Mark 2:23-28 (NIV) 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?” 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.” 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.”
My dear friends in Christ,
Are you a follower? In today’s social media, that’s how things work. You can follow people on Facebook by “friending” them. You can follow friends on Instagram to see their updates and pictures. If you follow people on Twitter, you can instantly read their latest thoughts. If you don’t understand or use social media, that’s okay. You still are a follower—you probably just do it by following the news on television or in a newspaper. We follow our favorite teams, celebrities, cooks, animals—the list goes on and on. If you like what you read, you can express it with words or, in social media, use an emoticon to express like or dislike, happy or sad, or if something is funny or not very funny at all.
This week we begin our look at “Following,” but we’re not following social media. We’ll follow Jesus as we work our way through the gospel of Mark. Are you ready? By faith we have already “liked” Jesus and have begun following him.
Not everyone liked or followed Jesus. The Pharisees had been following the things Jesus said and did and they didn’t like it. Jesus regularly promised to forgive sins. He spent time and even ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast like the Pharisees did. Jesus didn’t follow the rules, and that made the Pharisees angry. In this account they find yet another reason to confront Jesus. “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.” (Mark 2:23 NIV). Matthew added that the disciples were hungry. They weren’t stealing from the local farmer. The law of Moses gave permission to pick individual kernels of wheat as long as they weren’t using a sickle to harvest standing grain. The issue? It was the Sabbath!
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24 NIV). Were the Pharisees right? God had commanded, “But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Deuteronomy 5:14 NIV). The Pharisees had added all kinds of extra rules and laws to the Law of Moses. They forbade walking through a farmer’s field, picking grain, rubbing it in the hands to separate chaff from the wheat, and eating it on the Sabbath. Technically, according to them, that was work.
If Jesus and his followers were in trouble for breaking God’s rules, what about us? We are Jesus’ followers too! We have broken the rules too. Let’s stick with the one the Pharisees were focused on—the Sabbath. Do we keep that command? Do we stop and rest from our hard work all week long to spend time in God’s Word? Most weeks we do, but there are times we don’t. We can’t worship because we’ve been too busy. We’ve been at work all week and we need to catch up on chores around the house. The kids have games scheduled for Sundays and there’s no way to get around that. We work so hard at everything else that we forget to stop and rest the way God wants us to rest!
There are plenty of times we just don’t want to keep God’s rules. I know when I was in 8th grade I was about done with the rules by the time we graduated. I was tired of school and homework. I had enough of my teachers. It was time to move on, and I loudly sang along with Alice Cooper’s summer anthem, “No more pencils No more books No more teacher's dirty looks Out for summer Out till fall We might not go back at all School's out forever School’s out for summer!” (Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce, School’s Out, 1972).
We get tired of the rules at home. It gets old having to do the chores every night—doing the dishes; carrying out the garbage; vacuuming; mowing the lawn; watering the flowers? Who wants to do all of that?
We get tired of the rules at work. Every day it’s the same thing. We punch in, we do our daily tasks, we have to deal with fellow workers, we have to listen to the boss and follow instructions. It’s the same old thing day in and day out. We really want to tell the boss what to do with our jobs, but that would break the rules too!
I think what we’re most tired of is failure. We fail at keeping God’s rules no matter how hard we try because we can’t be perfect. We will never be perfect! It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating. What good does it do anyway? Even Solomon had to say, “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17 NIV). So, if we follow the Pharisees’ philosophy, we’re keeping all the rules and gaining nothing. If we follow Jesus, we look like a bunch of rule breakers. What should we do?
We need to follow Jesus. We need to follow him more closely than we would a Facebook or Twitter account. He is not the rule-breaker the Pharisees accused him of being. Jesus understood that love for God and for our neighbor has nothing to do with keeping a bunch of rules. It is all about the attitude of our hearts. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to understand that, so he pointed them to a story they knew well. “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 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 NIV).
In the holy place of the tabernacle sat twelve loaves of consecrated bread, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Every Sabbath, twelve fresh loaves were offered to God and the old loaves could be eaten by the priests. David, fleeing from King Saul, asked the high priest if he could spare some of that bread for himself and his men. God did not condemn David for asking or the priest for giving the bread. David and his men ate and they all lived to tell about it. Jesus’ conclusion? “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
The Sabbath was God’s gift to Israel. No other nation had a god who said, “Take one day off a week.” In fact, other nations thought the Israelites were slackers – working only six days a week. God gave his people divine permission to rest at the end of each week and enjoy a foretaste of God’s eternal rest. Jesus invites us to follow him and experience that rest. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29 NIV). Jesus’ invitation stands for us, weary and burdened as we are, to find rest. St. Augustine once wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you” (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions). Wouldn’t Jesus’ rest be worth a “smiley” emoticon?
Can Jesus really give that kind of rest? He declared, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 NIV). Jesus has the authority to give us everything he promises. 8th grade, you have learned that during your time here at Salem. You chose Joshua 1:9 as your class verse: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV). Jesus is with you. You need to follow him every single day! You’re headed to high school and your next big challenge. New friends, new opportunities, and a whole boatload of new temptations. It doesn’t matter whether you’re headed to high school, college, or beyond. No matter where you’re going, the world will try to stop you from following Jesus. The temptations will come fast and furious. The opportunities to choose between following Jesus and following the world will lie right in front of you. What will you do?
Follow Jesus! We can’t follow Jesus on a Facebook page, Instagram or a Twitter account. We don’t need to. Any time we hear his Word, we are following him. So, enjoy Jesus’ Sabbath rest! You know the 3rd commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it” (Luther’s Small Catechism—10 Commandments). The Sabbath Day has nothing to do with a day of the week. It has everything to do with our love for God and his Word. Where’s one of the best places to gladly hear and learn it? Right here! Come to worship—Jesus will pick up your burdens from the week gone by and fill your soul with peace and rest. Come to teen group when they meet—share your challenges with your fellow believers and let them encourage you with Jesus’ words of rest. Join a Bible study, whether on Sunday morning, or sometime during the week. Fill up on Jesus’ words and promises. He will give you rest for your soul!
There’s one more reason following Jesus and finding his rest is so important. We are all busy. We all work hard. We all crave down time, rest, and relaxation. Jesus wants us to follow him right now so that we can be sure we will have Sabbath rest in heaven. Two weeks ago, Senior Cameron Nahf was driving his brother to classes at Shoreland Lutheran High School. Cameron was on the baseball team and was about to graduate with the rest of his class. On the way to school he lost control of the car, hit a tree, and was killed. As difficult as it is to think about, the same could happen to any of us, any day. A teenager with cancer said it like this on the evening news, “We’re all on a timer.” Cameron was prepared for that day. The verse he chose for his graduation day? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV). Cameron followed Jesus and found Sabbath rest every day at school, at church, and with his family. Cameron followed Jesus, and he has found eternal rest at Jesus’ side.
8th graders, that’s what we pray Jesus will do for each of you. Your pastors, your teachers, and your parents want this one thing—for you to live forever with Jesus. Keep following him. Find your Sabbath rest in him, knowing that he will fill your souls with peace and joy. Follow him every day, until he finally calls you home to heaven. Amen.