March 6, 2016
A reminder to readers: We have begun a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Gospel of Mark over the next few months.
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 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.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Our text this morning opens up with Jesus walking with his disciples through the grain fields and plucking some of the heads of grain as they walked. This causes offense and division among the Pharisees because they saw it is as a violation of the Sabbath, since this constituted “work.” Jesus says some stunning words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, so the Son of Man is Lord even over the Sabbath.” What a statement!
The Sabbath, as you will recall, is interwoven into the very fabric of creation itself. At the very dawn of creation, God established the Sabbath. In fact, it is the creation account in Genesis which defines our week: 6 days of creation, and the 7th Sabbath day. In the creation account, when we are told that God rested on the seventh day (this is the meaning of the word Sabbath), it does not mean that God was exhausted or tired after creating the world. It is impossible for God to be tired or to need rest. Rather, it was a celebration that all creation was called to rest in His sovereignty, in His rule, in His authority, in His dominion, in His pre-eminence, in His Lordship. Adam and Eve’s disobedience was a fracturing of God’s rule and reign. The Sabbath is not just about our NOT doing something. It is our ceasing to work because God is doing that which we cannot do.
Most people understand the Sabbath as some kind of vague regulation designed by God to help us not feel guilty about taking a Sunday afternoon nap—a doze while you watch a football game. The Sabbath is not just about inactivity. Rather, it is a weekly reminder that the life we live was not designed to be as we have made it. Remember that the Sabbath Day precedes the Ten Commandments. The 4th commandment does not establish the Sabbath. It commands them to honor and to remember what already existed, but had been forgotten and lost after the Fall and disobedience. What is new in the Ten Commandments is the particular prohibition not to work on the Sabbath or to be engaged in the ordinary affairs of everyday life. But the reason they were commanded not to work was so they could keep and celebrate Sabbath. It is not in inactivity or doing nothing that the Sabbath is honored or remembered. There are plenty of people who stay at home on Sunday and don’t do any work, but they are not keeping Sabbath. We are commanded not to work so that we can have time to remember what the world was like before we messed it up with sin.
The Sabbath is our weekly opportunity to break our trust in work. Jesus’ bold statement about the Sabbath reminds us that we have the whole thing turned around. We have turned the Sabbath into a law of inactivity which is somehow going to gain you favor before God when, in fact, the Sabbath has nothing to do with our not working, but with God’s ongoing work in our lives. It is a day when we quit trusting in our works and allow God to work. We cannot receive this gift from God if we are out somewhere working seven days a week.
We all need a reminder—a weekly reminder—of how dependent we are upon God. For most of us, our work gives us three things: first, it gives us our self-worth/credentials. Second, our work gives us our sustenance and provides for our families. Finally, work gives us a sense of independence. Those things, put in the proper perspective, are all good things. But the Sabbath is a vital, weekly reminder of the danger of trusting in our work too much. The Sabbath is a gentle weekly reality check on all three of these: self-worth, sustenance and independence. The Sabbath reverses all three of these and reminds us that our self-worth comes first and foremost from God. It reminds us that He is our provider, and that we are totally dependent upon Him.
- Do you have space in your life when you stop from your work and really reflect on how many ways God provides for us and sustains our very lives?
- Are there some practical steps you can take to reclaim a Sabbath in your life? Not as a burdensome regulation, but as God’s gift to you because He is in charge of our lives.
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The Sunday Daily Text through Mark’s Gospel is written by Timothy Tennent. Visit his blog here.