how to handle sinners when they discover that that’s what they are.
He gently coached Nicodemus during a night-school class in basic salvation. Jesus appeared to Saul in a blaze of light, and immediately asked why Saul was persecuting Him. And both Nicodemus and Saul were Pharisees who would at least converse with Him, unlike these accusers here in the synagogue.
Let’s lay down another danger of legalism which I see in this story.
So far we’ve learned that legalism makes Sabbath the master, not the servant. And in this synagogue story we see that legalism rips God’s laws from God’s love.
I used to think that maybe the “hardheartedness” Jesus got angry at in this synagogue scene was that the Pharisees obstinately refused to understand the truth about the Sabbath and what could be done on it. But maybe their hardheartedness was the cynical insensitivity they had to this poor man standing in front of everybody.
I mean, this guy has probably already been thoroughly persecuted for his handicap. Back in those days people thought that if you were disabled in any way, such as being blind or deaf, you or your parents must have done something evil, and your disability was God’s punishment.
And maybe this man thought the same thing. Maybe he had been living with this mostly false guilt all his life. Who knows? The Bible doesn’t say. But suddenly, Jesus takes action.
Verse 5: And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
And wouldn’t this have been a wonderful time for those legalistic Pharisees to have seen the miracle, sobbed out their apologies, and humbly professed faith in Jesus?
No, they evidently keep their silence all the way outside of the synagogue. But then watch what happens.
Verse 6: Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
They don’t even have the decency to respond to Him. Instead, they hurry out and plot His death.
Legalism rips God’s laws from God’s love. Which is tragic, because law and love need to be kept together. In John 14:15, Jesus insisted to His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” And the disciple John, who was listening carefully enough to be able to write that down later, this same John said in 1 John 5:3: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Love and law need to stay together.
Yesterday morning Shelley and I took an after-breakfast stroll on the nearby Lake Youngs Trail, one of our favorite places to walk. At one point, we saw coming toward us a pleasant little family scene. A young father was moving slowly along, holding the hand of what must’ve been his three-year-old son. Holding onto the other hand of the three-year-old was a boy who might’ve been five.
As they walked along, all three kept holding hands. The five-year-old, who was on the end, didn’t break away and run off exploring. The three-year-old didn’t wiggle restlessly and try to escape. No, they were on a walk with dad, and they knew what to do, and they liked it.
Somewhere, sometime earlier, Dad had set up the rule that when they went out walking, they would all hold hands, and Dad and the older boy would keep the younger boy between them. And as long as they kept this formation, no matter where they walked, everybody would be safe. Even if they crossed the street, they would be fine. Dad would look vigilantly in all directions, and they would walk across, a little boy safely holding hands on either side.
As Shelley and I walked closer to this little group, the older boy on the end grinned and waved cheerfully at us with his free left hand. So I waved back. Then as we got a little closer, I gave a military salute with my right hand.
Now, with his right hand, the older boy had a grip on his little brother’s hand. To salute me correctly, he would’ve had to let loose of his brothers hand and use his right hand to salute. But instead, he saluted me with his free hand, the left hand.
After we had passed by them, Shelley commented about how they seemed like happy and contented family. And they must have been. The family love must’ve been so great that dad could put in action this “chain” method of walking, and the boys were perfectly fine with it—no restlessness, no struggle to escape.
And I can imagine that, as God looks lovingly down upon the dad and the two boys, I imagine that He wishes that every believer, even the Pharisees, could move so lovingly and trustingly within His will that journeying safely with Him, protected by His loving commands, would be supreme happiness.