GOSPEL OF MARK – ROBBY GALLATY – Program 6
By: Dr. Robby Gallaty
|By: Pastor Robby Gallaty; ©2010|
|Do mandates supersede mercy? What is more important: having compassion on people, or holding to a man-made set of rules?|
Bound by Freedom
Good morning. Amen. Good to see you this morning. The title of the message is this: “Bound by Freedom.” And that’s what I want to talk about this morning. The Pharisees with their man-made laws thought they were doing a good thing. In their minds, they were. But they weren’t doing the right thing. I want to share with you from Mark 2:23.
Jesus, as we’ve been seeing all through the book of Mark has been tested by the religious leader. And two weeks ago we studied about fasting and now we’re going to get into this section about the Sabbath. Look at the text:
“One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’ 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: 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?’ And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’”
Let me give you a question to start. The question is this: In your life, do mandates supersede mercy? Let me give you a history of the Sabbath. We have to really understand the Sabbath before we can understand what’s going on in the text. There are certain things that religions will deem as holy. Islam says that Mecca is holy. Hinduism says that the Ganges River is holy. Shintoism says an island off Japan is holy. Judaism says the temple holy, right. It’s the sacred place. It’s set apart.
But in addition to that there was something else that was holy, maybe even more holy than the temple; and it’s not a place, it’s actually time. For the Jewish believers back in the first century they believed that time was holy and they believed this because of Exodus 20. You remember what it says in Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.”
You see, as Westerners, we don’t appreciate the Sabbath. In fact, we’re so far removed from the first century, we don’t understand the Sabbath. What happens is this: It starts on Friday at sunset and it goes until the following day, until sunset on Saturday. And God instructed the people to refrain from working on the Sabbath. Most Jews keep the Sabbath the same way as Christians keep the Lord’s Day. Now listen to me. If you’re like most of us, we do everything but rest on the Lord’s Day, right? In fact, we’re busy on the Lord’s Day. When was the last time you truly just stopped and rested and reminded yourself of how great God was?
Now you’re probably asking, “Now Robby, why do we celebrate Sunday as the Lord’s Day and not the Sabbath, which is Friday to Saturday?” I’m glad you asked. This is why. We celebrate Sunday as the Lord’s Day because that’s the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Our hope is in Christ. He’s all that we have. We’re Christians based on Christ, and we don’t just do it because of that. The first century church celebrated the Lord’s Day, which was Sunday, and all through history it affirmed that the Lord’s Day is Sunday. That’s why we do it.
But let’s look at the structure this morning. The structure of the Sabbath or the rules around the Sabbath—don’t miss this—were man-made regulations of do’s and don’ts. What the Pharisees and religious leads said was this: “We’re going to put these structures or, if you will, fences, around the law. So that you don’t break the law, we’re going to put fences around the law.” Now, Jesus never broke the law, okay? Let’s understand that before we go further. He always violated the oral tradition set-up by man through the Talmud. He did it on purpose because He was showing them, “You guys have missed the heart of the law.” He never broke the law. He always broke the man-made traditions of the Talmud.
Let me give you a couple about the Sabbath. James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary, gives us three. First of all, he says, “The law prohibited travel on the Sabbath.” And so naturally you’re probably asking, what is travel? Well, this is travel: they said a man or woman cannot walk 1,000 yards from their house. If you walked over 1,000 yards, you sinned by breaking the law. But they did say if you tied a string or rope from your front door across the street to the neighbor’s house, then that becomes your home and then you can walk 1,000 yards from the rope. Pretty clever, right?
They said you couldn’t carry a load on the Sabbath. And so the question is, what is carrying a load? They said you couldn’t carry a shirt or a coat on the Sabbath but you could if you were slick: you could actually go to one room, put the jacket on, walk to the other room and take the jacket off without carrying the load, right? So pretty clever, right?
They said you couldn’t work on the Sabbath. So what is work? Well, they said if you’re walking on a journey and you spit, it’s work, but it depends on what you spit on. See, if you spit in the sand and it rolls up, you’re furrowing, and that’s work; but if you happen to spit on a rock, then it’s not work. And so you don’t work.
Let me give you two more which I thought were interesting. You can’t turn on a light switch on the Sabbath. Why? Because when you turn on a light, it emits a spark and you can’t start a fire on the Sabbath so don’t turn on the light switch today.
My favorite is the fact that you can’t rip or tear on the Sabbath, okay. It’s prohibited. But you could tear on the day before the Sabbath. And so what you do on Friday at noon is you tear all the toilet paper and you tear it and you stack it next to the commode. I’m serious, You’d better do it, listen, because if you don’t tear and stack it next to the commode, you’ve got to use the whole roll of toilet paper and that’s a plumbing problem waiting to happen, right? I mean you don’t want to do that. And then you can’t call a plumber because he doesn’t work on Saturdays so you’re in a world of trouble. So you see how ridiculous some of these rules were. They put all these fences around the law that they actually forgot the reason for the law. In essence, they were bound by freedom. There were 39 different forbidden practices on the Sabbath Day. They structured it around Exodus 34.
But see, the main issue of contention with Jesus was this: Jesus was threshing, He was preparing, He was winnowing, and He was reaping. Where do you see that, Robby? Look back at the text, Mark 3. It says the disciples were walking through the grain fields, and as they walked they began to pluck the heads of the grain. Now, in defense of the Pharisees, let me say this. They were right in protecting the Sabbath; because this is why, if you remember back in the Old Testament, the Babylonian Captivity. What had happened was this: Israel did not keep the Sabbath for the land. See, God says, “Not only do I want you to rest every seven days” —this is what He said—“you have to let the land rest for seven years. Once every seven years, you can’t sow, you can’t reap, you can’t harvest the land. You have to let the land rest.” Israel didn’t let the land rest for 490 years. You can date it all the way back to the time of Eli.
Hence, they were brought over the Babylon and they were imprisoned for how many years? 70 years. God says for every year you missed letting the land rest, we’re going to let it rest all at once. And it’s based on 2 Chronicles 36:20. Listen: “[they were taken into] Babylon those who had escaped from the sword…to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”
In essence, the Pharisees were protecting this. They knew what happened in the past and so they were doing a good thing, but they were not doing the right thing. And in essence they come after Jesus.
Now my question is, why didn’t they get on the disciples for stealing? I mean, that’s not their grain. They’re just walking through the grain fields as a disciple would follow his master. Well, there was a provision against taking someone’s grain. In fact, in Deuteronomy 23:25, it did allow for a hungry to take the grain from the stalk, but they said you cannot collect it. You can’t a bowl and put it in the bowl. It had to be only for personal consumption. Listen to what the law says: “[When you come] into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the [head] with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.”
Here’s the deal: Jesus’ disciples reaped when they plucked; they winnowed and they threshed the grain when they rubbed; and they prepared a table when they ate the grain or the kernel. And the Pharisees were appalled at this. I mean, “Don’t you know the law, Jesus? Don’t you know you’re not supposed to do this?” They were appalled, blown away. And Jesus at this moment, at this juncture takes the time to teach a principle with a threefold strategy and I want to give you the strategy. I love Jesus when He teaches. And the threefold strategy He gives to teach this principle, here it is: Mercy, or human need, is more important than ritualistic practices. Did you get that? Human need is more important than ritualistic practices. Or better yet: Mercy in your life should supersede mandates.
Look at the first way He teaches. If you’re taking notes, write down Old Testament Evidence. He gives Old Testament evidence as a point to teach. Look what He says in verse 25, “Have you never read….” What’s He saying there? “You didn’t read, because if you read, you’d know. But you didn’t read. But let me explain it to you since you missed it. Have you not read what David did when he was in need and was hungry? He went to the house of God. He went to Abiathar, the high priest. He asked for the bread of Presence, which was not lawful but for only the priest to eat. The priest gave him the bread. David gave it to his men.”
Here’s the deal. David is being attacked by Saul. He’s on the run. He’s a fugitive. And he goes to Ahimelech or Abiathar. In the Old Testament, his name is Ahimelech. Jesus calls him Abiathar. Commentators think it’s the same guy. He goes to the high priest and he says, “We’re hungry. We’re on the run.” Ahimelech says, “We don’t have any food. Wait a minute. We do have food. We have the sacred or holy bread in the Tabernacle which is only good for the Aaronic priests.” This is the deal. Back in the Tabernacle, what happened was this: every Sabbath, they would bake bread. They would take this bread and they would line it up; 12 different loaves of bread, every one for one tribe of the nation of Israel. They would take the loaves and they would line them into two rows of six, and then they would put it on this golden table called the Table of Shewbread or the Table of Presence. Why is it called the Table of Presence? Because the bread was in the presence of God in the Tabernacle.
Every Sabbath they would replace the bread with new bread and only then on the following Sabbath could you eat the bread. Now only one group could eat the bread. Who were they? The Aaronic priests, right? Priests from Aaron. And so, Ahimelech says, “Listen, we’ve got this bread. I know you’re hungry. I’m going to break the man-made oral traditional rules and I’m going to give you the bread to eat.” And Jesus is bringing them to that story to say, “Don’t you guys get it? These guys were hungry. Where’s the mercy in that? Don’t you see? He broke the man-made rule in order to fill a human need. Don’t you guys get it? How have you missed it?” Jesus is appalled with these men.
Now, let me show you an interesting parallel in the text. Matthew 12:7. It’s the same story. Matthew adds this at the end of the text, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” In other words, mercy must supersede rules and regulations in your life.
What’s interesting is the way the story ends. If you follow Ahimelech through the Old Testament—1 Samuel 22—you’ll realize that Saul gets wind of what happens. He brings Ahimelech into his presence and he says, “Did you feed these men?” And he said, “Yes.” And he said, “Because of this” —in verse 16—“you shall surely die. Because you helped these men, you’re going to die and not only you”—if you follow the passage, verse 20—“your men are going to die with you. “That day,” it says, listen to the text, “the king said to Doeg, ‘You turn and strike the priests.’ And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod.” Because of Ahimelech’s decision to provide food to sustain David, not only did the high priest die, 85 other priests that day were slaughtered because they decided to extend mercy instead of following mandates.
And friends, what’s interesting is Jesus Christ—is it any wonder—Jesus is alluding to the fact that, “I have the same authority as the high priest. Because not only am I superseding these oral mandates that you created by giving my disciples the okay to eat food,” he’s saying, “I supersede the high priest.” Just like Ahimelech lost his life for doing that, is it any wonder that the Lord Jesus Christ will one day face the same fate. He gives an Old Testament evidence.
Then He gives a theological explanation. In case you guys missed it, let me explain it for you; man was not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for man. The commandments are for our good. Let me prove it to you. “Do not commit adultery.” This is why. If you commit adultery and enter into a relationship with someone other than your spouse, you’re going to ruin that person’s relationship with God and with their family. Not only that, you’ll sever the relationship you have with your own spouse. Not only that, you’re going to ruin the relationship you have with your kids. Not only that, you’re going to let down your own parents, you’re going to disappoint your in-laws and you’re going to live the rest of your life with guilt and shame over what you did. Whether you admit it or not, it’s in your heart. So don’t commit adultery. Any questions? Pretty simple, right?
“Don’t murder.” Because if you murder you have to live with the repercussions of that and the guilt and the shame and so, don’t murder. “Rest.” It’s good for you to rest. See, we have to get to the place where we realize that God’s commands are for our good. Now, we follow the commands, not because we have to, but out of freedom through the Spirit of God.
As we begin to love God, we begin to live for God. And what’s interesting is that’s what Jesus is trying to say. But what else He’s trying to say is this: “I not only live for the Sabbath,” He’s saying, “I’m the Lord of the Sabbath.” Wow. Did you get that? I mean, that’s mind blowing to the audience. How could Jesus say that He’s superior to Moses? Think about it. God gave Moses the commandments on Mt. Sinai. How can He say He’s superior to Moses? Not only does He submit to the Sabbath, He’s the Lord even over to the Sabbath.
But listen, that’s what He’s been trying to say through Mark. Go back to Mark 1. Let me prove it to you. Jesus has been trying to say this to us from the beginning of the Gospel. Chapter 1, verse 13. Jesus has authority over the animals. It says, “[After being] in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals…” That word “with” in the language of the New Testament doesn’t mean to hang out with the animals. It means to be in communion with the wild animals. And you know the song. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” That’s why it’s “oh my.” It’s not good for you, right?
Not only does He have authority over the animals, He has authority over the angels. Hebrews 2:7 says man was made a little lower than the angels. Jesus said, “the angels were serving Me.” He has authority over the angels. Look at verse 21. He even has authority over the unclean spirits. They cried out, “We know who You are. You’re the Son of God!” Jesus said, “Be silent! Come out of him.” He has authority over the unclean spirits. He has authority over disease. When He went to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, He has authority over illness. He has authority over the demons in verse 34. He has authority over leprosy in verse 40. He has authority over paralytics in chapter 2. He has authority to give authority in chapter 3 when He calls the disciples and He sends them out.
Here’s the point: If Jesus Christ has authority over the world, my question is this, does He have authority over your life? See, it’s one thing to say God’s in charge, it’s another thing to say God’s in charge of me. You know, Jesus is saying—without saying that He’s the Lord over the Sabbath and by showing this story of David eating with the high priest—Jesus is saying, “I’m superior to David. I’m superior to Moses. I have all authority. Let me teach you guys about the supremacy of Christ.”
Don’t you think if we can trust Jesus Christ to hold the world in His hands, do you think you can trust Him with your life? Amen? Do you think you can trust God with your life? Over and over He’s trying to teach these men this and He’s even implying, I would submit to you, that not only is He the Lord of the Sabbath, He IS the Sabbath, right? I mean, when you come to Christ there’s rest in Christ. In Him there’s renewal. In Him there is communion with the Father. In Him there is peace that passes all understanding. Let me ask you, have you ever come to that place in your life when you cried out to the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ve experienced the peace of God that you can’t even explain. Have you ever done that before? I know I have. Jesus is saying, “Not only am I Lord over the Sabbath. I AM the Sabbath.”
He gives an Old Testament evidence; He gives a theological explanation; and then He says, “If you guys didn’t get it, let me give you a personal example.” We go into chapter 3. And let me let this question shape our mind: Do mandates supersede mercy in your life? And let me ask it this way: Do customs supersede compassion; compassion for the lost? Look at chapter 3 verse one. “Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’”
Now the synagogue was an interesting place. It was a place that people met for worship. It was a place where you met to fellowship with other believers. It was a place of teaching. It was a place of prayer. Think of it this way. The synagogue was the local expression of worship for the Jewish nation; the temple was the national expression of worship. And so Jesus calls this man. All these guys are following him, many for the wrong reasons. He walks into the synagogue, He sees the man. He says, “Sir, come forward, front and center. We don’t want anybody to miss this object lesson. We want them all to get it.” And He sees that the man has a withered hand.
Luke, the doctor, thankfully, tells us that his hand was in the right hand. And that’s significant because if your right hand was not able to be used, you couldn’t work. If you couldn’t work, you couldn’t make an income. Couldn’t make an income, couldn’t support your family. You didn’t have much of a future. And so this is important for this man’s hand to be healed.
Jesus says, “Come to Me.” He stands right in the middle of the crowd and they begin to look at Jesus and they are watching every move that Jesus makes. And Jesus says this, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?” Get this; “to save a life or to kill it?” What Jesus is saying, in God’s economy to not save a life is to kill a life. That’s what He’s saying. He’s saying, “If you have the ability to help someone and you don’t help them, it’s just as bad as not doing it in the first place.” There is a connection between our love for others and our love for God.
John said, “If you missed it, let me explain it to you again;” 1 John 4:20: “If anyone [That’s everybody] says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
And Jesus, trying to explain this to these men, He’s saying, “If you do not love this man who’s in your midst, and you’re trying to say that I’m sinning by healing on the Sabbath, it is showing me where you’re heart is.” He says to the man, “Come forward. Stretch out your hand.” But look what He says before that in verse 5. “And He looked around at the crowd with anger, grieving in His heart. Then He says to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’” Jesus is appalled in the synagogue over the lack of mercy for this man. No compassion by the religious leaders and basically the verbs there show us that, not only was He angry, but there was wrath. Wrath and anger mixed together.
But He was also grieving. And that word “grieving” is the word to mean to grieve with another person. He was grieving over the lack of mercy. These guys had checked all the boxes. They did all the right things on the outside. They showed up at all the services. They said all the prayers. But in their hearts there was no compassion for the lost.
“The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians.” What are they doing talking to the pagan Herodians, the followers of Herod? What are doing talking with these guys? But notice what they’re talking about—how to destroy Jesus. These guys had gotten so caught up in legalistic systems of do’s and don’ts that they truly missed the heart of the message. And the message was, “We need to love our brother and sister.”
Robby, what’s the point. Here’s the point to take home. Here’s the point. If we’re not careful as Christians in the world today, we can get to the place where we hate the sin and the sinner, right? And I want to ask you: how have you shown mercy to those you love? Because that’s what we’re called to do. We’re called to love the unlovable. We’re called to help the hopeless. We’re called to go minister to those that no one else will minister to. That’s what we’re called to do. If we don’t do it, who will? As Christians, we need to describe that to people. We need to exemplify that to people in our own lives.
R. Ken Hughes says it this way: “Dynamic mercy, in all its dimensions, is nothing less than the life of Christ within us.” That’s what it is. When we show mercy, it’s Jesus in us showing mercy through us. Such a life is costly. It’s inconvenient. It raises tension. It brings conflict. It’s humbling to do this, he says. It’s counter-cultural. But it’s our calling directed from God. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”
See, here’s the trap the Pharisees fell into, and it’s the same trap we can fall into today: it’s that we can be so good at being religious that we don’t have love for another person. You can check all the boxes on Sunday. You can fill in all the blanks. You can get all the answers right. You can know all the doctrine. You can show up at church. You can sing all the hymns. You can say all the praises. You can Amen at the right spot. But secretly, in your heart, you don’t have love for another person.
Robby, how do we show mercy? We show mercy because of two things: Jesus exemplified mercy on this earth. Go back and look at the Gospels. If any man had a right to justify retaliating on people, it was Jesus, right? But He didn’t. When they persecuted Him, He prayed for them. What is mercy? Mercy is doing something to someone who hurts us even when they don’t deserve it. It’s doing something right. It’s when someone does us wrong, we do the right thing to them. It’s when someone persecutes us, we pray for them, right? Mercy is doing to someone or giving them what they don’t deserve. Jesus exemplified it.
And secondly, God demonstrates it every day to us, right? If you’re like me, God has mercy on me. Unending mercy. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t do to you what you do to others? Aren’t you glad God doesn’t show you mercy the way we show mercy to other people?
Robby, how do I show mercy in a world that’s corrupt and sinful? Friends, whenever you doubt mercy, look at the cross of Christ. Jesus Christ dying on the cross is an incredible example of mercy. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus exemplified mercy. How do you do it? Let’s start with your family. That’s the hardest, right? Showing mercy to our own family members. How well do you show mercy to your co-workers at work? How well do you show mercy to those who are your friends?