Jesus, the Sabbath, and the Kingdom!
For the past 55 years I have been aware of Sabbath regulations. From the time I was a boy who went to the neighbors and played in the barn on a Sunday afternoon. That was not the thing to do. I could go to the neighbors, but what I could not do was:
o Go into the barn-why I do not know.
o Ride my bike there-they couldn't either
o And could not play softball-they couldn't either
When I came home Mom asked "Were you in the barn?" "No!" I replied untruthfully… You see I had not only been in the barn, I had been across the top of hay loads. Not realizing there were two loads of hay I went sliding right down to the floor. I probably looked shaken when I came home, and I also had a lot hay dust and chaff inside and outside the t-shirt I was wearing. I was caught dead to rights. But as I recall it was not tied to why I shouldn't ride a bike. Or Run in the barn on Sunday. It was simply in the category of what we didn't do on the Lord's day.
When I arrived at our first church it didn't take long to discover that there were a group of farmers that would get together after the afternoon service and go for a long snowmobile ride. These were not the farmers who had herds of milk cows, because there were none in our congregation that did.
A few years later after we had moved to Northern Michigan, I discovered that the guys did not go out on snow mobiles on Sunday. Unless it was a medical emergency…which sometimes did happen. You just didn't do that on Sunday because it was the Lord's day.
In every congregation I have served there have inevitably been questions about what we can and cannot do on Sunday. The conversation usually following the trail of what was done a generation ago and what is done today and how lax things are today. So from the present back to the 70's the conversation naturally gravitates to the laxity of the present day.
Almost without exception in those conversations, any effort to turn the subject toward what might Jesus desire be for us as we consider Sabbath, or Lord's Day behavior, meets with silence! We struggle trying to put these things together. And frankly Jesus is way to lax in his understanding of the law.
I think there is a reason for that. We like most people before us still find it easier to deal with the letter of the law, the technicalities of the law, snowmobile on Sunday, yes or no? We can give some rationale for why we do or don't and why this is the Lord's will for us.
The technicalities of the law are always easier to deal with. Easier I say because they are often discussions in which can discuss them in relationship to others, the laxity of a community today vs yesterday, the laxity of the next generation vs the yesterday's generation. In these discussions the focus is on others.
What is harder, and I believe Jesus says "Necessary!" is for us ask the question of ourselves: "How can I use this gift of God, the day of the Lord, the day of rest, to know God better?" "What does God require of me so that I may live my life with a very clear witness and testimony to God's grace, and his love?" That question is the one Jesus would encourage us to wrestle with. It is a kingdom question! And it is the Spirit of the law question.
So lets spend some time looking at how he encourages us to keep together the person and the technicality of the law. Or another way to put it: How do you keep the letter of the law and the spirit of the law together.
Jesus' Troubled Times
- The Romans were ruling: Power Foreigners in power.
- The Jews were paying taxes to the Romans: They were taking money
- The appearance of persons claiming to be Messiahs had set up dangerous situations with the loss of life.
- There was a creeping cultural drift. The influence of Greek culture was making its way into Palestine challenging the Jewish way of life, which served One God, the God of Abraham, rather than a whole Pantheon of gods. Religion was an issue.
- When times are anxious the Pharisees responded as most human beings do….they tried to hold on to the past. They tried to hold on to the law that had grown up around Sabbath observance with hundreds of rules. Some of these rules even violated the law given by God to Moses.
The Conflict began soon: MARK jumps right into it.
- Questioned about: (Teachers of the Law) "Why is Jesus forgiving sins?" That is blasphemy!
- Questioned about: "Why are you eating with the "rif-raf"! 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Mk 2:16).
- Questioned about: "Why aren't your disciples fasting? Everyone else is?"
- Questioned about: "Why are your disciples picking and harvesting grain on the Sabbath?"
They are not buying Jesus answer
- "Which is easier to say 'your sins are forgiven' or 'Take up your bed and walk?' " But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mk 2:10-12)
- "Why are you eating with the "rif-raf"! On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mk 2:17 NIV
- "Why aren't your disciples fasting? Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them." Mk 2:19 NIV Jesus says: The bridegroom is coming to get his bride! It is time to celebrate, not fast! The wedding of Cana gives us some understanding. Jesus was not a kill joy but rather encouraged the celebration.*
- "Why are your disciples picking and harvesting grain on the Sabbath?" 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.”
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mk 2:25-28 NIV
The teaching of the law of God was that God's people celebrated the Sabbath for two reasons:
- God rested on the seventh day. He celebrated all that he had made, and it was very good.
2. Remember that you were a people in slavery in Egypt. God brought you out! Celebrate It! Give thanks for it.
Jesus wasn't going along with them.
His answers pointed towards a new way of keeping God's law for every one of the commandments actually. Jesus doesn't discard the commands…but he does deepen them.
- He focused on the spirit and heart of the commandment. While others were focusing on the letter of the commandment. They looked at the outward signs that there community was following.
- Sabbath: he is not a traditionalist. He does not go along with the "rules of the community!"
- And he claims to have the right to interpret and apply the will of His Heavenly Father.
- The Sabbath was put in place by his heavenly Father for the good of all creation. It was a day of rest…a day in which we are freed from our earthly responsibilities and given the opportunity to focus our attention on our Creator and our Redeemer.
- He challenges them repeatedly about their views of what is right and wrong by their standards.
- He instead asks the question before he heals the man with the shriveled hand: 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. Mk 3:4 NIV
- Then we find one of the few instances in the Gospels where it says Jesus was angry: 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.
- “At their stubborn hearts” could be translated more literally “at their hardness of heart,” but the word “hardness” often takes on the additional idea of willful “blindness.” *6.
- The accent is not on the healing but rather on his authority to show us the way to life of the Kingdom.
The Herodians were not well respected people, they were the enemy. Yet in obstinate stupidity they join forces with those who are their enemies.
Do we realize the contrast between the way of Jesus…the sabbath was for doing good and for saving life. While the Pharisees leave to find a way to trip him up and kill him.
When you follow Jesus you can't choose your own path!
- It's easy to manipulate and twist Scripture; it's really difficult to manipulate and twist the heart of it once you capture that. Which is why I think Jesus always went to the heart of the issue when nailed with specific questions.
- Jesus came and brought us the message of the Kingdom…
- Jesus was clear "I am Lord of the Sabbath." Then Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath. He’s in charge!”
The Message (Mk 2:27-28)
- *“What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?”
- *Jesus message was one that challenged all of us to lift our Christian living to higher level. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
When Christ was confronted with people who wanted to know, What's the boundary? What's the rule? invariably he cut through all the "surface" questions, all the rules, and went to the core, which is the spirit of the act.
Sabbath is the God-ordained discipline of setting aside one day out of seven for the sake of refreshing Worship of the Lord, joyful community with his people, and rest-filled activity that is different from what we do on the other days of the week.
There are three elements in this description. First, Sabbath is a time to connect with our Maker and provide space for worship, praise, prayer, and growing in intimacy with the Lover of our souls. Second, it is a time to experience the blessings of community. On Sabbath we connect with those we love. This community is experienced in homes, in church buildings, at a lakeside, and anywhere the people of God might gather. Third, Sabbath is a day dramatically different from the rest of the week. On this day, we are free to move at a different pace. A soul-enhancing slowness is afforded us on the Sabbath, 107