Q and A With Jesus: 3
Small Group Leader Study Guide
Date: May 5, 2019
Series: Son of God, Servant of Man: Gospel of Mark
Bible Text: Mark 2:23-3:6
This Week’s Printables:
In this our third and final part of our miniseries called “Q & A With Jesus,” we see how legalism can coop the Laws of God that He put in place as a blessing to each one of us, but, instead, become a man-made burden and a false symbol of righteousness.
We all deal with legalism in one form or another. Sometimes, we place rules and mandates upon ourselves because of incorrect teaching or incorrect application of Scripture. Other times, legalism can become a tool used by those in authority who seek to control us and manipulate us into following their commands.
As we noted in Week 1 of our series, legalism seems most prevalent in our culture today in the form of political correctness. The list of rules seems to grow exponentially with each passing month, and the public shaming and ridicule of those who violate the rules becomes more aggressive and even violent.
There are two aspects to this week’s lesson that we need to underscore: first, legalism is an issue of the heart. Those who seek to control others through intimidation and ridicule are hard-hearted individuals who would rather see evil triumph than acknowledge the good of something they are opposed to. Second, we must take a stand against legalism in all its forms. Legalism is a threat and danger to the church and the nation. It is a deadly poison that can squeeze out the joy and hope that comes from the outpouring of God’s mercy and grace. Jesus had no time for the legalists. They inflamed his anger and contempt. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus stood against the legalists of His time and corrected the faulty teaching and application of the Word of God.
This is a fight that every generation must fight. Legalism is one of the Devil’s most destructive tools, and he uses it to pervert God’s grace and mercy and turn what God created to be a blessing into a curse.
Summary: This third and final message of our mini-series within Mark takes aim at understanding our Lord’s priorities. Gain insight into the importance of the heart in this message from Mark 2:23-3:6 regarding not only the Sabbath but the Savior of the Sabbath!
Memory Verse for This Week
Mark 2:27-28 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Core Practice: Joy
Peace (Philippians 4:6-7): I am free from anxiety because things are right between God, myself and others.
Take Home Truth
Our Lord’s priority is, first and foremost, the heart, and legalism and loopholes only harden what he wants to heal.
Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?
Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.
Read the Text
Mark 2:23–3:6 (ESV)
Controversies Concerning the Sabbath
23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And 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 was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.
What is the context of this week’s lesson?
In Part 3 of our three-part series, “Q & A With Jesus,” we continue to follow along as Mark takes us through a sequence of scenes with a common theme and building tension. The theme is legalism and the building tension is between Jesus and the Jewish Religious Leaders.
- Jesus heals a the Crippled Man but first tells him “his sins are forgiven.” (2:1-12). Religious leaders are concerned.
- Jesus has dinner at the home of Levi, his newest disciple, and socializes with “sinners and tax collectors.” (2:13-17). Religious leaders are commenting.
- Jesus and his disciples do not honor the Jewish traditions concerning fasting. (2:18-22). Religious leaders are confronting.
- Jesus and his disciples do not honor the Jewish traditions concerning the Sabbath (2:23-3:6). Religious leaders are condemning.
What is the Law concerning the Sabbath?
As we saw in last week’s lesson concerning fasting, the Lord did provide instructions for the Jews concerning the Sabbath. Remember with fasting, the Lord commanded the Jews to fast one day a year, on the Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Likewise, with the Sabbath, the Lord commanded the Jews to observe a Sabbath day once a week. The Sabbath is a key focus of many Old Testament Scriptures, but here are two that outlines well the Law concerning the Sabbath Day:
Exodus 20:8–11 (ESV) 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Numbers 15:32–36 (ESV) 32 While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. 34 They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. 35 And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses.
Clearly, based on these two passages from the Law, the one from Exodus given as part of the 10 Commandments and the one from Numbers describing a scene during Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord was serious about the Sabbath Law. (It should be noted that of all the 10 Commandments listed in Exodus 20, the Lord says more about the Sabbath than any other commandment. Many are simply one sentence in length: thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal, etc.)
Simply put, the Sabbath (which is from the Hebrew word shabat) simply means “to cease.” The Sabbath was established as part of Creation on the Seventh Day and was a holy holiday to commemorate the finished work of Creation. Genesis 2:1-3 describes this aspect:
Genesis 2:1–3 (ESV) 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
How did the Jews turn the Sabbath into a burden?
As we saw last week concerning fasting, the Jews of Jesus’ time had taken what was good from the Law and turned it into a burden for the people. The same thing happened with the Sabbath.
Following the Babylonian exile, the Jews had all but lost their national identity. The temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the Northern Kingdom had disappeared into the ashes of history. As small bands of Jews slowly returned to Jerusalem, efforts were made to begin re-establishing Hebrew customs and traditions.
One of the most distinctive marks of a Jew, next to circumcision, was the honoring of the Sabbath. As the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes, “[the Sabbath] was a distinctively Israelite institution, its observance was commanded by the Torah, it was observed weekly, and its focus was on sacred time rather than sacred space—allowing it to be observed anywhere, even in dispersion.1
By the time of Jesus, there we literally dozens of “dos” and “don’ts” concerning the Sabbath day. As the self-appointed guardians of the Law, the Pharisees had great authority and power in how the Sabbath was interpreted. For example, to help the average Jew know where the boundaries were concerning the Sabbath, they established 39 categories or “main tasks” that were prohibited on the Sabbath. These included sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding, threshing, winnowing, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, bleaching or dyeing wool, spinning, weaving, tying or untying a knot, sewing or tearing two stitches, hunting, writing or erasing two letters, building, demolishing, kindling or extinguishing a fire, hammering, carrying objects from one place to another, and several more.2
Despite the attempt to make sabbath law easier to obey, the Pharisees and rabbis were very strict in one important respect: the death penalty was demanded in cases of intentional violation of the Sabbath.
What law was the disciples of Jesus violating in Mark 2:23-28?
At first glance, it might appear that the disciples are guilty of stealing grain as they walk through the field, but, based on Deuteronomy 23:25, travelers were permitted to eat from a neighbors field as long as they plucked the grain with their hand and didn’t employ a sickle, which would imply harvesting.
What the disciples are guilty of is plucking the grain on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees viewed this as reaping, which was prohibited on the Sabbath day.
How does Jesus respond to the Pharisees’ challenge concerning the Sabbath?
In each of the responses Jesus gives to the questions by the religious leaders in Mark 2, you see answers that are deeply theological and complex yet amazingly simple. Jesus answers this challenge with a story from the Old Testament.
Mark 2:25–28 (ESV) 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
This story is from 1 Samuel 21:1-6 in which we find David and a “band of brothers” on the run from King Saul. In the wilderness without food, David went to the tabernacle and asked the priest for the showbread, which was consecrated bread set aside for the priests (Leviticus 24:5-9). As such, it was unlawful for David and his men to eat of the bread. Yet, the priest set aside the law in order to feed David and his hungry men.
In this simple response, Jesus made several points with His religious challengers:
- Have you not read what David did … was a subtle swipe at the Pharisees who prided themselves as the authority on the Scriptures and were often unchallenged in their interpretation of the Scriptures.
- At the time of this incident in 1 Samuel 21, David had been anointed the true king of Israel, but was as yet unrecognized by the people. Likewise, Jesus had been anointed the True King of Israel, but was as yet unrecognized by the people.
- David’s men were hungry and the high priest set aside the law concerning the showbread in order to meet the human needs of these men. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples were hungry and He (Jesus) set aside the law concerning the Sabbath to meet the human needs of his men.
What is the irony found in Mark 3:1-6?
Mark provides one more example to underscore that Jesus was indeed the “Lord of the Sabbath.” He tells of another incident in which Jesus is entering a crowded synagogue on a Sabbath day. He spots a man with a shriveled hand and stops. The Pharisees carefully watch Jesus to see if He again violates the Law of the Sabbath. Let’s let Mark tell the rest of the story:
3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The irony in this example is twofold:
- Jesus did nothing to violate the law. In order to violate the law of the Sabbath, He would have had to physically touch the man. All He did was speak to the man and ask him to stretch out his hand. Jesus did no physical labor. This was not a violation of the law.
- Jesus exposes the “good” of the Pharisees with the true goodness of God. The Pharisees taught the people that by keeping the Law of God, they were doing good deeds. Jesus reveals in this example that failure to do good is essentially an act of evil.
What is the underlying point Jesus is making concerning the Law of God in the two Sabbath examples?
Here is the point Jesus is underscoring in these two examples. He states it in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Law was given as a gift of grace, not to become a burden to mankind. How do we know this? Because Jesus was the Author of the Law! He is not just interpreting the Law based on traditions and oral teachings, but He is the original author!
Why is Jesus angered by the Pharisees?
Mark tells us Jesus was angered because of the hardness of their heart. This scene illustrates clearly how the Lord views religious zealots who favor their own legalism more than the preciousness of a human being.
Jesus sees this poor man with a withered hand sanding their yet all that the Pharisees can see is the “rightness” of their Laws and rules. You can almost feel the tension in the room. Jesus pauses and looks at the Pharisees then looks back at the man with the withered hand. Quietly to themselves, the Pharisees are almost daring Jesus to heal the man: “go ahead… do it… do it…”
When the man with the outstretched hand suddenly sees his hand miraculously healed, the Pharisees turn in anger and charge out of the room.
How is Mark 3:6 a tipping point in the Gospel of Mark?
Up to this point, Mark has been building the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. In Mark 3:6, he tells us for the first time that their hatred towards Jesus has reached a tipping point: from this point forward, they not only openly challenge and confront Jesus, but they quietly begin to conspire to destroy Him.
What can we learn about legalism from our short series of Q & A With Jesus?
- Learn to identify a legalist. The symptoms of a legalist are often easy to spot, and we have witnessed them in abundance the last three weeks in our study of Mark 2: hard-hearted, joy-killers, authoritarian, self-righteous. Legalists make your business their business.
- As much as possible, avoid the company of a legalist. The advice and counsel of a legalist can be poison both personally and within the corporate body of the church. When you identify a legalist, be sure to guard yourself and our church against the influence of these hard-hearted hypocrites.
- Take a stand against the legalists. Jesus looked at the man with the withered hand and he had compassion; he saw how the Pharisees responded, and He became angry. There is no place for legalism in our church. Remember, a sign of a legalist is that they cannot mind their own business. They will not simply go away. Oftentimes, we must openly and publicly take a stand against them. It is often not fun, but it is necessary for the health of the church.
If you want to see how the Apostle Paul responds to legalism, read the Epistle to the Galatians. He doesn’t mince words. Consider this short example from Galatians 3:
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Galatians 3:1–6 (ESV)
Becoming A House of Prayer
“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.
Prayer is an important part of being in a small group. Group prayer goes better when we follow three simple guidelines.
- WE PRAY FOR ONE TOPIC AT A TIME – Anyone in the group is free to introduce a prayer request either before prayer begins or during the prayer time. Once a topic is introduced, the group focuses on that request alone. Once it’s covered, the group moves on to the next topic.
- PRAY MORE THAN ONCE – Because the group is focusing on one topic at a time, each person is encouraged to pray several times during the prayer time for those topics they feel most led to pray about. No one is required to pray.
- WE KEEP OUR PRAYERS SHORT AND SIMPLE – Group prayer goes better when members keep their prayers short and to the point. When someone prays for a long time, it’s hard for the other members to stay focused and long prayers tend to intimidate those who are just learning to pray out loud in a group. No one is required to pray out loud.
Review the keys to this week’s lesson:
Work to memorize this week’s memory verse: Mark 2:27-28 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
This week’s Core Virtue: Peace (Philippians 4:6-7): I am free from anxiety because things are right between God, myself and others.
Review this week’s Take Home Truth: Our Lord’s priority is, first and foremost, the heart, and legalism and loopholes only harden what he wants to heal.
Remember to use the Daily Bible Reading plan as part of your walk with Christ, taking the time to reflect on each passage and what it means for your lives.
2:23–24. In a continuation of the preceding confrontation with the Pharisees, Mark introduces a controversy that was at the heart of Judaism—the Sabbath. On this particular Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were picking off the heads of grain and rubbing them between their hands to get rid of the chaff to eat the grain. The Pharisees interpreted this as reaping, winnowing, threshing, and preparing a meal; thus, the disciples were classified as lawbreakers. The acts of picking and eating the grain were not unlawful in themselves. Fields were harvested in such a way that the corners were not harvested. These corners with standing stalks of grain could be eaten by anyone as long as they did not put a sickle to the grain (Deut. 23:25).
2:25–26. In response, Jesus referred to King David’s actions in 1 Samuel 21:1–6. The Pharisees and scribes would have been familiar with this passage. But they did not understand its significance. Matthew picks up this same story in Matthew 12:7 and adds a comment by Jesus: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (compare Luke 11:42). Jesus cut through the posturing and pretense of the Pharisees and exposed their hearts.
2:27–28. Eventually, as Jesus noted (Luke 11:46), the number of rules became a heavy burden. Instead of freeing a day for humanity to rest from its labors, the Pharisees made the Sabbath into a day of burdensome rule-keeping. With Jesus’ final statement in this chapter, he declared his lordship over the law. His Sabbath controversies, however, did not end.
3:1. Jesus and His disciples regularly worshiped in synagogues, as did Paul later. Inasmuch as this is not really a healing story, the affliction is not described in detail. It probably was some kind of paralysis.
3:2. The “some of them” are identified in v. 6 as the Pharisees. The imperfect tense (paretēroun) is probably iterative: “they kept on watching” or “kept on lying in wait for.” Apparently, they were more concerned to accuse Jesus than to worship. The scribal rule the Pharisees followed permitted healing on the Sabbath only where life was in danger, which certainly was not the present case.
3:3. The NIV’s “stand up front” is a modernization. The Greek says “get up in the middle” because, in second- and third-century synagogues at least, the seats were stone benches around the walls.
3:4 By His question, Jesus lifted the issue of Sabbath observance above a list of prohibitions to the higher general principle. No one would claim that it was “lawful” or right to do evil or kill on the Sabbath. The obvious alternative is that it must be right to do good and save life. To heal is to do good; to do nothing is to do evil. To heal is to “save” a life; not to heal is the equivalent of killing. For Mark, merely not doing work and resting on the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day was not enough. The day must be used for all kinds of good things. The Pharisees were silent because whatever answer they gave to Jesus’ question would have undermined their position on Sabbath observance.
3:5. Here is a certain reference to the anger of Jesus. In their parallel accounts, Matthew and Luke preferred not to attribute to Jesus an emotion that among humans is often sinful. Jesus’ anger was not sinful, however, because it was directed toward evil and because it was controlled. Perhaps “with righteous indignation” would avoid the offense.“At their stubborn hearts” could be translated more literally“at their hardness of heart,” but the word “hardness” often takes on the additional idea of willful “blindness.” The NEB and REB have a striking rendition here: “Looking round at them with anger and sorrow at their obstinate stupidity.” Jesus was angry not only at insensitivity toward suffering but at the entire system of legalism where the letter is more important than the spirit.
3:6. In all of ancient literature, the Herodians are referred to only here and in 12:13 (cf. Matt 22:16). One can only surmise that they supported Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (see the comments on 6:14–29). They may have further advocated restoration of Herodian rule of Judea, which was a Roman imperial province governed by a legate, or (as such officials were later called) procurator, during the ministry of Jesus. Ordinarily, the Pharisees would have had nothing to do with the Herodians, but common enemies often make strange bedfellows. Perhaps the Herodians opposed Jesus because of His relationship to John the Baptist, who condemned Herod’s divorce and remarriage (6:18).
The first explicit reference to Jesus’ death is in v. 6. The verse concludes not only the present pericope but all five conflict stories. The Pharisees’ plot to “kill” (apolesosin, which literally means “destroy” as one would do to an animal) one who not only saved a life but who came to give life to all, exemplifies Mark’s irony.