Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 6:1-11 – Lord of the Sabbath

Grace For The Journey

Luke has been showing us how Jesus Christ is Lord.  He is Lord over Satan, Lord over sickness, and Lord over sin.  In today’s passage we will learn the Christ is Lord of the Sabbath.  Luke’s main concern here is Christological.  Luke wants to show Jesus Christ is Lord.  He is Lord of everything – Lord over Satan, sickness, sin, and now Sabbath. While we see that. we will also discover that this passage teaches some important principles about the Lord’s Day.Verse1: Luke writes that on a particular Sabbath Jesus went through the grain fields and His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands.  This grain was more than likely wheat or barley.  Eating from the grain field of another person, even a stranger, was permissible according to the Law of Moses.  For example, the Bible says in Deuteronomy 23:25, “When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain.”  In other words, it is okay to walk into another person’s field and eat as much as you like, but do not be driving a combine into the field and storing all your neighbor’s grain in your barns.The Pharisees do not have a problem

With what Jesus and His disciples are doing

. . .  They have a problem with when they are doing it.

Verse 2 says, “and some of the Pharisees said to them, “Why are you (plural, “you all”) doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”

When I studied the passage this week, I found it a bit humorous that this “Let’s Get Jesus Committee” seems to appear out of nowhere.  I mean, here are the disciples enjoying some grain from the grain field, talking with one another and enjoying the day and these Pharisees appear out of nowhere.  They just pop up out of the field like groundhogs, and the question this raises is, “What are you doing here?!”

Their charge was that Jesus and the disciples were working on the Sabbath.  Their charge was that Jesus and His disciples were violating the 4th Commandment in Exodus 20:8-10, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God.  In it you shall do no work.”   Well . . . Okay.  Fair enough.  But strictly speaking are what Jesus and His disciples doing work?  Most of us know that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law added no small number of human laws and traditions to the Law of Moses.   They were doing this, they thought, for good reason, but it led to a massive web of tangled rules and restrictions that boggled the mind and burdened the man.

They come to Exodus 20, for example, reading that it is wrong to work on the Sabbath day and they wanted to know what work was, so they set out to define it.  For this commandment alone they stipulated in the Mishnah (the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism) that one could walk only five steps on the Sabbath and then he was required to pause and rest before walking another five, else he would be working.  The Mishnah also stipulated that a woman could not wear ribbons in her hair on the Sabbath because that would be equivalent to “carrying a burden.”  If a man were to drag a stick on the ground on the Sabbath, well he would be violating it, why?  Because he would be plowing.  Now I know that sounds really crazy to us, but this is where the Pharisees were.  In their zeal to protect and preserve the sanctity of the 4th Commandment, they had turned it into a laborious custom and tradition that was nearly impossible to keep.

Now, I love the response of Jesus in the next verse because Jesus does not just say, “You’re wrong,” but rather He tells them that they need to read their Bibles a little more carefully.  He directs them to the Scriptures.  You know, that ought to be our immediate and greatest concern when we are seeking answers.  What does the Bible say?

Verses 3 and 4 tell us, “But Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read this (Haven’t you Pharisees been reading your Bibles?!), what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he went into the house of God (the tabernacle), took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?’”  Jesus on the importance of knowing what God’s Word teaches.  How is it that the Pharisees somehow accidentally skipped over 1 Samuel 21 and just missed that one entirely?  1 Samuel 21 records the event where David is fleeing from King Saul and he and his men are hungry and so they enter the tabernacle and eat this consecrated bread that was sometimes called “the bread of presence” because it was to appear there before the presence of the Lord for seven days and then, according to Leviticus 24, only the priests were allowed to eat that bread after the seven days.  How is it in their deep study of God’s Word that they did not know this passage?  If they had, they would know that hunger is more important to God than a strict adherence to the Law. 

Then Jesus says to them in verse 5, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”  That is, in the same way that David and his men were free from any violation of the Law, so the Son of Man – Jesus – is free from any violation of the Law.  Here we find ourselves confronted with the first major principle about the Lord’s Day.  Luke is not setting out to assert a full-blown systematic theology about observing the Lord’s Day, but there are, nevertheless some very practical principles we must know. 

First, we must know that . . .

1) Acts Of Necessity Are Greater Than Tradition.

Acts of necessity are of greater importance to God than following human tradition. Or, as someone says, “Hunger trumps custom.”  A person cannot be charged with violating the Sabbath if he does something that needs to be done.  Just as David needed to eat so Jesus and His disciples needed to eat.  Feeding a person’s immediate need for hunger constitutes an act of necessity.

Now we could spend a great deal of time here determining the things we believe to constitute “acts of necessity.”  Time does not permit us to answer this issue entirely in the time we have today.  But for the sake of simplicity, I think most of would agree that something of an emergency qualifies as an act of necessity.  For example, paramedics who are “on-call” on the Lord’s Day do not violate the 4th Commandment when their radios sound off and they’re called to respond to a medical situation.  That clearly constitutes an act of necessity.  On the other hand, the guy who works on Sunday evening because his employer tells him he will earn “time and a half” has to really think about whether or not such activity is really necessary.

We are all sensible people and we all must think through these things as informed by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit’s enabling us to understand and rightly apply them. 

We do not come to the Scriptures looking for loopholes,

But rather we place ourselves under the authority of the Bible,

Seeking to do what God would have us do as recorded in His Word.

Acts of necessity are greater than tradition.  The second principle we must know is that:

2) Acts Of Mercy Are Also Greater Than Tradition.

This second principle derives from what happens next in the passage.  Verse 6 says, “Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught (and we pause to note that Jesus was always in the synagogue on the Lord’s day, always in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day).  And a man was there whose right hand was withered.”  This man had some kind of paralysis or atrophy in his right hand, the hand most useful to most people.

And who is nearby again?  Who is popping up again like groundhogs popping up in the grain fields?  It is the “Let’s Get Jesus Committee.”  Verse 7 says, “So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him.”  I find that statement simply remarkable.  The scribes and Pharisees were there in God’s house watching Jesus, in order to find Him doing something wrong.  Forget about coming to God’s house to worship.  Forget about being there to glorify God and delight in being among God’s people and hearing God’s Word.   They were there to find out what was wrong.  The spirit of the Pharisees lives on today in so many churches.  Some people just seem bent on coming to a worship service to find out what is wrong with everything.  Some take out a sheet of paper to write down what God is teaching them, these people take out a sheet of paper to write down everything that is wrong.  They are today’s scribes and Pharisees.

Verse 8 and 9 say, “But He knew their thoughts (He knows our thoughts, you all!), and said to man who had the withered hand, ‘Arise and stand here.’  And he arose and stood.  Then Jesus said to them (the scribes and Pharisees), ‘I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?’”  That is a great way to put it.  Jesus is pointing out their utter lack of mercy.  In essence He asks, “What is more lawful to do, an act of mercy or to do evil and destroy life?”  Jesus teaches that to ignore this man’s need – to act mercilessly – is akin to murdering him, what the Pharisees apparently would have preferred.  The drama builds and then verse 10 tells us, “And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’  And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.”

Now you would think at this point that the scribes and Pharisees would be happy to see such a miracle occur.  Here was a man incapable of doing what Jesus had asked.  His hand is withered, atrophied, shriveled up.  Yet . . .

God enables the man to do what

The man himself is unable to do.

Much as God says to us, “Repent and believe” and we cannot repent and believe because we are lost, full of sin, and in love with the world, yet God pours out His effectual grace upon us and we find ourselves repenting and believing.  The grace of God!  You would think the Pharisees would rejoice in what has just happened, but we read in verse 11, “But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

Unbelievable!  Literally, they were filled with “madness” as in crazy rage madness.  But you see they had come to God’s house for the wrong reason to begin with.  The reason people today in churches all over the country will walk out of church with the wrong attitude is because they came into church with the wrong attitude.

Now, something I hope to flesh out a little more is what Jesus does not do in this passage.  Jesus does not set aside the observance of the Lord’s Day.  We error greatly if we take this passage to an unwarranted conclusion.  Jesus is not throwing out the 4th Commandment here. 

He is not calling into question

The use of the Lord’s Day,


The abuse of the Lord’s Day.

This is very important.  Jesus is not questioning the use of the Sabbath.  He is questioning the abuse of the Sabbath.  The 4th Commandment falls within the 10 Commandments of the moral Law.  God never sets it aside as something no longer binding or applying to believers today.  It has changed from Saturday to Sunday and we will deal with why and how that happened at another time.  But, for now we must understand that Jesus is not questioning the use of the Sabbath, but the abuse of the Sabbath.  While we have liberty in Christ, we still keep the 4th Commandment.  Remember where our Lord is when He is teaching here.  He is in God’s house! 

The third vital principle in this passage is . . .

3) Observing The Lord’s Day Must Be A Conviction.

We must believe in the sanctity of the Lord’s Day.  This is our greatest challenge today in our country more so than in any other area of the world and in any other time.  J. C. Ryle states the concern succinctly.  He warns: “We must take heed that we do not abuse the liberty which Christ has given us.  It is in this direction that our danger chiefly lies in modern times.  There is little risk of our committing the error of the Pharisees, and keeping the Sabbath more strictly than God intended.  The thing to be feared is the general disposition to neglect the Sabbath, and rob it of that honor which it ought to receive.”

Has that happened in our country?  How do most Americans spend their Sunday?  How do most Christians spend their Sundays?  An interesting exercise for young people today is to ask one of our senior adults how they remember spending the Lord’s Day when they were very small.  Ask them, “What did you do on the Lord’s Day?  What did you not do?  What was open?  What was not?  How did that affect you?”  Things have changed in a generation.  Someone says, “But everything’s different now.  All of our major sporting events are on Sunday.  All of our stores are open Sunday.  All of the businesses thrive on Sunday, so the theology of the Lord’s Day needs to be re-considered.”  How are we to address this?  I think Alistair Begg answers this question best when he says, “I think it’s worthy for us to consider the possibility that theology has been replaced with expediency.  In other words we make decisions on the basis of expediency, not on the basis of theology.  And when that happens, my conscience then is no longer captive to the law of God, but it is rather captive to the fluctuating fancies, ideas, and moods of the contemporary genre so that we are moved not by an abiding principle of the law of God, but we are moved by the kind of ebb and flow of the culture around us and of the immediate culture of our own contemporary evangelicalism.  So if everyone has largely given up on it and we are caught in that flow, then we say to ourselves, ‘Well, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,’ but we are being driven now by the expediency of the moment rather than the theology.  Where the sanctity of the Sabbath principle is observed simply as a matter of custom and is not the matter of conviction then it will only be a matter of time before it becomes obsolete.”

Observing the Lord’s Day must be a matter of conviction.  How does that work out in your life and in my life?  Can we create a list of accepted activities on the Lord’s Day?  Let’s remember what we’ve learned:  Acts of necessity are greater than tradition; Acts of mercy are also greater than tradition; Observing the Lord’s Day must be a conviction. 

And fourthly . . .

 4) The Point Of The Lord’s Day Is The Lord.

Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this principle goes without saying.  It does not, because many Christians have conflicting ideas about the Lord’s Day and for that matter have almost entirely forgotten that the point and goal of the Lord’s Day is God.  The modern work week of six days of work and one day of rest is modeled after the God of creation who worked six days in creating the earth and rested on the seventh.  He did not cease from the activity of being God and sustaining His creation.  Not rest in that sense or in the sense of idleness or inactivity, but He stopped doing that which He had been doing on the six days to give us a model for our weekly lives as Moses records in Exodus 20:11, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.”

The point of the Lord’s Day for us today is not rest in the sense of inactivity and idleness, laying around all day or even taking Sunday evenings off to watch TV or play on the computer.  That is not the point of the Lord’s Day. 

It is a rest defined as . . .

“Relaxation infused with consecration.” 

It is a special day on which we refrain

From doing the things we normally do

That we might consecrate ourselves

To God and enjoy His presence more

Fully in a uniquely wonderful way!

The Sabbath is a gift from God!  This is why we need to be careful of the phrase, “Well, everyday is the Lord’s Day.”  Not exactly.  It seems that many who say that seem more concerned to make their Sunday look like Monday through Saturday, than in making their Monday through Saturday look like Sunday.  We must take care that we not make our Sunday look like Monday through Saturday.

The point of the Lord’s Day is the Lord.  We seek to be in His presence in a way that is particularly special on that day and we do so largely by refraining from what we normally do so that we may focus more clearly upon Him.  The point of the Lord’s Day is the Lord.  I leave you with this question: If the Lord had absolute priority over this day, the Lord’s Day, from sunup to sundown, what would it look like?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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