Rules. Rules. Rules. They are everywhere. There are rules for school, rules for the road, rules for table manners, rules for marriage, rules for parents and children, rules for governing, rules for meetings, rules for church, written rules, unspoken rules, and even rules for rules.
Sometimes rules can seem nettlesome when we don’t understand their purpose. Like, why can’t we use #1 or #3 pencil for tests? Now, rules aren’t all bad. Think of a world without rules. It would be chaos. Rules are good. Rules are meant to protect us and help us. This is the heart behind a parents saying to their children, “Look both ways before crossing the street.” It’s a rule that could save ones life.
God has made rules too. His rules perfectly and lovingly protect us and help us. However, some people have seen God’s rules as overbearing or unreasonable and choose to rebel. Rebellious people break the rule by ignoring them altogether. Others have seen God’s rules as insufficient and needing additions to fit their religious system. Religious people make rules for God, themselves and others.
So is it ever okay to make or break the rules? In Luke 6, Jesus will answer this question as He’s being accused of breaking their rules. What rules does Jesus break? Certain religious leaders accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath rules.
What is the Sabbath? Literally, it means “rest” and is rooted in the seventh day of creation when God rested after six-days of creating (Genesis 2:2-3). God did not rest because He was tired, but He set an example for mankind (Mark 2:27-28). God knew in His infinite wisdom that man would be weak and need to take a day off from work and enjoy the day of rest. The Sabbath is a day dedicated to God (Exodus 20:9-11). So how do the religious leaders think Jesus breaks the rules of the Sabbath?
1) Jesus breaks the rules by helping His hungry friends (Luke 6:1-5)
Jesus and His disciples were hungry and there was no McDonald’s drive-thru available to get a quite bite to eat. In accordance with the law (Deuteronomy 23:25), they go into a field, pick grain, crush it with their hands, and eat it. The Pharisees catch wind of this and cry foul. They ask, “Why are you sinning on the Sabbath?” (v.2) Why do they assume Jesus and His followers are sinning? The Pharisee’s saw this as harvesting and threshing, and accuse Jesus of doing work on the Sabbath. Sounds like a stretch, eh?
The Pharisees were sticklers for law keeping. The took God’s law and added to it a man-made framework to give them the appearance of righteousness. So with such laws like, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8ff) they made-up a list of rules to look really holy, but the Sabbath became just another religious activity.
Isn’t that easy to do? Have you ever made the Sabbath a religious activity to boast in yourself? It is easier to keep your own rules of righteousness than measure yourself by God’s rules. According to their rules, Pharisees were on the Varsity Team and everyone else was on warming bench.
How does Jesus respond to the Pharisees accusation? First, He compares the situation to the example of David and his soldiers eating the bread of Presence from the temple, which was only to be eaten by the priests (1 Sam.21:1-6). Jesus points to the fact that God is more concerned about the person and the motivation of their heart than the particulars of the law. Jesus could see through to the hearts of the Pharisees and they were evil.
Second, Jesus doesn’t appeal to the religious leaders authority or accept their theology, instead He claims, “I am Lord over the Sabbath” (v.5). In other words, Jesus says, “I wrote the law and the Sabbath was my idea. Stop arguing with Me and start listening. Don’t fight Me, follow Me. Since I made the Sabbath, He define it.” Not only does He define it, He lives and fulfills it before their very eyes.
Sabbath is a wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed. Religious people suck the joy, passion, and purpose out of it (and everything they add rules to). They make the Sabbath as fun as going to the dentist on a free day. This particular Sabbath should have been the most unique, memorable, and joyful ones of their lives because they were in the presence of the Son of God.
2) Jesus breaks the rules by healing a man’s hand (Luke 6:6-11)
On the Sabbath, Jesus goes to the synagogue for worship. He’s teaches. And Luke, the doctor, tells us there is a man present who has a withered hand. The Pharisees and scribes are listening critically to Jesus words and waiting with baited breath to see if He will heal the man. Like wolves ready to pounce on their prey, they were salivating at the opportunity to catch Jesus doing something they thought offended the law. Religious people are quick to tear apart and devour others.
This time Jesus asks the question, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?.” (v.9) No response is given because the answer is obvious. Jesus then has the man to stretch out His hand, in faith, he does what Jesus says, and Jesus heals him. In that moment, Jesus showed the religious people that helping someone in need trumps holding tightly to your rules. Jesus transforms this man life. Forever will he remember this Sabbath as the day Jesus healed His hand and healed his heart.
Religious people are not ruled by loving God or loving people, they ruled by a love for rules. Loving rules is legalism. Legalism is when people take the Bible and add to it. They make rules outside of the Bible that are equal to the Bible. Legalism is unbiblical, unloving, moralistic, man-pleasing, compromising, critical, judgmental, arrogant, self-righteous, and godless.
Legalism is an enemy of Jesus and His Word
Legalism is a dangerous enemy; it adds to the Bible and rejects Jesus as the only sufficient means to righteousness. Legalism denies something called sola scriptura, where Scripture alone are our highest authority. Sola Scriptura was first coined by the Protestant Reformers. All other authorities, like other books, teachers, rules, and leaders, are under, not equal to, Scripture. Religious people tend to elevate teachers and also other lists, and rules, and books equal to Scripture.
So dangerous is legalism that it kills Jesus. The Pharisees were so angry that they connived a plan to get rid of Him, “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (v.11) Religious legalist don’t lose because they make their enemies pay. When they are angry they attack. Luke 6:11 will lead to Luke 23:46, which is the murder of Jesus.
Jesus summarizes the rules with two rules
Jesus doesn’t break any of the Bible’s rules, but He breaks certain religious rules. He does so because He values helping people more than following others expectations, traditions or religious rules. He knows that religious legalism is the default setting of every human being. So in Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus shares the two most important rules, often known as the greatest rules,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
These rules show God’s heart for giving the law: love. God intends the law to protect and help you love Him and others around you. It’s not about loving the rules or loving to rebel against them. It’s about loving the God and others. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
Some of you need to repent of your religion. Enough with the legalism. Enough with the rule making. Enough adding to the Bible. Enough with the self-righteousness. Enough with the boasting and bragging. Enough with the criticizing and judging. Repent of your religion and come to Jesus. You can’t have Jesus and religion. It’s just Jesus.
Some of you also need to repent of your rebellion against Jesus’ rules. Enough with rebellion. Enough with rule breaking. Enough ignoring the Bible and subtracting from it. Enough with bashing the religious. Enough with reverse legalism. Enough with lawlessness and licentiousness. Repent and follow Jesus.
Come to Jesus. Receive His death for your sin, His righteousness for your unrighteousness, let Him do the work of grace and transformation in you. The truth is Jesus lived the perfect life. He died a substitutionary death, and He rises to give you the gift of righteousness. Stop trying to be righteous on your own and receive the righteousness of Jesus, and share that message of grace with those around you who need it too.