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Summary: Jesus remained under attack from the Pharisees. Their demands for adherence to unbiblical standards clouded their vision and desire for Christ. Sadly these attitudes remain today. While we must adhere to doctrine, the Lord affords liberty through grace.

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Debate over the Sabbath

Mark 2: 23-28

Have you dealt with a season in life when others acted as if you could do nothing right? Surely we have experienced times when people criticized our efforts or challenged our motives. It seems as if everything we tried to accomplish was met with skepticism and resentment.

If you have dealt with such difficulty, you are not alone. We have discovered, while moving through the second chapter of Mark, that Jesus faced such an environment. His every move was closely watched, and His every word was carefully examined. The Pharisees had no desire to learn of Jesus, or follow Him. Their primary goal regarding Jesus was to examine His life and ministry, in hopes of finding fault and justifying their accusations.

Rather than allowing the actions of the Pharisees hinder His work, Jesus remained committed to the task at hand. He refused to allow the criticism of others divert His attention from fulfilling the plan of God. As we examine the observations within the text, I want to consider the thought: Debate over the Sabbath.

I. The Confrontation with Jesus (23-24) – As we begin this paragraph, we discover that Jesus was immediately confronted by the Pharisees again. Notice:

A. The Activity of the Disciples (23) – And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. As Jesus and the disciples journeyed on the Sabbath day, they made their way through the fields. Often paths were located through the fields of harvest, and travelers were permitted to gather handfuls as walked through the fields. Likely this was some type of grain, wheat or barley.

As the disciples followed Jesus, ministering with Him, they grew hungry. This is natural within humanity to desire something to eat. They were well within their right to gather something as they journeyed, but these men dared to gather on the Sabbath day. Granted, they were not laboring in the harvest of grain, but they did pluck a few handfuls as they passed by.

B. The Accusation of the Pharisees (24) – And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? As was typically the case, the Pharisees were never far away, closely scrutinizing every move Jesus and the disciples made. After their observation, they immediately confronted Jesus about the actions of His disciples. These men were accused of acting unlawfully in gathering grain. The Pharisees weren’t upset that the disciples had gathered a few handfuls from another man’s field; they were upset because such activity took place on the Sabbath.

While God had forbidden men to “work” on the Sabbath day, this activity did not constitute work as defined by God. He forbade men to work for their profit. Harvesting the grain to make a profit would’ve been unlawful on the Sabbath, but not gathering a few handfuls to eat.

The problem was that the Pharisees had added tremendous burdens to the law of God that our Lord never intended. Over the years, anything that had the slightest appearance of work had become forbidden according to the laws of men, but not according to the law of God. Consider a few of the ridiculous expectations of the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath.


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