The Heart Of True Religion
Scripture: Luke 6:1–11
The Heart Of True Religion
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Pastor Randy Smith
The search for meaning. Even if people are casually serious about life, they deeply ponder the reason for their existence.
What does it mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be an American? What does it mean to be (name your vocation)?
Is there even a right answer to these questions? To determine the answer, do we follow the definition of culture or popularity? Is the answer based on objective truth or subjective feelings?
This week I looked up on the Internet, “What does it mean to be a teenager.” I read the first two articles I encountered.
The first was quite depressing. “Being a teenager is not having control over anything… It means holding in your feelings, bottling all of you emotions because there isn’t anyone who will listen to you… It’s the pressure to be perfect or ‘normal’ just to fit in… It means hating school with a pure passion…to go to a place where everyone judges everyone… It’s putting on a smile as everyone passes you, but crying your eyes out when no one is watching…. It’s being told ‘no you can’t’ about most of your dreams.” And this continues. (https://www.wattpad.com/248881241-what-does-it-mean-being-a-teenager).
The third article down the first page also written by a teenager said, “We are representatives of the kingdom of God; we must be willing and prepared to take on the responsibility of adulthood as we grow and mature into young men and women… The strength and vigor of youth is not meant to be squandered away over worthless pursuits and pastimes… If we don't know God's Word, we will encounter confusion when faced with problems we don't have answers for… I think that many Christian teens have lost their vision, a sense of responsibility, and their expectations for the future. More and more we are seeing young people lose interest and zeal, forgetting they are supposed to be the radical world-changers, the Christ-kindled floodlights surrounded by a dark, unbelieving generation that needs to hear the gospel” (https://answersingenesis.org/wild-brothers/missionary-blog/2016/07/26/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-teenager).
So another question of existence that I believe will apply to all of us this morning. What does it mean to be a Christian? Very foundational. Your answer to that question will shape your entire existence. We’ll come back to this.
Jesus clearly knew His purpose. Of course we know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die on the cross, to remove our sins and make salvation possible for all who profess faith in Him. That was His primary purpose, but what else did He emphasize while on earth? Was it to heal and feed people? Was it to engage in good deeds? Was it to provide an example? Was it to promote hope?
Of course there is accuracy in all of those, but I believe the best answer as to why Jesus came was to teach us truth. If you are not provided with truth, you will never determine who God is and what He expects you to be. Truth is the difference between heaven and hell, correct Christian living and incorrect Christian living. And we’ve seen this throughout the early chapters in Luke. Jesus was always teaching both directly in His lessons and indirectly through His lifestyle and miracles. Jesus put a high premium on the indispensable reality of objective truth.
And because truth was so important, His primary opposition was not on the tax collectors and prostitutes or even the politicians, but rather those who deceived the people by teaching spiritual lies that opposed the truth. Specifically as we have seen, it was the Pharisees, the reigning religious leaders of the day. There is a continual conflict between Jesus and these men and Jesus does not compromise in the smallest degree. And this controversy between two diametrically opposed views, as to what it means to be a follower of God, will take us all the way to the cross.
This morning I would like to examine two related situations both in the setting of the Sabbath that are provided for us by Luke to show the Lord’s passion for objective truth. You must know truth if you will be able to rightly answer the question: “What does it mean to be a Christian?”
Eating (verses 1–5)
The first point I am simply calling “Eating.” The setting according to verse 1 is a “grainfield.” Often the roads (paths) passed along the borders of these grainfields. The disciples of Jesus, verse 1, “Were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grain.”
Basically as they walked along the path, they would grab a head of grain, rub it in their hands to separate the chaff, blow away the chaff and eat the kernel. As we’ll shortly see, this didn’t go over too well with the Pharisees.
Was the concern over the fact that they were taking without asking from another man’s field? No, the law of God provided for this activity. You were not allowed to put a sickle to his crops and begin harvesting, but you could, according to Deuteronomy 23:25 pluck a few heads of grain. This issue with the Pharisees was that the disciples were doing this, verse 1, on the Sabbath.
Verse 2 makes that clear. “But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’”
The Sabbath, as you know, was one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:9). Basically the rule called for all Israelites to rest, to cease from work, to allow the body to reset, to reflect on God’s provisions. I believe Jesus abolished the Sabbath and we’ll come to that a little later, but the concern that this point was how the Pharisees interpreted the Sabbath and the regulations to keep the Sabbath that they imposed on the people.
Their rules were a collection of accumulated oral traditions contained in a work called the Mishnah. The Mishnah was half of the Talmud. The goal of the Mishnah was to practically explain, based upon tradition and oral teaching, how God’s people were to live out biblical commands. Today we call this legalism.
For example, we can take the command to men to not lust for a woman. If I were to write a modern day Mishnah it might say, “You are not permitted to watch television in your home alone, however you can watch television if two other men are with you to hold you accountable. You can only view three commercials a week, but definitely nothing involving beer or automobiles. You are not permitted to the beach. You can drive down Ocean Avenue in the summer, but you must wear a device that only keeps your eyes on the road.” Add about 50 more regulations and enforce it on the people as Bible. And then do that for every command in the Bible!
You think I’m overstating this? In these Jewish writings there were 1,500 Sabbath Day regulations.
For example, you could travel no more than 3,000 feet from home. Unless on Friday before the Sabbath you had planted food at the 3,000-foot point and then you could go 3,000 more because you’d constituted that point as a home because your food was there.
You could lift up certain things and put down certain things only from certain places. You couldn’t carry anything on your person that weighed more than a dried fig. You could carry half a fig two times on the Sabbath.
You couldn't eat any forbidden food larger than an olive. A tailor couldn't carry his needle. A scribe couldn't carry his pen. A pupil couldn’t carry his books. No fire could be lit. No fire could be put out. You couldn’t move a chair since it might make a rut and that would be too much like plowing. Women could not look in a mirror or put on any jewelry. And if she were to find a white hair, she had to resist the temptation to pull it out. And stuff like this just keeps going on.
Specifically in this case, the disciples were violating four Sabbath rules. The disciples picked the wheat (that’s reaping), they rubbed the wheat (that’s threshing), they blew away the chaff (that’s winnowing) and they ate the grain (that’s storing).
Does verse 2 make sense now? “Why do you [indicting Jesus also] do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" (Lk. 6:2).
Again, the issue is not so much that Jesus and the disciples were violating God’s command of the Sabbath. They were violating the man-made rules of the Pharisees. That is what Jesus opposed. He confronted their teaching with truth. He would not put (remember) His new wine into the old wineskins. He attacked their system right at its heart, and the heart of their system was specifically the Sabbath regulations.
So why was this problem? Because the Pharisees make the Sabbath which God designed to be a blessing for the people the worst day of the week! Elsewhere Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). Yet generally speaking, their man-made rules and traditions pulled people away from the desires of God’s heart.
Listen, God is into grace and faith and a heart that desires love for Him and others and a personal passion to obey His Word. Manmade rules promote legalism which leads to comparing yourself to others and self-righteousness. It’s not about joy and peace, but rather ceremonial works that become a never-ending burden. It results in guilt (never feeling like you do enough) and pride (feeling like you do better than others). It actually defeats its intended purpose and draws your heart away from God on this rat race of duty-bound obligations to keep man’s rules.
What did Jesus say? “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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” (Mt. 11:28-30).
Jesus seeks to make His point in verses 3 and 4. “And Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?”
This appears to be an even more serious violation by King David. Why didn’t the Pharisees ever condemn his actions? And if this is okay for David to break a divine ceremonial action (in his unique situation), it must be okay for David’s greater son to break a man-made ceremonial action (in a more unique situation). You see, for them it was about legal regulations. For Jesus it was about mercy.
And just to remove any doubt, verse 5, “And He was saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’”
That means, not only will Jesus break their traditions on the Sabbath, but He also has the authority to redefine the Old Testament Sabbath with the dawning of the New Covenant. The Sabbath was given only for Israel. I believe Jesus has fulfilled the Sabbath. The shadow is past now that Jesus who is the reality has become our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4). And now we celebrate the Lord’s Day, a different day of the week specially set aside to worship God.
Healing (verses 6–11)
Let’s briefly go to the second point, Healing.” Basically the same argument is made and again we see, verse 6, that it happened on “another Sabbath.”
This time verse 6 says Jesus “entered the synagogue and was teaching.” Again notice the emphasis on teaching truth. And we learn that “there was a man there whose right hand was withered. Verse 7, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.”
Of their 1,500 Sabbath rules were specific medical regulations. You were not permitted, medical degree or not, to aid someone on the Sabbath. Helping someone get well was considered work. You had to wait until the next day. The only exceptions were a life-threatening situation or the delivery of a baby. This guy with the paralyzed had obviously fit neither of these conditions. So they were watching Jesus closely and their only desire was an opportunity to (verse 7) “accuse Him.” You break the Sabbath – that was the death penalty folks!
You see what’s going on? The Pharisees had no mercy for this man and their desire was the murder of Jesus. And despite another upcoming miracle, they do not believe but only get harder hearts. They were attempting to guard the Sabbath while plotting to murder an innocent Man. This is what man-centered religion produces.
Verse 8 “But [Jesus] knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Get up and come forward!’ And he got up and came forward.”
This guy is going to be an object lesson. The verse says Jesus knew exactly what the Pharisees were thinking. He knew nothing would infuriate them more than if He healed the man. He doesn’t seek to make peace with false religion; He attacks the very heart of it. God’s truth is always more important than man’s truth, even if it hurts someone’s feelings or incites their anger. This attitude is so contrary to the world’s belief’s today and even the attitude of many so-called religious people that are simply telling us that all spiritual beliefs are valid. Jesus, the incarnation of love and truth, knows there is nothing more loving than telling people the truth.
Verse 9, “And Jesus said to them [the Pharisees], ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?’” What an incredible question! The Pharisees had no answer. Mark 3:4 says, “They kept silent.” To affirm Jesus would be to condemn themselves.
Verse 10, “After looking around at them all.” That would have been so cool to see! The silence was deafening. This dramatic showdown. The dawning of a miracle. The omniscient eyes of Jesus piercing into every soul present! Verse 10 continuing, “[Jesus] said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ And he did so; and his hand was restored.”
The Pharisees’ reaction? Did they believe? No! Verse 11, “But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.”
Listen, the Lord’s true ways will always confront our ways. There will be a showdown in our hearts. We will either submit to Him as Lord or we will be filled with rage and oppose Him and His followers with every fiber of our being. There are two clear sides – one is lies and one is truth.
There is a religious aspect to each of us. We are all created by God to be worshippers. Our worship will either be a man-created god with man-created rules and regulations or it will be the true God with the rules and regulations He delivers in Scripture. The former leads to pride and guilt and self-righteousness and fear and works to achieve God’s favor and the latter leads to peace and hope and forgiveness and humility and love and mercy and grace and faith to achieve God’s favor.
So, what does it mean to be a Christian? It means that there is one true God who has revealed Himself through creation and Scripture. It means we have sinned against Him, but He has provided forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It means we need to repent of our sins and believe in His plan of salvation. And it means when we do that we will be changed by the Holy Spirit and empowered by the Holy Spirit to obey God according to the truth of Scripture to love God and others and genuinely from the heart seek to bring Him glory. That is what it means to be a Christian.