2nd Sunday of Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus dear friends in Christ, Are you a list person? I like making to do lists and I think most of what I like about making to do lists is being able to cross things off. I’m also trying to embrace technology and on my phone there is actually an app that allows me not only to make lists but to click on them and watch a line move through the list and move it to the bottom when I’m done with it. But whether or not you have an actual list, there’s all kinds of things we do every day, aren’t there? I have to go to the store. I have to go to work. I have to buy flowers for my wife. I have to pay my taxes. I have to take the garbage out. I have to clean the house. I have to wash the car. I have to go to church. What do you HAVE to do? But here’s the reality: You don’t have to do anything. Sound surprising? It’s true. You honestly don’t HAVE to do anything. Now our actions do have consequences and there may be some negative consequences that will come your direction if you choose not to do certain things. If you choose not to pay your taxes, the IRS may have a way of finding you, they tend to like to hear from you and me every year. If you choose not to obey the speed limit, you run the risk of both an accident and a speeding ticket. If you choose not to take out the garbage, your house will soon begin to smell. You get the picture. But you really don’t HAVE to do anything.
Now, let’s be clear. When it comes to you and me by nature we couldn’t make any God-pleasing choices. In fact, we HAD to do only one thing because there was only one thing we could do: sin. The Bible clearly tells us that each of us was born into this world DEAD in sins. Something that is dead CANNOT make any good choices. Something that is dead cannot DECIDE to start living. We were born spiritually dead in sins and couldn’t choose to do anything pleasing to God, let alone come to faith. But, the Holy Spirit called you and me by the gospel, the Holy Spirit used the life-giving waters of baptism to bring us to life, the Holy Spirit used the message of Jesus to bring us spiritually dead people to spiritual life. And now, you and I have tons of choices. We can choose to follow our old sinful nature and sin OR by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us we can choose to do things that are pleasing to God, choose to follow God’s will, do what God wants. There is a big difference between “have to” and “want to.”
In our text, the Pharisees were stuck in a “have to” mindset. It was a Sabbath day. And remember that the Sabbath day was the 7th day of the week, Saturday, and part of the Israelites worship laws called for all Israelites to not do any work on the Sabbath day. Remember that we can classify the laws and regulations in the OT into 3 types: the moral law, which is the law God wrote on the hearts of all people, God’s will for people of all time, the ceremonial laws which prescribed how God wanted the Old Testament Israelites to worship Him until the Savior came, and the civil law which governed how the Israelites were to rule themselves in their society. So, for example, the laws against adultery and any kind of sexual immorality are really part of God’s moral law for all time, the laws about stoning someone who committed adultery were part of the civil law, and the laws about the Sabbath day were part of the ceremonial law. They were to take one day a week and set it aside for “rest” that’s what “Sabbath” means. It was to be a day of rest for their bodies and also rest for their souls as they worshiped God on that day. Finally, the Sabbath as with all of the laws governing the OT worship life were to point to the Savior. The Sabbath specifically was a shadow to point to the true rest for our souls that Jesus came to win us by His perfect life in our place and His death for our sins.
But the Pharisees took these laws and instead of seeing God’s laws as blessings for them, they saw them as laws that they could follow in order to make God happy with them. And so, with this idea, they became “over-achievers” and actually added extra laws on top of God’s laws. They had scribes and lawyers who actually poured over these laws and determined how many steps you could take on a Sabbath day before it was considered work or what manner you could get your food on the Sabbath day before it was considered work. This sort of thing is actually still going on today. I once read an article about strict Jews in Israel where on Saturdays businesses have “Shabbat” elevators that actually stop on every floor on Saturdays because pushing the button would be considered work. Wow!
Here the Pharisees are in a way delighted. They think they found a way to accuse Jesus through His disciples. It was a Sabbath and the disciples were walking along the road, they were hungry and so they did something that was actually allowed for by the civil laws of the OT. You could take grain from the plants that were growing alongside of the road. You couldn’t go into the middle of the field, but grain that grew by the side of the road you could take. But the Pharisees in their extra laws had determined that this amounts to harvesting and threshing because not only would you pick the heads of grain, you ground it in your hands to shell it in order to eat it. In essence the Pharisees are saying, “What kind of a teacher are you anyway? Your disciples don’t even keep the Sabbath law!”
So, Jesus told them about David. When David was on the run from Saul who wanted to kill him, he stopped by the tabernacle and he was hungry and the priest gave David and his companions the consecrated bread that was by the ceremonial law only for the priests to eat. But no one would say that what David did there was wrong. In other words, David’s example shows that even these divine ceremonial laws were not absolute in their application. David’s hunger set aside a divine regulation, so, shouldn’t the hunger of the disciples set aside some mere human notion?
Here’s the principle: God’s Sabbath law, as with all of God’s laws, were meant to be a blessing for people: to have both physical and spiritual rest. But the Pharisees had inverted this. They treated people like people were created for the purpose of keeping the Sabbath. So, their idea was that the Sabbath had to be kept no matter what happened to people. God’s intention, however, was that people would be blessed by the Sabbath and if necessary at the expense of the Sabbath day. It finally goes to a matter of the heart and a matter of motivation. Do they do what they do because they HAVE to do it? As if the we are slaves to the law rather than the law existing to serve us.
We can ask that same question about ourselves too, can’t we? Do we think that we exist for the purpose of laws? Or that God’s will for our lives exist to bless us? Just listen to what comes out of our mouths: “I have to go to church today. I have to go to work. I have to spend some time with my wife. I have to read my Bible. I have to be nice to this person.” So, what’s the motivation? Are we really SLAVES to God’s laws? Are we SLAVES forced to do what God wants us to do? Do we live as if we HAVE to do this or we HAVE to do that otherwise God will be angry with me, He won’t like me, my life won’t go so well, etc.? You know, maybe we’re not too far from these Pharisees? If we think like that, we’re really following the same false god that the Pharisees were following. A god who gives us good things when we do good and bad things when we do bad. But that’s not the true God. What do you HAVE to do?
Jesus came not to force us to follow God’s commands and tell us what we HAVE to do in order to please God. Jesus came to do what we totally and utterly failed to do. He came to do what we could not do. He came to have a perfect regard for all of God’s laws. He came to obey all of God’s laws not from a heart that HAD to, but a heart of love for God that wanted to do what God wants. Jesus also came to die on a cross to take on Himself God’s judgment for all the times you and I have seen God’s laws as HAVE to’s and as burdens. He did that so that He could truly be the “Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath Himself because He came to give us the true rest that the Sabbath was shadowing. There’s a real neat passage in Isaiah that says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” In other words, God saved us totally apart from what we did or did not do. God loves you not because you do anything; He loves you because you rest in the blood of Jesus who did everything FOR you.
You see, Jesus has set us free to live in His laws not because we HAVE to, but because we WANT to. Your life is not a whole bunch of “HAVE to’s.” The truth is: you really don’t have to DO anything, Jesus did it all. But the amazing thing is that Jesus’ love has such a power that it actually changes your Have to’s to WANT to’s. Why did you come to church this morning? Because you chose to, you wanted to. Why do care for your family? Because you want to. Why are you kind and considerate to others? Because you want to. Why do faithfully do your work? Because you want to. And why do we want to? Because we have a Savior who has won us, freed us, and rescued us for eternal life. And the really cool thing is, that as God changes our hearts by His love we WANT to do His will and as we do His will who gets blessed? Does the all-sufficient and almighty God need our actions? Not at all. But as we grow in God’s Word, as we share His Word, as we care for our marriages and our families, as we seek to serve rather than to be served, who gets blessed? We do! For the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God’s laws are not for God, they serve and bless US! So the question isn’t, “What do I have to do?” but rather, “What do I want to do?”
Even when we say “I have to” what we really mean is “I want to do nothing else by this, I simply have to.”