Jesus and the Pharisees: Contrasting Strategies for War and Peace: (Mark 3:1-12)

“Treacherous colleagues, competitive friends, bloody-minded commuters – it’s a war out there. And according to Robert Greene, it’s a conflict we’re ill-equipped to deal with. After analyzing the moves of history’s great military leaders, he’s written a rulebook to achieving victory in life’s daily battles.”[1]

The blurb goes on to say, “Spanning world civilizations, synthesizing dozens of political, philosophical, and religious texts and thousands of years of violent conflict, The 33 Strategies of War is a comprehensive guide to the subtle social game of everyday life informed by the most ingenious and effective military principles in war. Learn the offensive strategies that require you to maintain the initiative and negotiate from a position of strength, or the defensive strategies designed to help you respond to dangerous situations and avoid unwinnable wars.

According to Penguin the publishers, this is “An indispensable book…  The great warriors of battlefields and drawing rooms alike demonstrate prudence, agility, balance, and calm, and a keen understanding that the rational, resourceful, and intuitive always defeat the panicked, the uncreative, and the stupid… The 33 Strategies of War provides all the psychological ammunition you need to overcome patterns of failure and forever gain the upper hand.”[2]

Today we are going to learn about Jesus’ strategy, not for war but for peace. We are going to compare Jesus’ strategy with that of the Pharisees (and by way of application – observe how the same tactics are used by Zionists today). 

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:16, 23-24)

What was the strategy of the Pharisees?

Level 1: They Stalked Jesus’ Disciples – Intimidation

One Sabbath Jesus was walking through some grain fields, and as his disciples began to pick some heads of grain to eat. The pharisees were close enough to see what the disciples were doing. Luke is even more explicit.  “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely.” (Luke 6:7). 

This is what Robert Greene calls Strategy 11 “Know your enemy”. Get close enough to know their weaknesses. Today there are plenty of pharisees who troll you by monitoring your social media. They stalked his disciples. Intimidation. When that didn’t work they moved to level 2.

Level 2: They Criticised Jesus’ Behaviour – Isolation

When intimidation failed, they criticized Jesus, “Why are you doing what is unlawful…” (Mark 2:24). Intimidation led to isolation. They accused Jesus and his disciples of law breaking. If you cannot intimidate someone, isolate them by intimidating others. This is Strategy 10 in Greene’s book – “Create a threatening presence – deterring strategies”. They criticised his behaviour to isolate Jesus from the crowds. Intimidation, Isolation. When that didn’t work they moved to level 3.

Level 3: They Condemned Jesus Values – Incrimination

“Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” This is Strategy 25, the “Righteous Strategy” – claiming the moral high ground and questioning Jesus’ motives. For them, doing things right was more important than doing the right things. When Jesus refused to be intimidated the Pharisees escalated their strategy to level 4.

Level 4: They Conspired to Have Jesus Murdered – Liquidation

“Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath… Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mark 3:2, 6)

Luke adds “they were furious” (Luke 6:11). Jesus had flouted their laws, he had challenged their authority, and exposed their hatred before the entire crowd in the synagogue. When Jesus exposed their motives, he became their enemy. Jesus anticipated this when he instructed his disciples,

“I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).

He didn’t say become sheep in wolves clothing or worse, wolves in sheep’s clothing. That is why you won’t find the strategies Jesus used to overcome evil in Robert Greene’s The 33 Strategies of War. So how did Jesus deal with opposition? And how does he want us to deal with opposition? Observe:

Jesus Countered their Hypocrisy with Scripture 

“He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:25-27)

The Pharisees performed twin roles – they taught the law of God and they implemented the law. Whereas in our society, church and state are separate, these pharisees were theologian as well as judges. 
Embarrassingly, Jesus questioned whether they had even read the scriptures. To paraphrase Jesus, “You question is a very elementary one, and one that reveals a very poor grasp of the Scriptures.”

The story Jesus refers to is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Each week twelve consecrated loaves of bread, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were placed on a table in the Tabernacle. At the end of the week, the old loaves were eaten by the priests and replaced with fresh ones (Leviticus 24:9). On this occasion, the high priest gave the old consecrated bread to David and his men to eat as they were hungry and fleeing from Saul. David’s need for food was more important than the priestly regulations. By comparing himself and his disciples to David and his men, Jesus was saying, in effect, “If you condemn me, you must also condemn David.” And by referring to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath”, Jesus was claiming authority over the Pharisees. He was redefining the Sabbath as a day of refreshment, of healing and worship.  Jesus countered their hypocrisy with Scripture. 

When we are criticized, remember the Scriptures should be our only weapon, not our pen or email, not our blog or tongue, and least of all the back of our hand. The Scriptures are the sword of the Spirit. 

The Word of God in the hands of the Spirit of God, will cut through every human argument, every false premise, every deceitful scheme. What is our part in this? The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Become familiar with the Scriptures – read it every day – and ask God to help you understand and apply it.  Jesus countered their hypocrisy with Scripture.

Jesus Challenged their Motives with Substance 

 “Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.” (Mark 3:3-4)

Someone has defined tradition as “the living faith of those now dead,” whereas traditionalism is “the dead faith of those now living.” Jesus’ critics were locked into traditionalism. They had long since forgotten the reason behind the Sabbath observance which was to honour the Lord. Instead, they focused solely on the mindless rule keeping that is the empty soul of legalism. Never let your traditions become traditionalism. “People become like the Pharisees when they use religion to judge and condemn others instead of reaching out to them with loving concern and the truth of the gospel.”[4]  How does Jesus respond?  He takes the initiative. He stands up to his opponents.  Then he turns the tables on them. He takes the controversy to them. Jesus appeals to their logic as well as their conscience. This is because Jesus was not trying to win an argument but win a soul.  How ironic that Jesus was seeking to heal while they were plotting to kill. It must have been obvious to everyone in the Synagogue who was guilty of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus dealt with the causes not the symptoms. Knowing what they were thinking he asks which is lawful? To save life or to kill? “But they remained silent.” (Mark 3:4). Jesus countered their hypocrisy with Scripture. Jesus challenged their motives with substance.

Jesus Channelled his Passion into Saving 

“He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” (Mark 3:5)

I think this is the only time we see Jesus perform a miracle while angry. He is angry and in deep distress.  But how does he channel his deep anger and distress?  He looks around at them in anger but says to the man in compassion “Stretch out your hand.”  As the man did so, his hand was miraculously restored. God created the world by the power of his spoken word.  And the Son of God does the same here.   How should we handle opposition? God insists,

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil… do not take revenge… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17).

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”(Ephesians 4:26)

Jesus said “I have come to seek and save the lost” and he would not allow those who opposed him to to deflect him from his mission. Jesus doesn’t back down. He isn’t intimidated. And neither must we. Jesus promises “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”(John 15:20) 

The apostle Paul adds, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12). 

So, we have a choice. We can either follow Robert Greene’s,  33 Strategies of War, or we can follow Jesus’s strategy for peace.  What was Jesus’ strategy? Jesus resisted intimidation, isolation and incrimination, but Jesus was prepared to die for his convictions.  Jesus countered hypocrisy with Scripture. Jesus challenged their motives with substance. Jesus channeled his passion into saving.  Don’t let anyone intimidate you or distract you from fulfilling God’s purpose for your life – to know Jesus and make Jesus known. In the weeks ahead, when you face opposition, when you are criticized, demonized or worse, remember that following Jesus will inevitably make you enemies. And when that happens remember that ultimately, it’s not a question of which strategy you follow, but whose

[1] Emma Gold, Life’s a Battle, The Independent, 8thMay 2006,

[2] Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War (Profile Books, 2006),,0_9780670034574,00.html