As I was preparing this past Sunday’s sermon, one view that a few commentators expressed was that the statements of Jesus in Mark 2:27-28 could not have been original, since “they are disjointed” from the story of David. According to this view, Mark or a later scribe must not have realized that the sayings were disjointed and ham-fistedly added them. Here they are:
Mark 2:25-26 And [Jesus] 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: how 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 2:27-28 And 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.”
Rather than assume that we know better than Mark, what if we give him the benefit of the doubt, that he was accurately recording Jesus’ meaning? And what if we allow 2:27-28 to shed light upon the story of David, the purpose of those verses in Mark’s text? Well, if we do this, we discover that Jesus was using the story of David to point out two mistakes that the Pharisees had made. First, they didn’t understand the purpose of the Sabbath (2:27). Second, they failed to bow the knee to the One that had authority over Sabbath observance, the Sabbath’s manifestation on earth. They were not the authority on how the Sabbath should be manifest; rather, God’s King, who was standing in front of them, was (2:28). Both of these points are present in the story of David (2:25-26).
Background of Sabbath
The Sabbath itself is the heavenly inheritance for God’s People; it is the eternal Day of rest they enter upon death (Heb. 4). Adam could have attained it for the People of God by his works, had he kept the law within the Garden. After his failure, the Church has had to look for a Second Adam to bear their curse and provide them with righteousness, obedience to the law (Rom. 5:12-19). God’s People now enter the Heavenly Sabbath by grace through faith in Christ.
The Manifestation of Sabbath
The Sabbath becomes manifest on earth within the worship of God’s People, a sort of foretaste of what is to come. This forms the connection point between the story of the Twelve (plucking grain on the Sabbath) and that of David in 1 Sam. 21 (violating a command related to worship). The various ceremonies that constituted worship were God’s means of manifesting Heaven on earth. If you wanted to get a glimpse of Heaven, you could go to the tabernacle or the temple, which were earthly copies of the Heavenly temple, which Moses beheld on Sinai (Heb. 8:1-5). By violating a ceremonial command in the tabernacle, David broke a law related to Sabbath observance. Similarly, when Jesus’ disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath day, they were accused of violating a Sabbath law. (Whether the Twelve were actually breaking a law or merely a tradition is not the point. Jesus sees a problem in the Pharisees’ underlying understanding of Sabbath observance and its heavenly reality.)
The Purpose of Sabbath Ceremonies
Having failed to understand that the Heavenly Sabbath is itself the heavenly inheritance that awaits God’s People, the Pharisees proceeded to apply the various ceremonies of the Sabbath and worship in a way that was inconsistent with life and blessing. For example, they didn’t believe that healing, the restoration of life, was appropriate for the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). They also didn’t think that the Twelve should pluck grain in order to meet their bodily needs (Mark 2:23-28). To Jesus, nothing could be more appropriate! The Heavenly Sabbath was all about life and blessing, so the ceremonies that manifest it on earth (Sabbath observance) should be applied in a way that promotes the same! To paraphrase Jesus’ response: The Sabbath was made to serve the good of man, i.e., a blessing, not man for the good of the Sabbath!
The Authority Over Sabbath
The Pharisees also failed to understand the identity of Jesus, probably the overarching theme of Mark 1-8. They approached Jesus as if they were lords of biblical interpretation, as if they taught with authority. Jesus, however, had already demonstrated that He taught with an authority that transcended theirs (1:20-28). He was the Master, and they should have approached Him as students. They would never have challenged David but would recognize that David had authority to guide their Sabbath observance through his actions. And now they were challenging the Son of David, Jesus Christ. Since the Sabbath is subservient to man, it therefore follows that man’s rightful King reigns over the Sabbath in Heaven and its manifestation on earth. David reigned over it in the past, and Jesus will reign over it forever, authoritatively guiding the Sabbath observance of God’s People until they enter the heavenly reality.
Jesus, Our Only Worship Leader
Therefore, as Christians, we are called to learn about worship from the lips of Jesus Christ as He speaks to us in the pages of Holy Scripture. Unlike the Pharisees, we are not called to assert ourselves as lords, but we bow the knee to the One that teaches with an authority and clarity that has never been matched. He is our ultimate authority, not Church tradition (the mistake of the Pharisees). Church traditions can be old or new; some even create a marvelous experience within us. But inventing worship is to assert oneself as a lord over worship, a misguided, fruitless attempt at manifesting Heaven on earth. Jesus Christ is the only worship leader within the Church, since He is Lord of the Sabbath, and we are called to be His servants and students.