Lord of the Sabbath
Text: Mark 2:23 – 3:6
Proposition: Jesus is Lord, that truth will contradict what seems right to us and call us to see His priority and plans.
Introduction: The last time we were looking at the Gospel of Mark we saw Jesus say to a paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’ It was in a crowded house and many in that crowd were Pharisees and scribes who were there to keep an eye on this young up and coming rabbi and healer. So when Jesus says that sin has been forgiven this is a huge departure from what they were expecting. They were there to verify the act of healing and Jesus forgives sins! You remember what happened next, Jesus knowing their thinking, then demonstrates the greater power to forgive sins by the lesser power of healing a paralyzed body. So did Jesus walk into a trap, did He not know that what He said would be controversial if not downright explosive? As you continue to read the gospels you see this pattern of Jesus deliberately doing things that reveal more and more of Who He is. Again this morning we see it taking place around a subject of extreme importance, the keeping of the Sabbath Day. Have a look at Mark 2:23- 3:6.
I. The Reality of the Sabbath Is About What We Need.
Mark jumps right into an account of Jesus and the disciples walking through some grain fields on a particular Sabbath. It’s peculiar that the Pharisees were also there trailing along as Jesus makes His way to Capernaum. The Sabbath was a day that was loaded with restrictions, 39 restrictions to be exact. The first 11 categories prohibited activities required to bake bread. The next 13 prohibited activities required to make a garment, the next 9 prohibited activities required to make leather and the final 6 activities required to build a structure or building. In essence these manmade regulations were seeking to define what ceasing from work would look like for that is the essence of what the word Sabbath meant. You’ll remember that the Sabbath was the seventh day of creation and on that day God ceased from the work of creating meaning it was finished, complete, perfect. The Sabbath was instituted by God as a perpetual day to cease from work, to rest and to worship God. It was with the first series of categories about making bread that the Pharisees took issue with Jesus, particularly the prohibition to not reap, winnow, grind or sift grain. So in the eyes of the Pharisees the disciples had violated four Sabbath laws and Jesus had permitted it. Look at Jesus response to the Pharisees in verses 25 and 26, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests and also gave some to those who were with him?” Jesus is referring to something that had happened almost 1000 years earlier and was recorded in 1 Samuel 21. David had been on the run from King Saul and had come to a place called Nob where the ark of the covenant was being kept. The showbread were 12 loaves of bread put out on a table every Sabbath in the sanctuary, in front of the ark of the covenant. It was a ritual that God had directed Moses to observe (Exodus 25:30) for it symbolized the invitation of God to Israel to come close and break the bread of fellowship. This bread was considered holy and only the priests as the representatives of Israel were to eat it yet David had asked for it because he was in need. And that is Jesus point, that the need of man justifies the laying aside of Sabbath regulations, especially the manmade ones the Pharisees were referring to.
To this Jesus adds a further point that likely infuriated the Pharisees even more. In verses 27, 28 He says, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is not all about man’s duty to God but rather about what God knows man needs. He needs to stop working one day a week, he needs to let his servants rest, his animals and equipment rest. He even needs to let the ground rest. That’s what the phrase ‘The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath’, refers to. Then Jesus says something that is really extraordinary, literally it sounds like this, “Lord is the Son of Man even of the Sabbath.”. The first part of what Jesus had said was that God made the Sabbath, this second part says that Jesus is the Lord who created all things and then rested on that seventh day. He is Lord of the Sabbath because He set it in place! He knows what we need and that is why He has come. The irritant of breaking the Sabbath laws right in front of the Pharisees was intentional so that again and again the people of Israel would awaken to what God knows is their true need, they need to cease from works as a means of righteousness and rest in a Savior whose perfect righteousness would redeem them from the sentence of death that sin demands. That’s what the writer of Hebrews was speaking of in Hebrews 4:9-11, “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” You could even say that the Sabbath was always meant to be a picture of Christ, it is what we really need. So look at what happens next, still on the Sabbath.
II. God Gives Us Rest In Christ, Faith is the Good Work of Entering Rest.
Now they are likely in Capernaum and the Pharisees are seated in the front seats. This is so strange, they believe Jesus can heal people but their sense of their own importance as keepers of the law prevents them from ceasing their work of being critical. It says that there was a man with a withered hand in the synagogue, a hand paralyzed and atrophied with years of immobility. Jesus asks this man to step to the front, right in front of the Pharisees. You can see it coming, Jesus could have healed this man the next day but He deliberately chooses the Sabbath and deliberately He does this right in front of the Pharisees. Look what He says in verse 4, “Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent.” When God asks you a question it’s never a good option to keep silent. The irony is that the Pharisees were in fact intending to do harm on this very Sabbath, they were plotting a way to accuse Him. So Jesus invites this man to the front of the synagogue and it is a testament to what that man knew about Jesus that he actually obeyed and came and stood there in front of the crowd. In the parallel accounts of this in Matthew 12 Jesus points out that anybody who had a sheep that had fallen into a pit wouldn’t hesitate to jump into the pit and rescue it even if it was the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:12 Jesus then says, “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefor it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” The point again is simple, it is not wrong to do good whenever you can, even if it is the Sabbath. After all the Sabbath was given for man’s good and the ultimate fulfillment of the Sabbath in Christ is for man’s ultimate good. That’s when Jesus again looks at the man with the withered hand and says to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ It’s funny how faith works, you’d almost expect to hear the man say to Jesus, ‘Just heal my withered hand and then I will stretch it out, but it’s withered how can I do what you ask?’ Faith it seems doesn’t operate on what it can see but rather on what it can’t yet see. It is by faith that this man attempts to do what was for him to this point in his life, impossible. It’s as he stretches out his hand in faith that it is restored. Faith happens as you exercise it, as you step out beyond where you thought you ever could and then suddenly faith has done what God intends that it do.
What do you think God intends to do through faith? Was it just to heal a withered hand, was it just to prove to the Pharisees that Jesus could overrule the Sabbath by doing good? I believe that faith is what God uses to bring people to a place of perfect rest, a place where they can cease their endless attempts to be good enough. Faith is the response that God has put into our hearts that enables us to move towards Him though we can’t see Him. It is just as Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”