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The Lord of the Sabbath

January 10, 2021

Scripture: Mark 2:23-3:6


Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are going camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson up.

Holmes: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you deduce."

Watson: "I see millions of stars, and even if a few of those have planets, it's quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life."

Holmes: "No Watson, you idiot, somebody's stolen our tent!"

This morning Jesus is Holmes. The Pharisees are the Watson. It’ll be Jesus saying, “No Pharisees, you idiots!”

Why? Because they missed the point.

Sit-coms often use missing the point for their humor. Husband misses the point with something his wife says. Teenager misses the point his dead’s trying to make. We laugh along because we’ve been there.

But what we’ll read about today isn’t so funny. The Pharisees missed the point of God’s law and a lot of people have suffered because of it.

We’re in the Gospel of Mark. The series is “Introducing…Jesus.” Each Sunday a unique aspect of who Jesus is. This morning he is “Lord of the Sabbath.”

Gospel written by Mark. But the consistent tradition in the church is that it’s really the apostle Peter behind it. Likely from mid-60s AD. During reign emperor Nero.

Mark 2:23–3:6. Sermon will have three points: (1) The Lord of the Sabbath, (2) The Lord of the Needy, (3) The Lord of the Lord’s Day.

Read/pray: Open our hearts. TFC: (Craig) Frisco, (Paul B) Boston, (Jacob Y) NH.

I. The Lord of the Sabbath

The narrative:

  • The situation: “One Sabbath…” (2:23) + “His disciples began to pluck heads of grain” (2:23)
  • The accusation: “Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
  • The issue: The 4th commandment

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exod 20:9–10)

  • Question is, WHO understands 4th Comm: Jesus or the Pharisees?
  • Pharisees = Centuries of reflection.
    • A famous Jewish writing lists 39 categories of work that cannot be done on the Sabbath (Mishnah Shabbat 7.2)
    • Throwing a toothpick into a fire; kneading bread…
    • carrying anything of a significant size anywhere:
      • carrying straw in the amount equal to a “cow’s mouthful”
      • carrying “ears of grain is equivalent to a lamb’s mouthful”
      • carrying grass it was “equal to a goat’s mouthful”).
    • In Mark 2 issue isn’t personal standards to help you obey. But what is “LAWFUL”?
    • Pharisees confused their own traditions with what is “UNLAWFUL”—against God’s law.
    • Well, at that point Jesus needed to respond.

3 basic responses:

  • “Have you never read what David did…” – 1 Sam 21:1–6.
  • On the run from Saul. Went to the city of “Nob” (21:1). Asked Ahimelech the priest for any food available.
  • Name Ahimelech means “my brother is King.”
  • Only bread available was “holy,” “bread of the presence” (21:6).
  • Bread of Presence only by priests — Lev 24:5–9. On the Sabbath.
  • David gets the bread from Ahimelech.
  • Jesus uses the more famous son of Ahimelech to set the time: “in the time of Abiathar.” Abiathar becomes David’s priest after Saul kills Ahimelech.
  • What’s happening? David anointed to be future king…eats what is explicitly forbidden…isn’t condemned.

The point?

  • Jesus is anointed the true King by the Holy Spirit…eats what IS NOT forbidden….and should NOT be condemned.
  • Jesus IS NOT a Sabbath breaker.
  • The one greater than David is here. He is the true anointed one. He is no Sabbath-breaker.[1]

2nd response: He interprets God’s intention with the Sabbath — Mark 2:27

  • The Sabbath was given as a blessing for the whole society.
  • Never in history had a culture attempted to bless even the lowest on the social ladder with a weekly day of rest.
  • 7-day work-week entirely new. Came from the Jews.
  • Idea a king and ALL his subjects would all get a day of rest was radical.
  • King and all his subjects, all together, would worship the Lord. Offer sacrifices together.
  • This was good news. A Blessing!

But somewhere along the way, the idea that it was a blessing to make lives easier and better got lost.

  • The disciples weren’t WORKING, they were simply EATING. You could eat on the Sabbath.
  • Pharisees had so twisted things that almost as if “man created for the Sabbath.”

Third response and most important—WHO JESUS IS!!—Mark 2:28.

  • He’s “lord of the Sabbath.”
  • “lord” and not “Lord.”
  • But…
  • To be “lord of the Sabbath” isn’t like being “lord of the manor,” the guy in charge of a piece of land. Pay $5k and you own it. Name on the deed.
  • To be “lord of the Sabbath” is to be “the LORD.” It is to be God.

Only God can freely dictate what is “lawful” and “unlawful” on the Sabbath.

  • No mere Pharisee…interpreter of the law
  • No mere Moses…speaker of the law
  • One greater than Moses…he’s the GIVER of the law.
  • One greater than David + one greater than Moses = God!

II. The Lord of the Needy

Here we’ll see Jesus as the Lord of the Needy as well.

In this second part of the passage it gets even more personal with the Pharisees. Seems like the same group. Let’s read Mark 3:1–6.

The situation: Sabbath gathering in the synagogue. Man with a withered hand—some chronic condition likely painful and probably debilitating in some way. In that culture would have branded him deficient in certain ways.

Jesus uses it to directly challenge the Pharisees — now Jesus asks the question.

Their tradition said it was “lawful” to save a life on the Sabbath. Under certain conditions—how desperate is the situation, etc.?

But Jesus expands the idea: “To do good.” Well, that would depend. At this time, healing wasn’t allowed. Do that on the other 6 days.

Again, MISSING THE POINT! Not a Joke!

Jesus saw their hearts.

  • Saw that in their zeal for God’s law they were missing God’s law entirely.
  • More concerned about their centuries of tradition than the man’s suffering.
  • On display was NOT godliness but “HARDNESS OF HEART” (Mark 3:5).

That’s sobering, isn’t it, that Jesus can read minds and see hearts perfectly.

  • Doesn’t need an EKG….sees the whole thing.
  • And he’s “GRIEVED” at what he sees.

His response was to HEAL because here was a MAN IN NEED and he could help. He’s the Lord of the Needy.

The reaction of the Pharisees? “HARDNESS OF HEART” on full display—plot to kill him.

Lesson for us?

  • The Lord meets us in our place of need—a withered hand? Go to the Lord of the Needy!
  • Sometimes our need is to heal “our hardness of heart”—A NEW HEART!
  • And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek 36:26)
  • Born again, transformation, love where there’s hate, forgiveness where there’s bitterness.
  • Jesus does that, too.

Go to the Lord of the Needy!

III. The Lord of the Lord’s Day

Since the Sabbath is described here, let’s think about the Sabbath for the Christian.

I know, I know: “You preached this last May. We remember it all!” In case not…

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. What does he teach us in the rest of the NT?

Lord of the Sabbath and Colossians 2:16–17:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col 2:16–17)

The Lord’s Day:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet (Rev 1:10)

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7)

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. (1 Cor 16:2)

B.B. Warfield:

Christ took the Sabbath into the grave with Him and brought the Lord's Day out of the grave with Him on the resurrection morn.
B.B. Warfield[2]

We gather with the people of God. We gather as we’re able. We gather to sing…pray…encourage one another…hear God’s Word read and proclaimed…take the Lord’s Supper…baptize new believers…offer our lives by offering some of our money to the work of the Lord…

  1. We sing…because of who he is, what he’s done. How can we be silent when we consider these?
  2. The Lord’s Table reminds us that we gather to FEAST. To eat of the Bread of Life and drink Living Water.
  3. Jesus said where “two or three gather there I am in the midst of them.” He is omnipresent. He is in us. But there’s a special presence of Christ when we gather in his name. There’s a lot more than “two or three”! Christ is here!
  4. In the war we’re in—not against “flesh and blood” but against “spiritual forces of wickedness”—we gather for REST. Like the man with a withered hand found HEALING in the gathering of the people of God. So we gatehr for healing from the wounds of life—so we can return to the fight.
  5. God commands not to be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). We gather to let God’s Word “renew our minds”—we need others. Chris and “Our God is For us!”
  6. 1 Cor 12:7—each is given an expression of the Spirit for the common good. The power of God is present “for the common good”!
  7. The Sunday gathering is like NOTHING ELSE!

Risk? True, there’s risk to gather in a pandemic. There’s a greater risk to you if you don’t find a way to gather. “Gathering” virtually is something, not nothing.


3 responses in closing:

  1. Introducing…Jesus. The Lord of the Sabbath.
    1. One who gave the Law, kept the Law—died for lawbreakers!
    2. Lord of the needy!
    3. Go to him, get to know him, read the Gospel of Mark…
  2. Don’t miss the point about the Lord’s commandments: They are a blessing. Even when they’re painfully difficult, they’re a blessing.
  3. See the Lord’s Day as a gift from God and give yourself to it. Gather in faith, in expectation, in joy.


Closing Song

[1] For this interpretation see R.T. France (NIGTC, 147–148) and David Garland (A Theology of Mark’s Gospel).

[2] Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970), 319.

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