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Study 4 - Jesus: Bridegroom & Lord of the Sabbath

M ARK CHAPTERS 2:18 - 3:6

Questions 1. * Have you attended a wedding which is particularly memorable? If so, what
made it memorable?

READ Mark 2:18-3:6

2. Do you detect any theme or themes which runs through these anecdotes from
Jesus' life?
3. In Mark 2:18 some people question why Jesus' disciples do not fast while
John's disciples and the Pharisees do engage in this practice. * When was fasting
appropriate and what was it's purpose for each of these groups?
4. * What do you think Jesus was trying to communicate by referring to himself
as the Bridegroom? * Why did his presence make fasting inappropriate? * What
does this imply living as we do between Jesus' first and second comings?
5. * What does Jesus mean by metaphors “new patches on old garments” and
“new wine in old wineskins?”
6. Why are the Pharisees especially horrified at the disciples' behavior during
their walk through the grain field? What is the essence of Jesus’ response?
7. What is Jesus saying about himself by declaring that "the son of man is Lord
of the Sabbath"?
8. How does the account of the healing of the man with a withered hand on the
Sabbath reinforce the point Jesus has just made in the previous passage?
9. * What is the Pharisees’ response to the previous events and why do they
respond that way? / * How are the Pharisees contrasted with Jesus in this
passage? How does Jesus deal with them?
10. What negative characteristics in the Pharisees lives are sometimes displayed
in our lives? How can we combat them?
11. Summarize what Mark has made clear about Jesus in this passage? Which
of these things is most striking to you and what are the ramifications for your life?

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LEADER'S NOTES M ARK 2:18-3:6

Main Points Mark reveals more of Jesus’ identity. He is the Bridegroom who has come,
therefore, his presence is a cause for rejoicing. He comes with power and
authority which is beyond any previous human experience. Everything in human
history has been forever changed by this decisive event.
Jesus also refers to himself as the Son of Man who is Lord of the Sabbath. By
doing so, he is claiming not so much to be the Messiah, but to be God incarnate.
These open, provocative claims lead to plots of his death. These plots reveal how
deep the sickness of sin goes into man's heart.

Commentary on the 1. * Have you attended a wedding which is particularly memorable? If


Passage and Notes on so, what made it memorable? Approach question.
the Questions
2. Do you detect any theme or themes which runs through these
anecdotes from Jesus' life?
The focus here is the overview of the passage. Note that Jesus has the authority
to overturn the prevailing pieties of his day. Because of his presence, fasting is
redundant. Likewise, the Sabbath practices of the day do not relate to God’s
purpose as Jesus reveals it to be.
3. In Mark 2:18 some people question why Jesus' disciples do not fast
while John's disciples and the Pharisees do engage in this practice. *
When was fasting appropriate and what was it's purpose for each of these
groups?
Fasting was commanded only once a year in the Old Testament: the Day of
Atonement (Lev. 16). It was optional at other special times. It was mainly used
to demonstrate to God how serious the people were about particular issues. Such
occasions would include repentance for sin and times of desperate need and
trouble e.g. Ex. 34:28, 2 Samuel 12:22, Neh. 1:4). Fasting was not intended to
manipulate God or to get something out of him (i.e., "If I fast God will forgive
me" or "If I fast he will answer this prayer"), but was intended to express
complete dependence upon God.
The pious ritual of additional fasts did not in general please God (Is. 58). The
Pharisees and John's disciple fasted ritually, twice a week. While Jesus suggests
elsewhere that the Pharisees may have fasted largely for show and self-exaltation
(Mt. 6:16), the initial reason for doing so was to express piety and self-
consecration. John’s disciples probably fasted as an expression of mourning over
the delay of the Kingdom's coming. It was believed that the Messiah and the
long-awaited salvation would come when Israel made itself ready and worthy.
The practice was meant to hasten this event.
4. * What do you think Jesus was trying to communicate by referring to
himself as the Bridegroom? * Why did his presence make fasting

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inappropriate? * What does this imply living as we do between Jesus'


first and second comings?
The metaphor of bridegroom and bride is one of the most prevalent in the OT to
portray God's relationship to his people. (Hos. 2:16-20; Is. 54:5, 62:4-5, Jer. 2:2,32;
31:32; Ezek. 16:8). By referring to himself as the Bridegroom, Jesus hints that he
himself is God, the covenant Bridegroom of Israel, come to consummate the
marriage. Therefore Jesus reaffirms the appropriateness of the metaphor of God
as loving husband. In the same way that a husband delights in his bride on the
day of their wedding (and hopefully afterwards as well!), so God delights in us
and adores us. Jesus makes that an everyday event for us. The primacy of this
metaphor is also the reason why God's people are regularly referred to as
adulterers when disobedient.
Because Jesus the Bridegroom is now present fasting is not only inappropriate,
but impossible. With Christ's coming God’s promise is fulfilled. It’s time to
celebrate, not fast. Jesus does not suggest that John's disciples and the Pharisees
should not have been fasting, but since the kingdom they longed for had come
now was a time for rejoicing. To fast in the face of Jesus' appearing would be
like mourning at a wedding. Feasting with joy is in order. Thus Jesus’ authority
overturned the prevailing pieties of the day.
By giving his disciples permission to feast and rejoice, Jesus makes clear what he
has come to do. Rejoicing related to the great victory Jesus would make over sin
and it's consequences. Sin and it's devastating effects rightly causes sorrow and
mourning. But Jesus has already demonstrated his authority over sin (Mark 2:1-
12). He has also demonstrated the gracious character of the Kingdom. It does
not come to those who have made themselves worthy - there are none worthy,
instead, it comes to sinners and must be received as the gracious gift that it is
(Mark 2:15-17).
The natural response to Jesus' presence on earth and future presence in the New
Creation is joy (Is. 61:2-3, 65:17-19). To fast would be to deny both who he is
and what he came to do. Jesus did not say that his followers will have no cause
ever to sorrow again. A day will come when the Bridegroom will be "taken
away" from them.
"That day" refers to the day of Jesus' crucifixion, the true Day of Atonement,
where man's sinfulness will be seen and mourned as never before. "That day"
having taken place, joy in His presence will continue to be the characteristic
posture of Christian people. To be sure the joy we have now is only a foretaste
of future joy in heaven. Christians are naturally a singing, dancing people.
Nonetheless, while there are times when fasting will be very appropriate as
Christians, Jesus’ words suggest that fasting has limited use now that he has been
revealed. To avoid tangential discussion, it is important to remember that this
passage is primarily about who Jesus is and not about our present day practice
with regard to fasting.
5. * What does Jesus mean by metaphors “new patches on old
garments” and “new wine in old wineskins?”

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These metaphors further support Jesus’ identity: His coming changes everything!
Perhaps it extends the wedding metaphor. A wedding requires good clothes on
the part of the guests and an ample supply of wine on the part of the host. His
two analogies of clothing and wine focus on the power of what is new: the power
of new wine to expand and thus burst wineskins that have already been stretched
to their fullest; the power of new cloth to shrink and thus rip the already shrunken
garment on which it has been sown.
Jesus himself is what is new. His presence radically effects our world: our
religious practices, our relationships, our lives. Nothing is conducted in quite the
same way now that he has appeared to bring salvation. Jesus' emphasis is not so
much on the destruction of the old as it is on the power of new. The New
Covenant is established in his death and resurrection and therefore, his
pronouncements and authority supersede what has come before.
It is important to note that Jesus is not rejecting the Old Testament in any way in
his speaking of the new and the old. He always upheld the Scriptures. The new
covenant replaces the old covenant but not the Old Testament which foretold it.
6. Why are the Pharisees so horrified at the disciples' behavior during
their walk through the grain field? What is the essence of Jesus’
response?
The keeping of the Sabbath was of crucial significance to the Pharisees.
Keeping it was one of the most important symbols of obedience to God's law and
loyalty to God and the Jewish people. In the Old Testament, the death penalty
was prescribed for those who broke it. It's breach was a most serious matter.
Some rabbis believed that the Messiah would come if all Israel kept the Sabbath.
Because of the seriousness of the command, the Pharisees set up an intricate,
detailed system of what you could and could not do on the Sabbath. This system
went beyond the commands of Scripture, created a legal maze for ordinary people
and the true intention and purpose for the Sabbath was lost.
The Pharisees believed that Jesus' disciples were breaking the Sabbath.
Although plucking corn and removing the husk with your hand to remove and eat
the grain was allowed on other days (Deut. 23:25), the Pharisees said it was
reaping, and so forbidden on the Sabbath (Ex. 34:21). They were intent on
knowing why Jesus would let his disciples engage in this unlawful act.
Jesus' replied with a counter question in true rabbinical form. He did not deny
that the disciples were in breach of the tradition. His precedent illustrates this:
David and his men had done what was unlawful when they entered the house of
God and ate the consecrated bread (1Samuel 21:2-7) apparently on the Sabbath.
Jesus’ first point is that the Sabbath has been misunderstood by the Pharisees.
Scripture had not condemned David's actions which suggests that the whole law
was meant to be a blessing rather than a burden. Each part of the law was a gift
from God to man and not man doing something for God. "The Sabbath was
made for man, not man for the Sabbath". The disciples' action is not violating
the humanitarian purpose of the law, even though it violated the Pharisees’ rule.

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Jesus' second and more important point is that He is able to rule on the
appropriateness of his disciples' actions because he is the Son of Man. Jesus is
again underlining and emphasizing his authority. Instead of saying, "you must let
Scripture determine your life and thinking", he says in effect "Let what I say
determine your life and thinking". By this pronouncement Jesus demonstrates
his authority and Lordship over religious practice. This ends all discussion.
7. What is Jesus saying about himself by declaring that "the son of man is
Lord of the Sabbath"?
The phrase "Son of Man" leads a double life on Jesus' lips. First, it refers to
Jesus as a human being. This is how the phrase is often used in the OT. Second,
it alludes to the human-like figure in Daniel 7:9-14. This figure is no ordinary
human being for he has been “given authority, glory, and sovereign power
over all peoples” (i.e. on earth). He is also worshipped, which was unthinkable
to Jews unless he was God (Ex. 20:3-6).
With this background laid, Jesus probably meant his statement "the son of man
is Lord of the Sabbath" to be understood like this: If the Sabbath came into
being on account of human beings, then it came into being on account of me. But
since I am no ordinary human being, but the figure like a son of man in Dan. 7:13,
I am more than a beneficiary of the Sabbath. I am also its Lord, who can let my
disciples break it. Jesus use of the word "Lord" stresses his unique authority.
8. How does the account of the healing of the man with a withered hand
on the Sabbath reinforce the point Jesus has just made in the previous
passage?
The Sabbath was always meant to bring life to people, not to stifle it. God
established it for positive purposes, not negative ones, it was meant to be a period
of joy and refreshment. When we view from the perspective of what it takes
away rather than what it gives, we completely misunderstand it. By healing the
man's hand Jesus reaffirms that the Sabbath is a life-giving day. Healing is what
the Sabbath is all about, not something from which to refrain during it.
9. * What is the Pharisees’ response to the previous events and why do
they respond that way? / * How are the Pharisees contrasted with Jesus
in this passage? How does Jesus deal with them?
This scene is full of tension. The Pharisees appear to have reached their limit
with Jesus. His statements were undermining their personal religion and their
public authority. A conspiracy is set into motion to do away with him. They
begin "looking for a reason to accuse" him. This fairly ominous language
indicates some proposed legal action which would lead to his judicial death.
The great irony of this passage is that the Pharisees are so concerned about
whether Jesus is violating the Sabbath by doing good and giving life, that they
commit the ultimate evil, plotting his death on the Sabbath. The contrast between
Jesus and the Pharisees is extreme. Not only would they fail to save lives on the
Sabbath. They would actually use the Sabbath to kill Him.

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Jesus responds by challenging their thinking and interpretation of the law.


"Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to
kill?" Their silence testifies to his successful exposure of their motivation. For
Jesus this causes anger and distress. If he was distressed about the death that
awaited him he could have done the healing in secret. But He is deliberate in
healing people openly. By calling attention to this Mark may well be foretelling us
that Jesus' death was part of God's plan, which he was willing to fulfill.
Jesus is angry and distressed at the way the Pharisees mislead ordinary people.
They have a commitment not to the law of God, but a commitment to rule-
keeping. This commitment may masquerade as devotion to God, but in reality it
reveals a self-righteous, hard-heartedness. The phrase "stubborn hearts" is
borrowed from such passages as Exodus 7:14, 22; 8:19; 9:35 where equivalent
terms are used to describe the Pharaoh's resistance to Moses demand that Israel
be set free.
Mark is likening Jesus' critics to Pharaoh. By doing so he wishes to describe
their unresponsiveness to Jesus in serious terms. It is disobedience to God's
revelation and not simply innocent misunderstanding. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus
gets angry to save life, not kill, to do good, not harm. Ultimately, Jesus trumps
them by doing the healing without lifting a hand. Technically, it is not a work at
all. The power of his word alone heals the man.
10. What negative characteristics in the Pharisees lives are sometimes
displayed in our lives? How can we combat them?
There is so much wrong with the Pharisees, it's scary. Scary because, those
who seem to have it all together on the outside and who are held in such high
esteem, can be so spiritually sick. The Pharisees' hearts are rock-hard even
though their outward life is characterized by obedience. They care more about
abstract Laws than people. They are easily threatened - a clear sign of a lack of
humility and an abundance of pride. They are more concerned about losing
positions of power and esteem than they are of being right before God. Scarier
still, these same evil tendencies affect us.
One of the chief ways to combat these things is to be aware that the tendency to
behave this way is latent in us all. To be unaware of this is most dangerous.
Being religious can be a mask over truth. And after all, Jesus' hardest words
were aimed at religious people. We must therefore keep watch over ourselves
and be on guard against subtle expressions of these maladies. As we discover
further on, the remedy to this self conceit is in the cross of Christ.
11. Summarize what Mark has made clear about Jesus in this passage?
Which of these things is most striking to you and what are the
ramifications for your life?
A summary and application question to tie things together at the end.

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