The Rest of the Servant King – Mark 2:23 – 3:6
Back in the early 90’s, Pizza Hut created an ad using the song “Why is everybody always picking on me?” It was to promote the copious amounts of toppings you could now have on your pizza!
We live in a culture that is constantly creating and promoting demand, and then in turn, we bend over backwards and kill ourselves to fulfill these worldly longings. We have become so self-centered that we are always suspicious, always complaining, always wanting more.
As I look at the ministry of Jesus in these few chapters of Mark, I have to wonder if Jesus would have ever sung those infamous lyrics: “Why is everybody always picking on me?,” or more like, “Why are these Pharisees always picking on me?” If anyone had the right to be suspicious and to complain, it was Jesus. But this is Jesus, the Servant King, who came not to be served, but to serve. He came to revitalize the world’s idea of religion and God and give the world a pure and holy hunger for God. Instead of making the world bend over backwards to get to God, Jesus broke his own back to satisfy that longing. He never looked at his own needs and wants, but looked at the wants and needs of the others and always obeyed the will of his Father.
But we are sinful people who are prone to look out for ourselves. We want everything and do anything to get it. Even on Sundays, we can be self-centered. We have to fit church into our schedule. We look at what we can get out of it, how church can meet our needs. Even our serving on Sundays can feel like bondage rather than cheerful, joyful giving.
But the Sabbath is meant for rest. This is not rest as we usually see it to be. For us, rest is stillness, lack of activity, just chillin’ and relaxin’.Sabbath doesn’t mean to rest as much as it means to cease. God ceased from His work in order that He might enjoy the creation of His own making that He called “very good.”
Jesus invites us to this rest. To experience the Rest of the Servant King means to shift from being “me-centered” to being “God-centered.”
Let’s explore this – The Rest of the Servant King means to, first, rest from our sense of authority and to submit to God’s authority.
This passage begins with Mark telling us that Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields, and they began to pick heads of grains (Mk 2:23). Matthew and Luke also record this event. Matthew tells us that the disciples were hungry, so they plucked some heads of grain (Mt 12:1), and Luke tells us that the disciples rubbed the grains in their hands (Lk 6:1).
This was a major problem for the Pharisees. What’s up with these Pharisees? It’s like they were spies or ninjas following Jesus wherever he went, even in a field! Their continued attempts to catch or trap Jesus showed their desire to assert their authority and their refusal to accept Jesus and his authority.
The Old Testament law stated in Deuteronomy 23:24-25 that if you were hungry it was okay to grab a few grapes for the road or to eat some kernels of grain along the way. So the disciples were not doing anything wrong by picking grain from this field.
What the Pharisees were upset about is that the disciples were doing this on the Sabbath day. Observing the Sabbath was extremely important to the Jews of Jesus’ time, and it was especially important to the Pharisees, who prided themselves on keeping the law right down to the last detail.
Keeping the Sabbath was God’s idea, but the rabbis of Jesus’ time had added all sorts of rules and regulations to those found in the Old Testament. They listed out 39 main types of work that were forbidden on the Sabbath, and they organized those into six sub-categories. For the sake of time, I will not list them all out, but guess what was number three on their master list?Reaping, which means to cut or gather. No reaping was allowed on the Sabbath.
Now they had some biblical basis for this one. Exodus 34:21 said: “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.” And so, yes, it would have been unlawful for a farmer to go out on the Sabbath day and harvest his crops as if it were any other day of the week. But it was a real stretch to call what the disciples were doing “reaping” or any other type of work. They were hungry, so they were eating. It was that simple!
So what was real beef these Pharisees had? Remember that in every confrontation, Jesus gives us a picture into the hearts of these Pharisees: they were threatened by Jesus and his teaching.Pastor Ray Fowler comments on this: “He [Jesus] is so very threatening and terrifying because, if we take His person and His teachings at face value, we all begin to realize the enormity of our wickedness and rebellion against Him. We begin to realize the utter worthlessness of our earthly and fleshly pursuits. We begin to realize that we have enthroned ourselves as lord and ruler and center of our own little universe. Embracing Christ as Lord and King requires us to turn away from the pitiful little man-centered empires that we all have built up in our lives.”
Jesus, knowing their hearts, responds by talking about what David did when he was hungry (1 Sam. 21:1-6). He went into the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which was not lawful for anyone to eat except the high priest. It’s like if I were so hungry that I snuck some cracker and juice from the communion plate before we went to the Lord’s Table! What he was saying was in the case of need, actions are allowed on a Sabbath that otherwise might not be permitted. The rabbis recognized David’s authority to do this, so they would agree.
Then Jesus lays the divine smack down on them: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27-28). Jesus was saying that man was not to be confined by the Sabbath, but rather the Sabbath was given as a gift to man for spiritual and physical refreshment. And he has the authority to say so because he is the Son of Man, the Messiah, and the One greater than David!
God’s laws are made for our benefit. God doesn’t give us his laws to make us miserable or to take away our enjoyment of life. On the contrary, God’s laws are designed for our good. So even if what the disciples were doing was breaking the Sabbath, which it wasn’t, Jesus was saying that human need trumps ceremonial law.
Now the Church from the beginning has always celebrated the Sabbath on Sundays, the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the day Jesus rose from the dead, and I encourage you to do your best to keep the Sunday Sabbath. But whatever day you may set aside as a Sabbath, realize that God made the Sabbath for you. God doesn’t want you to work non-stop, seven days a week without ever taking a break. And he doesn’t want you to miss out on corporate worship. So he gave you the Sabbath so you could slow down, rest from your work, and gather with God’s people to worship and pray.
Ultimately, the Sabbath is not about us but about God. I’m not saying we should abandon all rules and not have any structures, but these should all be in our pursuit of the chief end of mankind as eloquently put in the Westminster Catechism: “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
I would encourage you to take an inventory of your Sundays. What do Sundays mean for you? Is it a day you look forward to? Do you approach it like a chore that you have to do? Is it another event to fit into schedule? Are you the boss of your Sundays or is God?
Friends, we have this incredible opportunity to once again experience what was lost in the Garden of Eden: fellowship and communion with God. God ceased from His work so He could enjoy the creation of His own making that He called “very good.” Do not miss this wonderful, intimate, joyful “ceasing.” If Jesus is your Lord, submit once again to his rule, submit to his authority, and make the Sabbath about Him. The rest of the Servant King means to rest from our sense of authority and to submit to God’s authority.
Secondly, the rest of the Servant Kings means to rest from our trust in work and to depend on God’s Word.
I imagine these Pharisees always looked like grumpy old men. How could they have any excitement or joy in following God if they deprived themselves in order to gain God’s favor? Remember the Pharisee from Luke 18, whose prayer was about how much he deprived himself and how much he did for God?
When I was in seminary, I worked at the Highland Park Rec Center. I remember talking to a co-worker who was Jewish. We were talking about faith and religion and he shared with me that deep down, after his all efforts in memorizing the Torah and going to Temple, even on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, he still felt that maybe, just maybe, God would pardon his sin and accept him. He had no sense of assurance!
The Pharisees were so upset with Jesus because he was basically telling them that in all their hard work, all their fasting and praying, all their pious attempts to earn their salvation, they were totally missing the point! 1 Samuel 15:22 says, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” These Pharisees sacrificed so hard, but it was to glorify them! God never intended for us to try to become our own saviors, yet this is what the Pharisees were ultimately doing.
Now we may not be working in order to be our own saviors, but we certainly can be working in order to be our own providers. I admit that I am going through that very struggle right now! What do we risk if we do not rest from our trust in work? Timothy Tennent says, “The Sabbath is our weekly opportunity to break our trust in work. The Pharisees had missed this entirely because they turned their inactivity on the Sabbath into a “work” that they trusted to establish their own self-righteousness.”
Jesus makes it clear that the Sabbath is not an obligation that we grudgingly undertake to make God happy. We’ve turned the Sabbath into a law of inactivity that is somehow going to gain us favor before God. The truth is, the Sabbath has little to do with our not working, but with God’s ongoing work in our lives. It is a day to quit trusting in our works and allow God to work. The reason we cease from our labors one day of the week is because we need to take time to remember. It is a weekly reminder of our dependence on God. This is why we preach the Gospel week after week.
For most of us, our work gives us three things: our self worth, our sustenance, and our sense of independence. The Sabbath reminds us that our self worth comes first and foremost from God, that He is our provider and sustainer, and that we are totally dependent upon Him. And get this: breaking our weekly trust in work actually enables us to work better and more effectively the other six days because it is now kept in the proper perspective.The rest of the Servant King means to rest from our trust in work and to depend on God’s Word.
Lastly, the rest of the Servant King means to rest from our self-serving and to serve God and His Kingdom.
The passage continues as Jesus enters the synagogue. Interestingly, a man was there with a withered hand, and the Pharisees were watching him (Mk. 3:1-2). Now I’m no expert, but this sure seems like a setup to me. These Pharisees just reached a new low when they took this poor man with his shriveled, paralyzed hand and used him as a pawn in their plot to trap Jesus.
Look at how self-centered these Pharisees are! This is just so wrong on so many levels. First of all, when you went to the synagogue, you were supposed to be worshiping God, but the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus instead. Secondly, they wanted Jesus to heal this man, not because they cared about the man and want to see him get healed, not out of compassion or mercy, but because they were looking for another reason to accuse Jesus.
Jesus, knowing the hearts of the Pharisees, calls the man over and asks the Pharisees a striking question: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mk. 3:3). Mark writes that the Pharisees were silent (Mk. 3:4), showing the hardness of their heart.
Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater here. The Pharisees already knew that it was lawful to save life on the Sabbath. And of course no one would say you could kill on the Sabbath, or any other day for that matter. Why? – Because it is good to save life, and it is evil to take life. The Pharisees were hoping to trap Jesus, but Jesus with his question really trapped the Pharisees. They couldn’t say it was lawful to do evil on the Sabbath, because everyone knew that was wrong. And if they agreed that it was lawful to do good, then they couldn’t accuse Jesus if he healed the man. So what could they say? Nothing. There was nothing they could say to justify their position. They knew they were wrong but instead of humbling themselves and confessing their sin, they hardened their hearts and said nothing at all. (Mk. 3:4).
Mark tells us that Jesus looked at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart (Mk. 3:5). He was angry that they would consider their manmade rules and regulations to be more important than this man’s healing. But Jesus decided to do good on the Sabbath. He tells the man to stretch out his hand. The man stretched it out and Jesus restored his hand (Mk. 3:5).
Timothy Tennent says that, “The man with the withered hand who comes forward in this passage is a picture of all of us, crippled by the Fall and withering away because of sin. When Jesus heals him, He is not breaking the Sabbath. Rather, the Sabbath is breaking into this man’s life! Whenever Christ moves in our lives, He’s inbreaking into our lives with a glimpse of the true Sabbath!”
So what did the Pharisees decide to do on the Sabbath? They decidedto do evil and kill. They went out immediately and conspired against Jesus with the supporters of Herod, seeking how they might destroy him (Mk. 3:6).
The irony of this is that when this conspiracy of uniting the religious and political powers against Jesus comes to full fruition in Mark 14 and 15 and Jesus is crucified, his body had to be taken down from the cross because the Sabbath had arrived. The greatest act of evil took place on the day of preparation before the Sabbath, as the Lord of the Sabbath himself was executed on a Roman cross. Yet Jesus accomplished the greatest good as he lay in the tomb on that Sabbath, because early the next morning after the Sabbath was over, Jesus rose from the dead, giving eternal life to all who would give up living for themselves and surrenderthemselves before him as Lord of the Sabbath and Lord of everything else.
So what about us? Now I’m not going to ask you whether you do good or evil on the Sabbath, but what’son your mind when you come to God’s house? What do you find yourself thinking about on the Sabbath? Does it shout “me” or does it shout “God?”
“Why does church have to start so late? Why did the worship team pick that song or sing it that way? Why isn’t the preaching more like so and so? Why is the message so long? Why does so and so come late all the time? Why isn’t this church more diverse? Why can’t anybody else do children’s ministry? Why is the food so bland? Why is this preacher asking so many questions?”
Friends, we can go through an emotional roller coaster on Sundays and sadly still miss God! But it isn’t because of something lacking with the Sabbath. Rather, your Sabbath experience is the culmination of what’s going on the rest of the week. If we are not daily being renewed and transformed by the Gospel, we are not living out the Sabbath. You may not agree with me, but the Sabbath is not meant to be our once a week spiritual fill up! If we are just expecting to be spoon-fed on Sundays so that we can feel good and live our own lives and do our own thing, then we are being self-serving. But if we come and give God our best and give others our best, then we are serving God and His Kingdom.
The Sabbath, then, is our opportunity to be inspired and encouraged to daily die to ourselves, to be thankful for his love and forgiveness everyday, and to do all things for His glory!Our corporate worship and fellowship allows us to get a taste of heaven!When you have this Sabbath experience, serving God and serving others becomes our delight. Why? Because you can rest in the fact that Christ has earned all your righteousness for you and has made atonement for your sins, and you re once again reminded that you are a recipient of undeserved, amazing grace!The rest of the Servant King means to rest from our self-serving and to serve God and His Kingdom.
As we conclude, let’s look at the man with the withered hand and the Pharisees. The man with the withered hand was overlooked because of technicalities, but used and abused by the leaders. I wonder if he had ever considered the notion that the world should revolve around him. Some of us are like this man. We feel overlooked; we feel we are not good enough; we go through life withered and paralyzed. But it’s a good thing that God has the final say. God made you in His image. He invites you to be part of His family, to be His child. If you stretch out your dry, withered life to Him in faith, He will heal you.
Now look at the Pharisees. They turned their responsibility to be stewards of God’s grace into an un-scalable wall that no one could climb. I wonder if they ever struggled with the temptation to “do good” on the Sabbath.
Timothy Tennent says that, “While they [the Pharisees] were lost in their web of regulations and requirements for the Sabbath, they missed what was right in front of their eyes: the very embodiment of the Sabbath of God, the inbreaking of that great reality which they, as the religious leaders, should have been seeking. They missed the Lord of the Sabbath Himself!”
Some of are like these Pharisees. We are so caught up in ourselves that we intentionally and unintentionally created roadblocks to the Gospel. We can be so rigid and strict with rules and structures that we forget to “do justice and to love mercy” (Micah 6:8). And we are so busy getting ready for Sundays that we forget that God “desires love, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). We miss Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath!
One Sunday evening in the summer of 2006, I was giving one of my church kids a ride home. He was a kid that wasn’t a regular at church and whose parents were concerned about him. We started talking about church and I asked him why he didn’t come regularly. He said that he felt judged and didn’t want to come so that people could talk about him. I knew he was just giving me an easy answer, even though it was valid, so I told him that it didn’t matter what other people thought about because it was all about God. Then I asked him what was really holding him back. He told me something that broke my heart. He said that he didn’t feel worthy or good enough to come before God, especially coming to the Lord’s Table. I said to him, “You’re exactly right…none of us are worthy or good enough! That’s why we need Jesus! It’s exactly because we need Jesus that we come to His house to meet with Him, to come to His Table to remember what Jesus did for us! You may look at yourself one way and others may look at you one way, but God sees you as His chosen child. Remember what Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””
Friends, praise God we have a Savior who is the Servant King! Jesus submitted himself to God’s authority, he fully depended on God, and he chose to become a servant. Jesus became the very embodiment of the Sabbath so that we who are withered and broken could become children of God, children who don’t need to be slaves to this world and its deadly pleasures, but children who trust God and can say that He is enough.
Let’s be “God-centered.” What does that look like? I’ll suggest three points of application: (1) Prepare for the Sabbath – be in God’s Word and be with Him everyday, let Him be the Lord of your life, give Him your best time, even on your Saturdays; (2) Do some soul searching – ask yourself some hard questions: Is Jesus the Lord of my life or is work? What do I dedicate the most time preparing for? Would I quit a job or turn down a position if the Lord were leading me to?Do I take God at His Word that I seek Him first, He will take care of me?; and (3) Look for opportunities to serve God’s Kingdom everyday – serving at LH is not the end all in itself, cultivate a heart of a servant so that your serving is pure and holy before God, ask God how you can love Him and your neighbors more than yourself.
Whether we are the man with the withered hand or the self-righteous Pharisees, we both need to same thing: We have to stop looking at ourselves and look up and see God. We need to move from being “me-centered” to being “God-centered.” If you harden your heart against him and reject him, you will only know his wrath. But if you stretch out your dry, withered life to him in faith, he will heal you.