The Lord of the Sabbath
So far in the book of Mark, we have seen the beginnings of Jesus’ life and ministry. He comes as the Messiah proclaimed by John the Baptist, calls His own disciples, begins to preach and teach while healing many people of diseases and casting out demons. Now, what we saw in the very beginning of all this is that the people are all amazed, but as time continues on the religious leaders in particular begin to realize that Jesus is doing things very differently than they expect from their Messiah. Religious leaders start asking questions. They take offense at Jesus’ answers. They question Him about forgiving sins, eating with tax collectors, fasting, and in our passage this morning they question Him about the Sabbath. In all of these, their questions come mingled with accusation. The Pharisees were not compassionate people. They were not gracious people. If you did not conform to their standards, you were automatically a lower-class human being. They thought of themselves as the guardians of holiness who alone had a special relationship with God.
What we have already seen Jesus do, and what we will continue to see Him do, is break down the very heart of their man-made religion. Over and over again Jesus lays the weight of His divine authority into smashing, demolishing the strongholds of pharisaical ritual. This morning we see Jesus attack the very heart of their worship. He smashes the foundation of all their thoughts on what is right worship; on how we must act toward God. So, if you’ll open in your Bibles with me to Mark chapter 2, we’ll begin reading in verse 23.
READ Mark 2:23-3:6
Again, what we’re seeing in this story is that Jesus is destroying the Pharisees’ ideas about worship, and about what pleases God. The core truth I want to focus on this morning is very similar to that of last week: worship is about man resting in and enjoying God. It is not about man serving God according to some human standard.
So then, the first thing we see in this passage is that Jesus and his disciples are walking through the field, eating grain. The Pharisees see this and pose a question to Jesus. “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Now, why were the Pharisees so upset? The Pharisees were outraged at this because the Sabbath was the most central part of the legalistic, ritual righteousness in which they put their great hopes. Everything centered on the Sabbath. It was the holy day. And they extended their Sabbath laws far beyond what the scriptures required with the mindset of: the less opportunity you have or the more restricted you are, the holier are you are. I mean, and they really came up with some extraordinary laws. There was a man named Edersheim who researched and studied the Jewish law books and compiled a list of the Sabbath laws, or a partial list.
For example, no burden could be carried that weighed more than a dried fig, or half a fig carried two times. If you put an olive in your mouth and rejected it because it was bad, you couldn’t put a whole one in the next time because the palate had tasted the flavor of a whole olive. If you threw an object in the air and caught it with the other hand, it was a sin. If you caught it in the same hand, it wasn’t. A tailor couldn’t carry his needle. The scribe couldn’t carry his pen. A pupil couldn’t carry his books. No clothing could be examined lest somehow you find a bug and inadvertently kill it. Wool couldn’t be dyed. Nothing could be sold. Nothing could be bought. Nothing could be washed. No fire could be lit. Cold water could be poured on warm, but warm couldn’t be poured on cold.
You could not bathe for fear when the water fell off of you it might wash the floor. If a candle was lit, you couldn’t put it out. If it wasn’t lit, you couldn’t light it. Women couldn’t look in a glass or they might find a white hair and be tempted to pull it out. Women couldn’t wear jewelry because jewelry weighs more than a dried fig. A radish couldn’t be left in salt because it would make it a pickle and that’s work. You couldn’t put false teeth in your mouth. What else was forbidden? Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, sifting, grinding, kneading, baking, washing wool, beating wool, dying wool, spinning wool, putting on a weaver’s beam, making threads, weaving threads, separating threads, making a knot, untying a knot, sewing two stitches. (Credit to Edersheim and John Macarthur for compiling this list.)
And this is the sort of laws that they attempted to live by every Sabbath, and they actually thought they could keep these laws! The arrogance of this is stunning. They had a tremendous MISunderstanding of who God is and how holy He is. They actually thought that they could live up to the holy standard of God. In effect, they built these laws because they thought they could be just as holy as God! They had elevated themselves over every other human being. No one else was worthy of them, and no person was as important as their laws.
We can see that Jesus had no intention of tolerating this. Look at His response to their accusation that He is breaking the Sabbath.
Now, the story to which Jesus is referring occurs in 1 Samuel 21. David is running away from King Saul, because Saul has become jealous of David and is trying to kill him. So, David has to get out of town, and as he is fleeing he stops and asks the high priest for provisions – food and a weapon. The only food the priest has on hand is the bread that is placed in God’s presence every day to honor and remember God’s provision for the people of Israel. This is consecrated bread; holy bread; bread set aside for ONLY the priests to eat, because it has been in the presence of God. This is the bread David takes for himself and his men.
Why is it that Jesus uses this story to respond to the Pharisees? Because their priorities were so upside down that they would rather ignore someone’s physical needs than break their Sabbath laws. David and his companions were in need, and their need for provision was of greater importance than the sacredness of the showbread. Jesus and His disciples were hungry and in need, and their need was more important than the sacredness of the Sabbath laws. The Pharisees would rather have let them starve to death than break the Sabbath. You can see this clearly in 3:1-6. The Pharisees would refuse to give someone medical help on the Sabbath unless they were mortally ill or wounded or dying. How wretched, arrogant, compassion-less and mercy-less were these men! And it doesn’t say that Jesus simply disliked their stubborn hearts. It says He was ANGERED by their hearts. Jesus will not humor this kind of stubbornness. God will not tolerate the elevation of ritual over the needs of people. God would have been FAR more pleased if the Pharisees forgot their laws and went out and helped the poor every Sabbath.
Now, at this point the Pharisees would have already been upset. They know Jesus is rebuking them, and they are not accustomed to being rebuked. They think of themselves as above reproach! However, Jesus isn’t nearly through yet. He’s about to say something that must have outraged them beyond belief.
“Lord of the Sabbath”?!?!?! This is one of the most shocking, destructive, offensive things that Jesus says to the Pharisees in all the gospels. Why? Because GOD HIMSELF was “Lord of the Sabbath”! God took the first Sabbath on the 7th day after he spent 6 days creating. God is the one who commanded the Sabbath to be kept holy. It was God who spoke to His people and promised blessing for keeping the Sabbath. And so, Jesus is claiming to be Yahweh, the creator and law-giver, as the Lord of the Sabbath. He is claiming that HE is the one who is being obeyed and worshipped by keeping the Sabbath holy. The Pharisees must have been utterly flabbergasted. This would have been so unthinkable to them that I wonder if they even got angry at this moment. Have you ever heard someone say something so shocking that you wonder at their sanity; you’re too shocked to even be mad?
Jesus, in response to their question, not only rebukes them for elevating their ritual laws over the needs of men, He claims that He is Lord of the Sabbath, and can therefore do whatever He likes on the Sabbath! The Lord of the Sabbath is not bound to the laws for the Sabbath. Again, we see Him show this in the following passage. In front of everyone, in a blatant challenge to the Pharisees, he heals a man and then rebukes them all. He’s not hiding. He’s not timid. This is why the Pharisees are seeking to kill him at the end of the passage. He is openly attacking the foundations of their ideas about what makes someone righteous; the very core of EVERYthing they do in their lives. Their entire lives center around keeping the law, then Jesus comes and tells them that the very center of their ideology is completely wrong.
Now, Jesus said something right before He claimed to be God that we skipped over. In verse 27, Jesus says something that is absolutely vital for our understanding of why the Pharisees were so completely wrong. Jesus says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Here’s why this is so vital: in the mind of the Pharisees, there was no greater thing for man to do than to zealously keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the pinnacle of religion, and the most important thing about man’s relationship with God. So, in the mind of a Pharisee, the Sabbath was the main thing man was created to do – man was created for the Sabbath. But Jesus flips this on its head and says that the Sabbath was created for man, not the other way around!
Right, so what does that mean? How is the Sabbath FOR man? First of all, the Sabbath was created because work is hard. Can we all just agree that work is tiring and wearisome? Anyone ever been worn out after a long week of work? Yea, we all have. You know WHY work is hard? Because that was part of the curse after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. God said, “Work will be a burden to you, and by the sweat of your brown will the field produce its crops.” But, in His great mercy, God gave His people relief from the great burden of their work. Every week, they were to set aside an entire day when no work was to be done. Now, this is kind of a big deal when the Israelites were primarily a farming nation. For those of you that farm – is there ever a day when you do absolutely nothing for the farm? Few and far between, I’m sure. But God promised them that if they faithfully kept the Sabbath, He would bless them and provide for them even thought they only worked 6 days a week. So, not only was the Sabbath created for the REST and REFRESHMENT of man, but also to strengthen man’s TRUST in God. The Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Now, that’s not all the Sabbath was for – and this is where things begin to tie together for us. Ultimately, as with everything in the Old Testament, the Sabbath was intended to prepare for and point to Jesus Christ! Hebrews chapter 4 tells us this:
READ Hebrews 4:9-10
Our Sabbath rest comes in Jesus Christ! The Sabbath day was created FOR mankind, just like the Sabbath Savior was sent FOR mankind.So, the physical rest from the burden of work is fulfilled in our spiritual rest from the burden of our sin. You see, what the Pharisees were trying to do was carry the heavy burden of living up to God’s righteous requirements. They attempted to complete the work of righteousness but serving God through the Sabbath. But Jesus comes and replaces flips this on its head with a shocking truth: man wasn’t created to serve God; man was created to rest in God! Man does not and cannot serve God. GOD SERVES MAN!
Now, before you think I’m blaspheming, turn to Matthew chapter 20 with me.
READ Matthew 20:25-28, Acts 17:24-25
Jesus, God Himself in the flesh, did not come to be served, but to serve. God needed nothing from the Pharisees. There was nothing the Pharisees had that God required. There is nothing they could do that God could not do completely on His own. My friends, it is the same with you. God needs nothing from us. NOTHING. He is infinitely self-sufficient, and there is He can accomplish and fulfill every desire He has altogether on His own.
WE, on the other hand, desperately NEED God for everything. We need Him for our existence. We need Him for life itself. We need Him for breath, for heartbeats, for safety, for protection, for mercy, for forgiveness, for strength to live as He requires, for help in prayer, for comfort in affliction, for courage in trouble. We need God for EVERYTHING!
So do you see? Man was not created for the Sabbath, as if God NEEDED someone to serve Him. The Sabbath was created for man, because we NEED to BE SERVED BY GOD. Now, here’s the question: if this is the case, then what is left for us to do? What can we do for a God who cannot be served by human hands? We ENJOY Him. We rest in Him. In this way we imitate God, who took the first Sabbath. After 6 days of creation, God rested. Now, God did not rest because He was weary. Creating the universe did not fatigue Him in the least. It is infinitely more difficult for us to take one single breath than it was for God to create universe. So why did He rest? He rested simply to enjoy His creation; treasure what He had made. And we are meant to imitate that! We enjoy the creator. We treasure the one who made us!
Do you see how this destroys the Pharisees’ mindset? They worked as hard as they possibly could to obey and serve on the Sabbath in order to earn God’s favor, increase their righteousness. And yet Jesus says that this is the very opposite of why the Sabbath was created! Man was not created for the Sabbath. Man cannot serve God. The Sabbath was created for man so that God could serve man!
ààà Now, I want to guard against falling into error here. There are many scriptures where we are called servants of God; where we are called to serve Him. What this means is simply that even when we serve God, we are resting in our Sabbath Savior. We don’t serve God because He needs us to, we serve God because we want to. We don’t serve to EARN our forgiveness, we serve out of joy that we HAVE BEEN forgiven. So, we don’t serve God because He needs us to, we serve God because we LOVE Him; treasure Him; enjoy Him.
The Pharisees had it all wrong, and we love to hate them for it…but are we making the same mistakes? Why do you go to church? Why do you live a moral life? Why do you avoid sin? Why do you obey the Bible? Do you do these things to live up to some standard that you think God will be pleased with, or do you do them simply because you love Jesus? Do you attempt to serve God to earn his favor, or do you serve God because you rejoice in the favor He has shown you?
Here’s the most important question: have you allowed Jesus to serve you? When He came and lived a perfect life, He carried the burden of righteousness that was too much for us. When He died on the cross, He accomplished the work of forgiveness that was impossible for us. Are you trying to serve God to gain what only Christ can give? Again, remember 3:1-6. That man couldn’t heal himself. He needed Jesus to serve him. We are all that man.
So are you letting Jesus serve you by asking that He GIVE you His own forgiveness and righteousness. Are you attempting to serve a Savior who cannot be served, or are you resting in that Savior and allowing Him to serve you. He is our Sabbath Rest, and He was sent to serve us by being our righteousness and earning our forgiveness.