THE SABBATH CONTROVERSY
As we finish up in chapter 2 of Mark and cover the first 6 verses of chapter 3, we are going to see the religious leaders trying to catch Jesus breaking the Law, or should I say their interpretation of the Law. So they went out watching for Him to make a mistake. They even set Him up knowing what He would do, which conflicted with their idea of the Law.
You see, the religious leaders received the tradition of the elders, that which was passed down to them, and the misinterpretation of the Scriptures, of the Law to come up with a religion in which you can work your way into heaven. The Law said "Thou shall not murder," and since they have not murdered anyone, they felt good about themselves. But Jesus says it is not just the outward actions that causes you to break the Law but it is a matter of the heart. If you are angry with someone, you broke the Law, you have, in a sense, murdered that person.
The problem is the Law can only take you so far. It was good, the problem is were not! The Law could never make you holy, it only shows you that you are a sinner. Once a person has reached that point, the Law has gone as far as it can go, it has accomplished its work. It cant save you. Thus, as you recognize you are a sinner separated from God, you will come to Jesus and ask Him to be Lord and Savior of your life, and you will be clean. The Law puts people to death, but the spirit gives us life.
Yes, outwardly the religious leaders looked very holy. They deprived themselves of all kinds of things, dressed in a manner where people would look upon them as holy, did things in front of people to show their holiness. But Jesus was after their heart which was wicked, and as their hearts were changed by Christ, that would overflow into their actions.
That is where we are at as Jesus and His men are traveling on the Sabbath. We read, beginning in verse 23 of Mark chapter 2.
1. Picture what is going on here. As Jesus and His disciples are traveling on the Sabbath, they are passing through some grain fields, and Matthew tells us they became hungry and they started to eat some of the grain. Now that was perfectly legal to do, for Deuteronomy 23:24-25 tells us, "When you come into your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor's standing grain." Now they werent threshing the grain or reaping the grain, just picking what they needed to satisfy their hunger. That was all legal according to the Law!
But the religious leaders, when they saw this they were furious because these men had broken the Law in their minds. You see, any time man gets a hold of a law, he will begin to change it, make it more complicated to the point it is not Gods Word anymore, it is mans law. Yes there are religious aspects to it, but it is the law of man, not of God.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean. The Scribes and the Pharisees, around 200 BC worked on putting together what is called the Mishna, which is nothing more than their interpretations of the Scriptures. In regards to the Sabbath day you were to do no work. And they came up with 39 principle categories of work with 6 subdivisions. Think about this, one law now has almost 240 aspects to it, almost 240 applications. Thus, this is no longer the Law but mans interpretation of the Law.
In Israel today, the very conservative Jews adhere to the keeping of the Law, especially the Sabbath Day Law, with its many applications to it. If you drive through their community on the Sabbath Day they will pelt your car with stones. I guess throwing stones is not work? You can go out and eat at a restaurant but you cant pay with cash, that is work. So you use a credit card. I guess signing the slip is not work? Pushing a button on a elevator is work, so on the Sabbath Day they have elevators that stop on every floor, you dont need to push any buttons. Do you see how silly this has become, and not at all what God intended!
You see, the Sabbath was given to man to rest one day a week from his work so that he might draw close to God, spend some time in fellowship with God. Like any law it shows us how sinful we are in the flesh. How we cant rest in the Lord for even a day. In a spiritual sense it shows us that we cant work our way into heaven but only rest in the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus Christ. He is our rest! And yes, God gave the Sabbath to His people as a sign of the Mosaic covenant, but man got a hold of it and placed people in bondage to it.
Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 23:1-4. We read "Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.
Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." Again, by their laws they placed people in bondage, laying heavy burdens upon them, which they themselves could never keep. That is the law of man!
Last week Jesus called these dried up, brittle religious leaders old wine skins that were so set in their ways God was going to have to go and work outside of them. They were so set in their ways they refused to listen to what God was saying. And to try and do this work in them would have been a disaster, the old wine skins would have exploded.
1. This is interesting to me. These were the religious leaders and supposedly the experts, and Jesus points them right back to the Scriptures to see their folly. You see, they were practicing what they felt the Scriptures said instead of putting into practice what the Scriptures actually said.
The story that Jesus takes them to is of David when he was fleeing for his life from king Saul. And David and his men were hungry as they approached the city of Nob. And they asked the priest for some food, but all he had was the showbread, which only the priest were to eat. That is what Leviticus 24:9 says. And yet, the priest gave David and his men the bread, a clear violation of the Law. Why?
Because the spirit of the law in respect to human need took priority over its ceremonial regulations. You see, when the greater need of a mans life is seen, the ceremonial law is set aside. I know that is hard for some to swallow, but that is what God is saying here.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. As you are walking down the street you see someone drowning in a pond by their house. And if you dont do something soon, he will die. The problem or dilemma you are facing is that there is a sign on the lawn that says "NO TRESPASSING!" What are you going to do?
Some may say "I hope someone in the house hears his cries for help soon!" Or "I hope someone who lives there comes home soon!" Of course you are not going to do that. You are going to do the only reasonable thing, run as fast as you can, past that sign, and save this mans life. And when you do you will be a hero, not a criminal or breaker of the law! Why? Because the need of man supercedes the law!
Now in Exodus chapter 31 God says that anyone who profanes the Sabbath Day shall be put to death. So isnt it better to error on the conservative side? No, not at all, because that is not what is being said. The spiritual principle God is giving to us is this, if you dont have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you are going to die in your sins, for He is the Lord of the Sabbath! You see, man continues to make all these rules and regulations to make them holy before God, which will never happen by our own efforts, our own work. All God wants is our hearts and understand this, the Lord of the Sabbath knows what He is talking about, for He gave man the Sabbath to fellowship with Him by!
1. Now this was a set-up by these religious leaders. You see, anyone with a birth defect or some kind of physical impairment was not allowed into the Synagogue. They saw this as a judgment of God upon a persons life for their sin, and thus they were unclean. What a sad picture of God they had.
Why did they put this man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day, who had his right hand withered? These religious leaders recognized the heart of Jesus, and they knew if Jesus saw someone in need, He would minister to them no matter what day it was. What an evil plot they devised to catch Jesus doing good!
1. I like what Jesus does here. He puts this man on display for all the people to see, including the religious leaders. No one could miss what was going to take place. And I bet these religious leaders couldnt wait to catch Jesus on this one. Their plan was working perfectly, or so they thought.
1. Jesus nails them here. These religious experts are asked a question that exposed the evil in their hearts. Jesus, even though it was the Sabbath, came to do good, to save a life that had been disfigured. He was going to make this man whole again, but the religious leaders were totally against this from taking place on the Sabbath Day. Thus, on the Sabbath Day they were plotting evil against Jesus, using this poor man for their evil doings, and if that isnt bad enough, they plotted to kill Jesus. You see, you can truly justify almost anything, even murder when you place yourself in that kind of self-righteous position. No wonder they kept silent! They knew what they were doing was wrong, but it didnt stop them.
1. This is the only place where you will see Jesus angry like this. He was angry at their narrow mindedness. As Jesus looked at these religious leaders with this all-inclusive, penetrating look, it was a momentary anger. The grief, on the other hand, was continual. He grieved over the hardness of their hearts, how blind they were to the things of God.
2. Now dont miss what is going on with this poor, crippled man. Jesus tells him to stretch out his hand. That seems cruel, doesnt it? It would be like saying to a blind person, "Come over and look at this!" Or to a deaf person, "Did you hear that?" Or to a person who was crippled, "Quick, run over here!" That is just cruel. Understand this, God will never ask you to do anything He hasnt equipped you for. It is a step of faith just as this man took.
What is God telling you to do? Maybe your afraid. Maybe you are unsure of what to do. If God has called you, take that step of faith. That is your part. Gods part is equipping you for the work He has called you to do.
3. Notice also Jesus really didnt do any work, did He? He didnt break any Sabbath Law, did He? All He did was ask this man to stretch out his hand. Speaking wasnt against the Sabbath Law. Stretching out your hand wasnt against the Sabbath Law. But when your heart is hard, you will do anything to stand your ground, and that is exactly what these religious leaders were going to do next, as we will see.
1. They should have been rejoicing over what God had done, praising the Lord for healing this man. But their hearts were hard and they refused to admit they were wrong. So they decided to come up with a plan to kill Jesus, which of course was against the Law they were so proud of keeping!
2. Now who they plotted with to kill Jesus shows us where their hearts were at. The Herodians were enemies of the religious leaders. The reason was simple. The Herodians were Jews who felt since the Romans were in charge over them, you might as well live like the Romans. And the religious leaders hated the Romans, they did not want to be in bondage to any one. But this plot seemed to unite these religious leaders and the Herodians together.
3. I am so thankful for the grace of God because I blow it all the time. You see, all the Law can do for me is show me that I am sinful. The Law can not make me or you righteous. But Gods loving grace sets us free from the bondage of sin and death. Dont choose religion over a relationship with Jesus. Dont choose legalism over a love relationship with the Lord. Dont choose bondage over the freedom we have in Christ. As John 3:16-17 says, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." God wants a love relationship with us, and all He wants us to do is receive that free gift of life into our lives.