Sabbath Principle - 3. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

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Sunday, June 15, 2008 – Father’s Day – Commissioning of Colville Mission Team

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5

7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”       Matthew 12:7-8 NIV

We are presently engaged in a study of the Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” If you come from a Catholic or Lutheran tradition, you may know of this commandment as the Third Commandment. Those traditions combine the first two into one and then separate the last one into two. The content of the Ten Commandments is not changed. Only the numbering is different. I thought you might like to know that.

A couple of you have commented that I am quite brave for having opened up this subject and designated a significant amount of time to more thoroughly understand this challenging Commandment. It is true that I was a bit fearful in committing to tackle this assignment because of the high likelihood that I might be stepping on someone’s toes in doing so.

But, in all frankness, this issue of the Fourth Commandment has been hovering over me for most all of my ministry. I have seen so vividly the impact of the lack of conviction regarding this special day, this gift from God to rest, to worship and to fellowship with God’s people to our Lord’s honor -- I have seen what happens when this day is not honored, that I confess to you that I do come to this subject with a great deal of emotion and passion.

I have watched many, many Christian young people who in their jr. high years were making great progress in their walk with Christ, come to their sophomore or junior year in high school and go off to find themselves a job. One of the severe realities of part-time jobs for young people is the frequency of being placed on the schedule for the least desired hours. Those hours seemed to create a conflict with the times for worship, Sunday School, youth group and Bible study. Not infrequently, these Christian youth would soon be on the fringes of the church family and their walk with Christ would suffer. A major component of their Christian support system was removed. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the subsequent diminishing of interest in spiritual things.

I have also witnessed the depletion of troops for the accomplishment of ministry objectives because other commitments were made to sports teams on Sundays. As a spiritual coach filling out the roster for Sunday night’s game, called Youth Group, I have often found that we have had to play without a first baseman, left fielder, and third baseman. What baseball coach would feel good about that? What likelihood is there that we’d win the game that night?

I mention this to demonstrate that what we believe about the significance of the Fourth Commandment has a very real impact on the viability of our ministry, in addition to an impact on the vitality of our relationship with Jesus Christ. God has given us this day of rest to make us strong, not to make us weak as individual Christians and as a community of Christians.

In our first two sermons we have looked at Exodus 16, where the practice of the Sabbath was first outlined, and at Isaiah 58, where we gained a greater appreciation of how the gift of the Sabbath benefits those who honor the day. From those two texts we identified 10 concepts, truths or meanings attached to the Sabbath principle.

(1) The Sabbath is a gift from God. It was not an invention of men. It was initiated and prescribed by God.

(2) The Sabbath is a day of rest after each six days of labor. This gift distinguished Israel from other nations. It is a testimony that God is an advocate for all who were weary and heavy laden.

(3) The Sabbath is a memorial to God’s act of redemption from slavery and sin. When Moses restated the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, he said that the rationale for the Sabbath was to be a day to 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

So the Sabbath is a memorial to God’s act of redemption.

(4) The Sabbath is also a memorial to God’s act of creation when He rested on the seventh day. When Moses first stated the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, he said there that the rationale for the Sabbath had its basis in God’s rest from His act of creation. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

(5) We also learned from Exodus 16 that the Sabbath needs a day of preparation. Successful observance of the Sabbath requires planning and preparation. If we are going to gain the most benefit from the Lord’s Day rest, we need to think it through before we enter it. Plan it out.

(6) The Sabbath is intended for a humble, repentant and obedient people. Christ is Lord and we are His servants.

(7) The Sabbath is an intentional act of saying “no” to our own pleasures and business on that day to make way for the priority of rest, worship, fellowship and ministry.

(8) The Sabbath is to create a new culture on the Lord’s Day. It is a culture that is God-centered and glad-hearted. God instructs us to call the Sabbath a delight.

(9) The Sabbath is a feast day, not a fast day.

(10) The Sabbath is God’s way of developing our skills of time management around His priorities.

Now before we get to our texts for today, I need to say that I will in one of the next two sermons deal with the matter of both the distinction of the Saturday Sabbath from the Sunday Lord’s Day and the continuity of the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day. There is simply too much material on this matter of the Fourth Commandment to get it all packaged neatly in 5 messages without getting some things out of order. So, please bear with me on this. I do plan to soon address how Sunday is like and unlike the Sabbath.

The texts we look at today from the Gospels will help us determine if the Sabbath has any abiding significance for us today. What does Jesus say about the Fourth Commandment?

We find that He does much of His teaching about the Sabbath in response to the opposition of the Pharisees. Such is the case in our story for today. I’m going to primarily work out of the Luke text, Luke 6:1-5, and refer to the Matthew and Mark parallel texts when they add an important detail.

Luke 6:1-5 (NIV) 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?”

Well, the Pharisees had created several additions or addenda to the Law of God. They weren’t content to simply abide by what God had given. They created extensions and additions and corollaries to God’s Law. The net result was the creation of a great burden of rules and regulations, of which they pronounced themselves as, in particular, the Sabbath Police.

Now they had developed quite a list of prohibitions pertaining to the Sabbath. But, keep in mind, these were their inventions, not God’s. For instance, since reaping was not allowed on the Sabbath, the Pharisees tightened up the idea of reaping and said that picking was the same as reaping. Threshing was wrong so they expanded that to say that rubbing their hands together with grain inbetween was equivalent to threshing. Grinding was a violation and when they saw the disciples chewing the grain they accused them of grinding with their teeth.

So, there was no way that anyone would not feel the oppression of these burdensome rules and restrictions of the Pharisees. And, here the Pharisees were gloating that they had caught Jesus and His disciples in the very act of violating the Sabbath. Their buttons were about to burst with pride.

But, since they were doing this in the name of God and God’s Law, and were full of hypocrisy and pride, you can imagine that Jesus was not very happy with how the Pharisees were crushing sincere God-fearing people with their burdensome regulations. So, . . .

3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?

Jesus was here referring to 1 Samuel 21:1-6 and it’s clear to me that Jesus was doing more than just jogging their memory. He was mocking them for their ignorance and their abusiveness. He was rebuking them for their hypocrisy. He was bursting their bubble of pride.

You see, as part of the wardrobe of the Pharisees, they would have a box attached to their forehead and one attached to their wrist. Within the box were portions of the Scriptures. It goes back to Deuteronomy where God is urging His people to know His commands and thus instructs them to bind them on the forehead.

Deuteronomy 6:8 (NIV) 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

They took that literally, but missed the point while doing it. The Lord’s commands were no closer to the minds of these Pharisees by being in their little boxes on their foreheads than if they had buried them 6 feet under ground. It was all for show, like standing on the street corner so everyone could see them praying.

Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and their motives. O, they likely knew the story of David eating the showbread from the temple when his men were hungry, but they wouldn’t want to be reminded of it since it would undermine their case against Christ. So, Jesus was pulling back the cover that was keeping these Pharisees blind to the truth of God’s Word, truth of which they wanted everyone to think they were great experts.

So Jesus reminds them, (David entered . . .) 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.”

Jesus’ argument was simple. “You Pharisees are expecting something of Me and My disciples that you would excuse of David and his men. What you need to realize, gentlemen, is that I am greater than David and if David could override the Law without blame, how much more could the Messiah do so?”

5 Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

So, what did Jesus mean when He said, I am the Lord of the Sabbath?

First, Jesus is saying that He and His Father were the creators/inventors of the Sabbath. Together, they wrote the book on the Sabbath. If there is any question about what is or is not acceptable to do on the Sabbath, Jesus should know. He invented it. He gave it to all of mankind. He is Lord of the Sabbath.

Second, Jesus is making it clear that acts of mercy and compassion are not just acceptable on the Sabbath, they exemplify the Sabbath. What could be more fitting for Sabbath rest than to be refreshed and restored, nourished and healed through that rest? Jesus is the Lord, the overseer of this day of rest. It is not to be a burden, but a gift where acts of mercy and compassion are very appropriate.

Third, Jesus is punctuating the fact that as Lord of the Sabbath He is Lord of time. Mark, when telling the same story, adds the word “even” when quoting Jesus in Mark 2:28: 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” This further highlights that Jesus’ lordship extends beyond the Sabbath, beyond one day in seven to every day of the week. Jesus is Lord of time; all time.

Fourth, and this may sound redundent, but we must not miss it. When Jesus says He is Lord of the Sabbath He is saying it is His day. It is the Lord’s Day. It belongs to Him.

Now that is quite an ascertion. Does He have the right, the authority, to claim the day as His? Most certainly, if He is one with God the Creator and we are His creation. The day belongs to Him and He rightfully is Lord of this day. So, when we raise a fuss about God’s intrusion into our schedule and the use of our day, we need to be reminded that the day does not belong to us. It belongs to the Lord. It is the Lord’s Day.

Now, let’s go back to the story. Let’s look at Mark’s opening words to the story. Mark 2:23: 23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.

Can you imagine what it was like to be with Jesus on the Sabbath? Would it not have been one of the most joyful things for a person to experience? They were out for a Sabbath afternoon leisurely stroll. They were likely conversing and trading stories and generally having a good time. I suspect it’s possible they would occasionally burst out in song. They likely spoke of the beauty they saw. Maybe even exchanged some jokes while they walked along. Grabbing a snack of kernels of grain as they walk just added to their enjoyment, especially as hunger settled in.

Such a picture of joyful fellowship with Jesus was simply too much for the Pharisees to handle. It had to be stopped. If Jesus got away with this kind of behavior, who knows how many more people would begin to call the Sabbath a delight?

You see folks, God has given us the Sabbath principle, the Fourth Commandment, for our good, for our benefit, so that our relationship with Him would grow strong and increase in joy, so that our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ would flourish and spur us on to love and good deeds.

Not only was man created before the Sabbath was created, but the purpose for giving the Sabbath as a gift to man was for man’s benefit, for his good.

Mark adds the line in verse 27: Mark 2:27 Then He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

The fact that the Sabbath command was given for our good can be said of all of God’s commands. They are given for our good and they, unlike the commands of the Pharisees, are not burdensome. The apostle John affirms this in his first letter.

1 John 5:2-3 (NIV) 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome,

The Pharisees majored in creating burdensome laws. They were oppressive and they distorted the image of God in the minds of those who believed that the Pharisees spoke on behalf of God. And the Pharisees continue to impact many today when instead of seeing that Jesus was correcting their abuse of the Sabbath, they interpret Jesus’ actions as doing away with the Sabbath altogether.

You see, there are some today that say it is just Phariseeism to consider the Fourth Commandment as being valid today. They take Christ’s word that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath to mean that you can do whatever you like on the Lord’s Day. The day was made for man, for what he wants. Furthermore, they say, since Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, He decided that we can just blow it apart and that is why He dealt with the Pharisees as He did.

Folks, though we may not verbally say that is our theology of the Sabbath principle, as a culture our practice expresses this theology more often than we care to admit.

For clearly, Jesus was dealing with the abuse of the Sabbath, that is the additions and extensions to the Law by the Pharisees, He was not dealing with the use for which God had formed and established the Sabbath from the beginning of creation.

Furthermore, and I am quoting Pastor Alistair Begg when he says, “Jesus was not asserting His lordship over the Sabbath merely to prepare men for His abolishing the commandment in just a matter of a short time for it would be a strange and uncharacteristic action on the part of Jesus and it would in no sense be in keeping with or in accord with anything else He ever did.

“Christ affirmed the place of the Lord’s Day. He affirmed its abiding application. He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He was guarding it against the distortion of the Pharisees and seeking to make sure that no one deprives men of that which is given for his good. Indeed, when Jesus says, ‘I am Lord over the Sabbath,’ He is affirming the fact He desires that men and women enter into all the benefits that the Lord’s Day brings.” (Alistair Begg, Truth for Life radio broadcast, March 27, 2008)

So, I conclude, that whatever our Lord’s Days are going to look like, if we are obedient to the Sabbath principle, the primary character of this day must be that it testifies to the truth that Jesus is Lord even of the Sabbath. The day belongs to Him and He has established it for our benefit. Thus, if we allow Him to truly lead us in how we construct the day, what we put into the day, we can be assured that it will bring rest to our souls, refreshment to our bodies, increased love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and a deeper worship of our Lord.

As an addendum to this sermon, I am providing you with an excerpt from the April 4, 2008 radio broadcast Truth for Life with Pastor Alistair Begg speaking on the Fourth Commandment.

In this addendum he addressed three New Testament texts that are frequently sited as arguments for why the Fourth Commandment is no longer valid for us today. Galatians 4, Colossians 2 and Romans 14. These are important texts to understand and I want you to be familiar with them. I may be able to give some attention to them next week, but just in case I don’t have time, I am providing you with this addendum.


If we are obedient to the Sabbath principle, the primary character of this day must be that it testifies to the truth that Jesus is Lord even of the Sabbath. The day belongs to Him and He has established it for our benefit. Thus, if we allow Him to truly lead us in how we construct the day, what we put into the day, we can be assured that it will bring rest to our souls, refreshment to our bodies, increased love for our brothers and sisters in Christ and a deeper worship of our Lord.

This is our goal in observing the Lord’s Day, in making preparations in advance so we have the fewest possible obstructions to our worship, to our reflection of God’s goodness, to our fellowship with fellow believers, to our rest, to our engagement in acts of mercy and compassion, and to our increased desire to walk humbly with our Lord.

If you are interested in participating in an experiment in applying what we are learning about the Sabbath principle to a given upcoming Sunday, would you write next to your name on the registration form the word Sabbath?

To the end that God is praised and we are renewed in the joy of the Lord, Amen.

Turn to Galatians 4:8-11 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Paul speaks very scathingly about what these Galatians were doing. What are these weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? He iterates them in verse 10 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! In verse 11 you have him shaking his head in disgust, 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. “I came here and proclaimed to you the grace of God. I told you that you couldn’t gain acceptance with God by climbing up this ladder, but rather that the law of God confronted you with your need of a Savior and that if you trusted in Christ you would discover that He justifies the ungodly. Why then are you going back to these weak and miserable principles?”

What were they doing? They were seeking by means of observing special days and months and seasons and years to build their hope of acceptance with God. And Paul says this is a superstitious futility. And it must not be.

This is one of the passages people use for saying that the fourth Commandment and the Sabbath are not around anymore. After all, look at what Paul says in Galatians 4.

Now, you are sensible people and you must judge. Do you want to conclude, on the strength of what you have learned so far in the Bible and what you understand, do you want to conclude that Paul is referring to the moral Law of God as weak and miserable principles? You can’t. Not if you know the book of Romans. You can’t. Yet so many do.

Colossians 2 uses the same kind of approach. Colossians 2:16-17 (NIV) 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

People say, there you go. (This text says) We’re not supposed to be concerned about this matter of the Sabbath day.

Now the Colossian heresy was this: false teachers were saying that faith in Christ was not enough to provide knowledge and wisdom and power and salvation, and so these false teachers came around and said, “You cannot know God in the fullest sense by simply trusting in Christ alone, you need to make sure you are observing these dietary laws, that you are observing these religious festivals, that you are watching these New Moon celebrations, that you are attending to all these various special Sabbath days that have been instituted.

And Paul is saying, “Don’t let anyone come to you and give you that garbage. You know your Bibles well enough. You know that isn’t the case.”

So I ask you again. Do you think what he is saying here in Colossians 2 is that the Sabbath day is the fourth Commandment which is being vetoed from the Decalogue?

Or, and lastly, in Romans 14:5-8 where it comes to a classic head - Romans 14:5-8 (NIV) 5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

You will notice that at the beginning of the chapter this has to do with disputable matters. Because in verse 2 he says: Romans 14:2 (NIV) 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.

So, the guy who is weak is the guy who says, “you can’t do this.” The chap who is strong says, “you can do it if you want.” We tend to think of it the other way around. We tend to cast the strong man as the man who says, “You can’t do this” and the weak man as the one who says, “I can do as I like.” It’s the other way around. Look at verse 3:

Romans 14:3-4 (NIV) 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

It’s in that context then that he goes on to talk about the day. It’s the same question. Do you think then that the day to which he refers is the fourth Commandment? Do you think he is referring now to what has been this day of resurrection, this amazing discovery of the fullness of the Spirit, this that has been sanctified by the arrival of Christ, and has taken on such a perspective for these early believers, do you think that what Paul is doing here is saying, “Don’t let anyone stand up as your pastor and tell you that the Christian has to comply with the Fourth Commandment?” Do you think that is what he is saying? If you conclude yes, then you can patently disregard all that I have said or about to say by way of conclusion.

Now, here is the question for the Biblical interpreter. 5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.

What is the day? What’s he talking about? This is what it means to interpret the Bible. What is the day? Do you know the fact of the matter? We don’t know what it is? Because he doesn’t actually articulate it.

So, there are a number of things that it might be. For example, it is distinctly possible that the day that one man considers more sacred than another, who in this case would be the weak man, right? Because he’s saying, “This is something you’ve got to do.” The strong man is saying, “This is a matter of indifference.” So, it is distinctly possible that the day is the seventh day, the Jewish Sabbath. And that here you have individuals in the Roman church and while they worship on the Lord’s Day, ala Acts 27, he still believes that he must shut up his shop on the Saturday.

So, he is around the fellowship saying, “I’m glad to be here to sing the songs with you today or tonight, but yesterday I shut up my shop. And do you know what? You should have shut up your shop as well because yesterday was the Sabbath and you did not observe it.”

If that is the case, Paul is saying, “Don’t let this guy tie you up in knots because he believes he must shut up his shop. Because that was the seventh day, this is the first day, this is the Lord’s Day, and he can do with his day as he chooses. He should not be guilty of condemnation and you must not look upon him with contempt.

But, do you honestly think that the day is the Lord’s Day and what Paul is saying here is that it is the weak person who has a concern about the Lord’s Day and it is the strong person who says, “Hey, you know, when ol’ weako here finally figures his Bible out he’ll discover that every day is the Lord’s Day.” Now, be careful of that because every day is in a sense the Lord ’s Day. But, it is not the Lord’s Day in the sense that the first day of the week has been given to us as a unique privilege to enjoy. And most of the people that I meet who tell me that every day is the Lord’s day are concerned to make Sunday like Monday through Saturday rather than to make Monday through Saturday to look like a Sunday.

If we were to allow that Romans 14:5, the “day” there is the Sabbath Day, then what Paul would be saying is this: that the fourth commandment has no abiding obligation. That the first day of the week has no prescribed religious significance. And, that actually observing the Lord’s Day is a sign of a weak Christian because he hasn’t understood that all the days are the same.

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