Lord of the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5
“Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people,not people for the Sabbath. For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27-28 NLT
The Pharisees had turned the requirements of God into a set of ridiculously impractical religious rules. They had expanded God’s law, adding an overwhelming list of additional prohibitions that made keeping it burdensome. All the while, they missed the point of the Law altogether. The Law, like the Sabbath, was created to protect man from himself. The original law given by God regarding harvesting on the Sabbath, was to prevent farmers from allowing their greed to allow them to ignore God and, in essence, worship material gain instead. It also protected them from forcing their workers to labor on the Sabbath. The Sabbath itself was designed that man might have rest one day out of the week. The fourth commandment given by God reads: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8-11 NLT).
The Sabbath was to be a day of rest, It was a day to be set apart for the Lord. But the Pharisees had turned even the observance of that day into a list of rules to keep. Rather than restful, it had become laborious and cumbersome. For the average Jew, the day was filled with fear and trepidation because you never knew if some simple act you performed was violating some new rule added in by the religious leaders. So it is no surprise that the Pharisees confronted Jesus and His disciples, accusing them of harvesting on the Sabbath just for rubbing a few heads of grain together in order to satisfy their hunger. According to the Pharisees, they were working. But their keeping of their own laws was quite subjective in nature. On another occasion, Jesus had a similar conversation with the Pharisees after he had healed someone on the Sabbath. They were appalled. Jesus simply replies, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12 NLT). In other words, Jesus knows that these very same, self-righteous men would violate their own rules if it involved something of value to them. And that is Jesus’ point in this story. People are more valuable than the religious and ritualistic observance of the Sabbath. And because He is the Son of God, Jesus has authority over the Sabbath. He can do what He chooses to do, and because He is doing the will of His Father, it is NOT in violation of the Sabbath, but in keeping with God’s original intent. Jesus would later say, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 NLT). Jesus came to bring mankind rest from the weariness of trying to keep the Law. He came to bring rest from the burden of trying live under the overwhelming requirements of religious rule-keeping.
When asked one time what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT). Loving God and loving others trump all other laws. Every other law given by God was based on these two. The Pharisees had missed this point. They loved their rules more than they loved people. They loved their rules more than they loved God! Keeping their rules had become an idol to them. That is how they could look past the miraculous healing of a man on the Sabbath, and only see the violation of their rules. And we can be guilty of the same thing today. We can have our own list of denominational rules or standards. We can have a stack of religious requirements that we put on ourselves and others that are not based on a love of people, but a love of rules. We burden others with our own rules, burdening them down with requirements rather than easing their load with love. We require people to clean up their act, THEN we’ll love and accept them. Jesus loved people as they were. We require people to learn our rules and live by them, then we’ll consider them part of our community. Jesus accepted people as they were. We are to love God and love others just as He did. If any rule, requirement, or religious standard keeps us from doing either, it is not of God. If our rules drive others away from God rather than to Him, they are of our own making, not His. Jesus came to ease burdens, not create them. The same thing should be true of us.
Father, it is easy to fall into the role of the Pharisee. Without even knowing it, I can find myself creating rules and standards that I hold others to, but that are not from You. Those rules can become burdensome and drive others away from You rather than to You. Help me to see this tendency and change it. Show me how to put loving You and others ahead of any rule I may hold sacred. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men