These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the gospel of Mark. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.

How do you know if you are following Jesus in a relationship or just following religious rules and traditions? Can you be loving Jesus one day and over the years love church tradition, religious tradition, or your spiritual habits more than Him? Is it possible to be a person who is committed to church, the Ten Commandments, and being nice and miss Jesus completely? Absolutely.

Today, we are going to see Jesus take an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson about following Him. We are going through the gospel of Mark and we are learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus and what it does not mean. We are learning about who we are following and how following Jesus impacts our daily lives.

Let’s dive into this and see what God’s Word has to say to you.

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. 

Mark 2:23 says, “One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat.” Let’s set the stage for what is about to happen. During the time of Jesus, it was normal for pathways to crisscross fields, so travelers walked through crops routinely. Roads were scarce, especially in rural places, so travel usually took place on wide paths that stretched from one town to the next, passing through fields and pastures. As they traveled, people walked alongside the crops that lined both sides of the path.

In light of this, God gave a provision for His people. According to Deuteronomy 23:25, “And when you enter your neighbor’s field of grain, you may pluck the heads of grain with your hand, but you must not harvest it with a sickle” (NLT).  To harvest someone else’s grain with a sickle was not permitted because you would be taking too much. To pluck a few heads of grain while walking beside a ripened field of wheat or barley was a provision made by God Himself for those traveling. It was an easy and natural way to bless people on their journey.

Jesus’ disciples were doing exactly what the OT permitted them to do. When they picked off the heads of grain, rubbed the heads in their hands to remove the husk and shell, and then ate the kernel, their actions were perfectly allowable within the purposes of God, but not in the minds of the religious people.

24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”

This takes us to verse 24 which says, But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” Let me remind you that Jesus and His followers had not broken any biblical laws. The Bible talks about keeping the Sabbath day holy. For Pharisees they wanted to make sure they did this. Over centuries they developed many religious rules that would guide them on how to keep the Sabbath day holy. What happened was they began placing more and more authority and emphasis on their rules, guidelines, and traditions than on caring and loving people. They had elevated their own man-made tradition over Scripture (cf. Matt. 15:3,6).

They established themselves as the authority over Sabbath-day observances, taking the rightful position of the only true Lord of the Sabbath – as Jesus was about to make clear.

By the Pharisees standards, the disciples were guilty of several forbidden actions: reaping (by picking the grain), sifting (by removing the husks and shell), threshing (by rubbing the heads of grain), winnowing (by throwing the chaff in the air), and preparing a meal (by eating the grain after they had cleaned it). None of those activities were permitted on the Sabbath.

Not concerned about the hunger or well-being of Jesus’ disciples, the Pharisees’ only interest was in protecting the petty regulations that made up their hypocritical system of external religion. They followed Jesus to scrutinize His behavior, solely to find something for which to find Him guilty for. The heart attitude behind their question was one of hatred toward Jesus, because He and His followers lived in such open defiance of their system of religion, in which the Sabbath was central.

25 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”

This takes us to verse 25, Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.” Obviously, the Pharisees had read the story about David. But Jesus’ words highlighted the fact that, even though they knew the facts of the story, they were ignorant of its true meaning. So, He responded to their question with His own question, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures?” The account to which Jesus referred is found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Jesus’ point was that showing compassion, in God’s sight, always trumped  strict adherence to ritual and ceremony.

27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 

This takes us to verse 27 where we get to the point of Jesus’ lesson: Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Let’s talk about the Sabbath for a moment. In Genesis we are told that God created everything in six days and on the seventh day He rested. Not because He was tired or needed a break but to celebrate His creation. The Bible gives us three purposes of the Sabbath.

  • To celebrate God’s provision. The idea of a Sabbath started back in Genesis. God created everything in six days and then He stopped. Not because He was tired, but to celebrate what He had done and accomplished. This day of celebration, the seventh day, has come to be known as the Sabbath day. God has created everything. He has provided everything we will need. Creation and all that we needed was complete. The Sabbath was a day to celebrate God’s provision generally and personally. It was a day of rest to reflect on what God had done.
  • Another purpose was to enjoy God’s presence. Later God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Commandment #4 deals with the Sabbath. Within that commandment God says things like “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” and to dedicated that day “to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20). God goes on to say not to do any work and to rest. He is not talking about being lazy or unproductive, but to stop your normal routine of the week and slow down and enjoy God’s presence without trying to accomplish everything possible that day.
  • A third purpose was to remember God’s promises. Later on God gives Moses some more instructions about the Sabbath. God says, “Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” (Exodus 31:13, NLT). It was a day to be reminded that God still cares, He is committed to His people, and it served as a sign and testimony to others to who was their God.

So Jesus says, The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people. People need to celebrate the provision of God. They need to be reminded that there is a Creator who created everything and provides all things good. People need to enjoy God’s presence and to slow down, rest and relax in there relationship with God. People need to remember God’s promises and that He keeps His promises and that He is committed to them and that His grace is greater than their sin. The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people.

But the Pharisees come along and ruin all that. They think the people should serve the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath serving them. So Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.”  The Pharisees come along and take something that is supposed to be a blessing to the people and make it a burden. In their thinking, they created 39 categories they believed was “work” and violated the Sabbath. The 39 categories included carrying, burning, extinguishing, finishing, writing, erasing, cooking, washing, sewing, tearing, knotting, untying, shaping, plowing, planting, reaping, harvesting, threshing, winnowing, selecting, sifting, grinding, kneading, combing, spinning, dyeing, chain stitching, warping, waving, unraveling, building, demolishing, trapping, shearing, slaughtering, skinning, tanning, smoothing, and marking. They believed and felt that it was their obligation to enforce these religious rules on people.

I know that sounds funny and sad, but there are well meaning Christians who do something similar today when it comes to Sunday. They will have their set of religious rules regarding what is appropriate and not appropriate on Sunday. For example, they will have rules for shopping, working, resturants, TV, entertainment, travel, work around the house, work in the house, and so on. They will say something like…

  • “You can’t watch TV on Sunday.”
  • “You can’t play sports on Sunday.”
  • “You shouldn’t go to resturanats on Sunday.”
  • “You shouldn’t shop on Sunday.”
  • “You shouldn’t travel on Sunday.”
  • “You shouldn’t work on Sunday.”
  • “You shouldn’t wear certain clothes on Sunday.”

The list goes on and on. I know that sounds strange, but this is what the Pharisees were doing and they would try to enforce it on others. I use to be this guy. They would use shame and guilt and embarrassment to force people to follow their religious rules. In some cases, they could have you placed in jail. They saw themselves as the authority and lords over the Sabbath.  When you approach Sunday with religious rules and regulations and try to enforce them on others you have just become the lord of the Sabbath or the lord of Sunday. You are doing exactly what the Pharisees were doing.

28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

Jesus comes along and blows their whole system up and says in verse 28, “So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” He is telling them three things.

  • He is saying, “I am the creator of the Sabbath.” Jesus is saying, “I’m Lord over it, because I created it!” Everything was made by Him, through Him, and for Him. The God who created everything in Genesis was God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus created the Sabbath. He is Lord and boss over it. He can do whatever He wants regarding the Sabbath. He is going to be the one who makes all the rules, if there are any.
  • He is saying, “I am the fulfillment of the Sabbath.” The Old Testament Sabbath, like all of the Old Testament ceremonies pointed to something more wonderful. The Bible says that the Sabbath God gave to His people was a shadow that pointed toward the Lord Jesus Christ.

Take a close look at Colossians 2:16, “So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality” (vs. 16-17, NLT). What was the Old Testament Sabbath? It was a “shadow of the reality yet to come.” What does the Bible mean by a shadow? A shadow has no reality; the reality is what makes the shadow.

  • For example, if a light were behind me casting my shadow upon a wall and my wife and children came up to the shadow and began to talk to it and try to hug it, they are only trying to grasp my shadow, not me. The shadow is not me.
  • Let me illustrate it this way. Have you ever seen a dog chasing the shadow of a bird flying overhead? That’s a good illustration of people who are still trying to keep the Old Testament covenant Sabbath. They are chasing shadows, while the reality, “the body” of the whole matter, is passing them by. The reality is Jesus. The Old Testament covenant Sabbath is only the shadow on the ground that points to the reality above, to Christ. Some people are so caught up in keeping all the “rules” of the Sabbath they miss the Ruler of the Sabbath. That is what happened to the Pharisees.

The Old Testament Sabbath was a picture of Jesus and pointed to Jesus. it was a shadow of things that were to come. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath and He is the fulfillment and reality of it.

  • He is saying, “I am the focus of the Sabbath.” When Jesus said, “I’m the Lord of the Sabbath” He was saying, “I am the focus of the Sabbath.” When you read the Bible or listen to a sermon its’ about hearing from Jesus. When you sing a worship and praise song its not about singing, it’s about worshipping Jesus. When you tithe or give an offering, it’s not about paying the church’s bills, it’s about honoring Jesus with your wealth. He is to be the focus.

In the Old Testament the Sabbath was about a specific day, but in the New Testament is about a specific person. In the OT it was about resting from work, in the NT it is about resting in Christ. In the OT it was about rules to follow, but in the NT is about a relationship.

Conclusion

So when we talk about Jesus being the Lord of the Sabbath, we are talking about having a relationship with Jesus that brings spiritual rest, spiritual freedom. When Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” this is what He is talking about.

So stop trying to follow all the religious rules in your mind and start following Jesus. If your spiritual life feels like you are following religious rules then that’s what you are following. When you follow Jesus is burden is light. If you would like to know more about how to do that we would love to talk you.