Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sabbath Day Musings

(This message was preached at Heritage Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 4-5-17: )
THESIS: The longsuffering of our Saviour presents to us a challenge – Are we as patient with our enemies? Even our friends?

This evening we’ll again be considering Mark 2:23-3:6

23And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.[1]

The last time we met together we considered the Sabbath day itself.  If we are going to understand the texts before us, we need to rightly know the Sabbath.  You may recall the thesis of that message, To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.  We considered many passages but we did not closely handle the text of Mark.  Today we will consider Mark 3:1-6, but before we do so, I want to briefly consider the matter of David and the showbread, and Christ’s handling of the Pharisees in that portion. 

The account of which Christ refers is found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  The show bread is better known to be the bread of the presence.  Leviticus 24 tells us that each Sabbath 12 hot loaves of this bread was to be placed before the Lord.  Every week the previous week’s bread was given to the priest and his family, while 12 new loaves were set before the Lord.  It was 5 of the 12 loaves which was to be given David.  And it was the fact that David and his men had a real need.  They were not just wanting a snack – they were hungry.

Christ uses this account to justify his disciples actions in the grainfield.  And I want you to note, he not only uses this account, he challenges them in the matter when he states, “Have you not read what David did…”  As we will see later, Christ uses probing questions as he teaches.  Questions can be excellent tools to teach with, they cause the hearer to evaluate and think.  In this case Christ is not only asking them to evaluate the history of David and the showbread, but also to evaluate their motives.  The implication is that of course they had read this account.  And here is the kicker – they knew David had not done evil and neither had Christ’s disciples.

One of the resources I used for this message was a rather simple Bible study book on Luke by William Barclay and he had a couple of fascinating insights.  The Rabbis themselves said, ‘the Sabbath is made for you and not you for the Sabbath’.  That is to say at their highest and their best the Rabbis admitted that human need abrogated ritual law.[2]  In our account we read that Christ finalizes his defense using their own proverb against them!  The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  These men not only were without defense, they were dead wrong! And this using an account from as far back as David – nearly 1000 years before!  They did not have a leg to stand on. 

The declaration, Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath speaks to us also of the unique relationship of Jesus to us.  Christ did not claim Lordship over the Sabbath based on his deity – but on his humanity.  I want you to grasp this clearly.  Christ being the God-man has a unique place in history.  David could break the Sabbath justly, because of the human need of real hunger.  Christ claims – for his disciples sakes to be Lord of the Sabbath.  And it is this same Lord, who due to his humanity, knows our every weakness and need. Psalm 103:14 states, For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. Hebrews 4:15 says, For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. The beauty of our God is his ability to really know us!  And the beauty of the Sabbath is for us to know our God! 

As we consider Mark 3:1-6 the overall subject of debate is the same – Christ and his handling of the Sabbath.  In a way there are many parallels between the two accounts.  Christ is the accused one.  His accusation is on the heels of helping someone in human need.  The accusers are again the Pharisees.  Only the site is different – in the synagogue.  We aren’t told what city, but it was most likely one of the northern Galilean cities, possibly Capernaum, which was frequented by him.  If that is the case it’s even more interesting, since the cities of Galilee were the backwaters of the nation.  To see that Jesus’ ministry was attracting their attention, even way up north demonstrates his popularity to some extent. 

Exegetically there is really only one comment I need to make – when the Scripture states the Pharisees were watching him – the word used there is not of a casual glance or passive viewing – the men were looking for him to slip up and perhaps even making mental notes of the event – so that they might charge him with a crime. 

One of the difficulties in studying the gospel accounts is the amount of eyewitness data which we have to evaluate.  I am a firm believer that there is a harmony in the Scripture.  If we do not believe there is a harmony in the Scripture – that is to say, if we believe that there are contradictions in the book – then we cannot trust any of it, in my estimation.  Either it is true, or it is not.  Any apparent contradiction is due to one of the following factors: We have not studied the passage enough, or we have lost a piece of the cultural history or it is a matter of the manifold mysteries of God.  At times it can be a whole multitude of things. 

But as students of the Bible, we should never be satisfied to settle with an indeterminate understanding.  It may be that we have to set the text aside for a time and come back to it later.  I have done this before. I once had a very inadequate view of my assurance.  There were just too many difficult passages, and sometimes we have to wrestle through them.  At the time, I was a very young believer, and did not have either the tools or the personal history with my God, to settle the matter.  So I did what we all need to do at times.  I found a good proof text and rested on that for a time (John 10:27-29).  It was nearly 12 years later before I began to get a better foundation of the believer’s assurance, and now I have a multitude of arguments and proof texts to settle on. 

So all that to say, there is a harmony in the Gospel accounts but the 3 accounts do have some apparent contradictions.  I hope to show you how I harmonized them and then we can see the real debate Christ had with the Pharisees and draw some conclusions.

To begin with we have to make several observations.  I know this is an exposition of Mark, however, since we have other Biblical accounts of the same event, we must consider them also.  Marks gospel does not stand alone. In Luke’s account (Luke 6:6-11) we learn that it was the man’s right hand which was withered.  Why do we need to know this bit of information?  Does it add to the account in any way theologically?  What reason might Luke have had to include this rather inane bit of evidence?  Neither of the other 2 accounts reference which hand it was that was withered.  We need to first realize that details like this aren’t inane. Details like this give significant weight to the verity of each account.  We have 3 very clear accounts of the event before us.  Yet none is a cookie-cutter of the others.  What we are doing as we seek to harmonize these accounts is very much like a cold-case investigator.    The difference we have between the modern detective working cold-cases, is that he also has to determine if the testimony given is true – we do not have that burden. 

We already know that we hold the Scripture to be true – and this is not simply because we have confessions that state it.  The confessions are restatements of the historical theological realities which preceded them.  Remember that it is Peter who tells us we have the ‘more sure word’!  We have eyewitness testimony, historical witness to the event – and just like modern day witnesses, the accounts can vary somewhat, yet still be the truth.  The fact that the witness of Scripture is true does however place us in a unique position.  We are required to seek, as best as we can, to reconcile those apparent contradictions.  To ignore them, is to actually cast doubt upon the truth of the whole witness of Scripture. 

So Luke tells us it was the man’s right hand. One other observation Luke makes is that Jesus knew their thoughts.  This bit of information will help us quite a bit when we are looking at the motives of the Pharisees. 

Matthew tells us that there was a great deal more dialogue than we see in either Mark or Luke.  In particular, we see one of our apparent contradictions – Matthew states specifically that it was the Pharisee’s who first asked, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?  But while that seems to be a rather apparent contradiction – please note the question the Pharisee’s asked was NOT the same question the Jesus later reiterates in Mark 3:4.  The questions are quite similar – but the Pharisee’s questions is direct and pointed.  Jesus is asking a far more general question, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’

Let’s consider the Pharisee’s question – do you see how they are trying to pin Jesus down?  Such a question is not asked out of honest inquiry.  Consider some other questions posed to Christ – Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?  or Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?  None of these questions was asked out of genuine interest to learn – but only to indict Him.

Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?  Actually it was indeed lawful to heal, if the afflicted party was likely to die.  This wasn’t such a case.  The answer to the question is a qualified no. But they did not want to know the answer.  The fact of the matter was that this was a well-established principle.  The rabbis would occasionally debate the fine points of treatment – but truly the case of this man’s withered hand did not fall into those categories.

We read in Matthew that Jesus responded to their question with 2 other questions.  He actually treated their inquiry as though it were genuine - What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? We should strive to never answer a question according as it was asked.  There is a proverb which speaks to this very question, Proverbs 26:4, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.”  This is one reason Christ could have used to answer such questions.  However, there is another motivation – love.[3]

We may perceive a dishonest question – but it may be the case that we are wrong – or there may be an honest party in the group listening.  Don’t forget, Luke tells us Christ knew their thoughts.  Nevertheless, he also accommodated their impetuous question.  And note the logic Christ employs in his questioning.  The first question, asked about a sheep in a pit is without answer.  Interestingly, there is a very similar account to Luke 6 in Luke 14, where Christ asks nearly the same question, in nearly the same circumstances – healing on the Sabbath.  This time it was in one of the Pharisee’s homes and the man to be healed had dropsy.  Christ first healed the man, and then asked, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” And they could not answer Him regarding these things.” 

But notice the logic – if you pull a sheep out of a pit…Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Again we hear no answer.   Jesus now, I believe, asks them the question we read in our account in Mark - Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” This question is in line with the two questions found in Matthew, and sums it up nicely.  In every instance the question is not answered – because to answer it is to betray their motives. We are explicitly told that they kept silent, in more than one account.  Hearing no answer, Christ our Rabbi finalizes his teaching, ‘Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Barclay again comments, “Jesus lays down the great principle that, whatever the rules and regulations may say, it is always right to do a good thing on the Sabbath day.[4] 

In our account in Mark 3:5 we now read of Jesus anger.  Luke tells us he knew their thoughts, and here in Mark the reason given is that he was grieved by their hard hearts.  But I’d like to ask you, what does the fact that Jesus knew their hardheartedness tell us about how he strove with them?  In other words, when you see in your child a rebellious heart – do you strive with him, though you are grieved?  Or is it the case that, knowing their ways, you rake them over the coals out of spite?  What did Christ do?

Over and over throughout the Scripture we read that our God is a condescending God.  He associates with men of low-estate.  The incarnation itself speaks to that fact!  In our both the accounts laid out before us today, we see Jesus, teaching stubborn men.  Probing their thoughts, asking them to consider their ways.  We read in Isaiah, God appealing to us a number of times.  Isa. 1:18, Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.  In Isa. 55 nearly the whole of the chapter is God pleading with us.  And who can forget the bargaining that Abraham made with God over his nephew Lot? 

Brothers and sisters - it’s time to view our God aright.  Seeing the Son strive with stubborn undeserving men, shouldn’t we do the same, both toward those in the Church, and those without? They will know we are Christians by our love one to another. 

So Christ – looking around at them in anger then heals the man.  Even in this act, he teaches us.  How many of us have, due to an angry flash, neglected to do the right thing – possibly punishing the innocent party at the same time?  Christ does not forget this man or feel slighted by their hard heartedness.  But often we, under pressure from those around us cave in to the pressure and make a weak apology to the party in need, ‘Buddy can you just come back tomorrow’?  But our Lord doesn’t do this.  Remember the Proverb, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it is in the power of your hand to do so. 28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, And tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.” (Proverbs 3:27–28)

First, let us remember that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  Yet these men were making the gift of God to us to be a burden to men.  Do we do that?  Of course the answer is that we do at times the very same thing.  I realize it isn’t our intention, but do we strive with those around us so that they know we love them – or do we demand strict adherence to the law?  The Sabbath was never meant to be a burden to men.  But men, not knowing their God misapplied Sabbath law to be a burden from an overbearing God.  Remember my comments on the man picking up sticks the last time we met?  It was this man’s deliberate tempting of God for which he was guilty.  Sure, picking up sticks was not permitted, but the reason was that we men might see the faithfulness of our God.  He’d already showed them in the collection of manna that he could be trusted and knew their need.  What kind of sticks are we picking up – are we tempting our God?!

Second, do we strive and condescend with others in a spirit of genuine concern for their souls – even if they despitefully use us? Do we love our enemies?  Christ did!  Luke 6:27-30 says, “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.”  And he taught us this both by example in our passage, as well as directly in this passage.  This tells me it’s a serious matter.  How we treat one another is of paramount concern in today’s world folks.

The enemy has made many of us to be angry because of the injustice in the world.  But do we let that anger justify ourselves to disobey the Lord plain directive to love our enemies and one another?  If we do – we give satan the foothold in our lives. 

And how do we think unbelievers will respond to people who angrily tell them to keep their politics to themselves, and yet do not actually care about their souls? Have we forgotten that the Lord has placed us providentially in this time and place – and He send us to go out into the highways and byways to compel them to come in?  How can we be salt & light when we let our anger direct our hearts?  The Scripture says be angry and sin not!  Our Lords anger didn’t prevent him from healing the man – and nor did he lash out at them for the hardness of heart.  The anger of Christ wasn’t malicious – it was because of love – we are told he was grieved at them.  You cannot be grieved with someone you do not know or care about. 

May the Lord help us to follow the example of Christ and trust in the providence of our God.



[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Mk 2:23–3:6.
[2] The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series. -- Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 70.
[3] The following Proverb 26:5 speaks to NOT answering the fool according to his folly lest he be wise in his own eyes.  Christ occasionally followed this proverb also.
[4]The Gospel of Luke, The Daily Study Bible Series. -- Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 72.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Humble yourself before the Lord

Then he said to them, “Why do you sleep” (Luke 22:46a)

Not that he didn't understand - we know he knew from Matt. 26:41, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
So then, why did Christ say to them, Why do you sleep?

One reason is to remind them of the need to be disciplined.  Weak flesh requires a strong disciplined mind to rule it.
But there is another reason - Prayer is hard work.

1.     The mechanics of quietness, physical stillness, and yet having and yet keeping the mind engaged with the invisible Living God is tricky business.

Our fleshly minds see it as a waste of effort.  Our fleshly bodies cry out - if we are not doing any work, why must we be at the ready?!

2.      The spiritual aspect of prayer is also quite challenging.  This is truly the point of greatest difficulty.  We must honestly reveal our soul - the challenges, the griefs, the sin, all the contradiction of who we really are - to the Lord.
        To say that - I must give an explanation.  While it isn't anything hard to agree with God mentally about our condition - to state it in prayer - we have to hear our own mouth reveal things to our ears - shameful things, hard things, things which sometimes challenge what we say we believe about the God we say we love...this is what we struggle against.

So we must wrestle, as a mental exercise.  What is our greatest ally in the fight?

Humility lets us reveal to an all-knowing God what he already knows but which we've been hiding from even our own selves.  Humility helps us to give over the desire to ‘make sense’ of  the challenges of who we are, and what we believe about our God. 

Humility helps us to bear the burdens of our wickedness, because we see everything in the right perspective.  We no longer see ourselves in the pride of our puny strength - deluding ourselves.  Instead we are, because of Christ in Calvary, able to see a love for us greater than our own love for ourselves - and thereby rest.

Tears have been my food. (Psa. 42:3) And humility is the best ally in times of temptation - we are not as strong as we think we are, as Rich Mullins once said.  Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. (James 4:7-10) 

So when Christ admonishes the disciples to watch and pray that you enter not into temptation (Luke 22:40) it is an admonishment to humbly present yourself to the Lord (and to your ownself) and trust the omniscient Loving Lord of the universe.  He knows our frame that we are nothing but dust (Psa. 103:14)

But I am out of time - I have a battle to fight.  I need to prevail and make humility my friend.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Strengthen your brethren

And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.”
Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34)

Why did Satan asked to sift Peter? Why not Nathaniel or Thomas or any of the other 12?
In asking this several facts come to mind.

- When Job was placed in trial - it was to glorify God, as He was boasting to Satan of him.  Job was an exceptionally pious man and God loved him.

Among the 12 Peter was part of the special group of 3 (Peter James and John).  In fact, many consider him to be the leader among them all.  Yet he is the first to confess his sinfulness before Christ (Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man - Luke 5:8).  In this confession, he reveals not only his sinfulness, but an understanding of the holiness of God - this is exceptional.  He may have been a lowly fisherman, but he was an exceptionally pious fisherman, whom Satan desired to discredit, just as he tried to with Job.
God boasts in his people, and this sometimes incites Satan against them.

Therefore Christ tells Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail, and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brethren.”
Let us remember the Lords strong arm is with his people - not all trials are judgments upon us.

Strengthen your brethren.
This is what the Lord tells Peter to do when he is brought out from his trial.  Peters place as a prominent one among the 12 is not the reason he is to strengthen his brethren.  It's his pious attitude which made him subject to Satan's attack - this same tenderheartedness is used by the Lord to help him strengthen his brethren. His pious attitude has the expectation of becoming changed by his trial - so that he is more Christ-like in his piety.
But the trial hadn't occurred yet.

Verse 33 tells us what Peter is thinking - even planning to go to prison or death if need be for his Lord, but he was not ready for either.  In fact Peter cuts off Malchus' ear (John 18:10).  He did not yet grasp the greatness of Christ's mission - and that the Cross played a significant role in it.  How could he?

Strengthen your brethren.
We are reminded that upon Christs' resurrection, John records Christs' restoration of Peter.  And 3 times Peter is told to strengthen his brethren, Feed my lambs. Tend my lambs. Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Strengthen your brethren.
We may have plans to serve our Lord – and it can appear that trials get in the way.  Perhaps we should consider this God's theological seminary, so that we can better fulfill his plans for us.

Peter was (so he thought) ready to go to prison or death for the Lord.  Yet it was not the time for that, nor was he ready to do so.  He indeed did go to prison and die for his Lord - many years later, after he had strengthened his brethren.

Writing not 1, but 2 apostolic letters to the church - Peter could hardly know before the denial how much he would help his brethren.  We are the blessed ones who have received the strengthening of his words.  In the opening words of I Peter we read,

For a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:6b-7)

Peter tells us to walk in holiness, that we are a chosen people, that we ought to live in submissiveness to the government and have right relationships to one-another.  We are reminded to be prepared to suffer for God's glory.  He gives instruction to the elders how they are to shepherd the Church of God.  We all ought to be a humble people...  And this is all in his 1st letter!

Strengthen your brethren.
It is not only to the disciples then living Peter was to strengthen.  It was not even only to the pilgrims of the dispersion at various places in AD 60 when he wrote his 1st letter (I Pet. 1:1-2).

It was to the apostles, disciples, pilgrims, and all believers down through the centuries - including you who believe in Christ and read this post.

Peter was and is able to strengthen his brethren - but only after his trials.  His example is ever before us, he was not perfect (indeed - his denial was not the last grievous matter he suffered through - see Galatians 2:11-13).  If he indeed could be an encouragement to us, shouldn't we seek to encourage and edify one another also?!
May the grace of our providential God strengthen us by the words of Peter, and also of Paul, Luke, John, James, Matthew, Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel and all those He used to communicate his eternal Word to us! 

Aren't you glad you have a Bible to read?!  Then go - strengthen your brethren.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Delight in the Lord

Delight thyself also in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.  Psalm 37:4

Hebrew poetry is interesting in that it uses restatement not rhyme or rhythm to make emphasis. Applying that to verse 4 we learn that the second portion of this verse, “and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” is a kind of restatement of the former portion.

How does this work? As we delight in our God He gives us what we delight in - more of Himself!

So the second portion is not saying that if we love God we will get what we like.  But rather that as we love him he becomes more and more precious to us and we are blessed by more of that very precious Lord Himself!

Such is the mysterious ways of our Lord! May we delight in him first that our every hope lies within Him and our trust is entirely in His hands. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Continue in my trials

“But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22:28-30)
This caused me to think of John 6:66 – 69:

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.  Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”
But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

They indeed did come to believe the truth but their understanding alone did not save them. Yet it did help them continue with him – for as Peter stated, ‘To whom shall we go’ They did not have a plan B. It was either Christ or bust. In fact, after the resurrection, but before the ascension, Peter, who had denied his Lord, thought hopelessly, ‘I am going fishing’


Hadn't he the promise that he will be among those who will eat and drink at the table?

Wasn’t he to be one of the Twelve regents – seated upon thrones and judging the twelve tribes?

Did he cease from believing this, or no longer believe in Christ as the son of the Living God?

Of course the answer lies in his denial. He felt that he had not ‘continued with him in his trials’ abandoning Christ at the crucial time with his literal ‘trials’ before Caiaphas and the Romans. He felt it was a bust.

Yet Christ pursued him! God had a plan for this simple former fisherman.

“Peter, do you love me more than these?” “Lord you know that I love you” “Feed, tend, and care for my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)

Peter, and all of us need to remember it is not we who keep ourselves, but Christ.  “Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psa. 100:3)  Read the whole Psalm!  It's a beautiful reminder of our place in His world!

May we always remember this – Keep On Keeping On!


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Defining Sabbath

(This message was preached at Heritage Baptist Church on Wed. eve, 2-1-17: )
THESIS: To define the Sabbath biblically and how it impacts us as believers today. To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.

This evening we’ll be considering Mark 2:23-28:

23And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. 24And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? 25And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? 26 How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? 27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. (Mark 2:23-28)

What is the Christian’s responsibility toward the Sabbath?  What does keeping the Sabbath look like today?  How do we know?  These are the questions I seek to answer today.  First off – we are defining the Sabbath because it is clear that Christ’s idea of the Sabbath is different from that of the Pharisees.  And Christ is the authoritative One, but the Pharisees aren’t to be completely ignored.  They do have a zeal about the Sabbath which makes their case compelling.  Sabbath keeping was to them a serious business!  But secondly, please recognize that to preach a single sermon on defining the Sabbath is kind of like studying an atlas of America, and presuming that you know all about driving!  The sheer amount a material, let alone the depth of the various facets are too great!  And don’t worry! We’ll be touching the subject again, as the very next pericope deals with Christ healing on the Sabbath!

The Sabbath described.

Let’s consider how the Sabbath is described in the Scripture.  The 1st reference to the Sabbath is found in Genesis 2:2-3.  And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.  I want you to notice that it is God who sanctified the Sabbath.  In Exodus 16:14-30 we have the gathering of manna explained – and in particular the explanation centers on the Sabbath.  How much to gather, when to gather and to save it overnight 1 night a week, that Sabbath may be observed.  Both of these accounts reference the Sabbath before the giving of the Law.  So Sabbath actually predates Mosaic Law.  But that does not mean that it supersedes it.  The Law merely codifies the matter.  Sabbath was not created by the Law, but the Law does establish the Sabbath day practice to some extent. 

And let’s look at the law.  The 10 commandments are listed twice for us. The 1st giving of the Law in Exodus 20, the 2nd in Deuteronomy 5.  Consider how the commandment is put, in the positive – to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  But then the command switches to the negative.  You shall not do any work.

What is the benefit of a negative command?  In most cases it is to prevent receiving the consequence of the act itself.  But ‘work’ has a good consequence – in fact we are commanded to work from the time of the garden. Look at some of the other negative commands, you shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not lie. These commands are there simply to prevent us from the catastrophe of participation.  These things are sin, and the wages of them is death.  But the wages of work?  Work is not sin. So immediately we see a uniqueness to Sabbath.   The reason given to keep the Sabbath was that creation reference in Genesis.  God blessed the day – He sanctified it.

Before we get to the 2nd giving of the Law in Deuteronomy, we read in Exodus 31:12-17 some additional clarification on the Sabbath, and I want to focus on verse 13, as this verse gets to a purpose not yet known to us.  It reads as follows:

Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.

So here it is made known that the Sabbath is a sign to all between the Lord and the people of Israel throughout your generations.  A sign of what you ask?  Of the relationship God had and has with his people.  Sabbath is an outwardly visible display to everyone of the specialness our Lord has toward his people. And again we read that it is the Lord that sanctifies you. We read a similar reference in Ezekiel:

Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. (Eze. 20:12, 20) 

Deuteronomy 5 restates the Law upon the arrival to the Promised Land.  But the interesting thing is how instead of pointing to creation as a reason that we are to keep it, now Moses tells us to “remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God brought you out…therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Duet. 5:15)  We’ll see why I think He does this later.

I’d like to consider what might seem to be a rather obscure event which happened in Numbers 15:32-36,

32 And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.  33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation…35 And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.

Why was this man treated so harshly? Let me show you how it wasn’t harsh at all.  Let’s reason this out for a moment.  This man knew about manna and how it was they were to collect it every day, before the sun was high.  He had seen that God supernaturally provided it, and even gave the double portion on Friday, and further allowed that it stayed fresh for that 1 evening a week.  The whole matter was a supernatural event.  He knew of the commandments in Ex. 20, 23, 31, 34, and 35.  Yet knowing all this – the man would not believe the testimony of God’s mighty loving provision for the people!  He did not know his God!  And let me assert right here – To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.

Later in the whole 1st chapter of Isaiah we read of another negative example of keeping the Sabbath.  Verses 11 – 15 read as follows,

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. 12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? 13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. 15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. (Isa. 1:11-15)

These people were doing all the right things.  The problem is that they were not doing them in truth.  I’d like to read verse 13 in another translation, “Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.”  Though they were doing the work of offerings and prayers, the Lord rejects such as sin, because their heart was not in it – to Him it was sin to combine empty obedience without love.  They really didn’t love this God to whom they offered sacrifice and prayed. 

Consider for a moment David’s words in Psalm 40,

5 Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; And Your thoughts toward us cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. 6 Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. 7 Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. 8 I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”

David extols God’s wonderful works and thoughts toward us.  Can I ask, what is his motivation for saying so?  David loves his God!  He knows Him, and loves Him!  This is an important clue.  Reading on we see in verse 6 that sacrifice you did not desire.  This is not news to us, as we know well 1 Sam. 15:22, that to obey is better that sacrifice.  But David goes a whole lot further than that.  Verse 6 concludes, “Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.  Very clearly something new has been disclosed to us.  The Law of Moses did indeed require sacrifice.  I puzzled for a time on this and came to verse 8, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.”  This is amazing!  In David’s words we have the very expression of the New Covenant!  Didn’t David live long before such was prophesied?  Indeed – about 400 years before Jeremiah and Ezekiel mention it.  And what do we know about the New Covenant? A new heart! A new Spirit!  New desires!  What drives this New Covenant?  Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel tell us, Ye shall be my people, and I shall be your God.  Again we see relationship as the key.  Jeremiah explicitly tells us in verse 34a, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.”  It is the knowledge of the Lord which accomplishes this!


To know the Lord is the intent of the Sabbath.  Psalm 46:10 is really the theme of the Sabbath, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”  You might be more familiar with the rendering, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Let me demonstrate from the commandments themselves that the knowledge of the Lord is indeed the goal of keeping Sabbath.

In the creation account we are told that God rested, and that is why we are to rest on the 7th day.  We bear the image of the living God – and if so, we should reflect that image – even to the point of rest.  In the Ex. 20 commandment this is what we are reminded of – God rested and set it apart.  In Ex. 31 we read that it is a ‘sign between me and you’ pointing to a unique and special relationship God had with his people.  Especially note the phrase, “that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.”  Knowledge of the Lord is what sets us apart folks. That’s exactly what we read earlier in Eze. 20 verses 12 and 20.  And we do not sanctify ourselves in sabbath keeping – rather it is the Lord who does so.  In the restatement of the commandments in Deuteronomy 5 the Sabbath command is again stated, but this time pointing to their slavery in Egypt and His deliverance of them.  Why does He point them to this event instead of creation?  I say he does so because as his relationship with his people progressed he wanted to remind them once again of His special covenant love to them, and he did have the right to expect of them obedience!   He loved them!  And those whom He loves receive His benefits. 

In Isa 56:1-8 we see that a blessing is in store for those who keep my Sabbaths.  Even for the foreigner, even for the eunuch!  He gives them ‘a place and a name that shall not be cut off’ in verse 5.  A name and a place to live point very much to relationship.  Just 2 chapters later we read,

13 If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, 14 Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isa 58:13–14)

This portion reminds me of the Psalmist, “Delight thyself also in the Lord and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

How does this work? As we delight in our God He gives us what we delight in - more of Himself! It is as we love him he becomes more and more precious to us and we are blessed by more of that very precious Lord Himself! Do you delight in being still before the Lord? 

In our passage the disciples were plucking grain as they went through the field and this act is what upset the Pharisees.  What they didn’t get was that Sabbath keeping is not simply the keeping of the letter of the law.  The intent was that instead of having to go out early and pick up the manna – they had a day set aside to consider the God of that manna!  Instead of looking at Him as some evil taskmaster who was waiting to strike them down over the least stick picked up, He wanted them to see that they didn’t need to pick up sticks.  He’d made provision for them in manna and he’d do the same if they needed sticks.  Unbelief is betrayed in the Pharisee’s legalistic accusations.  And Christ answered them easily with an example from the life of David – a man after God’s own heart – who had learned with great joy the God does provide for his own – even if it would be day old shewbread.  Look it up in 1 Sam 21:1-6 to get the detail. 

It’s not that the law didn’t matter.  Think about it – This is the Son of God we’re thinking of when we keep the Sabbath!  Do you know Him?!  If the Sabbath appealed to anyone, most certainly it did to Him!  In the counsel of eternity, when God rested on the seventh day, was Christ absent?!  Of course not!  We know that he was party to creation itself from John 1.  Most assuredly that was a Sabbath day properly kept!  But Christ makes a revelation to us in the statement, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.  Turning this statement on its head, the Pharisees made the Sabbath a burden to man.  But Christ points us to the Joy of Sabbath – which is God himself.

Do we extol our God and enjoy being his people?  This is Sabbath dear people!  This is the real joy of keeping Sabbath.  Not the keeping of every jot and tittle of the law per-se but considering how such a God can and does take care of His people – even when they don’t know where the manna and sticks will come from next.  

In early December 2002 I walked into the fellowship hall of Forest Glen Baptist church and there on the whiteboard it read, “Have a Mary Christmas!  What was different was that Pastor Dave, had misspelled Merry.  He put M a r y in place of M e r r y.   Then he had us turn to Luke 10:38-42, “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  39And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.  40But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.  41And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  42but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

The message was clear – don’t let all the distractions of the holiday season take you away from the precious Lord of that season.  Cease striving, and know that I am God.  I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  And I really believe that Mary was keeping Sabbath right then.

Jesus made another pronouncement against the religious leaders in respect of Sabbath observance in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

This tells us again that God looks on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).  We read in Col 2, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Col 2:16–17)  The blessing of being a New Testament believer is that we don’t have to wait ‘til the 7th day.

I’ve made a whole lot of ‘keeping the Sabbath’ as a law.  Please don’t leave today thinking that to be a burden.  The law if rightly kept is a joy to his people – but it can also be a burden.  That is pharisaical law keeping.  We aren’t under the law to keep it.  It was the pointer to lead us to Christ.  But if you now have Christ – it becomes actually a means of grace!  O the wonders of our God! 

Let me close with the words of our Lord from Matthew 11, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat. 11:28–30.)



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