Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath” based on Mark 2:23-28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, June 3, 2018
Don Gorske is a pretty famous guy, not to mention a local guy, so it’s quite likely that you’ve heard his name before and you might even know what he’s famous for. The 64 year old Fond du Lac man was in the news again last month as he reached yet another milestone in his substantial list of gastronomic achievements. Last month, Don Gorske consumed his 30,000th Big Mac sandwich. If you’re into the math, that’s about 2 Big Macs per day for the last 45 years! And he has proof, too, having chronicled each sandwich and collected receipts, wrappers and cartons to commemorate the mountain of Big Macs that he’s consumed over the years.
Or maybe you remember hearing about Bob Koehler, the Milwaukee man who at last count had attended 2,882 consecutive Brewer home games. When you add in all the away games he’s watched on TV or listened to on the radio, he figures that he hasn’t missed a pitch—not a single pitch!—since 1970.
While we most likely can’t compare to the level of…eccentricity…displayed by those guys, it’s also true that most of us have something that fuels our passion. Some are fanatical about the appearance of their lawn or the cleanliness of their house. Some read everything investing related that they can get their hands on. Some spend every waking hour thinking about hunting or golf. Some spend countless hours immersed in their favorite TV shows.
The Pharisees, in Bible days, were fanatical devotees of God’s law. Which at first glance seems like a pretty good thing to be passionate about. I mean, if given a choice between fanatical devotion to what God wants on the one hand, and apathy toward what God wants on the other hand, the right choice seems pretty obvious. They spent their time memorizing it, obsessively following it, and debating how to apply it. And that’s where they got themselves into trouble.
When they realized that God’s written law didn’t address every possible scenario, didn’t answer every possible question, they started to make up their own laws to, you know, fill in the gaps. So for example, God said, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” And people understood that the Sabbath was supposed to be a day of rest, a day when they weren’t supposed to work. But then questions inevitably followed. What actually constituted work? Can I get out of bed on the Sabbath? Can I give my kids breakfast on the Sabbath? Can I give my donkey a drink of water on the Sabbath?
Over the centuries, more and more situations arose. The rabbis analyzed each one and dictated their interpretations. The mountain of man made rules got bigger and bigger. And the fanatically devoted Pharisees set themselves to applying and enforcing all of them. Which brings us to our text.
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
That was one of those “rabbi made” laws! A man could not harvest on the Sabbath. Rather than picking apart this scenario for its rightness and wrongness, Jesus leads them back to the reason for the Sabbath, for the reason for all of God’s laws in the first place.
He knew the Pharisees didn’t respect him. So he pointed to someone they did respect. “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?” A little bit of context….David was fleeing for his life from Saul. He and his men had to choose between fueling up to press on or breaking down and being slaughtered. In the time of extreme need, he and his men ate the bread that was reserved for only the priests to eat. And Abiathar the priest recognizing the great need, let him do it! It wasn’t a casual or haphazard thing, but it was a breaking of one of the laws.
Jesus’ point? The law is made for man, not man for the law. In other words, Abiathar could have stuck to his guns, stopped David and his men from eating, and at the end of the story, the bread would have still been there on the table, pristine and untouched. Of course, David and his men would’ve been dead—at the expense of keeping the law! So what’s more important—the law itself or the people that the law was made for? Of course, it’s the people. So that’s what Jesus means when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Now you start to see what Jesus was obsessed with, what he is fanatically devoted to. He’s passionate about people. He’s fanatically devoted to…us! For all their arguing and accusing, the Pharisees didn’t understand what the Sabbath was all about. So the Lord of the Sabbath explains it to them and us!
He made the Sabbath for man. But, even more importantly, why did he make the Sabbath for man? It’s for our benefit, not his. Why does God tell me to remember the Sabbath day? Because he loves me and he knows how much I need it.
When you heard Jesus overrule the law, even a minor, ceremonial law, did your mind immediately see a hundred different loopholes for your own heart? “Well if Jesus overruled the law based on a need, then it must be okay for me to do it, too.” So is it ok, if your eyelids have a need, to sleep in instead of going to church? Or if your heart has a need, to have an affair? Or if your garage has a need to steal your neighbor’s new John Deere lawn tractor? You know that’s not right. But the fact that our wheels turn like that shows how devoted our sinful nature’s are to disobedience, how dark our hearts can be—taking the Word that God gives us for our good and figuring out how we can take advantage of it for our own sinful, selfish pleasure. The apostle Paul wrote, “The mind of sinful man is death” (Romans 8:6) and boy, he wasn’t kidding.
Good thing you have a Savior who is obsessed with saving you! 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
That’s why Paul could continue in our Epistle and say, “Don’t let anyone judge you by a Sabbath day…those things were shadows.” The Old Testament Sabbath day was a foreshadowing of the rest, the true rest, the spiritual rest that would come through Christ Jesus.
That kind of Sabbath is not something we do, it’s something we need. Fact is, you’re not here to check off another box on God’s checklist. Jesus has already done that for you. You can’t complete a to-do list that’s already done.
Rather at the heart of the Sabbath is an invitation. Come and find a quiet place in a loud world. Come and find something true in a lying world. Come and find something dependable in an always changing world. Come and find again and again the comfort of the One who took on the demands of the law on his shoulders and then nailed the demands of the law to a cross once and for all. Or in Jesus’ own words: “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Thank God that he no longer says, “Set aside one day a week for Sabbath.” Because the rest we find in Jesus is so big and so profound and so needed, it can’t be contained by one hour a week, or limited to one day per week. He says, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. That’s why we’re here today. To honor him, to be filled up by him, and to find rest, true rest, in Him. Amen.