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Mar 13, 2016

Lord of the Sabbath

Passage: Mark 2:23-3:6

Speaker: Scott Jeffreys

Series: Mark: An Action Packed Gospel

There are two stores in town that stick out like sore thumbs. If you are planning on going out to eat today don’t go to Chick-fil-a because they are closed. If you’re planning on finishing your craft project and you need to pick up some art supplies don’t go to Hobby Lobby because they are closed. The sign on the door reads something like this: “Our stores are closed on Sundays to give our employees an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.”

You can go to most any store you want today, but not Chick-Fil-a or Hobby Lobby. They are two old dinosaurs of an era of American history where everything was closed on Sunday. Restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, department stores, and movie theaters were all closed. If you needed some chicken for Sunday lunch or some gas in your car to get to church you had better get it on Saturday because when Sunday rolled around you were out of luck. But now everything is open…

Sundays Are No Longer Sacred

But not only is everything open, things like youth sports take place on Sunday. There are no more Sunday and Wednesday sacred cows when it comes to activities for your children. In the old days it would have been sac-religious for the rec department or a local school to consider scheduling practices, much less a game, on those days but not anymore. The church is no longer the only game in town on the Lord’s Day, we are up against some stiff competition.

Our culture has flipped from one extreme to another. There was a time when it was a sin to do anything other than to go to church, come home and stare at the wall on Sunday, but now it’s a sin to not go along with the world’s ways on Sunday. You are so old fashioned and out of date to buck the system.

If we were to take our text and transpose it into American culture I suppose we could place these two stories anywhere between our nations’ founding and the 1960’s and get it right. What Jesus and his disciples did on the Sabbath would have been would have been akin to breaking Sunday norms in our culture when everything was closed on the Lord’s Day.

Jesus Honored the Sabbath

The first thing we need to recognize about Jesus and the Sabbath was that he was always in the synagogue (a house of worship for the Jewish faith) on the Sabbath. Jesus did not play “loosey goosey” with the corporate gathering of God’s people for worship on the Sabbath. Our Lord was in church. Worship was not an al-carte option for the Son of God. The Scriptures bear witness to this fact over and over again.

Second, in principle, Jesus supported the Sabbath as a day of rest, re-creation, and worship.

As the One who created and established the Sabbath, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, knew that human beings needed a day of worship and rest. This is the way God made us and without it we burn out.

Jesus was not about establishing earthly kingdoms so it would have been highly unlikely that he would have spent a lot of his time trying to undo what we have done in our culture, but I am certain that if he were ministering today in our context he would be disappointed by what we have turned our society into and he most certainly would be disappointed with how casual we 21st century Christians deal with the Lord’s Day.

So we should not read these texts about what Jesus did on the Sabbath and come to a false conclusion that he would approve of our Sunday commerce and soccer games. And he certainly would not approve of Christians treating the corporate gathering of God’s people for worship as an option.

What Did Jesus Disapprove of when it came to the Sabbath?

So what did our Lord disapprove of when it came to the Sabbath?

Jesus disapproved of turning the Sabbath into a legalistic millstone that weighed people down with silly laws that made them walk on “pins and needles.” There were well intentioned people who created all of these man made laws, so as to ensure that people would “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”

There were laws like if you walk more than 3,049 feet you were guilty of breaking the Sabbath, or if you help one of your animals give birth or set someone’s broken arm in place on the Sabbath you are guilty of breaking the law. Though these were well-intentioned they were wrong-headed, and they turned the Sabbath into a heavy burden that God never intended it to be.

Jesus was right, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. It is to be for our benefit, not our burden; and when these well-intentioned people created all these obscure, meticulous, mand-made laws, it ended up, ironically, creating work for people to try not to break them!

This is what Jesus condemned and he did so on Scriptural grounds. That’s what the story of King David and his supporters who ate the bread in tabernacle (God’s house) that was reserved for the priests is all about. David and his men were on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill them and they had not been able to eat and so the priest, following the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law, considered the circumstances and made an exception for David and his men and gave them the bread that was reserved for the priests. As Jesus said in the text, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

But not only did Jesus condemn these meticulous laws on the grounds of God’s Holy Word, he also condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in failing to keep the law. Here they were getting on Jesus for picking some grain to eat on the Sabbath and for healing a man who was not in danger of dying, yet they were conspiring of a way to break the six commandment, “you shall not murder” on the Sabbath! Granted, Jesus was not crucified until Friday but before they ever nailed him to the cross they had murdered him in their hearts on the Sabbath! Can we say irony?

So this raises the whole question of who is really keeping the Sabbath and who is breaking it?

Jesus put a question to his critics, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” Of course it is lawful to do good and to save a life on the Sabbath, which is precisely what Jesus had done. And of course it is unlawful to do evil and murder on the Sabbath, which is precisely what the Pharisees in this text were doing when they began to conspire how they might kill him.

Applying the Text

Let us consider how this text applies to our Christian life. I offer to you two great (but often neglected) resources from our catechisms. The first comes from Q. & A. 88 of the children’s catechism.

1. How should the Sabbath be spent?

2. The Sabbath should be spent in prayer, and in praise, in reading and in hearing God’s Word, and in doing good to our neighbors.

In that answer we have the teaching of the two greatest commandments, “To love God with all of our heart soul, mind, and strength” and to “love our neighbor as our self.”

This is how the Sabbath should be spent. It is a day of rest and re-creation, it is not a lazy day of inactivity. We worship God together and we minister to our neighbor.

Today you are in worship, tonight we will have Bible Study. Come in prayer and in praise, reading and hearing God’s Word. It is the Lord’s Day.

Which of your neighbors needs an encouraging word or a kind deed? Is it your children, your parents, your friends, your next door neighbor, or the person with the flat on the side of the road? Is it your enemy? You have God’s permission and command to do good to your neighbor.

The second resource comes from Q. 60 the Westminster shorter catechism.

1. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

2. The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

If at all possible, with one exception, don’t work on the Lord’s Day. If you find yourself in a job that you have to work on the Lord’s Day pray that God would give you a new job that would give you Sundays off, or at least the morning off so that you may worship.

Second, know that God permits works of necessity and mercy on the Lord’s Day. Some examples of this would be my vocation. Today is a day of work for me. My job as a pastor on the Lord’s Day is a work of necessity. Doctors, policemen, and firemen, and other such jobs are also works of necessity. If you have one and you are working on the Lord’s Day figure out another day to rest and worship and study that week, and see if you can get on a rotation where you don’t have to work on every Lord’s Day.

A great example of a work of mercy on the Lord’s Day comes from Chick-fil-a. The store in Garland, Texas opened on a Sunday last December in order to prepare food for first responders and emergency personnel who were cleaning and up and tending to the wounded from a tornado that had blown through the day before. That is a great example of how to follow the spirit of the law, instead of the letter of the law, when the situation warrants it.  

Sabbath observance is not meant to be a burden to you. The Lord of the Sabbath gave it in order to free you up for worship, rest, and works of mercy.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.