They owed their obedience to Him because they owed their existence to Him
During the Middle Ages a group known as the Waldensians emerged who made it their aim to study and form their Christian beliefs strictly from the Scriptures. Their movement began in Lyon France in the 12th century with a man named Peter Waldo. During this time a middle class between the nobles and serfs emerged, comprised of “mobile merchants”, who moved around selling goods. To preach to this transient merchant group a force of preachers also emerged, called “mendicants”. They travelled around meeting the merchants and preaching the Gospel to them. Peter Waldo was one of those successful merchants. One day Waldo realized how short life is and how important eternal life is. He gave away his wealth to the poor and set himself to study the Scriptures and preach the Gospel of Christ. Some attribute this conversion to Christ to a streetcorner singer who sang a ballad of a wealthy man who gave his possessions away to follow Christ. Some attribute Waldo’s conversion to the death of a friend. Perhaps the combination of both is the truth. Either way, Waldo, once he began his own studies, discovered that the established Church was teaching things not found in Scripture: absolute supremacy of the pope, transubstantiation, purgatory, indulgences and so on. Waldo is part of those who were forerunners to the climactic Reformation in the 16th century. He was part of those few who walked the narrow road while the established church led the many along the wide road (Mt. 7:13-14). For awhile Waldo was allowed to preach unhindered by the Church. But, that changed and Waldo’s followers, the Waldensians, were severely persecuted, enjoying the distinction of the first targets of the Inquisition.
What do you do when you find the teachings of your religion or religious leaders aren’t in the Bible? Waldo faced that question. Our text today also touches on that question. How did Jesus respond to the religious leaders who taught what was not in the Scriptures?
Peter Waldo discovered what freedom from man-made religion was in the 12th century. Jesus came to set people free from the trappings of man-made religion too.
Jesus walked along. The Pharisees followed along. Jesus lived every day with His critics looking over His shoulder scrutinizing everything He did. Only integrity and living to please God could anyone bear that. Any other man would have gone crazy – if not clinically then definitely on his critics.
Out with the Old, In with the New (v21-22)
The point of these two parables is that the teachings Jesus brought regarding Grace and the Gospel cannot be embraced while simultaneously embracing OT Judaism. The new was incompatible with the old. Old cloth was already shrunk but new cloth was not. The new cloth would shrink and the old cloth would tear. The new wine would ferment and cause expansion, and, if the winebag was old and didn’t have elasticity anymore it wouldn’t allow for the gas expansion of the fermenting wine. The old winebag was not going to work with the new wine. The old system of Judaism was not going to work with the new teachings of Grace and the Gospel. A new arrangement, a new setup, a new scheme was required.
This is not because OT Judaism failed. God gave the whole OT scheme to the Jews: the temple rituals, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the ceremonial laws, the moral laws, and the civil laws and so on. The OT system was given by God, but, it was temporary. The reason it was temporary was because the whole system was designed as a precursor to the Person of Jesus Christ. The Law was given by God and God knew and planned that Jesus would come in time and fulfill the Law. Once He came and fulfilled the Law the purpose of the Law would be over. A new setup based on Jesus would begin – a setup based on His life, teachings, death and resurrection.
In other words, you no longer bring a bull to a priest at the temple because Jesus came. To bring a bull to a priest at a temple in Jerusalem now would be redundant and a practical denial of who Jesus is. It would be like continuing to send in mortgage payments for your house after the mortgage company sent you a letter saying someone paid your loan and you don’t owe anymore.
Its important to keep in view that Jesus was speaking to Jews about the Jewish Law. But there is an application for us in what Jesus says: When you go forward with Jesus you leave your former system behind. What were you part of? Islam? Roman Catholicism? New Age? Maybe none of these, maybe you weren’t religious or spiritual but you just had your own ideas about morality and being a good person. Going forward with Jesus means you leave it behind because you’ve submitted to the Divine Authority of Jesus.
Sinning Against the Sabbath (v23-24)
What is offending the Pharisees? The Pharisees are offended – again. I’m not sure we don’t see the Pharisees anywhere in the Gospels when they’re not offended. This time they are offended that the disciples of Jesus are picking heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. That’s the rub. It isn’t what they’re doing, it’s when they’re doing it – on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was perhaps the most cherished feature of Judaism. It may be argued that what incensed the Pharisees most – other than Jesus’ apparent blasphemy – was His apparent violation of the precious Sabbath.
What is the Sabbath? First off it is not Sunday. Covenant Theologians refer to Sunday as the Sabbath but it is not accurate. The Sabbath is the 7th day of the week (Saturday) not the 1st day of the week (Sunday). The NT never commands Christians to rest and worship on Saturday.
The Sabbath was a day of rest from all normal work. It was not a universal command for all mankind, but, a specific command given by God to national-ethnic Israel as part of His covenant with them. The Sabbath is actually a sign God gave to Israel that He is their covenant God and that they are “holy” to Him, and a reminder that He was the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. (Notice the command to rest from work is an act of divine mercy contrasted with the harshness of forced labor every day back in Egypt). Failing to keep the Sabbath, God said, would result in death or cutting off from Jewish society. The basis for the 7th day was the creation week, when God created in 6 days and rested on the 7th. The Jews were to understand that the God who rescued them from Egypt, who entered into a covenant with them, and brought them into the land was the One and Only God who created the heavens and the earth. Thus, they owed their obedience to Him because they owed their existence to Him. There was the weekly sabbath, then special Sabbath days around certain Feasts, and there were even Sabbath years to be observed where the land was not allowed to be cultivated, but rested.
Breaking the Sabbath was serious business, the punishment was death. So, understandably, the Jews concentrated really hard on keeping the Sabbath, if not for honoring God, at least for self-preservation.
Were the disciples actually breaking the Sabbath? No. The disciples were not working like they would work on the other days of the week. That was the key to the Sabbath. You could not go get some overtime hours at the job on the Sabbath, but, you could prepare a meal for you and your family so you could eat. You could run across town to help your aging parents if they needed help. You could run over to your neighbors to help him get his donkey out of a ditch.
The Pharisees were so pedantic and petty because they had taken a command God gave to the Jews and turned it into this monstrous burden on the backs of the Israelites by adding to it all their own rules (Mt 23:4). It was so bad they equated a person plucking some grains to feed themselves with working a shift sunup to sundown on a farm. They couldn’t see the difference. Honestly, you couldn’t pour cereal and milk in a bowl without them accusing you of violating the Sabbath. Even if they let you do that you couldn’t lift the spoon to your mouth.
The Sabbath was meant to cease from normal weekly labors, rest with your family, worship God and meditate on Him, and help others if they were in need.
What is going on in the heart of the Pharisees? Pride for one thing. The kind of pride that exalts a person over others in their own eyes. The kind of pride that breeds moral and religious and intellectual superiority. The kind of pride that gives great assurance in self. The kind of pride that makes the 4×4 in one’s own eye seem like a mere sliver, while the sliver in someone else’s eye appears to the prideful person to be a 4×4. The kind of pride that loves pointing out the faults in others almost as much as pointing out the awesomeness of self.
The Pharisees turned God’s religion into a merciless man-made religion. By the time Jesus arrived they were not observing the Sabbath the way God instructed. They took it too far by adding man’s teachings to it. By doing so they enslaved men, dehumanized people, and enforced obedience to a man-made Sabbath.
The Pharisees insisted everyone else live by all their rules but they didn’t even live by their own rules, “The Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat” Jesus said in Matthew 23:2, “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” Jesus goes on, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
Here is a maxim in the Christian life: Anytime you insist on rules for everyone that go beyond the Scriptures you will be proven a hypocrite (Luke 13:14-16). The Pharisees criticized Jesus for breaking the Sabbath, yet, they didn’t object to other ways of breaking the Sabbath:
- priests breaking the Sabbath to do their required priestly work (Mt. 12:5)
- Taking a donkey out and watering it (Luke 13:14-16)
- Circumcision of a child on the 8th day (Jn 7:22-23)
Application: The person bent on criticism is unable to see how they are guilty of the same things they criticize in others. Be careful in your criticism that you are not guilty too. Maxim: Often times we are guilty of the very things we criticize in others.
Application: Paradoxically, we also tend to judge others harder for things we don’t do ourselves, and are more lenient towards people we find similar faults in. Notice the danger here: self has become the standard by which others are measured.
Application: If your religion is not cultivating in you a more merciful heart towards people then something is wrong. “Love the Lord your God….and love your neighbor as yourself.” Integral in the makeup of love is mercy, a feeling for someone in their neediness, and being moved towards relieving that need or suffering.
An OT Precedent for Mercy (25-26)
So the Pharisees question Jesus, which is interesting in itself. When He forgave the paralytic his sins they didn’t question Him outloud – He heart their thoughts. When He ate with tax collectors and sinners they didn’t question Him directly, they interrogated His disciples. Now they question Him directly. Maybe they felt they had finally witnessed a real, undeniable violation of Law, they finally had one they could corner Him with. Maybe.
Anyway, Jesus answers them in verses 25-26. His answer refers to the time when David was running from King Saul who was seeking to kill him. He came to the city of Nob, found the priest and asked for the bread of the Presence. It is the bread that is baked fresh and placed out in the temple every Sabbath day and it only the priests are allowed to eat it. But David took it for food when he was on the run. It wasn’t lawful for David to do that, so, why was it okay in that situation for him to take that bread?
The answer to that question is the same answer Jesus gives to the Pharisees. David was in need. David, an innocent man, unjustly hunted by a jealous and wicked King Saul was running to survive. The only bread available was the showbread. That bread wasn’t being taken out each week and given to the homeless, it wasn’t being sold as “day-old bread” to the public. The norm was it was eaten by the priests and with David it was an extenuating circumstance. The disciples were hungry. They weren’t at anyone’s home where a meal was being prepared and they didn’t yet know that Jesus could miraculously produce bread and fish. They were hungry. They needed to eat. They weren’t out on their boats trying to “earn their living” on the Sabbath, they were trying to get something in their stomachs in that moment.
The whole point Jesus is leading to is that the Sabbath was meant as a gift of mercy to man.
Application: Mercy is the Measure. If your religion is authentic, sincere, and true in your heart then it will be evident by the mercy you are able to show.
When carrying out rituals in your religion prevent you from showing mercy to people in need, forgoe the ritual and go with mercy every time. That is God’s intention. “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13).
The Truth About the Sabbath (27-28)
Two truths about the Sabbath the Pharisees needed to know
First, the Sabbath was made for man. Not the other way around. In other words, the Sabbath was created with man in mind, to serve man, to bless man, as a gift to man. Man wasn’t created with the Sabbath in mind, to mechanically be enslaved to rules simply so the Sabbath could not be broken. If the good of a man and the good of the Sabbath came into conflict the Jews enforced Sabbath rules with no concern for the suffering of the man.
In the very next passage Jesus asks the question: Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” His question could arguably have been rhetorical since the answers are so obvious: doing good and saving life on the Sabbath are lawful. Doing good and saving life are good for man, and that is what the purpose of the Sabbath was – for man to be blessed.
Second, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. The first truth about the Sabbath had to do with mercy, with blessing, with the benefit it brings to man. This truth brings out the fact that Jesus is the authority over the Sabbath. The word Lord is “kurios”, which means the owner of something, someone who has full rights to something to do whatever he pleases.
In other words, it is like Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “Oh, so the Sabbath reigns supreme in your minds, huh? Nothing can violate the Sabbath because the Sabbath is the highest law? Well I’m here, which means that Someone is here who is higher than the Sabbath. I’m not subject to the Sabbath, I created it, and I will do with it what I please.”
This is not to say that Jesus was actually breaking the Sabbath. He was breaking the Sabbath as the Pharisees saw it – and remember they saw it with all their man-made rules. No, Jesus was not, however, breaking the Sabbath as He -God – gave it. It is a statement of Divine Sovereignty and prerogative.
Application: How often do our own ideas and rules get mixed up into our view of God?
Jesus Christ sets us free. He sets us free from the trappings and frustrations of man-made rules. And truth be told, He sets us free from our own faulty ideas.
- Leave your old system behind to go forward with Jesus
- Don’t demand more of others than God does
- Measure yourself by your mercy
- See Jesus is Sovereign, not you.