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Lord of the Sabbath

Lord of the Sabbath

Words of Faith 4-18-18

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2018

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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Luke 6

   [1] One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. [2] Some of the Pharisees asked, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"

   [3] Jesus answered them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? [4] 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." [5] Then Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

     As Jesus continued His ministry he found Himself in increasing conflict with the "religious" people. These religious people were not going away. They began lurking around, even hiding in grain fields, trying to trap Jesus. They watched carefully for Him to break a rule so they could accuse Him.

     We must understand that there were three institutions that set Jewish people apart from all other people. These were the practice of circumcision, the Kashrut or Kosher laws, and the Shabbat or Sabbath. Circumcision and Kosher laws were not big issues for Jesus because they were a way of life. The Apostle Paul and Peter would deal with those difficult issues when they crossed the cultural barrier to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. But Jesus was on a collision course with one of the most deeply entrenched institutions in Judaism, the Sabbath. In the Jerusalem Temple, the big issue was money changing for and selling sacrifices. But in the town synagogues, the issue was "Shabbat" or Sabbath.

       It is difficult for us to imagine how seriously Jewish people took this one special day of the week. The commandment in Exodus 20:8-11 was carefully discussed and interpreted by the rabbis. The rabbis said that the Sabbath day was set apart from creation for the goals of holiness, rest and joy. That was what the rabbis determined Shabbat was about. It was to be honored by "not working". But the next question was quite logical: What is work? One entire section of the Mishnah (oral teaching of the Law) is dedicated to a myriad of circumstances in which it might not be clear whether or not work has been "committed". Thirty-nine specific actions were forbidden including threshing grain.

     The Mishnah gave careful case law and examples for various situations. For example, it was breaking Sabbath to carry something in or out of the house. If on the Sabbath a beggar stands outside the house and a beggar puts a bowl inside the doorway of the house and the householder put something inside it, this was exempt as work and was actually in keeping with the "spirit of the day", holiness, rest and joy. But if the householder reached out of the door and put something into the bowl, this would break the Sabbath.

     There were also rules that formed a "fence around the wall" (gezerot) designed to keep a devout Jew from even getting close to breaking the Sabbath. For example, a tailor could not carry a needle near the time of nightfall before Shabbat, lest Sabbath begin and he accidentally work. Nor could a scribe carry his pen near the Sabbath for the same reason. And once Sabbath began one could not search his clothes for fleas (Sabbath could be an itchy night!). One could not dye fabric near the Sabbath because if the fabric was still absorbing the dye when sunset came the "work" would still continue and break the Sabbath. You could write one letter on a page but not two. On and on.

   A lot of this sounds almost silly to our Christian ears but we get a real good idea of what Jesus was up against with the rule driven religious people. Jesus was traveling with His Disciples and they were hungry. So they began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. There was an allowance to glean by hand on the Shabbat if traveling and hungry and refraining from use of a sickle. But to rub the heads of grain together was considered to be threshing. This was forbidden in the Mishnah (Shabbat 7:2).

     The response of Jesus was first to teach from Scripture. 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."

     The passage Jesus mentioned is specific to meeting human need but does not deal directly with the Sabbath. In Samuel 21:1-6, David was on a mission and argued to the priest that the mission was holy and so they ate the Bread of the Presence that was consecrated to the Lord. Jesus pointed out from Scripture that the Lord is very much concerned for His children and that the rules were never intended to do anything but benefit those He loves. There were even situations in which bread consecrated for the priests was best consumed by those on a holy mission.

     Jesus then made an ever bolder statement to the religious spies. "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." God is Lord of the Temple and its priests, rules, and bread. The Son of Man is Lord over this day called Sabbath. Don't let your religious rules get in the way of God.

       So what is the point? Jesus had just corrected the religious folks by saying, "This is my Wedding Feast. Don't insult my guests. Don't insult my bride." Today Jesus seems to be saying. "You are so worried about this day? With your rules and regulations? This is my day. I am Lord over it. I will say what can and cannot be done on this day.

     It is interesting that Mark's Gospel reports a focus on the purpose of the Sabbath. In Mark 2:27, Jesus said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." What a critical understanding! The Sabbath is FOR you as a child of God. But Luke now reports another very powerful truth: "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath..." Religious tradition must not take over the Sabbath so that it is no longer even a Sabbath! Jesus was saying: Who is in charge here? God, or your set of rules and rabbinical rulings?

     For us? We might do well to ask ourselves. Do I have any religious rules that get in the way of God? Do I have any religious judgments that get in the way of people getting to know God?


     Father God, help me to understand the Sabbath that You have for me. Help me to understand what it is You want to do in my life through Sabbath rest. Most of all, help me to worship You as the Lord of the Sabbath. You are Lord of all. In Jesus' name.