Mark 06: True rest

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

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.”

3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.



If you do not know, my job is quality control in a food company. One of the main roles is facing the auditor. In my previous job, I had an audit every 3 months. My job is preparing for the audit, facing the audit, fixing the issues and going back to preparing the audit again. That is the cycle of my job. I think I am doing OK dealing with the audit. On average, I have 3 -4 minor issues for every audit except there was one audit. This is the audit from one of the major retailers. I cannot say the name, but it is not the red one but the green one. Not the “down down down” but another one. A little bit of context, this auditing company just had a big contract from this retailer so they want to show off a little bit in this audit. Thus, I normally get 3-4 minor issues in a 3 day audit. 3 days and 3 minor issues. But in this audit, on the first day of 3 days, the auditor already gave us 5 minor issues. At the end of the audit, we had 15 minor issues. On the last day, we normally have discussion time with the auditor. We raised our complaint about the way the auditor uses the standard or rule. There are many problems that she raised that do not make any sense at all, but she still raised them as problems. The discussion did not go anywhere but at the end of the audit, I made a statement to the auditor. This is what I said – “I  think you miss the purpose of the audit. The audit should give value and help your customer, which is the retailer and our company, to improve. But you used this audit as a hammer to hammer us and did not give any value to us.”. She just smiled. a Few weeks later, we raised the issue to the big retailer, and they agreed with our point and at the end, they asked us to “ignore” the issues the auditor picked up.

We often do things without realizing why we do those things. As Christians, we do fast or ministry or go to church, but we do not understand why we are doing those things. It is wrong when we are doing it because we follow other people, or we are doing ministry because our name is on schedule. Without realizing it, our focus is drifting slowly to all those external things. We focus on ticking those religious activities and we are thinking that those religious activities make us Christian.

This is what we need to remember; “Sunday church attendance or fasting are critical to a Christian’s spiritual growth, but the Christian life involves much more than that. It will be a spiritual disaster if we lose sight of the essence of Christianity which is a heart-to-heart relationship with Jesus Christ and replaces it with the following of rules and regulations.”

In today’s passage, we will see people who were eager about obeying God’s commandments, particularly the Sabbath Law but they miss the real purpose of following God’s law. I will divide my sermon into 3 parts.



The Sabbath (2:23-27)

I still remember when I went to the Holy land a few years ago and during Sabbath time people were not allowed to do ‘work’. It is a truly incredibly unique experience. Most shops and restaurants begin to close as early as Friday afternoon. Most public transport like buses and trains are not available during Sabbath.  There are a lot of restrictions during Sabbath and these are some common ones during this day. You are not allowed to do; writing, cooking, driving, using hot tap water, making transactions and operating electronic devices which included not being allowed to press the lift button. Thus, there is always one lift that goes up and down automatically. My first response at that time was “Really?! Is it necessary?”

A similar thing happened in this text. The Pharisees were so firm and rigid in their understanding of the sabbath. They believed that people are not able to do any work at all during the Sabbath. To ensure people follow that, they added their own rules and laws. They added more rules on top of God’s Law to make sure no work would be done. This is the reason the Pharisees accused them of violating the sabbath law. When the disciples picked a few heads of grains on the sabbath, they were not happy because they think the disciples violate God’s Law. In verse 24, the Pharisee accused Jesus and the disciple of violating God’s Law – “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

This statement is not a stupid statement. Based on the context at that time, it is a very valid statement and at the same time, Jesus’ answer will be very important for all His followers at that time and also for us. Why? If Jesus breaks the law of God, then he sinned against God and this would be problematic for us because Jesus can no longer be a sinless sacrifice.

I love how Jesus answered this accusation from Pharisees in verses 26-27. This is what Jesus said in verse 26 – “Have you never read what David did”. In another word, this is basically what Jesus said to the Pharisee – “Do you know your Bible?”. This type of statement surely irritates them.  Why? The Pharisee is supposed to be the expert of the Bible. Surely, they have read all the scripture. Not only read but they memorise them. But you know we can read the bible, but we don’t know God. It is possible to read the Bible, but we don’t know our God. It is possible to read the information about God but does not have relationship with God.

Jesus answered by telling them one of the stories of David from the scripture. I think Jesus is very smart using David’s story to answer this because Jesus knew that for Pharisee, David is a great hero and David was the idea of an ideal king. Jesus answered the Pharisees by telling them what King David did with the same situation. He was hungry and he took the bread which was offered to God and according to the law of Moses, it is another big no-no as only priests can eat bread that is offered to God but King David took and ate the bread.

These are two main points from Jesus’ answer. Firstly, Jesus did not break any of God’s laws. All these rules are traditional laws created by the Pharisees and have been down from one generation to the next generation. According to God’s Law, it was allowed to pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath. The problem is the Pharisee mixed up God’s law with tradition’s Law.

Secondly, Jesus points to the problem of the pharisee. The problem is that they missed the purpose of God’s Law. Jesus closed with the important statement in verse 27 “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). Jesus pointed out that the sabbath was made for man. It is a gift from God to His people. Jesus reminds them of the real purpose of the sabbath. So, what is the purpose of the sabbath? It is a day of rest. Some of you may say that “it means I have been keeping Sabbath law then because I can sleep all day long”. But, that is not the only purpose of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, Israel not only takes rest and sleep. They gathered together in synagogues for worship, prayer, and listening to the Word of God. Sabbath rest is not the only day of rest but also a day of worship. There is a young pastor in Sydney summarised beautifully. He said that “Sabbath reminds you that you are not God. It is a day where you remind yourself that God is God and you are not. Sabbath reminds the people of God that they can trust God. “ (Ps Yosia)

Sabbath is a gift from God but the pharisee added with other man-made laws and turned the sabbath from a great gift to a burden. For example, drunkenness is wrong. The Pharisee would say that we can not drink alcohol at any time. After a few months, they think it is still not enough. They ban all products that have alcohol content including cough medicine, some cakes with rum as well as a sanitiser and some soy sauces. It means that if you use sanitiser to clean your table, you are sinning. Don’t get me wrong. These Pharisees have good intentions. Their intention is to help other people obey God’s Laws which is how good leaders should be. But by doing this, they replaced one essential thing which is the relationship to God with a list of “do” and “don’t”.  This is what we called legalism. They become so critical to the point that they missed the point of the sabbath.

Let me be clear. We always say in RSI that we do not want to fall into legalism. We say that Christian life is not about “do” and “don’t” but we have to be careful defining legalism. The problem of legalism is not about keeping the law. God demands every Christian to keep the law. We can not say that we do not want to be legalists and what we do is totally avoid following God’s Law. The problem of legalism is not keeping the law but the self-righteous attitude. Legalism is when we think that our hearts could be full of sinful desire, lust and selfishness but if we obey the Law or any external requirements, it can cleanse them and they become holy. But the Bible is very clear, nothing can cleanse other than the blood of Jesus Christ. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made very strong comment; “If the grace you have received does not help you to keep the law, you have not received grace. If you claim to love Christ and yet are living an unholy life, there is only one thing to say about you. You are a bare-faced liar” It leads me to my second point.


The Lord of The Sabbath (2:28)

When we were still toddlers, we often got warnings from our parents. For example, when we draw on the wall, our parents would give us a first warning and a second warning before we would get the consequences. As you know the consequences, we normally stop. Jesus is a bit different. Before this pericope, Jesus has declared His authority at the beginning of chapter 2. He declared that He had the authority to forgive sins. It leads to a confrontation with the Pharisee. Jesus knows the consequence of this action is the death penalty. In this pericope, Jesus dropped another surprise by claiming Himself the Lord of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

If we fast forward a little bit, because of this claim by Jesus, Jesus had another confrontation with the Pharisees, and it leads them to figure out a way to kill Jesus. Did Jesus know this claim would lead Him to a death sentence? Yes, He did. I mean if you already know the consequences, you stop. But He did not choose to stop. Why? Because Jesus needs to proclaim this truth as they need to hear this truth. He is the only way to God.

All Jewish people know that God is the Lord of the Sabbath. God is the One who creates the Sabbath. When Jesus is saying that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, He was claiming to be God. It is a big statement.  He declared that He is the Lord and is greater than the Sabbath. This is the main point from Jesus’ statement: “The Sabbath is made for us but not about us. It is about God. The Sabbath points us to Jesus. He is the one to be worshipped, not the day.”  The main point of the Sabbath is so that we can fix our eyes on Jesus.

Jesus did not abolish the Sabbath. Jesus observed the sabbath and so did His Disciples in the early church, but they did not worship the Sabbath like the Pharisee. I believe that Jesus also wants us to do the same thing. But Jesus did not want us to keep the Sabbath with no meaning. This is what we can learn from this. It is to put aside time every day and every week to rest and worship God.

Many times, we are too busy with our routine and we forget to spend time with God. That is one of the main purposes of attending Sunday service and worshipping God. That is the purpose of reading the Bible, praying and worshipping God. Our nature is always in a hurry and restless. Therefore, setting aside time with God is one of the most difficult things to do in our Christian life. That is why our life is restless and full of worry. Netflix or getaway or games. Let me tell you it will not last. You may experience temporary rest, but you will go back feeling restless. Why? Because only the Lord of the Sabbath can give you true rest to whoever comes to Him. Jesus said in Matthew chapter 11 – 28; Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Day-off is good. Vacation is good but only Jesus can give you the true rest. We can do whatever we think can make us happy such as eat all healthy food, buy all new gadgets, lift all the weight in the gym, take all the vacations, but if you don’t give your life to Christ and rest your soul in Jesus, you will never find rest and peace. Jesus calls every Christians to come to Him to have true spiritual rest. Unfortunately, there are some people who still reject Jesus as their saviour. It leads me to the last point of my sermon.


The Response (3:1-6)

When Jesus claimed that He is the Lord, He is Son of Man and He is the Lord of the Sabbath; He claimed that in front of a lot of people including the pharisee. In the next few verses, we will learn two different responses from the man with a withered hand and the pharisee.

Firstly, let us learn from the man with a withered hand. Mark 3:1-3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 

This man’s hand was no longer useful. During that time, when you have that kind of sickness, you are considered useless by society. In the book of Luke, it is written that his right hand was withered. His best hand was useless. It was a hand which he used to work. He can do nothing.

Imagine the scene at that time. The scene was Jesus just claimed Himself as God and religious leaders hated Jesus. It could be that many people did not like Jesus at that time. This is what Jesus said to the man – “Come here”. Can you imagine the pressure on the man? I mean that all eyes might be on him. This man needs to make a decision in the middle of people who hate Jesus whether he would stand and come to Jesus. And then Jesus said to him “stretch out your hand”. The man could have said. “Seriously, Jesus? Look at me. That is one thing that I could not do (stretch out hand). Impossible!” But instead, He believes, and He comes to Jesus and stretches out his hand. He made the most important decision of his life. By coming to Jesus, what he did basically is confessing his faith in Jesus in His power to save and heal.  He did something impossible. Same thing as salvation. It is impossible for us.

But, Jesus also sent the same invitation to all of us to come to Him and to believe. The question for all of us; “Have you truly trusted Jesus Christ as your saviour?” This will be the most important decision of your life – the decision to give up our old life and accept a new life with Jesus.

Secondly, let us learn the response from the religious leaders. After Jesus claimed that He is God and He is Lord of the Sabbath, their hearts are full of hatred. They hate Jesus because they think Jesus broke the Sabbath Rules, but they were the ones who broke the Sabbath with their hatred heart. This confrontation with Pharisee is the last confrontation Jesus had with the Pharisee. You can see at the end of this passage; the Pharisee is ready to destroy Jesus. One thing we can learn from this is don’t respond like the pharisee. Can you imagine calling your brother and sister in church a pharisee? I will not do well. Don’t try. They are always considered as bad guys in scripture. But we can easily become like them if we are not careful. The Pharisee did not wake up every morning and plan how to make God angry. They have good intentions to please God but, as a result, they make Him angry. Why?  They believed their sin can be covered if they keep the rules. They are thinking; “it is ok to be hatred because I am keeping the rules”. Let us not respond to Jesus as the religious leaders did.



Even the author of Hebrew was begging his reader to not make the same mistake as the Pharisee. The author of Hebrew says 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience (Heb 4:9-11).  What does it mean? Sabbath means rest and the opposite of rest is “work” and there are many Christians who still working to earn their salvation. Christian read the Bible, go to cell group, go to church, fast, pray, do social activities hoping that God will accept them. That is the main problem with the Pharisees and other Jews. They think by obeying and keeping all those laws, makes them acceptable to God. Paul said in Ephesians; 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Eph 2:8). Nothing we can do to earn salvation. If we are thinking that by keeping the law, we can satisfy God, remember this, if you break any of those requirements, you are guilty of breaking it all. One of the purposes of the law is to show your sinfulness and our hopelessness and it leads us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said on the cross that “It is finished”. What does it mean? It means He has done everything necessary for us to be saved. The question for all of us; “will you rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross for your salvation?”

For some of us, going to church is to tick our to-do list or because there are expectations that push us to come to church. But that is not really what God wants. He wants our hearts and our love. He wants us to obey Him because we have experienced His grace. It is the result of what He has done for us.

What does it mean to keep Sabbath today? We have to realise that we are living in a busy world. For me who loves to plan everything, it sometimes wears me out when thinking how much to do and how little time I have. I am tired of just thinking about it. As a result, we are easily exhausted and worried.  There are two different kinds of tiredness we can experience in this world; emotional and physical. Some of us are lack peace in our lives. We worry about not having a husband or wife or kid. We worry about getting Covid. We worry about our nightmares coming true. Or, some of us are experiencing physical tiredness because of not having enough sleep. Probably at these days where people work from home, setting aside time to rest become more difficult

If we look at what we have in our generation, our generation probably has more entertainment or fun than any other generation in history. Now, we have Netflix, smartphones, Instagram, Facebook. But, our generation is easily burned out and stressed out.

Do you feel refreshed after you spend some time on Netflix? Yes, you may feel refreshed but it is just temporary. Why? Because all those things only refresh your body but not your soul. Therefore we can not separate the sabbath from worshipping God. This is why Sunday service is so critical for Christian. This is the irony. Our Lord Jesus would like to spend this day every week but sometimes these are our responses to Him; “my house is still messy, I need to tidy up the house, or I need to catch up with my work on Sunday,  or my church is far from my place”.  For us as a young family, going to church can be hard but it is important for us as Christian. Or, for some of us, going to church is hard because we cram too many things on our weekend and we feel tired on Sunday. How can we keep Sabbath in our life? It could simply change our priority on Sunday. We free up our Sunday for rest and worship.

This is an important question that we honestly need to answer, “Is He the Lord of our life?” If yes, you will put Him as the priority of your life. You will intentionally put aside time to spend with God. Let’s pray.


Discussion questions:


  1. How would you define rest? How is it different from the way the Bible defines rest?
  2. In what ways do the pharisees miss the point of Sabbath? Can you see yourself repeating the same mistakes? Give examples.
  3. Give some implications of what it means for Jesus to say that he is the Lord of the Sabbath.
  4. How does Jesus give us true rest?
  5. Give some daily life examples on how you can keep the Sabbath today.
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