“The Lord Of The Sabbath”      Mark 2:23-3:6       November 12, 2006

 

SCRIPTURE INTRO:  Why are the Pharisees mentioned so often in Gospels?

Even thought the Pharisees have long disappeared as a religious/political party,

   their spirit remains.  It’s the spirit of works righteousness.

Works righteousness is the belief that if I do good, God owes me.

   That’s the natural religion of every human heart. 

   Jesus came to offer a different way completely—not works, but rest.

Rest in his perfect, finished work. 

 

INTRO:  I’ve always been amazed at the way mothers can tell

   when their little children are tired and need a nap.

Nobody thinks the mother is right.

   Dad just thinks the kid is being sassy or whiney and needs a pop on bottom.

   Someone else thinks child just needs a toy or cookie as a distraction.

Mother can usually convince them that she is right.

 

But who is the one person who cannot be convinced?

   Who is sure that mother is absolutely wrong?  The child himself.

If he was crying before, when he realizes that she’s taking him to the crib,

   he fights and screams and cries even harder

I remember Allison and I used to laugh about that when ours were little.

   We would say:  I wish someone would tell me I have to take a nap.

 

But children will have none of it.

   They know they’re not tired.  They know they don’t need a nap.

   They fight and scream and then there is silence from the bedroom.

You peek in and they are conked out and peaceful.

   Moms know their children—they know when they need rest.

 

This passage is about a fight over rest.

   Sabbath means “rest” in Hebrew.  The Sabbath day is the day of rest.

The Pharisees attacked Jesus and his disciples because,

   according to the Pharisees, they were working and not resting on the Sabbath.

They were breaking the fourth commandment, which is:

   Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, on it you shall not do any work.

 

The Pharisees had developed over the years a very detailed formula for determining

   what activities constituted work on the Sabbath.

Picking wheat, husking it in your hands, to eat as a snack was considered work.

   It was in the category of harvesting and threshing grain on a small scale.

Treating a person medically, or healing a person whose life was not in immediate

   danger, whose treatment could wait till the next day was considered work.

Man with shriveled hand would not have been hurt if healed next day. 

 

Jesus did not engage the Pharisees on their level.

He did not say:  You have too strict a definition of work.

   He did not say:  Picking and husking with hands not same as harvesting.

   In other words, he did not get into a debate about what is work and what isn’t.

And that’s one of the challenges of studying this passage.

   Because those are the sorts of questions Christians through years want answered.

   “What is exactly allowed on Sunday and what is not?”

 

But Jesus, as usual goes deep, he gets to the heart of the matter.

And he makes an amazing statement.

   “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus is saying about himself:

   I am the Lord of the Sabbath.   I am the Lord of Rest.

 

Jesus was saying to the Pharisees. 

   You think you are keeping the Sabbath but you are really breaking it.

You’re breaking it because you aren’t resting—you’re working.

   You are slaving away to prove to God,

   through your religious observance, that you are ok. 

You are working, even by your refusal to work on the Sabbath,

   to prove that you are acceptable to God.

And you are ignoring the source of real rest—that’s me.

   Only through me that you can be right with God.

 

This just as relevant for us today.  Until you rest in Jesus you will never rest.

   You will work your whole life to prove

   to yourself, others, and to God that you are ok.

   You won’t succeed.  You will be prideful and anxious, critical and joyless.

But rest in Jesus, the Lord of Rest, and you will know that God is satisfied

   with you and you can be satisfied with your life.

Let’s look at this passage under two headings:

   1.  The futile toil of works righteousness.

   2.  The delightful rest of Jesus Christ.

MP#1  The futile toil of works righteousness

What was wrong with the Pharisees?

They weren’t the liberals, they were the conservatives.

   They weren’t the party that was moving away from traditional values,

   and the Bible as the word of God—that was the Sadducees.

 

The Pharisees went to church.  And weren’t Christmas and Easter attenders.

   They were there every time the doors of the synagogue were opened.

And they had small group Bible studies.

   Sit around for hours reading the Scriptures and discussing the numerous

   Jewish commentaries on the Scriptures.

And the prayed long and often, and they fasted, and they tithed.

   And when it came to the Sabbath, 4th commandment they were particularly

   careful to obey God and not work on the day of rest.

As far as commitment to religious exercises—

   they would probably put everybody in this room to shame.

 

But there was something wrong with them.

   It’s no mystery. 

   Jesus identified their problem over and over—it was works righteousness.

In fact, as I said before Scripture reading,

   this is something that comes up over and over in the Gospels.

So often, that it’s a challenge to preach it again and again.

 

But when things are repeated over and over in the Bible,

   it’s because the Lord wants us to get them straight.

Last week this came up in Jesus’ conflict with Pharisees over fasting,

   week before that, the calling of Levi, this week, in the matter of Sabbath-keeping.

But it’s the same thing over and over—works righteousness.

 

Works righteousness, or self righteousness (same thing)

   is the natural religion of the human heart. 

It says:  I obey God, therefore I’m in, He accepts me.

   I’m good, I’m better than the really bad people, so God owes me.

 

Works righteousness is a program of self-salvation. 

   It can take many different forms—

   but what we see in the Pharisees is its moral and religious form. 

I do what the Bible says, and I’m in and everybody else is out.

Pharisees talked biblical language—talked about sin and repentance and grace.

   But they saw their sins as simply little failures in their program of self-salvation.

In the areas that really mattered, like keeping the Sabbath day—

   they were certain that they were good enough to get God’s approval.

The purpose of the Sabbath, as we will see in a few minutes is rest.

   It’s to restore the weary, to replenish the exhausted.

But the Pharisees totally distorted the Sabbath

   by turning it into one more part of their program of self-salvation.

 

In order to do that, they had to make it something that they could measure,

   so that they could say, yes, we’ve done that, we’ve kept the Sabbath.

   We’ve been good, we’re in.  God owes us.

 

So what they focused on in the command was the prohibition against work.

   Set out to define what constituted work. 

If you walked over 3000 feet on the Sabbath, you were working.

   But if you walked somewhere to get something to eat,

   then you could walk another 3000 feet from that spot.

The Pharisees would set up little stations where they would put food.

 

Could go on and on but I don’t want to mock the Pharisees too much—

   because don’t we do the very same thing? 

Set out to define exactly what constitutes obedience to God’s commands,

   and then excuse everything we do that is out of step

   with the spirit of the command.

A white lie, a wandering eye, time wasted at work—

   that’s not really lying, or immorality, or stealing—

   in those big thing’s I’m still right on track.

 

And at the deepest level of all—we miss the heart of God’s commands—

   They show us how we are to love God and love our neighbor.

But we think that if we have just behaved, not done any really gross sins,

   then we are doing pretty good and God owes us.

 

Do you see futility of that kind of working?  It’s toil.  It’s checking a box.

   But it doesn’t get you any closer to God. 

It doesn’t accomplish what the law of God is intended to do—

   show you your need for Christ, keep you humble,

   give you a path for loving God and other people. 

Let me ask you two questions:

1.  Are you a faultfinder?

Look a the Pharisees.  It’s the Sabbath Day.

   They are going through all of the motions of religion perfectly but they aren’t

   looking at God—they’re watching Jesus and his disciples.

They are hoping to find fault as a way of securing their righteousness. 

 

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re at the dinner table, just said Amen,

   and one of the children says—Johnny had his eyes open during the prayer.

And you say:  How do you know he had his eyes open?

 

Children are so honest about their works righteousness.

   That’s what tattling is all about.  I am better than Johnny, I deserve approval.

   I just opened my eyes for a second, I could tell he had his open the whole time.

As adults we’re so much more subtle.

   We just shake our heads and say: 

   “I just don’t see how a person could do a thing like that”?

Are you a fault-finder?  Are you continually critical of other people? 

   Do you enjoy standing in judgment over the moral failures of other people?

   That’s a sign of works righteousness.

 

2.  Are you joyless?

Jesus healed the shriveled hand, and Pharisees went out and plotted to kill him.

   No rejoicing, no laughter.  No amazement at what God had done.

   Because it is rules, rather than a relationship with God that mattered to them.

 

Throughout the Bible obedience and joy are companions.

   Psalm 19—Law of God is perfect, reviving the soul.

   When there is obedience there should be laughter.

The reason is that true obedience brings you closer to Lord himself.

   But self-righteousness sucks the joy out of obedience.

   You are obeying just to get something from God, not to get God himself.

So you are either joyless and proud—like Pharisees,

   or joyless and anxious, always wondering if you are living up.

 

Works righteousness is our natural religion.

   It can find a place even in the church—but it’s a dead end.

Never brings rest—but an increasingly critical and joyless spirit.

   And often a sense that you are never measuring up.

And that brings us to . . .

MP#2  The delightful rest of Jesus Christ

Jesus said:  The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

   I am the Lord of the Sabbath.  I am Rest.

   What does that mean?

 

The fourth commandment calls us to rest on two levels.

First, it is a call to take physical and mental time off.

   It is God saying:  I know what you need, you need rest.

   It is not good for you to work seven days a week, week in and week out.

   It is not good for your work to dominate you in that way.

For numerous good reasons, you need rest.

 

It’s like a mother looking at her little child and knowing that he needs a nap.

   She knows what’s best, he doesn’t. 

   Because she knows him better than he knows himself.

In our affluent society with all our leisure time and recreational activities—

   I think we can miss the simple goodness of this command.

 

Man I knew in Florida told me how his father toiled for years as fisherman—

   six days a week, and they were poor, life for all of them was always work.

Except on Sundays, loved Sunday for the refreshment of mind a body.

For most people in the world, most times in history—

   life is one day of toil after another.  Go to a third world country, will see this.

   For the Creator to say—rest one day in seven and I will provide is wonderful.

“The Sabbath was made for man . . .”

 

That brings us to the second level of rest—deeper rest 4th commandment points to.

   In the commandment, told that God rested from his work on 7th day.

How is that possible?  God doesn’t get tired.

   In a deeper sense, to rest means to be so satisfied with your work,

   that you can leave it alone. 

 

When you can say.  I’m happy with this.  It’s finished.

   When you can say that, you are able to rest. 

That’s the rest that God wants us to experience.

   Rest that is so deep that we can look at our lives and say—I’m satisfied.

   How is that possible?  Only through Christ.

Only through the Lord of the Sabbath.

Do you remember the movie “Chariots of Fire”?

True story about two British athletes in 1924 Paris Olympics—

   Eric Liddle and Harold Abrams.

On one level, about Eric Liddle, who was a Christian, Scottsman

   who had strong convictions about the Lord’s Day—

   so he refused to run on the Sabbath.

Remember, when got to Paris, the race day had been changed—

   instead of running, spent Sunday as he had all his life, worship and rest—

   missed out on the race he had been training to run, got to run another.

 

But the movie had a deeper level—contrasted these two runners.

Harold Abrams was running out of a need to prove himself.

   “When the gun goes off I have 10 seconds to justify my existence.”

 

Eric Liddle was running simply to please the God who he knew

   had already accepted him. 

There is that wonderful line, says to his sister—

   “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

 

Abrams, who was working so hard to prove himself—

   was weary even when he won the gold, it wasn’t enough.

Liddle was rested even when he was working,

   because he knew God’s pleasure through his faith in Christ. 

 

I love the way Tim Keller put it in his sermon on this passage:

   “There is a work underneath our work that we really need rest from.  For almost all of us, unless God comes into our lives, we’re working and we’re doing things to prove ourselves—to convince God, others, and ourselves that we are good people.  And that work is never over, unless we rest in the Gospel.”

 

There is a work underneath our work that we really need rest from.

   That’s profound.  That’s our essential problem.  That’s works righteousness.

That’s what drove Harold Abrams to run not for pleasure—

   but to justify his existence.

That’s what drove the Pharisees in all of their religious exercises,

   not for the joy of fellowship with God, but to prove they were good people,

   and therefore accepted by God. 

 

Let’s be honest, that’s what drives us—work beneath our work.

We want to prove to ourselves, others, and to God that we are ok.

   We all chose different areas in which to prove it—

   success in parenting, school, business, athletics, wealth, romance, religion

   whatever—but the end result is not deep satisfaction.

We cannot look at our work and say:  It is finished.

   We cannot rest because there is always incompletion and anxiety. 

 

But what did Jesus come to do? 

   He came to finish the work underneath your work so that you can rest.

What that means is simply this.

   Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience. 

Every thought, every attitude, every decision was one of perfect love

   toward his Father in heaven and toward other people. 

 

He kept God’s law perfectly.  He rejoiced in it.

   He heard from heaven those words of commendation: 

   This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.

And then, the Bible says, he was obedient unto death, even death on the cross.

   In that great final act of obedience, paid the penalty for our sins.

 

And what were his final words as he hung there on the cross?

   It is finished.  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

   It is finished.

What was finished?  The work beneath your work.

   You no longer have to strive to prove you are ok,

   to secure God’s approval of you—you have it completely in Christ.

 

Are you trusting in Jesus Christ, the Lord of Rest?

If you are, you’ll no longer say:  If I obey God, he’ll accept me.

   You’ll say, I’m totally accepted by God in Christ, therefore I’ll obey him.

 

You’ll no longer say:  If I don’t obey, God won’t accept me, I’ll fall from grace.

   You’ll say, I can’t fall from grace, but oh that makes me see my disobedience

   in a whole new light.  How can I sin against the One who died for me?

 

And for the first time you are able to look at your life and be satisfied—

   because you know that God is totally satisfied with you, in his Son—

   and you can rest in that.

 

CONC:  So what about the Lord’s Day?

   What are we supposed to do on the Sabbath? 

 

John Piper said it well:

   It’s a day for worshipping Jesus.  It’s a day for saying by what we do and don’t do that Jesus, not our work and not the money we get from our work, is our treasure and our meaning.  It is a special day for the honor and glory of the Lord.  A day for mercy and for man.