Mark 2: 18 – Mark 3: 6 NLT
A Discussion about Fasting
18 Once when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and asked, “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples and the Pharisees do?”
19 Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them. 20 But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.
21 “Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before.
22 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.”
A Discussion about the Sabbath
23 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. 24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
25 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
3 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.
5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.”
These verses in Mark delve into rule keeping. The Pharisees were concerned about fasting and keeping the Sabbath rules. These rules were extremely important to them since they considered following them was doing what God wanted, and what God had instructed in the Old Testament. I can understand their concern, because as a Christ follower, I read the New Testament and look for things Jesus wants us to be and do. That is important to me today. So, let’s take a look at the rules the Pharisees were so on the defensive about.
First, let’s look at fasting. What is it, and should we doing it today? Fasting can be about abstaining from food or a particular food. It can also mean not participating in some activity for a specific period of time. In the Old Testament, fasting was required only one day a year, the Day of Atonement. (The Pharisees obviously overemphasized fasting) GotQuestions.org talks about fasting among Christians:
“Scripture does not command Christians to fast. God does not require or demand it of Christians. At the same time, the Bible presents fasting as something that is good, profitable, and beneficial. The book of Acts records believers fasting before they made important decisions (Acts
13:2; 14:23). Fasting and prayer are often linked together (Luke 2:37; 5:33). Too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. Instead, the purpose of fasting should be to take your eyes off the things of this world to focus completely on God. Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God …
By taking our eyes off the things of this world, we can more successfully turn our attention to Christ. Fasting is not a way to get God to do what we want. Fasting changes us, not God. Fasting is not a way to appear more spiritual than others. Fasting is to be done in a spirit of humility and a joyful attitude. Matthew 6:16-18 declares, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The Pharisees also made a big deal about the Sabbath – tons of rules to keep. You shouldn’t eat at all between sunrise and sundown. You shouldn’t do any work at all during the Sabbath. Jesus’ disciples were picking of heads of grain and eating it as they walked along. Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Even today among orthodox Jews, there are many rules to keep about the Sabbath. They tend to live near their synagogue so they can walk there since cars are considered work-related. All food is prepared the day ahead.
Francis Chan, in his Bible study course on Mark, has some interesting things to say about the Pharisees and their Sabbath rules:
“The word ‘Sabbath’ means ‘cease, rest, or desist’ and occurs, in its various forms, 104 times in the Old Testament alone. Though the word does not appear in Genesis, the concept of Sabbath is shown in Genesis 1: 1 – 24 where God creates the world and all living things in 6 days, then rests on the seventh.
Exodus 20: 11 clarifies that the seventh day is meant to be the Sabbath day, holy and blessed. The text implies that, because God rested on the seventh day of creation, humankind should follow his example and rest on the seventh day. But over the centuries, as Israel turned from Yahweh, they abandoned the regular practice of Sabbath. … and made up rules of their own.”
Jesus’ disciples in Mark 2 and 3 weren’t breaking the original purpose of Sabbath – a day of rest. Jesus is introducing a whole new way of worship and following God. Jesus uses a wedding as an example. He is the bridegroom of the coming church. You don’t fast at a wedding. It’s a celebration, and our worship today is a celebration of Jesus’ coming to earth and taking our punishment for sin. Dozens of rules about keeping a day of rest doesn’t mean a restful day; in fact, rules likely will result in a difficult day.
This idea of a day of rest on the seventh day of the week – is something God initiated at the creation of the world. “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he
rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (Genesis 2: 2 – 3) Today, we don’t observe the Sabbath, but rather the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Today, we don’t observe the Sabbath, but rather the first day of the week, the day Jesus rose from the dead.
This idea of taking a day of rest and making it “holy” or worshipful is something we should think about. Do we do that today? Do you observe Sunday as an intentional time of rest? What does Sunday look like to you? Do you have a day of rest that influences your spiritual life, your physical and emotional health? Let each one of us, including myself, really think about this. If God took a day of rest, shouldn’t we? What kind of schedule on a Sunday (or another day if necessary) would be restful for you?