Summary: God’s laws are a blessings not a burden.
Today is officially the first day of summer. What do you like best about summer? As a kid what I loved was going to the pool on a hot humid day. I’ll bet there are a lot of children here who enjoy swimming. If so, what do you like best about the pool? Do you like jumping off the diving board or careening down the water slide? Maybe you look forward to buying an ice cream from the concession stand? No wait. I bet what you like best about the pool are all the rules: don’t run, no monkey business, one person at a time on the slide… No? That’s the one thing you don’t like about the pool?
It’s true. Whether at the pool or driving down the highway we don’t like to be told what we can and cannot do. Yet in our devotion today we’re going to learn that rules, especially God’s rules, are for our benefit. Just as lifeguards don’t enforce rules because they like to make life miserable for little boys and girls, God did not give us his rules just to show us who’s boss. Jesus makes that clear in our Gospel lesson this morning so let’s turn to it now and find out why we want to thank God for his rules.
In our text Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field with the Pharisees on their heals. The Pharisees, members of a fanatic religious group, 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 a 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 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 rules 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, with the 3rd Commandment God ordered his people to rest once a week so they would be refreshed.
There is of course more to the 3rd Commandment than not working once a week and we’ll get to it in a just a minute but for now consider how all of God’s rules 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. Analyze any of God’s rules 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 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 because they were “working” on the Sabbath. 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 from the tabernacle – a tent like structure that served a bit like a church. This bread, however, was special bread and was only to be eaten by the priests. Although the high priest technically broke God’s law by giving David the tabernacle bread, the law of love, concern for David and his men, superseded all other laws.