“the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28)
This second section (Mark 2:1-3:6) of the Gospel focuses on the coming of the eschatological Kingdom of God. The unit is characterized by five conflicts with the scribes and Pharisees. Mark arranges the five conflicts in a chiasm:
A Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12)
B Eating with sinners (Mark 2:13-17)
C New wineskins (Mark 2:18-22)
B’ Picking grain (Mark 2:23-28)
A’ Withered hand (Mark 3:1-6)
The first and last (A) are healings. The B conflicts have to do with food. The center (C) crystalizes the conflict between the old wineskins of the Old Covenant and the true Kingdom of God which came in Jesus. There are also narrative connections between the first A and B and the last B’ and A’. The first pair revolve around sinners and forgiveness; the last pair center on the Sabbath.
The first conflict is precipitated by Jesus forgiving the paralytic (Mark 2:5-6). They reason that only God can forgive sins, and so Jesus must be guilty of blaspheming. Jesus’ response to their thoughts(!) is interesting. He who knows their very thoughts doesn’t counter by saying He IS God, though that is certainly true! Rather He argues that He does have the authority to forgive sins by healing the man. But still the argument is not that He is God, which is evident from His healing the paralytic, and so He does have the authority to forgive sins. Rather He argues that He does have authority to forgive, even as He has the authority to heal. But it is not authority that resides in His being God! Jesus is very clear. He heals the man,
“…so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…” (Mark 2:10).
He is the man who has authority to forgive sins! The Son of Man is a man. Jesus identifies Himself as the Son of Man spoken of in Daniel 7 who receives the Kingdom as representative of God’s people.
But what man has authority to forgive sins! Certainly not a sinful man. Not just a righteous man has such authority. Jesus is the vassal king of the Kingdom of God, and as such He, the Son of Man, Second Adam, has authority to forgive sins. He is the vassal who kept and merited the blessings of the Pactum Salutis. They are His blessings to distribute to those who believe through the New Covenant. The scribes don’t even have a theological construct that would allow for forgiveness given by the Second Adam to a believer by grace! But He acts on the authority the King of heaven has invested in Him as vassal king. Jesus says,
“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:26-27).
Jesus is the federal head of the elect and vassal king. He has life because the Suzerain has granted it to Him. So too, His authority has been given Him as the Second Adam, Son of Man.
The second conflict (Mark 2:13-17) over His eating with sinners follows the difference in their views seen in the first conflict. The scribes do not understand forgiveness as the fruit of the faithful obedience of the Son of Man. Theirs is a forgiveness by works. But Jesus, the righteous vassal, has come to give righteousness freely to sinners. Jesus rebukes their self-righteousness when He says,
“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” (Mark 2:17).
The blessings of the Old Covenant depended on obedience, and the curses would come as consequence of disobedience. The Pharisees prided themselves in their history and lives as the faithful people who shunned the Gentile’s sin. How could Jesus be a rabbi from God, or even the Son of Man, when He invited treacherous tax collectors and sinners to table fellowship! But Jesus is the King who welcomes not only collaborators with enemy nations, prostitutes, and sinners, but even the unclean Gentiles! Their righteousness will not be based on their obedience, but freely given by the obedient King of the Kingdom to believers. Foundationally, the Pharisees trusted in a national covenant of works for their salvation when it was never given for that purpose.
The prior two conflicts naturally lead to the third (Mark 2:18-22). John’s disciples were observing fasts, while Jesus’ disciples were not. Jesus explains that it was not the right time to fast! When there is a wedding, it would be wrong to fast. The families prepare for the dinners, the receptions, the showers. It would be most inappropriate, even an insult, to show up fasting! Jesus says, “This is no time to fast; the groom is here! It’s wedding time!” He is the groom, and He has come to call His bride! But the Pharisees are blind to the times. The Groom has come! The King of the Kingdom has come. He continues to contrast the Old Covenant with the coming of the King and the Kingdom of Heaven. He says the old is like an old wineskin. There is no alteration to the old that makes it suitable for the new wine! The new wine requires new wineskins! The Kingdom of God will not fit the old wineskins of the Old Covenant any more than a life size car would fit in a toy size Lego garage! The eschatological Kingdom come in the Son of Man will not fit the national typological toy size covenant of the Mosaic Covenant. The Old Covenant is not the promised Kingdom.
In the last two conflicts, the center of dispute is the Sabbath. The fourth conflict (Mark 2:23-28) occurs as the disciples pick grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees complain that the disciples are disobeying the Law. Jesus counters with reference to David and his companion’s eating the consecrated bread which only the priests were to eat. As it was actually not sinful for David to eat the bread, so it was not a violation of the Sabbath for Jesus and his disciples to pick grain to eat on the Sabbath. But the scribes’ failure to understand was not just a failure to understand the Law. They failed to understand the Sabbath. Jesus concludes the dispute with the declaration,
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).
First, the Sabbath was given as a promise to Adam of the glorious eschatological enthronement with the King who sits in royal rest in heaven. Adam would work six days building the kingdom on earth, and the seventh day he would enjoy his kingly rest in picture and anticipation of the final enthronement promised for completion of the covenant of works commission. The Sabbath was made for man. Second, Jesus asserts that He, the Son of Man, is the vassal Lord of that Sabbath!
Finally, the fifth conflict (Mark 3:1-6) occurs when He heals a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath. Jesus silenced the Pharisees when He asked if it was lawful to do so, and healed the man. Their only response was to conspire to kill destroy him. The opening chapter ends with the masses of people thronging to Jesus. The second section ends with the leaders of Israel plotting with the supporters of Herod to kill Jesus.
Though five conflicts, distinct from the opening proclamation of the arrival of the King, the conflicts are the background for one message: Jesus has brought the eschatological Kingdom of God. He is the vassal Second Adam, Son of Man, who has authority to forgive sinners, and He freely invites them to His table fellowship! His kingdom of grace does not fit in the wineskins of the Old Covenant. He is the Adam who brings the eschatological Sabbath! He is the vassal Lord who replaces the sinner’s sickness and death with eschatological glory – symbolized by healing on the Sabbath. The King and the Kingdom have come!
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