Sabbath: Good & Evil, 16 July 2017

Sabbath: Good & Evil
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 2:23-3:6

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused.

Our text for today focuses on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift…which can be used and abused. If we go way back—to the second book of the Bible, Exodus—we’ll find the Sabbath in God’s Top Ten list, the Ten Commandments.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

The Sabbath is a day of rest. God rested on the seventh day of the week after creation. When we rest, we imitate God.

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

The religious police have caught Jesus! The Pharisees developed a list of 39 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Sure, God set apart the Sabbath, but these religious leaders took God’s law and expanded it with their traditions and interpretations. Instead of resting and reflecting upon God, they turned Saturday into a day to tiptoe around activities, adhere to checklists, and avoiding technical definitions of work.

Actually, no laws were broken anyhow. They were not harvesting grain, only picking some to eat. The law made provision for eating, just not harvesting on the Sabbath. Farmers were supposed to rest, but these fishermen were not working, only grabbing a snack.

If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)

God gave the law to serve the people. Note Jesus and the disciples did not harvest with a sickle. The Pharisees were just trying to trap Jesus, but the tables are turned.

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 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.” (Mark 2:25-26)

Jesus did not argue about the Sabbath. He challenges the Pharisees, implying they have never even read the Bible! The letter of the law was not to be imposed when it brought hardship to one of God’s servants. By referring to David, Jesus is implying he is doing God’s business in some way these religious leaders are not.

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

Boom! The law was made for man, not the other way around.

Allow me to add this thought: all of God’s laws are for our benefit. That’s because our heavenly Father loves us. He wants what’s best for us. He didn’t just sit around one day and think, “How can I make life miserable for humans? How can I take away all of their fun?” No, like any good parent, He has more wisdom and understanding than His kids and He provides boundaries for our protection and ultimate satisfaction.

As if Jesus has not already offended these religious leaders, he throws in one more declaration.

So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath. Jesus is the LORD of all! The Pharisees were clueless. Standing in front of them was the Messiah, God! Yet all they could think about is their own outrage at this man who is gaining popularity and has a comeback for everything they throw at him.

A.W. Tozer said,

“The God of the Pharisee was not an easy God to live with, so his religion became grim and hard and loveless. It had to be so, for our notion of God must always determine the quality of our religion. 
Much Christianity since the days of Christ’s flesh has also been grim and severe. And the cause has been the same – an unworthy or an inadequate view of God.” 

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 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. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” (Mark 3:1-3)

The critics were outside in the grainfields. Now they’re in the synagogue.

Was this man planted? Probably. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

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.  (Mark 3:4)

I love it when Jesus silences his critics with a question! The answer is obvious, but the Pharisees aren’t looking for truth, but rather a reason to accuse Jesus. Since they didn’t answer his question, he decided to heal the man.

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. (Mark 3:5)

Jesus got angry! Anger is not sin, though we can sin in our anger. Jesus did not carry a grudge, he just recognized the injustice of the moment and their hard hearts.

The Sabbath was given to Israel as a gift. The religious leaders hijacked it.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:6)

Don’t miss this: the religious leaders want to kill Jesus. They go out of their way to follow commandment number four about the Sabbath but seem to have no problem with number six…that one about murder! Did they forget? Maybe it was unclear, hard to understand. Here it is:

“You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13)

The original Hebrew word,
rasah, means “to murder, kill.”

Oh, and let’s not forget this murder would be premeditated! They even plotted with another group, the Herodians!

Have things changed since then? Not really.

So What?

I want to close with two thoughts.

First, religion is ugly in all of its forms. Legalism. Judgment. Self-righteousness. We might not often think of religion leading to murder, but Mark 3:6 clearly shows us that’s where it can go. And we know their plans were eventually carried out. How can God be linked to such violence? Obviously we see in our own day—and throughout history—blood shed in the name of God and religion. What a tragedy! This has led some to declare organized religion is responsible for the wars of the world, as if communism and other atheistic philosophies have been entirely peaceful! But the point remains, religion can be an adventure in missing the point. The Pharisees were clueless about the Sabbath. They were unable to see God…standing right in front of them!

One need not go far to see religion today…in our culture. It seems every week another pastor or author is poked, prodded, critiqued, and banned because of something said in an interview or online. Yes, we need to be discerning and avoid heresy, but good luck finding someone with whom you agree one hundred percent. And a disagreement does not mean all of their contributions are trash.

I get frustrated with intolerant, close-minded, arrogant people in the world who boycott Claro because it was started by a church. Uh, how’s the coffee?! There are Republicans that refuse to associate with Democrats and vice versa. Seriously? We have far more in common than we have differences. If we would stop and listen to one another rather than constantly pointing fingers of condemnation, we would live in a far better world. We need to build bridges, not walls.

But the same can be said in the church. I want to see diversity…not only ethnically but theologically. There are many things over which we could probably start an argument, but rather than debate, let’s dialog. Let’s seek to understand one another. Let’s truly love one another, explore points of difference, and ask questions. I’m not suggesting this is necessarily occurring here at First Alliance Church, but the Internet is loaded with total strangers heaving verbal bombs at one another, figuratively and sometimes even literally calling for boycotts of individuals and their work. There’s a fine line between criticism and discernment, I admit, but so much of what I see and read is pure Pharisaical religion, people on a witch hunt to attack their so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. No wonder the world is walking away from the church. Who wants to join a dysfunctional family?

As one of my professors, David Fitch, wrote, “
We need Christians that can unravel the antagonisms that drive Christianity in America, not make them worse.”

David Garland writes regarding Mark chapter four:

(1) The question, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (2: 16) is answered with a truism: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (2: 17).

(2) The question, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (2: 18), is answered with proverbial sayings about not patching old cloth with new or putting new wine into old wineskins (2: 19, 21– 22).

(3) The question about why the disciples do what is unlawful on the Sabbath (2: 24) is answered with the proclamation, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” and, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (2: 27– 28).

(4) In the last controversy, Jesus turns the tables on his inquisitors and provokes an engagement.

  • - Mark: NIV Application Commentary
Second, let’s get back to our subject: the Sabbath. We need rest. It has been proven in countless studies. We are human beings, not human doings. You need a day off. You need vacation days. Sure, you can survive a week without a Sabbath, but you cannot thrive for long without one. It would be hypocritical for me to get legalistic about the Sabbath, but here’s the bottom line:

Do you trust God can do more with six days than you can with seven?

I know, your life is busy. The boss is demanding. The kids are a handful. Deadlines loom. You have to fit in soccer practice, dance lessons, volunteering at Cherry Street Mission, get the car oil changed, grab dinner in a drive-thru…

I know, it must’ve been easier in Old Testament times. They didn’t have Facebook to check or phone calls to return. No, they had to grow and harvest crops…or die of starvation!

I was challenging pastors in East Africa to honor the Sabbath. It’s only the fourth commandment…ahead of murder and adultery! The penalty for breaking it was only death! It’s hard for them. Most of them are volunteers. They have a vocation Monday through Friday…or Saturday and then preach on Sunday. Who has time to rest?

It’s like Stephen Covey says in his classic
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sharpen the saw. A man is cutting down a tree with a dull saw. His friend says, “Stop cutting and sharpen your saw.” He replies, “I don’t have time. I have to get this tree cut down.” His friend counters, “If you take time to sharpen your saw, you will cut the tree down much faster.”

I know you can’t afford to take a day off…but really you can’t afford NOT to rest. God made the Sabbath for us…to enjoy. Relax. Do only things that fill you. Be unproductive! If you enjoy gardening, garden. If you hate pulling weeds, read a book instead. Often those who do physical labor during the week need to engage in mental activities, and those who exercise their minds for a living may find physical recreation replenishing.

Sabbath doesn’t just happen. Like a vacation, it requires planning and preparation. Experiment. Don’t overthink it, but find ways to intentionally unplug from busyness and work, from things that deplete you. Psalm 46:10 says

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:10)

I challenge you to set aside one day a week for rest, to fill your tank, to be with God, a Sabbath. Will God be exalted in your life? It begins with trust, trusting that God is sovereign and in control. Trusting that God will honor your Sabbath. What the Pharisees used for evil we are invited to use for good. And God’s glory.

Resource: I found this article by Mark Galli helpful, A Theology of Play.

Credits: some ideas from NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, Scott Pinzon, Richard Niell Donovan, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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