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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Enjoy the Gift of the Lord's Day
Text:Mark 2:23-3:6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 4th Commandment (Resting)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 95:1,3                                                                                      

Ps 79:3,5                                                                                                        

Reading – 1 Samuel 21:1-6; Mark 2:18-22

Ps 92:1,2,6,7

Sermon – Mark 2:23-3:6

Hy 31:1,2

Hy 36:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord, today is a gift from God. For today is the Lord’s day, when we can rest from our work, and we can worship. We ought to, for God had made this day holy—we heard that in the fourth commandment. And yet it’s a day that’s often abused. Not just in our time, but over the centuries there’s been a lot of Lord’s day abuse. This special day has been twisted, and it’s been neglected.

You might say that this abuse is of two different kinds. First, there’s the abuse that twists it into a joyless, strict, and difficult day. Think of how some Jews treated the Sabbath in the Old Testament. They took seriously the command to hallow the day, but this meant that they multiplied the Sabbath requirements and restrictions.

That practice wasn’t unique to the scribes and Pharisees. Over the centuries, Christians too, have made many rules about what can—and especially what cannot—be done on Sunday. Until after a while it becomes not a day for our refreshment in body and soul, but a day of stress over possible infractions, or a day of guilt for every enjoyment.

Then there’s a second type of abuse of the Lord’s Day, of the opposite kind. For just as some people regulate the day until there’s nothing left in it for us, so others neglect it until there’s nothing left for God. The Sunday doesn’t really have a special and holy purpose anymore. It’s just the last day of the beloved weekend, a day to fill with your activity of choice, whatever that is. The Lord’s day is a day like the other six: not for God, but for man.

All this means that we need to consider carefully the teaching of our Lord about this special day. We need to see again the Lord who’s given us this day, and the beautiful purpose for which He’s given it. I preach God’s Word to you,

Jesus shows that He has total authority over the Sabbath

  1. a misguided accusation
  2. a powerful declaration
  3. a beautiful restoration


1. a misguided accusation: We have before us two different incidents from the ministry of Jesus. These events might have taken place some weeks apart, or even months apart, but Mark has placed them right next to each other, because they’re both about the same thing.

The first incident sees Jesus and his disciples out walking somewhere on the Sabbath. Let’s understand that as they make their way through that idyllic setting of a grain-field in Palestine, these thirteen men are under surveillance. Earlier in chapter 2, people were complaining about the behaviour of Jesus’ disciples, that they weren’t fasting. Then the Pharisees complained about Jesus daring to forgive sins, and feasting with sinners. Suspicious eyes and ears are being fixed on Jesus and his followers.

In fact, on this particular day the Pharisees might’ve had a hunch that Jesus and his disciples had already broken the Sabbath—that they’d done so by walking too far! But for this offense they had no sure proof. What they can clearly see however, is that the disciples have picked some heads of grain while they walked, and this is grain which they’ve separated in their hands and eaten.

Immediately Jesus and his disciples are ambushed by the lurking Pharisees. They chastise the twelve for this crime, though their real target here is Jesus. They lay down this challenge, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (2:24).

Let’s first understand that according to the law, what the disciples did in taking this grain was allowed. The LORD says in Deuteronomy 23:25, “When you come into your neighbour’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand.” God’s generosity allowed for this. Every blessing from the land had come from him, and He said there was nothing wrong with helping yourself to a bit of food from the crops of your fellow Israelite.

For the Pharisees, though, this wasn’t the issue. The issue was on what day the disciples done this, had reached out the hand for a healthy snack. It was the day of rest, the Sabbath! So was it really work to rub those heads so they could eat? Was this an act of “threshing,” albeit on a very small scale?

The problem was, God’s law didn’t say. The law wasn’t nearly specific enough on this point, and on so many other points. This sort of thing had troubled the teachers of the law for a long time: How could the people keep the commandments, if they didn’t know how exactly to apply them? For example, the scribes didn’t know what to do with God’s law when it said, “Do not carry a burden on the Sabbath day.” What’s a burden, they asked? How heavy is too heavy? And how far is too far to carry? All these things had to be defined! We need policies for this!

This is the reason that traditions developed around the law, and layers of regulations were built on top of it. For instance, they said that a Sabbath burden that was not allowed was anything more than “food equal in weight to a dried fig, wine enough to fill a cup, or milk enough for one mouthful.” The scribes and Pharisees spent hours arguing whether a person could lift an oil lamp from one place to another on the Sabbath, whether a woman could wear a piece of jewelry, even whether a man might lift his child on the Sabbath—was that work, or not?

So to define work on the Sabbath, the rabbis made a list of some 39 prohibited activities. And according to these man-made standards, there was no question about it: the disciples had broken the Sabbath! They were guilty of reaping, and threshing, and winnowing, and preparing food. This moment was a good opportunity for the Pharisees to pounce, to reveal the disciples as law-breakers. At the same time they could cast a shadow on Jesus’ reputation as a teacher.

But the Pharisees quickly find out that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. For Jesus defends not only the character of his disciples, but also the integrity of God’s law. He does so by first reminding them of what was written in the Scriptures, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry…?” (2:25). Notice how it’s put as a rebuke, a serious reprimand: “Have you never read…?” These experts were ignorant of a most basic truth, something they should’ve known.

The story is found in 1 Samuel 21, where David and his men are fleeing from Saul. At the time, they’d been refugees for a few days, and their supplies were running low. Desperately hungry, they came to Nob, where David asks Ahimelech the high priest for some bread. But the only food on hand is the consecrated bread from the tabernacle, loaves that were set apart for the priests alone to eat.

Now, God’s law said one thing, but Ahimelech concludes that the food can be shared with David. It was holy bread, but it can be given for some holy men, on a holy mission. Though this wasn’t a normal thing to do. After all, preserving human life is more important than saving consecrated bread!

Thinking about that story, the Pharisees had to admit that a precedent was set. If what David and the high priest did was OK, then why couldn’t these disciples pluck a little ordinary grain on the Sabbath to ease their hunger? It was the same basic principle in action.

No, what the disciples had done wasn’t even worth arguing about. Why, all those Sabbath rules, all that regulation and enforcement, all the worrying and fretting about what could and could not be done—this only burdened God’s people. It distracted them from the true meaning and purpose of the day. What was the point of the Sabbath, if you were too hungry, or too worried, to enjoy the activities of worship and rest? Instead, Jesus wants to teach the Pharisees about the heart of God’s commandment.

This is often Jesus’ aim when interacting with the Pharisees. We saw it in the last section on Mark 2, where Jesus said it was high time for a change in attitudes. Those old wineskins, those old ways of doing things—they simply will not do anymore! The gospel of Christ calls for new perspective on how we live, and how we worship, and look at people. The gospel of Christ transforms our life with its injection of joy and freedom.

That’s important for us to remember. For example, when it comes to this day, we all want law. We want to protect the day. And so we make rules and guidelines about what is right for our Sunday conduct. Doing these good things, we think that we’re automatically honouring the Lord’s day. After all, we’re in church, usually twice every Sunday. We give money, and we dress in our Sunday best. And there’s lots of things that we don’t do today: we don’t go out for dinner, or mow the lawn, or fill up the car with gas/petrol. In our books, the fourth commandment gets a little checkmark beside it: “Obeyed!”

Yet that’s not what the Lord’s day is about. Today is not about feeling safe, because you kept some rules—even rules that are worthwhile. For have you genuinely worshiped the Lord today? Have you called the Sabbath a delight, because it’s a day to hear his Word? Nor is the Sunday about doing whatever you feel like, wasting the day however you please, apart from your two hours in church. For have you really given the day to God? Instead, it’s day to gladly bow before the Lord of the Sabbath.


2. a powerful declaration: When Jesus silences the Pharisees with 1 Samuel 21, they might’ve been tempted to say, “Ah, but that was David. He was the anointed one, a man after God’s own heart. Surely you don’t put yourself in the same category?” But Jesus isn’t done yet. For He continues with a powerful declaration, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (2:28).

Notice how Jesus refers to himself. He pulls out one of his favourite titles as the Messiah: “Son of Man.” In places like Daniel 7, God’s people were told to expect the appearance of a glorious ruler and Lord in the last days: “the Son of Man.” Jesus has referred to himself with this title a couple times already in Mark’s Gospel. Here too, He’s saying, “As Son of man, as one chosen and sent by God, I declare what is true and enduring.” Jesus claims the divine right to restore the Sabbath to the kind of day it was meant to be!

This is another moment where Jesus says something very profound about himself. We might read over it because we’ve heard it often, but think how his first hearers would’ve taken this. Many would’ve been shocked. Some would’ve been confused. And still others would’ve been enraged by his words.

It’s like what Christ said when He healed the paralyzed man: “Your sins are forgiven you.” People understood those words as a claim to be someone God-like: “Why does this man speak blasphemies like this?” the Pharisees said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (2:7). But Jesus will forgive.

Here He is, at it again. Jesus takes one of the sacred commandments, those written with the finger of God on tablets of stone, and entrusted to Moses on Mount Sinai—He takes the commandment in hand, and says He’s got full authority over its meaning and application. The LORD God gave the law, and now Jesus as divinely-appointed Teacher is going to explain the law! The Son of Man can say what is acceptable Sabbath activity, and what is not. For Jesus, this is a day for him to shape how He likes.

We don’t hear how the Pharisees react to this. That doesn’t come until the second interaction in the synagogue, in 3:6. Guess what? They’re upset, so upset that “the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted… how they might destroy him.” These men haven’t missed the point of Jesus’ words—they know exactly how bold his claim is. It’s not just about who had the correct legal opinion of the Sabbath. It’s a claim about whose day it was! This was one of the signs of the covenant, and Jesus says that it’s his. He is its Lord. He is the truth and focus and meaning of the Sabbath.

Long ago, God rested on the seventh day from creating the world, and He commanded that his people remember it always. Then God gave his nation deliverance from Egypt, and He commanded that they remember this salvation always. Soon God will save sinners from death through Christ, and He will command that we remember it always.

With these words, Jesus gets God’s people ready for the future. Soon the Sabbath will take on a glorious new colour through Jesus and his saving work. Today we meet no longer on the Sabbath, but the Lord’s day. For this, the first day of the week, was when our Lord Jesus rose from the grave. This was the day when our Lord proclaimed his victory over sin, and gave rest to the people of God. We meet on the Lord’s day to celebrate what Jesus has done!

So when we wake up on Sunday morning, and we call today “the Lord’s day,” we get a built-in reminder: What’s this new day all about? Who’s this day really for? Is it the last day of our fun-filled weekend? Is today merely a chance to rest and relax? Or does this day belong to someone else? It’s the Lord’s day.

It’s day for focusing on the Lord and his greatness. It’s a day for remembering that the Son of Man came, and offered himself as the final and perfect sacrifice for sin. Today is for listening to the preaching of the gospel, and being assured that our salvation is secure. And today is for answering God’s goodness with our worship and praise.

From the beginning, the Sabbath has been a day where God’s people are free to enjoy the LORD our God, free to delight in his great works. And how much more today, now that we can celebrate Christ, our great Saviour! He’s the Lord of this day, so we should fix our eyes and hearts on him.


3. a beautiful restoration: When we come to the second incident in our text, these same truths are reinforced. It’s again the Sabbath, and Jesus is again under enemy surveillance. Today He’s busy teaching in the synagogue, “and a man was there who had a withered hand” (3:1). A word about this poor man: the right hand was vital to any manual labour, so this man’s condition represents a serious disability. He wouldn’t have had a normal function in society, and almost certainly he was very poor.

The Pharisees are watching Jesus closely, “whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him” (3:2). But as usual, Jesus is way ahead of them, and He knows their wicked thoughts. He easily could’ve made an appointment with the man to heal him the next day—his condition was bad, but it wasn’t a matter of life and death. But He’ll turn this into another lesson about his authority.

So He asks the afflicted man to stand before the crowd. Seeing him, there could be no mistaking his suffering, no question about his great need: his hand, shriveled and twisted. And with this burdened man standing before them, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (3:4).

Just like that, Jesus again backs them into a corner. Seeing the pain of that man renders null and void every small question of Sabbath observance. It discards every petty argument of what is work, and what isn’t. A failure to act here would be evil! A failure to help this man would be an offense against God.

With that powerful question in the air, the confrontation becomes a test. Will God allow the healing to take place? Will Jesus really be shown as the Lord of the Sabbath, as the one who sets its tone and fulfills its purpose? See what happens next. Jesus orders the man, “Stretch out your hand” (3:5). The man does—and his hand is restored.

In a moment, Jesus reveals the true heart of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day for God’s rich mercy and compassion. It’s a day for restoration and renewal, when God’s people can have our burdens lifted. And He, the Lord of the Sabbath, will show how it’s done. Jesus will make known that healing and helping can be found through him, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. His door is never closed.

No, what better day for Jesus to heal than on the Sabbath! For this is a day of redemption. It’s for our spiritual refreshment, and it’s for our physical rest. That is Jesus’ reminder: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (2:27).

That’s how we should look at the Lord’s day—as God’s gift to us. Today we have a blessed opportunity to re-set, to re-fresh, to re-focus. For God knows what our lives are like: they’re busy, often so full of duties and responsibilities. And God knows what our daily work is like: it’s hard, often full of challenges and frustrations and stresses, full of cares and troubles about our health and our family and our future. We so badly need a day set aside from all the others, and that’s what God has given: a day to have our burdens lifted through the good news of Christ our Saviour!

Because especially today we can hear and we can read the living Word of God. At home as families, at church as congregation, we may open Scripture and be reminded of the treasures God has given. After another tiring week, today God gives us new strength. After another sinful week, today God greets us with “grace, mercy and peace.” Today God gives the assurance that for everything that lies ahead, He will be our faithful God.

But more than just being encouraged in our own faith, today’s also a day to be turned towards others. Christ showed how this is the perfect day for performing deeds of kindness. After a busy week of pursuing our own business and being occupied with own interests, today we can be with other saints, and we can be a blessing to the saints.

So on the Lord’s day, one thing we can be busy with is the practice of hospitality. Let’s make this a day for reaching out to the strangers and the visitors among us. Let this be a day for spending time with those in the congregation who are lonely, a day for showing mercy to those who are sick or distressed. Invite over someone new, and reach out to someone different. Make this a day for extending a hand to those who are hurting.

We may not always want to do so, and want to keep that precious time for ourselves. Showing hospitality may be inconvenient, and it may feel awkward. But remember Jesus, healing that man. Isn’t the Lord’s day for doing good? Isn’t the Lord’s day for preserving and promoting and restoring?

So take the time on Sundays to think of God’s goodness toward you, and to praise him for it. Take the time to open his Word, and to let his gospel refresh you. Take the time to enjoy the blessing of being part of the family of God.

The Pharisees weren’t ready for this kind of day. We said that instead of praising God for the healing worked through Jesus, “they plotted… how they might destroy him” (3:6). They went from accusing Jesus of doing good on the Sabbath, to the act of plotting his death, that same day! Though the plan was hatched in hatred, and though it led to the cross, it was for this reason that Jesus came to earth. He didn’t come just to heal those who are sick and weak. He didn’t come to give us a boost when times are tough. Much more: Jesus came to die for sinners, and He came to redeem us from the devil’s power.

In Christ Jesus, we have entered our rest—our sins have been forgiven, our hearts have been made new. Now we await the final rest, the eternal Sabbath. We know that it’s coming, for Christ has promised it. That makes today a time for celebrating salvation. That makes every Lord’s day a time to thank the LORD for what He has done for us, through Jesus his Son!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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