THE PHARISEES QUESTION WHY

Mark 2; 13-28

BRIEF RECAP: In our previous study, we read about Jesus healing a paralytic man who was brought to Him when He was in His hometown and most likely at Peter’s house. We witnessed great faith by these men and its results: the paralytic not only being healed but his sins being forgiven as well!

In those beginning verses of our chapter, Mark brings to light the very first why question for his readers. One of many that he sheds light upon in this chapter, in his account of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum. In this study, I want to break down the remaining verses of the chapter based on those questions. Let’s get to it! Ready?

14 As He passed by, He saw [b]Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax office, and He *said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

15 And it *happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and [c]sinners were [d]dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the [e]sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating with tax collectors and [f]sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

FOCUS ONE: Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners?

Here again, we witness Jesus walking by a man He calls to follow Him. He did this same thing with Simon and Andrew as they were casting nets into the sea (1:16-17) and with James and John mending their fishing nets (1: 19-20). And now, in the same manner, he says to Levi (Matthew ) as He passed by the tax office, “follow me.” 

Luke adds, “he left everything behind, got up and began to follow Him (Luke 5:28). Even though the other accounts mentioned above do not have those words, the implications are there! Following Christ requires commitment, a willingness to forsake all else for Him.

It appears that Levi wanted to throw a “going away” party for his friends that he would be leaving behind. Levi certainly knew that the people despised his profession. He witnessed and practiced all sorts of theft and deception, to say the least, in his work each day exacting taxes and his share for the Romans from his people. Levi wants them to meet Jesus! So, he has a party at his home, and Jesus is the guest of honor!

While Levi (Matthew) obediently follows the Lord and commits all to Him, his co-workers are not so disposed but are curious to see this man who would NOT ONLY have contact with them but would enjoy fellowship with them as well. So much so that Mark records that many were present.

Once again, we find the “scribes of the Pharisees,” questioning what Jesus does or says. They ask why He eats with these people and enjoys such close fellowship with them. According to their philosophy, these people were ignorant of the Law and did not follow the strict pharisaic standards. Sinners (v.16) denotes people who refuse to follow the Mosaic Law as they interpreted it. Jesus’ answer to their question is very profound and instructive. “And hearing this, Jesus *said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”

  • Healthy people don’t need a physician; sick people do
  • I came to call sinners, not the self-righteous (to eternal life)

“*Jesus’ call is to salvation; and in order to share in it, there must be a recognition of need. A self-righteous man is incapable of recognizing that need, but a sinner can.”

The Pharisees would see no need for themselves to repent (healthy people, at least in their own eyes), but sinners (sick people) can and would be able to acknowledge their guilt and need for forgiveness.

Which type of person are you? 

18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they *came and *said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “While the groom is with them, [a]the attendants of the groom cannot fast, can they? As long as they have the groom with them, they cannot fast. 20 But the days will come when the groom is taken away from them, and then they will fast, on that day.

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise, [b]the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

FOCUS TWO: Why don’t your disciples fast?

Directly on the heels of the last question and Jesus’ response to it, we read of another issue that concerned the Pharisees and John’s disciples. The problems were that of “fasting” and why Christ’s disciples were not practicing the twice-a-week fast that the Pharisees decreed should be adhered to (Luke 18:9-14).

Twice a week fasting is more than required by any biblical standard. 

“*Jesus did fast on at least one occasion (Matthew 4:2)- but privately, in accordance with His own teaching (Matthew 6:16-18). The Law also prescribed a fast on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29-31), but all other fasts were supposed to be voluntary, for specific reasons… The fact that these Pharisees raised this question shows that they thought of fasting as a public exercise to display ones own spirituality.”

Jesus responds to their question with a question! His question “sets up a comparison and a veiled analogy to Himself.” It would be very inappropriate for the guests at a wedding and the bridegrooms’ attendants to fast (a sign of mourning) while the bridegroom is with them and the event is joyful. This situation will one day change (Acts 1:9-10), and then fasting (mourning) would be a proper response.

This allusion by Jesus of His death is the first hint of the cross in Mark’s gospel.

It is interesting, and I think we need to be made aware that John’s disciples are following the Pharisaic rendering of the Law as well! Not only the Pharisees. These disciples of John would appear to be those that DID NOT transfer their allegiance or faith to Christ (Acts 19:1-9). 

So, what does the “parable” of the cloth’s and wineskins have to do with fasting?

One thing that we should keep in the forefront of our minds as we study the gospels is their “transitional nature.” They are the bridge from the Old Testament (Law) to the New Testament (Grace). From laws being written in stone, to God’s Law being written on our hearts! From the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Jesus is making a critical point that they need to understand moving forward, and that is: “*Any attempt to bind the newness of the gospel to the old religion of Judaism is as futile as trying to patch an old garment with a new unstrung piece of cloth. Equally disastrous to pour new wine into old wine skins… Salvation, available through Jesus, was not to be mixed with the old Judaistic system.”

23 And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain24 The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the [a]time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the [b]consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath [c]was made [d]for man, and not man [e]for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.

FOCUS THREE: Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?

Yet again, the Pharisees are upset with what Jesus does or doesn’t do, allows, or does not allow. This time their question is regarding the sabbath observance. How much time transpired between Levi’s house and this incident is unknown other than what is stated in our text: it happened on the Sabbath. 

And that is the problem that the Pharisees have with Jesus’ disciples picking the heads of the grain. Not so much that they did it, but they did it on the Sabbath! What the disciples did was not in violation of any known law (Deuteronomy 23:25). “What the Pharisees objected to was doing this (what they regarded as reaping) on the sabbath.” They added many rules to the laws given by Moses and made it so unbearable to comply with the Law faithfully.

So, again, Jesus answers the question with a question that comes from an account in 1 Samuel 21:1-6, where David and his companions were hungry and ate the consecrated bread. “Although the actions of David were contrary to the law, he was NOT condemned for it.” Jesus does not claim that the sabbath law was not broken but that such violations under certain circumstances are warranted. In other words: “Human need is a higher law than religious ritualistic.”

 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath [c]was made [d]for man, and not man [e]for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.

In this statement, “Jesus claimed He was greater than the Sabbath, and thus was God. Based on that authority, Jesus could in fact reject the Pharisaic regulations concerning the Sabbath and restore God’s originalintention for sabbath observance to be a blessing not a burden” (MacArthur Study Bible).

This should challenge us. Has our observance of the means of grace, sacraments of the church, etc., become more of a burden than a blessing to us? We need to examine ourselves and humbly confess such things to our Heavenly Father. What God meant for our good, let us not make it a burden.

*The Expositors Bible Commentary 8, pg. 635

* MacArthur Study Bible notes

*The bible knowledge Commentary, pg. 114

One thought on “THE PHARISEES QUESTION WHY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s