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How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 10: “Take My Yoke upon You, and Learn of Me”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 20, 2011

Lesson 10: “Take My Yoke upon You, and Learn of Me”

Because this lesson from our current manual is a hodge-podge of not obviously related ideas (the stated lesson purpose, “to help class members understand that as we take the Savior’s yoke upon us and do his will, we will find the peace and joy that he has promised,” is an overly general statement that does not even address two of the incidents which make up the lesson), it has been impossible to find a single lesson from the past that covers the same material. Instead, I have identified lessons from Obert C. Tanner’s seminary text, The New Testament Speaks, Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1935, which, although they do not appear in the 1935 text consecutively and do not draw connections among the various incidents, at least address the same stories covered in our current manual.

Jesus Breaks with the Religious Customs of His Day

The Story:

And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.

And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?

And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was a hungered, he, and they that were with him?

How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?

And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:

Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. (Mark 2:23-28.)

The Goodspeed translation reads: “He happened to be passing through the wheat fields on the Sabbath, and his disciples began to pick the heads of wheat as they made their way through.” The King James translation (1611) is not correctly understood in America because of its use of the word “corn” and “cornfields.” An Englishman uses these words in reference to grain, such as “wheat” and “wheatfields,” while an American thinks of “corn” as maize or Indian corn.

It is not uncommon in Palestine for paths to run through the grain-fields. when the Pharisees saw the disciples of Jesus “pick the heads of wheat as they made their way through,” the conflict concerning the Sabbath was on. “Why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” The Pharisees would have the law of Moses carried out to the letter. But laws are often hard to understand, and these laws of the Sabbath had been incorrectly interpreted many years before, according to the leaders. Jesus and his disciples had disobeyed their interpretation. The Pharisees ruled that the disciples of Jesus, in picking, rubbing, and cleansing the grain before eating it, were guilty of reaping, threshing,, and winnowing grain upon the Sabbath.

“Have ye never read what David did?” (See 1 Sam. 21:106.) The Master frequently answered questions by asking another. these cautious students of the bible could easily recall how David had gone into the tabernacle when he was hungry and “Did eat the shewbread”: an explanation of how this bread was prepared as an offering to Jehovah is given in Leviticus 24:5-9. It was to be eaten only by the priests. David was not a priest, but his great hunger upon this occasion had excused him. Jesus referred to this incident to illustrate the principle of sabbath-day observance which he now stated. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”

Jesus would not do away with the Sabbath. it was one of God’s choicest gifts to His children. It was given to benefit mankind physically, mentally, socially, and religiously. “the value of the Sabbath,” Jesus seemed to say, “is in its usefulness to people.” This was indeed a new doctrine to the Jews of that day. No institution was more sacred than the Sabbath. God Himself had rested on that day. The Israelites had escaped from Egyptian bondage on the sabbath. God had written the sabbath-day law into the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. It was a common saying among the Rabbis that God had “created the human race that He might have some one to keep the Sabbath.” One can imagine the horror with which they received this new teaching about their holiest of days. No wonder they took counsel against him.

“There was enough explosive newness in those few words to shatter the whole fabric of the Pharisees’ religious system, and they knew it: for their essential belief and teaching put a premium on blind obedience. they insisted that such-and-such was the will of God simply because tradition said so; and tradition went on like a lengthening chain. to challenge the law by the immediate values of life was to them blasphemy.” [Bowie, The Master, p. 126.] In the face of inevitable consequences Jesus drove home this revolutionary teaching with words that could leave no doubt of his meaning – man is superior to the Sabbath.

The Jewish Sabbath.

Genesis records that the Sabbath was a day of rest; that God, after creating the earth, rested. Later, one of the Ten Commandments requires six days of labor and one of rest. After Moses brought forth the Decalogue, the commandment to obey the Sabbath was very strictly observed. The Israelites believed that in so doing they would be rewarded by an exalted place among the nations. “Thou shalt not do any work,” the commandment reads.

But what is work? became an oft-repeated question. As an answer to this question came the vexing oral and written Sabbath laws of the Jews. These laws prohibited one from binding, reaping, threshing, winnowing, sifting, or grinding grain on the Sabbath. Nor was one to do anything connected with dressing, as shearing wool, weaving two threads, making two knots, or sewing two stitches. Provisions were made against lighting or extinguishing a fire. No burden was to be carried, not even false teeth or a gold filling in a tooth. From these laws we can understand why so much time was spent in obeying just the letter of the law. The scribes insisted that the law be obeyed in detail. Little thought was given to the joy and satisfaction that should come from their obedience to these laws. They were so burdensome that they killed the spirit of the Sabbath.

It Is Lawful to Do Good on the Sabbath Day.

The Story:

And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.

And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.

And he saith unto them an which had the withered hand, Stand forth.

And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him. (Mark 3:1-6.)

In the Gospel of the Hebrews, an old gospel story not contained in our Bible, this man is reported to have spoken thus to Jesus: “I was a mason, earning my living with my hands; I pray thee, Jesus, restore to me my health that I be not put to the shame of begging.”

The conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders was now becoming more intensive. “They watched him * * * that they might accuse him”: The laws of the Pharisees made it unlawful to give any unnecessary medical help on the Sabbath day. Assistance was lawful only in case of extreme illness. If Jesus healed the man, he would thus come in conflict with another Jewish law. As Jesus asked the man to sand forth, he turned to his accusers and put a question which cut deep into their hard-set rules of Sabbath-day observance.

“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil?” This question reveals that the messiah thought that if a person had an opportunity to do good to another, and neglected to do so, it was the same as to do him harm. Gould says the master’s question sets forth this fundamental truth: ”Not to do good to a person needing it is the same as to do him evil.”

Our Lord and Master,
When he departed, left us in his will
As our best legacy on earth, the poor.
These we have always with us; had we not
Our hearts would grow as hard as are these stones. – Longfellow

The Pharisees did not answer. The argument had won. Yet their hearts were being closed to the kindness of human feelings. They thought first of all about the rules, traditions, and usages of their religion. To Jesus, life was to be enriched by kindness. This was an opportunity to “do good on the sabbath.” His aim was not to recreate worn-out institutions, but to recreate men.

“Stretch forth thine hand”: And he healed him. Jesus crashed through their exacting rules of the Sabbath to reach out and help a needy man to a fuller life. But his defiance was to arouse intense opposition. The Pharisees “took counsel with the Herodians”: The Herodians were a political party which supported Herod Antipas. Ordinarily a great enmity existed between the Pharisees and the Herodians. But to take strong action against Jesus in Galilee, the Pharisees needed the support of Herod’s men.

A Minute for Meditation:

To keep the Lord’s day holy – to keep it holy with kind deeds which might be left unattended on other days, to keep it holy with sincere worship that renews our spiritual life, to keep it holy with restful changes which build up spirit, mind, and body, after the fatigue of the week’s toil – may this be our Sabbath, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Sabbath well spent
Brings a week of content,
And health for the joys of tomorrow.
But a Sabbath profaned,
Whatever be gained,
Is a sure forerunner of sorrow. – Matthew Hale

Questions for the Chapter Review:

1. What is the correct interpretation of the word “cornfields” as used in this lesson?
2. Was picking the heads of grain and eating them allowed by the Jewish law? (Deut. 23:25) How many kinds of work did they find in this act?
3. What was the attitude of the Jews toward the Sabbath? How had this attitude developed? Explain how this new teaching of Jesus affected the religious teachers of that day.
4. What arguments did Jesus use to show that the worth of the Sabbath was to be tested by its usefulness?
5. Give examples of the Jewish Sabbath at the time of Christ, showing how extreme they had interpreted proper Sabbath-day observance.
6. What does the question which Jesus asked of the Pharisees mean: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil?”

The Hostility of the Scribes and Pharisees

The Story:

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved. (Matt. 9:14-17.)

At this time John was in prison, but it seems that his “disciples were allowed to visit him.” (See Matt. 11:2; Luke 7:18) “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” The question is the same as charging Jesus with not being a strict observer of Jewish religious traditions. They inferred that because of this difference in observing the law of fasting, there could be no relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist or the ancient prophets.

The law of Moses required only one fast a year, to commemorate the Day of Atonement. (See Lev. 23:27-32) The prophet Zechariah mentions several fast days observed in his time. (See Zech. 7:1-5, 8:19) At the time of Christ the Jews held two fasts each week, every Monday and Thursday. (See Luke 18:12) They were to commemorate “the days on which Moses ascended and came down from the Mount.” These days of general fasting were set apart to show national humiliation, to make a public confession, and to ask for divine favor. Private fasting was also very common. Individuals fasted for the purpose of making good a wrong, to atone for a fault, and to secure hearing for a prayer.

“Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Jon had told his followers that Jesus was the bridegroom. Jesus now used this term to explain the relationship between himself and his disciples. It is to be noticed that Christ did not say that fasting was wrong. he spoke of this time when he was with the disciples as an occasion of joy. “It would not be right,” he seemed to say, “for people to profess sadness, when they are not really sad.”

The Master used two examples taken from daily Jewish life to show that he was doing more than reforming Judaism. he was beginning a new order of life. “No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment.” Jesus explained how a piece of cloth, when it has not been shrunk, if used as a patch, will shrink and in doing so will become too s mall and tear the garment, leaving a larger hole than before. “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles.” The bottles Jesus speaks of were goatskin bags in which wine was stored. When these bottles become old, they lose their elasticity and will break with the pressure of new fermenting wine. The master’s teachings were as new wine and undressed cloth. the religion of the Pharisees was like old cloth and old wine bottles. The gospel of Jesus must be allowed to expand into new methods of expression, for men “put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.”

Jesus Heals a Lame Man on the Sabbath at the Pool of Bethesda. (Read from the Bible: John 5:1-16.)

“There was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem”: This passage changes the place of the Master’s activity from Galilee to Jerusalem. feasts were of much interest to Jesus. They gave him contact with the people, and an opportunity to teach his message of life.

“Now there is at Jerusalem, by the sheep market a pool, which is called in Hebrew tongue Bethesda”: The pool was surrounded with five porches, so as to provide shelter for those who waited for the bubbling of the water. “In these lay a great multitude of impotent folks, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water”: It is a saddening glimpse of people who were in need of help. “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water”: This periodic ruffling of the waters is generally accepted as a natural phenomenon, but to the uniformed mind it was a mystery, and therefore was attributed to a heavenly power. With perhaps good reason, the waters, which were of a mineral nature, were believed to have a curative value.

“And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years”: Here Jesus saw a human personality bowed low with failure to gain back his strength. In him was recognized the need of a rightful blessing. “Wilt thou be made whole?” A new gleam of health and happiness was immediately created in the man’s breast. Yet to him, healing could come only from the pool of Bethesda, and that was, of course, hopeless to him, for he could not get to the pool soon enough after the waters were troubled. “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool.”

“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk”: A simple command but one vested with power and authority. “Immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked.”

“It is the sabbath day; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed”: The dispute of proper Sabbath-day observance was now to be raised by the religious teachers here in Jerusalem. The man’s only reason for breaking the Sabbath was that he felt it right to obey a person who was capable of healing him. The jealous supporters of the Law sought now to find the man who was telling people what to do on the Sabbath. “What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?”

Jesus Answers the Challenge of the Jews About His Authority and Reveals to Them the Will of God. (Read from the Bible: John 5:17-47.)

“But Jesus answered them, My father worketh hitherto, and I work”: Christ may have just left the man he had healed, and was overtaken by his enemies who challenged him for violating the Sabbath. to them, unfavorable reports must have been coming from Galilee. He accepted their challenge, but his answer did not rest well with them. It was as if he had said: “My Father has not stopped working,’ and added: “I am working.”

Jesus Teaches the Scribes and Pharisees

The Story:

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, this man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a sinner.
And Jesus answering, said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
And they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, thou hast rightly judged.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace. (Luke 7:36-50.)

“And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him.” We have noticed the increasing conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, but this invitation is evidence that the Master had some friends among this group. he accepted the invitation, and in the customary fashion “sat down to meat.” This was a reclining position on a couch, or it may have been a rug spread on the part of the floor that was raised a little.

In the respectable company of Simon and his friends, a woman who had been of ill fame, apparently well known in Capernaum, took courage to come into the presence of this invited company. the homes in Palestine were not so private, and even today are very much more open than our own. This privacy was far less observed than we ordinarily think it might be. It was customary in that country for a host to greet his guest with a kiss of welcome, and to furnish water to bathe the feet, dusty from the road. Marked respect was shown to unusual guests by furnishing some kind of ointment for the head. The uninvited woman reached her Savior, who was to her a symbol of goodness. Her heart was crying for that which she had lost. with reverence she knelt at his feet, and with faith and gratitude in her heart for his care and forgiveness, washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Then she put a costly and fragrant ointment upon his feet, as the final act of hallowed devotion. It was an example of divine love awakened in the human breast. What matter the past now that she was eager to do right?

”For none, O Lord, has perfect rest,
For none is wholly free from sin:
And they who fain would serve Thee best
Are conscious most of wrong within.”

“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven”: True repentance always overcomes sin, and forgiveness of it follows. this woman’s great sin was counterbalanced by the sublimity of her love and faith. “Thy sins are forgiven.” It seems as if Jesus were saying: “Return to your home in peace. god will be with you, His peace and forgiveness will stay with you, for you are now one of his own.” Simon failed to realize his own imperfections, nor did he appreciate the value of worth-while repentance. “But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”

“Thy faith hath saved thee”: She knew of Jesus. He was a friend of sinners. He used a kind, considerate way of dealing with them. He showed people the way of life. She was convinced that he could do the same for her. He did. Once a sinner, she now left the Master a recreated human soul.

”She sat and wept, and with her untressed hair
Still wiped the feet she was so blessed to touch;
and he wiped off the soiling of despair
From her sweet soul, because she loved so much.”
– Hartley Coleridge.

The Second Preaching Tour of Galilee.

The Story:

And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,
And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils,
And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. (Luke 8:1-3.)

“He went throughout every city and village”: For the time being, Jesus had finished his work in Capernaum. this passage seems to be a general description of the Master’s method of preaching the “glad tidings.” the Twelve were with him. they went as he had once told them to, relying upon the hospitality oft he people. Jesus himself set the example. He was without home, and had no worldly wealth.

“And certain women” were a part of the Master’s following, as he went about Galilee. women of that day were rarely allowed to take part in any great undertaking, but Jesus realized their part in the establishment of the Kingdom. Several reasons might be given for their being in his company. Luke implies that it was in gratitude for health and strength that he had brought to them.

“Mary called Magdalene”: her name implies that she came from Magdala, a city of great wealth on the west shore of the sea of Galilee. she was now giving her time and money in the Master’s cause. For she had been extremely sick with the possession of evil spirits, and Jesus had cured her. Susanna and Joanna probably had property of their own. Joanna’s husband was likely the steward of Herod Antipas, and was in charge of his house and estates. The explanation that they “ministered unto him of their substance,” reveals in part how Jesus and his apostles lived.

Jesus Explains the Source of His Power. (Read from the Bible: Mark 3:19-30.)

The Master had recently selected his twelve apostles. the crowds were assembling again in greater numbers than ever before. People were offering various reasons for the Master’s unusual power. Some of his friends said: “He is beside himself.” the explanation was that Jesus was a religious fanatic and they must take care of him. The scribes from Jerusalem, who were likely spies for the Sanhedrin, said: ‘He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.”

The Master took up this malicious charge and showed how false it was, by calm reason and powerful logic. No kingdom can exist where there is no unity and cooperation. One who relieves the distressed and does good cannot be in league with the evil. One cannot separate the doer from his works. “No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man.” His reasoning was like this: Instead of acting for the evil one, I bind him by rescuing those who are under his influence.”

Forever round the Mercy-Seat
The guiding lights of Love shall burn:
But what if, habit bound, thy feet
Shall lack the will to turn?

“What if thine eye refuse to see,
Thine ear of Heaven’s free welcome fail,
And thou a willing captive be,
Thyself thy own dark jail?”
– Whittier, “The Answer.”

The Spiritual Family of the Christ.

The Story:

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.
And the multitude sat about him; and they said unto him, behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.
And he answered them, saying, who is my mother, or my brethren?
And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother. (Mark 3:31-35.)

The master’s relatives had heard of the tremendous amount of work that he had been doing. It was difficult to explain his methods. They had lost faith in him, and had agreed that he was mentally unbalanced. (Mark 3:21) They had come to him so that they might take him home. Such a crowd was around him that they failed to get near. A message was relayed in, “calling him.”

The message came: “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee”: The followers evidently thought that he would quickly obey the call of his mother. They little realized the work he had to do. “Who is my mother, or my brethren?” this was likely a surprise to his listeners. It was, at the same time, a very thought-provoking question. Could it be that there are some ties which are superior to family relationships? With the superior ties of human life in mind, he answered his own question. Pointing to his faithful disciples, he taught a great principle of Christian life: “whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”

A Minute for Meditation:

Master, no offering
Costly and sweet,
May we, like Magdalene,
Lay at thy feet:
Yet may love’s incense rise,
Sweeter than sacrifice,
Dear Lord, to Thee.

Daily our lives would show
Weakness made strong,
Toilsome and gloomy ways
Brightened with song;
Some deeds of kindness done,
Some souls by patience won,
Dear Lord, to Thee.

Some word of hope, for hearts
Burdened with fears,
Some balm of peace, for eyes
Blinded with tears,
Some dews of mercy shed,
Some wayward footsteps led,
Dear Lord, to Thee.

Thus, in Thy service, Lord,
Till eventide
Closes the day of life,
May we abide.
And when earth’s labors cease,
Bid us depart in peace,
Dear Lord, to thee.
– Edwin Bond Parker

Questions for the Chapter Review:

1. Tell the story of the woman whom Jesus forgave at the dinner of Simon the Pharisee.
2. What was the reaction of Simon to this incident?
3. What answer did Jesus make to Simon? What truth is contained in that answer?
4. Who were some of the women that followed the Master on his tour throughout Galilee? why did they follow him?
5. What were some of the explanations given by people at this time to account for the unusual power of Jesus? What answer did Jesus make to them?
6. What reply did Jesus make when his mother and brothers came to Capernaum to take him home?

Suggestive Problems for Discussion in Class:

1. What is forgiveness? Explain your answers to the following questions: If a wronged person forgives the wrong-doer, but the wrong-doer does not repent, is that forgiveness? Suppose the wrong-doer repents and ask forgiveness, but the person who has been wronged refuses to forgive – would that be forgiveness? The heart of the Christian gospel as taught by Jesus is, that God is always willing to forgive every sinner who forsakes evil and asks for another chance. What does this fact mean to you? Can a person become so degraded and hardened by sin that a change of life becomes impossible?

2. How does this lesson teach that the character of Jesus appeals to the finest qualities in womanhood? Give two examples.

3. Every student of Christ’s life soon discovers that Jesus hated worse than anything else the sin of hypocrisy – shams, pretense, and deception. He fought this evil so earnestly that it finally caused the quarrel which resulted in his death. Read Matt. 12:34 and after thinking over the meaning of these words of Jesus, answer this favorite riddle: “Would you rather be thought better than you really are, or be better than folks think?”

4. In this lesson and elsewhere (Luke 18:9-14; 11:37-52; Matt. 7:1-5), notice the severity with which Jesus condemns the sin of self-righteousness. Contrast the attitude of Simon the Pharisee with that of the penitent woman. What was the judgment given by Jesus of each?



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