Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mark 2:23-28 Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

23 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: 26 “how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” 27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

In what seems a rather harmless event as the Lord Jesus and the disciples walk through some grainfields on the Sabbath and the disciples pluck some heads of grain to feed themselves would soon turn into a teaching moment for Jesus as the Pharisees who observe this will take great offense at the disciple's "working" on the Sabbath. Now this was not an uncommon practice in ancient Israel, as the Law made provisions for travelers to do this as long as they did not put a sickle to the grain or fill a container with what they plucked from the vine; Just enough to satisfy one’s own hunger, which is an excellent statute to forward neighborly love as well hospitality (See Deut. 23:24-25). Yet when the Pharisees observe the disciples doing this on the Sabbath they take offense and say to Jesus “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” vs. 24 Now there are some principals that need to be understood about the Sabbath before we can go farther in examining the passage.

First the Sabbath day was a solemn day of rest. It was to be kept holy. No customary work was to be done on it. That is you could not take out your ox or donkey from the corral and hitch him to a plow and go work your field on the Sabbath. Nor could you command your son or your daughter or your male or female servant (if you had one) to do the same or some other type of customary work and thus keep the Sabbath yourself while you made someone else or your animal work on it. The Sabbath was to be a day of rest for all, of ceasing from ones work for both man and beast. The foundation for this commanded day of rest was the example of God Himself who also rested from His works in creation on the seventh day (See Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11). A secondary principal related to this is the Israelites themselves were once enslaved in Egypt and thus they were to remember the hard toil and bondage the Egyptians laid on them when they were their slaves in Egypt (See Deut. 5:13-15). And thus they were to be merciful to both man and beast as Jesus always demonstrated when He "worked" on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). Now in many ways the Israelites servitude represents mankind’s universal bondage to sin. Remember it was while in Egypt God gave them the Passover ordinance which is to point all people to Jesus Christ the Lord as God’s sacrificial Lamb for our sins. Therefore the Sabbath was not only a hallowed day in which God was worshipped for His salvation; it was to be a day of rest and replenishment for all. Divorce that understanding from the Sabbath and you will make it a religious day that neither refreshes the soul, nor replenishes the body. Yet the Jewish Sabbath day is not the final day of rest that God has commanded humanity to observe, as the Book of Hebrews chapter four explains, rather it is to exercise ones faith in and our obedience towards His Son. That is where one finds God's rest as Jesus said (Matt. 11:28-30). Therefore this principal of resting from ones works as God did from His is exhorted to and through the Christian community of the New Covenant, for everyone to stop trying to earn God’s salvation, rather to enter into it by God's grace (Rom. 4:4-5). “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” Heb. 4:10

Second the Sabbath was a sign between the God and the children of Israel. Not God and the church; but God and Israel (Exodus 31:16-17). The church is not under the law therefore we are not bound to observe the Jewish Sabbath (Acts 15; Rom. 6:14). The Sabbath as a sign was to demonstrate to all people not only God’s covenantal relationship with Israel but also His Supernatural provisions for them and the beasts of the land throughout their generations as they observed the Sabbath day and years principal, i.e. one day of the week and one year out every seven the land was likewise to rest with Him (See Lev. 25:1-7).

Third whoever profaned the Sabbath by working on it was to be put to death (See Exodus 31:12-17). God’s wrath was against those who worked on the Sabbath. Before Israel’s entering the Promised Land this statute was strictly enforced since it was there that God was testing Israel. And thus when a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath was found doing so he was sentenced to death for it (Num. 15:32-36). Now this incident has a couple of things related to it. First and foremost God was still providing manna for the children of Israel to eat, while they sojourned in the wilderness, to test them to see if they would obey Him and keep the Sabbath. Therefore not until they entered the promise land did the manna cease. Second this incident occurs immediately after God had given Israel a command stating that: “…the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the LORD, and he shall be cut off from among his people. 31 ‘Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.” Num. 15:30-31
Fourth the Sabbath was perpetual. Israel was to observe it throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant (Ex. 31:13).
Fifth the Sabbath was to be observed by the Jews regardless of where they dwelt (Lev. 23:3).

Now the Lord Jesus’ in defending the disciples from the Pharisees implying that the disciples were breaking the Sabbath by plucking heads of grain on it. Will cite Abiathar the high priest who when David and his men fled from king Saul gave them the show bread that was only lawful for the priests to eat. Now the showbread itself was to represent the twelve tribes of Israel before the Presence of the Lord and thus the Lord’s covenant commitment to watch over and provide for His people. Yet with that Watching over and Provision before them the Pharisees only looked to the day and not the Son of Man to whom it attests. Here then Jesus’ refutes them not only on the precedent of Abiathar as then high priest extending grace to sons of Israel in need. But also on a very simple but profoundly liberating principal which is: …“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Vs. 27-28

Jesus’ then by stating such really turns their understanding of the Sabbath on their collective heads. And His Authority for doing so is in the second half of His rebuttal when He says: "Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” More than anything then the Sabbath was to instill in the Israelites a sense of needed rest, which Jesus brings as Lord of the Sabbath. The Pharisees then in criticizing Jesus for allowing the disciples to pluck heads of grain missed that point completely in their interpretations of it. For disciples were not harvesting grain with a sickle, which would’ve been worthy of reproof, they were simply nourishing themselves on the Sabbath which is fully in accord with the day, just as it was when God supernaturally provided mammon for the children of Israel; how much more so when He provides eternal rest and nourishment through His Son (John 6:35). Therefore Jesus’ declaration that “…the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” means not only was the Sabbath made for mans rest; it was made for the Son of Man. Therefore Jesus asserts that the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath. Greater than the day is the Son to whom it attests.

Therefore to lay unnecessary burdens on people on it is only to contravene its purpose, and ultimately Christ’s. Yet that is what the Pharisees did. They made a day of rest into a day of bondage and servitude, compelling people to obey their own ordinances which they added to the Sabbath, which did not relieve anyone’s burdens, instead they just added to them (Matt. 23:4). How then we interpret and apply Scripture will likewise have the same effect. We will either be a part of liberating people from their sins by pointing them to God’s grace through Jesus Christ and the gospel. Or we will throw them into religious servitude and greater bondage, bound to doctrines and commandments of men, which liberate no one (Col. 2:20-22).

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