Friday, June 7, 2024

The Intent Of The Sabbath Laws

Mark 2:23-28

When I was a child, back in the 1960’s, just about everything was closed on Sundays.  All stores and offices were closed, most restaurants, and many gas stations, as well.  People also did not do unnecessary work around the house, either.  You wouldn’t hear the lawnmowers going on a Sunday.  Families relaxed.  They went to church in the morning, and then they might go for an afternoon drive, or play some games together.  Some parents wouldn’t even allow their children to do homework on a Sunday.  One had to get it done before then.  This was all across the country.  They honored the Lord’s Day.  However, that all started to change during the 1970s.  By the end of that decade, most stores would have Sunday hours.  Many offices would be open, and a boss could easily call a worker to come in on Sunday.

Today people don’t like restrictions on what they can and cannot do, certainly not because of what day of the week it is.  So who’s right?  Those who feel that no work should be done on Sundays, or those who want to shop, eat out, and carry on business as usual?  Jesus had something to say about the Sabbath in our Scripture today.  Let’s take a look.

As we read through all four Gospels, one thing that frequently sticks out is that the Pharisees were often at odds with Jesus because He would heal people on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were devoutly religious.  They tried to strictly follow the Laws of Moses, and they wanted everyone else to, as well.  So when they saw Jesus doing something they felt He shouldn’t, they were quick to harshly criticize Him.  On this particular occasion, the Pharisees were criticizing Jesus and His disciples for what they felt was harvesting grain on the Sabbath.

As our Scripture opens, Jesus and His disciples were walking from one place to another, and the path went by some grain fields, and they took some to eat (vs. 23).  Now before anyone starts to think that they were stealing a farmer’s crop, we need to look at some laws given in the Old Testament.  In Leviticus 19:9-10 and Deuteronomy 23:25, it says that farmers were to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that some of their crops could be picked by travelers and the poor.

The Pharisees immediately started to criticize and condemn them, saying they were working on the Sabbath, that they were harvesting grain, which was breaking Sabbath rules (vs. 24).  Over the centuries since the days of Moses, so many extra rules and regulations had been added to the Sabbath commandment, and here was an example.  God’s law said that crops should not be harvested on the Sabbath (Exodus 34:21).  This law prevented farmers from becoming greedy and ignoring God on the Sabbath.  It also protected laborers from being overworked.  However, Jesus and the disciples were not picking the grain for personal gain.  They were looking for something to eat.  The Pharisees were so focused on the words of the law that they missed its intent.

Jesus then gave an example from the life of one of the most revered people in Israel’s history, King David (vs. 25-26).  He reminded the Pharisees that David did something that was not allowed by the Law of Moses.  David was not a priest, so by the Law, he could not eat one of the special loaves of showbread in the Tabernacle, but he and his men did (I Samuel 21:1-6).  David wisely judged that the law forbidding the laity to eat this bread ought to yield to a law of necessity and of nature.

By the time of Jesus the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath into a big list of do’s and don’ts.  Jesus said that the Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, not the people meet the requirements of the Sabbath (vs. 27-28).  The Pharisees had made the Sabbath a burden, not the blessing it was intended to be.  God gave us the Sabbath as a gift for us, not to be a burden, and just one more rule and regulation to follow.  We live in a generation that works almost constantly, but God, in His compassion, knew that we need to rest.  It was to allow people to rest and allow God to refresh.

Right following this, Jesus would heal a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6).  He implied that the Sabbath is a day to do good.  Sabbath rest doesn’t mean that we don’t lift a finger to help others.  The Sabbath should not become a time of selfish indulgence.  God derives no benefits from having us rest on the Sabbath.  We are restored physically and spiritually when we take the day to rest from our usual work.  The intent of God’s Law is to promote love for God and for others.

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