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The Lord of the Sabbath

Date: Jun. 9, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Mark 2:23-3:6

Key Verse: Mark 2:28

So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath

It is the second day of the weekend. Tomorrow, many of us have to go back to work and some kids have to go back to school for another week. How has your weekend been, so far? What have you done? You might have spent some time outside. Maybe you grilled or played some sports. You might have played in a park or read a book or just spent time with family and friends. The possibilities are endless on a weekend like this. But where did weekends come from? Why do we work five days and get two days off? It’s not the other way around, even though that might be fun, but not much would get done. For most of history, the workweek was six or even seven days long. There wasn’t much time off. The weekend as we know it is only just over a hundred years old. In the US, having Sundays off was pretty normal to let people go to church, but in the early 1900’s there were a number of Jewish immigrants that wanted to have Saturday off for their worship. In 1908, a New England cotton mill was the first place to initiate a five-day workweek, but the biggest source of the weekend happened in 1926, when Henry Ford shut down his factories on Saturday and Sunday. Ford realized that his best customers could be his own employees and he wanted them to be able to enjoy the cars they built. That allowed him to sell even more cars. In 1938, the federal government mandated a 40-hour workweek and the weekend became a national idea. The country and the world began to realize that there was a need to have time off for the health and sanity of its people. The funny thing is that the weekend was created at a national level only eighty years ago, but God had this concept of rest from the very beginning. When God created the world, he did so in six days and rested on the seventh, which became the Sabbath. Now, God doesn’t get tired, but he rested as an example to his creation, us. In today’s passage, we see Jesus on two separate Sabbath days. On the first Sabbath, Jesus teaches the Pharisees about the Sabbath and in the second, Jesus schools the Pharisees on the Sabbath.

In the past few passages, Jesus has been questioned by a number of people about why he does the things that he does. A number of times, Jesus went against the social norms of the day. Jesus ate with reprobates and, socially, just being around sinners was enough to tarnish a reputation and get labeled a sinner, but Jesus knew that sinners needed healing. Jesus was acting as a doctor to the those sick with sin. Also, Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to fast. Fasting was considered one of the things that holy people did. Fasting was a sign of just how holy a person was. John the Baptist’s disciples fasted and the same for the Pharisees and their disciples, but Jesus did not. Jesus was supposed to be a teacher, a Rabbi, but he didn’t teach his disciples to fast. It didn’t match up to what they knew a holy person was supposed to be. Jesus helped them to understand that fasting has a purpose and it wasn’t time for his disciples to fast. Fasting is supposed to draw you closer to God, and you can’t get much closer than having God right in front of you and eating with you.

Our passage today also has some questions. It begins, “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.” (2:23) One day, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of grain. It was around harvest time and his disciples picked a few heads of grain because they wanted a snack. It was common and required by law for Jewish farmers to leave the grain at the edges of their fields for passersby and the poor to pick for themselves. Now the passersby and poor could only use their hands to pick it and not any harvesting equipment. This was done as a courtesy for foreigners and the poor. So, the disciples weren’t stealing the grain. It was perfectly legal for them to do so, and yet not everyone was happy with it.

There was a question, “The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’” The Pharisees had a question for Jesus. They thought that the disciples were doing something unlawful on the Sabbath. As mentioned earlier, the Sabbath was the last day of the week and was intended to be a day of rest. God had the first Sabbath after creating the whole world. However, after the Israelites were freed from the slavery in Egypt, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and the largest of the commandments was the one concerning the Sabbath. It says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11) God established the Sabbath day as a holy day to rest from all the work and have a day set aside to worship the Lord. People tend to get caught up in their own stuff, but God wanted to make sure that the people had a day so they could honor God and reconnect with him. God made it a law because some people need to be forced to rest.

Now, over the course of time, people began to wonder what it meant to do work. I mean, there are somethings that we have to do in order to live. We have to walk, but how far would it be before it would be considered work? What explicitly was considered work? God’s law didn’t make it clear. The priests and religious leaders wanted to help the people understand how to observe the commandment, so they drafted rules to elaborate on what was considered work. You weren’t supposed to travel or light a fire in the house. No one could harvest or plant crops. No trade or building could be done. As time went on, the details were elaborated on until there was an entire list denoting what not to do during the Sabbath. Soon, it was all about keeping the rules and not about keeping the Sabbath. In this passage, the Pharisees saw Jesus’ disciples pick a few heads of grain and they considered it harvesting. The disciples probably rubbed the heads of grain in their hands to remove the chaff and the Pharisees considered it threshing and winnowing. In the Pharisees’ eyes, they were working. They were harvesting grain.

Jesus, however, used it as a learning opportunity. “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.’” (2:25-26) Jesus started out, “Have you never read…”. The people who he was talking to were Pharisees. They had memorized the entire Jewish Bible by the age of 13. Of course, they have read it, but his question was whether they truly ever read it. They may have memorized the verses, but never read the meaning. Jesus reminds them of what they should already know. During the time when David was on the run from King Saul, he ended up in Nob, where the priests were. Being on the run with a number of his men, David and those with him were hungry. He went to the priest to get some food. He told them that there was no ordinary bread, only the consecrated bread. On the Sabbath, twelve loaves of bread were placed on a table in the tabernacle in two stacks of six. Only the priests were allowed to eat it, according to the law, but when David came the priest saw that their need superseded the law. He gave them the bread that had already been removed from the table and replace with hot bread. It was the Sabbath and not officially legal for David and his men to eat the bread, but the priest realized it would be worse for the men to die of hunger. In the same way, when the disciples picked the grain, they were technically reaping on the Sabbath, which was not lawful, but they were just grabbing something to eat, which was lawful.

Jesus continued, “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.’” (2:27-28) The Pharisees were so caught up in keeping the law that they missed the whole point of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for people to rest and reconnect with God, but the Pharisees and people in general made it more about not doing work. The commandment begins, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” but the Pharisees focused on the part about doing to work, to the point that it became more work to not do work. It was a concerted effort to not work. They had to remember so many rules and regulation just to not work. It was exhausting to watch what you were doing to make sure you were not working. The people were not working, but they were not finding rest and their hearts were not necessarily right before God. They were not seeking him to recharge their lives. What was meant to build people up, was used to drag them down.

This sort of thing wasn’t just something that the Pharisees did. It has been a reoccurring thing even for Christians. Church time is meant to be a time of praise, prayer and worship of the Lord, thanking him for what he has done. It is a time of coming to God, but so often church becomes filled with unnecessary rules. People can get caught up in attire or type of music. We can get caught up in the mood or type of baptism. For others, they which Bible translation and style of the message are all a concern. All these things are fine to have preferences, but when our preferences begin to keep people from having their heart in worship, then the time goes from being a rest to becoming a burden. It is very good for us to go to church every week. It is important to worship God corporately, to come together as a community of believers, but when we become rigid and condemn others as not being a true Christian if they do not come to church each week, then what is good for us to do becomes a burden in our hearts. We become stressed and irritable. It becomes about keeping a rule and we do not have rest or peace.

It is so important for us to have this time with God. For so many days, we are caught up in the ways of the world in order for us to survive. It drains us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We need time to charge back up and only coming to God can do that. When you are charging up your phone or computer, it is slower to charge when it is working. If you are using the device while charging, depending on the charger, the device charges up slower or not at all. In much the same way, if we were to be working and not focusing on God, we won’t find the rest that we so desperately need. When we are focusing on anything but God alone, we will never be charged back up. Eventually, our spirits will be drained of life. The Sabbath was made for us to find rest in him who created all things. We weren’t made to fulfill some silly rules to keep the Sabbath.

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the very creator of the Sabbath. He was the one who defined it purpose and he showed them that what they were saying, doing and thinking were not right. They had missed the whole point. We can see it as our passage continues, “Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 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.” (3:1-2) There was another Sabbath and Jesus went into a synagogue. It was time for church, time to worship God and there was a man with a shriveled hand there. Some people in the synagogue, probably Pharisees, were looking for a way to discredit Jesus. He kept winning with his arguments. He was a better teacher and knew the intricacies of God’s word better. The people liked him better and they felt like they were losing their position of power to Jesus. They wanted to find a way to reassert their authority before Jesus and knock him down a peg or two. So, when they saw the man with the shriveled hand, they suspected that Jesus would try to heal him, whether it was the Sabbath or not, and healing was work, no doubt about it. I find it interesting that the Pharisees did not doubt that Jesus performed miracles, and that they actually wanted to use one of his miracles against him. He had power from God, but they wanted to hold him to their own interpretation of the Law.

Jesus knew exactly what was going on. Those Pharisees were trying to trap him by using this poor man with a shriveled hand. None of that stopped Jesus, though. He went straight to the man and told him to stand up. No, only did Jesus go to the man, but he wanted to make what he was about to do public. “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.” (3:4) Jesus called out the Pharisees. He asked them what should be a simple question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” It should be simple to say that doing good and saving a life is lawful, and evil is not, but the Pharisees did not answer. They remained silent. It’s not like they didn’t know the answer. They did, but the answer went against what they were doing at the moment. They didn’t want Jesus to be right, so they said nothing. It is always better to do good on the Sabbath. It was even lawful to save a life on the Sabbath. There were a number of times when the rules conflicted, and work had to be done. One of those was saving life. You couldn’t tell a gravely injured person to wait a day for help. They needed immediate help. You also can’t tell a pregnant lady to wait until after the Sabbath to have a baby. It doesn’t work like that.

The Pharisees wouldn’t acknowledge the truth, so they remained silent. Jesus was so disappointed and upset at them. The passage says, “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.” (3:5) Jesus was angry with them. It is not often that Jesus shows his anger. We tend to think of him as the gentle lamb, but he did get righteously angry at times. Here, he was angry at their silence. They were so stubborn that they couldn’t acknowledge the truth. They had deviated from the truth and were in need of reconnecting with God. Jesus was not just angry but distressed at their stubborn hearts. It hurt him to see the religious leaders so far away from God. It was disturbing and not all right. So, he told the man to stretch out his hand. Jesus was going to demonstrate his authority over the Sabbath. His power came from God and it was impossible for Jesus to disobey God, so the healing would be proof of him being the Lord of the Sabbath, because it would be God’s will for the man to be healed.

I actually feel sorry for the man. He had a condition that was probably very embarrassing for him. He probably kept the hand hidden from view, and because of it, he might not have been allowed to work. The society at the time was not very accommodating those with disabilities. His hand may have brought him shame, but Jesus told him to stand up in front of everyone. He became the centerpiece of a disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees. It was probably awkward for him. Jesus questioned them, and the remained silent, with the man just probably wanting to sit down again, but Jesus told him to stretch out his hand. It took faith and courage to obey Jesus, but the man trusted in him, and his hand was completely restored. There must have been joy in the man’s heart. Although the man was not in any imminent physical danger, Jesus saved his life. He could become a part of society and contribute.

Jesus did good on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees were so caught up in themselves that they were doing evil. “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (3:6) The Pharisees were so threatened and fed up with Jesus that they wanted to kill him. They were even willing to work with the Herodians to do so. The Herodians were Jews that supported the rule of the Herods and, by extension, the rule of the Romans. They felt that Jesus had come to shake up the political world and felt threatened by Jesus following. The Pharisees were against Roman rule, but they teamed up with the very ones who were for it because of Jesus. They plotted to kill Jesus even on the Sabbath.

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the one who created it and is the focus of it. When we deviate from that focus, we bring in so much evil. It is very good to come to church on time and prepared, but when we lose the correct spirit and focus it becomes a burden. While trying to be on time, I know that I can be pushy, and that pushiness can bring about frustration and anger. I get snippy and my heart becomes far from God. My heart is not prepared to come to God when I am like that. I am not keeping the Sabbath. Also, if you are consistently late, you are not keeping the Sabbath either because your heart does not show the importance of coming to God. This is just one example, but the point of this day again is to come to God, find rest in him. We need to put away all the things that keep us away from God, even if they might be good things. If they are keeping us from God, we cannot replenish our souls. We will not find rest physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Now, we might be able to satisfy one or two of those things. The Pharisees were very good at not doing work on the Sabbath and finding physical rest, but there was no mental, emotional or spiritual rest. Our hearts, above all things, need to be focused on Jesus, our Lord and Savior. If anything takes us away, then we are not finding rest. Everything that we do should honor our Lord. The message, the music, the prayer, even the meal we share together is in honor to Jesus. They all should focus us more and more on Jesus because he is the Lord of the Sabbath.

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