“Jesus Is the Lord of the Sabbath”

(Mark 2:23-28 – Pentecost 2 – June 6, 2021)

Mark 2:23-28 – 23Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: 26how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” 27And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus, who gives us rest for our souls:

Every day, we need rest. It is a vital part of our life. In fact, if we get the recommended amount of daily rest, we can spend 1/3 of our lives or more sleeping – resting our bodies and minds. If we do not get this much needed rest, we can suffer physical and mental problems, and our productivity and quality of life goes down.

The God who designed and created us knows we need regular rest. This includes more than just rest for our body and mind. For God has made us with a spiritual heart and soul. As St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” No amount of physical or mental rest can satisfy the spiritual rest we need. By our nature as His creatures, we can only find true rest in communion with Him who is our Creator and Life-Giver. Apart from Him, we cannot have true peace of heart and rest for our soul; apart from Him, we cannot have spiritual and eternal life He alone gives.

In order to give us rest in communion with Him, our Creator came into this world as our Savior. Jesus says: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Certainly, we cast all our burdens of body and mind on Him, knowing that He cares for us in our physical, mental, and emotional weaknesses. But above all, we cast our heaviest burden on Him, as we come to Him laboring and heavy laden with the sin and guilt that weighs on our heart. We confess our sins before Him and lay our guilt at the foot of His cross; and He gives rest to our souls by lifting our whole burden from us, by forgiving all our sins by virtue of His blood-bought atonement, and by assuring us that we live in His grace and favor each day through faith in His saving work.

What God has always wanted for His people is that they rest in communion with Him. This was why He gave the Sabbath day in the Old Testament. “Sabbath” means “rest.” This is the reason He still wants us to stop our daily laboring and come before Him in worship. He wants to give rest to our heart and soul by His Word of forgiveness and peace, His good news of salvation and eternal life in Christ. He wants to strengthen our faith by His Holy Spirit, as He brings His grace in Christ to us through Word and Sacrament.

Here Jesus says: “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” As the Lord of heaven, who came into our flesh to bring us spiritual and eternal rest with God, “Jesus Is the Lord of the Sabbath”: As our Creator 1) He established it, and as our Redeemer 2) He fulfilled it.

1) He established it

As our Creator, Jesus truly can claim the title: “Lord of the Sabbath.” Going back to the beginning, as God brought all creation into existence, He did so by His Word. As John 1 tells us, that Word of God is a Person, who not only was with God but Himself was God. Through Him all things were made. That Person, that divine Word, is Christ. He is the eternally begotten Son of God, who later came in our flesh to win our peace and rest with God (John 1:1-14).

There at creation, the Lord of the Sabbath established perfect rest for His creatures. This did not mean Adam and Eve simply lounged around doing nothing. God gave them meaningful work to do in the garden. But even this was nothing but pleasurable. They could work at tending the perfect garden that readily produced the most delicious fruits. They could work to serve one another, sharing God’s bountiful gifts of love. But best of all, they lived in perfect communion with their Creator. Day by day, they could stop their work and rest in the presence of the Lord, as He came to walk and talk with them in the garden. In His presence, all their work and life was filled with joy. In His presence their souls rested in that timeless peace that would last forever.

But then sin entered the world. That perfect communion with their Lord and Maker was broken. Now fallen man and woman had to deal with all the thorns and thistles, pains and frustrations, laboring and being heavy laden, as broken sinners living in a broken world. Yet in mercy, the Lord of the Sabbath promised to restore to them His perfect rest. He Himself would come as one born of woman to redeem fallen mankind. He Himself would make the great sacrifice to take away our sin and bring rest to souls by His blood bought forgiveness and peace. He would bring rest to their souls in the promise of eternal life in a heavenly Paradise.

To keep sinners ever mindful of this most needed rest, the Lord of the Sabbath commanded His people in Old Testament times to observe the Sabbath Day. But what God intended was not merely physical and mental rest; for even the most relaxing day off cannot ease the laboring and heavy laden heart of the sinner, even the most pleasurable vacation cannot quiet a guilty conscience before the holy God. What the Lord of the Sabbath wanted above all was the spiritual rest of His people. As God created all things in six days and rested on the seventh, so after six days of work they would stop and take time to be in His Word. In this way, every week they would be reminded of the new creation the Lord of the Sabbath was coming to restore. They would rest their souls in the forgiveness He was coming to win, as the Lamb of God who by His sacrifice would take away all sin and restore sinners to communion and peace with God – that perfect communion that will go on without end, in the heavenly Paradise restored.

Yet as human nature goes, sinners want to try to find rest and restoration their own way. Fallen mankind wants to try to fix the broken world by the labors of his own hands. If we can just work to eliminate all evil in the world, all war, all poverty, all injustice, all immorality, all economic problems; if we can just work together, we can change the world. We can fix what is broken. We can create a new heaven on earth. Isn’t this the humanistic, man-centered mindset that leads so many to forsake God and His Word and His Sabbath rest? Man labors on, seeking lasting rest in the things of this world and the work of his hands; but man labors in vain.

How often do we try to find rest and restoration our own way, instead of resting in God’s promises? Does it show when we rush after all the busyness of the day, working at getting where we want to be in life; and when the Lord wants to walk and talk with us in His Word and to hear our prayers, do we feel we have no time to stop our restless labors for that communion? And then, how often do we try to fix our broken lives our own way, rather than trusting His grace in Christ alone? As we deal with sin in our lives, sometimes we labor on under a burden of unresolved guilt, or we labor on trying to right the wrong by what we do or don’t do.

The Lord of the Sabbath calls fallen sinners to stop their vain pursuit of self-made rest. He calls us to rest in His gracious forgiveness won for us. Yet man-centered faith wants to keep trying to fix what is broken by human works, even in our relationship with God. The religion of man focuses on what we must do to make up for sin, what we must do to earn back that blessed communion with the Lord of the Sabbath, what we must do to earn back that Paradise lost.

In our text, we meet the epitome of this mindset in the Pharisees. These self-righteous religious leaders had turned the Word of God, which is centered in His Gospel of salvation in Christ, into nothing but a book of Law one must follow to earn salvation. They wanted to make even the Sabbath, that day of rest, into one more way by which they were working to earn their salvation. They went beyond the actual commandment God gave for the good of His people, that they stop work and rest their souls in His Word of free forgiveness and salvation in Christ. Instead, they enslaved sinners in legalistic traditions and endless rules about what constituted work, and how you must rest from the slightest movement for fear of breaking the Sabbath.

Here, the legal-minded Pharisees accused the Lord of the Sabbath Himself. They saw Jesus’ disciples plucking grain from the field as they walked, and rubbing it between their hands to get the kernels. And they demanded: “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” In their eyes, this amounted to harvesting and threshing grain on the Sabbath, a sin which the Law condemned as punishable by death (Exodus 35:2). By this, they challenged Jesus Himself. How could He be the Messiah, the Lord of the Sabbath, if He let His disciples break the Sabbath?

Yet, though the Pharisees may have followed the letter of the law by being in God’s house religiously, they broke the spirit of the law by rejecting the Lord of the Sabbath Himself. As they came to the house of God, it was all about what they were doing for Him, not about resting their heart and soul in His gift of forgiveness. Therefore Jesus said of them in Matthew 15:8-9: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

2) He fulfilled it

Jesus tells these teachers of the Law: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” God never gave the Sabbath to enslave man to legalistic observances, as a way to earn His favor. He gave the Sabbath to bring sinful man rest in His gracious gift of salvation. As the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus not only established it for the blessing of His people; He also fulfilled it for us.

As our Creator, He had made us to live in communion with Him in that perfect life and rest of paradise. But by our sin, that perfect communion and eternal life was broken. So the Lord of the Sabbath came to win it back for us. As the Son of Man, Jesus did not rest when it came to fulfilling the whole Law for us, not only in letter but in spirit. For our sake, Jesus kept every Sabbath. Even from His youth, He was eager to be in His Father’s house; never did He despise the Word of God, but He held it sacred, and gladly heard and learned it. Nor did Jesus rest when it came to paying the price for our sin. On the cross, He felt the restless anguish of body and soul, as He hung there laboring and heavy laden under the burden of our sin, dying the death we deserved.

And now, in His holy life and innocent death for us, all the work of our salvation is finished. There is no more to be done. Even our worship is not about what we do for Him; the Divine Service, as the name implies, is all about what He does to serve us. The Lord of the Sabbath comes to us give us His salvation in Word and Sacrament. As we come before Him laboring and heavy laden with the sin and guilt that weighs on our heart, He gives us rest for our souls in His Holy Absolution; He takes that burden away by forgiving our sins completely. As we come before Him struggling against temptation and sin, He gives us rest for our souls in His Holy Baptism; He cleanses us of every way we have fallen, and raises us up to go forth in newness of life as God’s holy children. As we come to our Savior’s Table, weak and weary in our soul, He gives us His Body and Blood for our highest good. In Word and Sacrament, the Lord of the Sabbath gives us communion with Himself. He gives us rest for our souls in the peace of forgiveness and eternal life He has won for us; and our faith is strengthened by His Spirit.

Having fulfilled the meaning of the Old Testament Sabbath, Jesus Himself is our Sabbath. As God in our flesh, He gives us true rest for our souls. Therefore, no more are we commanded to worship on a certain day of the week; the New Testament command simply is, worship. For our spiritual good, God wants us regularly to come together with fellow believers, to be encouraged in the faith (Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 10:25). Indeed every day of the week, we can rest our souls in His gift of salvation through faith. We can cast all our burdens of body and mind on Him, knowing He cares for us. Even in the hour of death, we can rest our body and soul in Him who will raise us up, assured that this very day we will be with Him in Paradise.

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. As our Creator, He made us to be at rest with Him in that blessed communion that will never end. As our Redeemer He has won our rest, so that we may share in His blessed communion, both now and forever in the new heavens and new earth. Blessed be the name of the Lord of the Sabbath, who makes all things new for us!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.