I. The religious practice in question – the Sabbath (v. 23)
II. The religious practice misunderstood (v. 24)
III. The religious practice properly explained (vv. 25-27)
First, Jesus deals with the wrong thinking of the Pharisees by properly explaining the Sabbath. Jesus responded to the question of the Pharisees by asking a question of his own: “And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?'” In essence Jesus is telling these guys who were supposed to be experts on Scripture “haven’t you even read the Scriptures?” Jesus had to point the Pharisees back to the bible because they were so consumed with minute interpretations and man-made traditions. Specifically, Jesus reminded the Pharisees of what happened in 1 Samuel 21:1-9.
In 1 Samuel 21:1-9 David and his men were hungry and in desperate need of food. As a last resort David went to Ahimelech, the priest, for food (You may be wondering why Mark mentions Abiathar rather than Ahimelech. Some would have you to believe it was a mistake, but there is a much simpler answer than that. Abiathar was Ahimelech’s son, and he was present when all of this occurred. Additionally, Abiathar was much better known than his father. This is why Mark mentions him rather than his father.) The only problem was that the only food that Ahimelech had was the bread of presence. This was holy bread that was used by the priest in the temple for worship (Leviticus 24:5-9). Each week it would be traded out for new bread and the old bread was to be used by the priests for food. So David was not supposed to eat that bread, however because of the circumstances Ahimelech gave the bread to David and his men. The point in this illustration is that human need is more important than ceremonial law. In fact, God gave this law concerning the left over bread of presence in order to provide for the needs of the priests. It would have been ridiculous for the priests to share this bread in light of David’s dire need.
Jesus used this example from Scripture to show that God’s law is not arbitrary and oppressive like the Pharisees had made it to be. God is a good God who gave His law for the good of His people. This is exactly what Jesus meant in verse 27 when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God gave the Sabbath for the benefit of man. He is not a God who creates arbitrary rules and regulations that are harmful to the people. This would have been a very important principle for Mark’s original Roman readers. They were coming out of a religious system with hundreds of gods to appease, and all kinds of difficult rituals to observe. Now they were serving a God who was working for their good.
Specifically, the Sabbath was a great gift from God. It was a time of rest when the people could focus especially on God (Deuteronomy 5:14-15). The people were able to stop their normal work and pursuit of personal gain in order to focus on God. Unfortunately, “The minute, arbitrary regulations of the Pharisees made man the slave of the Sabbath, making its observance a burden rather than a blessing.”
Today we do not observe the Sabbath in the same way that nation Israel did. However, the principle of regular rest and focus on God continues on in the Christian Lord’s day. God intends for us to take time away from our normal activities to focus on Him. This is often difficult for us for two reasons:
1. We don’t think that we need rest.
2. When we do rest we want to focus on ourselves not God.
We need to be careful in this area. We must make sure that, unlike the Pharisees, we properly understand what the bible teaches, and that we are putting it into practice appropriately. This is not just true with regard to the Sabbath; this is true in all area of religious practice.