We are beginning our summer sermon series, Jesus Unfiltered. We will be traveling with Jesus
through the gospels of Mark and John. We will be starting in Mark toward the end of chapter 2.
Mark is the shortest of the gospels, so it moves through the narrative quickly. There is no birth
narrative like in Matthew and Luke. Mark begins with John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord,” preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins. People were coming
out to the Jordan River to be baptized. Jesus is baptized with water and the Holy Spirit there,
and we hear the voice of God say to him, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased
.” Immediately, he is sent out into the wilderness for his testing by Satan. The word “immediately”
appears all through this gospel. There is a sense of urgency in Mark. Jesus calls his first disciples,
gives his first teaching in the synagogue, and casts out a demon. This is all in the first chapter. People
were already asking about this man, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even
gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” (Mark 1:27)
All of this caught the attention of the local teachers in Galilee, namely the scribes and Pharisees.
They considered themselves the arbiters of teaching about the Law and how it should be lived out
every day. They wanted to make sure that he was teaching the right things, so they watched him.
Not unreasonable really. When I hear about a person claiming to be a Christian leader asking his
followers to sponsor another jet for their personal ministry, it catches my attention. Just like it
catches my attention when a Christian teacher or leader says that being unhappy or depressed is
a sin. Just to be clear, it is not. So, the fact that the scribes and Pharisees were keeping an eye on
a new teacher that they never heard of, a teacher who was gathering followers right and left, was
not unreasonable. They wanted to make sure that Jesus wasn’t leading people astray.
Then it starts getting real. A group of four men lower their friend through the roof of a house, so
that Jesus can heal him. Jesus does this, of course, but first he tells the man that his sins are forgiven.
Wait a minute! Only God can forgive sins. He’s committing blasphemy! Who does this guy think he is?
Next, Jesus calls Matthew to join him as one of his disciples and has dinner at Matthew’s house with
his tax collectors friends and other sinners. Moral dedicated Jewish people were not supposed to
associate with people like that. There’s one thing that is common to all of these incidents. Jesus is
very provocative. He is not doing these things in secret. He does them in public, in the synagogue.
He knows that the Pharisees are watching, and he knows what their reaction is going to be, but he
does it anyway. His purpose is the provocation. He is challenging their perceptions and perspectives
on the Law and how it played out in the daily lives of people.
In today’s Scripture, Jesus does it again. He is challenging the common interpretation of Sabbath
at the time. In fact, he does it twice. Remember, the Pharisees are not laying traps for him, at least
not yet. They are merely watching and questioning. Jesus is the one inviting this clash. Our Scripture today comes from the Gospel of Mark 2:23-3:6.
Mark 2:23-3:6 (NIV)
2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples
walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him,
“Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions
were hungry and in need? 26 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.”
27 Then 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.”
3:1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand
was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him
closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the
shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do
evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts,
said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely
restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they
might kill Jesus.
We can hear some of the narratives in the gospels and think that the problem was that there
was an alternative interpretation of Scripture being put forward or expressed. Not at all. Passionate
arguments were being made all the time. There’s an old joke that if you have two rabbis you
probably have three opinions. Religious people were always trying to work out the most accurate
interpretation of the Law and how it should be lived out, just like today in our theological differences
between denominations and even within them. The problem was that Jesus was the one making these
arguments. First, he hadn’t received any formal training that they knew of. Then, he was making
outrageous claims, like he could forgive sins. In this passage, the problem was less about doing
something out of line on the Sabbath, but rather his putting himself on a level with King David and
pronouncing himself Lord of the Sabbath. They were back to the question, “Who does he think he is?
” He is claiming something far more than the Messiah that they were expecting. He is equating himself
with God. In their eyes, that’s blasphemy, and in truth if a stranger came up to us claiming to be God
in any of God’s forms, we might take exception to that too.
He is encouraging and doing what they consider work on the Sabbath. In his claimed role of Lord
of the Sabbath, he is offering an alternative perspective on the purpose of the Sabbath.
Are familiar with the term “Blue Laws?” You may not be since there haven’t been any on the books in
Oregon since at least 1921. They are laws enacted to prevent certain activities on a Sunday, mostly
business activities. Stores and restaurants couldn’t open. Couldn’t sell alcohol. During colonial times
in New England, you could be prohibited from playing cards or other types of games or amusements.
Even now, in some states like Minnesota, you still can’t buy a car on a Sunday. It was only last year
when you could buy alcohol there on a Sunday. In the beginning, the purpose was so that people could
observe the Sabbath, not only the shoppers but also the business owners and employees. They could have
their day of rest. Of course, it would also allow them to go to church on Sunday, but after the American
Revolution it was no longer compulsory, at least not legally.
Interestingly, blue laws have been upheld by the Supreme Court, not for their religious origins but to
preserve the day of rest that humans need. Here in Wallowa County, we don’t have blue laws, but with
so many privately owned businesses, many close one or two days a week. It might not be on a Sunday,
but they still need their day of rest.
Really, these two perspectives illustrate the perspectives between the Pharisees and Jesus. The Pharisees
want to encourage the morality of the people. They had their own version of blue law guidelines to help
people refrain from breaking the commandments. Such as not traveling or harvesting on the Sabbath. After
all, observing the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. Obeying God is a good thing. Defining work
to make sure that people obeyed the commandment can be helpful.
But in our passage today, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.
” That wasn’t all that controversial. Rabbis within 100 years of Jesus were teaching essentially the same
thing. But, Jesus continues, and this is where the Pharisees started getting really aggravated, “So the Son
of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) Shockingly, Jesus was also claiming to have authority
over the Sabbath, a role for God. He is explaining the meaning or intent of the Law, not only by his words
but through his actions. The scribes and the Pharisees thought that was their job.
Let’s look at this Law from the Hebrew Bible. It appears in two places, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.
Many scholars think that the Deuteronomy 5 passage was written before the Exodus passage and
therefore communicates more of the original intent. Here is the passage on the Sabbath beginning at verse 12:
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded
you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath
to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or
daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your
animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants
may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your
God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore
the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deut 5:12-15)
Both the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions include all in this rest from work. This is including children,
servants, slaves, animals, foreigners or immigrants, that they “may rest, as you do.” The explanation of
why is where the difference occurs between the two passages. In Exodus, the Sabbath is connected to
Creation. God worked for six days, and on the seventh God rested. In Deuteronomy the reason is to
remember. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of
there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” For the first generation of Israelites traveling in the
desert who had been slaves … They are being told that they get to have a day off! Not have to but get to!
They may have heard some of these commands in the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law and
thought they might be a bit challenging, but with this one … “I’m never going to disobey that commandment!”
The reason is to support life, and that brings us back to Jesus. He says to the Pharisees that “The Sabbath
was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The purpose was to support life. When people are hungry
and need to eat, (and are not being provided with enough manna to last for day before the Sabbath and
the Sabbath day), they may need to glean.
The second encounter with Jesus and the Pharisees on the Sabbath occurs in a synagogue. Again, Jesus
provokes the controversy. The Pharisees may be watching to see what Jesus would do, but they do not
try to trap him. Everyone apparently knew that there was a man with a damaged hand there. Jesus brings
everything to a head by inviting the man to get up in front of everyone. No one has asked Jesus to do
anything. Then, Jesus asks a provocative question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do
evil, to save life or to kill?”
The question itself is hyperbole. It is an exaggeration. It’s always lawful to do good. It’s never lawful to
do evil whether it is the Sabbath or not. And to save life or to kill? That would not seem to be an either
or kind of situation. Wouldn’t there be something in between where you neither had the opportunity to
save life nor put in a position to kill? The ones watching to see if Jesus beaks the Sabbath break it themselves
by plotting to kill him. But, Jesus demonstrates that saving life can mean something besides helping a person
who has been beat up and is bleeding on the side of the road or administering CPR to a person having a
The life of the man with the injured hand was not in immediate danger. He was not bleeding. He wasn’t
having a heart attack. He wasn’t trapped without food and water. He probably had been living with this
injury for years. Our NIV translates the injury as a “shriveled hand,” other translations render it as “withered.”
That implies that something happened to cause it, rather than being born with it. The hand was whole, but
it shriveled. It withered. In an agricultural society or even as an artisan such as a carpenter or a stone mason,
he would have a hard time working. He surely couldn’t be a fisherman with that kind of injury, casting and
hauling in nets.
Look at Jesus’ question again. He asks whether it is lawful to save life or to kill. He doesn’t say save a life.
He says “save life.” Then, next thing you know, the man’s hand is restored. The man’s life has been restored.
Now, he will be able to work again. He will be able to provide for a family. He has opportunity for abundant
life again. It is easy to see this miracle and be awed that Jesus fixed something that was wrong with this man.
What Jesus did that day was so much more. He restored someone to wholeness and dignity. That is what
Sabbath is about, restoration to wholeness and dignity. Jesus is the resurrection, and here he says that the
resurrection can’t wait. Resurrection is not only for Easter. Resurrection is what God does all the time.
How can we look for the examples of Resurrection all around us? Of course, we can see it through the renewal
of life in the spring, but what about with people? When we see someone’s life renewed. When we see someone
progressing in their relationship with Jesus or moving forward in their discipleship journey. As you can imagine,
I get so excited when I see something like that, when someone is taking a new step in their faith. I see these
children from this morning getting their Bibles and seeing how they’ve grown and developed in the past several
years. It is amazing. But it’s not just children. We are all on a discipleship journey, and when we take that next
step, we are getting more life. We are moving more fully into the resurrection. We are closer to God. This
relationship can ebb and flow. It can sometimes be two steps forward and one step back, but when we reach a
new crest and see a new vista, it is amazing.
How can we be a part of helping others taste that resurrecting life? Who do we see around us that needs
encouragement or a helping hand. This person may or may not be a disciple. If they are, how can we
encourage them to take their next step in their journey with God? That’s what we do. We help each other.
We are the body of Christ, and so part of our role is to help others experience the resurrection life, with the
Holy Spirit leading the way, of course. How can we help others experience their Sabbath rest?
The Sabbath is about restoration and liberation. Most of all it is about life.