The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2021
The Sabbath was Created for You!
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”(NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
According to AAA more than 37 million people traveled 50 miles or more for the Memorial Day weekend. The vast majority of these people (just over 34 million) went on a road trip. Two and one half million traveled by air. Two hundred thirty-seven thousand traveled by “other means”— such as bus or train. Where did all of these people go? They went to the beaches. They went to the lakes. They went to the mountains. They went to the national parks. They went to visit with their family and friends. After fourteen long months of lockdowns and shutdowns and quarantine-in-place orders, now that the COVID-19 vaccines are readily available people are traveling wherever they need to go in order to enjoy some rest and relaxation.
This makes absolutely perfect sense, doesn’t it. We all know that both our body and our mind need a “break” on a regular basis. If we don’t get a little bit of R & R our body and our mind will suffer negative effects. We know this to be true because we have experienced it on a personal level.
What is true for our body and what is true for our mind is even more true for our soul! That is why the Almighty and all-loving Creator designated the seventh day of Creation as the day of “rest.” (See Genesis 2:2, 3) That’s why the Lord God commanded His people in our Old Testament lesson for today, “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you…the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God” (See Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Our sermon text for today gives us an opportunity to examine the Sabbath day and how it applies to us and to our lives today. With that goal in mind let’s study this text under the theme: The Sabbath was Created for You! There are two things we want to examine today. First let’s see how sinful people distort the Sabbath day. Then let’s see why and how God designed the Sabbath day.
The incident recorded here in our text is simple and straightforward. Mark tells us, “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.” From our perspective as New Testament Christians this is indeed pretty simple and straightforward, wouldn’t you agree? From the perspective of the Pharisees, however, this was nothing short of a spiritual scandal! That’s why Mark tells us, “The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’”
This is a very good example of how sinful people can distort God’s Law— including the Sabbath law! The Pharisees had added so many of their own man-made rules and regulations to God’s Sabbath law that they had distorted God’s design for the Sabbath day! The Lord God very clearly told His people that they were not allowed to do any “work” on the Sabbath day. He made it clear that the Sabbath day was to be a day of rest— “even during the plowing season and harvest” (Exodus 34:21). At the same time, the Lord God made it very clear to His people, “If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain” (Deuteronomy 23:25). In their obsession for keeping their own rules and regulations the Pharisees confused and conflated these two commands by equating what Jesus’ disciples were doing with “harvesting.”
Why did the Pharisees do this? First and foremost, they were trying to find a way to bring a charge against Jesus. As a Rabbi Jesus was considered responsible for the conduct of His disciples. By not chastising the disciples for “picking some heads of grain” on a Sabbath day, the Pharisees were effectively saying to Jesus, “What’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be this ‘great teacher’ and yet you are allowing your disciples to do something that is contrary to the Law!”
Jesus poured ice cold water on what the Pharisees considered to be a flagrant violation of the Sabbath law by reminding the Pharisees of what David did when he was fleeing for his life from King Saul. When David and his companions arrived at the Tabernacle, they were hungry. So the priest gave them “the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat.” And yet, not even the Pharisees would have accused David of sinning. So if David wasn’t guilty of sin for eating the “consecrated bread” when he was hungry, the disciples weren’t guilty of sinning when they “picked some heads of grain” because they were hungry!
Jesus then highlighted the failure and the futility of the argument the Pharisees were trying to make. He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Very literally this sentence reads, “The Sabbath was created for the sake of man, and not man for the sake of the Sabbath.” This is the verse that gave me our theme for today: The Sabbath was Created for You!
Even in the perfection of the Garden of Eden, the Lord wanted Adam and Eve to know how important it was for them to have a regular day of “rest.” As the God who lives in the “eternal present,” the Lord also knew how a day of “rest” would become critically important after Adam and Eve rebelled against their loving Creator and plunged the entire human race into a life-long battle against thorns and thistles, pains and hardships. Even as mortal sinful human beings we know that we need to have a regular time for rest and relaxation. We know how important this is for our physical body. We know how important this is for our mind.
As the dearly beloved adopted children of God we know that this is even more important for our soul! Every single day that we are here on this earth our soul is engaged in an epic spiritual battle— a battle that has eternal consequences. That’s why the apostle Paul says to us in Ephesians chapter six, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:1, 2). If we do not recognize that our soul, our faith, is being attacked each and every day by the devil, by the world and by our own sinful flesh, then we could easily become oblivious to how “weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28) the Christian part of us might be! That’s why our Savior reminds us, “The Sabbath was created for the sake of man”!
As Christians we need to provide our soul with rest and relaxation on a regular basis. How do we do that? One of the best ways is to gather together with our brothers and sisters in the faith— right here in God’s house or on Zoom. But this is also where we need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of the Pharisees and distort the Sabbath day by adding our own rules and regulations to what God commands us. How might this happen? Let’s think it through. If we think that simply attending church— at least now and then— is “enough” to keep our faith healthy and strong we are badly mistaken. Try feeding your physical body on a similar schedule and see how well that works. If we come to church thinking to ourselves, “This is going to be boring”— it will be. If we spend our time in church daydreaming about all the “other things” we could/should be doing, then our time in God’s house is being wasted. If we say to ourselves, “I probably won’t get much of anything out of the pastor’s sermon,” that can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get out of the sermon only as much as you put into the sermon. If you view attending church with a “consumer attitude,” that is, an attitude that says, “What’s in this for me?” then you are distorting God’s design for the Sabbath day.
What is God’s design for the Sabbath day? God designed the Sabbath day to give you an opportunity to step out of the hustle and bustle of your everyday life and come into His presence on a regular basis. God designed the Sabbath day to give you an opportunity to feed your soul with the nutritious life-giving food of His holy Word and His holy Supper. God designed the Sabbath day to give you an opportunity to grow in your understanding and in your knowledge of what your God has revealed to you on the pages of His holy Scriptures so that when you go back out into the “real world,” you can use that knowledge and use that understanding in your everyday life. God designed the Sabbath day to give you an opportunity to kneel at the foot of the cross (Pointing at the cross) in pure loving astonishment of what your God was willing to do to save you from your sins. God designed the Sabbath day so that you could join together with the members of your spiritual family to offer up prayers to the God of heaven, to thank Him for His amazing grace, and to sing songs of praise and adoration to the God of your salvation. God designed the Sabbath day to give you an opportunity to gather together in the safety and solace of His house and hear the Son of God, your Lord, your Savior, your Brother Jesus say to you, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
We might wonder how something as simple and straightforward as Jesus’ disciples “picking some heads of grain” on a Sabbath day caused so much consternation for the Pharisees— until we remember how the Pharisees had distorted the very purpose of the Sabbath day with all of their man-made rules and regulations. My prayer this morning is that we will always remember the true purpose of the Sabbath day. Remember that the good Lord “created the Sabbath for the sake of mankind.” Remember how the good Lord designed the Sabbath day to provide your soul with the spiritual rest and relaxation that it needs.
To God be the glory!