Setting

In the previous passage, we noticed that Jesus’ ministry had begun to draw the attention of the religious leaders (5:17). This lesson examines the controversies that took place. The scribes and Pharisees first directed their complaints at the disciples, and eventually at Jesus Himself. In the final controversy, Jesus initiated an action that challenged the beliefs of His accusers. Through each incident, their resistance continued to build up until they finally plotted against Him.

Key Verse

(5:32; 6:5)

Did You Know...?

1. Levi (5:27) is another name for Matthew (Mt 9:9).
2. Showbread/consecrated bread (6:4): lit. ‘bread of the face’, i.e. bread set before the face or presence of God (Ex. xxv. 30, xxxv. 13, xxxix. 36, etc.)… The showbread consisted of twelve baked cakes, made of fine flour, each containing two-tenths of an ephah… These were set in two rows, six to a row (ma’areket, Lv. xxiv. 6). [ref]

Outline

  • Calling of Levi
    (5:27-32)
  • The Question about Fasting
    (5:33-39)
  • Lord of the Sabbath
    (6:1-11)

Segment Analysis

  • 5:27-32

    1a.

    Why is it remarkable that Jesus chose Levi to be a disciple?

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    Jesus chose a tax collector, a social and religious outcast.

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  • 1b.

    What does this tell us about the nature of God’s calling?

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    When the Lord calls us to obey His will, we ought to respond immediately and dedicate ourselves totally even though it may be difficult to set aside our plans, commitment, and desires.

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  • 2a.

    Levi seemed to respond to the Lord’s calling without effort. But suppose you were Levi, what would it take for you to take such a momentous step in your life? What obstacles may hinder you from following the Lord?

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  • 2b.

    What can you learn from Levi’s experience about discipleship?

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  • 3a.

    Why did the scribes and the Pharisees complain?

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    In the society at that time, eating and drinking with someone implied acceptance. Therefore, for Jesus and His disciples to dine with “sinners” was a direct challenge to the teachings and traditions of the Pharisees.

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  • 3b.

    In what ways do we sometimes think and act like the scribes and the Pharisees in this story?

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  • 4a.

    Who are the righteous and those who are well?

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    In one sense, they are those who faithfully keep God’s commandments. On the other hand, since no one can be righteous before God, Jesus was most likely referring to those who were self-righteous.

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  • 4b.

    Who are the sinners and the sick?

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    Like the words “righteous” and “those who are well,” “the sinners” and “the sick” may also have a dual meaning. They could refer to those whom others consider as sinners. But since everyone is a sinner before God, it is more likely that Jesus was referring to everyone who is humble enough to come to repentance.

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  • 4c.

    What is the irony in Jesus’ statement?

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    Jesus said that He had come to call sinners to repentance. While everyone is a sinner and needs repentance, only those who are humble enough to see themselves as sinners would repent and receive God’s grace. Those who think they are righteous, however, have forfeited God’s grace, and the salvation of Christ would not benefit them. While the scribes and Pharisees despised the sinners, they themselves were rejected by God.

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  • 4d.

    What do Jesus’ words teach us about how to receive God’s grace?

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    Repentance is the key to receiving God’s grace, and repentance begins with how a person views himself. We must humbly acknowledge our sins and respond to Christ’s call by forsaking our sinful ways.

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  • 5:33-39

    5.

    What is the point of the question about fasting (33)?

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    For the Pharisees, fasting was an indication of piety (cf. 18:12). Thus the scribes and the Pharisees implicitly accused the disciples of leading a lifestyle that was considered improper for the devout and the religious.

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  • 6.

    Explain the analogy in 34-35.

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    John the Baptist had at one point told his disciples that Jesus was the bridegroom and he was the friend of the bridegroom (Jn 3:29). Since the presence of Jesus the Bridegroom was a joyful occasion, it would be inappropriate for the disciples to fast while Jesus was with them. But they would surely fast after Jesus’ arrest and death (Acts 13:3; 14:23).
    Jesus was not denying the practice of fasting. But, as we can see in the following verses, He was speaking about doing what is proper for the occasion.

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  • 7.

    What is the purpose of fasting? How had the scribes and Pharisees misunderstood the purpose?

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    Personal or group fasting was done usually as self-humiliation before God, often in connection with repentance (Neh 9:1,2; Ps 35:13; Isa 58:3,5 Dan 9:2-10; 10:2,3; Jon 3:5; Acts 9:9) or as special petition to the Lord (Deut 9:18; Judg 20:26; 2Sam 1:12; 2Chr 20:3; Ezra 8:21-23; Est 4:16; Acts 14:23). Fasting was also done in connection with devotion and service to God (Lk 2:36,37; Acts 13:2,3; Mt 4:1-2). Prayer with fasting, if done with sincerity, is powerful; it can even drive out evil spirits (Mt 17:21).
    The scribes and the Pharisees, having neglected the spirit of fasting, had turned this important practice into a symbol of religious devotion and a means for passing judgment on others.

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  • 8a.

    What do the new garment and new wine refer to? What are the old garment and old wineskin?

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    The new garment and new wine refer to Jesus’ ministry, whereas the old garment and old wineskin refer to the old mode of thinking that was accustomed to human religious traditions.

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  • 8b.

    Why are they incompatible? What is the meaning of this parable?

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    It was not appropriate for the people to try to fit the ministry of Jesus in the old framework of Pharisaic laws. As Jesus stressed in his teachings on the mount, the coming of God’s kingdom must be accepted with a new mind and attitude, not with the rigid and superficial religious observances.

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  • 8c.

    Explain verse 39.

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    Jesus was simply pointing out people’s reluctance to change.

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  • 6:1-5

    9.

    By defending what the disciples did, was Jesus abolishing God’s command to keep the Sabbath?

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    While some have wrongly used Jesus’ words as a basis for removing the Sabbath commandment, nowhere in the Bible does Jesus ever state that believers do not need to keep the Sabbath. The point of contention in this narrative was not whether to keep the Sabbath but how to keep the Sabbath in the true spirit.

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  • 10.

    What point did Jesus illustrate by citing the story of David?

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    God would not condemn a person for breaking His law if the action was to meet an immediate need. The disciples’ violation of the Sabbath restrictions was not for their enjoyment but out of hunger while following the Lord. So their actions were justifiable.

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  • 11.

    What does it mean that the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath?

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    Jesus Christ, being the eternal God Himself, established the Sabbath and is therefore greater than the Sabbath. As the Lord of the Sabbath, He is the one we should honor over and above the Sabbath. If He did not condemn the disciples, no one else had the prerogative to do so.

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  • 12.

    What lesson can we learn here about the spirit of observing God’s commandment?

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    In Matthew 12:7, the Lord Jesus reinforced this divine principle: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” As far as God is concerned, love and mercy take priority over ceremonial observances (without denying the latter). While we keep God’s commandments, we need to be careful not to turn our deeds of obedience into mere religious rituals and lose sight of God’s intended purpose for these commandments.

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  • 6:6-11

    13a.

    Were the Pharisees genuinely interested in keeping God’s command? What was their reason for watching Jesus closely?

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  • 13b.

    We may sometimes also watch other people closely the way the Pharisees watched Jesus. What does this reveal about ourselves? How should we correct this attitude?

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  • 14a.

    How did Jesus’ question in verse 9 point out the mistake of the scribes and Pharisees?

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    Whereas the scribes and Pharisees only focused on the details of Sabbath regulations (although the regulation that forbid healing on the Sabbath was from the Rabbinical law, not from God’s commandment), Jesus was concerned about doing what pleases God on the Sabbath. Jesus’ question pointed out that withholding a good deed from someone in need is actually evil, and refusing to save a life is destroying a life. Although Jesus could have waited until the next day to heal the person, He took the initiative to heal the man to show His accusers that the restrictions they had placed on the Sabbath commandment was a serious violation of God’s law.

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  • 14b.

    Why did Jesus look around at them all after asking them the question? (10)

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    He was drawing an inner response from His listeners. He made an appeal to their conscience, hoping that they would reconsider what is right before God.

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  • 15.

    Why were the scribes and Pharisees filled with rage?

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