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Lord of the Sabbath

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 11, 2024 12:01 am

Lord of the Sabbath

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 11, 2024 12:01 am

The Sabbath was meant to be God's gift to mankind, but the Pharisees turned it into a burden by their rules and regulations. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Mark, examining what Jesus' response teaches us about the identity and authority of Christ.

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And now the rabbinic tradition has turned the Sabbath day. Instead of a great gift of God, it becomes a laborious burden where people have to watch themselves in every way, whether they overstep the boundaries of these laws. In this final sermon from a brief study of the public ministry of Jesus in Mark's gospel, we see the legalism of the Pharisees, adding laws upon laws on full display.

And sadly, it's a legalism that can rear its head even today. This is the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind, a daily outreach of Ligonier Ministries. As this is the final sermon that you'll hear from the Gospel of Mark, that means that it's also the final Sunday that you can request R.C. Sproul's line-by-line study through this gospel. Request the hardcover edition of his commentary on Mark when you give a donation of any amount at It's the occasion of the Sabbath that gives us the opportunity to see the legalism of the Pharisees and the Lord's response to those who plot evil instead of striving to be obedient to God's revealed Word.

Here's Dr. Sproul in Mark chapter 2. We're going to continue now with our study of the gospel according to Saint Mark, and this morning I will be reading from chapter 2, verse 23 through chapter 3, verse 6, and that means, dear friends, that right now you're about to experience the best part of our worship service when we get to hear a word from God Himself. So I'd ask you to stand for the reading of the Word of God. Now it happened that He went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath? But He said to them, Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him?

How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him? And He said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath. And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely whether He would heal Him on the Sabbath so they might accuse Him. And He said to the man who had the withered hand, Step forward. And then He said to them, Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?

But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, Stretch out your hand. And he stretched it out. And his hand was restored as whole as the other.

Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him how they might destroy Him. This is the Word of God that you've just heard for your edification. Please be seated. Let us pray. Let us pray. Father, how we thank You for this glimpse into the holy and majestic person of Your beloved Son, to whom You have given all authority on heaven and earth, that we may see Him healing, ministering, responding to those who would kill Him. Help us to understand these things in a new way that our affection and devotion to Him may be increased. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

All right. The text begins in verse 23, and it happened that He went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. And as they went, His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath day? Now you see what's happening here as in the past couple of weeks we've noticed that there is a rising crescendo of conflict that is taking place now between Jesus and the religious authorities of His day.

It's still early in the public ministry of Christ, and yet already those who are against Him have intensified their hatred and their antagonism toward Him. And here Mark tells us of this occasion where Jesus' disciples were walking through the grain fields, and they plucked grain from their stalks. And immediately the Pharisees and the scribes raised the question of Jesus and His disciples violating Sabbath law. Well, in the record that we have this morning, there is surely one violation of the rabbinic tradition and in all probability two, in addition to the laws governing behavior on the Sabbath day that God gave to the Jewish people at Sinai in the Decalogue and in the Holiness Code. Further on throughout Jewish history, the rabbis devoted themselves to fine-tuning that law and coming up with specific prohibitions that would carefully guard the observation of the Sabbath day. And they included in their prohibitions many, many details that can be found nowhere in sacred Scripture.

But their tradition became as binding on the people in their consciences as the Scripture itself. Now two of those prohibitions had to do, first of all, with the Sabbath day's journey. Jewish people were not allowed to travel more than what was called a Sabbath day's journey on the Sabbath day. And the rabbis defined the Sabbath day's journey as 1,999 paces, or roughly 800 meters, so that if you stepped along 1,999 paces, you were okay. If you took one more step, you were a Sabbath breaker, and you had desecrated that holy day. Now presumably that rabbinic prohibition was in view here because the disciples were walking quite away through the grain fields searching for something to eat.

And so in all likelihood, they went over the limit of 1,999 steps. You'd be careful of that today on your way to the parking lot. The other prohibition that they had added was this, that since the Sabbath day prohibited any unnecessary labor and certainly spoke against any commerce that would go beyond the six days allowable, that that would also be a violation of the law of God. And one of those prohibitions was a prohibition against harvesting crops on the Sabbath day.

Reaping of crops was forbidden. And what the Pharisees are saying here is that when the disciples went down the rows of grain and they plucked the heads from those stalks of grain, they were guilty of harvesting on the Sabbath day, which was, of course, according to the rabbis, a terrible infraction against the law of God. Well notice how Jesus responds to these people. The first thing He does is He directs the attention of these religious leaders to the Bible itself.

And as a good attorney would do, He cites precedents in order to justify the behavior of His clients. And in this case, they are the disciples. He said, have you never read? What an insulting statement. Jesus said, have you guys never read the Bible?

And they're supposed to be the experts. He said, did you forget what it says there in Scripture? Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry? He and those with him, how he went into the house of God in the days of in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and he ate the shewbread.

Do you remember that? When David was a fugitive from Saul, and David gathered around him this band of brothers who went with him throughout the land, and they were without shelter, they were without food, and David was concerned about their health and their well-being. There was no food available anywhere. So David thought, wait a minute, there's food within reach in the tabernacle at the table of shewbread. There are those loaves of bread there, enough that I can give the necessary nourishment to my men who are about to faint. And so David goes into there, into the sanctuary, takes the bread from the table of shewbread, and administers it to his men. Now Jesus uses this illustration because He knows that in the minds of the rabbis and of the Pharisees who were there, the great hero of the golden age of Israel was David. He's their idea of the ideal king, and Jesus has just now come about preaching the breaking through of a new kingdom, a kingdom that fulfills the kingship of David. And Jesus, who is the Son of David, now appeals to something that David did in the Old Testament that is recorded in sacred Scripture, and that's to shut the mouths of his critics. But that's only one thing that he does.

It gets better in just a moment. But before I go to the most telling part of this response of Jesus, for those of you who are the Philadelphia lawyers in the congregation who like to look at the difficult so-called discrepancies that we find in Scripture, you may be aware, if you're real students of the Bible, that in the Old Testament account of David's activity, the Old Testament tells us that Ahimelech was the high priest at that time, and now Jesus says, haven't you read that in the days of Abiathar, the high priest David did this? Now does our Lord here make a mistake in citing the historical circumstances of David's activity? Some critics would say, oh obviously here Jesus didn't get it straight because He mentions Abiathar rather than Ahimelech.

However, if you look in the Old Testament period, there were two Ahimelechs, but Abiathar was the main high priest at the time, and that period of Jewish history was marked as the era of Abiathar, and it was in the days of Abiathar. Jesus doesn't say when He was actually the high priest, but it was in that era that this incident took place, so I think we can exonerate Jesus here from the Jesus seminar and those other critics that want to fault Him for His saying. But the real crux of this matter comes in His next statement when He said to them, the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.

Let me just pause there. It's a remarkable statement because at this point Jesus is not criticizing the Old Testament law, but He is leveling severe criticism at the rabbinic tradition that added to the law where God had left people free, the rabbis had put them in chains. The way in which they proliferated prohibitions for the Sabbath is astonishing. For example, in their definition of not going beyond necessary labor, they argued that it would be a sin on the Sabbath day to untie a knot. If you've got a knot in your shoelace, you have to leave it knotted until the Sabbath is over, because that's unnecessary work to do that.

Now they were liberal to one degree. They said if you tear a garment and some sewing needed to be done, you were allowed to sew one stitch. This is how legalism works, folks. One stitch, not two.

Such absurdity, isn't it? Oh, you can write letters on the Sabbath. No, that's not quite accurate. You can write a letter on the Sabbath day, one, not two.

One's easy, two's work, I guess. And with respect to medical treatment, you were allowed to give medical assistance, first aid, to people who were injured or ill to the point of being in a situation where life was threatened. But that only counts for humans in one school of the rabbis.

Some of the schools of rabbis differed with each other. Some of them argued that if your livestock were giving birth, a cow having a calf, a goat having a kid, and so on, that if the animal who was giving birth had some kind of difficulty during the birthing process, you weren't allowed to help it. You had to keep hands off because you had to stay away because that's not legitimate labor. Now, again, you can help a human being if their life is in danger, but only if their life is in danger. For example, if somebody dislocates their shoulder, you can't help them get it back in place until after the Sabbath is over because a dislocated soldier, shoulder. A dislocated soldier too could be in trouble, but a dislocated shoulder is not life threatening. At the same time, if somebody would break their wrist, you weren't allowed to put a splint on the wrist until after the Sabbath day was finished.

If a building caved in and people were buried underneath the rubble, you could remove the stones to see if there were any survivors, and if there were any survivors whose life was threatened, they could be treated with first aid. Others that were dragged from the building who could wait till the morrow, they would wait, and if somebody was already dead, you were not allowed to move the corpse until after the Sabbath day. And on and on and on it went where each generation of rabbis added more ridiculous restrictions to the law of God than the previous generation.

And we see this all the time within the Christian community where all kinds of laws are communicated to Christians that have nothing whatsoever to do with the law of God. I remember the first time I worked as a professor in a Christian college. I went to a picnic before school started on the campus lake, by the campus lake, and there were some students sitting there playing cards. And I said, What are you playing? And they said, Rook. I said, Rook?

I haven't played that since I was eight years old. Well, don't you know that's the Christian card game. I said, Where am I? And they said, Well, we're not allowed to play any other game of cards except Rook, because other cards, you know, have the joker, and that's the symbol of the devil, so you're not allowed to play cards. And I said, What am I going to do?

I'm the Bible teacher, the new Bible teacher, and my wife and I play duplicate bridge tournaments. I'm in big trouble. And so I was in that environment, no lipstick, no dancing, you know, all of that sort of thing. And I said, How in the world do these rules and regulations come up to be tests of Christianity where they're nowhere in the Word of God? What we do is, like the Pharisees, we create rules that we can keep instead of obeying the ones that God gives us, which are much harder to keep.

Anybody can go without wearing lipstick. That's no big deal. But not to slander. That is difficult to obey. And this is what was going on then.

It goes on in every generation. The religious leaders were creating a law that had nothing to do with the things of God. And Jesus said, You guys have forgotten the whole purpose of the Sabbath day in the first place. Don't you understand that the Sabbath day is a gift that God has given to His people, a gift to keep them from wearing their bodies out, from wearing their animals out, from wearing their servants out, from wearing their fields out, so that one day in seven every single week you're not supposed to work, your animals are not supposed to work, your servants aren't supposed to work, and the land is supposed to be given a break.

That's for your benefit. And now the rabbinic tradition has turned the Sabbath day, instead of a great gift of God, it becomes a laborious burden where people have to watch themselves in every way whether they overstep the boundaries of these laws. And so it's in that context that Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man. Man wasn't made for the Sabbath.

And then the bombshell comes. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath. Remember a week or two ago we looked at Jesus forgiving a man's sins, the man who was crippled, and Jesus indicated on that point, I do this that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. And how outraged the religious leaders were because they understood that the only one really who had the authority to forgive sins was God, and Jesus was arrogating to Himself a divine prerogative when He pronounced that man's sins forgiven.

And now here He does it again. I say this that you may know that the Son of Man also doesn't just have the authority to forgive sins, but He's Lord of the Sabbath. Now one of the ongoing debates in theology with respect to the Sabbath day, and there are many debates with respect to the Sabbath day, even to this day, but one of the ongoing debates is when was the Sabbath instituted? And some scholars say, well, the Sabbath really wasn't in place. It really wasn't instituted until God gave that law in the Ten Commandments at Sinai, and it was delivered by Moses.

Others say, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. The Sabbath was instituted long before Sinai, long before Moses. It was instituted in creation where God Himself followed the pattern of working for six days, and God Himself rested on the seventh day. But not only did He rest on the Sabbath day, beloved, but what did He do? He hallowed it. And that means He consecrated it. He made it a holy day, a holiday, all the way back at creation. And I'm with that group who believes that the Sabbath was instituted in creation long before Moses ever tread this earth. Well, what's the significance of that?

Well, it's this. What does it mean for Jesus to be the Lord of the Sabbath? What He's saying here is, I made the Sabbath.

It's my gift. I am sovereign over the Sabbath because I am the Lord of the Sabbath. I am the Creator Himself. No wonder they couldn't wait to get their heads together and figure out a way to kill Jesus. They heard this claim to deity. Notice that throughout the New Testament, we are told that it is the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, in whom, for whom, and by whom all things were made. That the one that we worship here on Sunday morning was the Creator of the universe. And now the incarnate Word of God, who made the world, who's the Lord of the Sabbath, is being challenged about His behavior on the Sabbath by these theological and religious turkeys of the first century. I mean, really, how in the world does Jesus put up with this and not just squish them like bugs right then and there? I mean, He wants to say, who do you guys think you are telling me whether my disciples can take a little bit of food for their stomachs?

Don't you know who you're talking to? What I say you can do on the Sabbath day settles what you can do on the Sabbath day. Forget about your traditions. Forget about your rabbis. The rabbis don't have the authority to legislate Sabbath behavior. The rabbis are not lords of the Sabbath, but the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath. And basically what Jesus is saying here is, and I'm not going to put up with this nonsense, and not only does He say it, but then He displays it. For we read in chapter 3, verse 1, He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.

So they watched Him closely whether He would heal on the Sabbath day. Okay, guys, get out your notebook. Let's watch what He does. Let's see if He breaks the law again. We're going to make a list, and we're going to check it twice with this Jesus. And so Jesus said to the man who had the withered hand, step forward. Now again, let me just comment.

Let me just comment. A withered hand is not life-threatening. So according to the rabbis, Jesus should have said, if you want Me to fix your hand, you're going to have to wait till tomorrow. And in a sense, Jesus enlists this poor wretch in the synagogue in His own agenda here, and He tells the man to step forward, and then He tells the man to stretch out his hand. In a sense, Jesus is asking this man to risk his life. And the last thing that poor man wants is to be used as exhibit A in a courtroom trial against Jesus. He doesn't want to be the center of all of this controversy, and so if He's like most people, they're going to want to shrug back into the shadows, except even though the last thing He wanted was to be in a courtroom, the first thing He wanted was to get His hand back and the use of His hand as a whole person.

And so He stepped forward. And when Jesus said, stretch out your hand, He stretched it out, and instantly that hand that hand was as whole as the other hand. And again, Jesus puts the question to His enemies here, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good? See, that's my principle, Jesus is saying, not is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what the rabbis permit, but is it okay to do good?

This is a good thing. And good things like this may be done not just six days a week, but seven days a week. Is it lawful for a nurse or a doctor to administer people who are sick on the Sabbath? Of course it is.

Is it lawful to save life rather than to kill it? Now at this point, Jesus, I think, is speaking irony. Its irony at least is dripping from His words, because He knows what's going on in their mind. They're ready to bring charges against Him for violating the Sabbath day, for doing good on the Sabbath day, for healing on the Sabbath day. And what they're interested in is a plot to kill Him. And so what Jesus is saying here is, what I'm doing is for life. It's pro-life.

It's for good. But in your hearts, you're planning my death, which is a gross violation of the Sabbath day. To be plotting to kill the Lord of the Sabbath is the worst form of violating the sanctity of that day that God has set apart for our well-being. And finally, we read that the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him how they might destroy Him.

Now there's one little sentence here that I passed over that I don't want to stop without calling your attention to. And that was the emotional response of Jesus to these hypocrites, these religious authorities. Two emotions are communicated here by Mark. The first one is anger. And the word that is used here for anger is not the word that is used for a perturbation or even righteous indignation or a simple annoyance. It is the New Testament word for an anger of fury. And at this point, Jesus, blessed Jesus, meek and mild, is outraged by these religious people who care more about their traditions than they care about the welfare of this poor man who is in need of healing. And so when Jesus speaks to them, He turns and looks at them, and He has fire in His eyes.

But that strong emotion of anger also is mixed here with one of pain. Mark tells us that Jesus was grieved in His soul at the hardness of their hearts. The Bible warns us about grieving the Holy Spirit.

We remember back in the early days of Genesis before the flood that God looked at the evil in this world, and He said, I will not always strive with men. There's a point when my compassion ends, where my mercy stops, and my anger erupts. Therefore, don't harden your hearts when you hear the Word of God. See, the Holy Ghost uses the Word of God to quicken our consciences, to make us aware of our rebellion against God.

But everybody in this room has some degree of callous on his heart, some degree of stiffness in his neck. That's the way we are, folks, that we use the calluses, the recalcitrant heart as a shield against the Word of God. Now this morning you heard the Word of God.

So what? Did you hear it in your ears and then diverted it from your soul? Do you have some kind of shield that you use to keep the truth of God from piercing your life? We all do, because we know nothing exposes us like the Word of God, and yet nothing has the power to bring us to health like the Word of God. And so let's not hear a story like this where we see our Lord angry and grief-stricken by human sin, and then be like the Pharisees but say, oh those bad Pharisees.

Because when we do that, we're just like them. But my prayer as a Christian is, oh God, don't be angry with me. Don't let me give you cause to be furious with me.

Don't let me grieve you because my heart is hardened. But when we hear a story like this, we want to say, Lord, You are the Lord of the Sabbath. What do You want from me? Give me ears to hear and hearts and hearts that are open to embrace everything that You say. Let's pray. Again, oh Lord, we thank You for this portrait of our Savior, the way in which He reminds us of the whole purpose of this gift of Sabbath rest that You give to us. Help us to delight in that Sabbath and look forward to what it represents in the future to the rest that You have prepared for us in heaven. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen. Is that your prayer after today's sermon? Oh God, don't let me grieve you because my heart is hardened.

That was R.C. Sproul from the final sermon in this brief series looking at the public ministry of Jesus as recorded for us in the Gospel of Mark, and I'm thankful that you're joining us for this Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Whether you'd like to continue studying this Gospel in your devotional reading or you're looking for a study to complete with your small group, I encourage you to request the hardcover edition of R.C. Sproul's commentary on the Gospel of Mark for your donation of any amount at Actually, just last month, I met with a group of Christian professionals who were using Dr. Sproul's commentaries for their men's Bible studies and have found them so helpful. So I encourage you to request your copy at Today is the final day for this offer. It won't be repeated next Sunday, so give your gift and request your copy while there's still time. A beloved Gospel, sometimes the first Gospel the new Christian reads, is the Gospel of John, and that's where we'll turn to next Sunday, beginning with the arrest of Jesus here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-11 02:47:32 / 2024-02-11 02:58:56 / 11

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