Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

3rd Sunday after Sleebo - the Festival of Cross

Sermon on Mark 2:23-28

by Pastor Schmitzer

Gospel: St. Mark 2: 23 - 28

“Rip Van Winkle” is the name of the character and story by Washington Irving published in 1819. Most of us remember Rip Van Winkle as the guy who slept a long time. The story states that he walked off one day to get away from his nagging wife and ended up taking a nap that lasted for 20 years. When he awoke, his nagging wife was dead and gone, but there were other difficulties that faced him after having been disconnected from society for 20 years.

While Rip Van Winkle overdid it when it came to sleeping, sleep and rest are vital for our bodies, minds, and health. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of sleep disorder. (www.apa.org) Their studies find that 60% of school children report being tired during the day; 15% report even sleeping in class. Maybe that’s not so surprising! But, more seriously, falling asleep at the wheel from overtiredness causes 100,000 crashes and 71,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths each year in the US. Almost $16 million in direct costs and $100 billion in indirect and related costs arise from sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, and sleepiness each year. Getting enough sleep and rest is obviously crucial for human life.

The same is also true for spiritual rest. Getting enough rest, spiritual rest, is crucial for spiritual life too. Spiritual rest is the whole point of the 3rd Commandment and our sermon reading for today: REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY.

I. The Son of Man Is Lord of the Sabbath.

A. The incident in our reading comes from the end of a whole chapter full of Jesus being dogged and tested by the Jewish leaders in the area of Capernaum. This second chapter of Mark starts off with Jesus healing a paralyzed man. When He told the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” we are told, “some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming!’” (2:5-7) Next Mark records Jesus’ calling of Matthew, also called Levi, to be one of his disciples. Levi was a tax collector. Again we hear: “When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the ‘sinners’ and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and “sinners”’?” (2:16) Then it says: “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, ‘How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” (2:18) Right after our reading Jesus healed a man with a shriveled hand at the synagogue, the Jewish church. It plainly says: “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.” When Jesus did heal the man and scolded the Jewish religious leaders who wrongly opposed Him, the Bible records: “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (3:2,6)

B. So you can obviously see what relationship and attitude the Jewish religious leaders had toward Jesus. They did not believe in Him. They did not recognize Jesus, the Son of Man, as Lord and God. So they gave Jesus more grief when His disciples were hungry and picked some grain to eat on Sabbath day. “The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’” Of course, the objection was aimed at Jesus. Why are your disciples doing this terrible thing? Old Testament Law permitted hungry people to grab handfuls of food from people’s property if they were hungry. It was not considered stealing. But they picked the grain on the Sabbath day. And Exodus 20 where the 10 Commandments are recorded, states: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” (20:8-10) In fact, later in the book of Exodus it warns: “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people…Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.” (31:14-15) The Sabbath day was Saturday, the last day of the week. On that day the people were not to do their regular work but were to attend worship at the tabernacle, temple, or synagogue.

C. The Pharisees thought they had Jesus this time! Their man-made laws had added dozens of rules about what was considered work that desecrated the Sabbath day. “Harvesting” grain was one of those activities forbidden by their extra rules. They were “majoring in minors” and forgetting something very important: Who made the Sabbath and Who was Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus points them to an incident in the Old Testament when David and his men were fleeing for their lives from King Saul and were so hungry that they ate the consecrated bread, the “showbread,” in the tabernacle. God’s Old Testament Ceremonial Law required that the showbread only be eaten by the priests, but Abiathar the high priest permitted them to eat it and was not punished by God. Besides, grabbing handfuls of grain can hardly be equated with the regular task of harvesting! If the Pharisees also thought about it, they would realize that the priests themselves worked on the Sabbath day in God’s house. It was probably their hardest day of work the whole week! God did not forbid them or punish them with death. The Lord God had made the Sabbath day and Sabbath rules. He could also permit certain exceptions to the “no work on the Sabbath day” rule. God is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is God. He is Lord of the Sabbath. The Pharisees weren’t remembering the Sabbath day. They weren’t even remembering who was Lord of the Sabbath.

D. In Colossians the Holy Scriptures tell us: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (2:16-17) Old Testament Ceremonial Laws, especially the sacrifices and religious festivals like the Passover and the Sabbath day, were a shadow of things to come and pointed ahead to Jesus Christ. He came to win true Sabbath rest for sinners by His innocent, holy life as the Son of God which He gave into death on the cross. For that He deserves our worship every Sunday, the day we New Testament Christians have chosen to set aside to honor Him. He still commands our worship. To not do so, to let other things or other people take priority in our hearts and lives, is sin. Jesus, the Son of Man, is Lord of the Sabbath. To remember the Sabbath day requires remembering Him – who He is; what He has done for us; what we owe Him. The Jewish leaders did not properly remember the Sabbath day because they didn’t remember and recognize who Jesus was: their Savior from sin. You do know and believe in Him as your Savior. Remember the Sabbath day; remember to worship Him.

II. The Sabbath Was Made for Man.

A. The Bible makes it clear that the Sabbath day and worshiping at the temple and synagogue for many of the Jewish religious leaders had become just a legal requirement, something they had to do in order to please God and earn His favor. This is similar to the Roman Catholic teaching which states that attending Mass, the Holy Communion worship service, brings blessing to the worshiper and is a good work in God’s sight just by attending, no matter whether the worshiper believes or not. So there are Christians today who feel that remembering the Sabbath day by going to church is something they do just because they have to and is doing God a favor. All these people are forgetting what Jesus clearly said about the Pharisees and teachers of the law a few chapters later in Mark: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’” (7:6-7) We sinners aren’t doing God a favor by worshiping Him. He doesn’t need our worship. He is doing us a favor by allowing us to worship Him!

B. Jesus says to the Pharisees in our reading: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Sabbath means “rest.” Spiritual rest was the goal of the Old Testament Sabbath and is still what the Sabbath is about today in the New Testament. Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) Jesus comes to us and gives us His rest through the Means of Grace, the Bible and the two Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion. In His Word He tells us the Good News that all sins have been forgiven, we are justified, declared “not guilty,” through faith in Him and His redemptive work. Every Baptism, every time we view a Baptism or remember our own Baptism, we receive rest for our souls, remembering and believing what the Bible says: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26) Every time we participate in Holy Communion or view it being served, we receive rest for our souls, remember and believing what the Bible says: “This is my body…This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26,28) This is why Jesus wants us to remember the Sabbath day. He gives us spiritual rest through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

C. One of Christians’ favorite heroes of faith is King David. Very clearly King David was a sinner, but God calls him a man after His own heart. As a young man, David faced the giant Goliath one-on-one in battle. Later when David was on the run from King Saul and enemies came and captured all the wives and children and belongings of David and his men, it says that “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep…David was greatly distressed.” But in the end of that same verse it reads: “But David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:4,6) Where and how did David obtain this strength from God to fight Goliath and recover from the personal loss of his family and belongings? Through the spiritual rest God gave his soul in His Word and promises. That is why David later wrote in Psalm 122: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” (122:1) Because of the message of spiritual rest David heard in God’s house he wrote: “I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” (Psalm 52:8) The spiritual rest David gained for his soul when he heard God’s Word in God’s house gave him great strength to live his life and face its daily battles. And so God gives spiritual rest for our souls and strength for our lives through the message of His Word proclaimed in His house.

D. I don’t think I’ll ever forget a family devotion we read after supper many years ago. It told the story of a woman who was a Christian. This woman so wanted her father, who was an unbeliever, to know and believe in Jesus too. But for so long he had turned down her efforts and invitations. Finally, he agreed to go to church one Sunday with his daughter and her family. The woman was so disappointed that the Scripture lesson that day was from a boring portion of the Old Testament. It was one of those genealogies recording the family tree of the patriarchs. Over and over it repeated monotonously: When so and so lived so many years, he had a son; after he had this son, he lived so many more years and then he died. When they walked out of church, the daughter was afraid to ask her father what he thought about it. Before she could ask him, he surprised her by saying that he’d like to come again next week because the Word of God had really touched his heart. It reminded him that he was a sinner, that someday he was going to die, and that he needed Jesus too!

E. As we confessed last Sunday in detail in the Athanasian Creed, we believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit works through the Word and Sacraments every time they are used to strengthen us sinners, increase our faith, give us power over Satan and sin, and fill our hearts with a greater measure of comfort, peace, and rest. And, it isn’t just in church that He gives us this rest through the Gospel, but in Christian schools, Sunday School, Bible Class, Vacation Bible School, and at home when we have family devotions and read Bible stories to our children or study it ourselves. Rest is important for our bodies. Without it we couldn’t function. Spiritual rest is vital for our souls. Without it we couldn’t function spiritually. Remember the Sabbath day. Remember Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath who won forgiveness for your sins and eternal life for your inheritance. Take every opportunity to worship Him and receive His rest for your soul here in God’s house and in your home. Share that rest with others by telling them of Jesus and inviting them to God’s house too. Amen.

See Also:

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

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