Jesus a Lawbreaker? Part One


Why did the Pharisees see the disciples as violating the Sabbath? Is doctrine important for the life of the Christian?

Mark 2:23-27


But Jesus’ words did not dissuade His enemies. Having mounted the battle, the religious leaders were determined to see it through to the end. This became evident when, on another occasion, Jesus and His disciples were accused of violating the Sabbath by picking grain from a field and eating it (2:23-27). Jesus used this challenge to state His identity and His claims even more plainly.

As we study this passage, we must understand that what Jesus and His disciples did was entirely in accordance with the Law of God. In Deuteronomy 23:25 we read, “When you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.” Deuteronomy specifically states that a person was permitted to pull off the head of wheat and eat it; many poor people fed themselves that way after a harvest.

But the Pharisees found fault with the disciples for availing themselves of this provision on the Sabbath Day. There was nothing in the Law that declared this act to be contrary to God’s commands, but the Pharisees had added so much to the Law by their traditions that the disciples seemed to be violating a divine proscription. The rule was the Pharisees’, not God’s.

This is not merely an ancient problem. Even today, those who have no more than formalism in religion attach a fantastic importance to things that are trivial. The Pharisees would not have lifted an eyebrow if these disciples had been guilty of some breach of the moral law. If they had caught one of Jesus’ disciples taking over a widow’s house and bilking her of it. They’d have said, “Smart boys, these fellows. They must have learned in your school, Joe,” because as the Lord Jesus pointed out, this was the life of the Pharisees (Mark 12:38-40). They were guilty of every type of breach of the moral law: they were proud, they were covetous, they were liars, they wouldn’t have blinked at lust. Yet they made extravagant public displays of their “holiness,” fasting and praying while all these things were going on. There was no place for repentance, no place for faith, no place for true holiness in their religion anywhere.

It is easy for us to make this criticism of people whose religious rituals are different from ours, but I would go a step further, and say that there are many more who think more of a particular form of doctrinal truth than they do of holiness and union with Christ. I’m as fundamental as any man in this world in my belief in biblical doctrine, but I believe that God wants to bring me further than doctrine, to bring me to Christ. I could still pass any examination in doctrine that I ever have; in fact, I believe these truths now more strongly than ever. But I am not as interested in spelling out a doctrinal statement as I am in the fact that those who do so should be marked by a love for one another.


  • Were the disciples actually violating the law of the Sabbath? 
  • Why did the Pharisees see the disciples as violating the Sabbath?
  • Are we still obligated to the moral law today?
  • Is doctrine important for the life of the Christian?


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