Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rules, Rules, Rules

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

He answered, “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.”

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:23-28

The Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the law. They were one of the prominent and powerful religious groups in Jerusalem during Jesus' lifetime on earth. They not only "clarified" the law but also added their own traditions to it as a hedge around it. In my estimation they had started to see God's law as both a tool to gain power for themselves and as a weapon to attack other people. Here they try to use the law against Christ*, but it backfires.  Unfortunately, sometime Christians do this to. That's not what we are called to do. All of this reminds me of something Jesus said to the scribes (a separate but related religious group), "Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them" (Luke 11:46). 

Jesus points out in verse 28 that the Pharisees (the experts in the law) don't rightly understand the law at all. Jesus says in essence, "God didn't create humans so He would have somebody to keep all these rules that He loved. No! He created humans and loved them, so He gave them the law as a blessing to help them." The law isn't intended to be a burden, though sometimes the devil tricks us into seeing it that way. God's commands show us how to live a blessed life... how to pursue joy and peace while we are here on earth. So God's law isn't a burden, it's a blessing. 

Moreover, since Jesus is the Son of Man (the one representative man from all of humanity who is our Lord and our representative before God), He is also Lord over this gift that God has given mankind. He has the wisdom and the insight to rightly understand the law and even to add to or take away from it. The Pharisees did not have that right and neither do we.

In a lot of ways I am very much like the Pharisees. It is easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking about God's law like it's a burden. Many in our day think this way. We think God gave us all these rules to keep us from having fun and living a full life. And for that reason many of us try to live life our own way and we pay dearly for it. We plant seeds in our lives that we think will bring us happiness, pleasure, and success, but we end up reaping a harvest of pain and frustration. That isn't the worst of it though. So many of us keep planting the same seeds over and over again, living life our way, somehow thinking that we will get a different result. We just can't bring ourselves to believe that God's way of living could possibly be fulfilling. So we do the same things over and over again expecting a different outcome. Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Over time, little by little, I have become less insane. I now believe that living according to God's commands, living for Him and not for myself, is the blessed life. This is the kind of life that brings true joy both now and in eternity. If you are tired of getting the same results over and over again in life, maybe it's time to try something different. 

For further reading...
  • Psalm 119- I know it's the longest chapter in the Bible, but it is a love poem written about how wonderful God's law is. The psalmist loved the law so much and took such delight in it that he created an acrostic poem to show his love for it. (It has a stanza for every letter in the Hebrew alphabet [sin and shin share a stanza.])
  • Psalm 1:1-3- The righteous man delights in the law.
  • Romans 7:21-25- I want to do good, but evil is right there with me.

*It is important to note that Jesus wasn't actually breaking God's law. He was breaking their man-made tradition. As the ESV study Bible points out "Deuteronomy 23:25 implies that, in the case of hunger, it was permissible to eat heads of grain from any field one might pass by. Work, however, was not permitted on the Sabbath (Ex. 34:21). Pharisaic interpretation sought to guard against work on the Sabbath by prohibiting even the minimal 'work' involved in thus satisfying one's hunger." (ESV Study Bible footnote on Mark 2:23-24). 

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