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Lord of the Sabbath (Mark Sermon 11)

Series: Mark

Lord of the Sabbath (Mark Sermon 11)

March 20, 2022 | Andy Davis
Mark 2:23-3:6
Legalism, Supremacy of Christ

Pastor Andy Davis preaches on Mark 2:23-3:6, explaining that Jesus was sent to proclaim liberty for the captives, and he did it by claiming full authority as Lord of the sabbath.




Turn in your Bibles  as we continue to work our way today through Mark's gospel, Mark 2:23 to Mark 3:6. Six centuries before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah predicted the nature of his ministry speaking for him in prophetic voice in Isaiah 61:1-2, "The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Hear again those words, Jesus came to proclaim freedom for the captors, freedom from slavery. Jesus taught us all sinners are slaves to sin, therefore, slaves to Satan, the invisible slave master. Satan has many different patterns of slavery however, with many different foreman on his plantations of sin, many different task masters lashed the slaves. One of the most powerful in Jesus' day was religious legalism, a harsh bondage of relentless religious obligations and duties to fulfill a pattern of works righteousness gained by the law. And the religious leaders of the day, especially the Scribes and Pharisees loaded up the people with guilt and lashed their own people relentlessly with unbending laws. Jesus came to set all people free from slavery, from bondage. Recently, I looked up a photo I thought of before and then tracked it down. It was of a slave labor camp during World War II that the Nazis were running in a place in Austria called Mauthausen. It was a terrible death camp there. The death camp held a third of a million people of which only 80,000 survived to the end of the war. There was something called the stairs of death. They led out from a quarry in which granite was carved to build the GRA architectural vision of the third right. The stairway itself led up out of the quarry to a rim above it. The guards forced the prisoners to pick up blocks of granite weighing over 100 pounds and forced them to put them in wooden backpacks and lift them up and then carry them up 186 steps to the top of the quarry. The slave labor walked five abreast as they walked up these 186 steps. Frequently, some of them, in weakness, would topple over backwards and take out people behind them, even to their death. This  pictures somewhat the bondage that Israel experienced in Egypt as they built for the store cities for Pharaoh; they were worked seven days a week, it was relentless labor. “The Lord looked down on their condition," it says, "and was concerned about them and delivered them."

The Real Issue: Sabbath Legalism: Salvation by Works of the Law

In Jesus' day, there were different kinds of slave drivers over the Jewish people. As I said, there were spiritual task masters, the Scribes and Pharisees who made these relentless spiritual laws by which they bound the consciences of the people and forced them to work in a certain pattern for their own salvation. Jesus talked about them in Matthew 23:4. He said, "The Scribes and Pharisees tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders but they themselves will not lift a finger to move them." Central to this spiritual slavery was the concept of God himself as a harsh taskmaster and  salvation, being something earned by external obedience of the people to these manmade laws. Salvation by works with no mercy, only the strongest survive. Like a slave labor camp with God, the one holding the lash. One of the greatest of these forms of bondage were the Sabbath regulations. The Scribes and Pharisees felt they owned that day and they multiplied the traditions of the rabbis to plant the entire day thick with laws and regulations and prohibitions that were never written in the law of Moses. With these relentless Sabbath laws, they made the day a form of bondage, a crushing burden really to the people.  Almighty God sent his only begotten son, Jesus, to set them free from all this. Hallelujah! Jesus sets us free. We've already celebrated. Jesus didn't come to put burdens on us. He came to take the burdens off us. "Come in to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you and learn from me for you will find my yolk is easy, my burden is light for I am gentle and humble in heart." That's who Jesus is. I have no idea what's going on in your lives, but as a pastor, I can't help but think that some of you must have walked in here today with crushing burdens. Burdens that cannot be seen, especially the burden of guilt. How can a sinner like me be righteous in the sight of a Holy God? How can a sinner like me actually survive judgment day and spend eternity in heaven and not in hell? Jesus came to take that burden off you. To put it on himself and to die in your place under the wrath of God that you might be set free. That's what I see in today's text when Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. 

Let's see if we can walk through that and understand it. We begin by contemplating the Sabbath legalism into which Jesus ministered. The origin of the Sabbath and Scripture is in Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, God created heaven and earth in six days. Then in Genesis 2:2-3 it says, "By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing. So on the seventh day, he rested from all his work and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Because on it, he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." That's the origin of it, the theological basis of the Sabbath. Then in terms of the Jewish people and their laws, at Mount Sinai, God included a Sabbath observance as part of the 10 commandments. Exodus 20:8-11, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Do all your work in six days and rest on the seventh. The seventh day is a Sabbath for the Lord your God. On it, you shall not do any work. …  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." Later in the book of Exodus, He gives further clarification. In Exodus 31:17, a key verse for me today, we're going to see it three times in my sermon.  Exodus 31:17 says, "The Sabbath is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth and on the seventh day, he rested and was refreshed."

The basic command is do not work, nothing more. But behind it, of course is a sense of spiritual refreshment, of focusing on the Lord the creator of all things and being refreshed in him. As Isaiah the prophet said, we are to call the Sabbath a delight, meaning through focusing on the Lord together with the people of God, drinking in the ministry of the word in corporate worship as well, we are spiritually refreshed, we're renewed. But the Jewish leaders couldn't leave it at that. They began at a certain point in Jewish history, a long history of legalism concerning the Sabbath.  The Jewish rabbis over the centuries began adding additional commands to protect the law, fence upon fence, upon fence to protect the law. These additional commands are found nowhere in scripture. They became as binding on the consciences of the people as any command found in scripture. That's how their legalism worked. These extra rabbinic traditional laws were codified in a big book called The Talmud and it had 24 chapters of Sabbath regulations. One rabbi actually spent two and a half years of study on just one of those 24 chapters. Friends, at that rate, it would take 60 years to get through The Talmud's regulations on the Sabbath. They added dimensions and definitions and a long heritage of rabbinic interpretation on what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy and what it means not to work. For example, they had limits on how far you could walk on a Sabbath day. You could not walk 2,000 paces. 1,999 was fine, but 2000 was too many. This is before the electronic devices that helpfully count your steps for you. I'm not sure who it was that was counting the steps. Anything that might be contrived as work was forbidden on a Sabbath. For example, Scribes could not carry pens. Carpenters could not touch a hammer or saw. Tailors could not have on their person, a needle. All of that might tempt them to work, just to have the tools of the trade near you. No one was permitted to pick up anything heavier than a fig. If you tossed an object in the air with one hand, you had to catch it with the same hand. If you caught it with the other hand, it was considered work. Insects could not be killed. No candle could be either lit or extinguished. No bathing was allowed because some water might slosh out of the tub and accidentally clean the floor. All farm work was illegal, especially plowing, sewing and harvesting, which will be relevant for our text today. A woman could not look in a mirror because it's possible she might see a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it out and that would be work. This is coming from The Talmud.

 Especially relevant for Jesus' healings, sick people were only allowed enough treatment to keep them alive on the Sabbath day. So if a condition were literally life threatening, like someone bleeding out or drowning, they could be saved, but anything not life threatening should wait until after the Sabbath was over. That would include a man with a shriveled hand. We'll get to that. If someone put cotton in their ear before the Sabbath began, they could leave it there. But if it should fall out, you couldn't put it back in. Along with all of this, the Jews found clever ways of circumventing these rabbinic requirements. For example, as I said, you can't travel more than 1,999 paces from your home. Yes, but what constitutes your home? Now, that's an interesting question. Wherever your food is, would be defined as your home. So if before the Sabbath began, you stored some food in some place, 1,998 paces from your front door. That could be constituted your home as well so you could actually double the length. You could go on the Sabbath day, see how all that works? They could carry certain household items like keys and medicines, all that kind of thing. If you connected two buildings with a string or a piece of wood, that would be considered one building. So if you had a bunch of Jewish people living in an urban setting, a ghetto, or something like that, if you connected all the buildings, you could move freely in that city block on a Sabbath, no problem. You would see Jewish communities even across streets with strings or pieces of wood connecting so that it would expand the area that you could walk on the Sabbath day. You can see how ridiculous all this could become. Once you begin that journey of legalism, it never stops.

The Real Problem: Religious Hypocrisy

So the problem is the Scribes and Pharisees had a sense of overt ownership of this whole process. They had set themself up in Moses seat, felt they were interpreters of Mosaic law, and they had authority over all of these matters. Anyone who questioned them or challenged them was considered a spiritual outlaw or a blasphemer. That's why Jesus so enraged them. He didn't follow any of their additions, their manmade additions. He showed no fear of them at all, and especially when it came to healings, He did not hold back at all as we'll see even today. Behind all of this is the real issue of salvation, how our sins are forgiven before God and the concept of legalism that's so devastating. The Scribes and Pharisees preached and sought to live out a salvation by works of the law. They believe that they kept the minutia of the law, they would be right before God, that was their righteousness. Along with this legalism comes the problem of religious hypocrisy.

The Scribes and Pharisees meticulously kept a manmade standard of rules and regulations, but their hearts where every bit as foul and corrupt as any pagan's ever was. Their hearts were characterized by pride, greed, lust, blasphemy within rage. All of these things were a raging fire of wickedness within them while they're externally keeping all these laws. Jesus says in Matthew 23 in his seven woes, He says, "Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites, you are like whitewash tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way on the outside, you appear to people as righteous, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” These external regulations do not save the soul, they do not transform the corrupt wicked human heart.

Jesus leveled the whole system.  Jesus' first challenge to corrupt Sabbath legalism happened before the account we're reading today in  Jesus' ministry. Jesus did not accidentally heal on the Sabbath. Not like He forgot that it was the Sabbath. It's not like that at all. He is actively doing the work of the Father and the Father wanted him to heal on the Sabbath. He was sent to liberate the captives.

In John 5, Jesus healed a man that had been paralyzed for 39 years.  He told him to pick up his mat and go home. But then the Sabbath police found him and didn't see an incredible signal miracle of God's grace, they saw him as a mat-carrying Sabbath breaker. That guy I think was in an unconverted state and this act  turned Jesus in to the Sabbath police. He had a debate with them right there and then about the Sabbath and in John 5:16-18, it says, "So because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath that Jews persecuted him.” Jesus said to them, 'My father is always at his work to this very day and I too am working.'" Wow! What an answer. Then it says, "For this reason, the Jews tried all the harder to kill him. Not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own father, making himself equal with God." What they didn’t understand was that Jesus personally instituted the Sabbath itself. If you understand who Jesus, the Son of God is, and you understand the significance of John 1:3, "Through him, all things were made. And without him, nothing was made that has been made.” What that means is the one who rested after the creation of every thing was Jesus, along with his Father. Jesus, the creator of all things instituted the Sabbath rest to begin with.

Christ Challenges Sabbath Legalism

 Let's look at our text, the first case study, which is picking heads of grain. Let's look at what happened.  Mark 2:23, "One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grains field and as the disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain." First of all, this gives us an insight into just how poor these apostles were and Jesus was. Jesus had said to someone who wanted to follow him as a disciple, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Luke tells us that some wealthy women were supporting Jesus out of their means, their financial means. Jesus didn't have any money and his followers had very little. It was a hard life. So the disciples moving through the grain fields on the Sabbath, then plucking heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands and eating them shows that they're poor. This was a Jewish form of welfare where owners of fields are told not to harvest everything or not to go right to the edge of the field, but leave some for the poor. By the apostles doing this, it shows they were included in the poor. It also shows how heartless the Pharisees were. They didn't care less that these poor people were moving through the grain fields and filling their empty stomachs with a few heads of grain. What they saw was a violation of the law against harvesting. This was not a matter of thievery on their part. Not at all. They were free to do it the other six days. It was a problem of Sabbath regulation. They challenged Jesus. Verse 24, "The Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?'"

Jesus then gives a complex defense of the action, a complex defense, not easy to fully understand. In verse 25- 26, 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 gave some also to his companions." Jesus cited scriptural precedent, a well known story of David who was the true anointed king of Israel, had been anointed by Samuel, but  was made to flee for his life because the increasingly insane King Saul did not recognize him and would not embrace him as his son-in-law, so he had to flee for his life. David and his men in fleeing were in great physical distress, had nothing to eat, they were extremely hungry. David goes to the tabernacle. There was no temple in the days, but it was a tent where the Ark of the Covenant was, and the priests were carrying on the ministry there. The priest in those days greeted him in fear. David asked if he had anything to eat because he and his men were hungry. Hamelech said, "There's nothing there but the bread of the presence," which was the consecrated or holy bread put out each Sabbath by the priest as specified in Leviticus 24. The priest realized that David wasn't just any person, but was the king's son-in-law, he was a significant individual in Israel. The priest also more importantly recognized that no ceremony or ritual law should be greater than someone's  physical survival. The laws have to fit into a hierarchy. This religious requirement was not more important than feeding starving people. All of this constitutes what we would call a “how much more” argument. If David, the King's son-in-law merited special consideration and if a bending of a ceremonial law for a higher purpose, namely to feed the hungry was acceptable, how much more Jesus, the son of God, the Son of Man. We'll talk about that in a moment. Jesus’ disciples should be free to break man-made regulations that were never in God's word. I don't know about you, but I'm convinced. If David could do that to an actual legal requirement in the law of Moses, how much more should Jesus and his disciples be free to pick heads of grain on the Sabbath and eat them. 

But He's not done. He then goes on to teach about the Sabbath and makes this amazing assertion. Then He said to them, verse 27, "The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath." At the heart of this was the failure of the Pharisees to understand the whole point of the Sabbath to begin with. What was it for? It was to bless man, to refresh him, to strengthen him, to free him for one day from the burdens of work and to allow him to refocus his mind on God and on his throne. God ceased work on the seventh day and sat down on his throne to rule the universe. The Sabbath was made for man to refresh himself in the Lord. Now I'm going to go back to that great verse, Exodus 31: 17. I have to tell you, this is a new insight for me. I didn't notice this until about a week and a half ago, Exodus 31:17. It's really interesting. There again, speaking of the Sabbath, God says, "The Sabbath is assigned forever between me and the people of Israel, that in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth. And on the seventh day, he rested and was refreshed." That Hebrew word “refreshed”, literally is tied to breath and it could be translated that He caught his breath. That's fascinating. Six days making heaven and earth. And then on the seventh, He caught his breath. I hope you find this amazing. If not, let me help you find it more amazing. Isaiah, 40:28, "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary." What do you get out of that? God's omnipotent. Does He need to catch his breath? Never. This is what theologians call an anthropomorphism, where God is portrayed like us. Like the hand of the Lord, the mouth of the Lord, the eye of the Lord, this kind of thing. But God doesn't have a hand, He doesn't have an eye or a mouth, but it's so that we can understand some aspects of God and how He relates to things. God didn't need to be refreshed, but we do. The work that God did in making heaven and earth did not tire him out. The Sabbath was instituted for us because we do get weary, and we do get worn out in our labors, and we do need to be renewed and refreshed, especially spiritually. As it says in Psalm 23:2-3, "He makes me lie down in green pastors, he leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul." God intended the Sabbath to restore your soul. God never intended the Sabbath to become the most oppressive, burdensome, shackled, crushing, soul-deflating day of the week, but that's what the Pharisees had made it to become. Man's welfare is above Sabbath regulations, not a slave to it.

 Then comes Jesus' stunning claim.  Verse 28. I spent a long time pondering this, every word. "Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." What is the logical connection between verse 27 and 28? “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” In order to understand the logical connection, you have to understand the significance of the title, Son of Man. What does that mean that Jesus is the Son of Man?  It comes directly from the vision and the Prophet Daniel in Daniel 7. There is this awesome vision of God up on a throne of fire, a river of fire flowing from the throne of almighty God, ruling over all the beasts of the empires of the earth." Here's sovereign God ruling over tyrants and beasts and a river of fire and a 100 million angels are on him, the ancient of days, Almighty God. Then suddenly, into the presence of Almighty God, the Ancient of Days, comes one like a Son of Man.  Listen to Daniel 7:13-14, "In my vision at night, I looked and there before me was one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence and he was given authority, glory and sovereign power. All people's nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will never pass away. And his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." That's who the Son of Man is, that's who Jesus is. He is human, Son of Man, but He is God, He's riding on the clouds and He's given glory and people worship him.

The number one question I would ask a biblically literate Jewish unbeliever is “Who is the Son of Man in Daniel 7?” I would spend all my time on that. Who is he? Jesus  called himself Son of Man, over and over. As Jesus would say at the end of his ministry, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me because I am the Son of Man." That's why all authority in heaven and earth have been given to me because I am the Son of Man. So if they, the Scribes and Pharisees, knew who He was, they would not be asking questions of him or questioning him at all. The logical link, because Jesus is Son of Man, what that means is everything pertaining to the human race is given to him. He's in charge of everything relevant to us. That's his prerogative as the Son of Man. That includes, for example, being judge of all human beings.  John 5:27 says, "God has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” That's the same logic. Because He is the Son of Man, He gets to judge us all. He's the judge of all the earth, of all humans. Therefore because He is the Son of Man, He gets to decide what we get to do or don't do on the Sabbath.  It's up to him what we do on the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. This is a stunning bombshell. This is a claim to nothing less than full deity. Can you imagine anyone else in biblical history making such a claim? Can you imagine Moses calling himself, "Lord of the Sabbath.” He would never have said that. He's a servant in God's house. Can you imagine David saying, "I'm Lord of the Sabbath”?  Or any of the prophets? Can you imagine Elijah claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath? No one would make such a claim, except Jesus. Jesus, himself together with his father instituted the Sabbath rest. As Lord of the Sabbath, He has the right to say what is permissible on the Sabbath. It's a matter of kingly authority. He's the king of all the earth and He gets to decide what we do and don't do on the Sabbath.

The Majestic Person of Christ

 Jesus is God.  Jesus is worthy of our worship. Therefore, Jesus is the focus of our time on the Sabbath. He's the focus of that worship because He is Almighty God in the flesh. The Sabbath itself is in some sense a shadow whose reality is Christ and is now fulfilled and in some sense has become obsolete. Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath. By his death and by his resurrection, Jesus invites all who believe in him to enter into his rest and to finish from all works of righteousness, and rest finally and completely in his finished work on the cross. The author to Hebrews makes this plain in Hebrews 4:3, "Now we, who have believed," [that is in Jesus] "have entered into that rest." Again, the author says a few verses later, in Hebrews 4:9-10, "There remains then a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work just as God did from his." We who have believed have entered that Sabbath rest and there still remains a Sabbath rest. It's an already not yet thing. When you come to faith in Christ, you have rested from all of your works, you are righteous in God's sight because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, you have entered your Sabbath rest, but there still remains a Sabbath rest for you and that's heaven. Therefore, the mosaic regulation of the Sabbath was a shadow. Jesus is the reality. Colossians 2:16-17, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with your regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day." Let me just keep it simple for our purposes right now. Do not let anyone judge you by what you do with the Sabbath day. Verse 17, "These are a  shadow of the things that were to come.” The reality, however, is found in Christ." So the old covenant Sabbath was a shadow, Jesus is the reality. That shadow-reality language is used in the book of Hebrews for the ceremonial laws that are fulfilled in Christ. The Sabbath as the Jews observed in the old covenant is obsolete. Jesus has made a new Sabbath. So from the beginning of the New Testament era on, we ceased gathering to worship on the seventh day and it was moved over to the first day.  I think this symbolism is vital. The old covenant Jews looked backward to the old creation, the six days in which the physical universe was made and celebrated that. We look ahead to the new creation that Jesus has won by his resurrection from the dead. We're looking ahead to a new heaven and a new earth by meeting on the first day of the week and calling it the Lord's day, so we assemble the worship on the first day, not the seventh.

Along with this comes a second case study, the man with a shriveled hand. Look at the verse, Mark 3:1-6, "Another time, he 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 a shriveled hand, 'Stand up in front of everyone.' 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. He looked around at them and 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.' Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus." In all the gospels in which these accounts occur, these are back to back, the grain fields and the shriveled hand, back to back. These probably are consecutive Sabbaths. I think they're meant to be taken together. Jesus is going around, village to village in Galilee, preaching and proclaiming and working and going on the Sabbath to reach scripture and to teach. Jesus' enemies, at this point, are starting to follow him around, to dog his steps. They want to make trouble for him, they want him to fail. They want to hang him with his own words and works. They really are after him at this point. Why?  The Sabbath is one of the number one reasons. Jesus in John 9 heals a man born blind. He's hauled up in front of the religious police and the council. It says in John 9:16, some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God for he does not keep the Sabbath." Simplistic mathematics. It's like, "He's not from God. He doesn't keep our Sabbath regulations."  He doesn't keep the Sabbath, he's not from God.” But then the next phrase in John 9:16 says, "But others ask, 'How could this sinner do such miraculous signs?'" They have a problem. They don't get it. How could anyone do that if God were not with them? It's impossible. They don't know what to do. The crowning argument of Jesus' enemies against him is He doesn't keep the Sabbath. They are like prowling predators. They're lying in the tall grass waiting to pounce for Jesus, they're watching him. Jesus, the most courageous man in history, attacks them head on. Mark 3:3, “Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone." I think not only was Jesus courageous, I think the man with the shriveled hand was somewhat courageous. He knew this was heading for nothing but trouble, but he had this shriveled hand, the Greek word implies, withered.  It says it'd be very hard for him to work. This is a clear test case, for the man's medical condition is not life threatening. So you're going to say, "Look, six days you can do all your healing. Come back after the Sabbath is over." We've already seen that in Mark's Gospel while people waited for the Sabbath to end to come get healed. No, Jesus is not going to wait. He wants this man healed right now because He's not only after the man with the shriveled hand and showing compassion to him. He is after that, but He wants to blow up this yolk of legalism right now. He wants to set the people free from that legalism. He puts them in a logical trap.  Look at Verse 4,  “Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath? To do good or to do evil? To save life or to kill?’” Jesus is saying, “So go ahead, let's answer. Let's talk about which of these two is lawful on the Sabbath”.  They remain silent, He's seeking to expose their corrupt hearts.

In Matthew's gospel, He sites another one of their faulty patterns. There's nothing wrong with the pattern, but there's something wrong with how they were dealing with humans. He said, "If any of you has a sheep that falls in the pit on the Sabbath, you'll do whatever you can to get the sheep out. But you care more about your own livestock than you do other human beings. What's wrong with you?" The question he asked here goes deeper to their evil intentions. What are they going to do after this whole thing's done? They're going to go out and on the Sabbath, they're going to work really hard. It's going to be intellectual work. They're going to do the work of plotting his murder. Sometimes He called them out straight out, "You're trying to kill me." He openly said that to them sometimes. He knew what they were doing. He says, "All right, each of us is going to be working on the Sabbath. I'm working to heal this man, to bring life to him. You are working to kill me. Which of those two do you think is lawful?" He traps them, but they didn't answer. I think this happens a lot.  Jesus will trap some group of evil people and they will not answer his question. 

 Jesus has a passionate response, look at verse 5, “He looked around at them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts." He's very angry at them. He is an emotional man. Jesus had emotions, but unlike us, his emotions are always perfect. Jesus looked them right in the eyes, exposed their evil corruptions and then He's truly angry at them with a clean, pure fire of holy wrath. Their hypocrisy toward God, their lack of love for other people was pure evil, and it made Jesus angry. This is the only verse in the entire new Testament that overtly says that Jesus was angry. I think He was angry at other times like when He made the whip and drove out all of the corrupt merchants in the temple area. I think He was filled with a holy anger then but it doesn't say so. I think once He was indignant with his own disciples for not letting the children come, but it doesn't say He was angry. This says, “He's angry at them”. 

Secondly, it says He was grieved. He was grieved at their stubbornness or their hardness of heart. The hard heart will not yield and ultimately Jesus knows where that hardheartedness will lead. It will lead to the point where He will say to them while sitting on a throne of glory, "Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." That's where their legalism will lead. "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teaches of the law, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." He knows they're heading toward hell and He's grieved over them. He turns to the man and  says, "Stretch out your hand." The man stretches out his hand, and it's instantly restored. I don't know what happened. I think hands are amazing. I was a mechanical engineer for 10 years. When you think about all the tendons and capillaries and all of the stuff. Anyway, there it is, all of its articulations and its movements and they're instantly restored, effortless, perfect healing by Jesus.

That's Jesus passionate, compassionate powerful response. What about his enemies? They're pretty passionate too. You don't have it in Mark's gospel. In Luke 6:11, it says they were furious. Don't you see something wrong with that? A guy has just been healed and they're furious. In verse 6 of our text, the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Jesus threatened their power.  The Herodians and Pharisees are usually enemies. The Herodians are secularists, they're Hellenists, they're Greek-speaking worldly people who linked up with Herod the Great and then his four successors to get worldly power and do well in life, a little bit like tax collectors in that regard. True patriotic Jews would usually see  the Herodians as sellouts. But there's an old saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."  Jesus made enemies come together and fight. 


The True Sabbath Rest: Salvation through Faith in Christ

What lessons can we take from this text? The central lesson of the entire gospel of Mark, indeed, all four gospels—the infinite majesty and glory of Jesus. Jesus is Lord of the Savage. Jesus, the Lord of all. Jesus is God. He is majestic. Every single one of us right now is underestimating Jesus. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the infinite majesty and glory of God in bodily form, that's Jesus. Lord of the Sabbath. Secondly, the true Sabbath rest is salvation through faith in Christ. The reality of the Sabbath is found in Christ. We who have believed enter that rest. I said, some of you may have walked in here with terrible spiritual burdens, maybe you're not sure that you're a Christian. You're not sure that your sins are forgiven. You don't need to do any works. Lay down those works. Give up those works. He who has entered into the rest of God, has ceased from those works. Find perfect forgiveness in Jesus' finished work on the cross. Hear  simply what Jesus said to the thief on the cross. "Today, you'll be with me in paradise." What works did that man do? None. But simple faith in Christ led him to forgiveness of sins. So lay aside your burdens, give them to Jesus, all your guilt, give it to Christ.

A Persistent Danger: Religious Legalism & Hypocrisy

Thirdly, let all of us watch out for this persistent danger of religious legalism. It's still with us today. Basically, there are two religions in the world, salvation by works through religious efforts and all of that and salvation by grace, through faith in Christ. That's it. There's a lot of different versions of that first type, but religious legalism is still with us and it dogs our step as Christians. We think that whenever we feel guilty and sinful and our conscience rises up against us, we need to go do a bunch of religious works. Kill it, flee to the cross. That's the only righteousness that will survive judgment day. Let's get rid of any religious legalism and hypocrisy.

A Lasting Question: The Best Way to Spend the Lord’s Day

Fourth, a lasting question. What is the best way to spend the Lord's Day? "Pastor, are you going to do this? You've been preaching already a good long while. Are we going to actually get into all the ways that Christians should and shouldn't use the Sabbath.”  This is probably the seventh sermon I've preached on the topic of the Sabbath. I would suggest you go to and look at my sermons in Hebrews 4, Romans 14, Colossians 2. I’ve covered all that. Isaiah says, "Call the Sabbath the delight." I walk through lots of particularities on how Christians should spend their day. I think the key is in Exodus 31:17, "Whatever you do, catch your breath spiritually. Be refreshed spiritually in Christ." It's not legalistic to say you should come to public worship every week when you're physically able, that is vital. It's not legalism to say that you should be here and drink in God's word and worship with the people of God. That's a given. But what else? Am I going to start talking about sports like the Super Bowl or like the tournament, or should we be allowed to watch sports and all that?" No, I'm not. Except I just kind of did. Anyway, the idea is you have to judge yourself. It's not for the elders to judge you and what you do on the Sabbath day, but I think you should evaluate yourself. Your Sunday patterns, do they refresh your soul in the Lord or not?   

Finally, heaven is the ultimate Sabbath rest. Let me close with a question that popped in my mind and I'm not going to solve it for you, but I think it's pretty cool.  How do the glorified saints in heaven both rest from all their works and engage in the energetic labor that their resurrection bodies will be doing? How do they do both? I think they will be doing both an eternal rest in the Lord and energetic, creative labor in the new heaven and new earth. I think that's pretty exciting, don't you? 

Close with me in prayer. Father, thank you for this passage. Thank you for the complexity of the topic of the Sabbath. Thank you for the simplicity of the gospel that Jesus is everything. Jesus is God, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Father, I pray that you would enable us to flee to him and find in Christ everything we need for the salvation of our souls. That we would realize that Jesus came to take burdens off us, not to crush us with legalistic burdens. Help us to understand that and then help us to make wise choices on the Lord's day. Wise choices that our souls would be refreshed, that we would spiritually catch our breath through a renewed vision and love of Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, Amen.



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