Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Legal or Right?
As we’ve seen in our own country over the last generation, what is legal can change depending on who is in elected office and the makeup of the court system. Changing societal norms have ended up influencing voters, lawmakers and judges to make things that were once illegal legal and things that were once accepted to be against the law.
There are two important questions for us to consider when it comes to this idea of changing laws—who gets to make the decision and under what circumstances? Now, I’m not going to address some of our present day issues—my point here is that 1) Jesus came up against a group of powerful individuals who held complete reign over what was legal in their society—the Pharisees who had reinterpreted their Law to suit their own purposes. But Jesus asserted that He is a greater authority than they—and 2) that just because something is legal or illegal, does not make it right.
We pick up the story after Jesus has run afoul of the Pharisees over dining with “sinners” and over ritualistic fasting. They took issue because Jesus partied with tax collectors. Jesus told them that His mission was to bring healing to every sinner, not segregate Himself from one group based on their outward appearance of purity or impurity. They then questioned Him on why He and His men didn’t fast like the Pharisees and even John’s disciples. Jesus said that while He was with them they should rejoice—in other words, godly character determines behavior, not ritual or tradition.
So in a real way, that same theme is repeated in the next encounter: we need to look to the Lord to tell us if something is right and good, not our own senses or rules or the changing norms of society.
1 – 2
So what’s going on here? Why are the disciples in trouble? They were hungry and just picked a few heads of grain. Even the Jewish Law (Deut 23:25) said that some grain in every field was to be left for those in need.
Ah yes, but doing that on the Sabbath is a different story. The Sabbath was given so that Israel could have rest. They were to do no work (Exodus 31:13-16). God gave them the Sabbath and commanded that they rest on it. Defining what was “work” got taken up by the Jewish scholars who created 39 rules for the Sabbath and wrote them in a book called the Mishna. According to that list, the disciples were guilty of not one but four rules. They were reaping, threshing, winnowing, and preparing food.
Obviously the Pharisees are “stalking” the disciples—looking for anything they can use to discredit Jesus. Here they have a clear violation of the Sabbath on multiple counts. The penalty according to Exodus 31 was that they be “cut off from their people.”
Jesus’ answer is a little enigmatic but brilliant and profound.
3 – 5
Jesus answers the challenge with two very important points. First, He relates a story about His ancestor David from 1 Samuel 21:1-6. In it, David and his men are running from Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul wants to kill David who has been anointed king of Israel. Ahimelech, the high priest, offered David the Showbread, or the Bread of the Presence—which had just been replaced by warm bread though it was only supposed to be eaten by the priests (Lev 24:5-9).
Jesus puts the Pharisees in a dilemma—either Jesus is saying that the Law never was intended to exclude basic needs like eating, or, like David, the Law could be superseded when there was a legitimate need. I think that both are probably in view. Jesus overarching message is that He is doing something new—something where God is actually coming as a servant to help mankind, not to make him a slave of a bunch of new rules. In Mark 2 Jesus added: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Then Jesus makes an astounding statement that He in fact is the one in charge of the Sabbath, not the Law or the Pharisees. Calling Himself the “Son of Man” comes from Daniel 7:13 and was a clear Messianic reference.
To demonstrate this extremely clearly—that what is right and good is not necessarily what is legal, and who gets to make those decisions—Jesus enters a synagogue and steps right into the middle of the controversy.
6 – 11
The Pharisees are “watching” Him which means “to spy on” or “watch from the corner of your eye”. Jesus is teaching as usual. Among them is a man with a paralyzed hand. He’s not going to die, but he also could not have a vocation in that society. The Mishna states that a man like this can wait to be healed (Mishna Yoma 8:6 says you can heal only to save a life on the Sabbath). Jesus puts a whole new spin on the Sabbath. He suggests that to be able to do good and not do it is to actually do evil.
To show He is right, Jesus commands the man to put forth his hand—something he could not have done previously. God vindicates Jesus and heals the man. That should have settled it. The Sabbath, run by the Son of Man, is designed to be a benefit to health and life, not a detriment.
But this becomes a turning point for the Pharisees. They aren’t looking for truth; they are looking to maintain power. Instead of reacting with joy at a healing they react with anger—irrational, even pathological anger.
They have hardened their hearts toward the Lord of the Sabbath and the Lord of the universe. Matthew 12:14 and Mark 3:6 tell us that from this point on, the Pharisees sought to kill Jesus—itself a clear violation of not only the letter of the Law (Exodus 20:13) but the spirit of the Law that Jesus has just demonstrated—that we are to be life givers and sustainers. So why did their minds go from opposing to plotting to kill? I think Jesus was very wise in using the story of David. In that story there was a man present when Ahimelech gave David the Bread of the Presence. His name was Doeg and he was Saul’s shepherd. Doeg was a spy, just as the Pharisees were “spying” on Jesus. Doeg saw the priest give David the bread and reported it to Saul. Saul called Ahimelech and all the priests together and had Doeg kill them. I think Jesus knew very well that the Pharisees would play the role of Doeg and cause an evil king (Herod or Pilate) to kill Jesus. So given this opposition, Jesus organizes.
12 – 16
We know Jesus often prayed—we’ve seen two instances in Luke’s gospel already. But this is the first time we’ve seen Him spend all night in prayer. This decision is simply that important. So Jesus chooses His twelve disciples, whom He calls apostles. “Disciple” means a student, whereas apostle means “to be sent.”
So for these men, and for all of us who belong to Jesus, there are two components to our walk with Jesus:
- We learn how to think, speak, and act like the Master by observing
- We take that character out to spread the good news to others.
The biggest thing I see from this section of Luke involves something that sounds simple but is very profound: The Law is not the Lord, Jesus is.
Understanding that fact alone will revolutionize your life. Instead of memorizing a rulebook we need to get to know the character of this Lord—what He would think, do or say in a particular situation. We tend to want a rule to cover our behavior in every situation. Jesus wants our character and our values to drive our behavior.
The second major takeaway is that rules don’t rule, relationships do. In every situation you should ask yourself—how can I help, heal, encourage, build, and serve? The more you know Jesus—the more your values mirror His, the more other-centered love will dominate your thinking and the more relationships will rise above rules.