Pastor David B. Curtis


Jesus and the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28

Delivered 01/22/2006

The French philosopher Pascal once wrote, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Do you think that's true? Down through the years there has been great evil done in the name of religion. People were burned at the stake. There has been a number of "Holy Wars." In our lifetime we have seen the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and the terrorism today in the Middle East. All are driven by religious convictions

Oftentimes in their hunger for God, people replace a relationship with Jesus Christ with religion. By religion I mean the performance of certain tasks or the abstinence of certain things in order to please God.

Christianity is more than a religion, because every religion has one basic characteristic. Its followers are trying to reach God, find God, please God through their own efforts. Religions reach up toward God. Christianity is God reaching down to man. Christianity claims that men have not found God, but that God has found them. To practice Christianity is to respond to what God has done for you.

Religion is people trying to win God's favor, to become acceptable to God. But Christianity is based on the fact that God accepted us even though we are not acceptable to Him. That's God's grace.

In our last study the disciples of John were questioning Jesus about the subject of fasting. So, we looked at fasting and what Jesus and the Bible had to say about it. In our text for this morning we see the Pharisees questioning Jesus on "keeping the Sabbath."

Mark 2:23-24 (NASB) And it came about 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. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to Him, "See here, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"

The Pharisees appear suddenly, unexpectedly, in the grain-fields, as if they have been following along behind Jesus and the disciples. They were following Him everywhere to observe His behavior and teaching, which defy and repeatedly violate what they insist is strictly-ordained in the Law.

The Pharisees were not accusing Jesus' disciples of stealing - which would be breaking the eighth commandment. The grain they were taking wasn't theirs, but the Law allowed this behavior. Their gleaning was not considered stealing according to:

Deuteronomy 23:25 (NASB) "When you enter your neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain.

So the issue wasn't the eighth commandment, it was the fourth commandment - not keeping the Sabbath:

Mark 2:24 (NASB) And the Pharisees were saying to Him, "See here, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"

These Pharisees are accusing Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. Is that a big deal? Absolutely! Mark tells us that at Jesus' baptism God, the Father said:

Mark 1:11 (NASB) and a voice came out of the heavens: "Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased."

How could God the Father be well pleased with God the Son if He was breaking the commandments of God? To say that Jesus is breaking the Sabbath law is a very serious accusation.

Exodus 31:14-15 (NASB) 'Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. 15 'For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death.

If the accusation of the Pharisees was true, Jesus and His disciples should have been put to death. Keep this passage in mind as we talk about our responsibility to the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is still binding on us, then so is the death penalty for breaking it.

When we think of the Sabbath, we think of the Old Testament and what it had to say about the Sabbath. But the Pharisees' view of the Sabbath law was much different from what the Bible taught.

What did the Sabbath mean to the Israelite? Sabbath was part and parcel of Hebrew life and worship. As part of the Decalogue, it was numbered as an aspect of the law of God.

Exodus 20:8-11 (NASB) "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Mosaic Law didn't just teach a day of rest, but it taught the Israelites that they were to work six days, and on the seventh they were to take a Sabbath. The Sabbath was conditional upon working six days. Men have a moral obligation to work. Countless texts condemn laziness as one of the worst of sins. The lazy man that does not care for his own family is worse than an unbeliever.

I think it would be going too far to say that God commanded that six days had to be worked. It's better to see in God's words the safeguard being stated that it must not be expected of any Israelite to work more than six consecutive days without having a day off - a rest.

To ancient Israelites the Sabbath was unlike other days. No manna fell on the Sabbath. Their routine labors ceased.

After the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon, they began a zealous effort to correct their previous Sabbath breaking. For the next 400 years they amassed detailed regulations for Sabbath observance in order to accrue merit for Israel by such practice. The Rabbinic Halakah listed dozens and dozens of regulations for the Sabbath. One could take no more than 3000 steps, carry no more weight than half of a dried fig, and not spit onto the soft soil lest the spittle plow the ground. Dragging a stick on the ground was forbidden on the Sabbath as a form of plowing. Rubbing grain in one's hands was considered to be threshing and blowing the chaff was winnowing, both forbidden on the Sabbath.

What was meant to refresh and restore became a monstrous strain upon the mind and senses. Counting steps, weighing burdens, and guarding even movements related to meals became a national obsession. Even today some Orthodox Jews are bound by similar practices and have developed nifty ways to observe the letter of man-made laws without over-stressing themselves. The 3000-step prohibition is for steps outside one's home. So to get around this, some have stretched ropes far beyond their homes as "extensions" of their homes so that they can walk freely within their "homes" without needing to use all their 3000 steps outside the home. The places they want to frequent on the Sabbath are within the ropes!

There are hotels in Jerusalem that have a Sabbath elevator. This elevator is programmed to stop at every floor all twenty-four hours of the Sabbath. The rationale is that if they happen to be walking down the hall, and the door opens, they can step into the car; and then if the car comes to a floor where they want to be anyway, and the door opens, they can walk out without having done any work. But if they push the button, that's work, and they've violated the Sabbath.

That which should have been a regular delight became a cheapened attempt at self-righteousness. They missed the heart of the law.

The very commandment that called for joyful rest became an incredible burden. They had to work very hard to keep the Sabbath, as it turns out. They had to plan ahead and do many things on the sixth day, getting everything prepared, in order to be ready for the seventh. So the sixth day became especially burdensome. Further, they spent all of the seventh day wary of inadvertent failure: "What if I look in the wrong direction? What if I say the wrong thing?"

So when the Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of breaking the Sabbath law - it was their man made Sabbath law that was in view - not God's law. Notice carefully how Jesus responds to their accusation of breaking Sabbath law:

Mark 2:25-26 (NASB) And He said^ to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and became hungry, he and his companions: 26 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 gave it also to those who were with him?"

"Have you never read" - is actually a strong statement in the Greek; it's a way of saying,"Are you telling me you've never read this before?" It's implying that they should know better. These Pharisees prided themselves on their knowledge of the Scriptures, but the Lord now asks - have you not even read this portion?

This story about David is found in 1 Samuel 21. David was fleeing for his life. Jonathan had warned him that his father the king, Saul, wanted to kill David. Saul suspected that David was to be the next king and his anger towards young David was intense. David's life was on the line so he fled and en route needed two things: food and a weapon. The Tabernacle had been temporarily set up in the village of Nob, there David can find a weapon, Goliath's sword, and food.

In that day, in the house of God, there was a table in the Holy Place. And on the table there were 12 loaves of bread called "the bread of the presence," representing each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Once a week, on the Sabbath, the priest would come in and bring 12 hot, fresh loaves and place them there before the presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle. The old loaves, the priest would take and eat; only they had that right:

Leviticus 24:9 (NASB) "And 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."

David was starving to death and he came and he found the priest, and the priest didn't have anything but this consecrated bread that he's just removed from the table. After a little discussion he went ahead and gave David that bread, and David consumed it with his companions. There is no mention that he was rebuked or that there was anything wrong with this.

Now listen carefully, David, a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and of whom it's recorded that he wholly followed God all the days of his life except for one specific incident (1 Kings 15:5), ate of the bread of the presence which it was not lawful for him to eat.

What Jesus is implying here is that there were times when the very practical needs of the people became more important than the letter of the Law, and in that moment the priest did the right thing by giving David something to eat. Well, if that's true of God's Law, how much more true is it of the disciples going against the manmade law of the Pharisees?

Here is the point of Christ concerning the Sabbath. It is a time to be refreshed rather than bogged down by ceremonial regulations. The disciples were hungry, having evidently made their early Sabbath morning journey without breakfast. It was more important for them to be refreshed by eating the handfuls of grain than to accommodate the rituals men had attached to the Sabbath.

Mark 2:27 (NASB) And He was saying to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

They have so twisted this thing that the people are now serving the Sabbath. The Sabbath was meant to be a gift. It was a gift of God's grace and mercy. It was a day to just rest and celebrate and enjoy. But the Pharisees had filled it with so much religious legalism that it wasn't a day to celebrate; it was a burden. It was now the day that they least looked forward to because of all the religious rules and regulations. So now the people find themselves serving the Sabbath.

I think one of the reasons Jesus told the story of David and the bread is because this is what the Pharisees were missing: part of the imagery of the bread in the Holy Place was this idea that people's souls hunger for God. And this bread was symbolic of the fact that God satisfies that hunger. There was a promise of a Savior that would come and would satisfy. That's why Jesus stood before the people and said, "I am the Bread of Life." That's what He is referring to. "I am the Bread of Life that has been symbolized in the Holy Place for 2,000 years. Now I have become flesh, and I stand before you, and I want you to know I am that Bread that satisfies your hungry soul." But the Pharisees were so entrenched in the rules, so entrenched in their religious stuff, that when the Bread of Life stood three feet from them, they simply could not see Him for who He was.

The whole point of the Sabbath was not only for physical and emotional rest, but it was a type to remind us that God has promised He will do the work of salvation. We should just rest in what He has done. And now the Savior has come! Jesus stood before them, but they were so engrossed in the religious ritual that they were blinded to the reality of Jesus.

Then Jesus states (there is some question about whether verse 28 is still part of Jesus' statement or part of Mark's conclusion, but either way, the meaning is the same):

Mark 2:28 (NASB) "Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

The "Son of Man" is a phrase taken from the Book of Daniel, chapter 9. It's a clear statement of deity. The Son of Man was the Old Testament "Yahweh," who would become flesh. Jesus is saying, "That's Me. I'm the Son of Man that was prophesied by Daniel." Jesus was in effect saying: "I am the God of Genesis 1 and 2 who created with the spoken word, and then on the seventh day I rested. I am the God who on Mt. Sinai gave the Law to Moses. I am the One that started the Sabbath. I'm the One that established the Sabbath. I'm the One that defined what it means."

He is not just saying He's Lord on the Sabbath; He's Lord of the Sabbath. It's His Sabbath. If there's anybody on the face of the planet that actually knows the purpose of the Sabbath, it would be Him. He started it!

So the Pharisees had greatly distorted the Sabbath. But what about the fourth commandment? Are we, as believers, bound to keep it?

Exodus 20:8-10 (NASB) "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

Are we, as Christians, bound to a Sabbath observance? And if s,o what exactly does it mean to "Remember the Sabbath"?

Loud debates on this subject have raged through the centuries among Christians and continue to our day. Families, friends, and churches have split over the particulars. What should be considered a gift to the church has often been turned into a plague among Christians.

Believers, are we to keep the Sabbath? Many in the Church would say, "Yes, we should." For example, the JFB commentary has this to say:

The weekly Sabbath rests on a more permanent foundation, having been instituted in Paradise to commemorate the completion of creation in six days.... therefore the Sabbath is still needed and is therefore still linked with the other nine commandments, as obligatory in the spirit...

So, according to JFB, we are still under the mandate to keep the Sabbath.

Albert Barns has this to say:

No part of the moral law--no one of the ten commandments could be spoken of as "a shadow of good things to come." These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation.

1925 Baptist Faith and Message-Paragraph 9 says:

The first day of the week is the Lord's Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observance. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion, both public and private, and by refraining from worldly amusements, and resting from secular employments, works of necessity and mercy only being accepted.

What's wrong with this first sentence? When did the Sabbath become the first day of the week? Does this mean the other six days are not the Lord's?

Many good men throughout the history of the Church have believed and taught that Christians are to keep the Sabbath. I have a dear friend who pastors a Reformed Baptist Church who believes and teaches that we are to keep the Sabbath. Because of this, he won't eat out on Sunday, and he refrains from many activities on Sunday that he feels would be violating the Sabbath.

These are areas that all sincere Christians need to understand. We want to honor God. We want to do what He wants of us. But all too often we're confused on exactly what that is. Those believers who observe the Sabbath do so out of a desire to honor God. So what is our obligation? Are we bound to keep the Sabbath?

Exodus 20:9-10 (NASB) 9 "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

You do know that the Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, don't you? It's the seventh day! Sunday is the first day of the week. So who moved the Sabbath to Sunday? The law was very strict in its requirement of Sabbath observance. No fire was to be kindled and no cooking was to be done. Violation of the Sabbath was punishable by death:

Numbers 15:32-35 (NASB) Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation; 34 and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp."

How many of you did some work on Saturday? If JFB and Barns are right, you're in sin and should be put to death.

Those who say that we must observe the Sabbath today say that the Sabbath was pre-Mosaic in its origin and observance. I would tend to disagree. Not one text in all the Bible enjoins the observance of the Sabbath upon any man before the exodus, nor since Pentecost. Its first recorded observance was at the time of the giving of the manna:

Exodus 16:23 (NASB) then he said to them, "This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a Sabbath observance, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning."

People object to this position on the ground of:

Genesis 2:3 (NASB) Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

But we need to remember that this text was written, not at creation, but by Moses after the Sabbath was commanded to Israel at Sinai. When God wanted to set apart a day each week for Himself, He chose the seventh. Notice that the sanctifying of the day was subsequent to the resting - "He had rested." God's resting was at creation; the setting apart of the day for men's observance was at least twenty-five hundred years after man's creation - after the exodus. This is positively stated in Deuteronomy 5:2 - 3, 12 and in:

Nehemiah 9:13-14 (NASB) "Then Thou didst come down on Mount Sinai, And didst speak with them from heaven; Thou didst give to them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. 14 "So Thou didst make known to them Thy holy Sabbath, And didst lay down for them commandments, statutes, and law, Through Thy servant Moses.

Its purpose was for a memorial or a sign to national Israel:

Exodus 31:17 (NASB) "It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed."

A sign of their deliverance from Egypt, and that they were the special people of God:

Deuteronomy 5:15 (NASB) 'And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

It was observed in commemoration of the beginning of their nation at the exodus, as Americans observe the fourth of July for a similar purpose. It was a weekly reminder of their peculiar relationship to Jehovah.

When the father failed to go to the field to work on the Sabbath, he answered his little son's inquiry of, "Why?" with the explanation that it was in commemoration of God's mighty deliverance of their fathers from Egypt. Thus it always had great value as a memorial besides the physical benefit that results from resting from work on one day of the week.

The Sabbath was a type, one of the shadows of good things. It was a type or shadow of a body or substance which we obtain in Christ. The main idea of the Sabbath was physical rest. That physical rest, therefore, must have been typical of some higher rest to be found by the Christian. The strict observance of the Sabbath which God required of the Israelites, like the requirement of strict adherence to the divine pattern for the tabernacle, was because it was to typify a perfect spiritual -rest of the Christian.

Centuries before Moses, the patriarch Jacob predicted Christ's coming under the name "Shiloh," or Rest-giver (Genesis 49:10). Jesus Himself said:

Matthew 11:28 (NASB) "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

He is the rest-giver, and the rest He gives from the burden and bondage of sin is the Christian's Sabbath foreshadowed by that ancient Mosaic Sabbath. It was predicted that "His rest shall be glorious," and it truly is. That this is the true Sabbath-keeping is argued by the inspired writer to the Hebrews (4:3-11): He who ceases from his own works to obtain righteousness and trusts in the mercy of God for pardon of sin has entered the true Sabbath. The Sabbath, like the other requirements of the law of Moses, is abolished, but the blessed spiritual-rest it prefigured remains for the people of God.

The Law is a shadow of what was going to be made available to those who believed in the One who was to come, Jesus Christ:

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

The Mosaic Law could only show Israel what was shortly to take place, but it couldn't bring about those promises

Therefore, when Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, he couldn't give them the true rest that God longed to give them - the only rest that could be imparted was rest from war. But when the true Joshua came ("Jesus" being the Greek form of the Hebrew name "Joshua"), the Sabbath rest of God became available to all men through Christ's redeeming work. We see in Christ the fulfillment of what the Sabbath could only point towards.

Jesus is our Sabbath rest! God's rest foreshadowed in the Old Testament legislation is that "rest of achievement" that He took on the seventh day of the universe. In Christ's achievement on the cross (the completed work of salvation), we see that God "rests" because the totality of the necessary work has been performed. But, more than this, man can also enter into that rest by faith, for there's nothing that he can achieve or attain by his own self-effort and there's nothing that he can earn however much he tries that will make him acceptable to God.
All the children of God enter into God's rest when they enter into and experience the work of Christ. For as one man worked for the righteousness of others, so those people for whom He worked can rest in the perfect righteousness of Christ .

In a culture where work was very hard, very physical, very demanding, the Sabbath was given as a gift. This was one day a week where you could just rest, and God would provide. But there was a greater meaning to that. It went back to the covenant with Abraham, where God had promised that God Himself would become flesh and shed His blood in order to cover the sins of the people. It meant that God would one day do the work of salvation and the people would simply rest in what God had done for them. So the Sabbath had a greater meaning: Once a week stop and remember that God has promised He will do the work of salvation, and all you can do is rest in that. There was this symbolism that gave a greater meaning to the Sabbath.

We live now by the New Covenant, which means we live by an utter dependence upon our relationship to Christ, not upon rules and regulations or observance of special days. We have been set free to live for Christ.

Are we, as Christians, bound to a Sabbath observance? NO!

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