This summer, we are going to walk through the Gospel of Mark. As we go through this Gospel, I encourage you to read it like a story. We often study the Bible a few verses at a time – a great thing, to be sure! – but in doing so, we don’t get a sense of the grand sweep of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Study verses if you like, but just read through it like a book. You could even read it several times over the summer. It’s only just over 11,000 words.

The Gospel of Mark Continues the Epic Story of the Bible

From the very first verse, Mark presents us with a grand narrative: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1, ESV). This opening line resonates with the opening of Genesis: "In the beginning…" Just as Genesis marks the beginning of creation, Mark heralds the beginning of the Good News – a divine story reaching its climax in Jesus.

The Old Testament laid the groundwork for this moment. The promises, prophecies, and the long history of God's people culminate in the arrival of Jesus Christ. This is not merely a collection of ancient texts but a grand plan coming to fruition.

Mark’s Writing Is Short and to the Point

Unlike other Gospels, Mark skips the birth narrative of Jesus and jumps straight into the ministry of John the Baptist. As written in Isaiah, John is the messenger preparing the way for the Lord (Mark 1:2-4, ESV). His role is pivotal, drawing from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3, signaling the arrival of Jesus who is baptized and begins His ministry.

Mark’s narrative flows swiftly: the baptism of Jesus, His temptation in the wilderness, the calling of the first disciples, and a series of miraculous healings and teachings. Each episode is packed with significance.

Baptism and Temptation: Just as Israel crossed the Red Sea and wandered the wilderness, Jesus is baptized and then tested in the wilderness. However, unlike Israel, Jesus triumphs over temptation.

  • Calling of the Disciples: Jesus’ call to Simon and Andrew to become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:16-18, ESV) signifies the start of a mission that will transform lives.
  • Miracles and Healings: From casting out unclean spirits to healing Peter's mother-in-law and a leper, Jesus demonstrates authority and compassion. His miracles aren't mere displays of power but signs of God's kingdom breaking into the world.
  • Now, let’s dig into the text for today: Mark 2:23 – 3:6, which centers around the commandment to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. No work is to be done on the Sabbath.

Scene One: Plucking Grain on the Sabbath

Picture this: Jesus and His disciples are walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. The disciples, feeling hungry, begin to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees, ever-watchful, challenge Jesus: “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24, ESV).

The Pharisees' concern is understandable. The Sabbath was a serious commandment, one of the Ten Commandments. It was a day set apart for rest, as detailed in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Exodus 16:23. Over time, to safeguard this commandment, a complex web of rules and traditions was developed to ensure no work was done.

Jesus responds with a profound correction and a startling statement. He recalls the story of David eating the consecrated bread (Mark 2:25-26) and then declares, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28, ESV).

This declaration is monumental. By claiming lordship over the Sabbath, Jesus asserts His authority over this divine commandment, hinting at His divine identity. The title "Son of Man" echoes the messianic vision in Daniel 7:13-14, where one like a son of man receives dominion and glory from the Ancient of Days. Jesus is not just a teacher or prophet; He is the divine lawgiver Himself.

Scene Two: Healing on the Sabbath

In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus enters a synagogue where a man with a withered hand is present. The Pharisees watch closely, hoping to catch Jesus in an act of healing on the Sabbath, thereby accusing Him of breaking the law.

Jesus, aware of their desire to trap Him, calls the man forward and poses a question to the Pharisees: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4, ESV). Silence follows. Angered and grieved by their hardness of heart, Jesus heals the man. The Pharisees, now plotting with the Herodians, seek to destroy Him.

Jesus’ question cuts to the heart of the matter. The Sabbath law was intended to be life-giving, a time of rest and restoration. Yet, in their rigid interpretation, the Pharisees had lost sight of its purpose. Jesus powerfully directs us to reflect on what it means to fulfill the commandments.

The Rule of Love

When reflecting on these scenes, I initially titled this sermon “The Rule of Love.” At first glance, this might seem to suggest that love supersedes the commandments, as if the commandments apply until they conflict with love. But this is not quite right.

Jesus was once asked about the greatest commandment. His response encapsulates the essence of the law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40, ESV). These commandments are the foundation from which all others derive — including the Ten Commandments.

It’s not that love supersedes the commandments; rather, the commandments are rooted in love. If our observance of any commandment is not an expression of love, we are misunderstanding either the commandment or love. This principle is evident in Jesus’ approach to the Sabbath.

The Sabbath commandment, like all others, is grows out of love:

  • Rest: The Sabbath is a gift of rest, acknowledging our need to pause and recharge.
  • Trust: Observing the Sabbath, even during critical times like planting and harvesting, is an act of trust in God’s provision.
  • Peace and Relationship: It’s a time to focus on our relationships with God and others, reminding us that our ultimate peace and security come from God.

The story of the Sabbath breaker in Numbers 15:32-36, where a man gathering sticks is put to death, may seem harsh. Yet, it underscores the seriousness of the commandment. This command is not about arbitrary rules but about nurturing a life centered on God and love.

Understanding the Commandments Through Love

When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He wasn’t breaking the law; He was fulfilling its deepest intent. The Sabbath was always meant to be a time of life and restoration. Jesus’ actions reveal the true nature of the commandments.

Similarly, each commandment, when rightly understood, flows from love:

  • You shall have no other gods: God doesn’t demand exclusivity out of ego but because He is the only true source of identity, security, peace, and meaning.
  • Do not take the Lord’s name in vain: This isn’t about God feeling insulted but about maintaining the sacredness of our relationship with Him.
  • Honor the Sabbath: We need rest and connection with God and each other.

If our adherence to any commandment leads us away from love, we need to reexamine our understanding of either the commandment or our idea of love — or both! Jesus’ life and teachings guide us in this. His actions and words in Mark 2:23 – 3:6 remind us that the heart of God’s law is love.

As you read through the Gospel of Mark this summer, keep this in mind: the commandments are not arbitrary rules but instructions rooted in love. Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath and the giver of the commandments, shows us that true obedience is grounded in love for God and neighbor.

I hope the stories in Mark challenge and inspire you as we read through it together. Remember, if fulfilling a commandment of God doesn’t seem like love, you are either misunderstanding the commandment or what love would do in the situation you are facing.

Much grace and peace to you!