The struggles of the Christian life confuse many people. When the Holy Spirit gives us the faith that receives the gift of eternal life, He also gives us the desire to lead god-pleasing lives. It is frustrating, then, that as hard as we try to do good, we still sin. We echo the words of the Apostle Paul. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15, 18, 21–25) These words teach us that the Christian should expect life to be a struggle.
We did not have this struggle when we entered this world. That is because we were spiritually dead as the Apostle Paul said, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1–2) A dead person doesn’t struggle. There is no struggle in the grave. The Apostle Paul reminds us that when we enter this world, we all own a piece of spiritual real estate … a plot in a spiritual cemetery where we wait for eternal punishment. A person who is spiritually dead has no spiritual struggles.
When you became a Christian, the Holy Spirit blew over your spiritual cemetery plot, reached in, and pulled you out to a new life. The Holy Spirit blessed you with the faith through which you receive life in Jesus Christ. You no longer reside in a spiritual cemetery plot. You are now alive in Christ Jesus.
Now, it doesn’t take a PHD in theology to figure out that the devil, the world, and even our own sinful nature do not like this change of address. It is their fervent desire to put you back in that spiritual cemetery. The moment the Holy Spirit brings you to life in Christ, they declare war on you. You find that you have moved from a spiritual cemetery onto a spiritual battlefield. When you realize that the forces of evil want you back, the struggle that Paul describes makes a lot of sense. The new life that the Holy Spirit worked in us wants to do good, but our old sinful nature fights against us and we fail.
The Latin fathers came up with a phrase to describe this battle. It is simul iustus et peccator. It means simultaneously saint and sinner. Martin Luther did a very good job of describing this condition in his explanation for Holy Baptism. Note that Martin Luther refers to our sinful nature as the Old Adam: What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. With these words, Martin Luther teaches that our sinful nature attacks us every day, and remembering our baptism drowns that old monster.
The Old Adam does have a perverted sense of right and wrong. For the Old Adam, doing good produces a reward … pleasure, power, wealth, prestige, and so forth. Doing evil produces punishment … pain, loss of power and wealth, shame, and so forth. It is not good if you don’t get the reward, and it is not evil if you don’t get caught.
The Gospel that we just heard earlier today, demonstrates the Old Adam’s attitude toward the Sabbath. For the Pharisees, the Sabbath was simply a system of reward and punishment. Keep the Sabbath well, and you will gain prestige in the community. Keep the Sabbath poorly and the community will shame you. Since the hypocrites among the Pharisees were primarily interested in raising their status among the people, they often found ways to go above and beyond the teachings of the Bible. That way they were even more impressive. They could gather even more prestige among the people.
This tendency of the Old Adam to add laws that are not in God’s word and ignore laws that are in God’s Word did not go away. We just finished looking at the Augsburg Confession in Bible Class and we saw that the Medieval Church did the same thing. They made up tradition after tradition and used them to oppress consciences.
The Pharisees criticism of the disciples was not based on the Law in God’s Word, but on the Law contained in their own man-made traditions. The disciples were NOT breaking the law. Travelers were permitted to eat from the fields adjacent to the road if they ate it on the spot and did not gather it for future use. Therefore, this was a matter of eating and not a matter of working. This did not violate the Sabbath.
The law also recognized emergency needs like hunger. Jesus reminded the Pharisees of David who was fleeing for his life with his friends. 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: 26how 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?” (Mark 2:25–26) The law of Moses said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) When your neighbor is starving to death, this law supersedes the ceremonial law. David and his friends were starving when they came to the high priest. The law of Moses said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) When your neighbor is starving to death, this law supersedes the ceremonial law. The priest fed them the ceremonial bread.
Furthermore, Jesus taught that the Sabbath was intended to be a gift. He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27) God gave the Sabbath as a break from the normal routine of the week. God established the Sabbath to aid his people in their salvation, not to place further limitations and restrictions on them. It is an opportunity to rest in Christ. The new man in Christ also sees God’s Law as gift, not as a system of reward and punishment.
Jesus finished His reply to the Pharisees and said to them, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28) At first impression, we might take these words to mean that Jesus is God and He has the authority to make or change any law according to His will. While Jesus certainly has this authority, such a meaning is inconsistent with the context of Scripture.
In another setting, Jesus taught the disciples a different meaning for the word lord. Jesus called [the disciples] to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42–44) These words teach us that, within God’s family, it is the lord who serves.
Then Jesus went on to say, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) When you combine these words with the words we heard in today’s Gospel: “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:28) the new man in Christ understands that God gives the Sabbath as a gift and Jesus, as the lord of the Sabbath, gives out those gifts. He even gives us the gift of His life sacrificed on the cross. He also gives us the gift of resurrection to eternal life even as He rose from the dead. As the lord of the Sabbath, He is the great gift giver.
Jesus is still the great gift giver today. He fulfilled the ceremonial law of the Sabbath with His perfect life, His suffering and death, and His resurrection. Now all days are holy. We can enter His presence and receive His gifts every day. We are here with Him to receive His gifts today.
Sadly, the lord of the Sabbath is not the only part of today’s Gospel that is here today. The sinful nature that afflicted the Pharisees in today’s Gospel is still with us as well. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself thinking about lunch in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. That’s my sinful nature at work. How about you? Perhaps your mind wanders in other ways. Maybe during a hymn or a reading from the Bible. Maybe during the sermon. Perhaps, even though you’ve got nothing special planned for this afternoon, you get kind of antsy when the service lasts longer than an hour. These and other symptoms remind us that the sinful nature that afflicted the Pharisees also afflicts us. We are still in that struggle that Paul described in his lament.
When I see how weak I am, it gives me great comfort to know that I have nothing to do with my salvation … that it is the Holy Spirit who gives me faith in the work of Jesus Christ who earned my salvation with His life, death, and resurrection. It gives me great comfort to know that the Holy Spirit gathers us together in the presence of Jesus Christ, the lord of the Sabbath who still gives us His gifts in this place … especially the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.