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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, f 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.
As we continue our study through the Gospel of Luke, we come to two stories that center around a conflict with the Pharisees over the observance of the Sabbath. It is tempting, perhaps, to simply see the Pharisees being concerned with the Law while Christ is concerned with helping people but that would be to misunderstand the nature of this conflict.
The problem today, by and large, is not that most take a strict view of the Law but that they don’t even stop to consider the Law at all. The Sabbath, especially, has fallen into disfavor and there is collective amnesia that, somehow, God included the observance of the Sabbath in the Ten Words that He delivered upon Mount Sinai. What was God thinking, after all, that He would care that we would set one day out of seven for Him? What about my “Me Time”? I understand I shouldn’t kill a man but observe the Sabbath? Why are they even on the same list?
It is actually quite natural that the Pharisees would be concerned about the Sabbath. The fraternity of the Pharisees was originally founded for the purpose of seeking to take seriously the Law of God after the Babylonian captivity. In the Law of God, God had commanded that the Nation of Israel celebrate a Sabbath Year once every 7 years. Israel was in captivity for 70 years because the Nation had disregarded the command of God to give the land a rest one year in every seven for 490 years. And so God judged the Nation by taking them out of the land and giving the land rest for the 70 years they had neglected to celebrate.
Thus the Pharisees, after the captivity were like a child who had burned his hand on a hot stove. A hot stove is very useful but if you touch the burner it is quite painful. A child, properly disciplined, will return to the stove someday and use it properly. But one way around never getting burned is to never go near the stove again.
That’s the nature of the fleshly approach to Law keeping: set up an entire set of man-made rules that put a fence around the Law. One way to keep away from violating the Sabbath was to put a big fence around it and tell everybody to never go near the Law by keeping all the regulations. Keeping the regulations, then, replaces actually keeping the Law because, if the Law is all about not crossing a certain line, then drawing closer lines is even better. Eventually, the fences erected were the only things the Rabbis meditated upon. Pharisees became experts in the regulations. The rabbis drew up a catalogue of thirty-nine principal works, subsequently subdivided into six minor categories under each of these thirty-nine, all of which were forbidden on the Sabbath. On this list of regulations was a prohibition against picking heads of grain. That was considered to be “reaping”.
Christ was walking through the fields with His disciples on the Sabbath and the disciples were hungy. The Law permitted a hungry man to glean the edges of crops for food. It’s not as if they were eating a gourmet meal but they were famished and were rubbing the heads of the grain and eating raw grain.
Suddenly the Pharisees appeared. It’s almost like Swiper the Fox in Dora the Explorer at the ready to steal. Were they following Christ around simply so they could spy out liberty and judge that a line had been crossed?
They accused Jesus and His disciples of desecrating the Sabbath not because the Law had actually been broken but because their regulations had been broken. The disciples had ignored the fence the Rabbis had put around the Law. They were observing the Law but the Pharisees could only see their fence.
Christ first rebuked them with a question that would cut to the heart of any Pharisee: “Haven’t you read the Word of God?” You sage keepers of the Word, don’t you remember David, when he was fleeing from Saul for his life came to the Tabernacle with famished troops and received the showbread from the altar? The Law very strictly required that this bread was for the Levites alone and neither David nor his men were Levites.
According to the letter of the ceremonial Law, the High Priest had, in fact, violated the Law but Christ commended this decision. Why? Because a more important principle, a weightier matter, was at hand, and that was the sustaining of human life.
The Pharisees, in fact, were so focused upon the ceremonial precision of the Law that they missed the purpose of the Law altogether. We’ve already seen a remarkable episode earlier in the Gospel of Luke where Christ reached out and touched a leper. Every time I read that I shudder with amazement at what that signified under the Law. Lepers were unclean. Touching them made a person unclean. But Christ, the Clean One, touched a leper and made him clean. How long had it been since that leper felt a human touch because, ceremonially, the Law could do nothing but keep men away. It was the same thing for the paralytic healed by Christ – the paralytic was excluded from the Assembly for his plight but Christ restored him.
We all know the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Do you know why the two men passed by on the other side of the road when they saw a man that appeared to be dead? Because they were priests and they would have been defiled had they touched a dead body. The irony of that parable is that the Samaritan, scum of the Earth to a Jew, was the neighbor. He’s the only one who fulfilled the Law to love neighbor.
You see, Galatians 3
reveals an important truth about the Law of God as the Apostle Paul was railing against Judaizers who were corrupting the Gospel just as the Pharisees did here. The Covenant of God begins with God redeeming a People to Himself by the work of Christ. Blessing comes by faith in what God Promises to do. It was that way with Abraham and the Promise has always been God saying: “The Seed of Abraham will be your Righteousness. Believe!” Righteousness comes by faith. It always has because our own righteousness comes up short every time.
Why then the Law? Why create rules for the Sabbath? Can it be so that we prove to God we’re serious about His commands and then find acceptance? No, you are already accepted in Christ but now see the Law of God with new eyes. See in it the nature of the God you love and use it as a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path that you might learn about God and yourself and train yourselves in righteousness. He’s not your Judge, if you’re in Christ, but your Father.
We all understand rules for our children, do we not? We forbid certain things because they harm. We command certain things because they are good. The end of these things is that they grow to see the wisdom behind the rules and the letter of the rule is replaced by a walking in wisdom. Eventually, we don’t have to hold a hand as we cross the street because an adult is wise enough to enjoy the paved road without our help.
But the Pharisees are like adults who never learned the wisdom and all they know is the rules and don’t understand the blessing that the rules were designed to direct to.
The Sabbath was not created so that man would be a slave under its crushing requirements but was intended to bless man. Those of us redeemed by Christ get the tremendous privilege of an entire day devoted to the worship of God. We get to cast off the cares of the world and meditate upon the Word of God all the day and enjoy the fellowship of God and His people.
I understand that, to the flesh, the Sabbath seems like the most boring thing in the world when you have Costco and sleep and NFL football to replace it but are these things really the pinnacle of the enjoyment of a redeemed conscience? I realize that our flesh does not love to enjoy the Sabbath. It doesn’t love the things of God but the Law is intended to serve as a trainer of the conscience to direct us to the things of above and to cast aside the things that serve our flesh. We are foolish if we neglect the Law as a lamp unto our feet to guide us into how we might taste and see that the Lord is good.
Recently, I’ve been convicted of my own sinful sloth. I often don’t prepare myself to enjoy the Sabbath. I treasure my leisure and so I sometimes come to worship sleepy from staying up too late on Saturday night. I forget to buy milk the day before and so I’m tempted to deprive another man of the rest that God has given all men one day in seven. I don’t pray that I might come to the Word hungry and expectant, eager to be filled by the Words of Life.
I’m convicted because I am Christian. I have been created anew by the Gospel to delight in the things of the Lord. The Lord’s Day is my delight. What a privilege it is to be in His presence all the day long: a son in my Father’s house in communion with my fellow heirs.
As Christ continued with the reminder to the Pharisees, He told them something that should have stopped them dead in their tracks: “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.” Who can be the Lord of the Sabbath but God alone for He, alone, hallowed it by resting from His creation on it. God did not need rest but invited man, on Adam’s first full day on the Earth, to rest with Him. Even as the Pharisees wondered that Christ forgave sins, we have another plain example to these hard-hearted men that the God of the Universe was the subject of their rebuke. The Sabbath is Christ’s and it is in Him that we have any rest, for we would only be in toil and bondage under sin. The Pharisees stole His Law, intended to bless men to enter into God’s rest, and they had twisted a blessing into a yoke of bondage.
As the Gospel continues, on another Sabbath, Christ was teaching in the Synagogue – worshipping with the people of God. The Holiness of God, clothed in human flesh was very near and blessing people with words of life and all the Pharisees had a front row seat. They were not there to be taught but only so they could catch Him violating their petty rules about healing on the Sabbath.
Christ knew their hearts and so He called out a poor man with a withered hand. The Pharisees looked right past a man in need. They could care less about his need. All they could think about is the regulation and that the Son of Man had the gall to violate their rules! Christ asked a simple question: Is is lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do harm?
Do you see the hypocrisy of the Pharisees? On the day of rest, on the day that God had invited His people to find rest in Christ, these men wanted to destroy the Son of God! Unfortunately, their regulations did nothing for their conscience. Where’s the rule that you can’t plot to kill the Son of God on the Sabbath? They were bent out of shape that Christ is going to do good on the Sabbath but their sin blinded them to the fact they were murdering Christ in their heart.
But Christ’s work would not be stopped by Sin. He looked directly into the face of Sin. He looked directly into the eyes of the hateful Pharisees, agents of the Devil who had twisted His Law to destroy and commanded to the man: Stretch out your hand! Where Pharisaical rules could only enslave, He freed! Where their rules could only leave a hand useless and dead, He brought forth life!
Beloved, God created the world in 6 days and all very good. On the 6th day, He stooped down and, with special care, created man out of the dust of the Earth. With a tender love, He put His mouth up to the first man and breathed life into Him and, with that breath, His very image. As the man opened his eyes, the first thing He saw was the face of God. Oh, the vision that Adam saw! What a loving Father!
When God rested the next day, the first Sabbath, and invited Adam to rest with Him, do you suppose Adam complained that he got to spend the whole day in communion with His Father?
When Adam fell, and we with him, mankind ran away from God and tried covering himself with leaves to protect himself from the Holiness of God. Gone was face to face communion with the God of the Universe. But God, even then, was gracious to His foolish children and, in their presence, slayed an animal and covered them.
Man fell from communion with God and the enjoyment of rest. All was toil. Pagan societies like France after the Revolution tried to go to 10 week days and it crushed men under the weight of toil because we’ve been designed by our Creator to rest one day in seven. We foolishly think we know better and, in our folly, would work ourselves to the bone headlong into the hell, There, we would deservedly face the wrath of God for our disobedience.
No communion with God.
But God is rich in mercy. While we were still His enemies, while our flesh hated the sight of Him, while we groped in the darkness in the futility of our self-worship, God the Son took on our weak flesh. He was hated and despised. He walked alone in obedience that was foreign to us. He preached to men and served the Law of God with a holiness and compassion that our flesh hated and so, in men’s hatred, they put Him to death for it.
But, to our amazement, Christ was there willingly. He was our High Priest offering His sinless flesh as a propitiation for our filthy Sin. Dying on the eve of the Sabbath, our Lord remained in the grave throughout the Jewish Sabbath, working for our benefit and putting to death Sin and death. On the third day, the Lord’s Day, death could not hold Him! He rose from the grave in victory over death and we were raised in newness of life with Him!
Oh, how I love you Son of Man, Savior. You invite me into Your holy presence in sweet communion with the Body You have redeemed to Yourself. I cry out with the Psalmist:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!
I am your son, in Christ, and thank you that I once again have communion with you. I come boldly, expectantly, into Your very presence through the veil of Christ’s flesh and delight in the rest I had today. Better still, I know that I shall, one day, see You face to face, and rest forever!