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Lesson 3: Sabbath Healings and Hard Hearts *

Introduction: Recently, I was skimming over an article that argued that Jesus' treatment of the Sabbath teaches us that we should no longer observe it. Is this true? What was Jesus trying to teach us in His treatment of the Sabbath? Let's dive into God's word and see if we can understand Jesus' lesson for us!

  1. Sabbath Harvest

    1. Read Mark 2:23-24. Are the Jewish leaders concerned about stealing or Sabbath-breaking? (Read Deuteronomy 23:24-25. What the disciples were doing was not considered stealing.)

      1. Why would this be considered a violation of the Sabbath? (Moses prohibited a number of things on the Sabbath, such as building a fire. ( Exodus 35:3.) Nothing is written, however, about snacking on grain. The Jewish leaders must be alleging that the disciples are working (harvesting)on Sabbath. (Exodus 20:8-10; Exodus 34:21.))

      2. If you were Jesus, how would you answer this charge? ("What are you, nuts? What they are doing is not working.")

    2. Read Mark 2:25-26. How did Jesus answer this? (He said "David also broke the rules.")

      1. Alright, parents, I need your opinion here. Your one child does something that violates the household rules. When you reprimand that child, he says, "Jane disobeys too!" What do you think about that kind of a defense?

      2. Jesus has a perfectly good and simple defense - "It's not work." He cannot be choosing a defense we would not accept from our children. He must be arguing something else. What is it?

      3. Are there any circumstances in which the "others do it" defense would be valid? (Yes. There are three. First, personal exceptions. The person violating the law is an exception and has a right to violate the law. Airport employees get to park in special, close-in parking. If you park there, it is okay if you can say, "I'm also an airport employee." David was about to become King of Israel. Jesus may be arguing that He, too, is entitled to king privileges. Second, exceptions of circumstance. Perhaps being (v. 25) "hungry and in need" is a valid exception to the Sabbath rule - human need supercedes the Sabbath rule. Third, an invalid rule. You talk about others violating the law if the law is not really a valid, enforceable law. You say, "It is okay to drive ten miles an hour over the speed limit. Everyone does it, and the police will not stop you.")

        1. Which of these three arguments do you think Jesus is making? (Read Mark 2:27-28. If, in verse 28, Jesus is not saying that He has special personal privileges (the "I'm a King too, argument"), He is at least saying "As the King I'm entitled to say what violates the Sabbath." In verse 27 Jesus is teaching something about the nature of the Sabbath. This seems to be the "human need" argument.)

    3. To get a better picture of this, let's consult Matthew 12:3-7. Matthew gives us a fuller view of Jesus' argument. With this greater insight, which of these two alternative arguments is Jesus making? (David is an exception, the priests are an exception to the rule. Jesus is plainly arguing that He is an exception to the rule.)

      1. What do you think that Jesus means in Matthew 12:7 when He quotes Hosea 6:6 "I desire mercy, not sacrifice?" (Go slow on hurling accusations.)

    4. Let's go back to Mark 2:27. How do you understand this verse? (Jesus is saying more than "I'm the King, the guys with Me have a pass on the Sabbath rules." He is telling the Jewish leaders that He disagrees with their view of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made to be a blessing to humans. Its purpose was to benefit humans. It was not an arbitrary regulation to be held above human need.)

  2. Sabbath Healing

    1. Read Mark 3:1-2. What made them think Jesus might heal on the Sabbath?

    2. Read Mark 3:3. The Jewish leaders thought they needed to watch closely to see if Jesus violated the law. They were going to "catch Him." How does Jesus react to that? (He calls the shriveled hand guy up front and center so no one can miss this!)

    3. Read Mark 3:4-5. What is Jesus teaching us about observing the Sabbath?

      1. Is there anything in what Jesus said which would cause you to believe that He did not believe in Sabbath-keeping? (Jesus is clearly arguing what should be the proper standard for Sabbath-keeping, not whether there should be any standards.)

      2. Jesus could have healed the shriveled hand guy the next day. Why should He be angry at those who wanted to err on the "conservative" side? (When I was growing up in religious schools, I endured all sorts of rules. It never occurred to me that having all of these rules might in itself be a sin. It seemed that only violating the rules could be a sin. Only in recent years have I begun to understand the Deuteronomy 4:2 principle: it is just as wrong to add rules God has not required as it is to teach you can ignore the rules which God has required. Both put you in the position of usurping God.)

  3. Pet Names

    1. Read Mark 3:13-19. I have heard it said that Jesus never "called" Judas. These verses show that this is not true. Why would Jesus call someone to be an apostle who would eventually betray Him?

      1. In the "roll-call" of apostles, which apostle is named first? (Peter. This is further evidence that Mark worked with Peter and that this gospel account reflects Peter's sermons.)

      2. Which apostles get "nick-names?" What does this show? (It generally shows special affection. My wife teases me by pointing out that my father had a nick-name for my brother, but not for me!)

  4. Grieving the Holy Spirit

    1. Let's go back and read Mark 3:6 and then skip down and read Mark 3:22. Do you think the Jewish leaders believed that Jesus was allied with the prince of demons? ( Mark 3:6 reveals that they were in a "get rid of Him" mode. Thus, I think it unlikely they truly believed these charges.)

    2. Read Mark 3:23-27. What logic does Jesus use to oppose the "prince of demons" charge?

      1. Should we apply Jesus' logic to competing, non-Christian religions today, which teach positive moral values?

      2. The world was rocked this week by the death of Pope John Paul. I admired him because of his strong stand on the most controversial moral issues of the day. For example, he took a rock-steady position against abortion, while my own church allows abortions to be performed in its hospitals. For the past several years, my church's most prominent moral stand on a public social issue has been against smoking! ("When everyone agrees, we will firmly put our foot down!") Yet, some I know would charge that the Pope was allied with Beelzebub. How do you understand and apply Jesus' teachings to those charges against the Pope?

    3. Read Mark 3:28-29. Has Jesus changed topics? Is He off on another subject? (No.)

      1. These are some of the most frightening words of the Bible. What does Jesus say about wrongly attributing to Satan the work of God? (Jesus says this is the "eternal sin." Some refer to this as the "unpardonable sin.")

      2. The context of the charges against Jesus is His healings. Does this mean that if I see a faith-healer who preaches Jesus, and I charge that he is working by the power of Satan, that I have committed the unpardonable sin?

        1. What if I charge that any Christian leader is in league with Satan, have I committed the unpardonable sin?

      3. Or, does Jesus only mean that if I close my mind to the working of the Holy Spirit, that I have committed the unpardonable sin?

        1. Is Jesus referring here to a single statement, or an attitude of the heart? (My view is that Jesus is speaking of an attitude of the heart, and inaccurate and defamatory statements about fellow Christians is not the unpardonable sin. However, I would counsel great caution in this area because you do not want to be wrong!)

    4. Friend, Jesus did not teach us to violate the Sabbath. Instead, He taught us how to better understand what it means to keep the Sabbath. The controversy over Sabbath-keeping, and the charges made against Jesus teach us that we need to be careful about hurling accusations against fellow Christians simply because they may disagree with us on certain points. God asks us to show mercy. Will you?

  5. Next week: By Galilee.
* Copr. 2005, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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