What did Jesus mean when he said about the Sabbath that it was made for man, not man? For the Sabbath, and why did the Pharisees get so angry?
We'll find answers to these questions today on Truth for Life Weekend. Alistair Begg is teaching a message titled, Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath. Gospel of Luke chapter 6 and verse 1. On Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grain fields and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? Jesus answered them, Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat.
And he also gave some to his companions. Then Jesus said to them, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with his shriveled hand, Get up and stand in front of everyone. So he got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it? He looked around at them all and then said to the man, Stretch out your hand.
He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. Amen. You may want just to keep your Bible open right there on your laps as we're about to study it together. Let us come to God in prayer before we come to his Word. Our gracious God and Father, with our Bibles open, we pray that the Spirit of God will come now and be our teacher.
We so desperately need to hear from you, for in some cases our lives are in disarray. Some of us are convinced in our unbelief. Some of us are unsettled, unsure, unclear.
And what we certainly do not need is someone making things even harder to understand. And since we are immensely capable of doing so, we pray that you will guard and guide my tongue. Take my words and speak through them.
Take our minds and help us to think through them. And take our lives and bring them into line with the truth of your Word, the Bible. For we pray in Jesus' name and for his sake.
Amen. If you look at the twenty-first verse of chapter 5, the Pharisees and teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? They are very disappointed with Jesus and the things that he's saying and doing. In the thirtieth verse of the same chapter, why, they said, do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? In the thirty-third verse, they tell Jesus that their disciples are the kind who are the fasting variety, as with John's disciples, and they're confronting Jesus because his disciples don't seem to be doing what they ought to be doing.
And here, when we go into these two events that are recorded for us by Luke in chapter 6, we find the same thing—some of the Pharisees questioning him in verse 2, and then in verse 7, watching for a reason to accuse Jesus, and then in verse 11, totally furious as a result of what has happened and beginning to plot and discuss ways that they might remove Jesus from his position of influence. Now, it is this confrontation between the reality and vitality and joy and freedom which Jesus as the Savior comes to bring, in contrast to all of the dull orthodoxy and formality and legality which the religious leaders have been propounding to their people for so long. Jesus, as we have already seen and will continue to see in this Gospel, is so gracious to those who are penitent. He displays compassion to those who cry out to him.
He bestows his forgiveness on those who acknowledge their sins and their need of him. But he reserves his most stinging rebukes for those who are overtly religious and yet who by their very lives possess little of the reality that they are professing with their lips. On another occasion, listen to the way in which he describes these individuals. He says to those who are his disciples about the Pharisees and the religious leaders, you must not imitate their lives. Don't imitate these people. For they preach but do not practice. They pile up backbreaking burdens and lay them on other men's shoulders. Yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them. And then addressing them, what miserable fraud you are, you scribes and Pharisees!
You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. Now, these are the words of Jesus himself. And people say, well, surely Jesus was loving and compassionate. Yes, he certainly was. Was he kind to the woman who was taken in adultery?
Exceptionally so, urging her to a new life and bestowing his forgiveness upon her. And as we see him dealing with tax collectors and sinners, he is magnificent in this regard. But when he confronts religious hypocrisy at any level, he condemns it outright. And these individuals are like, he says later in that same diatribe, tombstones, very nice and clean on the outside, but if you were to dig up the grave, you would discover that it is dead men's bones.
And he said, that is exactly what you folks are like. And so conflict is building and will continue to build, and indeed, it will never cease throughout Jesus' earthly pilgrimage, and it will end, as we know, in the hypocrisy of a trumped-up trial and in the dreadful events of Calvary itself. Now, the nature of the conflict, as it is here before us in these eleven verses, has to do with the Sabbath. And these two incidents both take place on the Sabbath.
Now, I want you to turn with me, if you would, in your Bibles into the Old Testament, and let's just be clear about the background to what the reference is regarding these things in the Gospel of Luke chapter 6. Genesis chapter 2 and verse 2, describing the completion of the work of creation, read Genesis 2 to, "...by the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing. So on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." Now, if you turn forward one book to Exodus chapter 20, you discover that what God has established in the Sabbath as a creation ordinance, he now, following the sin of man, lays down as part of his moral law. Exodus chapter 20 and verse 8, remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
Why? For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. And then, of course, the next commandment concerns the honoring of your father and mother, and the next concerns the nature of murder, and the next the matter of adultery, and then stealing and telling lies, and so on. I just want you to notice that the fourth commandment fits right in between the third and the fifth. Deuteronomy and chapter 5, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. There some of you have learned the first five books of the Bible.
And it is reiterated what we have just read. It comes from the twelfth verse and goes through the point I want us to notice, is in verse 15, where God says, I want you also to remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. In other words, he says, not only is there the remembrance of the cessation of God's work in creation, but there is the remembrance of God's mighty work in redemption. And when you remember this day, he says, you will recall not only God's cessation from the work of creation, but you will recall the wonder of redemption, having been redeemed by his outstretched hand and brought from the bondage of Egypt. Now, just one final Old Testament reference, because I don't want this to be unduly tedious. Isaiah 58, verse 13. If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD.
And I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Now, with that, as a backdrop, you can turn back now to Luke chapter 6. The word Sabbath, our English word Sabbath, simply means rest or cessation from work. Did you ever wonder why God took six days to create everything? Do you ever just sit and think, I wonder why God took six days to create everything? Clearly, he did not need to take six days.
God is able to create instantaneously, ex nihilo, and he could do as he chose, but he decided that he would take six days. Did you ever wonder why it was that it says he rested on the seventh day? Clearly, God did not rest because he was tired, for it is impossible for him to be fatigued. So the Bible does not say that God rested on account of tiredness, but simply that he rested from his work of creation. And in doing these things, he establishes a pattern, a cycle of life, which has to do with six days of work and one day of rest—a pattern which, as we've seen, began as the very plan of creation. From the beginning of time, God establishes this for Adam and Eve in the framework of their existence prior to the fall into sin. And then what began as a creation ordinance becomes a divine commandment. The parallel passages to this section here in Luke introduce one or two side notes. For example, in Mark's Gospel, Mark records that Jesus did not simply say, The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath, but he also said, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Now, this is one of these phrases that gets trotted out by all kinds of people, and half the time you wonder if they know what it is they're saying.
And certainly you wonder why it is that they seem to be able to make application of it in some of the most diverse ways. What is Jesus saying there? The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Well, in other words, it was given not to the Jews, per se. It wasn't given to Israel. It wasn't given to the chosen people. But the Sabbath was given initially to mankind in general. In other words, it was given to everybody because it is for everybody's good.
And the very cycle of events that God has created within the mechanism of time is purposeful. In fact, if you ever wondered why there are seven-day weeks, because if you divide seven into three hundred and sixty-five, it doesn't really go. Couldn't we have got it in a different fashion, where it all divided nicely and everybody could feel comfortable? Why is it done in this way?
What is the purpose in this? And is there an abiding element to it, so much so that this morning as we sit here, the incidents that are before us now in Luke 6 are not matters simply of historical import, whereby we may observe them and learn a little, but they are actually matters of abiding impact, whereby we're going to have to understand them and make application to our lives. Now, these two incidents both take place on the Sabbath—you'll notice verse 1, one Sabbath Jesus was, and then verse 6, on another Sabbath he went into the synagogue. The first incident involves the disciples picking corn, the second the healing of the man with the shriveled hand. In verses 1–4, Jesus declares his authority as Lord of the Sabbath, and then we might say that in verses 6 and following, Jesus demonstrates that authority in the healing of this man's shriveled hand. Now, it's always very important that we understand the verses within the light of the surrounding context. And those of us who were present last time will recall that chapter 5 ends with Jesus giving these pithy statements concerning the patching of clothes, concerning new wine and new wineskins, concerning the whole issue of why it would be that people who were present at a wedding reception would say no to the food when a wedding reception is supposed to be an occasion of great joy.
And he was warning against the idea that you could take the old dimensions of external religiosity and simply add to it, if you like, a little bit of Jesus and his teaching. No, he says, that will not do. You don't take a patch from a new piece of clothing and sew it onto old clothing.
You will destroy both. You do not pour new wine into old wineskins. It will blow the wineskin apart as it ferments and matures.
You must put new wine into new wineskins. Now, immediately, it comes, then, to this issue of the Sabbath. The Pharisees were big on fasting, the disciples were big on feasting, the Pharisees were some sad-looking characters, and the disciples were glad characters. And indeed, as you read verse 1, in light of that, you have this picture in your mind—or at least I hope you do—of Jesus and his disciples going through the cornfields and of just a happy, carefree journey and the picking up of these bits and pieces as they go along.
Picking ears of corn, rubbing them in their hands, eating the grain, maybe throwing them bits and pieces at one another, maybe dropping them in one another's hair—the sense of abandon as they go through these things. Now, the background to this is in Deuteronomy 23, 25. You needn't turn to it. Let me quote it for you. The law of God said, If you enter your neighbor's cornfield, you may pick the ears with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing corn. In other words, it's okay for you to have a wee bit, but don't go in there with a combine harvester and take it all down and put it in lorries and truck it back to your back garden.
That is illegitimate. But in terms of just simply going through, picking up a little piece, rubbing it between your hands, and so on, all of us have plenty, he says, and we can share in that way. Now, in light of that, the disciples are doing what they're doing, and then, notice our friends are back in verse 2, the Pharisees pop up again. Some of the Pharisees asked, Don't you find yourself saying, Where do these characters keep coming from? I mean, it doesn't matter where they are. All of a sudden, the Pharisees are there, and you can imagine Jesus and his disciples just going through the cornfields. The corn was as high as an elephant's eye. And all of a sudden, from around one of the bends, when they've just begun to eat some of the stuff, whoop! Four or five of these guys are standing right in front of them.
And they're not there to say, Hey, good morning! Lovely day! Nice corn! Having a wonderful day, are you? Good to see you again! No!
They're all n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n! Why anybody would ever want to be involved with them is hard to tell. Why are your disciples, why are you disciples, doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? Now, the question primarily has to do with the when—the final phrase on the Sabbath. But it is interesting that it also has to do with the what, doing what is unlawful. Haven't we simply read from the law of God and discovered that what they were doing was not unlawful? And if so, how then can these Pharisees declare what they were doing to be wrong?
Well, the answer is simple. Because the Pharisees weren't content simply to have the law of God. They had a souped-up version of the law of God. They had their own version. And as time passed, they added to it more and more accretions, more and more little bits and pieces that they tagged on to the express plan of God which had been given for the good of those who would obey him. You can just imagine them going into their books, you know. They're bringing out a little black book from somewhere and going, yes, violation 1a, 1b, 2c, 2d, and 2f.
Why are you doing this, you bad people? You see, what they had done was this. They said, since you're not allowed to reap, they tightened up the idea of reaping. So they accused the disciples of reaping because they said picking was the same as reaping. Threshing was a violation, and what they were doing with their hands was, according to the Pharisees, threshing. So that was violation 2. Winnowing was a violation whereby you threw the grain up, remember, and the good stuff stayed, and the husks blew away. And so what they were doing in throwing bits and pieces away was actually winnowing—violation number 3.
And grinding was what they were doing with their teeth, and that was, of course, violation number 4. So they were absolutely hamstrung, because the Pharisees had encumbered the law of God with accretions of their own invention. That was not unique to the Pharisees. That has gone on all through time and is present today in many circles of Christianity. And we are not immune from it in this place. God intended the Sabbath would be for the good of all who would obey Him.
He didn't design it to be a legalistic joy-crusher. We're listening to Truth for Life weekend. Alistair Begg will be back to close today's program in just a minute. We all know someone who struggles with the claims of Christianity, somebody who may have been drawn from their faith by cultural or relational tides. There's a book we want to recommend to you today that is perfect for you to share with them so that those who have questions about Christianity can get answers.
It's called Seven Reasons to Reconsider Christianity. This book makes a compelling case for why Jesus is arguably the most influential person in history. The author is warm and uses a personal style to invite skeptical readers to rethink some of the common misconceptions about Christian beliefs. And he presents solid reasons for why the Bible is not just true, but why it's good news. The book is short, just 145 pages. It makes a great gift to give to someone who does not yet know Jesus, whether that's a co-worker, a family member, or a friend. Visit our website today to find out more about the book Seven Reasons to Reconsider Christianity.
You'll find it at truthforlife.org. Now, here's Alistair with the final teaching point. Now, technically, healing, according to the law, was permitted only if the illness was life-threatening.
And this, you see, was the kind of technicality that these Pharisees loved. Well, is the man going to die? No, he's clearly not going to die.
He's had a shriveled hand for some time. Then if he's not going to die, it violates the letter of the law, because it is only if the illness is life-threatening that healing may take place. And Jesus says, away with all that kind of legalistic nonsense. Here this man has the opportunity to be healed.
It would be sinful to leave him in his pitiable condition, but you want to use the synagogue, and you want to use the law as a means of putting a barrier between those who are in great need and the liberation that they may discover. Isn't that a dreadful thing, when people will seek to employ the Word of God and the worship of God's people and use it as the very antithesis to what God intends for to be done with it? And it happens all the time. It's the spirit of Phariseeism, alive and well in contemporary evangelicalism, seizing the law of God to add to it our own accretions, to build into it our own shibboleths, and to use it then as a means of saying, well, you can stay hungry, and you can stay shriveled. And the reason that you can is because of this. And Jesus says, no, that may be your kind of Sabbath, where people remain hungry and their hands remain shriveled, but my kind of Sabbath is where they enjoy the corn and where their hands are made to work again.
And they hated him for it. Pharisees of every hue and in every generation have a great problem with liberty. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening this weekend. Join us next weekend for part two of today's message, as we'll confront the spiritual dangers of legalism, then and now. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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