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Sabbath and The Lord's Day


June 2, 2024|Sabbath and The Lord's Day|Mark 2:23-3:6

JD Cutler


Click here for the sermon audio


This morning we are going back to the gospel of Mark. The encounters with the Pharisees that we find in our text today are recorded back to back in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. You will find them in Mark chapter 2, beginning at verse 23. 

This was very early in the earthly ministry of Jesus and yet the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders is growing. 

They are upset that he says what they consider to be blasphemous things like Mark 2:10-11 (ESV) 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” That he eats with tax collectors and sinners. That his disciples do not fast like they do. 

It is in the midst of this rising tension that we find our text today. 


Mark sets the scene with two words, One Sabbath…

To understand the importance of these words, we need to understand what the Sabbath is and how it relates to Jewish life. 


What is the Sabbath? One day out of seven that is set aside for rest and worship, a ceasing of labor for the purpose of worship, reflection, and rest.


When was it established?

Many of us are quick to dismiss a conversation about the Sabbath because after all, it's part of the Old Testament law, and we are not under the law. We place it in  the same category as temple sacrifice, circumcision, etc…

And while it was certainly one of the covenant signs of the Mosaic covenant, it did not begin there. 

The Sabbath was established in the beginning of creation. 

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.

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Set it apart. 

Thus God established not only the seventh day but the pattern of 6 days of work to 1 day of rest. The Sabbath is rooted in creation, not Mosaic law. 

Furthermore, before Moses and the Israelites ever reached Mount Sinaia to receive the ten commandments, God was already teaching them with the Sabbath day. 

Exodus 16:26 (ESV) 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.”

Exodus 16:27-30 (ESV) 27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.


Then God codified it in his law as well as expanded it. 

Exodus 20:8-11 (ESV) 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.


At the end of Moses’ time on Mount Sinai meeting with God, God says this. 


Exodus 31:12-17 (ESV) 12 And the LORD said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”


God roots their observance of the Sabbath in his creation ordained Sabbath. It can also be seen throughout the history of Israel, one of the first things to go when the children of Israel rebelled was the observation of the Sabbath. 

In Nehemiah’s reforms, one of the first things he did was call the people back to keeping the Sabbath. 


When God, through Isaiah was calling his people back to himself, he said, Isaiah 58:13-14 (ESV) 13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”


What is it about the Sabbath that is so central to their relationship with God? 

It is the weekly reminder that they are not their own, that they serve someone besides themselves, their bellies, and their pleasure. It is a weekly refresher where the mind is turned from the toil and labor of life to the rest that we have in God. It is a weekly rejuvenation as we sing and worship side by side with the family of God. 

Do you see why, when the Sabbath is rejected, the congregation of Israel was harmed?


In the most simplest definition, the Sabbath was one day in seven on which Israel was commanded to cease from their labors and rest through worship and reflection. 

The problem was, that by Jesus’ day, the Jews had turned it into a burden of law-keeping that robbed men and women of the rest, joy, and worship that should have been theirs. It was a day of rules and regulations rather than rest and refreshment.

This is the scene we step into when we read. One sabbath…


Let’s pick up our text this morning starting in Mark 2 at verse 23 and continuing on through verse 6 of chapter 3, which most likely covers two subsequent Sabbaths, grouped together here for emphasis. 


Mark 2:23 - 3:6 (ESV) 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.


 What is Jesus doing here?

Is he merely defending his disciples, or is he taking the opportunity to explain the right relationship to the Sabbath?

I believe it is the second, and that he does so by emphasizing the reason for it as well as the spirit of it. 

In the first part of our sermon I want to dig into this encounter and in the latter part I would like to make some applications for us as we think about how we relate to the Sabbath as Christians. 


Let’s look at the first by examining the incident in the field under the heading…


The Reason for the Sabbath

Mark 2:23 - 3:6 (ESV) 23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

According to the Pharisees there were probably at least two violations, if not three happening here. 

One, they were traveling, which was rigidly regulated by the Pharisees. 

Two, they considered the plucking of the heads of grain as reaping, which was not allowed. 

In Luke, we find this additional contextual detail, that they were (ESV) rubbing them in their hands. This would separate the outside and chaff from the edible inside. The Pharisees considered this threshing, which was also forbidden. 

Now, first we acknowledge that what they were doing was at least allowable on any other day. They were not stealing. 

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 (ESV) 24 “If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. 25 If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.

It wasn’t their actions that were unlawful, it was the day on which they were doing them that caused the problem with the Pharisees. 

As we have seen, if this is a violation of the Sabbath, this is a big deal. What will Jesus say?

And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”

Jesus is not saying that they don’t know what is in their scriptures, he is saying, don’t you understand what you have read concerning David? This great hero of the faith, that you revere.

David, his men, and the high priest violated God’s ceremonial law to meet the very real need that David and his men had as God’s anointed future king as he fled from Saul who wanted to kill him. 


One commentator said, like a good lawyer, Jesus appeals to the precedence of Scripture that they both knew and trusted to defend his clients, here, his disciples. They are not doing anything wrong. They are serving God by following Jesus and they are allowed to be sustained in their service, just as David was and God held him guiltless for it. 


In Matthew, more of the conversation is recorded for us. Jesus goes on. Matthew 12:5 (ESV) 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 

The priests certainly worked on the Sabbath, they placed the showbread, they made the sacrifices, etc… and yet God does not hold them to be Sabbath breakers. 


Jesus is showing them that somewhere they have missed it, because according to their strict Sabbath rules, both David and the Priests would stand condemned. 

Jesus is showing them that somewhere they have missed it, because according to their strict Sabbath rules, both David and the Priests would stand condemned. 

They had missed the reason for the Sabbath. It was not to make them holy by keeping it, it was to remind them that they were holy because God had set them apart to be his people. It was a gift, not a burden. 

27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”


First, it was a gift before it was a commandment. 

(ESV) 29 See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days.

You don’t have to go out and work, God has ensured that you have what you need so that you can rest. In this way, the Sabbath was made for man. That man might, as Isaiah says, delight in it and therefore delight in the Lord. 


The Pharisees had turned its purpose upside down. God did not create the Sabbath and then create man to fulfill it. He created man and then gave him the Sabbath to help fulfill and sustain him. Do you realize that Adam’s first full day was the Sabbath?

God created man on day 6 and his first full day was the Sabbath. We’ll come back to that in a moment. 


But what had the Pharisees done with this gift? They had made it a burden. Where it was better to starve, to suffer, to refrain from doing good in order to keep the Sabbath. How backwards is that?


You may not realize, so far removed from the Old Covenant, is that God did not see fit to outline the minute details of what keeping the Sabbath looked like. 

So much so that they did not know exactly what to do with the first Sabbath breaker when it happened in Exodus. 

But as time went more specific rules were added in the tradition of the Rabbis. 

The distance one could walk without being considered work. 

The weight someone could carry without being considered work. 

Every generation adding to the tradition. It is estimated that by Jesus’ time it was a complex system, that when later written down in the Talmud came to 24 pages of rules concerning the Sabbath. 

There were rules on what you could do in treating someone medically. If they fell and broke their arm and it was not life threatening you could not treat it because it was not life threatening. 

John Macarthur uses a great example of a building collapsing. You could move the stones in case there was anyone who needed to be rescued. If they were merely injured, although you could remove them, you could not treat them unless it was life threatening. If they were already dead, you could not move them because that would be work. 

Now imagine that level of prescription, applied to every single aspect of daily life. Your whole day would be consumed with thinking carefully about what you could and could not do, or worse thinking of ways that you could have what you wanted while staying within the rules. 


Jesus rejected their man-made traditions by appealing to scripture first, then trying to help them understand the reason for the Sabbath in the first place, and finally by clearly stating that he was the only one that could perfectly instruct them on the right relation to the Sabbath. 8 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. Jesus here claims, just as he did when he said that he had the authority to forgive sins, that he is God, and as God, he is sovereign over all, including the Sabbath. If anyone could help us understand the reason for the Sabbath, it is Jesus. 


Now we are not told what immediately happens after this with these Pharisees. But as the story picks up you can see that they obviously have not listened to Jesus about the Sabbath. Let’s pick up the second encounter as we look at…


The Spirit of the Sabbath

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.

In their minds, they were in no doubt that his disciples were Sabbath breakers, but they wanted to catch Jesus breaking the Sabbath so that they might have concrete evidence against him.

They know he heals everywhere he goes, and they know that wherever he goes, the sick, the blind, and the lame seek him out and he heals them. So what would he do when they came to him on the Sabbath?

They didn’t have to look far, there in the midst was a man with a withered hand. The indication is that this man was not born this way, but had been injured and therefore could not work. In the Pharisees mind, to heal this man on the Sabbath would be a violation because this is not a life threatening injury. If they possessed the ability to heal, they would tell this man to come back another day. But not Jesus. 

3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 

Jesus calls him to come forward in the midst of everyone, that what he was about to do would be plain and obvious to everyone there. And then he poses a question that gets to the very heart or spirit of the Sabbath.

4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” 

This actually seems to be a summary of the conversation. In Matthew, it is the Pharisees that ask the question to which Jesus responds with a question and then a statement. 

Matthew 12:11-12 (ESV) “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

All of this is summarized by Mark as a question, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?

Jesus’ challenge gets to the heart. If you have a sheep who falls in a pit, to leave it there and do nothing would be harmful, maybe even fatal. To get it out would be work and thus a violation of your understanding of the Sabbath. But of course you would get it out. Even the hardest hearted Pharisee sees that the act of mercy is good, even on the Sabbath. 

Then why, Jesus says, can’t you see that the act of mercy extended to this man is good, even on the Sabbath?

Even the hardest hearted Pharisee sees that the act of mercy is good, even on the Sabbath. 

But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Their refusal to see the wickedness of their own hearts in relation to the Sabbath and this man, made Jesus both angry and broken hearted. They refused to see the spirit of the Sabbath over their laws of the Sabbath. 

The word used for anger here is wrath. Jesus was enraged that they had taken his good gift of rest and turned it into a reason to withhold good and mercy from another.


And then he restored the man completely. This cemented their desire to get rid of Jesus, which would ultimately culminate in the mock trials and his death on a Roman cross.

On these Sabbath days, Jesus did not violate the 4th commandment. He upheld it perfectly, and in doing so he showed both the reason it was given as well as the spirit of the day. He reclaimed it for its rightful God given purposes.  


So what can we learn from this interaction and how we ourselves should relate to the Sabbath?

It is an interesting thing for us to consider. 

I mean, if you think about it, it is the only commandment from the ten that we generally ignore as Christians. 

It is one of the ten commandments, on par with thou shall have no other Gods before me and thou shall not murder. Its violation in the Mosaic covenant was a capital offense. And yet when was the last time you had a conversation about the Sabbath in your family, in your Sunday school class?

On the other hand, there is some biblical basis for treating it differently; it is the only one of the ten commandments not explicitly reiterated by either Jesus or his disciples for the church. There is no passage that says, keep the Sabbath, like there is when Paul says do not lie to one another. And there is no fuller explanation like Jesus gives when he says,  27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.


What now?

First, we recognize that the debate about the Sabbath and how it relates to Christians has been ongoing through the history of the church all the way back to the first century church, and we do not have time this morning to even scratch the surface of the history of it. Which serves as a great reminder that in approaching our subject this morning we seek to carefully maintain a Biblical balance and tension, between making what is not binding to the new covenant binding, and making sure that we do not ignore something that should be part of our experience in the New Covenant. 


Second, we acknowledge that since it is rooted in creation and not in the Mosaic covenant, we should not just ignore it or dismiss it.


Third, we have to ask, is our Sunday, what the Bible calls the Lord’s Day, the same as the Jewish Sabbath?


Different Christian groups answer this question differently, but traditionally as Baptists we see a distinction between the two. Jesus is our rest, he fulfilled the law, and we are not bound to the ceremonial law contained within the Mosaic covenant.

However, on the other hand, we have always traditionally seen if not an explicit connection between the two, an implicit connection one, Sunday has often been referred to as the Christian Sabbath. In the same way the Sabbath was set aside for rest and worship for the Jews, the first day of the week, after the pattern established by our Lord Jesus and continued by his church, was and is similarly set aside for rest and worship. 

In America, our whole workweek was scheduled around this. Monday through Friday was for work, Saturday was for recreation, and Sunday was for rest, worship, fellowship, and charity. 

In the same way the Sabbath was set aside for rest and worship for the Jews, the first day of the week, after the pattern established by our Lord Jesus and continued by his church, was and is similarly set aside for rest and worship. 

For most of the church's existence, this was true. Sunday was the Lord’s Day, affecting even the very nature of our capitalist society. In some of your own lifetimes, you can attest to the fact that on Sunday, all the stores were closed, little league games were never held on Sunday, and it was viewed as a time when you went to church, even often having dinner on the grounds, before coming back for some sort of discipleship training and then a second Sunday service. Even in my childhood, this was the common church experience.

Then society started changing, why stay closed on Sunday, we could make more money if we were open. The NFL started broadcasting games on Sunday.

Instead of refusing to participate in these, the church by and large conformed. 

Soon Sunday night services started disappearing, then Sunday lunches went, until church fit within a neat little 1-2 hour window where we could spend the rest of the day how we wanted.  

...until church fit within a neat little 1-2 hour window where we could spend the rest of the day how we wanted.  

But what have we lost? One theologian says, imagine telling a math teacher that he had to teach all the same curriculum, but he had to do it in half the time. Isn’t that exactly what we did with the teaching ministry of the church when we did away with the second Sunday service. But listen, hear me when I say this; this isn’t a longing for the past or the way we did things or the good old days. This is not even a plea to reinstate the second service.


I want you to understand the implications, I want you to wrestle with the reality that many of us treat Sunday as just another day for us to do what we want to do.

We sound a whole lot like the Israelites in Isaiah’s day.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, 

if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the LORD, 


If this is the Lord’s Day, the whole thing is his. 

Therefore, whatever our church’s schedule is, can you say that this is how you treat Sunday? 

Listen, Brittany and I have had to do some soul searching about our own view of Sunday this week. 


God sets the pattern from the very beginning, six days of work, one day of rest and worship. I don’t think we are at liberty to set that aside because it's inconvenient or Timmy has baseball or our favorite team is playing. 

What would it look like in your life if you were to treat Sunday as the Lord’s Day?

What things would you have to cut out? What things would you have to add? What priorities would need to shift?


You say, Pastor, I'd have to completely reorient my life. 

Which is kind of the point, friends. God gave us a way to orient our lives around him. 

A weekly time of rest and worship that is for our good. A gift that refreshes us, renews us, and refocuses us so that we can go work the rest of the week out of our identity in Christ.

God gave us a way to orient our lives around him. 

How do we rediscover this good gift that God has given his children?

We look to Jesus and his explanation of the reason and the spirit of the Sabbath and we apply it to our own walk with him. 

The Lord’s Day is not about a list of rules, or a list of things you can and cannot do, any more than that was what the Sabbath was about. 


The reason we are commanded to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together is because God knows that we need it.

Now, you can technically check that box by coming to Sunday morning worship and you can go about your day doing whatever you want. But what about the spirit behind it?


It was given to you, for your good, and for the good of others. 

When you assemble here, Paul says you encourage one another, you bear one another’s burdens, you minister to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. You point one another to Christ and the rest we have in him, you serve one another for the good of one another. 

The Lord’s Day is a day set aside for rest and worship, absolutely, but it’s also a day that our minds are to be drawn fully around Christ and that we are to do good towards those around us. We do not keep the Lord’s Day so we will be Christians, because we are Christians we keep the Lord’s Day. 


Like Nehemiah did with Israel, I don’t think the church will see the kind of health and vitality we long for unless we reorient ourselves to delighting in the Lord’s Day. My prayer is that through God’s word, through Jesus pronouncing his Lordship over the Sabbath, we would be informed, challenged, and encouraged in the way we understand the Lord’s Day.


Let us pray. 



                                      



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