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TEXT: Luke 6:1-11
SUBJECT: Luke #17: Lord of the Sabbath
Today, with God's blessing, we'll carry on in our study of Luke's Gospel. The book was written to make us feel the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ and to confirm our faith in Him.
In the first five chapters, He has made one staggering claim after another. At twelve years old, He called Himself the Son of God. At thirty, He introduced Himself as The Fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy. Later He claimed the right to Forgive Sin. And so on.
But of all the big things He said about Himself, none is bigger than what He says today. I've heard many sermons on this passage. And all of them were bad-including my own! Do you know why? Because they were about the Sabbath-what you can do or not do on Sunday. But the story is not about the Sabbath; it's about The Lord of the Sabbath.
If you lose Christ in the details of the Sabbath, you've missed Luke's point entirely. And not just his point, but the whole message of God's Word,
"You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me".
We'll get to the message in a few minutes, Lord willing, but for now, let's take a look at the stories. The first is told in vv.1-5; the second in vv.6-11. The first story makes the point; the second story proves it.
THE FIRST STORY
The first story takes place "on the Sabbath". The Lord and His friends are out for a walk that day-and they're hungry. They spot a farm alongside the road, pick a few heads of grain, crush them in their hands, and have a little snack.
This is no big deal, of course, except for one thing: The Pharisees are standing nearby and watching them like hawks! When they see what the disciples are doing, they rush up to the Lord demanding to know why He allows His people to desecrate God's Holy Day!
Note the pride and bigotry. The Lord is a Man of great holiness and wisdom. But instead of coming to Him with a question or even a concern, they attack Him. Judging by what they've just seen, they know the disciples are rotten Sabbath-breakers and that their Master condones their evil ways!
Is that true?
The Lord gives a two-fold answer.
The first answer is technical.
"Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those who were with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?"
The Pharisees knew the story well. It's found in I Samuel 21. David and his men are on the run from King Saul, and desperately hungry. They come to the Tabernacle and beg the priest to give them something to eat. He's got nothing to serve them except for the Showbread which, by the command of God, was to be eaten by the priests only. The priest gave it to them, they ate it, and went on their way.
Technically, David broke the Law of God-Leviticus 24:9 in particular. Yet he incurred no guilt for it. He never repented of it; the priest saw nothing wrong with it; the writer of I Samuel doesn't criticize him for it; nowhere does God charge David with sin in eating the consecrated loaves.
Why not? Because the aim of that Law was to feed priests and not to kill hungry men. In other words, the Mosaic Law was flexible and always tempered with mercy and reasonableness.
In trying to keep the letter of that Law intact, the Pharisees were mutilating its spirit. In another place, the Lord condemned them for ignoring "The weightier matters of the Law" in favor of their silly technicalities.
That's the Lord's first answer to the charge that He and His friends despise the Law of God.
If you study the history of Judaism, you'll find that many rabbis agreed with Him then and now. His first answer, therefore, though true and insightful, was not unique. Other good men believed and taught the same thing.
But His second answer was altogether different. No one in the history of Israel had ever said such a thing-nor could He. Christ could have ended the discussion with the story of David. But He doesn't. He goes on to add,
"The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath".
"The Son of Man" is our Lord Jesus Christ. When He calls Himself "Lord of the Sabbath" He means that He is not under the Lordship of the Sabbath Laws, but that the Sabbath Laws are under His Lordship!
B.B. Warfield was a first-rate scholar and fully committed to the Reformed Faith. Yet he could not escape the force of our passage. Referring to the Sabbath, he says,
"It belongs to Him. He is the Lord of it; master of it-for that is what `Lord' means. He may do with it what He will: abolish it If He chooses".
Other men were servants of the Sabbath. Moses, Elijah, Solomon, John the Baptist, and other great men were under it. Jesus Christ is over it.
THE SECOND STORY
He proves it in the second story. It occurs on another Sabbath Day. He's in the synagogue to teach the Word of God. But there's a man there who needs more than a sermon. His right hand is withered and he needs healing.
The scribes and Pharisees wonder if the Lord will dare to do it on the Sabbath-this time in front of everyone!
When He catches what they're thinking, He calls the crippled man forward. He turns to the Pharisees and poses an angry question, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or evil, to save life or to destroy?"
He was calling them on their hypocrisy. All He wanted to do on the Sabbath was to do men good. For this, they charged Him with breaking God's Holy Law. While they wouldn't lift a finger on the Sabbath, but had no conscience about plotting the Lord's murder that day!
When they have no answer, the Lord turns to the deformed man,
"Stretch out your hand".
Which he does by the grace and power of Jesus Christ.
As for the Pharisees? This Party of God starts looking for a way to kill the Son of God.
Christ claims to be Lord of the Sabbath; He proves it by healing a man that day. And not only once, but if you read the Gospels straight through, you'll be surprised how often He did His wonderful works on the Day of Rest.
I've told the stories. Now, why are they here or what do they mean? I've hinted around at it already, but let me spell it out.
The stories are not there to teach us what to do-or not to do-on Sunday. If you read Puritan books and listen to many Reformed sermons, it won't be long till the stories are hauled out showing that-although we must not work on Sunday-we may do: (1) works of necessity (like making a meal) and (2) works of charity (like going to the pharmacy for medicine or fixing someone's car so he can get home from church).
Of course, what makes a work necessary or charitable is never well defined and often leads to bitter conflict or very funny absurdities.
But whatever we make of all this, it's not why the stories are there.
Luke put them in his Gospel so that we would know that Jesus Christ is the Lawgiver.
This is true of the Sabbath. But not only of the Sabbath. It's equally true of every Law of God. Christ can do whatever He wants to with it. He will carry some over into His Kingdom; others He'll re-interpret for the New Covenant Age; and some He will cancel.
Admire the greatness of Christ and His unique authority as the Messiah.
· Abraham was the friend of God and the father of those who believe. Yet he could not say, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing". But Christ can say that-and does.
· Moses knew God face-to-face. Yet he could never say of unclean animals, "rise, Peter, kill and eat". But the Lord Jesus said just that. And when the devout Christian Jews heard it, they bowed to His authority. They hadn't worked out the relationship between the Old and New Covenants, but if the Lord said pork is clean, it's clean! And if Jesus Christ breaks down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, it is broken down.
Jesus Christ is the Lawgiver to His Church. His Law comes to us in three ways: (1) Personally, He spoke many things we must believe and obey, (2) Through His Apostles, He kept on speaking until He told us everything we need to know about Him and how to please Him, and (3) He gave us the key to understanding the Old Testament.
The first two points need no development. But the third is more difficult. How do we decide what Old Testament laws apply to us-and if they do, how they're to be kept?
Are you allowed to plant two kinds of flowers in your garden? Leviticus 19:19 says you can't. Most of us would say yes you can, but when pressed for the reason, we usually break out jargon which is another way of saying I don't know.
How do you know? No New Testament verse says anything about that directly. But you can still know. By the light Jesus Christ throws on the entire Old Testament Scripture.
What does the New Testament say about our Lord's relationship to the Old Covenant? In a word, it says He fulfilled it.
"I came not to destroy the Law and the prophets, but to fulfill them".
That's fine. But how does that explain the business about roses and daffodils in one garden?
If you look at the verse-and many others in the Old Testament, you'll find a strong emphasis on separation. Separate flowers must be kept separate; separate fabrics must be kept separate; separate breeds of cattle must be kept separate. And, most of all, Israel must be kept separate from the other nations.
So.does this still apply to us or not? Yes it does apply, but not in the way Moses meant it. It applies to us in the way our Lord means it!
Theologically, it means Christ is separate from all other men. Solomon was wise; Samson was strong; Job was holy; Joseph was humble, and so on, but none of them compares to Christ. Nobody does. Nobody can! His humanity is separate from others in that it is sinless. His whole Person is separate from others because He alone is both Man and God!
Ethically (which is what people usually wonder about), the verse about two seeds in one garden means we're to be separate from the world. Not "go out of the world" (which is both impossible and wrong, in light of the Great Commission), but "be and act differently from the world".
· If others live in fear and dread, we live in hope.
· If others hate their enemies, we love our enemies.
· If others are lazy and selfish, we're hard-working and eager to give.
· If others trust themselves, their leaders, their programs, their parties, their money, etc., we trust the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is not what Leviticus 19:19 originally meant. It meant don't put tulips and irises in one garden! But it is what it means now. Because Christ has come.
On this point, my friend Tom Wells hit the nail right on the head. He said when it comes to understanding the Old Testament,
"Jesus Christ has the final word".
That's how it is. And how it ought to be. Because He is not only the great object of the Word, but also its Author and Interpreter.
If "The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath", it means He is more than a prophet who spoke the words of God. It means He is the Very Word of God Himself.
If that's true, we would do well to listen to Him with an eagerness to understand, believe, and obey His Word.
A people as ignorant, confused, and stubborn as we are, ought to be much in prayer for grace to know His will and to do it. Oh, that we could pray with the Psalmist,
"Show me the way wherein I should walk, I lift up my soul unto Thee".
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