The point of work is not to punch a clock. The point of food isn’t merely to get full. The point of reading is not to be able to show everyone on Goodreads how many books you have read. The point of marriage is not simply to have a spouse on paper. The point of having children is not to get the tax credit. The point of church is not just to show up on Sundays. The point of life is not just to exist. And the point of following Jesus is not simply to get into heaven when your earthly life is over.
Regardless of what topic we’re talking about, it’s so easy to miss the point. And today, we’re going to see a couple of moments from the life of Jesus where his audience completely misses the point. And we’re going to think, “How in the world could they do this?” And then we’re going to be challenged with some self-reflection on how, in a very different way, we’re also missing the point. I’m calling this message, “Don’t Miss the Point”.
Mark 2:23-3:6 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. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 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. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 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. 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. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
How did these Pharisees completely miss the point when it came to Sabbath? Let’s talk first about what they got right.
The Sabbath is a big deal to God.
The Sabbath is the only spiritual discipline that makes the ten commandments. Two key scriptures where this shows up in the ten commandments:
Exodus 20:8-11 “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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Then it shows up again in Deuteronomy 5 with most of the same exact wording, with one major exception. I want you to see it in verse 15:
Deuteronomy 5:15 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.
So the Sabbath was super important to God and He wanted it to be super important to His people. But as humans tend to do, they took it too far. Here’s the literal meaning of Sabbath:
Sabbath – to cease, to desist, to stop
Again, Sabbath is a really big deal to God. But not for the reasons the Pharisees thought. They believed it was about regulation, religion, compliance. They thought it was their duty to hold up the commandment of the Sabbath. Let’s go back to the intent of Sabbath.
The LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. I love how one commentator tells us what this means:
In brief, “bless” is the language of giving, while “made it holy” is the language of claiming. When something is blessed by God, it becomes a vehicle of his generous giving and an expression of his warm concern. When God declares something holy, he claims it for himself, taking it out of ordinary circulation and declaring it special.
The Sabbath was meant to be a gift to be received weekly. The Pharisees missed the point and ultimately made it a standard to uphold. They came up with 39 things that were forbidden to do on the Sabbath. Like they did with other things, they made the Sabbath a heavy burden to bear for people. It’s almost like they forgot what the Sabbath was rooted in. Recall the words from Deuteronomy 5 – “You were slaves. God brought you out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”
Why make Sabbath a burden if the whole point of it is to remember that you were freed by the work of God?
The Pharisees completely missed the point. And this makes Jesus angry. As you read through all four gospels, you will not find Jesus getting angry very often – but He does here. Why? They’ve taken a gift from God and turned it into something that doesn’t represent the heart of God whatsoever. They’re going crazy over some grain being picked. And they have a major problem with Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath?
I love the wordplay here from Jesus. He knows they are all about the law, so he asks them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
They missed the point, and your like, “Yep, Ben, that seems pretty obvious.” They let their religion keep them from enjoying the gift of Sabbath. Crazy, right? And yet for many of us, our religion has also kept us from enjoying the gift of Sabbath.
What is your religion that is keeping you from enjoying God’s gift of Sabbath? The religion of work? The religion of FOMO? The religion of “Always On”? The religion of “I’m Too Important”?
On February 24, 2019, there was an article that came out in The Atlantic called “Workism is Making Americans Miserable”.
What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.
When we forsake Sabbath, we’re missing a gift from God and a significant thread He sowed into the fabric of our universe. Back to our main text for today. Jesus says something significant in Mark 2:27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
While God did not make us to hold up the Sabbath, He did make the Sabbath to hold us up.
And then the next scene takes place in the synagogue on the Sabbath. A man is there with a shriveled hand. Jesus often times did things in secret and told the recipients of his miracles not to tell anyone…you know how that goes. But on this occasion, he tells the man with the shriveled hand to stand up in front of everyone. Jesus is tired of people missing the point about the Sabbath. “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill?” And again we know the right answer. But do you practice Sabbath? It’s for your good. To say it stronger, it’s for saving your life.
For some reason, we have an aversion to commandments from God. They feel like “have to’s” to us. Perhaps it reminds us of the kinds of churches we grew up in that were stuffy and only about rituals and regulations. But I want to encourage you to change your view of God’s commandments. In fact, here’s what you need to know:
God requires things from us because He desires things for us.
God wants us to keep Sabbath because He knows we need to stop, rest, remember, and be refreshed.
You might not have a shriveled hand, but like just like this person, Jesus wants to provide restoration on the Sabbath. He wants to remind you that you’re more than someone who produces things.
The Pharisees missed the point of Sabbath.
In a very different way, many of us are missing the point of Sabbath.
But how do we actually practice Sabbath?
We must have time we set aside for it. A whole day would be awesome. Two half-days work incredibly well. Or even a half-day is a start. I have Sabbath time on two half-days most weeks – part of Saturday and part of Monday. I know you think you’re too busy or too important or have too much on your plate to do this. That might be true. If so, move some things off your plate.
“What we assume is a normal lifestyle is absolute insanity to the God-given nature of our heart and soul.” John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back
Nearly everyone I talk to is some combination of exhausted, busy, and overwhelmed. We’ve missed the point. Quit telling yourself you have to live this way. You don’t. And I or others on our team would love to meet with you and examine how you might practically make time for what God wants to give you.
What do you do on this Sabbath day? John Mark Comer gives this advice:
“If you’re new to the Sabbath, a question to give shape to your practice is this: What could I do for twenty-four hours that would fill my soul with a deep, throbbing joy? That would make me spontaneously combust with wonder, awe, gratitude, and praise?” John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
He goes on to say:
“The Sabbath is how we fill our souls back up with life.” John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
And this from our friend Rich Villodas:
“Sabbath is not just rest from making things. It’s rest from the need to make something of ourselves. It’s a day of noticing, a day of simple joyful presence, which is why community and eating together are such good Sabbath practices. It’s a day of presence.” Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life
One more note about how important the Sabbath is.
Jesus was willing to risk his life so that we wouldn’t miss the heart of Sabbath.
Mark 3:6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.