In the days of Jesus, the Mosaic Law ruled nearly aspect of people’s lives. One of the central elements of the Mosaic Law was the Sabbath. The Sabbath was considered to be one of the defining characteristics of the covenant relationship between God and Israel.
The Sabbath was so central, it was thought that if all Jews could perfectly keep the Sabbath just one time, the Messiah would immediately arrive.
Lord of the Sabbath
So it was quite shocking to most Jews when Jesus taught His followers to violate some of the Sabbath traditions (but not the Law itself), and even said that “Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), and that “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5).
In my Commentary on Luke 6:1-5, I suggest that while the term “Son of Man” does refer primarily to Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus also used the phrase in reference to all humanity which was being renewed in Him. The title “Son of Man” refers to Jesus as the model human; the way humanity was supposed to be.
So whenever you read the term, “Son of Man” you can substitute in the following phrase, “I, and all humanity with me.”
With this in mind, when Jesus says that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, He is saying that He, and all humanity with Him, is Lord of the Sabbath. In other words, God did not create the Sabbath to rule over the lives of mankind, but created the Sabbath to serve mankind, to help mankind accomplish our mission and purpose on earth. The Sabbath was to be a blessing, a help, and a support; not a hindrance, a burden, and a legalistic set of laws (See my article on the Sabbath for more).
Lord of the Church
Today, Christians really don’t keep the Sabbath. There are numerous reasons for this, which I will not get in to here.
But I believe that in the place of the legalistic Sabbath traditions, we have substituted in a different burden: church.
Just as Jesus taught that the way Sabbath was being practiced was not the way God intended, so also, I believe that the way church is most often practiced, is not the way God intended.
For most Christians, “church” has come to rule and dominate every aspect of our lives, much as “Sabbath” did for Jews in the time of Jesus. Just as Sabbath was ruling over the Jews in the days of Jesus, church has come to rule over Christians today. Sabbath was Lord over the Jews, and today, Church is Lord over Christians.
But just as Sabbath was created to help the Hebrew people fulfill their mission and purpose in the world, so also, church was created to help followers of Jesus fulfill our mission and purpose in the world.
Understanding this new perspective on church is as difficult today as it was in the days of Jesus for Jews to understand a different perspective on Sabbath, but the basic principles seem to be the same: Church, just like Sabbath, is not supposed to be a bunch of human traditions which have become legalistic laws by which to judge one another’s spiritual maturity.
How do you know if church is ruling you, or you are ruling church? One way: if there is guilt involved, or a feeling of inferiority about your church involvement, church is ruling you.
Church, just like Sabbath, is to serve us in our purpose of restoring joy, dignity, and peace to the earth. Church, like the Sabbath, is a means of helping others, delivering those in bondage, releasing captives, and letting light shine in the darkness. It is an experience of the rule and reign of God in and through our lives in relationship with God and one another.