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TO SAVE LIFE; TO DESTROY IT

Luke 6:1-6:11
Key Verse: 6:9

In the last lesson we could see that the life of Jesus’ disciples was distinguished by joy, the joy of the guests of the bridegroom, Jesus. The life of Jesus’ disciples founded on the gospel did not match that of the Pharisees. And the gospel of Jesus which is like new wine could not be poured into the old wineskin-like Pharisees, who were legalistic and rigid in unrepentance. In today’s passage there is a head-on collision between Jesus and the Pharisees regarding what is lawful on the Sabbath. Jesus again reveals himself and teaches the truth of God concerning the law and the Sabbath. We can learn how God’s people should live.

First, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (1-5). Look at verse 1. “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels.” This is a beautiful scene of nature. Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields where grain was evidently ripening. The weather was probably nice and the wind was gentle. And it was a weekend. The disciples seemed to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing time with Jesus. As they walked along, the disciples, who were young men, felt hungry. Unfortunately, however, they had no food with them. In actuality, there was no one among Jesus’ band who could prepare lunch or snack for them. They were just poor and hungry disciples. So when they saw ripened heads of grain in the field, they began to pluck them, rub them in their hands, put them in their mouth and munch and crunch them. They were like innocent children.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, some of the Pharisees made their appearance and asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” It is like a police, appearing suddenly to give a speed ticket. The disciples must have been very embarrassed at the moment. Probably, the kernels they had just eaten became stuck in their throats. Actually according to Deuteronomy 23:25, it was lawful to pick some heads of grain, though to put a sickle to the grain was forbidden. It says, “If you enter your neighbour’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.” But to the Pharisees, the problem was that it was done on the Sabbath. They considered the disciples’ actions as work: by picking the grain, they reaped, by rubbing in their hands they threshed and by flinging away the husk to eat the kernel, they winnowed. In this way the disciples violated the meticulous rabbinical Sabbath regulations.

Then how did Jesus respond? Look at verses 3 and 4. “Jesus answered them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Jesus did not argue with them, saying that was lawful or unlawful, or saying that the disciples did not do it on purpose; it was just an accident in their hunger. Jesus did not defend his disciples in that way. He did defend his disciples by citing the story of David in the Scriptures. At that time David was running for his life, pursued by Saul. Saul was seething with jealousy because of David’s popularity among the people exceeded his own upon David’s defeat of Goliath. When David asked the priest for some bread, the priest had no ordinary bread, only the consecrated bread which had just been removed from the table and replaced by fresh consecrated bread. The priest knew the situation and also knew who David was, who was right with God and really loved the people of Israel. So he gave the consecrated bread to David, although it was lawful only for priests to eat (1 Sa 21:1-6; Lev 24:5-9). Later on, when Saul found this out, he killed the whole family of the priest, all eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod (1 Sa 22:9-18). So when the priest gave the bread to David, he was risking his life. The priest Ahimelech was the one who knew the spirit of the law, that is, God’s love and mercy.

In contrast, the Pharisees were so legalistic that they missed the spirit of the law. They used man-made Sabbath regulations to judge and condemn others, especially the weak and the people they did not like. So in the gospel story Jesus poured out the words of woe on them. In Matthew 23:23-24, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” In Luke 11:42, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglected justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” When God gave the law to his people, it was out of his love and compassion for them, that they might not become lawless people but know and keep the law and so live (Lev 18:5; Lk 10:28). The Pharisees’ great mistake was that as they made detailed rules and tried to apply them to their lives and the lives of others, they lost the spirit of the law.

And the reason why Jesus cited the story of David was that the Bible did not say anything about what David did although it was not lawful. It was because of who David was. He was a man after God’s own heart. He knew God’s heart. He did not only eat the consecrated bread himself, but also gave the bread to his needy companions. If David could override the law without blame, how much more could Jesus the Messiah promised to come in the line of David Jesus do so? All the problems, one after another, happened mainly because the Pharisees did not know who Jesus was. So Jesus said in verse 5, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Then what does “Lord of the Sabbath” mean? Genesis 2:2-3 says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…” Then Exodus 20:8-11 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…For in six 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.” It is the LORD God who made the Sabbath. Jesus’ words, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”, is a huge claim. For the Lord of the Sabbath is obviously the One who in six days made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. He rest from all his work on the seventh day and blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. He is the Lord of the Sabbath and all the creation. The Sabbath and all things belong to him. He is the object of worship. People can keep the Sabbath holy and have true rest by worshipping the right one and having fellowship with him. We see that the Pharisees were legalistic and restless although they tried to keep the meticulous Sabbath laws, because they did not know the Lord of the Sabbath. On the contrary the disciples had rest and peace by following Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, although they seemed to be doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath. Without Jesus there is no true worship and no rest.

In this part we learn the importance of knowing the spirit of the law, that is, God’s love and the tremendous blessedness of following Jesus, having in the centre of life on Sabbath and all other days.

Second, which is lawful on the Sabbath (6-11). Look at verse 6. “On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.” This scene was different from the previous one of Jesus and his disciples going through the grainfields. Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue was graceful as usual. Yet, there was a pitiful scene: there was a man whose right hand was shriveled (withered). How pathetic this man must have been! In his wisdom God made man have two hands. Two hands are necessary and using both hands is very effective in every activity in life. But this man had to use one left hand, in washing his face, changing clothes, carrying something, etc. The inconvenience and in effectiveness in his personal life was one difficult thing for him to bear. But the more difficult thing was when he was with others. He could not play with others, especially the sports that require two hands. And in fighting he was defeated, having only one able hand. Then gradually, he lost desire to associate with others and became withdrawn into himself. More critically he could not get a proper job for his living. Because of his shriveled hand his heart and life also must have been shriveled. He was a pitiful soul in the need of God’s mercy. So he was there in the synagogue. We believe that seeing this man Jesus’ heart was drawn to him for healing.

But what was happening next in the synagogue? Look at verse 7. “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.” Even in the synagogue, they were using this pathetic man as bait to find a way to accuse Jesus. They were blind to see Jesus and themselves and this man with the shriveled hand. They were using their two eyes and two hands and their brain, all they had, to catch a clue to accuse Jesus. In a different way they were shriveled. We see the end and limitation of legalism.

At the watchful eyes of the legalistic Pharisees what did Jesus do? Look at verse 8. “But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Get up and stand in front of everyone.’” Jesus knew their hidden evil thinking and exposed it, and at the same time was taking a step to heal this man. This was like a declaration of a spiritual war against the evil power. In doing so Jesus was risking his own life.

Of course, Jesus could have healed him right away by touching him or by his word of command. But Jesus said to the man, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” Jesus said this, not to give him a hard time, but to help his faith which was necessary for the healing. We remember the faith of a man who was covered with leprosy. While Jesus was in one of the towns, he came to Jesus and fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He had faith to overcome what people thought of him a leper and faith in Jesus’ healing power and mercy. Also, in the healing of a paralytic, Jesus saw the faith of some people that brought the paralyzed man on his mat to Jesus even through the tiles of the roof of a house, when the people were crowed in the house and thus blocked the way to Jesus. Certainly, it included the faith of the paralytic, who did not refuse in shame or stubbornness to come to Jesus when his friends offered their kind act to carry him on the mat to Jesus. Here when Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone”, Jesus was helping him to stand on the side of Jesus, knowing that Jesus was right and was caring for him. It would be scary for the man because of the watchful eyes of the enemies of Jesus. However, Jesus wanted him to have a courageous faith that would not be afraid of the malevolent Pharisees and teachers of the law. And Jesus believe that he would do so. It was because when God made man, he gave man such courage that withstands any adverse circumstances and opposition to rule over and conquer. It is true that anyone can be courageous at the very moment he or she decides to obey Jesus’ command. It is so beautiful to see that this man has the same spirit and was in the same boat with Jesus. He got up and stood there. With faith in Jesus he did not fear people, but God.

Then now Jesus was helping the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. He said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” It must have been a striking question to them. It was obvious that in their legalistic mind what was lawful on the Sabbath was to keep the Sabbath laws and rules. They must have never thought of the definition of what is lawful on the Sabbath in terms of doing good or evil, saving life or destroying it. Jesus questioned in this way appealing to their conscience, because what they were doing was evil while they were supposed to do good on the Sabbath and because what Jesus was doing was saving life whereas for him not saving life meant destroying it. Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” It is also written in Luke 6:12, “Do to others as you would have them to do you.” Nonetheless to say, all want others to do good to themselves, not evil. So we can say that doing good is the sum of all the law including Sabbath law. Doing good is not the same as not doing evil. So Jesus’ definition of what is lawful on the Sabbath was positive. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were cautious and rigid in attempt not to violate the Sabbath laws. In their negative struggle it turned out that they were doing evil. We know that in the Ten Commandments the commandments first through fourth are about our relationship with God and the commandments fifth through tenth, about our relationship with other fellow men. Yet, according to Jesus, the fourth command, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” is concerned about not only the relationship between God and us but also between us and our neighbours. In Jesus’ teaching keeping the Sabbath holy involves doing good, of course, as the result of the right relationship with God. It is furthermore saving life, as Jesus was demonstrating. In that demonstration Jesus was showing them that the Lord of the Sabbath was keeping the Sabbath holy. In John 5, one Sabbath Jesus made well a man who had been invalid for 38 years. When Jesus commanded, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk,” at once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. Then the Jews persecuted him, because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. At this Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (Jn 5-16-17). Obviously, God’s work is to save life and he is always doing the work of life-saving, even on the Sabbath. When the Jews tried all the harder to kill him, Jesus said, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (5:21). The Son Jesus does the work of life-saving and life-giving, just as the Father does. To Jesus there would be no reason to stop the work on the Sabbath. The work of life-saving is to be done till the end of the age.

This world is a battle ground between good and evil, between God and Satan. Not saving life is destroying it. It is because not saving life is giving a chance to Satan, whose work is actively destroying the lives of people. Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary commented on the movie, Noah in his article “Drowning in Distortion—Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah.’” According to the article, Aronofsky has described himself as a “not-too-religious Jew.” Dr. Albert Mohler made a meaningful conclusion: “The Bible is infinitely better at telling its own story than anyone or anything else, including especially Hollywood. Perhaps the main lesson Christians are to learn from this movie is that if we do not tell the story, others will.” When Christians tell the story of the Bible and teach the word of God, there will be life-saving work. When they do not do, others will do it in a distorted and deceptive way to destroy life.

Look at verse 10. “He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was completely restored.” This man must have habitually hidden his shriveled hand behind his back or in his pocket. It would have been very difficult for him to stretch out his shriveled hand. But Jesus commanded this so that he might completely healed and restored in his both body and spirit. He did so and there was the complete restoration work and the life was saved. At this the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. It shows that by saving life, Jesus would jeopardize his life. Eventually he would give his life on the cross for the life-saving work for mankind.

Thank God for Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath. He is the Maker of the Sabbath and all things including life. His work is to save life. May we come to him as we are. Saving life is the spirit of the Sabbath and all the laws. May stand up in the line of Jesus against all the deception and evil of the world, and practice the spirit of the law and the Sabbath for the life-saving work of Jesus.

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