23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 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: 26 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?” 27 And 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.” – Mark 2:23-28
The Pharisees worked really hard to obey, and Jesus and his disciples didn't seem to care. To avoid doing any work on the Sabbath, the Pharisees created a list of thirty-nine different activities that one could not do on the Sabbath. Strange way to avoid working, huh?
Among those thirty-nine activities were probably are least two that Jesus’ disciples were breaking. They probably violated the “Sabbath-day journey” and they certainly reaped grain. The Sabbath-day journey was defined as less than 2,000 paces. So if you walked any more than a little over half a mile, your were a Sabbath-breaker. Presumably, Jesus’ disciples went further. And along their way, they picked grain and as they rolled it in their hands, they harvested it. So they “did what was not lawful on the Sabbath.”
In response to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus uses an old Pharisaical device. He appeals to Scripture. “Haven’t you read your Bibles?” he asks. Of course they have! But they missed something. David did this same kind of thing. He went into the temple on the Sabbath when he was on the run from Saul, and he took the showbread. You can go back and read this in 1 Samuel 21. The point is this: Jesus is saying, “David did this, and something greater than David is here.”
But David didn’t just take the showbread for himself. He took and gave it to his men with him. In the same way, Jesus gave the grain to his disciples. How can he do such a thing? Because he knew the original intention of the Sabbath. How did he know that? Because he is Lord of the Sabbath. See that in verse 28?
Now that’s just an absolutely astounding thing to say. Earlier in Mark 2, Jesus said he had the authority to forgive sins. Here he says he has the authority to say what the Sabbath is for because he’s Lord of it. Jesus is once again claiming deity.
Jesus knows what the Sabbath is for. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” When he made it, there were no rules about walking 2,000 paces, or reaping grain, or healing the lame. We were not made to be slaves to the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given as a good gift from God for our restoration.
And so we see in this a very simple but life-altering truth. We can complicate the kingdom of God all we want. We can put restrictions on it. We can make it hard to get in to. We can make it burdensome. But when we do, we turn it into something like the opposite of the kingdom of God. We make it the kingdom of this world. Just as the Sabbath is for our rest, so too is the kingdom of God! In bringing the kingdom, Jesus is not adding a burden to our already weighty life, he is bringing relief and restoration!
In bringing the kingdom, he’s bringing the Sabbath rest we long for. The author of Hebrews tells us “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:9-10). How do we enter God’s rest? By entering his kingdom. How do we enter his kingdom? Through Jesus Christ. When Jesus says he is Lord of the Sabbath, he means that he is the Sabbath. Jesus is our rest and he’s rested from his works. You can rest from yours. Stop trying to save yourself! Enter God’s rest in Christ!
Everyone on the planet is either currently on or has been on a self-salvation project. But Jesus says, “Forget about that. I’m here to complete that project for you. You can’t do it, but I can, and I have.”
Here’s Christ’s kingdom offer: all our striving and trying for all his finished and accomplished. That’s not for the “good” people over there somewhere, because they don’t exist. It’s not for the people who achieve some great state of perfect obedience, because they don’t exist either. It’s for people like you and me: sinners in need of a savior. To our weary, worn out, self-justified-out hearts, Jesus Christ’s call is simple: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
So, why do his disciples do what is not lawful on the Sabbath? Wrong question. Rather, why do the Pharisees make God’s Sabbath law into a chore? Why do we work so hard for love that is freely given in Christ? Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Following him is doing what is lawful. Total openness to Jesus is obedience.
Jesus doesn’t do away with the law; He fills it up in himself so that as we follow him, as we draw life from him, as we live in his kingdom, we find the rest we’ve longed for. For the first time in our lives, we actually obey the law in him.
Do you need that rest? Then go to the only One who can give it because he is it. Go to Jesus. His kingdom is for you, my dear sinner. And, amazingly, it’s for me, too.