Mark VII: Lord of the Sabbath - Mark 2:13-3:6

There are four sections today’s text, and in each one, Jesus puts his foot through the side of the beautiful whitewashed walls that the Jews have erected. First, Doctor Jesus associates with the sick tax collectors and sinners, rather than healing only healthy people. Second, Jesus the Bridegroom refuses to fast at his own wedding, choosing to celebrate instead. Third, Jesus the Anointed-but-not-yet-crowned King imitates King David, feeding the hungry rather than allowing the needy to suffer in the name of God. Fourth, Jesus the Restorer gives Sabbath rest to man with a cursed hand over the protests of those who preferred pious passivity to compassionate action on the day of rest.

What ties all of these stories together is Jesus’ mission of announcing and displaying the incoming kingdom of God as a kingdom of life and restoration and joy and blessing, rather than a kingdom of strict rules used to make hurting and hopeless people behave. That’s what the scribed and Pharisees didn’t understand, and that’s why such a big part of Jesus’ mission involved making the religious leaders so angry. Although they were using God’s gifts in God’s name, they were actually doing the work of the Devil, and Jesus came to cast him out. No wonder they wanted to kill him!

In the first section, the calling of Levi (also known as Matthew), Jesus becomes socially unclean. Levi was a Jew who worked for Rome taking money from Jews, a traitor on multiple levels. And so the scribes and Pharisees ask, “Why would a righteous man go and eat with sinners?” But Jesus turns the tables on them with His answer: “You don’t think doctors ought to see patients?” Jesus’ righteousness is medicine for sick people, and God doesn’t wait for sick people to become well before He gives them the medicine!

The Pharisees had set themselves up as the lords of welcome: they decided who was in and who was out, based on adherence to their self-aggrandizing list of rules. Jesus ignores their rules and chooses Levi to show that He is the true Lord of Welcome.

Then Jesus faces another critique: “It’s fasting time, Jesus. Why aren’t you fasting?” The Pharisees believed that they were the ones ushering in God’s blessings through their scrupulous keeping of the law. And so if Jesus wants in on this whole “reformation of God’s people” thing, He needs to get on board!

But Jesus hits them with a devastating image that reveals the folly of their approach: “Who fasts at a wedding?” Jesus asks. “God spreads a feast for you, and you try to honor him by not eating?” Notice, though, that it isn’t so much that the actions are wrong; it’s the timing. Fasting time will come, Jesus says, but not now. The important thing is to fast at the fast and feast at the feast, and Jesus has come as the Lord of the Feast.

And the biggest flashpoint of the conflict, the one that keeps coming up, is about Sabbath. What is the Sabbath like, and what is it for? What does Sabbath tell us about God? Jesus is going to give radically different answers to those questions than the scribes and Pharisees, and that’s why He says in 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

That’s Jesus’ principle, and He follows it up in v. 28 with an assertion of authority: “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” So then, what does the Lord of the Sabbath do? Does He crush people with Sabbath rules, or give people Sabbath rest? These two stories, eating the grain and healing the man with the withered hand, are both testimonies to how the Lord of the Sabbath uses the Sabbath. This is what the Sabbath is for: for giving food to the hungry, for healing, for giving life. The Sabbath is meant to be a blessing to man.

And here’s why Sabbath is such a big deal to Jesus: Sabbath is one of the key pictures of Jesus’ kingdom – if you get Sabbath wrong, you get the kingdom wrong, you crush the kingdom people, you get the king wrong, and you end up crucifying the king. And so we need to get Sabbath right, and the Lord Jesus shows us the way.

So instead of starting with your own ideas about what restores you and gives you and your family life, look to the Lord of the Sabbath. What did He tell us and show us to do on the Sabbath? The Sabbath was made so that you could pluck worship and mercy like heads of grain, and eat the bread of heaven on the Lord’s Sabbath Day.

The Lord of Welcome says: “Welcome one another, just as I have welcomed you.” The Lord of the Feast calls you to come and rejoice in the kingdom feast. And the Lord of the Sabbath cries out, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” May God help us to follow our Lord.

Posted on Thursday, March 08, 2018 by CJ Bowen