Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
Scripture: Mark 2:23-28
Due to technical difficulties, we only have the written content of the sermon.
Good morning, please turn to Mark chapter 2 as we continue our study of Mark. “Self-righteousness is like a bottomless cup: though you pour and pour, you will never be able to fill it. Why? Because pouring yourself into yourself adds nothing to you. Nothing plus nothing always equals nothing.” This was the system that the Pharisees were operating under. This was what they believed and what they taught. They were operating, as we saw last week, in what Jesus refers to as old wineskins.
The old wineskins were a system of self-righteousness and Jesus says that system must be demolished. The gospel is incompatible with that system. Jesus comes to bring them a new teaching, the gospel, and this gospel is not compatible with their old system. They cannot take the message of the gospel and put it into their self-righteous system of salvation by works.
Jesus came to expose that system and show that there is no salvation in that system. He came to set people free from this system that the Pharisees had put people under for so long. These Pharisees would burden people with their system and use that system to elevate themselves as some special group of people who could uphold the law. And while the people struggled and felt burdened by the legalistic rules that the Rabbi and Pharisees had placed on the people, Jesus is going to confront these Pharisees and show them that their system is false and inconsistent.
One of the main ways Jesus confronts their system is by doing things on the Sabbath. Let me just read for you what we have recorded of what Jesus did on the Sabbath day. He cast a demon out of a man (Mark 1:21, 25). He healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31). He healed a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:10; Mark 3:1; Luke 6:6). He healed a woman who was sick from a demon (Luke 13:10-13). He healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9). He healed a man with dropsy in one of the Pharisee’s home (Luke 14:1-6). He healed a man who was born blind (John 9:13-14). And as Jesus does these things on the Sabbath, it was done not only to confront their self-righteous false religion, but also to show them that He is the Lord of all who has come to bring the true message of salvation to the people so that they can be saved.
This morning we are going to see this confrontation that Jesus has with the Pharisees and see three ways in which He shows His divine authority over the Sabbath. First, Jesus Provokes the Pharisee’s Legalism. Look with me at verses 23-24, "And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, 'Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?'"
So here is a Sabbath day and Jesus is walking along with His disciples and they start to pick grain and eat it because they are hungry. But because it is a Sabbath day, the Pharisees claim that Jesus’ disciples are breaking the law.
Now in order to understand where these Pharisees are coming from, we must understand their system and the laws that they have put in place, so that they can justify their claim of the disciples breaking the law. Now, these Pharisees would have had the oral tradition (or teachings) of the Rabbis that was passed down called the Mishnah. And the Mishnah were the oral traditions that the rabbis had recorded as they interpreted the Torah or the written law (the Old Testament law) and a part of the Mishnah was known as the Mishnah Shabbat. This is the Oral Traditions from the Rabbis regarding the laws about the Sabbath.
Now, we know that God had given specific commands regarding the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." They were to keep the Sabbath holy by not doing any work on the Sabbath. The reasons why Israel was to observe the Sabbath is because first, God rested on the seventh day, making the day holy (Ex. 20:8-11). But it was also a reminder of their redemption from slavery in Egypt as we see in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
So God issued the Sabbath day for Israel as a day of rest from all of their work. Well, the Rabbis interpreted the law and added more laws to it and became extreme in what the people were allowed and not allowed to do. The Mishnah Shabbat (7.2) says “The primary labors are forty less one…” meaning their were 39 things in which no one could do on the Sabbath. Some of them included, sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, winnowing, grinding, kneading, baking, tying or untying something, building, tearing down, kindling or extinguishing a fire, walking, and many more. And then they would add even to that as they would interpret each one of these 39 things.
Let me give you an example. God says in Exodus 16:29, while Israel is out in the wilderness and God provides manna for them, “See, the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.”
Well the rabbis took that and said, well, if we go to Joshua 3:4, there God commanded the Israelites to follow the priests carrying the ark of the covenant at a distance of 2,000 cubits behind them. Now 2,000 cubits equals around 3,000 feet, or a little over half a mile. The rabbis eventually interpreted these two commands as limiting travel on the Sabbath to 2,000 cubits or a little over a half a mile. And in Jesus’ day, this was known as a Sabbath’s day journey. That is why in Jesus’ day, the synagogue that a loyal Jew worshipped at would be located within that half a mile of their home because they couldn't walk more than 2,000 cubits from their home.
However, anyone who wanted to “bend” that rule could carry a lunch sometime before the Sabbath to a place about a half mile from their home. Then, by eating that lunch on the Sabbath day, they claimed that location as their “legal” home and then could go another 2,000 cubits beyond that location on the Sabbath. Do you see how burdensome and ridiculous these laws were that these Rabbis and Pharisees had made up and were trying to uphold?
Another law, just to show you how ridiculous and burdensome these laws were, is “No adding fresh water to a vase of cut flowers” because sowing was any activity that causes or furthers plant growth and you cannot sow on the sabbath. Thus, washing oneself on a lawn is prohibited because it inevitably will result in watering the grass, which would cause the grass to grow, which is sowing, which is forbidden on the Sabbath.
This is self-righteous legalism and Jesus hated it and He confronted it because it put people in bondage. It caused people to be burdened with trying to prove how good they were instead of recognizing that they are sinners in need of a Savior. Remember what we read last week in Romans 3:20, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
That was the purpose of the law, but these Pharisees saw the law as something that made them righteous, as if they could uphold the entire law. And since one of the works that they were not allowed to do on the Sabbath was reaping, they considered what Jesus’ disciples to be doing “picking the heads of grain” at the end of verse 23, that was considered reaping.
Luke’s account tells us “His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain.” One commentator says, “The pedantic Pharisees regarded the plucking of the heads as reaping, the rubbing out of the grain as threshing, and perhaps the blowing away of the chaff as winnowing. The disciples were guilty of working on the Sabbath.” They were law breakers because they were working on the Sabbath.
But they were just hungry and wanted something to eat and because they ate this fresh grain the way they did, they were working. And Jesus in allowing His disciples to pluck the grain and eat it is provoking these Pharisees and their religious system. So Jesus, in this confrontation with these self-righteous Pharisees, now comes after them to expose their lack of knowledge of the very Scriptures that they claim to be upholding.
Which leads to our second point, Jesus Publicizes the Pharisee’s Ignorance. Look at verses 25-26, "And He said to them, 'Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?'"
Jesus confronts them now with the Scriptures that they are supposed to know and yet don’t. And He points them back to 1 Samuel 21 where David is running from Saul, because Saul wants to kill David. Turn to 1 Samuel 21 with me and look at verses 1-6. "Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, 'Why are you alone and no one with you?' David said to Ahimelech the priest, 'The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, "Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place." Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.' The priest answered David and said, 'There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.' David answered the priest and said to him, 'Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?' So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away."
So David comes to a city called Nob and he meets with Ahimelech the high priest and says, “Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.” Now just as a sidenote, Ahimelech is high priest, but Jesus says in Mark that Abiathar was the high priest. What is going on here? Jesus says in Mark, “it was in the time of Abiathar the high priest…” and Abiathar was the son of Ahimelech and Ahimelech died shortly after this event when Saul killed him, but Saul did not kill Abiathar. So it wasn’t that Jesus didn’t know who was priest, but it was relating that this happened during the lifetime of Abiathar the high priest, which these Pharisees would have known.
So, Ahimelech answers David and says, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” And then verse 6, “So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away.”
And why was Ahimelech able to do this? Look at 1 Samuel 22:9-10, "Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing by the servants of Saul, said, 'I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. He inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.'"
Ahimelech inquired of the Lord, and God granted for David to eat the showbread…because preserving David’s life was more important than the ceremonial regulations. Now, what is Jesus commentary on this?
We know that the bread was only supposed to be eaten by the priests as Leviticus 24:9 says about the showbread, “It shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the Lord’s offerings by fire, his portion forever.” It was something only the priests were to eat. So why was David and his men allowed to eat it?
Turn back to Mark 2:25, Jesus tells us that David and his friends were hungry. They had a need. And David gets the bread and he and his friends eat it. And what Jesus is saying is that human need overruled the ceremonial regulation and these Pharisees should have known that. They were experts in the law.
But they were so concerned with their own religious system of works righteousness that they totally missed this fact and Jesus publicizes their own ignorance to the law. In fact, there was an even bigger problem here. Their biggest problem was that they had taken their rabbinical teachings and had elevated them to the same level as God’s Word.
Turn over to Matthew 15:1-9. "Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 'Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' And He answered and said to them, 'Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, "Honor your father and mother," and, "He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death." But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,' he is not to honor his father or his mother." And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'"
Jesus exposes their traditions and says they have equated them with the Word of God. Did God say that it was only the priests who were to eat the showbread? Yes. But God is also a God of compassion and showing compassion to David and his men trumped the adherence to the rituals and ceremonies. And Jesus point is that if God allowed that with David and his men, then surely it was okay for the Son of God, the Lord of the Sabbath, to disregard their unbiblical rabbinical teachings in order to meet the needs of His disciples.
They had a need and a compassionate God meets the needs of His people. God allowed a ceremonial law to be broken for the sake of meeting a need because meeting this need was more important. One commentator says, “The religious leaders were far more concerned with preserving their own authority than with the needs of anyone else.” And in condemning these Pharisees like this He is showing them His divine authority over them. When they thought that they were the authority, He says, “No, I am the authority.”
Which leads to our third point, Jesus Proclaims His Divine Authority. Turn back over to Mark 2:27-28. "Jesus said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.'" Jesus now confronts them about the reality of why God instituted the Sabbath. He says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
The whole purpose of the Sabbath was to give man a day of rest. We work hard for six days and then need one day just to rest. This was a gift from God and a good thing for man, but the Pharisees had turned it into a dreadful burden. This was a day that God gave because He is a compassionate God and loving God and wants His people to be able to stop and be refreshed and have a day of not thinking about their work and all the demands and problems that come with it.
But the Pharisees had turned this blessed day into another day of problems and burdens. Their self-righteous religious system was placed on the shoulders of the people to weigh them down with a load of DO’s and DON’T’s. And Jesus exposes the Pharisees for this and shows their lack of compassion for those who are in need. Their system had no compassion at all because it was a godless system that did not understand the heart of God…
And then, just to press the Pharisees even further, Jesus comes out with this bold statement and proclaims in verse 28, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus is claiming His divine authority as God. Many people say that Jesus never declared Himself to be God in the Bible. But it just goes to show their lack of knowledge of the Bible because this is exactly what He is doing here. Notice also, He again calls Himself the Son of Man, as we saw a couple weeks ago that is the messianic title from Daniel 7:13-14. He is the divine King who created the Sabbath and rules over it.
Look, these Pharisees thought that their interpretation of the law was on par with God’s Word. That it was the authority. They thought that their religious system was equal with God, but little did they know that the Word was standing right there in front of them, confronting them and their religious system and showing them His divine authority.
God in the flesh was there to let them know that their false religion was not even close to the truth of God’s Word and He showed them His divine authority by declaring Himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. Their self-righteous works were legalistic and unable to please God. While they put burdens on people, Jesus showed compassion to people. While they prided themselves in their works, Jesus reminded sinners that their works could not save them. While they took a day of blessing and twisted it into a day of strains and troubles and burdens, Jesus proclaimed that He was Lord and said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
And they hated Jesus for this. They loved their self-righteous, self-fulfilling religion more than the Savior. And it would be this conflict over the Sabbath that would begin their plot to destroy Jesus as we will see next time.
In closing, Bishop Taylor Smith, a bishop in the Church of England, mentioned the subject of salvation to the barber who was giving him a shave. The barber snapped, “I do my best and that’s enough for me.” The bishop was quiet until the shave was over. When the next man was seated the bishop asked, “May I shave this customer?” “No, you mustn’t,” replied the barber. “But I would do my best,” answered the bishop. “So you might,” the barber replied, “but your best would not be good enough for this gentleman.” The bishop responded, “No, and neither is your best good enough for God.”
Friend, have you fallen into the trap of thinking you are good with God because of your good works? Then repent. Have you become like one of these self-righteous Pharisees who thinks that you are right with God because of the things you do and don’t do??? That’s called legalism. Repent. Are you burdened this morning because you have tried to work your way to God but are miserable because you can’t? Then repent and put your faith in the compassionate Savior who is Lord of all and said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”