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Mar 03, 2024

Lord of the Sabbath

Passage: Mark 2:23-3:6

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Gospel of Mark

Keywords: work, rest, sabbath, renewal, lordship, labor


The issue of sabbath may seem like an antiquated, foreign concept to our cultural ears. But just as was the case in Jesus' day, it continues to shape what people think both of Jesus and His followers. It also has great power to shape our most important relationships in life (God, family, fellow believers, etc.). This message looks at how Jesus' handling of the Sabbath can positively impact our lives on a weekly and daily basis.


Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2:23-3:6

March 3, 2024

Fellowship Question:  Is there a particular day of the week that helps deepen your relationship with God and family more than most?  How so?

STORY:  Several years ago, our daughter, Joanna, single at the time, was living in Los Angeles, CA.  She was out joggingalone…on a Friday night. (Did I mention she was ‘in LA’?) As she is running down the street, she’s stopped by a little boy wearing a yarmulke (which, I assume made him more trustworthy?). He asked her if she would come to his apartment “because the lights have gone out.”  (Now, Joanna doesn’t exactly look like your typical electrician…like Don and Doug do!) As she’s telling me this story over the phone, I’m thinking, “Don’t tell me you followed the kid home…please, no!)   

Always looking for adventure, she arrived at the apartment to find about 20 people sitting in the dark.  Apparently, someone had bumped the light switch accidentally turning out the lights.  As strict Jews, they were not only prohibited from turning on the lights during Sabbath but from actually even asking someone else to turn them back on.  (Thus the boys vagueness about the lights going out.)  Joanna was more than happy to ‘en-lighten’ them…and continue her run.  Shortly thereafter, I think we bought her a DVD series on how to work out at home!

Some Jews still take Sabbath-keeping very seriously.  In his book Shemirath Shabbath: A Guide to the Practical Observance of Shabbath. the author, whose Hebrew name I will not attempt to pronounce, [Rav Yehoshua Y. Neuwirth], gives some rather detailed instruction on how Jews ought to observe the Sabbath.  It goes right along with Joanna’s experience.  Here’s a short excerpt on what serious Sabbath-keeping involves. 

“Cooking in most all forms (boiling, roasting, baking, frying, etc.) is forbidden on the Sabbath, in particular when the temperature is raised above 45 degrees centigrade (113 Fahrenheit).122 If the hot water tap is accidentally left on, it cannot be turned off on the Sabbath.123 Escaping gas can be turned off, but not in the normal way. One must turn off the tap of a gas burner with the back of the hand or the elbow.124 The preparation of food is greatly affected by the Sabbath. One cannot squeeze a lemon into a glass of ice tea, but one can squeeze lemon on a piece of fish.125 That one cannot light a fire on the Sabbath is taught in the Old Testament law (cf. Exod. 35:3). [Here we find Joanna’s situation.]  Strict Judaism views this to prohibit turning electric lights on or off on the Sabbath. The problem can be solved, however, but using a timer, which automatically handles this task.126 So, too, an air conditioner cannot be turned on by a Jew on the Sabbath, although a Gentile might be persuaded to do so.127 One cannot bathe with a bar of soap on the Sabbath, but liquid detergent is acceptable.”128

            In our biblical text for today in Mark 2 & 3, we find that Jesus and his disciples are having a time of it with the religious leaders of their day and culture over this very issue of sabbath-keeping.  While that may seem a million miles from anything you or I are facing today, I think it’s actually very much related to why so many people today in our culture find the church and what they perceive to be “Christianity” uninviting and irrelevant.  It’s easy to smile at the practices of strict Jews on the Sabbath.  But this is virtually how many of our friends and neighbors view us and what they think is the fastidious legalism of much of the church today about things like going to church or reading our Bibles or holding to ‘antiquated sexual ethics.’ 

            (Speaking of how our culture views the church, perhaps you saw a recent national study that just came out and ranked Seattle the least-religious major city in the country (64% never attend church).  WA State as a whole comes in as the 5th most “unchurched” state in the Union, only 1% under Seattle as a whole (63%) saying they never go to church. Other more un-churched states are Maine & Vermont (69%), Oregon (65%) and New Hampshire (64%).  Found at https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/other/seattle-is-least-religious-metro-area-in-the-us-less-than-san-francisco-new-york-report/ar-BB1jaufs)

            So let’s read how Jesus dealt with this problem in Mark 2:23-3:6.  23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then 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.”

3:1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

            If you were with us last week, you will remember how Jesus’ teaching about fasting was really another clear confrontation of the truth about His divinity.  His whole discussion of Him being the bridegroom whose presence made fasting impossible borrowed directly from God’s O.T. relationship with Israel as their divine Bridegroom.  Jesus was claiming to be God-incarnate, the Divine Bridegroom (God) to the chosen ‘bride’, (Israel).  And, you will remember, that was followed by His statement about the impossibility of putting the “new wine” of His New Covenant with mankind into the “old wineskin” of the Old Covenant Law of Moses. 

            Today’s passage is a continuation of that same theme.  But rather than revolving around the practice of fasting, Mark turns our attention to another central Old Covenant practice—the Sabbath.  Jesus is, again, going to make people either decide that he is a horrible heretical fraud OR that He is God in human flesh, something that very few people of his day and Jewish culture had been willing to entertain.  

            The first Sabbath collision that Mark documents takes place in a field.  Jesus and His disciples are walking somewhere on the Sabbath.  They decide to pass through a field of grain.  And some of the disciples, being forever hungry males, decide to pick off some heads of grain, rub off the husks and eat the grain.  According to the spiritual leaders of the nation at the time, such activity was considered “work”, something prohibited if one wanted to ‘honor the sabbath to keep it holy.’ 

NOTE:  There was no direct O.T. prohibition against doing what the disciples were doing, just a general prohibition against doing what was considered to be one’s work on the other 6 days of the week. 

But the religious leaders were hyper-sensitive to this issue of Sabbath-keeping.  God had told them that failure to obey God’s law and worship of false gods would result in God kicking them out of the Promised Land and scattering them among the pagan nations, something which happened during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.  Ever since they had started returning to the land some 500 year earlier (537 B.C.), great attention was being paid to not transgress the law of God that would potentially cause them to be again driven from the land. 

What was the criticism of the Jewish religious leaders, in essence?

  • Stated: Jesus, your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.
  • Unstated: You should rebuke them…or you are complicit with their law-breaking.

There are several things interesting about Jesus’ response

  • He doesn’t argue that what they are doing is not keeping the Sabbath according to their perceived standards.
  • He doesn’t address whether or not what his disciples were doing was or wasn’t “work”.
  • Instead, Jesus goes to a story that has amazing parallels with just what he and his disciples are doing right then. He goes to someone who none of his antagonists would have thought to criticize.  He pulls up a story about none other than King David and his followers/disciples. 

That story is found in 1 Samuel 21.  In short, David is on the run from Saul.  He goes to the town of Nob, to Ahimelek the priest.  He asks for bread for himself and his men.  Lacking any other bread but the “consecrated bread” that was part of the Tabernacle worship and, by God’s law, only permissible for the priests to eat, Ahimelek offers David this bread as long as his men are undefiled.  By using this O.T. example, Jesus is pointing out that there are clearly times when exceptions to the Law are to be made…and one of those times is when someone of great authority is on the scene.  David was God’s anointed king in waiting.  His men would not have been given the bread if it was not for the anointing God had given David.  But David’s presence made all the difference

            Do you see why Jesus chose this story?  His disciples had a right to pluck the grain, mill it and eat it, because of WHO they were following—the Lord of the Sabbath.  Jesus’ presence changed everything because of WHO he was—a person of greater authority than David himself.  That’s a bold claim!  If claiming to be “the Bridegroom” of Israel when talking about fasting was offensive, he now added the claim of being “Lord of the Sabbath.”  Who could possibly be over the Sabbath?  Who could possibly be “Lord” over the covenant day of the Sabbath?  ONLY GOD! 

 27 Then 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.”

That title “Son of Man” is one of Jesus’ favorite titles for himself.  He uses it over 80 times in the 4 Gospels.  He is flat-out stating, “I am Lord even of the Sabbath.” 

We have to understand how radical this was for any Jew to hear.  The Sabbath was never something they were Lord of.  The Sabbath was Lord of them.  Why?  Because of what the Sabbath signified in the O.T. and Old Covenant.  What was that?

  1. The first mention of the Sabbath is in Exodus 16:29—the Israelites are commanded to cease, rest, stop gathering manna on the Sabbath. “Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days.  Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.”  So the people rested on the seventh day.”  Here the prohibition is only against gathering food though by Exodus 20 it is extended to all normal work.  NOTE:  God gave them the Sabbath.  It was a present from God to former slaves who were used to working 7-days a week.  God gifted them one day to not work, to stop work so that they could rest, spend time with family, and spend time in worship. 
  2. That worship connection comes through in Exodus 20:8-11—the 4th Commandment. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 

The first 4 Commandments are all about one’s relationship with God, about worship.  Clearly the Sabbath under the Law was meant to allow time and space for worshiping God.  The importance of taking one out of 7 days to disengage from work so as to engage with God was prefigured in the actions (and inaction) of God himself in creation.  His ‘work’ of creation lasted 6 days.  His ‘ceasing from work’ lasted one day.  It was not until the Old Covenant and the Law of Moses that the reason for that became clear:  God was giving His people a day a week to rest from work and find their rest in Him.  Instead of worshiping idols (2nd Commandment) God’s people were to ‘be idle’ so they could worship the true God (4th Commandment). 

This is why Jesus said in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  God’s heart was for people to use the work-stoppage of the 7th day to refresh, rejuvenate, renew, reflect, recalibrate, reconnect as family and community and, most of all, revive their relationship with Him. 

People were not to fast on the Sabbath (except the Day of Atonement).  Going hungry is not usually renewing physically.  Not sharing meals as family and church is not reconnecting relationally.  The Sabbath was given to God’s people just so they could do both of those things.

  • I seriously doubt God cared whether you ate heads of grain you picked 5 seconds ago or bread you baked 5 days ago as long as your eating didn’t destroy the specialness of that day set apart for God’s priorities, not your own.

When the focus of Sabbath-keeping became rule-keeping rather than relation-renewing with God and people, people and God got lost behind rules and regulations. 

            Just as with fasting, Jesus is calling for ‘new wine in new wineskins.’  If getting close to God had been the passion of the Pharisees, they would have figured out that God was closer to them than they had dreamt possible.  They would have confronted their self-righteous criticalness of the disciples and Jesus.  They would have seen that they needed to worship God Incarnate among them rather than their rules, traditions, and positions of the day. 

            Their Sabbath-keeping rules had become the means by which they felt good about themselves and critical of others, even Jesus (and thus God) himself. 

APP:  That’s the nature of religious rule-keeping—It creates a spiritual pride that separates us from the reality of our sinfulness and the desperate need we have of a Savior.  Genuine worship, true ‘religion’, will move us to use spiritual practices and traditions to draw us closer to God’s heart and into relationship with those God has put around us.  But if our supposed spiritual practices are making us more proud, more critical, more judgmental of others and God himself, we need a full STOP and recalibration of what and why we are doing them. 

            Mark finishes this focus on the Sabbath and Jesus’ Lordship over it by picking a synagogue snapshot.  It’s really a synagogue set-up.  The religious leaders have already made up their minds that Jesus isn’t who he claims to be—Lord of the Sabbath.  So now they are building a case that will enable them to use the Sabbath to destroy Jesus.  That’s quite a reversal from what the Sabbath was intended by God to be.  The very day God designed to draw people to Himself and others near them was being used as a weapon to further destroy their relationship with God (especially God-in-human-flesh in Jesus).  And they were going to do it by prolonging the suffering of another human being—a man with a withered hand. 

Whether this man was a plant in the synagogue or just someone who was in regular attendance is unclear.  But we do know he was a man who needed a touch from God.  There Jesus was, clearly disposed to give him that healing.  But in the Pharisees minds, that man was ‘made for the sabbath,’ not that sabbath for him.

            They know that Jesus is a man motivated by compassion.  But rather than being grateful for his compassionate love or amazed by His power to heal every disease, they force Jesus to either deny his nature and not heal or face their wrath and hatred when He does heal.  Since Jesus cannot be anything but what he is—the compassionate Lord of the Sabbath, He steps boldly into their trap.   

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Here is the heart of God when it comes to Sabbath-keeping:  God’s gift to us of 1-day-in-7 is so we can partner with Him in doing good to others, in bringing life to them that they currently lack. 


  • Do your plans on Sunday ever get in the way of doing good to others? Mine do.  I’ve got a schedule to keep.  I leave the house just in time to get to church.  I don’t have time to stop and talk with someone panhandling on the street?  I don’t have time to help someone with a flat tire along the road.  My religious practice of being with you can actually get in the way of the very reason for which the Sabbath was established—to slow down and be a blessing to the people around us.
  • Ever find yourself inconvenienced by some of the people God puts in His church? Let’s admit it: sometimes we’re high-need people.  Sometimes it’s easier to go to the grocery store where I don’t have to interact with challenging people than it is to go to church and be faced with a decision: will I love this person with my time, my attention, a listening ear, a touch of compassion?  Am I the only one who just wants to come and be alone with God?  Just enjoy worship and prayer and someone else teaching and then go home?

That’s what happened in the synagogue that day.  The very people who should have been leading the charge to heal and help others clammed up in the face of divine compassion

            The harsh reality is, when we get stubborn God gets angry.  He looked around at them in anger… deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts….

Anyone ever tell you that stubbornness is not a spiritual gift?  Even if we’re talking being “stubbornly righteous”, that can’t be done without grace too.  I’ve found that wherever I tend to be stubborn about something, my stubbornness tends to bother God.


So, Jesus “said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

I don’t know if this fellow with the withered had was as vain as I am.  My tendency when I have a disability or weakness of some kind is to want to hide it from others.  But here is Jesus, calling this fellow out publicly, telling him to make public the very thing he probably wants to keep hidden.

            If it had been me and certainly if it had been anyone but Jesus, when he said, “Stretch out your hand”, I’d have put forward my good hand!  “You want to see my hand.  Sure.  See.  I’m just like everyone else!” 

            But it was in the process of revealing imperfection and disability that God wanted to do a miracle.  The text makes it sound like, as he stretched out his hand, the miracle took place.

None of us likes to have the spotlight put on our weaknesses, do we?  But how many of us may miss something God may want to do because we’re embarrassed…or don’t like others to notice us…or don’t want to admit that we really could use a touch of God on some imperfection in our lives?   


  • Asking someone to pray for you…or going up after service to the Prayer Counselors. What blessings are we missing because we won’t reveal a need we have?
  • Couples, families, individuals who are conflicted or struggling and need the wisdom of godly counsel… but refuse to seek it either in a counselor, pastor or wise, godly friend.

Jesus will often ask us to do something humbling so that He can do something healing.

This passage ends very sadly.

 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

This is effectively what happens every time someone rejects the Lordship of Jesus in their lives.  Whenever we refuse to allow God to be god, we will go to virtually any lengths to make sure that He remains at arms-length…or more.  Just like the Pharisees should have been the first people to embrace the presence of God in Christ, when God comes to us (people made in His image), we will either find ourselves drawn towards his Lordship over our lives or moved to active resistance against His further working in our lives. 

APP:  Where are you with Jesus today? 

  • Indifferent? Resisting admitting you are a sinner needing His healing touch in your life?  Actively fighting against him rearranging your priorities or life? 
  • Wanting him to heal the needy, wounded and possibly hidden places of your life?

Surrender to the Savior…for the first or the fiftieth time.  Invite the One who is Lord over not only the Sabbath but the universe to be Lord of your life. 


Final APP:

Some of us need to reclaim the gift of the Sabbath.  It was “made for us”.  While the N.T. has very little to say about the Sabbath other than we shouldn’t be judging each other about keeping it or not keeping it, the church has always seen one day a week as a gift from God that can enrich our relationship with God and people.  Whether you make Sunday or Saturday or some other day your sabbath is not, I can affirm according to the N.T., the issue with God.  But unwrapping the gift of the Sabbath is a blessing from God some of us may be neglecting.  If so, consider making a few adjustments to your Sabbath-day.

  • Make worship of God, connecting with Him, THE priority in this day.
    • Time with others in the family of God at church.
    • Time of prayer, reflection on the week past and what God wants to say about the week coming.
    • Time journaling what God has said to you this week.
  • Make time with your family (biological or spiritual) a greater priority.
    • Plan to spend time talking about how it is with your souls on Sundays.
    • Debrief the week with your loved ones or a friend.
    • Have a special time of prayer for each other on that day.
    • Plan something special, fun and engaging together on that day.
  • Make your sabbath a day of definite spiritual connection together with others.
  • Cease laboring. Stop doing what is “work” for you, what fatigues and depletes you.  Take more walks in the park.  Take a nap.  Read for an hour or two a book that feeds your mind and soul.  Discover how renewing and rewarding making God the actual Lord of that day can be. 


Make Jesus in your life what He truly is in the week:  Lord of the Sabbath.