The Lord vs. Traditionalism | Mark 2:23–28

Sorry for the late post.  We were having technical difficulties.

This text opens up again the question of traditionalism. We will see that Jesus is not violating God's law, but these man-made regulations that have grown up over time around Scripture.   Is a kind of legalism that has no love for God nor neighbor.  This false religiosity is what Jesus will reveal and counter.   So today, we will first note the traditionalism of the legalists, and second, we will note the testimony of the Lord.



Sermon Notes
The Lord vs. Traditionalism | Mark 2:23–28
Shaun Marksbury | Morning Service | 2 April, 2017
I. Introduction
Last week, we talked about traditionalism, and began thinking about some of the thoughts on Sabbatarian laws.  One commentary says, ““Thirty-nine kinds of the generic are enumerated: to plow, to sow, to reap, to bind sheaves, to thresh, to winnow, to grind, to pound to powder, etc., to shear sheep, to dye wool, etc.; and the derivatives are of the same class and likeness: furrowing = plowing, cutting up vegetables = grinding, plucking ears = reaping.”

The problem with all these rules was how they played practically in everyday life.  For instance, the young Jewish man not be allowed to carry his prayer book to synagogue, nor would be mother be allowed to push a stroller to a friend's house on the Sabbath. Because ancient Jews understood this problem, they began to work around the rabbinical tradition. For instance, as MacArthur notes in his commentary, you could place food within 3,000 feet of your house and thus add another 3,000 feet of travel. If you place a piece of wood across an alley way, you would transform that alley into a doorway that would be considered part of your home. Perhaps is the most innovative was the lashing of multiple structures together with a cord or rope, thus making them all one structure, and hence, part of the same household.

While I was in school out in Los Angeles, I encountered this idea, called an eruv.  It connects a large section of Los Angeles as lines are tied to power poles and surround the city.  It extends across the Ventura Freeway in the north.  Its eastern boundary runs down Hollywood to Highland to S. Santa Monica Blvd. to Western Ave.  The Santa Monica Freeway is the southern boundary, and back up the 405 on the west.

I checked and, sure enough, we have one here in Savannah, though not quite as large.  The eastern edge runs down Reynolds St., east on Derenne Ave., down Waters St., and stops in the south at Stephenson Ave.  It basically comes back north on White Bluff back to Derenne, then west to Montgomery and then goes north again to Thatchery Pl.

Well, travel was not the only problem on the Sabbath. So was eating. You could only hold a single fig, as long as you did not toss it into the air and catch it with your other hand. If you reach out your window and receive it, and the Sun goes back down before you bring it back in the window, you have violated the Sabbath by essentially delivering groceries into your house.  Even though preparation of food on Sabbath could be considered work.

This all comes together in our account for this morning. Jesus and his disciples or walking on the Sabbath, but the question is how far they've walked. They also grab food to eat along the way. This offend the sensibilities of the Pharisees, and they begin to pester Jesus.

This text opens up again the question of traditionalism. We will see that Jesus is not violating God's law, but these man-made regulations that have grown up over time around Scripture.   Is a kind of legalism that has no love for God nor neighbor.  This false religiosity is what Jesus will reveal and counter.   So today, we will first note the traditionalism of the legalists, and second, we will note the testimony of the Lord.

II. First, the traditionalism of the legalists (vv. 23–24)
23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

They were passing by grain because there were paths through grain fields for travelers breaking from the main Roman roads.  Perhaps these were fields of wheat or barley, meaning that it is sometime in the spring or early summer.  As they travel these grainfield roads, they grow hungry, so they pluck off heads of grain, rub them in their hands to separate the husk, and then eat.

This might seem strange to you since they are walking through a field owned by someone else.  However, they didn’t have convenience stores and fast food when they got hungry.  So, God allowed travelers to eat the growing produce in the fields, as long as they weren’t using tools or filling up bags (Dt 23:24–25).  A few pieces of grain could mean life or death for those whose road is long.  So, since a farmer isn’t going to miss a few heads of corn or grain here and there anyway, he didn’t need to be tightfisted with his property, as long as others weren’t actively carting off barrels of his harvest.

So, we should be clear on the fact that Jesus and his disciples were breaking no law. What they were doing was perfectly legal according to the Torah. Jesus would not have instructed his disciples to do otherwise.  He said in Mt 5:19, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

Neither walking nor snacking on the Sabbath violated the Law of Moses.  Still, they come to Jesus, and the state of verb means that they kept speaking to Jesus on this matter.  The reason the Pharisees take issue at this point does not come directly from the Law—it came from a violation of their traditions.  They wanted to ensure the sanctity of the Sabbath by adding several fence laws around it to ensure people never came close to violating it.

God commanded that they not work on the Sabbath, taking time to rest and worship the Lord (Ex 20:8–11), and the rabbis and Pharisees had created numerous laws to define exactly what should be prohibited.  Some of it was based on Scripture; harvesting on the Sabbath, for instance, was forbidden by God (Ex 34:21).  Plucking grain and rubbing it in your hands for a snack could be considered harvesting, and thus, a violation of the fourth commandment.  So, the Pharisees take the most rigid interpretation and expect others to do the same.

This is how traditionalism works. Someone takes what God commands and add to it. We're not talking about developing personal convictions for the living out of the Christian life, but rather, developing traditions for everybody else to live by. The Christian then embarks on fault-finding missions, trying to see if everybody is in 100% agreement on what the Bible is not one hundred percent clear about.

For example, someone may feel very strongly that they should we rise early and pray to the Lord. They would be following several models in Scripture. Even so, they made make other Christians feel ashamed if they do not also rise at 3:30 in the morning for an hour-long prayer session.   I have had someone try that with me, and I was very tempted to ask why he didn't stay up as late as I do at night and instead went to bed early like the sloth!   Obviously, the Bible tells us to pray at all time, not just at specific points in the day. If that triggers you, then go speak to Pastor Brian after service.

 Another issue that comes up is the issue of homeschooling. We personally homeschool our children, but I say that with fear of associated with certain homeschool families. This issue has split churches! Is amazing to me that's Christians with the love of Christ can so vehemently disagree on a question of scriptural application. Again, Pastor Brian is available for any questions you may have.

 These are just a couple of examples that highlight how one's personal conviction becomes a mandate for all to follow. Brothers and sisters, there is a more excellent way. Let all things be done in love...  love of neighbor, and more importantly, love of God.

III. Second, the testimony of the Lord (vv. 25–28)
 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Jesus doesn’t do like we might expect and argue the point.  He doesn’t directly tell them that their traditions are wrong.  He doesn’t become defensive of His disciples.  He takes them to Scripture.  We’ll take a few moments to look at His passage He uses as an illustration and then His interpretation of that passage.

A. The Lord’s Scriptural Illustration
He speaks with some sarcasm, as the Pharisees have obviously read this passage.  However, they missed the point.  In doing this, we see the pattern continue of Jesus bringing people back to Scripture when there is a question; He doesn’t quote a rabbi or a scribe or a tradition, but God’s Word.  The passage the Lord refers us to is in 1 Samuel 21.

Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” 2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.” I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place.

Before we go any further, it’s worth noting that this was a couple of lies.  David was actually fleeing Saul at this point, not working with him.  There’s also no indication that David would later meet other men.  I’m not sure why he lied.  Perhaps Ahimelech suspected that something was wrong between David and Saul, so David is trying to put him at ease.

I suspect, though, that it may have been an attempt to keep him alive.  If Saul pursued, Ahimelech could tell him what David had said.  Saul would theoretically realize that David lied to get Ahimelech’s help, and so recognize him as no traitor to the king.  (Unfortunately, in the next chapter, Saul surprises everyone with how unhinged he really is—he doesn’t accept the explanation and order the deaths of eighty-five priests and all the animals at Nob.)  Let’s continue:

 3 Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.’ 4 And the priest answered David, ‘I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women’ 5 And David answered the priest, ‘Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?’ 6 So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.
Unlike what Jesus and His disciples are doing, this is a violation of the Law.  Jesus doesn’t say that David did what some people said was wrong.  He didn’t say that David broke a taboo, a social more, or the conventional wisdom of the day.  He said that David did that which is not lawful, and he gave to others to eat.  Because Jesus quotes this as a positive example, He is demonstrating that there are circumstances in which the law might bend.

David needed food—the anointed king needed help.  There was the condition that David and his men were not currently with women so there would be some sense of ritual purity as they eat the bread.  The Law was never designed to make one starve, and could bend while shining through the lens of loving one’s neighbor.  If David could eat of the showbread, a direct violation of the commandment, then why can’t Christ’s disciples eat a few grains of wheat when they get hungry?

Now, it’s not as though anyone could break the law when they get hungry.  Proverbs 6:30–31 demonstrates the delicate balance between compassion and culpability—“People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, 31 but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house.”  The Law must be applied as to not violate its principles while also exercising the love of God, even the love of the victim of crimes.  But Jesus and His disciples were not breaking the Law, so they should be afforded at least the same amount of grace as David.

Besides, Jesus had an even greater status than David.  Consider the parallel account in Matthew.  Understand that the priests, by necessity, violated the Sabbath commandment.  They lit fires and offered sacrifices.  In Mt 12:5–7, we read, “Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.”  Jesus is the greater David, and He is greater high priest.  If the Law bends for King David and the priests, then the man-made traditions of the Pharisees should bend for the Lord Jesus Christ.

B. The Lord’s Sovereign Interpretation
This will serve as our final thoughts today.

The Law (and its Sabbath-keeping) is given for man.  The parable Jesus tells is of a direct violation of God’s Law.  The bread of the presence that David and his men ate was only for the priests (Ex 25:30; Lv 24:5–9), but David and his men weren’t in sin (1 Sm 21:15) and needed food for the journey.  The summation of the Law is supposed to be love for neighbor (Mt 22:40; Gal 5:14), so Jesus condemns the Pharisees applying the Law so as to crush those it came to guard (Mt 23:4; cf. Gal 3:24).

The Law (nor Sabbath-keeping) can’t bring life.  Our Lord highlights how they misread and misuse the Law.  They believed they were holy because they fasted twice a week (Lk 18:12), tithed even the leaves on spice plants (Mt 23:23), and avoided all appearances of working on the Sabbath.  Indeed, the Law is holy (Rm 7:12), but because of the sin within us, it produces death (v. 13).  In case there’s any doubt as to whether it can bring life, Jesus said in Mt 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The purpose of the Law wasn’t so that a person could be made holy, but so that a person made holy would know how to live in holiness.

Jesus (not Sabbath-keeping) brings life.  Only Jesus Christ can deliver us from the death and condemnation of the Law (Rm 7:24–8:4).  He tells them in John 5:39–40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  He saves, taking the unholy of the world and making them holy (cf. Lv 11:44).

This is the first reference in Mark to kurios, the same term used in the Greek OT to speak of Yahweh God.  It’s emphasized in the Greek.  We could translate this into awkward English, “So that Lord is the Son of Man, even of the Sabbath.”

A purpose of the Law is to love the Lord (Mt 22:37–40), and He’s the Lord.  Therefore, the disciples violated no commandment by walking and eating and learning from Christ—they were with the LORD.  He originally delivered the Sabbath command, and He’ll give another evidence of that in the synagogue in chapter three.  Since He is Lord, He is Lord even over the Sabbath that the Pharisees thought they protected.

May He forever be our Lord and Sabbath rest (Hb 4:9)!

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