Setting

The Pharisees had been judging Jesus in their minds (2:6-7) and questioning His disciples (2:16). They now openly accused Him of breaking God’s law. They did not accept the fact that Jesus came to reveal the true meaning of the law. Because both the Pharisees (religious leaders) and the Herodians (political leaders) felt that Jesus threatened their influence, they plotted to kill Him.

Key Verse

(2:21-22)

Did You Know...?

1. Fasting (2:18): In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees fasted twice a week, on Monday and Thursday. They adopted a somber or downcast air by not washing and shaving, and sprinkling ashes on themselves to signify self-denial. [ref]

2. Some of John’s disciples probably still had not heard of Jesus. In fact, many years later, the apostle Paul discovered some disciples in Ephesus who received only John’s baptism and had never heard of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7)!

3. Based on their interpretation of the commandment of the Sabbath (cf. Ex 20:9-10, 31:15), the Pharisees specified 39 forbidden acts on the Sabbath. Among them was reaping, which they accused Jesus’ disciples of doing. [ref] By the same token, healing (a form of work) was also forbidden on the Sabbath.

4. Old garment (2:21): If a new garment patch sewn onto an old garment becomes wet, the new will shrink, pull away from the old, and make a large hole. [ref]

5. Wineskins (2:22): In ancient times, goatskins were used to hold wine. [ref] Over time, the skin became hard and brittle. If new wine, still fermenting, were put into such an old skin, the buildup of fermenting gases would split the brittle container and ruin both the bottle and the wine. New wine was placed only in new wineskins still pliable and elastic enough to accommodate the pressure. [ref]

6. Abiathar (2:26): David actually received the consecrated bread from Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father. It was customary to indicate a section of the Old Testament this way. Abiathar became high priest shortly after Ahimelech and was more prominent, thus justifying the use of his name here. [ref]

7. Showbread/consecrated bread (2:26): Twelve loaves of unleavened bread were placed on the table in the holy place, one above the other, in two columns. They remained on the table for a week, then were removed and eaten by the priest in the sanctuary. It was sacrilegious for anyone not a priest to eat the showbread. [ref]

8. Herodians (3:6): A minority Jewish political group that openly supported the reigning family of Herod and its pro-Roman sympathies. [ref]

Outline

  • Fasting
  • People ask Jesus why His disciples are not fasting
  • Analogy of the bridegroom
  • The New and the Old
  • Unshrunk cloth on old garment
  • New wine in old wineskins
  • Sabbath
  • Pharisees accuse the disciples of breaking the Sabbath
  • “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”
  • Pharisees waiting to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath
  • Jesus rebukes the Pharisees and heals the man with a withered hand
  • Plotting against Jesus
    (3:6)

Keywords/Phrases

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General Analysis

  • 1.

    When was the last time you learned something new in your spiritual knowledge? What did you learn?

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  • 2.

    List your routines in work, in school, and in church. Why do you keep your routines?

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  • 3.

    List the characters in this passage who asked questions. Why did each ask a question?

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    People asked about fasting (2:18). They asked because Jesus’ disciples were not doing what other respected religious figures were doing.

    The Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples were doing what was not lawful on the Sabbath (2:24). They asked in order to discredit Jesus for condoning His disciples’ breaking the law.

    Jesus answered the questions/accusations with questions of his own (2:19, 2:25, 3:4). He often taught by asking the right questions. It is more effective to let a person come up with the answer, instead of just telling him. Even the Pharisees knew what was right and wrong. However, they chose to ignore the truth (3:4-5) and instead acted out of their evil intentions (3:6).

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  • 4.

    The Pharisees looked for every opportunity to accuse Jesus. Do you know people who find fault with your faith or with the church? How do you respond?

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  • 5.

    Read Isaiah 58. What are the teachings on fasting and observing the Sabbath?

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Segment Analysis

  • 2:18-20

    1.

    List the biblical reasons for fasting. (Look up “fast” and “fasting” in a Bible concordance.)

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    To humble oneself, to repent (Ps 69:10); to pray for someone else (Ps 35:13); to cast out unclean spirit (Mk 9:29); to seek God’s guidance and revelation (Acts 10:30); to pray for God’s workers (Acts 14:23); to prepare against temptation (Mt 4:1-3). Note that in each case, fasting goes together with praying.

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  • 2.

    Whom does each of the following refer to? a. Bridegroom (Jn 3:28-30; Mt 25:10-11); b. Wedding guests (Mt 22:1-14; Jn 3:29)

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    a. Bridegroom—Jesus

    b. Wedding guests—the disciples; the believers

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  • 3.

    How does the analogy of the bridegroom and the wedding guests answer the Pharisee’s accusations? (cf. Mt 6:16-18).

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    The purpose of fasting is to strengthen us spiritually to pray and to be closer to God. It was also a sign of mourning and contrition. Since Jesus was there with the disciples everyday, living with them and sharing with them the gospel, fasting at this time would have been out of place. In fact, it was right for them to rejoice while Jesus was still with them.

    On the other hand, the Pharisees had twisted fasting into a sign of meaningless suffering, even using it to put on a devout appearance. They stayed true to their routine of fasting but failed to rejoice at the coming of the Son of God!

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  • 2:21-22

    4.

    What does each of the following represent? a. Unshrunk cloth (Mt 5:17); b. Old garment (Ps 102:25-27); c. Tear; d. New wine (Eph 5:18; Song 1:2); e. Old wineskins; f. New wineskins

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    a. Unshrunk cloth—Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament laws

    b. Old garment—rigid formalities of the Pharisees’ rules; the physical world (as opposed to the spiritual world)

    c. Tear—failure to observe God’s laws

    d. New wine—Jesus’ new teaching; the Holy Spirit; God’s love

    e. Old wineskins—the Pharisee’s stubbornness.

    f. New wineskins—the new self, willing to accept Jesus

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  • 5.

    How do the analogies of the cloth and the wineskin answer the Pharisee’s accusations? (cf. Mt 5:17-48; Rom 8:13-16; 1Cor 5:6; Eph 2:11-18; Heb 5:4-6).

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    Jesus taught that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law (Mt 5:17-18). We must go beyond technicalities (Mt 17:20). For example, the law says, “Thou shall not murder,” but we must not be proud just because we do not murder anyone. Jesus teaches us that hatred is equivalent to murder (Mt 5:22).

    Through Jesus Christ, God has made a new covenant with us (Heb 8:10- 13, 9:15). When we are baptized, Christ is our new garment (Gal 3:27). Jesus’ teachings (unshrunk patch) can mend our imperfections (tear) only if we leave our old assumptions behind (replace the old cloth with the new). The Pharisees clung to their traditions (2Cor 3:14-15), and Jesus became their stumbling block (1Pet 2:8), like unshrunk cloth that makes a tear worse on old garment. They ruined themselves like the old wineskins, and wasted God’s grace (Heb 10:29) like ruined new wine.

    Through the blood of Christ, we enjoy the same covenants God made with the Israelites (Eph 2:12-13). The Old Testament laws are not obsolete. Today, the Holy Spirit teaches us how to turn these biblical principles into everyday practice, beyond the written regulations (Eph 2:14-16). Jesus probably never asked Himself, “Should I fast today or not?” “Can I heal on the Sabbath or not?” He naturally knew what to do and what not to do. When the Holy Spirit lives in us, we too can live as Jesus lived (Rom 8:10-11).

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  • 6.

    Since the new is better than the old, why can’t we adapt biblical teachings to match current values?

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    Jesus was not teaching that anything new is necessarily better. He was simply using the analogy of the new and the old to compare His teachings to the traditions of the Pharisees. He was not talking about
    contemporary values of men being better than age-old truths of the Bible.

    God’s word is applicable anytime, anywhere. Gods word also never changes, and it does not need to be changed. We must not modify biblical teachings to suit our ideas. Rather, we must change ourselves to accept the Holy Spirit’s guidance (Rom 8:5-7).

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  • 2:23-3:6

    7a.

    Read 1Samuel 21:1-6. Why did David eat the consecrated bread?

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    He was running for his life. It is reasonable to assume that he did not bring much food (if at all). Jesus said that David and his companions were hungry and in need.

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  • 7b.

    Which part of the law did David violate?

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    The only law David broke was eating the consecrated bread, which was supposed to be for the priests only. Otherwise, David complied with the law as best as he could. He asked the high priest for bread, and did not take it by force. His men had kept themselves from women (1Sam 21:4-5). The priest gave him the bread that had been removed from the table, not the bread that was still dedicated to the Lord (1Sam 21:6).

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  • 7c.

    What does the story of David eating the showbread have to do with what Jesus said in 2:27? (cf. Mt 12:1-8).

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    Jesus pointed out the order between man and the Sabbath. God did not create man to observe arbitrary laws. He created the Sabbath for man to rest, to supply our physical and spiritual needs. It was the Pharisees who made the Sabbath into a burden.

    David ate the bread because he needed to. The disciples ate also because they needed to. Helping someone’s physical and/or spiritual needs is more important than observing religious regulations. In Mt 12:5, Jesus pointed out the fallacy in the Pharisees’ reasoning. If it was lawful for a priest to serve in the temple on the Sabbath, then it was lawful to serve man and God.

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  • 8.

    What did Jesus mean by the words in 2:28? How did He come to this conclusion (note the word “Therefore”)?

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    Jesus is the Lord of mankind, and He was the One who made the Sabbath for man. Therefore, He is also the Lord of the Sabbath. Since Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, He decides what is lawful on the Sabbath. If even the Lord of the Sabbath did not charge the disciples of desecrating the Sabbath, how could the Pharisees condemn them?

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  • 9.

    What are the implications/consequences of each possible answer to Jesus’ questions (3:4)? If you were one of the Pharisees, how would you have answered Jesus? a. “It is lawful to do good.”; b. “It is not lawful to do good.”; c. “It is lawful to do evil.”; d. “It is not lawful to do evil.”; e. “It is lawful to save a life.”; f. “It is not lawful to save a life.”; g. “It is lawful to kill.”; h. “It is not lawful to kill.”

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    a. “It is lawful to do good.”—This implies human benefit takes precedence over regulations. Then it would be lawful for the disciples to pick grains to eat, because it was a human need (hunger), just like David eating the consecrated bread because it was necessary. Also, Jesus could not be accused of healing on the Sabbath.

    b. “It is not lawful to do good.”—If that is the case, then priests should not be allowed to work on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees and scribes should not be allowed to teach on the Sabbath.

    c. “It is lawful to do evil.”—It is clearly against God’s law.

    d. “It is not lawful to do evil.”—The Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus and accuse Him (and, later, to kill Him). Also, it is evil to withhold help to someone in need (Jas 2:14-17). They had evil intentions in their hearts. So they would be condemning themselves if they said this.

    e. “It is lawful to save a life.”—Then it is lawful for Jesus to heal, and for the disciples to pick grains to eat so that they do not starve.

    f. “It is not lawful to save a life.”—In Mt 12:11-12, Jesus asked the Pharisees if they would not save their sheep on the Sabbath if it fell into a pit. If they would save an animal, how could they not save a man?

    g. “It is lawful to kill.”—It is clearly against God’s law, and against the Pharisees’ own regulations.

    h. “It is not lawful to kill.”—At the same time the Pharisees harbored thoughts of killing Jesus.

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  • 10.

    Why were the Pharisees silent?

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    The only way to answer Jesus’ questions was to admit that Jesus was right. The Pharisees were silent (3:4) because they refused to confess that they had been wrong. Instead, they went out and committed a much greater offense (plotting to kill Jesus) than not observing the Sabbath laws.

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  • 11.

    Why did Jesus heal the man with a withered hand?

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    Jesus answered His own question through His action. By healing the man on the Sabbath, He showed that it is lawful to do good, and to save life. Moreover, the fact that God gave Jesus the power to heal on the Sabbath confirmed that His teaching is true (cf. 16:20).

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