Pentecost 2b

Preached: June 14, 2009

Church Services Bless Us
Mark 2:23-28

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts with Jesus our Savior is Mark 2

And it happened that he [Jesus] was passing through the fields on the Sabbath and his disciples were starting to make their way as they picked heads of grain. The Pharisees began to say to him, “Look! Why are they doing what is not allowed on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and was hungry, both he and those with him? How he went to the house of God during the days of Abiathar, the high priest, and ate the bread of the presence, which is not allowed for anyone except the priests to eat, and also gave some to those with him?” And he went on telling them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our crucified and risen Savior:

“Do I have to go to church?” How do you answer a question like that? It's a question that children ask their parents. It's often thrown out as a challenge by those who don't come to church. And how often doesn't it creep into our own thoughts? “Do I have to go to church, today?”

Although the situation was different, the Pharisee's behavior in the text clearly shows how they would have answered it. “Yes, you have to go to church. That's the rule.”

Jesus rejects that answer. But Jesus isn't say, “No, you don't have to go to church.” Rather, Jesus shows that the mindset that asks this question has already headed down the wrong road. He goes underneath the question to change the way we think about worship and going to church services. Instead of a mandatory obligation, going to church is a blessing for you and me.

That brings us to our theme: Church services bless us. They bless us when they meet our real need. They bless us when they honor our true Lord. When we focus on the blessing, then we don't even think of asking, “Do I have to go to church?”

A. When they meet our real need

1) How did Jesus show the Pharisees that the ceremonial laws were meant to be a blessing?

To understand Jesus' words here, put yourself back in Jesus' day. God's people still lived under the Old Testament laws given by God through Moses at Mt. Sinai, because Jesus hadn't complete his work yet. Many of these laws governed their religious life. We call them ceremonial laws. They told the people how, when, where, and why to bring sacrifices. They prescribed what religious festivals to observe. They detailed the dress and duties of the priests. And so on.

One ceremonial law was the Sabbath law. The word Sabbath means “rest.” On the seventh day, Saturday, every week God's people were to rest from their daily labor and anticipate the spiritual rest the Messiah would bring as they heard and pondered God's word and promises.

The rabbis considered the law about physical rest so important that they made extra rules to make sure that no one would be doing work that day. They came out with categories and subcategories of different kinds of work forbidden on the Sabbath.

So when the Pharisees saw the disciples picking grain, rubbing it in their hands to get the husk off, and eating it, they knew this fell under the forbidden categories of harvesting and threshing that the rabbis had developed. The disciples were not strictly observing the rabbis' interpretation of God's ceremonial law.

Now Jesus, rather than descending into a legalistic discussion of what was or wasn't forbidden on the Sabbath, Jesus aims at the core of the Pharisees' thinking. They viewed the outward keeping of the ceremonial laws like the Sabbath as the way to place themselves above others and climb closer to God. So Jesus reminds them of how one of the greatest Israelites, a man after the Lord's own heart, David himself, purposely broke God's ceremonially law in a time of need and was guiltless.

You see, David was running for his life. Even though he had faithfully served King Saul killing Goliath and leading his soldiers, nonetheless King Saul wanted him dead. He knew that God was going to give the kingdom to David. So David ran, and when he reached the town of Nob, he was hungry. He asked the priest for some bread. But the only bread there was the consecrated bread. Each week twelve loaves of bread were set before the presence of the Lord on the gold table in the tabernacle. The loaves from the previous week were to be eaten only by the priests in a holy place.

That was one of God's ceremonial laws. Yet it was not wrong for David in his need to eat it and share it with those with him. For you see, the ceremonial laws were meant to be a blessing for God's people, not a way to deprive them of what they really needed. Now if that's the case with a ceremonial law from God, himself , how much more isn't it the case with the rabbis' interpretation of the ceremonial laws about the Sabbath! Or as Jesus put it, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 NIV). The ceremonial laws like the Sabbath were made as a blessing and benefit for God's Old Testament people, not as a legalistic club to bend man's will to the bidding of others.

2) What is our real need and how alone is it met?

“The Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27 NIV). It was made to be a blessing for God's people. What were the blessings for men, women, and children of the Old Testament that the Sabbath brought? For one, it brought the blessing of physical rest. So it ought not to have been used by the Pharisees to deprive the disciples of their physical need for food.

But even more so, dear friends, the Sabbath was a blessing because it was a shadow promising the coming of the true Rest-giver. For greater than any physical need is our need for spiritual rest. That's our real need. Who alone can bring rest to our guilt-ridden conscience that haunts our quiet moments? Who alone can bring peace to the heart troubled by sin? Who alone can drive out the terrors of hell? Who alone can end our restless wandering through the dark night of this world? Who alone can end our warfare against God and reconcile us to him? Who alone can bring rest to our soul, the rest which we really need?

Only Jesus. “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV). Only Jesus, dear friends, only Jesus can truly speak those words to you. He alone is the Rest-giver. We no longer need the shadow of the Sabbath, for we have the reality. We have Jesus. He meets all our real needs.

That's why our church services are a blessing for us. They may not meet some of our perceived needs for entertainment or excitement or foot-stomping music or intellectual stimulation or a how-to-manual for fixing life's problems. But they meet our real need. For our church services bring us Jesus. They bring us Jesus, not as a shadow, but as flesh and blood, the incarnate God, our crucified and risen Savior. He comes to you through his Word and Sacraments. He holds before you his nail-pierced hands so that you know and believe: He has paid for all your sins. He has met your greatest need. You are forgiven. You have peace with God. What blessing his rest brings!

B. When they honor our true Lord

1) How do we honor Jesus as our Lord?

So our worship, our church services, honor our true Lord. Jesus said, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 NIV). Just as the Sabbath served the Lord by pointing ahead to him, so our church services serve him by pointing back, pointing back to the work he accomplished for you. They point to him as your Lord, who ransomed you with his suffering and death so that you belong to him. He's purchased you with his blood, redeemed you as his own people. He's conquered sin, Satan, and death for you by rising from the dead. He's placed his name on you in Baptism. Through faith in him you call him Lord, for he is your true Lord and you are his blood-bought people. Our church services honor Jesus as our Lord.

Now if we skip church, who or what are we honoring instead of our Lord? Oh, at times a pressing need may keep us from coming. We may not want others to catch the serious sickness we have. Or maybe someone truly need our care or help on that Sunday morning and we honor Jesus by showing his love to them. Or we may reach that time in life that we're unable to get out anymore. But in those cases our words and actions will clearly show that we want to be honoring our Lord with his people in church. We don't view those things as excuses. For that whole idea of asking what is a legitimate excuse for missing church flows out of the legalistic mindset of the Pharisees.

Rather, we ask: “How can I best honor my Lord Jesus?” So often missing church has nothing to do with honoring Jesus, but rather with serving our own desires and conveniences. We use our freedom to indulge our pleasures. That's sin. It's sin not because we're breaking a command of God that says we should be in church once a week. He hasn't said that to us. It's sin because of what's going on in your heart. You're honoring someone or something else more than Jesus. Likewise, simply coming to church only because you think you're suppose to isn't honoring Jesus either, even if you are here every week.

We honor our true Lord as we contemplate and celebrate his great love and mercy. In our church services we ponder and proclaim the Good News of our crucified and risen Savior. Through word and song we remember our Lord and encourage each other by pointing to him. We come here seeking his forgiveness, even for those many times we have failed to honor him as our Lord. And what greater honor can we give him than to believe his promise: “I, your Lord, freely forgive you. For I have paid the full price for all your sins.” Why would we not want to come together as often as we can to honor our Lord, who has done such great things for us?

“Do I have to go to church?” Don't get tied up in the legalistic knots of that question. Rather, see your real need. Like me, you are a sinner. Our consciences will never find true peace and rest without the Rest-giver, Jesus Christ. What a blessing the our church services still focus on him and his saving work! What a way to honor him as our Lord as we publicly gather to gladly hear and learn his saving word! Yes, our church services bless us because they point us to Jesus. So the real question is: “Why would I not want to gather together with my fellow believers to honor my true Lord who meets all my real needs and brings me his greatest blessings.”

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313