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Luke 6.1-11

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Happy New Year! After taking a break during the month of December, we’re back today in the gospel of Luke, which we’ve been in since the fall. So far in this book we’ve seen Jesus’s birth, his dedication at the temple; John the Baptist came preparing the way for him; Jesus grew up and began his ministry, he began to make disciples and perform miracles and proclaim the kingdom of God.
, :
Happy New Year! After taking a break during the month of December, we’re back today in the gospel of Luke, which we’ve been in since the fall. So far in this book we’ve seen Jesus’s birth, his dedication at the temple; John the Baptist came preparing the way for him; Jesus grew up and began his ministry, he began to make disciples and perform miracles and proclaim the kingdom of God.
And in today’s text, we have a wonderful glimpse into the heart of Jesus’s ministry—so if you’ve missed the series so far, you can always go back to our website and listen to those sermons again, but you’re in luck today: this is a good place to jump in again.
Now, to understand what we’ll see today we need to do a little homework. In the Old Testament (roughly the first two-thirds of the Bible) we see God giving the Law to his people through Moses in the wilderness. The Law contained regulations for regulating the whole life of the people of Israel—their day-to-day practical life, their social and civil life, and their religious life. These rules were very exhaustive and very strict.
The people of Israel always had a kind of love/hate relationship with the Law: this Law was supposed to rule their lives, and yet they were consistently unable to follow it. And even when they did manage to observe the Law in all its particulars, they often missed the point of the Law entirely. This is why many Old Testament prophets rebuke the people—most of the time they fail to keep the Law, and when they do observe the Law, they ignore the heart of the Law.
The prophet who probably puts this most succinctly is the prophet Hosea, who speaks for God in :
Amos 5.12, 21-24:
I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate...
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
21 I hate, I despise your feasts,
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
So you see the point. The Law was a reflection of God’s character, of his heart. And it was meant to rub off on his people—as they observe the Law, they were meant to be more and more like God. But that didn’t happen. They observed the letter of the Law, but they missed the point. All of the sacrifices and rituals and offerings that the Law required of the people meant absolutely nothing if they didn’t produce in the people the love that God felt toward the human beings he had created. Mercy cannot be separated from real faith.
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
That truth is what we see at work in our text today. We have Jesus in action, doing things that seem to break the Law, but which in fact accomplish the heart of the Law.
So let’s begin reading in , starting at verse 1.
sacrifices and burnt offerings in themselves held no weight with God. What pleased God was a heart devoted to him and a life characterized by mercy. Mercy is inseparable from real faith.

Grain on the Sabbath (v. 1-5)

1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.
Now, we need to clear something up real quickly: Jesus and his disciples weren’t stealing from whoever owned this field. The Jewish Law contained a provision for the poor, which allowed them to go into any field and pick fruit or grain to eat—it was a way of legally providing for the poor, so they wouldn’t go hungry. The problem was that they were doing this on the Sabbath.
The Sabbath was the day of the week which was to be a day of rest for the people—they were required to do absolutely no work. And after the Law was given, the Jews took this particular law very seriously: you couldn’t pick anything up, you couldn’t prepare food, you couldn’t till or grind any grain (which was, essentially, what the disciples were doing here with their hands). So according to the way the Jewish people interpreted the law of the Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were breaking the law.
So some Pharisees were there, and they saw this. The Pharisees were a group of hyper-religious men who observed the Law to the letter. They knew it all by heart, and they took great care to observe every law in great detail. Jesus had already proven a threat to them (as we’ve seen before), so they’re constantly following Jesus around and trying to catch him in some sin or another so that they could reveal him to be the imposter they thought he was. So that’s what happens here (v. 2):
On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”
They’ve caught him red-handed. Jesus is right there with his disciples, and he sees them picking this grain and eating it, and he does nothing. So this is great news for the Pharisees, and they jump on him.
And this is probably just my movie-lover brain kicking in, but I imagine them behind Jesus, and they say this—“Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”—and I picture Jesus slowly turning his head, like he’s just now noticing they’re there, and he’s got a grin on his face, like, “You really want to go toe-to-toe with me?” He probably didn’t do that, but that’s how I picture it. Here’s what he says (v. 3):
And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”
What’s he talking about?
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The Jewish legal code contained a gracious provision for the hungry that allowed for a person to handpick fruit or grain for personal consumption… So the disciples were not guilty of pillaging someone’s field. The rub was that they picked the corn on the Sabbath, a day on which the Fourth Commandment specifically prohibited work.
The “bread of the Presence” was bread that was kept in the temple and not eaten—every Sabbath they would take out the bread from last week and replace it with new bread. This bread was meant to symbolize that the presence of God, who dwelt in the temple, was the source of Israel’s strength and nourishment in everything. It would only be eaten once it was replaced with new bread, and even then it was only eaten by the priests.
f
The incident that Jesus is referring to is found in . David is fleeing from King Saul; his men are starving. It’s a Sabbath, so David goes to the priest Ahimelech and asks him for bread for him and his men. Ahimelech tells them that the only bread he has is the consecrated bread of the Presence which had just been replaced by new bread. After making sure that David and his men are ceremonially clean, he gives them the bread, and he and his men can eat.
The Jewish legal code contained a gracious provision for the hungry that allowed for a person to handpick fruit or grain for personal consumption… So the disciples were not guilty of pillaging someone’s field. The rub was that they picked the corn on the Sabbath, a day on which the Fourth Commandment specifically prohibited work.
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Now, why did Jesus bring this up here? He brought it up to illustrate that
The “consecrated bread” consisted of twelve loaves of unleavened bread (Josephus, Antiquities 3.6.6) that were arranged in two rows of six on a table of gold (, ). Each Sabbath the old loaves were removed and replaced with fresh ones (24:8). In the Old Testament it was often referred to as “the bread of the presence” (literally, bread of the face”) (cf. ; ; ) because it was placed in the presence of God. The placing of the bread in God’s official presence symbolized the fact that God was the source of Israel’s strength and nourishment and reminded them of their dependence upon God for everything, physical and spiritual. The bread was ceremonially holy and could only be eaten by Aaronic priests at the conclusion of its seven-day display ().
So the priest here is doing what the prophets say is right—he is doing something which the letter of the Law says he shouldn’t do, but which the heart of the Law requires him to do—he’s showing compassion on these hungry men. God’s people don’t exist for the Law, to serve the Law; rather, the Law exists to serve God’s people.
And that is precisely what’s going on in Jesus’s mind when he’s doing this. When Matthew tells this same story of the disciples picking the grain, he includes something else that Jesus says. Matthew 12.7:
And just to show that I’m not reaching too far in this connection between what Jesus is doing and what the prophets said, when Matthew tells this same story, he includes something else that Jesus says. :
And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
You see—he’s quoting the verse from Hosea we read earlier. Here’s Jesus’s point to the Pharisees. “By getting upset that we have picked grains on the Sabbath, you are proving that you don’t understand the Law. I am showing mercy on my men by allowing them to pick grain and eat it. And that is the point of the Law.”
Anon, 2016. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
We see here the divine principle that human need must not be subjected to cold legalism—that God desires “mercy, not sacrifice.” We know Jesus made this painfully clear to the Pharisees because in Matthew’s parallel account we see that he again referenced : “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (, ).
And then he goes one step further, and says something absolutely incredible. V. 5:
And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
“The Son of Man” is one of Jesus’s favorite titles for himself—what he is essentially saying to the Pharisees is, “Your rules have no authority over the Sabbath; your interpretation of what is work and what isn’t has no authority over the Sabbath; you, as self-proclaimed arbiters of the Law, have no authority over the Sabbath—I have authority over the Sabbath.”
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Now what makes this incredible, besides the fact that it’s more than slightly offensive to the Pharisees, is that the Sabbath was a divine institution. God himself gave the law of the Sabbath on Mount Sinai to Moses. Only God has authority over the laws he himself instituted. So when Jesus says that he is “lord of the Sabbath,” he is saying that he is God.
Now, we don’t get to see the Pharisees’ response to this incredible claim, because immediately Luke fast-forwards to another very similar situation—on another Sabbath, Jesus does something else that seems to run counter to the Sabbath law, and he does it for the same reason.
The second lesson was a stupendous theological declaration: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’ ” (v. 5). That was a staggering claim because the Sabbath was a divine institution thundered down from Mount Sinai by God himself. Jesus’ words asserted that he was greater than the Sabbath, for lordship declares supremacy. As such, Jesus Christ is greater than David. If David could override the Law without blame, how much more could the greater Son of David—Messiah himself—do so?
Some

Healing on the Sabbath (v. 6-11)

Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
v. 6:
On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.
So you have Jesus in the synagogue—where the Jews met for worship. He is teaching, and there is in the crowd a man “whose right hand was withered.” We don’t know what happened to make it like that—whether he was born that way or whether he was injured—but his hand was useless and shriveled. If he put it next to his healthy hand it would be like looking at a grape next to a raisin.
So the scribes and Pharisees are there—perhaps the same ones who accused Jesus in the previous verses—and they’re watching. They know Jesus’s propensity for healing people, but now, once again, they’ve got him cornered, because it’s the Sabbath. For Jesus to heal this guy, he will have to break the Sabbath law, because to heal him, he’ll have to do something—he’ll have to work.
V. 8:
But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there.
So they don’t even have to say anything; Jesus knows what they’re thinking. So rather than just healing the man straight away, he has him come and stand in the middle of the room, where everyone can see him. Jesus is making a pre-emptive strike: before the scribes and Pharisees can accuse him of anything, he makes them look at this man.
Now, I’m not 100% sure about this, but here’s what I think he’s doing. The Pharisees aren’t the only people in the room that day; there are plenty of ordinary men sitting and listening to him. And I think Jesus wants them to consider this man who, in their society, was no longer good for much of anything, because he can’t work with his hands anymore. A normal person would pity such a man, the way you feel when you see a man in the métro begging with a club foot. I think Jesus is trying to draw that pity out of the crowd (and I think Luke is trying to draw that same pity out of us, his readers), so that we will approve what’s about to happen, and disapprove the way the Pharisees will react.
So after a moment, he continues (v. 9):
And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”
You can see that the question is a catch-22: on the Sabbath, you’re not supposed to do anything. But if you’re faced with such a problem, when you’re able to help, you’re able to do good for this man, and you don’t do anything…well then you’re doing harm, aren’t you?
As James says in
whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
So we assume that Jesus is going to heal the guy—and he does. But he doesn’t do anything. V. 10:
whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored.
Do you see the brilliance in the way Jesus does this? He doesn’t reach out and touch the man; he doesn’t rub a salve on his hand or clean it in water, or do anything that could be construed as “work.” He just stands there and tells the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man’s hand goes back to normal, like a new balloon which is inflating.
Again—adherence to the Law is nothing if it doesn’t produce the godly character the Law was meant to produce. God desires mercy, not sacrifice.
And what is unbelievably ironic is that the Pharisees—these men who knew the law so well and who were undeniably devoted to keeping the Law pure—are furious. V. 11:
11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
The way this is translated (“they were filled with fury”) doesn’t do justice to the Greek. Literally, the word describes something more like madness—it’s to be so insane with rage that you can’t think straight. Jesus has so blindsided them by the reasonableness of what he says and does, something that any sane person would approve of, that the only thing they can think of is how to get rid of him.
v. 6:
There is outrageous irony here as determined religious men sinisterly watch Jesus’ every move to see if he will show kindness and heal the man, so they can charge Jesus with sin.
They were so determined to catch Jesus in the act of breaking the Sabbath that they didn’t even realize that they had reduced this suffering man to a bargaining chip. And they can’t see that their lack of compassion on this man, the fact that they’re angry at Jesus for performing this miracle, even if it’s on a Sabbath, actually proves that although they follow the letter of the Law, they know nothing of the heart of the Law.
ey were so determined to catch Jesus in the act of breaking the Sabbath that they didn’t even realize that they had reduced this suffering man to a bargaining chip. As R. Kent Hughes wrote, “What is so astounding is that these Pharisees, self-proclaimed lovers of the Law, did not see that their lack of concern for their fellow Israelite was substantive proof that they did not keep the Law.”
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

The Heart of the Law

That’s what’s going on in our passage. But what’s the point?
In God’s view, a refusal to do good is to do evil—“good omitted is evil committed” (Godet). There is no neutral ground. To refuse to “save life” is to “destroy it.”3 To refuse to show mercy is a declaration of one’s own damnation.
Much has been made of Jesus’s teachings—and his teachings are indeed revolutionary (we’ll see some of them next week). Last month, Relevant magazine published an interview with Russell Brand, the well-known provocateur and comedian, someone whose films I would never let my child watch; but surprisingly in the interview he talks about his own views on Christ’s teachings, some of which are incredibly clear. Brand has often talked about his recovery from drug addiction, and one of the motors to his recovery, he says, was the teaching of Jesus as it is recounted in the gospels. Since then, despite his often vulgar personality, he has proven himself to be one of the most open-minded individuals in the public sphere, particularly towards Christianity. (He even had the theologian Alistair McGrath, whom you may have read in articles from The Gospel Coalition, as a guest on his podcast to talk about atheism and Christianity.)
In the interview with Relevant, Brand claims the teachings of Jesus are more relevant now than they have ever been—that they contain what he called “undeniable truth.”
He’s right. If you read the interview, you see Brand arriving to the kinds of right conclusions about Jesus’s teachings that the Pharisees were consistently missing. For example, he says, “There’s a famous quote: ‘Every man who knocks on a brothel door, he’s looking for God.’ Crack houses and these dens of suffering and illicit activity, they’re all people trying to feel good, trying to feel connected. People are trying to escape. People are trying to get out of their own heads. To me, this is a spiritual impetus...
“I do think a spiritual and transcendent change is required for people to be free from addiction… And by spiritual change, I mean the transition from one’s life being predicated on self-fulfillment to a life predicated on service, which for me is a moment-to-moment struggle.”
To be honest, it’s hard to find a Christian who takes the teachings of Christ that seriously.
The heart of the matter in today’s text is that true faith will show itself to be true: knowing God rightly will produce character and attitudes and thoughts which are in line with God’s character and attitudes and thoughts. The Pharisees are self-proclaimed lovers of the Law; but they show by their lack of compassion for the man with the withered hand that they don’t actually know God at all, because while they abound in sacrifice, they show no mercy.
Now, if you believe the public discourse about Christianity, you’d be quick to believe the opposite. If you were to ask many people on the street what characterizes Christianity, many people would say intolerance—intolerance of anyone who disagrees with us, intolerance of anyone who doesn’t live like we do; intolerance of members of other religions, of single parents, of addicts, of homosexuals—take your pick.
But statistics show that this is actually the opposite. A while ago a study was done in Australia, which was later published in a book called The Religious Factors in Australian Life. In the study people were asked about their attitudes toward many of the groups of people I just mentioned; and the results were surprising. Those who were by far the most tolerant, the most welcoming, the most ready to open their arms to these people, were not atheists or agnostics, but what they called “conservative fundamentalists”—in other words, those Christians who were not only Christians in name, but who diligently lived out their faith in their day-to-day lives.
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
But what we see consistently throughout history is that those who take their faith in Christ seriously are always moved to mercy. Now of course, we should never imagine that Christians are the only ones who know how to be merciful—unbelievers can be moved to incredible compassion towards others, and thank God for that. Showing mercy doesn’t make you a Christian. But true faith in Christ will always produce mercy and compassion in us. Always.
What is so astounding is that these Pharisees, self-proclaimed lovers of the Law, did not see that their lack of concern for their fellow Israelite was substantive proof that they did not keep the Law.
Now, this is really convicting for me. I’m very often guilty of a kind of heartless pragmatism that will have me trying to find a way around the kind of compassion I’m called to show. Reading this text, if I’m honest, if I were Jesus I’d have done things differently. When I saw the Pharisees watching my disciples as they picked and ate the grain, I’d have said, “Stop, guys—let’s wait until we get to town and we’ll see if someone can give us something to eat.” Or when I saw the man with the withered hand, I’d have come to him after the synagogue let out and said, “Come find me tomorrow and we’ll fix your hand.” There were ways around this, to get the job done and still not offend the Pharisees.
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
But you see, that was the point. The point wasn’t that he could technically do his job while keeping the Pharisees happy, but that the Pharisees were profoundly sinful for being unhappy in the first place. If they had understood the Law they claimed to defend, they would have immediately seen legitimate need before their eyes, and would have felt compelled to meet that need. They wouldn’t have wanted to condemn Jesus for healing the man with the withered hand; they would have applauded him, because they would have seen that in healing, Jesus was perfectly accomplishing the heart of the Law, the heart which says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
What is so astounding is that these Pharisees, self-proclaimed lovers of the Law, did not see that their lack of concern for their fellow Israelite was substantive proof that they did not keep the Law.

The Lord of the Sabbath

Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
But as true as that is…there is still more to this passage than that.
v. 11:
For example, much has been made of Jesus’s teachings. Even atheists agree that Jesus’s teachings are incredibly compelling and useful to create a homogenous and understanding society.
In the interview, Brand claims the teachings of Jesus are more relevant now than they have ever been—that they contain what he called “undeniable truth.” He’s right. If you read the interview, you see Brand arriving to the kinds of right conclusions about Jesus’s teachings that the Pharisees were consistently missing.
He’s right. If you read the interview, you see Brand arriving to the kinds of right conclusions about Jesus’s teachings that the Pharisees were consistently missing. For example, he says, “There’s a famous quote: ‘Every man who knocks on a brothel door, he’s looking for God.’ Crack houses and these dens of suffering and illicit activity, they’re all people trying to feel good, trying to feel connected. People are trying to escape. People are trying to get out of their own heads. To me, this is a spiritual impetus...
“I do think a spiritual and transcendent change is required for people to be free from addiction… And by spiritual change, I mean the transition from one’s life being predicated on self-fulfillment to a life predicated on service, which for me is a moment-to-moment struggle.”
Literally, “they were filled with madness.” The Greek in Luke—anoia—actually describes a state of unthinking or thoughtlessness—the absence of mind.
To be honest, it’s hard to find a Christian who takes the teachings of Christ that seriously.
But for all they may get right about Jesus, there’s a massive piece that they miss nearly every time. By doing what he does here, Jesus isn’t just exemplifying the Law for all to see. Jesus isn’t just showing what right observance of the Law looks like; he’s showing what God looks like.
Jesus isn’t just exemplifying the Law for all to see; Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. He doesn’t just fulfill the Law; he has authority over that Law. Jesus doesn’t just set himself up as the ultimate example of godly character; he presents himself as God himself.
Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. He doesn’t just fulfill the Law; he has authority over that Law. Jesus doesn’t just set himself up as the ultimate example of godly character; he presents himself as God himself.
The teachings of Christ quite literally changed Russell Brand’s life—and we can be very thankful for that. But for all his insight into what Jesus was getting at when he taught, he’s still missing the main point. For all the understanding he displays of what Jesus was saying, he still doesn’t understand why Jesus was saying it.
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Jesus is not just some teacher coming on the scene, interpreting the Sabbath in a new way and trying to convince people his interpretation makes sense—Jesus made the Sabbath! He created it! It was his idea! And he knows why he set the Sabbath up!
Does Christianity really make a difference? Is there a difference between card-carrying, Bible-believing Christians and their culture in situations needing mercy? According to some pollsters and social commentators, Christians are prime candidates for intolerance. However, this was statistically put to the test in 1983 in a book entitled The Religious Factor in Australian Life. Part of the survey asked people about their attitudes toward various groups—people with criminal records, emotionally unstable people, people of a different race, members of minority religions, students, people in sects or cults, left-wing extremists, immigrants/foreign workers, never-married mothers, unemployed persons, heavy drinkers, aborigines, people with large families, homosexuals.
The answers were analyzed according to various religious groupings, and an “index of tolerance” was created. Can you guess who was most tolerant? Not liberals, not Catholics, not evangelicals, but conservative fundamentalists, by a significant margin. Those with no religion came in last. So much for the pundits.
So the crux of the matter here is not, “Jesus is a man whose teaching emphasizes mercy.” It is rather, “Jesus is God, and his character is merciful.
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Application: What Do We Do With This?

Of course, mercy or compassion does not make one a Christian. Nevertheless, true faith produces a merciful heart.
So the question is, what do we do with this today? When the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write this account, he wasn’t just talking about a time when Jesus taught the Pharisees or his disciples; he’s teaching us. So what is he teaching us?
Hughes, R.K., 1998. Luke: that you may know the truth, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
We can boil it down to four things—two things we need to realize and two things we need to do.
Firstly—we need to realize that knowing God means submitting to God.
The Law of Moses was the authority over the life of the people of Israel—it ruled everything that they did from the time they woke up in the morning to the time they went to sleep at night. And Jesus is Lord over that same Law: he is lord of the Sabbath. And although Jesus fulfilled the Law, so we no longer have to obey these rules and regulations, he did not stop being Lord.
So if we claim to know Jesus at all, we cannot know him as a mere teacher or as a good example. If we claim to know Jesus, we must know him as Lord. Which means we must submit to him as Lord.
The hardest thing for modern Christians to accept is that Jesus has the right to tell them what to do. That famous line from William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” rings so true to us:
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
It matters not how strait the gate,
I am the master of my fate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.
I am the captain of my soul.
Secularism has beat this idea into our heads so strongly that there is not a soul in our society who doesn’t hear those words and instinctively approve of them. But it’s not just the fault of secularism—those words ring true to us because we are sinful human beings. The essence of temptation is to imagine that in any given moment, we are the ones who decide for ourselves; we are subject to no one.
The very first temptation saw Satan tempting the man and woman in the garden with the possibility of being like God ()—of throwing off the shackles put on them by this tyrannical God and being free of him. But they found that when they gave in to this temptation, they became slaves of a new master, sin—they exchanged the gracious rule of a good and loving God for the rule of a cruel slavemaster.
And all of us have been slaves of sin ever since. So when Jesus came, and lived a perfect life, and took our sins on himself, and suffered our punishment in our place on the cross, he finally granted us freedom from the slavery of sin and allowed us to once again be subject to a Lord whose rule is grace and whose character is merciful.
Our struggle is that we’re still tempted to imagine God’s rule as tyrannical and cruel, when in fact God never commands anything of us except those things which will be merciful to us, which will be for our good, for our joy. Jesus proves that, doesn’t he? He is Lord of the Sabbath, and he uses his authority over the Sabbath to allow his disciples the possibility to eat when they were hungry.
Knowing God means knowing him as Lord, and submitting to him as Lord, and believing that if he ever commands us to do something, or not do something, it is because he loves and us and wants to show us mercy.
So we need to realize, firstly, that knowing God means submitting to God, and secondly, submitting to God means being like him. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for strictly adhering to their interpretation of the Law while completely ignoring the heart of the Law. They try to emulate God’s power and authority while displaying none of his kindness or compassion—and it doesn’t work.
If we are truly submitting to God, then we won’t just do the things he says; we will love the things he loves. We will feel the things he feels. Which means if we truly understand the compassion and the grace he has shown us in Christ, then inevitably, without even trying, we will feel compassion for others, and will desire to show them the same compassion he has shown us.
So if you struggle to feel compassion towards others, like I do, then pray to understand the gospel well. Pray to know God rightly. Study the gospel with all your might, and pray that the Holy Spirit will enable you to not just understand how it works, but to feel the weight of the grace he has shown you. Confess your sin regularly, and pray to feel the joy of knowing you are forgiven for that sin, and reconciled to God, and adopted by him. Pray that this gospel will sink deep roots into your heart.
1) Pray to understand the gospel well. Study the gospel with all your might, and pray that the Holy Spirit will enable you to not just understand how it works, but to feel the weight of the grace he has shown you. Confess your sin regularly, and pray to feel the joy of knowing you are forgiven for that sin, and reconciled to God, and adopted by him. Pray that this gospel will sink deep roots into your heart.
And as you grow to know God better, submit to God in everything. Make the most of every opportunity to obey him, to show compassion and mercy. Even if you don’t entirely feel it. There’s something about doing good for others that makes you want to do good for others. Compassion is contagious. So if you have the opportunity to show compassion on someone in need, or to forgive someone who has wronged you, then jump on that opportunity, and do it. And realize that what you were able to do there is just a pale reflection of the grace God has shown you. You’ll find that as you make the most of these opportunities, you’ll see them everywhere, and you’ll find yourself wanting to make the most of them.
And if you are here for the first time today, if you don’t know Christ, then I hope you can see in today’s passage, and in those we’ll see in the weeks to come, how good he is. I hope you’ll want to draw near to him—not as a teacher who can be useful to you, but as a good and gracious Lord who has done everything for you to be free from sin and be reconciled to God. Come to him and faith, and accept his mercy to you.
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