The Lord of the Sabbath – Feb. 24, 2019

On Tuesday, January 28, 1986, NASA launched the space shuttle Challenger from Cape CanaveralFlorida, against the wishes of engineer Allan McDonald. The flight had been put off 7 times due mostly to adverse weather conditions but also some mechanical issues.

After working 20 hours straight to make some repairs, McDonald wanted time to rest and then recheck the asbestos-silica insulation. The insulation may not be as effective if temperatures were too cold. So, McDonald had refused to sign off on the document waving all safety concerns. On that fateful morning, McDonald watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and broke up over the Atlantic Ocean, 73 seconds into its flight.

Allan McDonald wrote about what happened later in his book, “Truth, Lies and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster”. When McDonald tried to shed light on what really happened, he was removed from his job, demoted and blamed for his lack of oversight on the Challenger project.

It was much later, that he was vindicated after an in-depth investigation. The failure fell on others who were in a rush to get the Shuttle into space. They believed the multiple delays were worse for NASA’s reputation than taking a chance of the launch going bad. They were wrong.

McDonald writes, “Sometimes our exhaustion makes us dangerous.” And how right he is; Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in 1989 have all been blamed, in part, because staff was too tired to make good judgments.

Mankind was not designed to run on empty. Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night to feel rested. After 3 or 4 nights without sleep, we often begin to hallucinate. In fact, experts tell us that that we would die without some sleep. The best-known case of this is that of Michael Corke who died after 6 months of total sleep deprivation.

It was God himself who created us and set an example for us. (Even though God does not need sleep). Genesis 2:1-3 reads, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because ‘on it’ he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Exodus 20:8-11, God spoke these words to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the 7th 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. For in 6 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.”

While both of these passages seem pretty clear, the people of God have always had trouble keeping the Sabbath. The Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God, so God sent prophets to warn them of his displeasure.

Jeremiah 17:21-23 reads, “This is what the Lord says: be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 

“Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.”

Nehemiah 13:15, “In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 

Verse 17 reads, “I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”

Because the Israelites were not faithful, the nation was taken into exile by Babylon for 70 years. Upon their release, the need to take a Sabbath Day became a deeply held value. So much so, that they put some very strict and burdensome laws in place.

Which brings us to Mark chapter 2…One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were taking a leisurely stroll on their route to worship at the synagogue. As usual, a crowd of people followed them closely; including Teachers of the Law and Pharisees. As they were passing through a grainfield, Jesus and his disciples (See Luke 6:2) began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands to remove the wheat from the chaff and eat the kernels.

Immediately the Pharisees asked, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Picking grain made them guilty of reaping, rubbing in their hands made them guilty of threshing, blowing the chaff from their hands made them guilty of winnowing and chewing made them guilty of grinding the wheat. Seriously!

In ‘The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah’, by Alfred Edersheim he explains how fanatical the Jews became about breaking the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word sabbaton. Its root is the verb “to cease.” In the Jewish Talmud, there were 24 chapters related to keeping the Sabbath (39 categories). For example, you couldn’t travel more than 3 thousand feet. Some say you can’t go more than 19 hundred and 99 steps in one direction. (That is about 7/8ths of a mile)

A tailor couldn’t carry his needle. The scribe couldn’t carry his pen. Wool couldn’t be dyed. Nothing could be sold. Nothing could be bought. Nothing could be washed. No fire could be lit. Cold water could be poured on warm, but warm couldn’t be poured on cold. And an egg could not be boiled. If a candle was lit, you couldn’t put it out. If it wasn’t lit, you couldn’t light it. Chairs couldn’t be moved. Women couldn’t wear jewelry – because jewelry often weighs more than a dried fig. A vegetable couldn’t be left in salt because it would pickle it.

There were laws about picking up jars of wine, milk, and honey; laws against spitting and getting dirt off your clothes. There was; no binding sheaves, kneading, baking, spinning wool, making threads, making a knot, or untying a knot. Men were not to help an animal in need or fight to protect their property. In one incidence, many Jews died because they refused to fight on the Sabbath.

You talk about a heavy laden. The system was oppressive and it was all unscriptural and horribly ungodly and brutally unkind. It is no wonder that Jesus took offense to it.  All Jesus and his disciples were doing was eating a little grain from the field because they were hungry. Ironically, even though the Pharisees disapproved, scripture actually Ok’d it!

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 has a wonderful passage for travelers it reads, “If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.”

So, Jesus responded in a way that he knew would get under their skin, he said, “Have you never read?”   These were the experts in the Law; of course they read and memorized scripture.

Jesus then goes on to interpret an incident involving David, as he and his companions were running away from King Saul. Here is the gist of the story; 1 Samuel 21 explains how David and his friends arrived in Nob, a town that is about one mile north of Jerusalem.

They had no food and they were hungry, so they asked Ahimelech, the priest, for bread. The priest responded, I have no ordinary bread – only holy consecrated bread. Then, the priest told David that they may have some of the Holy bread if they are pure not having defiled their bodies. (By being around a dead body or with impure women)

This bread was only to be eaten by the priests but in an emergency, under the right conditions it can be shared with someone in need; this is part of ‘the mercy rule’. And so the priest allowed David and his men to eat holy bread.

Then Jesus explained, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” You see, man was created first, the law came after. God intended the Sabbath Day to be a day of rest and reflection. It was a day to remember all that God has done for us. It was meant to be a blessing, not a curse.

1 John 5:2-3 reads, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”

This event hit at the heart of the Law interpreted by the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Jesus knew more about it than they did! He was kind, merciful and thoughtful. They were callus, insensitive, crude, compassionless, and showed no mercy. Then Jesus said something that they could not ignore. He said, “So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28) In other words, he was declaring that he was God in flesh. And he had a right to interpret Holy Scripture in ways they did not.

To them this was the height of hypocrisy; this was blasphemy. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, ignored their laws, and insulted them. Is it any wonder that they wanted him killed? The thing is, they read God’s laws but they never really understood them.

Some like to claim that Jesus just tossed out the law of resting on the Sabbath when he came, but that is not the case. Rev. John Piper writes, “So Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Sabbath but to dig it out from under the mountain of legalistic sediment, and give it to us again as a blessing rather than a burden.”

I guess the question is, how far do we carry it? Are we to abstain from doing anything on Sunday? Romans 14:5-6 tackles that, “One person considers one day more sacred than another;  another considers everyday alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.”

Also Colossians 2:16-17 reads, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

The day is less important than the time we set aside for our relationship with God. The Israelites celebrated the Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. Christian’s celebrate The Lord’s Day on Sunday. But the principle is the same; we should set aside time to worship, remember and thank God – and to rest. And as Jesus reminded us, it is a wonderful day to do good works and to show mercy.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The great theologian Eugene Peterson describes the Sabbath as, “that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing”.

One pastor wrote, “Sabbath is taking a day a week to remind myself that I did not make the world and that it will continue to exist without my efforts. It is a day when my work is done, even if it isn’t. And it should be a day when I allow God alone to work in and through me in love and mercy. In him I will rest and be grateful.”

One last story. There was a church in Holland that was strictly bound to keeping the Sabbath Holy. One Sunday the area they were in was threatened by high winds and ferocious waves. In fact, the tide was so high, it threatened to bust the dyke if it was strengthened and the town would be washed away. The police notified the pastor of the danger and asked for help. Unable to make a quick decision, they called a meeting of the church council to discuss the situation. The overall consensus was that God would never let anything like that happen on a Sunday. So they prayed and held worship.

You know what happened right? Sometimes certain things must go on the back burner, because mercy, compassion and love is what Jesus is calling us too, first. We should never be so legalistic so that we miss the world passing before our very eyes. Because then we become as guilty as the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.

By the way, after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, NASA did some research on the affects of how being tired affected pilots decisions. Here was the outcome; pilots’ performance increased 34% after a 26-minute nap in the afternoon. Rest matters!

Your assignment is…to take some time this week to rest, and thank God for all he has brought you through this past week. I hope you do that regularly already, but if not…make it a routine practice.

Amen.