Summary: God didn’t give us his laws just to be obeyed (to show us he’s boss). God gave us his laws for our benefit.
What part of your Bible instruction, whether as a confirmand or in a Bible Information Course, did you enjoy the most? Was it the lesson on Creation? Angels? Baptism? The lesson I most enjoy teaching is the one about Jesus. I love to explain why Jesus had to become human and yet remain God to win our salvation because it demonstrates so well God’s wisdom and love. I can’t say that I get as excited about teaching the Ten Commandments. I suspect that this lesson on God’s law isn’t a favourite for most Bible students. That’s because by nature we don’t like to be told what we can and cannot do. Yet in our devotion today, we’re going to learn that God’s laws are not about control and domination. God did not give us his commands to show us who is boss. He gave us his laws for our benefit. Jesus makes that clear in our Gospel lesson this morning so let’s turn to it now and find out why exactly we thank God for his laws.
In our text, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field with the Pharisees on their heals. The Pharisees weren’t there to learn from Jesus but to spy on him. They wanted to find Jesus doing or saying something that would expose him as the fraud they thought he was. The Pharisees thought they had found their evidence when they observed Jesus’ disciples stripping grain from the field and popping the kernels into their mouth as they walked. The Pharisees weren’t about to accuse Jesus’ disciples of stealing because in his instructions to Moses, God had allowed his people to go into their neighbour’s field and pluck a few stalks of grain to eat (Deuteronomy 23:25). No, what made the Pharisees think they had a case against Jesus was that he had allowed his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath, the day of rest.
Now it was true that God had commanded his Old Testament people not to work on the Sabbath (Saturday), but the Pharisees had added their own rules, 619 of them to be exact, to God’s original command. In doing so the Pharisees missed the whole point of the commandments. They thought the purpose of the commandments was God’s way of seeing whether or not his people really loved him. Certainly God gives us his laws to be obeyed, but the reason he wants his commands obeyed is because they really do make life better for us. That’s what Jesus meant when he said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Like a boss who really cares about his employees and so will order them to take vacation, not just suggest it, God ordered his people to rest once a week.
There is of course more to the 3rd Commandment than not working and we’ll get to it in a just a minute but for now consider how all of God’s commands are meant to be a blessing. Take the 6th Commandment for example. God forbids adultery because he wants peace and love to abound in families. God forbids murder with the 5th Commandment so that we don’t have to live in constant fear of losing our lives. With the 8th Commandment God forbids bearing false witness because he wants to protect reputations. Take any one of God’s laws and you will see that God gave them for our good – not to make life difficult.
Because the Pharisees thought that God’s commands were simply there to be obeyed, they had become legalists. They were more concerned about the laws than the people for whom those laws had been made. This showed in the Pharisees’ attitude towards the disciples who were plucking grain on the Sabbath. They didn’t care that the disciples were hungry; they were only concerned that by plucking grain, the disciples, as the Pharisees saw it, were harvesting and were therefore guilty of breaking the 3rd Commandment.
To show the Pharisees that the law of love (concern for others) is to supersede all other laws, Jesus spoke about an incident from David’s life (Mark 2:25, 26a). One time when David and his men were on the run from King Saul, they stopped in on the high priest and asked him for something to eat (1 Samuel 21). The only thing the high priest had on hand was the bread in the tabernacle, bread that was to be eaten only by priests. This is the bread that Abiathar gave to David, yet God didn’t charge the high priest with wrongdoing even though David and his men were not priests. Although Abiathar had technically broken the law by giving David the tabernacle bread, the law of love, concern for David and his men, superseded all other laws.