Portraits of Jesus: The Son of Man and the Lord of the Sabbath
Our Scripture lesson this morning is taken from Luke 6:1-11
On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 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?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 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. 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. 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?” And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
May God bless this the reading of His holy and infallible Word.
Having taken a brief detour for Holy Week, we now return to the portraits of Jesus that Luke gives us in his gospel. In today’s passage, we actually have two portraits. Once again, Jesus is in a controversy with the Jewish religious authorities, this time, the conflict is about the proper way to observe the Sabbath. The portraits are Jesus as:
The Son of Man
The Lord of the Sabbath
First of all, Jesus says He is the “Son of Man”:
The Son of Man
The Son of Man
As scholars of the Old Testament, the Pharisees would have known what this title “Son of Man” meant. Unlike what is commonly assumed today, the title “Son of Man” does not speak to Jesus’ humanity, rather it speaks of His eschatological authority. This title is first found in Daniel 7:
“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. 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.
Two things stand out in this passage:
First, this second figure is divine. What is known as “Judaism” today, is not the ancient faith of Israel. Rather, it is a heretical reaction against Christianity. This figure approaching the “Ancient of Days” is clearly a divine figure, for He is riding upon the “clouds of heaven”. In the Second Temple writings we have recently discovered, He is called the “Second Yahweh”!
Secondly, this second figure clearly has two natures: divine and human. For although He rides upon the clouds of heaven, He is “like a son of man”. Consequently, this second figure is identified as the coming Messiah. Notice the similarity of language with the Messianic psalms:
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.
And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.
Moreover, this “Son of Man” would be the one who would establish a New Covenant with Israel. Jeremiah was the first prophet to reveal this promise:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
What does all this mean?
It means that what we have here in our text is not a debate about the proper way to observe the Sabbath, but a debate over who has the authority to define what it means to observe the Sabbath!
The Pharisees, were known as those who sat in Moses’ chair. In fact, there was an actual chair in many synagogues at that time known as “Moses’ Chair”. The Pharisees had authority, and they did not want to give it up!
It has always been a debate about authority. This was what was going on in the Garden of Eden and this is what is going on today. People do not want to submit to the authority of God and His Anointed One:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
It is by no accident that Jesus makes His point by citing the example of David and Ahimelech allowing what would normally be illegal—the eating of the bread of the presence by those who were not priests. The Old Testament text in no way suggests that they were out of line in doing this. In fact, within the context of all of Scripture, and especially the books of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings, honoring and serving the “Lord’s Anointed” is of the highest moral imperative. David and his men were but shadowy types pointing to the reality of Jesus and His disciples. Jesus could have pointed to no more powerful text than this one to illustrate His authority.
In the Apostle’s Creed, we confess that Jesus is seated at the “right hand of God the Father Almighty”! As the “Son of Man”, Jesus exercises absolute authority Have you submitted to that authority? That is the chief application of this text.
As the “Son of Man”, Jesus is also “the Lord of the Sabbath”. He has the authority to interpret the Law:
The Lord of the Sabbath
The Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus possesses the authority to interpret both the Old Covenant, and New Covenant Law. This is most powerfully illustrated in the second when He healed the man with the withered hand: Once again, we find Jesus in the synagogue teaching, and Luke tells us that there was a man with a withered hand there; and once again, the Pharisees saw themselves as the ones who had the authority to interpret God’s Law. We are told they were there looking to find a reason to accuse Jesus.
Jesus knew their thoughts, and He call the man to stand by Him. Then Jesus asks them a question, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to destroy it.” We are then to told that Jesus looked at each and every one of them.
Can you imagine what this looked like. Jesus’ gaze slowly went from Pharisee to Pharisee, waiting for them to answer His question, yet none did. Why did they not answer? They did not answer because they all knew the right answer—love defines the application of the Law:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
It is not without significance that the book of Scripture most concerned with rules and holiness is the one that gives us what James calls the Royal Law of Love (James 2:8)! When Christ gave us a “new commandment” in John 13:34, it was really this “old commandment” modified so the standard of love was no longer our love for ourselves, but Christ love for us!
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
Because Scripture is the “word of Christ” (Rom 10:17, Col 3:16) it has the standard of interpretation within itself. This is why when Jesus taught with authority, He did not teach contrary to Scripture or in addition to Scripture, but according to Scripture!
What a contrast this is to the so-called “Red Letter Christians” who dismiss as antiquated everything in Scripture that is not in “red letters”. By “red letters” they are referring to those editions of the Bible that put the words of Christ in red letters. The problem with this, is two-fold:
First, these so-called “Red Letter Christians” selectively edited what is really the “words of Christ”. The goal of liberal scholarship since the nineteenth-century is not to get to the truth, but rather to eliminate everything in Scripture they did not like. In the end, they reduced the words of Christ to the universal love of God and the universal brotherhood of man. This is why I said earlier that it has always been about authority. Whose authority will we live under, God’s or man’s?
The second weakness, is that if you take the teaching of Jesus seriously, every letter in the Bible is a “red letter”! In his last letter, written to his beloved Timothy, Paul writes:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
In describing the utility of Scripture, Paul is using the language of the Wisdom Literature. Because all Scripture is the Word of Christ, it reflects the wisdom of Christ. This means that the Old Testament Scripture is profitable for study because not only does it prophetically point us to Christ, as the “Word of Christ” it gives us wisdom. It teaches us how to practically apply the Royal Law of Love to our lives. Love is not what we say it is, love is what Jesus says it is!
The Pharisees made a great show of loving God and His Word, but in reality, they loved themselves and their own traditions. Jesus once said to them:
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
He goes on to say they make “void the Word of God” by their traditions. This is what “Progressive Evangelicals” are doing when that interpret Scripture according to the immoral traditions of our culture. We must resist this temptation and allow Jesus to authoritatively interpret by interpreting Scripture with Scripture.
As we come to the close of this message, let us look closely at the portrait of Jesus that Luke has given us. Jesus is not just a “great teacher” as so many today would have us believe, He is the “Son of Man”, the “Second Yahweh” who is “Lord of the Sabbath” because He is the author of the Sabbath. He is now high and lifted up, seated at the Father’s right hand, upon the Throne of Glory. Will you submit to His authority, or will you not? This is the question before each of us today, and for all eternity!