2nd Sunday after Pentecost – B TLH #’s 227, 422, LSB # 731
Text – Mark 2:27-28
And [Jesus] 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.”
LORD OF THE SABBATH
Due to the vast changes in our culture the past 100 years, there’s a lot of debate in churches today. Much of that debate has to do with how congregations worship. A large part of the argument, for those proposing the changes, centers on getting more people in the church. The Gospel reading this Sunday looks at God’s motives behind this Day of Rest – the Sabbath.
One day, while walking through the fields, the disciples of Jesus pluck some heads of grain in order to eat them. Seems like a pretty minor crime, if you’d even call it that. Yet the Pharisees jump all over them. They say to Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 ESV)
If you’ve been listening, you’ve no doubt heard similar law-oriented comments in the church of today. A man in the seminary class after mine was labeled the antichrist for some of his actions regarding worship. Maybe you know of someone who’s left a particular congregation because of changes in the worship style.
At any rate, many of the arguments revolve around what is considered lawful, & what is not. Also, in spite of the many heated arguments & harsh words, actions that betray the truth, few are willing to see their position as extreme. The vast majority of people involved will be sure to tell you that they are moderates, not liberal & not right wing. That would be bad.
But with all the animosity & defending of one’s rights, it’s clear that the arguments are frequently based upon what individuals perceive to be the rules. What can we get away with, & what are we supposed to do. Those two extremes commonly form the outline of the debate & we find the Pharisees to be no different: “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 ESV) Much of human disagreement centers on what is allowed & what is not. Too often we focus on limitations rather than possibilities.
My nephew used to say of his sister, “She always, & I never.” Wouldn’t you agree it’s our sinful nature to seek & demand that limits be placed upon others, but not on ourselves? Legalism is the natural attitude of mankind, so Jesus addresses it head on. To paraphrase a little, He replies:
“You want to debate what’s lawful. Okay! Let’s talk about David. He was your great king whose glory days you’d like to recreate for the nation of Israel. When he & his companions were in need, what did he do? He entered the house of God & ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.” (Matthew 12:3-4)
The great King David broke one of the laws of the Sabbath. That’s kind of like saying, what about your sports hero, the one caught with a corked bat. You idolize him even though he broke the rules. So why are you being inconsistent with, “But the law says?”
Haven’t you ever caught yourself, or had someone else catch you, being inconsistent? You know, not practicing what you preach! If you can’t relate to that question, you must not spend much time considering your motives & your actions. The way we live our life leaves evidence everywhere of our self-centered nature.
When my nephew whined, “She always & I never…” you don’t think he was complaining that his sister got the short end of the deal, do you? No! It was his selfish nature speaking. Now he was only 5 years old, & not yet aware of how obvious it was when he complained that way.
People older than five have learned to hide their selfishness with clever disguises. The
Pharisees’ trick was to make it look like they were concerned with the ‘precious’ Law, which God had given – “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
I find it difficult to believe that they were really concerned about God getting hurt through the breaking of His law. Seems more likely they were trying to maintain control of things for their own selfish desires. The law was simply a useful tool in their bag of tricks.
Or so they thought, but Jesus takes the Law right out of the picture when He tells them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, we are not servants to any law concerning the Day of Rest. This Day of Rest was created for our benefit. It exists to be a servant to God’s children, & is not to be used for making them feel guilty.
God’s motivation for giving us the Sabbath is found in His love for us. Today is to be a blessing, & not a burden to keep. By Jesus’ time, the Jews were finding their identity in laws & ritual. Jesus was reestablishing our identity in freedom, because of, & through, the payment of His life for our sin. That payment fulfilled the Law.
For this reason, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. That’s why Jesus’ disciples were able to do what was supposedly unlawful on the Sabbath; Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He created it, gave it to us for our benefit, & fulfilled the laws regarding it for our benefit.
In His debate with the Pharisees, Jesus was establishing that He is Lord because He rescues us from our inability to keep the Law. It’s on that basis that He has authority to determine what is, & what is not, appropriate on the Day of Rest.
If you look at the Gospel reading you’ll find that it closes out chapter 2. At the beginning of that chapter we also find the Pharisees questioning Jesus’ authority. At verse 7 it reads, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus answered, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...” Authority, & who has it, is what the anger of the Pharisees is actually about. And that leads to the question, “Can you feel at peace & at rest, even when you are not in charge, when you are not the authority?” Remember, rules are often used to hide our selfishness.
What if someone else is in charge? Then the safety that rules provide, goes out the window unless the One in charge can be trusted. The Pharisees couldn’t find rest, because they did not trust Jesus, but only themselves. That’s why their argument revolved around what was lawful, or not. The Pharisees were unwilling to concede that Jesus had the authority of God.
And that’s where arguments about worship practices also fall apart. They fail because they are often constructed upon the concept of rules. The true authority, Jesus Christ, is frequently left out of the picture completely, even though He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He’s the One Who created it & Who gives it to us for rest.
Rules & obligations are also where our church attendance practices fall apart. It would be a pretty sad relationship if the time you & your best friend spent together was merely determined by rules. Far better to get together because you want to, rather than “have to.”
So what are God’s motives behind the Day of Rest? The OT reading says: “…remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, & the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand & an outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV) The Lord of the Sabbath wants us to remember that He has rescued us from slavery to sin & death.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Galatia: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1 ESV) In their approach to the Sabbath, the Pharisees were burdening the people with a yoke of slavery. Yet God has given His only Son to set us free so we might find rest on the Day of Rest.
When declaring Himself the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus makes the point that His work is
the defining characteristic of our identity, not our work. And if our actions do not define us, then we can stop chasing after the winds of self-fulfillment.
The last Sabbath under the ceremonial law was held as Jesus was resting in the grave on the Sabbath after His crucifixion. Therefore, the Day of Rest is also a shadow of the things to come, that which we were saved for, the Great rest in Christ at the end of the world, not merely the end of the week.
The Sabbath is meant to help you focus on something besides what you “have” to do. It’s meant to prepare us for heaven, which is something that we will want to do. Can you imagine saying, “I don’t think I’ll make it to heaven this morning. I have too much to do.”
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets & stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, & you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34 ESV)
Those are the words of Jesus, & at some point we have to face the fact that we too are not willing. Put all the excuses aside. The reason we do not seek out God on a regular basis is only because we do not want to. Our love for God is lukewarm at best.
The cheerful little girl with bouncy golden curls was almost five. Waiting with her mother at the checkout stand, she saw them, a circle of glistening white pearls in a pink foil box.
“Oh Mommy please, can I have them? Please, Mommy, please?”
Quickly the mother checked the back of the little foil box & then looked into the pleading blue eyes of her little girl’s face. “A dollar ninety-five. If you really want them, I’ll think of some extra chores for you & in no time you can save enough money to buy them for yourself. Your birthday is only a week away & you might get another dollar bill from Grandma.”
As soon as Jenny got home, she emptied her penny bank & counted out 17 of them. After dinner, she did more than her share of chores & went to the neighbor, Mrs. McJames, & asked if she could pull dandelions for ten cents. On her birthday, Grandma did give her another new dollar bill & at last she had enough money to buy the necklace.
Jenny loved her pearls. They made her feel dressed up & grown up. She wore them everywhere, Sunday school, kindergarten, even to bed. The only time she took them off was to go swimming or take a bath. Mother said if they got wet, they might turn her neck green.
Jenny had a very loving father & every night when she was ready for bed, he would stop whatever he was doing & come upstairs to read her a story. One night, as he finished the story, he asked, “Do you love me?”
“Oh yes, daddy. You know that I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh, daddy, not my pearls. But you can have Princess, the white horse from my collection, the one with the pink tail. Remember, daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my very favorite.”
“That’s okay, Honey. Daddy loves you. Good night.” And he brushed her cheek with a kiss.
About a week later, after the story time, Jenny’s Father asked again, “Do you love me?”
“Daddy, you know I love you.”
“Then give me your pearls.”
“Oh daddy, not my pearls. But you can have my baby doll. The brand new one I got for my birthday. She’s beautiful & you can have the yellow blanket that matches her sleeper.”
“That’s okay. Sleep well. God bless you, little one. Your Father loves you.” And as always, he brushed her cheek with a gentle kiss.
A few nights later when her Father came in, Jenny was sitting on the bed. As he came close, he noticed her chin was trembling & one silent tear was rolling down her cheek.
“What is it, Jenny? What’s the matter?”
Jenny didn’t say a word but lifted up her little hand, & when she opened it, there was her pearl necklace. With a quiver, she finally said, “Here, daddy, this is for you.”
With tears gathering in his own eyes, Jenny’s Father reached out with one hand to take the dime-store necklace, & with the other hand he reached into his pocket & pulled out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls & he gave them to Jenny.
He had them all the time. He was just waiting for her to give up the dime-store imitation so he could give her the genuine treasure.
So it is, with our Heavenly Father. What dime-store excuses keep you from receiving God’s eternal treasures? “Come to Me, all who are weary & heavy-laden, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NASB) That is God’s motive for giving us the Sabbath. Amen.
I love the habitation of Your house, O Lord, & the place where Your glory dwells. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet