For Your Benefit

Entirely for Your Benefit | Mark 2:27-3:6

“Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. “Now He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a paralyzed hand. In order to accuse Him, they were watching Him closely to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath. He told the man with the paralyzed hand, “Stand before us.” Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill? ” But they were silent. After looking around at them with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Immediately the Pharisees went out and started plotting with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.” (Mark 2:27 – 3:1-6 HCSB

What God has given is for your benefit and blessing but what man has added is for his own advancement, benefit and blessing. Jesus actions in this synagogue is indicative that new wine can’t be placed in old wineskins and new patches shouldn’t be sewn onto old garments. These Pharisees are more concerned that Jesus is showing compassion and concern for someone’s well being on the Sabbath even as they ironically begin to plot to take His life on that same holy day.

Jesus looks at them with anger and sorrow, grieving at the hardness of their hearts. He restored the man’s withered hand in the same way that He desired to restore their withered and hardened hearts and the restoration of God’s Kingdom and rule among men.

[The above comments are just my ideas and thoughts as I was studying and preparing this sermon blog post. After accidentally including them in my original post I decided to leave them and add this disclaimer. – Gary]

I hope you had a very blessed and joyous celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. It is always good to stop and consider the truth of and impact of that life altering event. In fact, the very mission of the church is to proclaim the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what that means to those who will believe, follow and completely trust Him to guide them into relationship with God, the Father. As He said, “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. (John 10:10 HCSB

As we return to our Mark study, I would remind you that three weeks ago we considered Jesus’ confrontation with a group of Pharisees regarding the actions of His disciples as they plucked and ate grain on the Sabbath while walking through the grain field. Jesus responded to the Pharisee’s accusations with the statement, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” (See Mk 2:27) Mark has been showing us the growing controversy between what Jesus said and did and the Pharisee’s traditional interpretation and teaching of the Sabbath laws. This week, we see this controversy escalate to the point where the Pharisees begin to plan and scheme on how to resolve this conflict by killing Jesus.

At the very heart of this conflict is the authority that Jesus is exercising over the hearts and lives of this growing group of His disciples. In those closing words of chapter 2 – “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” – Jesus is placing His authority in direct opposition to the authority of the Pharisees. Of course, the Pharisees question and deny His authority but we need to consider Jesus’ words carefully because they carry great weight for our lives. Why? Because the implication of His statement is not just that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, but because man was made for the Sabbath then He’s Lord of the Sabbath because He’s also Lord over man(kind) and, thus, all of creation.

So, what are the implications for our lives based on Jesus’ statements? Well, that’s really what I want us to delve into and discover. To begin with, some would take His statements to mean that He’s Lord over the religious and spiritual aspects of life because He’s Lord of the Sabbath. However, the Son of Man has power and authority over more than just the religious and spiritual aspects of life. According to Daniel 7, the Son of Man has been “given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed (see Dan. 7:14).”

Notice that Jesus has already told us, you can’t place a patch of new cloth onto old garment or new wine into old wineskins without destroying both. The implication is that you can’t take what God is doing now and sew it onto the old ways of worship. You can’t take this new wine and pour it into the old wineskin of the Temple worship. The people had forgotten the lessons of the past and what that means to their present methods of worship. The laws of Sabbath worship are really fairly direct and simple – do not perform any work on the Sabbath for it is to be a day of rest for you, your family, your servants and your livestock.

However, in the intervening years, the scribes and Pharisees had begun to desire a more detailed definition of precisely what those words meant and what they governed. Generally speaking, when we want something defined in more detail it usually isn’t so that we can be more precise and certain of our own obedience but so that we can be less obedient in our own observance and actions and more demanding and restrictive of others. In other words, we’re looking for loopholes for ourselves and snares for everyone else. The scribes and Pharisees found a sense of pride, fulfillment, power and authority as they lauded their own Sabbath observance. But they decried the pitiful ways that the working class struggled to follow and observe the restrictive and merciless Sabbath rules the Pharisees had established.

“They [the scribes and Pharisees] tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4 HCSB

Let me stop for a moment and address something that is clearly seen but often overlooked in Jesus’ statement regarding the establishment of the Sabbath. Jesus says, “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” What He’s stating is that God had made and given the Sabbath day as a blessing and benefit for he good of the people and not the other way around. In other words, the Sabbath wasn’t established as a means to oppress, burden, demean and restrict the people’s ability to live, love, thrive and worship God but rather it was given as a means to enhance, encourage and empower their lives and elicit their love and, thus, their worship of Him.

I’d like to let those thoughts settle into you minds and hearts, for a moment. Not only is that true of the Sabbath laws but it is also true of ALL of God’s laws. This is one of the fundamental beliefs and suppositions of the Judea-Christian worldview but it is so often dismissed and disregarded by our culture, and even some who claim to be believers, as relevant or true. Let me restate this so that you don’t miss or misunderstand my point – God’s Word and His laws are given with the purpose and intent that their observance will enhance and empower our abilities to live in a manner that is consistent with God’s design and our benefit. Yes, God’s laws are intended to bless and benefit us because they are consistent with His design and purpose for our lives. In other words, we find that life is better and more fulfilling when we live according to God’s laws. Why? Because that’s how He made us.

This principle really is quite simple: an organism thrives and reaches its fullest potential when it lives in an environment consistent with its design and its created purpose. Problems occur, however, when the organism has the ability and the desire to choose an environment that is not optimal to achieving that purpose, beneficial for thriving or even living, for that matter. Therein lies the struggle. We often make choices that are in opposition to God’s law and design and, thus, we place ourselves in an environment that is not conducive to living life as God intended. We don’t thrive because we are fighting against God’s design.

You may be wondering, how does this relate to our study? The scribes and Pharisees had been prescribing obedience to a way of life that was in opposition to God’s design and His purpose. God had defined obedience to the Sabbath as the simple command to rest from your work for yourself, your servants (or employees) and even your livestock. He knew we needed that time of weekly rest, relaxation and reflection. He also knew our staff and our livestock needed it and that we need to extend this observance to them, too. But He also knew we needed a time to reflect on the purpose and design of life, to reflect on Him. To live a life of gratitude and to discover true joy. The Pharisees had attempted to define work in an attempt to make certain people observed the Sabbath law but in doing so had unwittingly removed a part of what God had intended for us to discover in its observance, an essential part of His nature – His mercy and love for man and the gratitude and joy we would discover in Him and in worshipping Him. They had stripped the law of its purpose, of its joy, of its ability to elicit gratitude from us and, in so doing, stripped it of its worship.

Now, how does this relate to me? Stay with me and I think you’ll see…

In the story that follows, Mark tells us of subsequent encounter Jesus has in a local synagogue. While we aren’t told where this synagogue was, apparently that was unimportant, we are told that Jesus encounters more opposition from these Pharisees regarding their Sabbath rules and His unwillingness to follow them. Jesus isn’t just breaking their rules because He is rebellious, He’s breaking them because they are causing the exact opposite of what God wanted from the Sabbath. God intended for the Sabbath to be a day of rest, of reflection on Him. It was an expression of His love for man and He intended it to be an expression of man’s love and gratitude for His provision – a day of focused solely on our dependent relationship with and worship of God.

Notice how Jesus draws attention to this fact: He calls a man with a paralyzed [withered] hand to stand before them all. He then asks, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save life or to kill?” The answer is obvious but it elicits only silence from those He addresses. Jesus looks on them with anger but also with a sense of great sorrow – anger at their attitude and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, at their unwillingness to see their blatant sin and to turn away from it in humble repentance. If you’ll recall from previous weeks, Jesus had stated that “I have come, not for the righteous but for the sinners. The healthy don’t need a physician but only the sick.”

But isn’t it a good thing to demand obedience to God’s laws? Absolutely! But is that really what these Pharisees were demanding or expecting? Jesus question was intended to get them to reflect on whether their rules were resulting in the good, morally just and righteous actions that God would reward or the exact opposite. Is it lawful to do good or evil, to save life or to kill on the Sabbath?

Listen to the words of the Psalmist: “Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Who is the man who delights in life, loving a long life to enjoy what is good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry for help. The face of the Lord is set against those who do what is evil, to erase all memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:11-18 HCSB

Or perhaps you need to be reminded of James’ words: “Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to the one who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” (James 2:12-17 HCSB

You see, we have somehow come to believe that Pharisees only existed in first century Judaism. Oh no, they also exist in twenty-first century Christianity and modern Baptist life. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not advocating that we discard obedience to God’s Word and His laws. On the contrary, I believe that obedience to God’s Word and His laws bring life, liberty, peace and a deep, deep sense of life purpose and even deeper joy. However, I am just as convinced that the sin that motivated the Pharisaical rules of Jesus’ day are still very prevalent in modern Christianity. To be perfectly blunt, that response sounds more like the Pharisees to me than it does Jesus. Instead of seeing people who are broken and burdened by sin and in desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness all around us, we see people who elicit our hatred and disgust. We are busy developing religious rules intended to keep them away from us and from ever encountering Christ’s love, finding God’s mercy and experiencing His forgiveness and restoration.

I want you to see how Jesus responded, “after looking around at them with anger and sorrow at the hardness of their hearts, He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did and his hand was restored. I have no doubt, this man had come year after year to Synagogue hoping to encounter God and to be restored. He had tried following their religious rules only to walk away each time with his hand still shriveled and paralyzed. But that day, he encountered the mercy of God as embodied in Jesus. The Son of Man, Lord of the Sabbath, who knew that sometimes you have to break man’s rules to do what God wants, to do what is right, what is good, what is just and what restores man’s hope and gives him life.

Jesus was angry at them for how they stood silent in the face of the truth of God’s Word – “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or evil, to save life or to kill?” But He was also sorrowful over the hardness of their hearts. They heard the truth but refused to be moved to repentance and change. Instead of submitting to the TRUTH of God’s Word and turning from their rebellion and sin, they went out and started plotting with the Herodians on how to silence Him, how to destroy Him.

Listen to those words, they went out and started plotting how to destroy Him. The Herodians were not “friends” with the Pharisees. In fact, they were political enemies. But they were willing to become bedfellows for a common cause – to destroy Jesus. J.D. Greer stated last year in his presidential address to the Southern Baptist Convention: “Whenever the church gets in bed with politics, the church gets pregnant. And our offspring does not look like our father in heaven.” The church needs to hear and heed those words. Indeed, individual Christians need to hear and heed those words. The power of the church has NEVER resided in her politics or her political alliances. The church’s power and authority rests solely in the person of her bridegroom, Jesus the Son of God. The power of each individual Christian rests solely in the person of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So, if you are trying to rely on anything to bring you peace other than Jesus, you will never know true peace. If you are relying on anything to bring you joy other than Jesus, you will never know real joy. If you are seeking relationship with God in anything other than Jesus, you will never find real relationship with God without Him. If you are seeking satisfaction, fulfillment and purpose in life in anything other than Jesus, you will never truly achieve them without Him. If you are seeking restoration of your broken life in anything or anyone other than Jesus, you will never know restoration without Him. If you are seeking forgiveness through your own efforts, you’ll never know forgiveness without Jesus. If you are seeking hope, help or life in anyone or anything other than Jesus, you will never find it.

What must you do to find these things? Turn a deaf ear to the ways of the world and the rules of man but in absolute faith, hear and listen to the Lord of the Sabbath, Son of God and the Son of Man – “Stand before me… stretch out your hand.” Come on, reach out, trust Him and be completely restored.

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