Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

3rd Sunday after Sleebo - the Festival of Cross

Mark 2:23-28 – Sermon

Gospel: St. Mark 2: 23 - 28

In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:

Imagine that you are sitting at a table. On your right is Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. On your left is Abner Doubleday, widely considered to be the father of modern day baseball. And sitting across the table from you is none other than Bill Gates, the president of Microsoft and one of the wealthiest men in the world. If you had the opportunity to talk with these men, if you had one hour to pick their brains, what kinds of questions would you ask them? Would you ask Bell where he got the idea to transmit sounds over wire? Would you ask Doubleday if he ever dreamed that his little game would become America’s favorite pastime? Would you ask Bill Gates why Windows crashes so much?

Or instead of asking questions, maybe you would take the opportunity to tell these famous figures where they went wrong. You could show Bell how conventional phones are quickly becoming obsolete. You could suggest to Abner Doubleday that in order to make baseball more interesting a batter be given four strikes and three balls. You could tell Bill Gates what he should do to improve the bottom line of his company. Sound a little far-fetched? Sound absolutely ridiculous? It would be the height of arrogance for anyone to tell these great innovators what to do with their inventions. Something that outrageous, something that absurd, could never really happen…could it? Well let’s take a closer look at our text for today before we’re so sure.

It was not uncommon for the Jewish leaders to find fault with Jesus. This time their complaint had to do with the observance of the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest. It was the Pharisees’ contention that Jesus’ disciples had violated their law. But the problem was that it wasn’t their law. It was God’s law. And since Jesus is God, it was his law. But that didn’t stop the Pharisees. They had their customs. They had their traditions. And they thought they had Jesus dead to rights.

Even though we are no longer bound by the rules and regulations of the ceremonial law, even though God does not require us to observe a specific day of rest, the words Jesus directed against the Jewish leaders have a direct impact on our lives. It is still a great comfort for God’s people today to know that… JESUS IS LORD OF THE SABBATH

I. He established it

II. He fulfilled it

III. And He blesses us through it

As the disciples walked through the fields, they picked a few kernels of grain. So what’s the big deal? To the Pharisees, it was a very big deal. As soon as they got wind of what had happened, they were quick to bring it to Jesus’ attention: “Look, why are they (the disciples) doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (2:24)? In their minds, Jesus’ disciples had knowingly and openly disobeyed God’s law, specifically God’s command to do no work on the Sabbath:

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14). If those words sound familiar it’s because they were part of today’s Old Testament lesson. God’s command in Deuteronomy is clear: No work on the Sabbath.

Yet in order for good, God-fearing Jews to obey the law (and specifically the third commandment), they needed to know what constituted “work.” Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) they didn’t have to decide for themselves. Over time an exhaustive system of rules governing proper Sabbath observance was developed and put down in writing. Chapter after chapter was compiled to cover almost every conceivable situation. To give you an idea of how far it went, here are a just a few examples:

It was not lawful to boil an egg on the Sabbath. It would break the Sabbath rest to climb a tree or swim or dance. It was permissible to pick up a chair, but it was not permissible to drag the same chair along the ground because it might produce a rut. And this is my personal favorite. Women were not allowed to look in the mirror on the Sabbath because they might discover a white hair and attempt to pull it out, which would be a terrible sin.

These rules were designed to keep people from violating the Sabbath. These rules were put in place to make everything black and white. But as an unintended consequence, this complex system of “dos” and “don’t dos” distracted people from the true meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. The Pharisees were a case in point. When they approached Jesus, they were not at all concerned with the spiritual welfare of his followers, but rather, they were upset because the disciples had “broken the rules.”

Jesus had every right to denounce them, to condemn them for their hypocrisy, to turn against them the same way they had turned on him. But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus used a story from the Old Testament which they knew very well, to show them the foolishness of their accusation.

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” (2:25,26).

Before David was King David, when he was on the run because King Saul was trying to kill him, he came to the priest at Nob and asked for food for him and his men. The priest had nothing to offer him, but he did have some of the consecrated bread (sometimes called “showbread”) that was prepared and placed in the Holy Place every Sabbath (see I Samuel 21 for the whole story). The law stipulated that this bread was to be eaten only by the priests (Leviticus 24), but the priest gave it to David anyway. According to the letter of the law, this was wrong. But neither David nor the priest was condemned for their actions. And Jesus didn’t condemn them either. Instead, he used the incident to illustrate an important principle: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2:27).

What gave Jesus the right? Jesus had every right to stand in judgment over the law because he himself had established it. As true God, he was there on Mt. Sinai. As true God, he had established the Sabbath. As true God, he perfectly understood its purpose.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (2:27). The Lord established the Sabbath as a day for the Jews to remember the time when they had no rest as slaves in Egypt. The Lord established the Sabbath as a special day for the children of Israel to thank him for his goodness. The Sabbath provided God’s people with an opportunity to recharge their spiritual batteries.

It didn’t happen overnight, but what God intended to be a great blessing had become a heavy burden. Ever so slowly, the focus of Sabbath shifted from the great things God had done to all the little things people could and could not do – case in point, it was considered a great offense to pick a kernel of grain. There is a name for this. It’s called legalism. Legalism led many Jews to believe that their relationship with God depended on their obedience to God. As Lutheran Christians, we confess that we are saved ‘by grace alone,’ and not by anything we do – that means that our salvation has nothing to do with anything we do. So thank goodness we don’t have to worry about this legalism today! If only that were true… See our theological heritage does not make us immune to legalism either. No, even in a church where we readily deny that our relationship to God is dependent upon anything we do, that sin of legalism is still very much alive and well.

Legalism manifests itself in different ways, but legalistic attitudes naturally grow out of sinful hearts – hearts like yours and mine. See, sinful people don’t want to hear how sinful they are. We prefer not to believe that we are helpless and hopeless on our own. Instead of comparing ourselves with a perfect God, it is much easier and much more comfortable, for us to compare ourselves with other imperfect people. “I’m in church. I brought my envelope. I may not be perfect, but at least I’m here. And as long as I do what I’m supposed to, as long as I do just enough, as long as I do a little more than the person next to me, then I’ll be okay.”

Have thoughts like those ever crept into your minds? Have you ever “put in your hour” on Sunday morning because you think that’s what God expects? Have you ever compared yourself to someone else like they were your personal spiritual barometer? Like if you’re here more than they are, then you are here plenty?

That way of thinking may soothe consciences for a while, but it doesn’t last. That way of thinking may make us look good on the outside, but it doesn’t remove any of our faults and failings on the inside. That way of thinking attempts to make me the master of my own fate – as if I could attain my salvation, while in reality it proves that I am mastered by sin.

Legalism is sweet poison. It tastes good as it goes down, but in the end it kills. The bad news is that we have all tasted this deadly poison. The bad news is that we are all dying because of our sins. No, we can never DO enough in order to merit our salvation. But the good news is that there is an antidote. The good news is that there is one fool proof cure. Jesus. The one who established the law that we could never keep has also kept the law in our place.

Jesus obeyed every law. Jesus observed every Sabbath. Jesus fulfilled every prophecy of God. Jesus made good on every promise of God. And because he did, true rest, spiritual rest, eternal rest is ours. It’s ours because of him, and what he did, not because of what we did.

So how do we receive this rest? Still today we receive it when we observe the Sabbath. “What?? We don’t have to do that anymore! We just said Jesus fulfilled that law and all the others for us. What do you mean we need to observe the Sabbath in order to enjoy this rest?” Well, aren’t we in Christian freedom observing the Sabbath right now, here in church? Aren’t we in Christian freedom taking time out of our normal schedules to hear about our Savior and what he has done for us? Isn’t that what gives us this rest? Yes, in our Christian freedom, we are free to worship whenever, wherever and however we want. But just as surely as God established the Sabbath for his Old Testament people so that they might experience this rest he intended, so today, when we observe the Sabbath – whether that be gathering around God’s Word in our home or here in church – we too experience this same rest! So listen once again what he has done for you, and enjoy some rest:

You don’t have to wonder if you have done enough in your life to deserve a place in heaven, because you haven’t. But Jesus has done it all for you, so rest. You don’t have to carry around a heavy burden of guilt. Jesus has paid for every single one of your sins on the cross, so rest. You don’t have to worry about what will happen to you when you die. Jesus says that whoever believes in him will have eternal life, so rest. You don’t have to ever feel like you are all alone in this world. Jesus promises that he will be with you always, so rest.

You can rest because the Lord of the Sabbath is your Lord and Savior. Amen.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentary/Analysis for the 3rd sunday after Sleebo

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