S1 E10 - One Rule to Rule Them All
Resource: Lead Pastor Justin Dosch
Topic: People love to follow rules that don’t matter and ignore the ONLY rule that does
So let me ask you a serious question; do you like rules? In my experience there are pretty much two types of people, those who generally like following the rules and those who enjoy breaking them! But here’s the truth, whether you’re more of a rule follower or not, we love the rules that work for us, and we disregard the rules that don’t. Case in point. One of the most commonly broken laws is speeding while behind the wheel of a car. Even the most staunch rule followers will drive 5-10 MPH over the speed limit REGULARLY. I mean after all, as long as you stay within 10 MPH of the speed limit you’re “technically” not speeding right? And yet here’s what many of us do. We’ll be flying down the highway doing 70 in a 55 when suddenly another car blazes past us going 90. And in our minds what are we thinking? “Boy I hope they get busted down the road!” If we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit that we love rules as long as they work for us.
As I think about the culture we live in I am convinced that for many people, the reason they don’t want to follow Jesus is because they’ve been given the impression that Christianity is a system of rule following. For many those rules seem legalistic and oppressive and so they never even give Jesus a try. Or worse, they see Christian’s who proclaim the importance of following said rules, who are not following themselves, and they determine if that’s what following Jesus is about then I am out.
But what if I told you there was only one rule you had to follow? One rule, that if we actually followed it, would take care of all the rest? As we continue in Mark’s gospel today that’s what I want to talk about.
When we last left Jesus in Mark 2:22 Jesus’ message of the gospel of grace is beginning to ruffle some serious feathers. As He and His disciples travel around Galilee they are consistently met with opposition from “religious” people who are not happy with the way Jesus is threatening everything they’ve worked so hard to build. A rising storm tidal wave of opposition is brewing. And it’s about to get some lighter fluid put on it. Let’s pick up in Mark 2:23;
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Mark 2:23-24
So here’s the scene. Jesus and the disciples are walking through a grainfield. Most likely, that field consisted of either wheat or barley which ripened between April - August. So, we know it was sometime in the spring or summer. In those days roads were few and far between and in more rural areas the only paths you could find were those that wound through farmers fields. As Jesus and the disciples made their way along this path they got hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. No big deal right? They’re hungry and they’ve got to eat. There was just one problem. Mark tells us that it was the sabbath and some Pharisees accuse them of “doing what is unlawful.”
Now, to fully understand why the Pharisees are making this accusation we need to understand the cultural context of the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word “shabbat,” meaning to rest, cease or desist.” It was officially instituted on Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the ten commandments. Above all, it was meant to be a day to refrain from work, and to rest and focus on the Lord. It was meant to be a gift. A day to celebrate all that God had done for them. The best day of the week.
By the time we get to the first century however, the sabbath has been turned into anything but a gift, the worst day of the week.
Over the course of 1500 years rule after rule has been added by the religious leaders and the Sabbath has become a huge burden on God’s people. And herein lies the irony of legalism. What is meant to be a good thing, a way to help people grow closer to God and be more connected to Him, ends up being the greatest deterrent to it. What God meant to be a good gift man has turned into a devastating weight. By the time Jesus shows up the rules have gotten completely out of control to the point where anything that might be perceived as or even tempt you to work was forbidden.
For instance, you were not allowed to carry anything heavier than a dried fig. That would constitute work. If you tossed an object in the air you had to catch it with the same hand otherwise that was considered “work.” Killing insects? Forbidden. Some of you would be in big trouble. You just have to go ahead and burn the house down! Bathing was not allowed. Water might spill on the floor and while wiping it up it could constitute “cleaning.” You weren’t allowed to rearrange furniture. Since most people’s homes were dirt floors the ruts made by the furniture were looked at as “plowing.” You couldn’t look in a mirror lest you find a gray hair and pull it out, again constituting work. There was no tying or untying a knot, treating a sick person (unless it was an emergency or traveling more than 1,999 paces. So, if you had a friend that lived 2,000 paces away you literally could walk that extra step to enter their home. I can only imagine myself in those days taking extra long steps to stretch that distance out. This is the insanity of laws imposed on the Jewish people.
So, in the craziness that was sabbath laws of the Pharisees, Jesus and His disciples were, REAPING by picking, SIFTING by removing the husks, THRESHING by rubbing the grain, WINNOWING by throwing it in the air and PREPARING a meal through the whole process. The bottom line; it was an absurd, ridiculous, crushing weight that was placed on the people of Israel and Jesus was having none of it. He came to free people from the insanity;
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Mark 2:25-26
In classic Jesus fashion He answers their question with a question. “Have you never read about what David and his men did when they were hungry?” You see the Pharisees are supposed to be experts in the Old Testament and the Law. And so what Jesus is doing here is calling them out in an almost sarcastic tone, “If you’re such experts how do you not know this?” As my kids would say, “Jesus got ‘em with the third degree burn!” What Jesus was referencing is an account from 1 Samuel 21:1-6 where David and his men eat the consecrated bread that was only permissible to be eaten by the priest. Every Sabbath the priest would place 12 loaves of bread on the gold table in the Holy Place and consecrate it to the Lord. After seven days had passed the bread could be eaten, but only by the priest. As the story goes the priest had compassion on David and allowed him and his men to eat the bread. By the letter of the law this was not OK. But God did not punish David, his men, or the priest for this. Why? Don’t miss the importance of this, because compassion ALWAYS trumps adherence to ritual and ceremony in God’s Kingdom. Yes, the law said they couldn’t eat the bread, but God cares far more for the wellbeing of his people than about whether they follow superficial rules.
And so what Jesus was ultimately saying to the Pharisees was this, THEY, not Jesus and His disciples, were the real violators of the Sabbath. They had put their rules above their compassion for the people. What it did was reveal their hearts and showed what “religion” will do to a person, make them unloving to the world around them. At this Jesus makes it clear that while they may be the enforcers of their man made laws, Jesus is the creator of the Sabbath, and he gets the final say in how it’s practiced.
27 Then 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 2:27-28
From the beginning the Sabbath was meant to be a BLESSING and a gift for man, it was never meant to be a burden.
The Sabbath was created for man’s good, and the Sabbath could be adjusted for man’s good. And Jesus makes it clear that he has the authority to do just that when he tells them HE is the LORD of the Sabbath. He directly claimed to be God. He’s saying, “I was there in the beginning. I MADE the Sabbath and I am the one who determines how it’s to be practiced not YOU.
Not long after this, Mark tells us that Jesus once again finds himself in a confrontation over what the Pharisees deem as, “breaking the Sabbath.”
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Mark 3:1-2
Luke 6:6 tells us Jesus was there teaching, which means a big crowd was watching, and a man with a “shriveled” hand happened to be in the crowd. In the crowd were also a handful of Pharisees who, as the text states, were looking to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. Now Jesus is so smart. He knows the Pharisees are there and he knows this man with the shriveled hand is there. And he decides to make a scene to call these Pharisees out. So, he asks this man with the deformed hand to step forward. Now the Sabbath laws said clearly that unless a person was in a life-threatening situation they could not be healed on the Sabbath. And so when Jesus calls this man forward to be healed he knows the Pharisees are going to be irate. The reality is most people in those days relied on their hands for work. It was an agricultural society and so without the use of your hand this would have made it very hard to earn a living. So, while his condition was not life-threatening it was absolutely devastating to this man’s life. It would have been severely limiting. Jesus could have waited and healed the man the next day, but he had a bigger agenda in mind.
3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. Mark 3:3-4
Jesus asks the man to stand and then shoots a direct question to the Pharisees. “Is it OK to do good or evil on the Sabbath? According to Matthew when this happened the Pharisees questioned Jesus; Jesus is so smart, he asks a question they can’t get out of. You say you’re good, you act like you want to do good, but you intentionally seek to harm. They are so deep in their rule following and lack of compassion that they would rather do harm to Jesus than see this man healed. This was hypocrisy at its finest. In their hypocrisy they wanted Jesus to violate the rules they so vehemently argued shouldn’t be broken, just so they could take him down. But His question traps them. If they say it’s OK to do good and to save then they can’t trap him. But if they say it’s not OK to do good then they look terrible! And so they were left with NOTHING to say, “but they remained silent.” And at this Jesus can no longer hold back his righteous anger.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Mark 3:5
As they stood there in silence Jesus stared each one of them down with a look that could melt steel. Angered at their stubborn hearts and the fact that they refuse to repent and are headed for destruction, Jesus heals the man’s hand in an act that would have surely infuriated the religious leaders. And with that, the official plot to destroy Jesus began.
6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Mark 3:1-6
Luke 6:11 tells us they were FUMING, he had showed ‘em up in front of everyone. They were so mad that they began to conspire with a sect called the Herodians. A group loyal to the “Herods” who were leaders in Israel that were loyal to Rome. That they would go to the Herodians is the ultimate act of hypocrisy. They were the fiercest of enemies. Never in a million years would you expect them to work together on anything. They truly could not have been more different. But Jesus was a threat to each of them, and so they found a common enemy to unite against.
Ultimately here’s what I want us to see today. There is a sickness going on in the hearts of the Pharisees and a pattern to their lives that we must seek to live the opposite of. In both cases the Pharisees have ZERO concern for the people. First, they have no concern for the disciples who are hungry. Clearly they are hungry and in physical need. The Pharisees could not have cared less. Second, they have no concern for a man whose life has been completely derailed by a deformed hand. There is no compassion. There is only their desire to keep their rules and enforce their authority over others. And herein lies the lesson for us today;
When keeping superficial rules becomes more important than loving others we’ve completely missed the heart of Jesus.
And that brings me to something vitally important. As Christians Jesus has really only given us ONE rule to follow. In Matthew 22 some Pharisees come to Jesus trying to trap him yet again and they ask him, “Jesus what’s the most important commandment?” In other words, what is the most important RULE, Jesus? And this is what Jesus said,
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus says; listen up and listen closely, “there’s one rule to rule them all.” And if you follow this ONE rule, the rest will take care of themselves. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” If you love God and love your neighbor you won’t steal from them, covet their stuff, sleep with their wife, treat your parents poorly, worship false Gods, lie, cheat, slander, gossip or any other thing that might do damage to another person.
The Pharisees wanted a complicated system of do’s and dont’s. Jesus makes it very simple. But make no mistake about it, this is harder. You see the Pharisees loved their laws because the truth is they were easy to keep. It’s easy to follow the superficial rules of religion(go to church, read your Bible, etc.). At least it’s easy to make it LOOK like you do. It’s much more difficult to; be patient with an obstinate child, love your annoying neighbor, swallow your pride and let someone else be first, be empathetic to your spouse and on and on and on. Loving others is far more difficult than any rule the Pharisees could come up with and so they came up with a system that would make them look good.
And so the challenge for us today is this; LOVE OTHERS.
To my Christian brothers and sisters reading this, LOVE OTHERS. Seek to love people the way Christ did. Recognize it’s the only rule that Jesus requires of us. For me, this is beyond difficult. Every day I feel like such a failure as I seek to selflessly love others. But this week I was struck deeply by this thought; while this ONE RULE is infinitely more difficult to keep, it has driven me even harder toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I strive to live this out it reminds me every day of how far short I come to this standard. It exposes the nature of my heart and reminds me of how amazing Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross was for me. Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to love others, and I desperately need his grace and guidance on the daily as I strive to be like Him. I’m so glad he doesn’t hold me to the ridiculous standards and expectations that the Pharisees held people to. Thank you Jesus. You are truly something else.
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