JESUS IS LORD OF THE SABBATH
Luke 6:1-11, Key Verse: 6:5
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’”
Luke chapter 6 is an extension of chapter 5, where we learned about being new wineskins in Jesus. In today’s passage there are two events related to the Sabbath. Through them we learn about the Sabbath’s true meaning with a new wineskin perspective, contrasted with the old wineskin perspective of the Pharisees. The Sabbath is one of God’s greatest blessings upon mankind. It was given at creation and pre-dates the coming of the Law. What does the word Sabbath mean? “Sabbath” means “rest.” God wants people to have rest through fellowship with him. Without rest in God people become restless and perish in their sins. Let’s learn what amazing things Jesus did and taught on the Sabbath and how we can have true rest.
First, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath
This passage starts with Jesus and his disciples going through the grainfields. The disciples were hungry and began to pick some of the heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. They were obviously very hungry, they were having plain, unsweetened cereal, without utensils. There is a saying, “hunger has no shame.” When we are hungry, we eat whatever we can find whether it is gourmet food or not, like college students who eat packages of ramen that cost only 30 cents for consecutive meals throughout the week. The disciples were making a mess as one corner of a grainfield was being devastated. When the Pharisees saw this they asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” This is unusual behavior, to stand there and watch someone eat, just standing there. Like an elementary school lunch hour monitor. They were good at watching, not much else. In the last passage we saw that the Pharisees were watching the disciples and Jesus eat at the home of a tax collector, and they were incensed. They also asked Jesus why his disciples do not fast and pray like John’s disciples. The Pharisees seemed to be everywhere and very annoying. It is as if they became like stalkers. They were not happy with themselves and had very few good things to say about other people. They were legalistic, and focused on rules of the Law and not the Spirit of the Law. When they saw the carefree disciples they looked happy, and they despised them for it. In contemporary terms we could say the Pharisees were “haters”.
Here, they accused the disciples of doing what was unlawful, which is working on the Sabbath by - harvesting and winnowing wheat. The fourth Commandment in Deuteronomy chapter 5 says “Observe the Sabbath by keeping it holy as the Lord your God has commanded you.” (Dt 5:12) When God gave this command, he gave the Israelites instructions not to work, and taught them that they should remember that they were slaves in Egypt, on the Sabbath. Therefore, this special day was intended to give spiritual rest and to be a day of spiritual reflection and gratitude towards God’s deliverance. But the Pharisees made many rules and regulations to govern the Sabbath, in particular governing how much work can be done. They made 4 major orders, divided into 39 categories, with 1,261 regulations. There are regulations which give restrictions not only on harvesting, but also on writing, including doing calculations. Many of these rules exist even today and govern technology and cleanliness too. One person at my workplace told the story about his brother who touched a cloth that had mildew on it, and afterwards he panicked and had to call his rabbi immediately to find out what he should do to be cleansed from mildew.
How did Jesus respond to the Pharisees accusatory question about doing what they saw as unlawful? Jesus answered their question with a question, “Have you never read…..” And Jesus went on to tell them the story of David and his men as recorded in 1st Samuel chapter 21. Jesus knew how to debate with these tricky Pharisees, answering a question with a question is known as a difficult but skillful way to debate, as we see Jesus does this throughout the gospels. In 1st Samuel Chapter 21, David and his men flee from Saul who was jealous and wanted to kill David. They were political refugees in fear for their lives and they were desperate. David entered the temple and asked Ahimelek the high priest if he had any bread. Ahimelek said he did not have any ordinary bread, but he had consecrated bread which was meant for consecrated priests. David asked for this bread and gave some to his companions. God did not punish David for this action even though he broke the Levitical Law. God had mercy on David and his men who were hungry and had not eaten in a long time. Through this Jesus taught that God is not legalistic. Using this story Jesus defended his disciples from the hypocritical Pharisees. Perhaps, for a few seconds, the disciples might have thought they could get in trouble and have to pay a fine, or worse. They probably dropped the kernels or tried to hide what they had in their hands, like kids caught with their hand in the cookie jar. But when Jesus spoke up, they felt better. Jesus was a good leader for his disciples, he knew no one can grow spiritually in a legalistic environment. He showed them God’s love and shepherd heart, and they ultimately grew to become great leaders themselves carrying out Jesus’ work to the ends of the earth because of Jesus’ love and unique leadership.
After defending his disciples, Jesus made an awesome declaration. Look at verse 5, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’” Here Jesus calls himself the Son of Man in reference to the vision Daniel had of the Messiah, in the book of Daniel. By declaring that he is Lord of the Sabbath he reveals that he is the Son of God with divine authority to interpret the Sabbath law. Through this declaration Jesus challenged people to follow him, not rules and regulations. In Genesis chapter 2 God created the Sabbath so that after six days of labor men and women could have rest. But when sin entered the world people became restless wanderers like Cain. So God sent Jesus to this world, our Savior, our redeemer, and our Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus frees us from sins and gives us true rest.
People without Jesus today are restless for many reasons. They are restless because of their addiction to social media, constantly checking their phones. They are restless wondering if they will meet the right special person. They are restless because of politics, in particular watching what others are doing and looking for their political faults. Even Dr. Seuss’ children’s books look offensive to them. They are worried about finances, the stock market, their appearance, and many other things. A recent study by Trivago, shows that 48% of Americans would give up their jobs for a vacation, because many Americans feel like they are trapped in their homes right now. They think that a vacation will give them rest. From my own experience, I can say that vacations can give our mind a temporary escape from problems, but they are actually a lot of work to plan, pack, and dealing with airports and logistics is not always fun. When we come back it's a big let down, like getting off of a fun roller coaster, all the burdens we had come right back, they didn’t go away.
When we come to Jesus, he cleanses our consciences and forgives us of our sins. This is rest! I remember when I first began to study the Bible I was in college. I was burdened working two jobs to pay for college and my expenses. Like most people who work a lot I sought to have fun in the world going to parties, nightclubs, drinking a lot of alcohol and chasing girls. But these things did not give me rest, they only made me burdened. I remember how difficult it was for me to study in my field of engineering, and how I had to drop some classes and retake them. My mind was not clear and neither was my conscience. But when I studied the Bible I gave up these things and felt my burdens of sin lifted off of me by Jesus. I could study well and finish my degree. In fact I credit the career I have today to Jesus and his work in my life cleansing my sins and my conscience through his Word and through Bible study and I’m very thankful.
Jesus spoke about rest twice in Matthew chapter 11, 28-30 “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.” Jesus said his yoke is easy, what does this mean? A yoke is a harness that is used so that two oxen can pull a plough through a field. When we accept Jesus’ rest, we get to pull an easy yoke paired together with Him, and he helps us pull it. It’s easy because he is doing most of the work. Jesus is offering us two alternatives, we can choose one of them. We could choose to be burdened by the Law and living under our sins, or we could choose to pull an easy yoke paired together with Jesus. Are you pulling a yoke together with Jesus? . To do so means we must be a part of a community of believers building up his church. Some examples are teaching the Bible raising disciples, helping needy people, and serving in the church like Matthew Monroe who faithfully arranges the music program every weekend. A few weeks ago, Gideon and I and four young men moved some things into the new Bible house. When one person named Mike learned we would be doing some work he was eager to help. I told him, “sure we could use your help doing some demolition on the walls”, and he was overjoyed. I did not think anyone would be eager to do demolition of walls, but he is very willing to do so. I believe he has the right attitude and Jesus can use him greatly in many ways for his work. I realized that a lot people want to serve Jesus in some way. They want to do so because it makes them happy finding purpose and a mission, and because they know that Jesus’ yoke is easy and he gives us rest. Amen.
Second, Jesus restored a man with a shriveled hand
Look at verse 6, “On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.” As we have learned in other parts of Luke’s gospel, Jesus spent a lot of time in the synagogue teaching about the kingdom of God. In fact Jesus said that his very purpose was to teach about the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). Jesus is once again, teaching others in the synagogue, doing God’s work. Jesus’ word should be our focus on the Sabbath. The word of God makes us wise for salvation and gives us eternal life (2Ti 3:15)! The word of God gives us power to resist all kinds of temptations and to live a victorious life (Lk 4:4,8,12)! The word of God equips us for every good work and makes us fruitful (2Ti 3:17).
This event of a man with a shriveled hand is recorded in three of the four gospels but only Luke the medical doctor adds the detail that it was his right hand that was handicapped. He could not do many things well, such as manual labor or play sports. He could not shake a person’s hand at a job interview. Even worse he lived in a judgmental society where he was told that his problem was caused by his own sins. So he probably felt very sad and wanted to stay away from people. His hand was shriveled, and overtime, his heart shriveled up also. His hopes and dreams faded away. But when he heard Jesus was teaching nearby, he had hope, so he went to the synagogue and went inside, opening the door with his left hand. When he was there, the Pharisees did not care about him they only saw him as a trap they could use against Jesus. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. They believed if a doctor was practicing medicine on the Sabbath, it was working and therefore a violation of the Sabbath law. Jesus knew their hearts and said to them, “I ask you which is lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in this verse, he called their apathy and lack of concern evil and destructive. Doing nothing is associated with cowardice, which is one of the worst sins that can send a person to hell according to Revelations 21:8. The Pharisees were like the cowardly soldier in the movie “Saving Private Ryan” who did nothing to help his friend while he was killed by an enemy soldier. As it turns out the Pharisees were pretty shriveled up themselves.
What did Jesus do next? He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man did so and his hand was completely restored! In Mark’s Gospel it says that Jesus had the man stand up in front of everyone. It was an act of faith, after years of negative thinking and being judged by others he had to put his shriveled hand on display in front of all the people. But he obeyed Jesus, and he was healed. We must bring our problems to Jesus. Especially the ones that make us want to give up hope and cause our hearts to become shriveled. Jesus can heal our shriveled hearts. Many people’s hearts became shriveled up during the pandemic worrying about many practical concerns, but Jesus can help us to be fully restored and to be healed. He can give us our jobs back, our health, our relationships, and our purpose and mission.
In conclusion Jesus showed in this passage that it is important to save lives over following religious practices. Jesus wants us to care for others and to save spiritual lives by sharing the Word of God with them. When we obey Jesus he can do something great with our lives, just like he did with the man who had a shriveled hand. Through this we learn that obedience to legalism cannot save us, but obedience to Jesus’ Word can. Most importantly we learned that Jesus is our true rest and our Lord of the Sabbath.