2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 2:23-28 (Mt 12:1-8; Lk 6:1-5)
June 7, 2015
Theme: Celebrate the Sabbath
1) Not as a Pharisee.
2) But as a disciple of Jesus.
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?" 25 He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." 27 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
Dear fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our crucified and risen Savior.
Do I have to go to church? How do you answer when asked this question whether it comes from your children, your spouse, inactive church members or non-Christians? How often has that question crept into your own mind on Sunday morning after you hit the snooze button, pull the covers over your head and think, “do I have to go to church… I am soooo tired?”
The Pharisee's behavior in the text clearly shows how they would have answered it. “Yes, you have to go to church. That's the rule.” Jesus, however, rejects that answer. He isn't saying, “No, you don't have to go to church.” Rather, he addresses the mindset which asks this question in the first place. Jesus goes underneath the question to change the way we think about worship and about going to church. This morning Jesus teaches us what it means to worship him. We do this as we celebrate the Sabbath not as the Pharisees but as disciples of Jesus.
To understand Jesus' response to this question, put yourself back in Jesus' day. God's people still lived under the Old Testament laws given by God through Moses at Mt. Sinai. Many of these laws governed their religious life. We call them ceremonial laws. They told the people how, when, where, and why to bring sacrifices. They prescribed what religious festivals to observe. They detailed the dress and duties of the priests. And so on.
One ceremonial law was the Sabbath law. The word Sabbath means “rest.” Every week on the seventh day, God's people were to rest from their regular labor and hear God's word and promises anticipating the spiritual rest the promised Messiah would bring. The Sabbath regularly reminded them of when they had no rest as slaves in Egypt. It also reminded them that God rescued them from this slavery. It provided God’s people with an opportunity to recharge their spiritual batteries.
The rabbis considered the law about physical rest so important that they made extra rules to make sure that no one would be doing work that day. They came out with categories and subcategories of different kinds of work forbidden on the Sabbath all the way down to pulling threads apart or climbing a tree, or how far you could walk before it was considered work.
But the understanding of the Sabbath day which the Pharisees had created turned every Jew into a slave of the Sabbath day. The focus of Sabbath had shifted from the great things God had done to all the little things people could and could not do, to the point that it was considered a great offense to pick a kernel of grain. So when the Pharisees saw the disciples picking grain, rubbing it in their hands to get the husk off, and eating it while walking with Jesus, they knew this fell under the forbidden categories of harvesting and threshing that the rabbis had developed.
The Pharisees were guilty of legalism – that is, trying to earn righteousness before God through their own works and petty laws. Rather than descending into a legalistic discussion of what was or wasn't forbidden on the Sabbath, Jesus aims at the core of the Pharisees' thinking. He wants them (and us) to ask ourselves who rules our lives, laws or the Giver of the laws. Jesus drew his answer directly from the Scriptures, not from their interpretation of the law.
Jesus reminds them of how one of the greatest Israelites, a man after the Lord's own heart, David, purposely broke God's ceremonial law in a time of need. David was running for his life from King Saul. When he came to the tabernacle he asked the priest for some food. But the only food there was the consecrated bread 12 loves which were offered to God each Sabbath and which God had said was to be eaten only by the priests (Leviticus 24). But the priest gave five of the loaves to David anyway. Ahimelech recognized that something greater was at stake than just a matter of outward regulations.
According to the letter of the law, this was wrong. But neither David nor the priest was condemned by God for their actions. You see, the ceremonial laws were meant to be a blessing for God's people, not a way to deprive them of what they really needed. Or as Jesus put it, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NIV).
What does this mean for us? God no longer commands us to worship or to cease our regular work on the Sabbath. But, God’s command for us to highly regard, to gladly hear and learn his Word hasn’t changed.
It’s still true that we are sinning when we have a very low regard for hearing God’s Word or for regularly being in God’s house. If Jesus told Martha, Mary’s sister, that hearing his Word is the one thing needful, then using the excuse, “I have too much going on in my life to get to church every week,” is saying that I really have no time for what Jesus says is my greatest need. God’s intention regarding our regular worship hasn’t changed. But going to church isn’t supposed to be a slavish keeping of rules about going to church. It’s something God has told us to do for our benefit.
In the Old Testament one of the blessings it brought was physical rest. But even more the Sabbath was a blessing because it was a shadow promising the coming of the true Rest-giver - Jesus himself, who forgives our sins and offers us the eternal hope of salvation through the Gospel. That’s our greatest need. Who alone can bring rest to your guilt-ridden conscience that haunts your quiet moments? Who alone can bring peace to the heart troubled by sin? Who alone can drive out the terrors of hell? Who alone can bring you peace and strength for your troubles? Who alone can end your warfare against God and reconcile you to him? Who alone can bring rest to your soul, the rest which you really need?
Only Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV). Only Jesus, dear friends, only Jesus can truly speak those words to you. He alone is the Rest-giver. We no longer need the shadow of the Sabbath, for we have the reality. We have Jesus. He meets all our real needs.
And this is what being a disciple of Jesus is all about: sitting at his feet and learning how he saved us from our sins, not only so that we can go to heaven when we die, but also so that we can start living to his glory now by learning about how we can show love to God and our neighbor in thanksgiving for it.
That's why our church services are a blessing for us. They may not meet some of our perceived needs for entertainment or excitement or foot-stomping music or intellectual stimulation or a how-to-manual for fixing life's problems. But they meet our real need. They bring us Jesus. They bring us Jesus, not as a shadow, but as flesh and blood, the incarnate God, our crucified and risen Savior. He comes to you through his Word and Sacraments. He holds before you his nail-pierced hands so that you know and believe we are forgiven. That’s our greatest need.
So our worship, our church services, honor our true Lord. Just as the Old Testament Sabbath served the Lord by pointing ahead to him, so our church services serve him by pointing back, pointing back to the work he accomplished for you. Our church services honor Jesus as our Lord who placed His name of you and blesses you richly
Now if we skip church, who or what are we honoring instead of our Lord? I’m not talking about illnesses, the occasional being out of town or emergencies that pop up or the effect of age that keeps us from attending. We don't view those things as excuses. For that whole idea of asking what is a legitimate excuse for missing church flows out of the legalistic mindset of the Pharisees. Rather, we ask: How can I best honor my Lord Jesus?
So often missing church has nothing to do with honoring Jesus, but rather with serving our own desires and conveniences. That's sin. It's sin not because we're breaking a command of God that says we should be in church once a week. It's sin because you're honoring someone or something else more than Jesus. And you can do that even if you are here every week.
How often haven’t we made worship about what we’re doing for God instead of what he does for us? The one who established the law that we could never keep has also kept the law in our place.
We honor our true Lord as we contemplate and celebrate his great love and mercy. In our church services we ponder and proclaim the Good News of our crucified and risen Savior. What greater honor can we give him than to believe his promise: “I, your Lord, freely forgive you. I have paid the full price for all your sins.” Why would we not want to come together as often as we can to honor our Lord, who has done such great things for us?
This is the reality of the Sabbath rest. The rest from Jesus comes because he kept every commandment, including this Sabbath commandment. When Jesus’ parents lost track of him and he, at age twelve, was in the temple courts listening to the Word? That was Jesus keeping this commandment for you and me, because you and I haven’t always had the highest regard for the Word of God or have done all the right things for wrong motives. When Jesus went to Calvary’s cross, bleeding and dying under the curse of God, that was Jesus paying the price for the sin of low regard for God’s Word. Jesus made good on every promise of God. And because he did, true rest, spiritual rest, eternal rest is ours.
“Do I have to go to church?” Don't get tied up in the legalistic knots of that question. Rather, why wouldn’t I want to gather together with my fellow believers to honor my true Lord who meets all my real needs and brings me his greatest blessings? Amen.