Lord of the Sabbath
Luke 6:1 – 16
Lord of the Sabbath
An objection, (v 1)
Sometimes when I read the Bible, I find something that I object to.
And maybe you’ve had this experience!
And if you’re new to Christian things, I reckon this could be even quite common for you.
You read the Bible, and think, “does it really say that?
Is that really what God thinks?”
And I know for lots of people, there are attitudes or behaviour that the Bible clearly says are not appropriate, they’re outside the pattern God wants for our lives, but actually, ha, we’d be quite happy with.
God disapproves of it, but we approve of it.
So, for example, spend most of your money on making life enjoyable for yourself;, God says, “No”, we say “yes”!
God disapproves. We approve
But here in Luke 6 it’s the opposite.
Jesus approves of behaviour, that I find offensive!
And do you know that it is?
Do you know what I object to?
I object to Jesus’ disciples taking a shortcut through someone else’s field, and not only that but picking and eating the grain while they’re there!
I mean, I’m the guy who scowls at people in the supermarket if they pick a grape off the bunch.
And so I read this and think, finally the Pharisees are objecting over something worthwhile.
But it turns out their objection, is not the same as mine.
Just so you know, I may have exaggerated my level of objection to the disciples here, but I will scowl at you if you swipe grapes at Woolies.
But what the religious leaders object to, is something completely different;, Look at it from verse 1, One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
The reason they don’t object the way I do, is that eating someone else’s grain, and taking a shortcut through their back yard was allowed under the Old Testament law.
The Law God gave to Moses included instructions about how to look after other people,
How to trust that God would provide for you,
The law reminded you that your land and your produce really belonged to God in the first place.
It’s why the old East End Produce market in the city had the words of Psalm 24 verse 1 inscribed over the gate: “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
And so you were allowed to walk through people’s fields, and you could even eat something while you were there.
You couldn’t fill your backpack, It was like an “all you can eat” buffet! You’re not allowed to load up your bag and take it away, but while you’re there, you can eat all the salad bar that you want.
No, the religious leaders are not worried about the disciples picking someone else’s grain, but that they’re doing it on the Sabbath.
What is the Sabbath?
In all 4 of the gospel accounts the most significant point of conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day, was over this issue of the Sabbath.
So what is the Sabbath?
Well the word is just the Hebrew word for “rest” or “ceasing.”
In Genesis 2 verse 2 we read, By the seventh day, of creation, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
But let’s note 2 things. The rest is here not part of a cycle that you need to do, some kind of ratio of one day’s rest to 6 day’s work.
God didn’t need to kind of have a break, and catch his breath after working for 6 days, in order to get back at it again for another week!
The other thing that’s important to bear in mind, is that rest here is not doing nothing.
If God did nothing, if God stopped sustaining the world, that would be the end of the universe.
So God stopped his work of creation, but this rest is not putting his feet up on the coffee table and doing nothing. Jesus says in John 17, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.
Rest does not mean do nothing.
And we’ll come back to this in a bit, but this rest, this Sabbath, was about saying there is something more important than work.
Work leads to something.
We could even say, rest, or use the Hebrew word, Sabbath, is the fulfilment of work.
God set as the goal of creation, rest, not the absence of work, but relationship.
And so, in the Law that God gave to Israel, he told his people to observe 7th day of the week as a Sabbath, by not working.
Exodus 35:2, after God has rescued Israel out of Egypt, Moses says to the people, For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord
Don’t work on the Sabbath, so you remember the relationship that God is holding out before you.
Don’t work, so you can enjoy now, a little foretaste of what is to come.
Don’t work, as a sign of the rest which is the purpose of all creation.
But in addition to that instruction that God had given, the religious leaders had added vast numbers of additional rules, that even today, Orthodox Jewish people still follow.
They had come up with 39 different categories of work that were forbidden, and then under each one, 6 sub-categories that were also forbidden.
So I know someone who one Saturday walked into a building where a whole bunch of Jewish people were, and it was all dark, the lights were off, and a voice called out, “Are you a Gentile?”, that is, not a Jew, and this person called back, “Yes, I am.” And then from out of the dark, the voice asked, “Then can you please turn on the lights?”
These Jewish people believe that flicking the light switch might cause a spark inside the switch, and making a spark is considered lighting a fire,
God had said not to light a fire in your house on the Sabbath, so because of all the rules that were later added around that, you can’t turn on the lights.
Now, it might sound kind of pointless and finnicky to us, we’re not familiar with it, but it was a serious business.
And in the eyes of the Pharisees, what the disciples are doing in picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them, they’re breaking not one but 4 of these Sabbath prohibitions;,
So the disciples picked the heads of grain, That was considered reaping.
Rubbing them in their hands, was seen as threshing,
Throwing away the husks, they considered that winnowing,
And eating proved that you had, prepared food.
OK, this isn’t just getting pulled over because one of your brake lights is out! This is getting pulled over because your brake light is out,
You ran a red light,
Your tires are bald,
And you crashed into a police car!
Deliberate breaking of the Sabbath, according to the religious leaders, was punishable by stoning.
And notice that Luke tells us that it’s been the disciples who began to pick the grain, but it’s Jesus who’s in the firing line, and so he’s the one who responds.
Now this isn’t something that I say very often, but, imagine you’re Jesus!
How would you respond?
Now, of course, Jesus would have been able to call down fire from heaven and all that, you’re not allowed to do that, but how would you defend your disciples, against this crime of which they’re accused, which remember, carries the death penalty.
I reckon, most of us, would probably go down the line of saying something like, “Well, these are very strict rules that you’ve got,
And while it’s good to maintain some standards and some dignity around Sabbath keeping, surely we can relax a little bit.
Not too much, we don’t want shops opening on the Sabbath,
or people playing sport on the Sabbath,
Or people going to the movies on the Sabbath or anything like that, but surely we can loosen up a little bit.
That’s kind of what I thought when I went to the synagogue in Adelaide a couple of years ago, with their lights all on timer switches, and their automatic taps in the bathroom.
Why don’t you just lighten up a little bit?
Jesus’ answer – People come above the law (v 3 – 4)
But that’s not Jesus’ approach, is it?
He doesn’t say, “Look, you’re nearly right! Let’s just be a little more flexible on the implementation.”
He reaches back into their history, and of course these are the religious leaders of the nation, they know their history and they know their Bibles, Jesus takes them back to their history to say you’ve completely misunderstood the point of the Sabbath.
“Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
“Have you never read what David did” Jesus asks. Well of course they’ve read it! Numerous times!
They’ve just missed the point every time.
The episode comes from 1 Samuel 21, David and his men are on the run from Saul. This is before David is king. So Saul is still king, and he’s trying to kill David whom the Lord has chosen as king to replace Saul.
David and his men enter the tabernacle, and, starving, he asks the priest for 5 loaves of bread.
The priest says “sorry, we haven’t been to the shops today, we don’t have any bread.
Except, of course, we do have the consecrated bread.”
Now in the tabernacle, the house of God, every Sabbath, the Levites, the tabernacle staff made bread, 12 loaves, and laid it out as an offering to the Lord, and only the priests were allowed to eat it.
It was consecrated, set apart, for God, and for the feeding of the priests.
And David wasn’t a priest,
His men weren’t priests, but the guy who was a priest willingly gives them this consecrated bread to eat.
We don’t know if it was a Sabbath when David and his men turn up, Jesus’ point is not that David broke the Sabbath law, but that David just broke the law. Plain and simple.
he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat.
But actually, that’s not a problem, in this particular circumstance!
Would the Pharisees have preferred that David, the greatest king Israel ever had, do they wish he had starved to death, before he even became king?
No, of course they didn’t wish that!
They absolutely believed that on that day, the needs of David and his men, come first.
Now if David and his men had just been out on a boys weekend, doing some camping and some 4 wheel driving, if they just couldn’t be bothered making their own lunch, then it wouldn’t have been appropriate for them to eat that consecrated bread.
But they had a real need, and it would have been cruel and inappropriate for legalism to triumph over that human need.
The fattest Bible commentary I have on my bookshelf, is 2 volumes on Luke’s gospel. If you want to know anything about Luke, that’s the place to go! And in it, this week, “Jesus advocates a restricted hierarchical ethic.”
And you might think, “Well, who on earth knows that that means?!” Well, we can know what he means!
There are some points where obedience to the letter of the law, takes second place. That’s the “hierarchical” bit.
There are some things that take precedence over strict legalism.
But it’s a restricted ethic, that is, Jesus, of course, isn’t saying that everything comes above following the law.
You can’t just ditch the bits that you don’t like, or that are inconvenient.
But the well-being of people must always come before slavish legalism.
I have 2 friends who have been stopped for speeding on the Freeway. I probably have more, but I know of 2! One was doing 110, but unfortunately for him, even though it was 1:30 in the morning, there were still road work signs out, and he hadn’t reduced his speed. He got that envelope in the mail that none of us like to receive, and he had to pay the fine.
But another friend of mine, was once racing along the Freeway, well above the speed limit, and he saw the police car checking speeds. He told me, “I thought about slowing down, but I didn’t”, and sure enough, as he flew past, the police car pulled out and came after him.
He then pulls over, the police officer gets out, comes over to have a look, yells, “follow me”, then runs back to his car, jumps in, and gives my friend a high speed escort, all the way up the Freeway to Mount Barker.
Because my friend’s wife was in labour in the back seat of the car, and she needed to get to Mount Barker hospital to deliver her baby.
What’s the difference between those examples of law-breaking?
A human need.
See the idea of the law, was not to restrict people’s lives, or make life harder, the purpose of the law, one of the purposes of the law was to help people,
To help people have a good life.
The point of the Sabbath, remember, was not about making life difficult,
But helping you remember that work is not the end in itself.
Rest is the fulfilment of work.
Jesus’ action – the Sabbath is for doing good (v 6 – 10)
Jump down to the next little episode.
Verse 6, on some other Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath
Even according to their own rules, there was some work that was permissible on the Sabbath.
A midwife was able to do her work on the Sabbath, for example.
But if you were sick, not at death’s door, but, you know, just man flu, these leaders said, “No, no, you need to wait until after the Sabbath to get treated.”
This man here has a shrivelled hand.
There’s no immediate threat to his life.
They think this guy can wait an extra day for whatever Jesus can offer.
And so with no pressing need, in their minds, for this to happen today, The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were watching Jesus closely.
The sense of the word actually is to watch out of the corner of your eye, it’s all about cunning and malicious intent. It’s the same word Luke uses in volume 2, the book of Acts, to picture people watching the city gates in order to kill Paul.
So Jesus gets the man to stand up in front of everybody, and then he asks his opponents, “what do you think the Sabbath is for?”
“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good, or to do evil,
to save life, or to destroy it?”
What’s going to be good in this instance?
To heal the man.
And so to not to that, to not do good, is to what? It’s to do evil, Jesus says.
To have the ability to save the man and not do, well, Jesus says, that’s evil.
How sad it is to see these religious leaders, more interested in religious rule keeping, than in the healing of this man.
Do you see verse 11. “The Pharisees, though somewhat taken aback that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, were nonetheless thrilled that a man made in God’s image had been restored to wholeness!”
Ha! It doesn’t say that, does it?
They were so angry that things hadn’t been done their way, that God had dared to act outside the box that they tried to keep him in, that instead of celebrating at the restoration of a human life, they began to plan how they could destroy one, and take Jesus’ life.
But I don’t want us to think for a minute that we are any different.
Not in terms of Sabbath rule-keeping perhaps, but more broadly at how we react when God acts outside our expectation and our comfort zones.
It’s only natural for us to expect God to act in particular ways.
Certainly there’s ways God’s promised to act,
There’s ways we very much like him to act,
But sometimes, God chooses to act in ways that well, truth be told, we’d prefer that he didn’t.
This here is a good news story, but it’s a tragedy that these religious people, are more interested in accusation than they are in the healing.
Imagine being so caught up in your way of doing things, that you’d actually prefer God hadn’t acted at all, than to act outside the box you’d like to keep him in.
Now, I’m a pretty structured sort of person.
The more time I spend with the other Pastors in the Trinity Network, I realise just structured I am!
But how terrible it would be if my structure, the way I like things to be done, got in the way of doing good, and therefore, according to Jesus, in effect means I do evil.
We must guard ourselves against this kind of self-righteousness, where we can try and pass ourselves off as great lovers of God,
But in our actions, we fail to love his people.
See, we’re back where we finished at the end of the first episode, aren’t we?
God’s great compassion for his people.
God’s great concern for his people is expressed in his Law
I know lots of people who think that Christianity, is more or less the equivalent to the way these Pharisees thought they needed to relate to God;
There’s a God who enforces rules, and either wants everyone to be miserable, or at the very least, just doesn’t care if people are miserable, as long as the rules are followed.
But not only is that not how Christianity works.
Christianity is not about rules but about relationship, a relationship with God’s king Jesus, but even back in the Old Testament, we see here, the rules were never the primary thing.
The law was not, the most important thing.
The law was an expression of God’s concern for his people.
You know the accusation that’s levelled today about speed cameras or whatever aspect of law-breaking is flavour of the month, “it’s not about people’s well-being” it’s argued, it’s just about revenue raising, or something else, well that argument could never be raised against God.
People come first.
Don’t ever buy the lie, that God is withholding from you, something that would really be quite good for you,
That God doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
That was really the heart of the serpent’s temptation of Eve in the garden, wasn’t it? “did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree, ?”
You will not certainly die,”, “God’s holding out on you!”
God doesn’t want what’s best for you, he just wants to keep you in line!
It’s the oldest line in the book, almost literally! And it’s still totally believable today.
God doesn’t care about you,
God doesn’t know what’s best,
God doesn’t want what’s best.
If we were asked outright, we’d probably say, “God cares about people. That’s what God does.”
But when it comes to thinking about the pattern for life that God has established,
That he calls us to as followers of Jesus,
That’s the point where we start to think, “this isn’t about what’s best for me,
What’s best for me lies down this path, and God’s calling me down that path.
God has given these instructions about the shape of my relationships,
Or my career,
Or the use of my money,
Or how should let people treat me,
But he’s not concerned about me.”
Well, Luke 6 won’t let us convince ourselves of that, will it.
Jesus has absolutely no time for a view of God or religion, that says people come second to rule keeping.
The Son of Man has authority over the Sabbath (v 10)
But jump back right into the middle of this section with me, because sandwiched between these two great lessons from Jesus, is a hugely significant claim.
In answer to the that question, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”, in verse 5, Jesus says, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Son of Man, as many of you will know, is an Old Testament term, for a male human being. Think of C S Lewis’ language in the Narnia books, “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve”, it’s the same idea.
Except in Daniel chapter 7, the prophet Daniel is given a vision of the throne room of heaven, and God’s sitting there on his throne in glory, and in describing what he sees in this vision, Daniel says one like a son of man, approached God and was led into his presence, and was given authority and power over all nations, and all people.
The Son of Man, then, according to the Old Testament, is a human, who can act with God’s authority,
A human to whom God has entrusted all authority over heaven and earth.
So when we get to the New Testament, and we discover that this term Son of Man, is Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself, we can immediately see that Jesus is making a big claim.
Some of you will know Elmo, the Sesame Street character. Little, furry, red monster. In 1984 when he debuted, he was 3 and a half years old, and amazingly, 33 years later, Elmo is still 3 and a half years old!
But because he’s 3 and a half, the producers of Sesame Street deliberately made Elmo talk like a 3 and a half year old. So he doesn’t use personal pronouns, like “me”, and “I”, he always refers to himself in the 3rd person;,
“Elmo is sad,
Elmo wants a hug”, and so on!
It’s called Ileism, referring to yourself in the 3rd person.
Elmo does it because he’s 3 and a half,
Jesus does it to make a claim about himself.
In fact I was tempted this week to edit the Wikipedia article on Illiesm, where they list notable Illiests, including Elmo, I was going to add Jesus to their list!
You’ll be pleased to know that I decided I had better things to do with my time!
The point is, this is a significant name that Jesus uses for himself!
To self-identify in this way is to make a claim about his identity and therefore about his authority.
You might know that in the Greek language of the New Testament, the order of your words in a sentence tended not to affect the meaning of your sentence, so you could rearrange the order of your words, put a word at the beginning of the sentence if you wanted to emphasise it.
In Jesus’ comment here, the word Lord, comes at the very start of his sentence. Jesus says something like, “Lord of the Sabbath, is the Son of Man.” Which sounds like we’ve moved on from Elmo to Yoda! But Jesus is emphasising his authority.
“Lord of the Sabbath, is The Son of Man
It’s an extraordinary claim!
The Sabbath was instituted by God himself!
And Jesus says he has authority over it.
The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatians that the Old Testament Law was given to God’s people Israel as a guardian until the time of Christ.
Its purpose was to lead people to Christ.
Jesus is saying the same thing here. “The Sabbath is about me!”
That relationship and rest the Sabbath pointed forward to, it’s here! Jesus says.
We submit to the lord of the Sabbath, not the law of the Sabbath
And so as Christians we submit to Jesus who is Lord over the Sabbath, we don’t submit to the law Sabbath.
We submit to the one who brings about what the Sabbath pointed to.
If you deliberately choose to work on Saturday, you don’t need to be stoned, like those in ancient Israel who deliberately thumbed their nose at God by working on the Sabbath.
You are free to work on Saturdays! because you submit to the Lord of the Sabbath, not to the law of the Sabbath.
But don’t think for a moment that this is then carte blanche to ignore everything that the Sabbath was supposed to teach God’s people!
Remember, the Sabbath was all about rest,
The Sabbath said that work was not the goal of your life,
In fact work is fulfilled by rest.
And rest is not doing nothing, but I heard it described once as “living in fruitful harmony with God.”
The point of the Sabbath was to point people’s eyes forward to the rest and relationship that can be ours for eternity, because Jesus brings us into relationship with God.
William Taylor who’s the Senior Pastor at St Helen’s Church in London, William likes to say:
“There’s more to life than life.
There’s more that matters, than matter.
That’s what the Sabbath was supposed to teach,
And ingrain into you,
They talk about “muscle memory”, well the point of the Sabbath was to teach you that there’s more to life than life on this earth, and you got taught that through your muscles getting a rest every 7 days.
The point of the Sabbath is not that you need to rest one day out of every 7 in order to work most productively, but to remind you that you will not, cannot find fulfilment in the things of this world, things like work, but only in an eternal relationship with the God who created you.
The Sabbath says you were created for more than what you can do with your hands. This Sabbath rest in relationship with God is the goal of all creation.
So, sure, you can choose to work on Saturday, but don’t ever take your eyes off that goal,
Don’t ever get so busy working, that you forget the purpose for which you were both created and redeemed,
Sure, fill your Saturday, fill your Sunday, with whatever you want to, but the moment those things in your diary crowd out your fellowship with God,
Crowd out your fellowship with the redeemed people of God of which you are a member,
Then disaster has struck!
The speed limit in most of Littlehampton, where I live, is 50 kilometres an hour. The point of that, is to keep me and other people safe.
So if somebody said to me, “Clayton, you are now free from that law, you no longer have to observe that law, you can drive at whatever speed you want”, well there might be some times when I would push a little bit past 50.
8:00 Sunday mornings on the way here, there’s not much traffic, I might get up to 60 in the main street!
But if I thought, “Well, being free from the law means I should aim to get up to 120 once I turn into our little suburban cul-de-sac”, that’s going to be a disaster.
I might have been freed from the law, but it would be utter foolishness to turn my back on what the law was there for.
It’s one thing to say we are no longer under obligation to this law because we’ve been brought into relationship with the Lord of the Sabbath.
But why on earth would you cut yourself off, hold yourself at arms length, from the one who brings the blessing of Sabbath rest to his people?!
Christian people have absolutely no need to keep the Sabbath, but pleased don’t put in jeopardy the real eternal Sabbath rest that Jesus offers you, because you crowd him out of your life,
Because you think there are other things that are more important,
Because you think you don’t need, what God calls us to as his people,
Because you think other people are at risk of becoming deaf to God’s Word, but not you.
“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”, and he fulfilled God’s law perfectly,
He entered into God’s rest,
And he enables us to follow him into God’s rest, not by keeping a law, but by believing in him, and following him obediently.