The Gospel According to Luke: Part 15 :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

An Exposition

Luke 6:1-11: Lessons Taught, But Not Learned

“Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grain fields, and His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. And some of the Pharisees said to them, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?’ But Jesus answering them said, ‘Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him? How he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread and gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?’ And He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’

“Now it happened on another Sabbath also that He entered the synagogue and taught. A man was there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts and said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Arise and stand here.’ He arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one thing. Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?’ And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. But they were filled with rage and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:1-11, NKJV).

The Scriptures declare that Almighty God created the heavens and the earth in six days with attention to detail, design, preciseness, accuracy, exactness, purpose, and aesthetics. Creation itself is the first miraculous act of God. If it had not occurred, nothing else would have mattered. The creation is a study in rationality, logic, and exact planning with nothing going to waste or becoming irrelevant in a set time. There was nothing extra or left over from God’s work once it had been completed and given His approval and satisfaction. Genesis is God’s declaration that natural selection, randomness of development, and the entire argument for macroevolution is foreign, nonsensical, and is an insult to the precise formation of the animal and plant kingdoms.

The most ancient of fossilized animal remains, known as the Cambrian Explosion, show no developing animal forms or gradual mutations into other species. Paleontologists and most evolutionary biologists such as the late Harvard scientist Stephen Jay Gould have determined that the Cambrian Period (dates vary) is the earliest period of animal life on the earth. Scientists who affirm a belief in God as the Creator tend to theorize that the age of the Earth is not as old as some say, while others look at evidence for creation with a view that our world is older in terms of its existence and development. Both sides present credible and interesting arguments, but that is not the main point of this teaching. Our attention needs to be on what happened afterwards.

After the work of creation was done, we read in Genesis 2:1-3 of what followed:

“Then the heavens and the earth and all the host of them were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

The entirety of Scripture declares that the LORD God is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present. He is a self-sufficient Being who needs no help, counsel, or advice. He is eternal, having no beginning or end, and His mere word keeps everything functioning. He has the right to do with His creation as He pleases, and nothing and no one is independent of His control.

Nowhere in the Word does it speak of God needing a break or period of relief from any task or accomplishment. He never needs to sit back, take a breath, and regain energy or focus after finishing anything. His declaration of a day of rest is a visual lesson on the need for us to do the same in our lives. None of us have the ability or strength to carry out a job or project for endless days without some kind of “down time.” We are not perpetual motion automatons.

God instituted the day of the Sabbath, which is nothing more than a set day to lay down one’s labors and take time off. We are not to do any unnecessary work, but to use that day to honor and worship God and enjoy His blessings and graciousness. The Sabbath was God’s way of telling us to kick back, relax, and enjoy life. He told the children of Israel to honor it as a day of holiness to the LORD (Exodus 16:30; 20:8; 31:14; 35:3; Leviticus 26:2; Deuteronomy 5:12; Isaiah 56:2; 58:13-14; Luke 4:16). God also warned Israel to never profane the Sabbath by rebellion against His authority on pain of death (Exodus 16:27-28; Numbers 15:32-33).

When reading the history of Israel, we are exposed to the consequences in treating God’s day of rest with irreverence and outright idolatrous practices that the prophets denounced, giving warnings to the apostate nation of certain judgment and destruction if there was no repentance or sorrow over violating the decrees of God.

When the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, imprisoned the king, and burned down the temple that had been built by King Solomon centuries before, the people of Israel were taken into captivity for seventy years beginning in earnest around 586 B.C., although most of the population had been captured and relocated some years earlier. This period of time when the Jews were without a country or a place of worship was used of God to rid them of idolatry and the worship of foreign deities for all time, as well as instill within the upcoming generation the importance and necessity of obeying and following God’s laws and direction.

Many Jewish men took it upon themselves to adhere to the Scriptures and the keeping of the Law to the strictest degree as a sign to the nation that they were called of God to this way of life. These “called out” men became known as the sect of the Pharisees. The initial intention was an honorable and worthy means of serving God and studying His word, along with the varied interpretations of the Law by other learned men, some of whom wrote extensive commentaries on the legal responsibilities and expectations of not just them, but the people as a whole.

For some reason, it seems that the people of God who are devoted to obeying His word and abiding by His direction are somehow not satisfied with what has been written and settled in the Scriptures. They feel that His words need further clarification, more attention to details, clearer specificity, and the belief that we can improve upon the decrees that He has established. For example, it is not just faith in the saving grace of Christ, but we need to add works, baptism, rules, obedience to religious authorities, or other issues in order to feel that we need to add our input to God’s plans (Ephesians 2:8-9; Isaiah 59:16; John 3:14-16; 6:35, 67-68; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Colossians 3:11; Romans 10:9-10; Acts 16:31).

The Scriptures declare that salvation is totally of the LORD (John 4:10; Romans 5:6-11, 15; 6:23; 8:32; 2 Corinthians 9:15; 1 John 5:11; 2 Peter 3:9) and we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ezekiel 18:20; Ephesians 2:1; 1 Timothy 5:6; Proverbs 8:36).

The Pharisees, in their original desire to serve and obey God, had turned into a group of religious legalists obsessed with precise and uncompromising adherence to the Law and the interpretations of those laws over the years, to where the people of Israel had come to dread days like the Sabbath due to the rules and strict demands made by the Pharisees. Faith had become a set of legal obligations without any real relationship towards God or love for His word. A simple day given over to rest had turned into a man-made ritualistic quagmire. Examples of this pious nitpicking carried over to behaviors, travel, preparing food, clothing repair, bathing and hygiene, animal care, household chores and maintenance, and other situations.

The 19th century Messianic Jewish writer Alfred Edersheim, in his monumental work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, lists the specific details concerning Sabbath behavior, and it all seems to border on the ridiculous and irrelevant in terms of empowering the faith of both the ruling class and the commoner. This is the background of the situation that we find our LORD and the Pharisees, who had now become critical and vindictive towards Him for what He had done previously in healing the sick, teaching the people with godly authority and with the Scriptures alone, and declaring His Divine authority in the process.

Chapter 6 opens with the Lord Jesus and His disciples walking through a grain field, taking the grains in their hands, rubbing them to eliminate the husks, and enjoying a satisfying snack. He never did anything that violated the Mosaic Law, and this was no exception. His actions were in line with the decree set forth in Leviticus 19:10, which states, “And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the LORD your God.”

In the book of Ruth, Boaz tells his workers to allow Ruth to glean grain among the sheaves and to let her do so without interference (Ruth 2:15). This act of benevolence by Boaz ended up with his marrying Ruth and a family line that would bring forth King David (Ruth 4:13-22; Matthew 1:2-6) and the Lord Jesus Christ in later generations.

The Pharisees, upon seeing what was taking place, were aghast at what Jesus was doing. They perceived His action as a violation of their traditional Sabbath restrictions of reaping and sowing by rubbing the husks to get at the grain itself. The LORD’S reply came from the very Scriptures that they were supposed to have known and taken to heart. He reminded them that the beloved David allegedly violated Sabbath regulations by eating the showbread meant for the priests of the Tabernacle. He was on the run from King Saul, who had marked him for death. Saul had been rejected as king by God and had placed His anointing on David (1 Samuel 15:10-35; 16:7, 12-13; 18:6-9; 21:1-9). David’s distress and hunger, along with that of his men, took precedence over the rituals of ceremonial laws.

There are no laws against anyone seeking food and water regardless of the day of the week. You were not forbidden to eat on the Sabbath. That applies to this day and age as well, as seen with the number of people who go to eat after the worship service is over and the local restaurants get busy for a couple of hours. For some households, a meal is served after services as part of a family fellowship and gathering. Many years ago, some churches would hold an afternoon of hymn singing and fellowship and have a large meal together, often inviting everyone in the vicinity to share the day with the congregation.

The first church I pastored, which was located by a levee holding back the Mississippi River and surrounded by bayous and the Gulf of Mexico, would regularly have gatherings where the fellowship hall tables were packed with food that I would to this day put up against any church anywhere in the country. However, I need to get back to the story.

Jesus proclaimed that He was the Lord of the Sabbath, again affirming His divinity. As God in the flesh, He had decreed it as a day of rest and not regulation, and enjoyed the day with His disciples, partook of the blessing of a fruitful harvest, and taught the Word’s authority over traditions to leaders who should have known better. It was a time to bless, worship, and meditate on those blessings and mercies He gives to we who are unworthy of receiving anything from Him except righteous and justified wrath for our sins and rebellion. The Sabbath is a day to reflect on God’s grace and plan of reconciliation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to save us from our sins and to give us eternal life, forgiven and able to fellowship with Him for all time.

Our day of worship, the first day of the week, which is when the Lord Jesus rose from the dead and fulfilled His mission of redemption, is a day set aside not just for the rest of our bodies, but is a reminder to the world that He is in charge and worthy of all praise and devotion. He is not a tyrant demanding unrelenting work in order to appease Him. The Sabbath shows that He cares for our well-being and to teach us reverence for Him. We do not need man-made rules or religious demands that satisfy fanatics and sticklers for self-defined piety.

The work of mercy and healing that was done by the Lord Jesus to the man with the withered hand was an act of glorification and worship of a merciful God, but the hearts of the Pharisees were starting to harden against Jesus, eventually leading them and the nation towards judgment.