January 23, 2012

Life of Jesus: The Sabbath Mark 2:23-3:6

We are in a series on the Life of Jesus and working our way through the Gospel of Mark.  We aren’t able to touch on every passage, but we are hitting some of the highlights. Within our series there are going to be smaller, mini-series. Passages that fit along the same thematic line. We took two weeks and looked at the role of the desert in Jesus’ ministry. First as a place of loneliness and temptation, and then as a place of silence, solitude, and the presence of God. Right now, we are looking at few passages dealing with things that hinder our understanding of who Jesus is and what he calls us to do.

Last week we looked at a passage about Jesus eating with “Tax collectors and sinners” and how the Pharisees’ religious rejection of those kinds of people stood in the way of welcoming them into God’s presence. This carries over into our lives. Because how we perceive others will stand in the way of our being able to interact with certain groups, and let them know how much God cares for them and loves them.

I showed a video last week, that I want to show again, but this time spend a little time talking about because it really applies to what we are talking about.

See video here.

This video has created quite a stir on the Internet, and the biggest part comes from Jefferson Bethke’s use of the word “Religion.” With any word we use there are two ways to understand it. We have the literal, dictionary definition, and we have the connotation or the meaning we give based on feelings or ideas the word provokes apart from its literal meaning.

Take the words “thin” these are all considered to have the same basic meaning: beanpole, bony, delicate, emaciated, fragile, haggard, lean, puny, rickety, scrawny, shriveled, skeletal, skinny, slight, slim, small, and undernourished. The difference between definition and connotation is the word you would choose to describe your wife guys. Thin, slim, skinny...those are good. Bony, puny, scrawny, emaciated...those are bad...because of their connotation. They evoke feelings or ideas that are not necessarily part of their standard definition.

Let’s do this another way...anyone have an ex boyfriend or girlfriend whom you don’t like? Are you willing to name your child the same name as that ex? No...most of us won’t. Not because the name itself is bad, but because of all the feelings and sometimes murderous ideas the name provokes from us.

That is what is happening in this video. Jefferson is using the word religion not in its literal, dictionary definition. The definition of the word “Religion” is: “1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods. 2. Details of belief as taught or discussed.”

So some think...why would a church show that video? Churches and Christianity are part of a religion. It is a belief in God. It has beliefs that are taught and discussed. This is not the religion Jesus came to abolish; as Jefferson pointed out. Jesus was a Jew. He had a belief in God. He had regular practices of prayer, giving, serving, worshipping, and synagogue attendance as part of the Jewish religion.

But this is where the idea of connotation comes into play because that word religion evokes certain feelings and ideas inside of us when we hear it. For Jefferson, as it for some of us, when we think of religion...we think of stuffy services. We think of guilt trips and drawn out altar calls. We think of legalistic practices and rules demanded more out of conformity than obedience. For many, the word religion evokes feelings and ideas that have nothing to do with a relationship with God. Rather they are just legalism, rules, and man-made structures that push God away.

That is where we need to be careful as we think about last week’s passage and especially as we look at today’s passage. Jesus is about to confront one of the biggest religious ideas of Judaism...the Sabbath.

Let’s read the passage together, and the discuss it...

Mark 2:23-3:6
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 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.”

 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

 1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 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 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

4 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.

 5 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. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

The Sabbath

To say the Sabbath or Shabbat is a big part of the Jewish religion is really an understatement. Along with their strong belief that there was only one true God, Shabbat was THE religious practice that set them apart. The Romans regarded the Jews as atheists because they did not have a stone idol or something to represent their deity...they worshipped and invisible God. They also regarded the Jews as lazy. The Romans worked hard all seven days, as did most other cultures during this time, and the Jews were considered lazy because they wouldn’t work all 7 days, and wanted to have one day set apart to worship and do no work.

But the Sabbath wasn’t meant to be a legalistic, confining thing...some of the rules may make it seem so to us, but it was meant to be a beautiful gift given by God to His people. The Judaism 101 website is an invaluable resource. It says, “Shabbat...is a precious gift from God, a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside all of our weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits.”

The Sabbath was to be a day of rest from work...or in the original Hebrew Melachah. Melachah, while translated as “work,” does not necessarily mean the same thing we mean when we say work. We would say that the Rabbi was working on Sabbath and therefore in the wrong...they would say you don’t understand melachah. This word refers to the kind of work that is creative or that exercises control or dominion or power over your environment. So they wouldn’t light a fire or cook or sow or plow a field...those were all melachah or exerting a control over the world around them.

Jesus and the Sabbath

As we look at these passages from Mark we see that Jesus and his disciples are definitely breaking Melachah. They are exerting control over their environment by rubbing the grain of the field between their hands and healing the man in the synagogue, and this brings them into sharp contention with the religious leaders of the day.

So let’s look quickly at these passages...there are two quick stories and three important concepts for us here today.

In the Fields

In the first story, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field on the Sabbath. The disciples are hungry so they pick some of the heads of grain, and rub their hands together to free the wheat from the chaff...much like liberating a peanut from its shell. On any other day this was a perfectly legal activity. According to Jewish law a person was free to graze a few heads of wheat from some-one's field as they passed through.

But not on the Sabbath. The disciples were committing melachah...by rubbing their hands together to work the husk free they were exerting dominion over their environment...so the Defenders of the Sabbath...the Pharisees...confronted Jesus with a question, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Jesus responds with a story of King David and his men eating bread from the tabernacle that they were forbidden to eat. Jewish law prohibited what David and his men were doing just as Jewish law prohibited what Jesus’ disciples were doing...and yet God had not condemned David and his men for their actions.

So Jesus helps them make the connection to the current situation. Look at Mark 2:27-28, “27 Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’”

These are two very important statements by Jesus.

  1. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  2. The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

The first statement reminds us that God is on our side. Even when obedience to His will is questioned by us...we need never doubt that God is on our side. And when we look at things like the Sabbath regulation...it not meant to be a burden, but rather a gift.

I don’t know about you, but I consider a day off with God’s permission a blessing...a gift. It is amazing to know He intends it not to be a crippling act of legalism, but something made for our pleasure and our enjoyment. To give us a break from the regular ebb and flow of life. To help us regain perspective on what really matters...and more importantly who is really in charge.

That leads us to the second statement Jesus makes...The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. He is the one who gets to decide and judge what is appropriate; not the Pharisees.

When we talk about leadership and what it means to be a leader here at Crossroads Vineyard I have a few statements that I make often. One of them is this: Bible Knowledge and church involvement are not a replacement for Christian character & maturity.

Have you ever noticed, for some people not all, that Bible knowledge and the amount of time they spend doing church things makes them meaner? For those of us who grew up in a legalistic church setting...there were always those who thought they were the defenders of the faith.

Here is what I realize...I am not the judge and neither are you. As a pastor I am called to make judgements and lead, but I don’t have the right to make any final judgments about who does and does not get into the kingdom. I don’t get to judge whether someone does or does not pray enough. I do not get to judge whether someone’s skirt is long enough, they are wearing the right clothes for church or they are allowed to see a particular movie. There are some things that are definitely sinful and disqualifies a person from leadership...but even then we are not shunning and turning our backs on a person.

Jesus tells the Pharisees...this special day is a gift to mankind from God for His benefit...not a jail. And not only that...you don’t get to judge who is and is not doing it right...only I get to do that!

Healing on the Sabbath

The second story is another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath to worship when He sees a man with a crippled hand. Jesus is moved with compassion to heal the man, but the Pharisees, rather than expectantly looking forward to this man’s healing...are looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

So Jesus deliberately creates a confrontation. He says to the man, “Stand up in front of everyone!” Then he looks at the pretentious Pharisees and says, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil?”

And they refused to speak. They refused because they knew what they believed and what Jesus was going to do, and this was their chance to set him up.

So Jesus healed the man.
I said there were Two stories...the disciples walking through the field and Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. And there are three statements...

  1. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
  2. The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.
  3. Is it lawful to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?

The Sabbath was made for man...it is a gift. Jesus is the one in charge of the Sabbath. And, now, doing good and saving a life trumps the letter of the law.

Imagine you are walking beside a lake when you hear someone shouting, “HELP! HELP me I’m drowning!” You take off in the direction of the yell, and you see someone about 20 to 30 feet out. You are a good swimmer with a life-saving class under your belt so you start to head out into the water. But then you see the sign, “No Swimming Allowed” with a big cross through a stick figure swimming in water. So you yell out to the drowning person, “I’m so sorry. I can and could rescue you, but the sign clearly says, ‘No Swimming!’”

That sounds ridiculous doesn’t it...but that is what the Pharisees would have Jesus do. They know Jesus can heal this man, and they sit there expecting their rule about Sabbath keeping to trump Jesus’ compassion for this man. So Jesus’ challenge focuses on whether doing good should trump a rule, and we see in this story where Jesus stands.


Most of us do not need reminded that we don’t live by a strict observance of Sabbath. In fact, we might need the opposite lesson...that some of us need to set aside a day where do not work, but rather focus on resting and celebrating in the presence of God for an entire day. For you, you need to hear that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and while he has given it as a gift for mankind...in neither of these stories does Jesus do away with the expectation that we should have a Sabbath.

But on a broader level, we can see in these stories how to handle issues of legalism and religious rules.

1. Jesus is the Lord and judge...not us. We don’t get to judge and determine what is or is not God’s will. We can make definite statements where the Bible clearly says something is right or wrong...but there have been times when the church has made definitive statements about things...as though it were God, and they were not definite things. There is also a big difference between God’s mandates...and man’s traditions. God’s laws, properly understood are never to be broken. Man’s tradition, while breaking them they may tick some people off, are not on the same level as God’s laws.

2. God’s mandates are gifts, not prisons. If God requires something of us, you better believe He has our best interests at heart. In all my years of serving Him, I have never found Him arbitrary. So when He asks us to take a Sabbath...He is doing so for our own good. He won’t force us to do what He has said...but He will allow us to suffer the consequences if we persist in disobedience. Like the parent who warns their child, “If you wear those shoes, you will get blisters!” There are two ways to handle that. One, you can fight and maybe eventually get them to change their shoes. Or, you can let them wear the shoes and suffer the consequences. God does not force us to do as He says. That wouldn’t be obedience. He allows us to follow.

3. It is always right to do good for others. I will break any tradition out there if in doing so it accomplishes good. I think this is the difference between God’s laws and man’s traditions. God’s laws if broken never bring about good...only heartache and sadness. But there are religious traditions and rules that may be good most of the time, but at other times they can stand in the way of doing good. For years, musical preference was a tradition that kept many from even checking out the church...dress codes, coffee in the sanctuary...these are traditions, and while they can be good, traditions are not on the same level as God’s laws.

Some of us have come from legalistic backgrounds, and it can be difficult to experience a life giving relationship with Jesus Christ because of all the baggage we carry. A couple weeks ago we sent out a flyer that simply said, “Faith is a journey, not a guilt trip.” For far too long we have been held captive by well-meaning traditions that have seen their day come and go or have been set on par with the will of God, and rather than foster a closer relationship with God...they have stood in the way.

This morning, I want to invite you to leave that baggage behind. Set it down. Jesus has accomplished all that needs to be accomplished for our salvation. The praying, serving, Bible reading, and obedience...should come out of a desire for relationship as a response of love...not because we have to. And the long list of don’ts should be reduced to those things that are from God...not a man-made list to be followed. Lay that baggage down. Enjoy the gifts of God.

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