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Lord of the Sabbath

May 13, 2012 Series: Gospel of Mark

Passage: Mark 2:23– 3:6

A few months ago, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Lord, save me from your followers”. And I have to admit that I had some critical thoughts about the person driving the car. But I was curious, so later I googled it and found out that this was actually a movie-a documentary created by a Christian who wanted to try to expose the reason for the growing divide between Christians and non-Christians in America. The creator of this movie, Dan Merchant, spent 4 years traveling through America interviewing people about Christianity and their experience, dressed in a painters suit plastered with (so called Christian) bumper stickers. One said “Are you as close to Jesus as you are to my bumper?” and another “Sodom [check], Gomorrah [check], New Orleans [check], San Francisco [ ]).

One of the questions he asked was, “Describe your impression of Christians.” Here are a few of the answers I heard in the movie trailer: fanaticism, pointing fingers, warfare, really snobby, going to church, acting holy, trying to live right and do the right things and judgmental. One woman said, “One of the things that kept me from being a Christian was being treated so poorly by Christians.”

After the movie was shown to a mainstream, gospel believing church some of the members shared their thoughts. One woman shared that she was grateful for the movie because after her son graduated HS he quit going to church and told her, “I have no problem with God; it’s the Christians I don’t like.” One man asked the question, “What if the church became known, not for what it’s against, but for what it’s for?” and another man observed that, “legalism doesn’t [produce] change. We try to make rules but they don’t work.”

Legalism never works. It doesn’t produce change; not the kind we hope for. But we’re all prone it and it’s a quite killer. Did you notice that the one thing missing from all those answers was Jesus? Without even knowing it we can begin living for the rules instead of for Jesus and when we do this we almost always impose legalism on others. But Jesus is not ambiguous about legalism. Actually, today we’re going to read the 1st century version of “Lord, Save Me from Your Followers”. If you have a bible you can open to the book of Mark, chapter 2. We’re continuing in our study of the Gospel of Mark. Let’s Read Mark 2:23-3:6. 

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at a series of conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees and these last 2 conflicts revolve around the Sabbath. Last week Allen opened up for us the conflict they had over the topic of fasting. But we saw that the issue wasn’t really fasting-it was their hearts. And the theme that’s draped over all of these conflicts is that of wine skins; the old and new wine skins. 2:22-Jesus said “No one puts new wine into old wine skins…new wine is for fresh wine skins” …(explain) because as the new wine would ferment and expand and break the old, brittle wine skins but the new is able to stretch and expand.

The Pharisees were so entrenched in their own ways and ideas of doing good before God that they were blind to the fact that the Son of God was in their presence. They became angry and offended because His ways were challenging their ways. And Jesus likened them to old wine skins. Our passage today continues under this theme of the wineskins. We’re going to see further evidence that the ones who were thought to be the examples of godliness we’re actually in opposition to God; they were the old, crusty, dried out wineskins and they’re about to break.

Jesus has come to us in the same way that He came to them-as New Wine and he calls us to be new wine skins. The New Life that Jesus offers cannot be held in a life of religious activity (outward show-legalism). Only the pliable container of a soft heart and a willingness to decrease will be able to hold the New Wine of the increase of Jesus in our lives. And that only comes from relationship with Him not from following rules.

So let’s take a look at legalism first and then we’re going to explore the significance of the Sabbath in this passage. What makes legalism so dangerous?

Apparently, on the Sabbath it was unlawful to eat if you had to pick it or to heal a crippled man but it was ok to plot murder. We can see how irrational the Pharisees we’re acting; how nitpicky and immature and how that quickly turned into violence. They not only have decided to kill Jesus but they’ve sided with their enemies in order to do it.

Legalism is insidious, when it creeps up on us it’s not obvious and it seems to us like we’re just as right as the Pharisees thought they were. Legalism has many effects on the believer. It takes our focus off of God and puts it on us; it steals our joy; legalism creates division and separates; it breeds self-righteousness and judgmentalism; it never forgives, it only offers another set of rules when we fail. And the list goes on. But Jesus identifies the root problem of legalism-that is that it hardens our heart. 3:5 says He was angry and grieved at their hardness of heart.

It was their hard hearts that blinded them and led them away from the very thing that they “thought” they were living for. Here they are, in the synagogue-their place of worship, and the sight of a crippled man has no effect on these “men of God”. Their only concern with this man was to see if Jesus would heal him so that they could accuse Him. And even after seeing the man healed by the power of God they were unmoved. Their hearts were hard.

There was no compassion in their hearts; no concern, no love, no mercy, no grace. No Jesus. The heart of God was not found in them. And Jesus was angry-rightly angry. These were the men that were supposed to be representing God. But instead of showing grace, mercy and compassion they had become tyrants, heaping heavy loads on the people and flaunting their own righteousness. It makes you wonder if the people were praying, “Lord, save us from your followers.”

Jesus was dead serious about this because the gospel and His reputation were on the line…and it still is today. We are the representatives of Jesus. I am the face of Jesus to a lost and dying world. If you were the last Christian that interacted with one of the people interviewed in that movie, what answer would they give as their impression of Christianity? What Jesus do people see in us? Legalism hardens our heart and wrongly represents Christ. It robs

Now, the irony here is that if the Pharisees had rightly understood and practiced the Sabbath (the way God intended) they would have been perfectly positioned to receive Jesus when He showed up. But the Sabbath was a particularly charged issue. They we’re legalistic about everything but the Sabbath was their sacred cow. And here comes Jesus making a mockery of the Sabbath. This was a threat because they saw themselves as the keepers and enforcers of the Sabbath.

Sabbath Rest
So what about the Sabbath? What’s it for and what are we supposed to do with it? Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man and that He’s the Lord of it. What does the Sabbath mean for us? How should this affect us? [hang with me, might feel light wide turn but we’ll bring it around]

Exodus 20:8-11 is the first place we see the command to rest. [Read] God created the Sabbath and intended (and commanded) that this Sabbath rest be a regular part of our lives-not as a rule but as a blessing. So, in God’s top 10 commands He tells us: don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, rest. And we know this is important to God for 2 reasons.
1. He made it holy (set it apart, made it unique). Work 6 days, rest 1 Day
2. He blessed the Sabbath. He attached His favor to it. This means that, there’s blessing and favor for those that embrace and obey the command to rest.

But in Jesus day, the Sabbath wasn’t a blessing, it was a burden. The religious leaders decided that “work” wasn’t defined well enough in the 4th commandment so they developed 39 different categories of work that were unlawful on the Sabbath. For example: not allowed to tie or loosen knots, couldn’t write more than 1 letter-creating a word, you could help someone whose life was in danger but not someone with a non-life threatening injury. This day was no longer special or a blessing. It was burden that was imposed by men.

But Jesus addressed this in 2:27-28, “[Jesus] 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.” The Sabbath isn’t the master. And the Sabbath is for man…as in a gift, a blessing not a burden. So the question is-if we don’t strictly (and unscripturally) define the Sabbath and we embrace it and let it be a blessing, the way God intended, what effect can Sabbath rest have on our lives?

Sabbath rest humbles us. The Sabbath rest teaches us that we are not God and we’re not in control. We’re frail, weak, we’re made of clay. We’re tired-that means we run out of energy, we’re not self sustaining, we need rest, and we must be renewed and refreshed often. And in order to be able to rest we have to trust Him with all the things we didn’t get done. He is in control and we trust Him with things undone.

Sabbath rest orients our hearts and minds toward God. Ex. 20:10-“the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD”. It’s to be focused. A time to recalibrate and realign ourselves with Him. Power down, shut off the tv, computer, ipad, ipod, iphone, wii. A time to grow and develop an ear for God. A time get accustomed with quite and stillness. Sabbath rest is to be God focused.

Sabbath rest points us to grace. Ex. 20-creation, Deut. 5:15 -salvation (the exodus) “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

(Deuteronomy ESV), Ex. 14-“And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” When we Sabbath we speak of His salvation. The Israelites being saved through the Red Sea is foreshadowing a greater salvation; the salvation of all people through Jesus Christ.

Jesus came and lived a perfect life and died on a cross of shame and then rose from the dead on the third day so that anyone who believes in Him and repents would be saved from the rightful eternal punishment of their sins; made sons and daughters of the living God! And to have the Holy Spirit poured out in their lives to empower them to live the lives that God intends for us to live. But this doesn’t happen by our work, it happens because of Jesus work on our behalf. And this not only affects our relationship with God but also with each other. When we experience and are reminded of grace we give grace. Jesus is our Sabbath rest and our freedom.

Sabbath rest orients us toward hope. Jesus broke the power and burden of sin and restored us back to God but when Jesus returns, rest will be totally and completely restored. Our Sabbath rest is a glimpse forward of that day; the day when, for those who are resting in Christ, every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more pain, sin, weariness, or burden. The work of Jesus on our behalf that has given us rest now also gives us hope for a future eternity of perfect rest with Him. And that hope should fuel who we are as followers of Christ.

If you don’t know this hope; if the grace of God is foreign to you; if you can’t say “I remember when I was a slave” because you still feel like a slave; a slave to work; a slave to others; a slave to rules. If you don’t know this hope, if you don’t know what it’s like to be set free and experience real rest…you need Jesus. And He’s present. The only thing you need; the only thing that you can contribute to His gift of grace is a new wine skin. Bring a soft heart ready to receive Jesus and throw away the old, dried up and broken wines skin. Jesus is the only true source of rest and peace.

We’re also called to be a Sabbath people who bring rest to those who need it. We are the face of Jesus to a lost and dying world; bringing hope to the weary; healing to the hurting; food to the hungry; help to the needy; and the gospel of all grace to the perishing. This is what the Pharisees got fundamentally wrong-this is what many Christians are getting wrong today and what we need to be aware of in our own lives. The Sabbath is so much more than just rules of rest-it’s a heart posture that reflects our Savior-the Lord of the Sabbath.