Sermon: Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11)

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Lord of the Sabbath

Last time we were together, the question was asked concerning the practice of fasting.  The disciples of John were wondering why they fasted and why the disciples of the Pharisees fasted but Jesus and His disciples didn’t.  The answer came from the mouth of Jesus that it is inappropriate to fast when the Bridegroom is present.  When the Bridegroom is present celebrating is appropriate.  Their fasting had developed as a result of man’s tradition rather than God’s Word.

Now, Luke takes us deeper into the observance of man’s traditions verses God’s Word.  In this example as in the example from last week, Luke shows us that Jesus is not concerned with man’s interpretation and rules but with God’s Word alone.  He shows us the appropriate way in which to keep the OT Sabbath and then we can apply much of this teaching to the NT Lord’s Day and follow Jesus’ example there as well.  So, in speaking to the Pharisees that day, Jesus teaches us many things concerning God’s will.

We have before us two conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees.  The first had to do with acts of necessity and the other with acts of mercy.

To begin with, let’s set the principle of the Sabbath teaching in context, then deduce from the Words of Jesus how we should understand His teaching in light of the New Covenant Lord’s Day.

The Sabbath principle is a creation principle God has ordained it for man since the creation.  The point is this isn’t a Jewish ritual but was ordained by God for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike because it was instituted before there even was such a thing as a Jew.

God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh consecrating it as a day of rest for man.  God did not need to take six days to create and He didn’t need to rest on the seventh, God doesn’t get tired and He could have created everything all at once, in a split second if He chose to do so.

Genesis 2:1-3 (ESV)

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. [2] And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. [3] So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Through the course of redemptive history, man fell into sin and all creation that God had made good was cursed.  Everything was tainted with sin and its effects.

If we fast forward to the end of the Book of Genesis we find God’s people in Egypt under the leadership of Joseph in the midst of a famine.

The Book of Exodus begins with the Israelites becoming slaves in Egypt after Joseph’s death.

As slaves for 400 years, there were things they could not do that they once did, and one of them was to obey God by keeping the seventh day holy and resting.  The Sabbath to them was simply another day in which they had to work.  It seem this Pharaoh has never heard of the Sabbath…

As the course of redemptive history moves forward, we are given additional insights into God’s Word.

Deut. 5:12-15 (ESV)

” ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  [13] Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  [14] but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.  [15] You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Now, as a part of the teaching of the Sabbath, God gives them another reason to remember it.  Not only because God rested on the seventh day but because there was a time in their history when they could not observe the Sabbath.  When they were slaves, they could not observe the Sabbath rest.  It took a work of God to set them free from their slavery.

With this background in mind, let’s look to God’s Word.

Please, hear the Authoritative and Inerrant Word of God…

Luke 6:1-11 (ESV)

On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.  [2] But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”  [3] And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:  [4] how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”  [5] And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

[6] On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered.  [7] And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.  [8] But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there.  [9] And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”  [10] And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored.  [11] But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

So ends this reading of God’s Word, may He write its eternal truths on all our hearts.

1. It is Lawful to Perform Acts of Necessity on the Sabbath (6:1-5)

Everywhere Jesus and His disciples went, they were being watched.  The religious leaders must have been keeping very close tabs of Jesus and His disciples.  They witness an act that they believed was in direct violation of Sabbath Law… Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath? Jesus and His disciples were traveling through a field on the Sabbath and because they were hungry, they picked some heads of grain, rubbed them in the palms of their hands to separate the kernel from the chaff and ate them.

They no more than turn around after they had put the grain to their mouths and look up to find a band of Pharisees watching.  This seems a bit odd except for the fact that they were trying to catch Jesus doing something wrong so that they could punish or kill Him and ultimately shut Him up and shut Him down.

The problem they were having with Jesus wasn’t that He and His disciples plucked some grain from a farmer’s field.  They were allowed to glean.  Gleaning is the practice of simply taking a little from a field to nourish yourself.  This was a common practice in ancient times.  The farmer was to leave a little for the poor people.  This issue wasn’t what they did but when they did it.

According to their opponents, picking constituted reaping and rubbing the bit of grain in your hands was equal to threshing, dropping the husks equaled winnowing and chewing the grain was, according to them, grinding…which was unlawful to do on the Sabbath.  In other words by plucking and rubbing it together inside their hands, work was being done and all work was forbidden on the Sabbath.

Then Jesus responds in a very interesting way.  He asks them,

Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:  [4] how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”

They were honing in on some manmade rule but missing the big picture.  God is not legalistic.  There were exceptions to these OT ceremonial laws.  Jesus cites an example when God’s ceremonial law was ignored because of dire need.

Principle– No ceremonial provision should stand in the way of providing for the essentials of life.—Alister Begg

Have you not read 1 Samuel 21-22?  Here the ceremonial law of God was overlooked because David and his company were hungry.  It’s not something David did all the time but he was in an emergency situation and he and his companions ate the ceremonial bread which was only for the priests to eat.  Jesus’ point here is that God is a God of mercy.  Ceremonial restrictions could be ignored in a case of need.

Jesus refers to the incident in 1 Samuel 21:1-9, where David flees for his life when he learns that King Saul is seeking to kill him. He goes to Nob, a village in Benjamin where the tabernacle is located. The priest is surprised that he is traveling alone, and David makes up a story about the secrecy of the mission and about meeting his men later. He asks for five loaves of bread for his journey and the priest answers that he has nothing to give him except some of the special consecrated bread (KJV “shewbread”) that has just been replaced by fresh bread, and had sitting for a week before the Presence of the Lord in the tabernacle. According to Leviticus 24:5-9, it is reserved for the priests who must eat it in a holy place.

Nevertheless, the priest gives David some of the consecrated bread for him and for his men. He does so because David is the King’s emissary and son-in-law, and he is on a holy mission and is hungry.

What point is Jesus making by referring to this incident? Apparently, that human need should override bare legalism,[4] for Mark adds Jesus’ comment, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Pharisees must have been fuming. To them the opposite was true, that man must conform himself to the law no matter what the inconvenience or need.

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. Instead he asserts his own authority: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (6:5). If David could eat the consecrated bread, how much more should the antitype of David do so? Though Jesus does not clearly state the messianic implications of his self-designation Son of Man, they are implied here. If the Pharisees had been angry at Jesus’ allusion to need taking precedence over the law when David ate of the consecrated bread, they must have been furious at Jesus’ assertion of his own authority over the Sabbath. “Just who does he think he is?!”– Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

[5] And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Daniel 7:9-10 (ESV)

As I looked,

thrones were placed,

and the Ancient of days took his seat;

his clothing was white as snow,

and the hair of his head like pure wool;

his throne was fiery flames;

its wheels were burning fire.

[10] A stream of fire issued

and came out from before him;

a thousand thousands served him,

and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;

the court sat in judgment,

and the books were opened.

Daniel 7:13-14 (ESV)

I saw in the night visions,

and behold, with the clouds of heaven

there came one like a son of man,

and he came to the Ancient of Days

and was presented before him.

[14] And to him was given dominion

and glory and a kingdom,

that all peoples, nations, and languages

should serve him;

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

which shall not pass away,

and his kingdom one

that shall not be destroyed.

The Ancient of Days, of course, is God the Father. The Son of Man is Jesus who is granted authority, glory, power, worship, and an everlasting Kingdom. These themes are woven throughout the New Testament in the Kingdom of God, the Exalted Servant (Philippians 2:9-11), culminating in the book of Revelation.– Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

So Jesus teaches us that on the Lord’s Day, deeds of necessity are allowed.  It’s alright to eat and drink and take care of the necessary things of life on the Lord’s Day.

2. It is Lawful to Perform Acts of Mercy on the Sabbath (6:6-11)

The situation is becoming more and more intense.  Jesus’ opponents are now very aggressively on the hunt and on the attack.

Luke shows another example of a Sabbath confrontation between Jesus and His opponents.

[6] On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered.  [7] And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.  [8] But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there.  [9] And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”  [10] And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored.  [11] But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

The rule the Pharisees had set in place was that a healing was allowed if a person’s life was in danger.  Here, the man with a withered hand was probably not in danger of dying.  So, in their opinion, this man’s suffering could wait until tomorrow.

Isn’t it so gracious of Jesus to attend to his need right there on the spot.  There was no waiting until tomorrow for Jesus.  He was willing to heal him and willing to heal immediately.

What sort of cold religiosity says that it is more important to observe the letter of the law than to show compassion to someone in need?  Their purpose that day in the temple was not worship but entrapment.  They were so obsessed with catching Jesus that they were willing to do anything in order to shut Him up.  Our Lord sees our need and is willing to meet it anywhere and any time.

[8] But he knew their thoughts,- This is the second time we’ve read this phrase.  Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Old Simeon…

Luke 2:35 (ESV)

(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

Jesus knew their thoughts and made them known.  This is an extremely important point.  Did you know that the Lord Jesus Christ knows your thoughts?

He knew what they were thinking and intercepted their thoughts and commented on their thoughts.

[9] And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”

What was Jesus getting at?  What point was He making?

He is saying, It’s alright to plot and scheme on the Sabbath how you wish to kill Me, However, it’s not alright to do good and heal someone?

How twisted were there motives and their teaching.

Could we ever be in danger of keeping God’s commands and forgetting to show mercy along the way?  For us, the Lord’s Day is a day to set aside for worship and rest, unless there is a pressing need to show someone mercy.

So far, Jesus has taught us that on the Lord’s Day we should cease from work and other normal daily activities unless there arises deeds of necessity or deeds of mercy.

Come and stand here, Jesus said to the man.  Luke tells us that the man got up and stood in front of Jesus.  This was a miracle that He wanted everyone to see.  Jesus healed him with the command to stretch out your arm.  With the Word of God the disease was reversed and new flesh appeared.  New life had been created.  The man’s healing was immediate.  Jesus didn’t perform this miracle in a dark corner somewhere but in front of everyone.

Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored.

What I want to point out is that Jesus commanded this man to do what he couldn’t do.  Stretch out your hand was something he longed to do but could not.  Jesus, do You know how many times I’ve longed to do what you’re asking? I’ve longed to shake hands with a new acquaintance; I’ve forgotten what my wife’s skin feels like.  I’ve forgotten how to pick up something from the table…The difference is the Word of God.  At Jesus’ words he could do the impossible.

How quickly Jesus can change a shriveled hand to a healthy hand.  How quickly can Jesus heal a shriveled heart and lost soul.

Where does this leave us today?  Rather than observing the Sabbath, we observe the Lord’s Day every Sunday.  It’s important that we set it aside as a special day.  We were not slaves in Egypt but we were slaves to sin.  When we set the Lord’s Day aside and cease from our normal daily routines we are to remember that God has rescued us from the bondage of sin.  It’s a day to rest.  It’s a day to worship. It’s a day to show mercy.  I want to challenge you to think about how you observe the Lord’s Day.  Make it a special day.  Honor God and watch how your life changes.  In many ways, your commitment to keep the Sabbath principle reflects your spiritual maturity.  The Sabbath is to be kept as a special day.  We live in the time of a Sabbath principle.  So to remember the Sabbath and keeping it holy is still a principle for us today.  Keeping the principle of the Sabbath is not legalistic.  It is not Phariseeism.  Keeping God’s law is not legalistic.  Keeping man’s rules is.

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