King’s Cross 4

Tim Keller’s newest book, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, examines big questions through the Gospel of Mark. He examines the theme of “Rest” through the lens of “Religion” when he sketches the encounter of Jesus with contemporaries over his behaviors and beliefs about the Sabbath.

What do you see as Jesus’ fundamental attitude toward Sabbath? What problem(s) did he have with the Pharisees about the Sabbath? Do you think Jesus “kept Sabbath”? How would you define “religion”?

I have the texts after the jump, but let me sketch them briefly here. Jesus’ followers plucked some wheat and rubbed out the grain in their hands — but they did this on Sabbath. The Pharisees criticize this; Jesus responds about the Son of Man being Lord of the Sabbath.

A man with a shriveled hand was in the synagogue and Jesus healed him — but he did this on Sabbath. Some criticized him; he responded that it is better to heal and give life on Sabbath. The Pharisees and Herodians — tropes for Keller for the self-righteous and moral conformity view and the progressives or self-discovery view — plotted to kill him.

Keller’s point from these two episodes: Jesus didn’t come to reform religion but to end religion. Religion is about self-sufficiency and performance; Jesus is about trusting in him — that story is about him. Sabbath is about restoring the broken and not just keeping the rules.

The Pharisees are “tribal, judgmental, and self-obsessed…” and “Why? Religion” (39). Religion is advice; gospel is news.

When Jesus says “The Son of Man is [or I am] Lord of the Sabbath” he is saying “I am the Sabbath” — and he brings in the “I am” sayings of John — it’s all a christological claim to the core.

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 3

Jesus Heals on the Sabbath

1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

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  • James Petticrew

    Scot, I wondered if you have seen this yet? It was recorded by the only Christian minister in the Pakistani government and he orded it to be released if he was killed which sadly happened this morning. Just read One.Life and there is any greater example of having a life shaped by the Kingdom of God and following Jesus whatever the cost than Shahbaz Bhatti, truly he did know the meaning of the cross.!/

  • James Petticrew

    Sorry sent the wrong link, here is the video

  • T

    I do think that at the core of it, Keller is right here. Trusting Jesus is our source of rest (and work). Taking Jesus’ yoke upon us produces rest for our souls. Does Keller mention this central (and deeply ironic) teaching in this chapter?

    His way is life and peace.

  • These controversy narratives read very well from within Judaism and no need for a supersessionist sort of reading (it seems Keller technically avoids supersessionism while implying it, based on your description).

    Yeshua battles with those who would control interpretation (the not-yet-powerful but ambitious Pharisees). He calls his disciples to the highest ethics in Torah (healing people is the kind of thing God does on Sabbath, the Fourth Gospel makes this point more explicitly).

  • Thanks to James @3 for the video link. Thanks to Shahbaz Bhatti for his clear testimony. I am humbled.

  • Matt

    I find the Christianity vs. Religion to be a pretty weak and unfortunate contrast. (1) It requires a definition of religion that no one studying “religion” would recognize. Thus, the definition is completely self-serving. I’ve heard Jews and Muslims explain their faith as fundamentally about grace etc. (2) It radically sharpens the already great Protestant divide (or antagonism!) between good works and grace. One of Jesus’ points in the second was that the Sabbath allowed one to do “greater” works. In other words, Jesus advocates human performance here, just as long as it attended to the weightier matters of the law. (3) It requires a charicature of first-century Jews as obsessed with “works” as such. So, if Jesus opposes them (so the logic goes), he must be against those who place works at the center of their devotion to God.

    In short, from this little blurb, Keller is recycling old polemics against Judaism (used also against Catholicism).

  • Ana Mullan

    We need Sabbath,as Eugene Peterson would say, Sabbath reminds us that we are not God, the world will go on, even if we stop, because we do not hold the world, God does. Peterson would say, and in a way Keller is saying that as well, that God rested to enjoy what He has created. Keller says, God was satisfied with He had created, it was a job well done. We, in the western world, live in a way that does not allow us to stop and smell the flowers.
    By the way, the book is in reality a collection of sermons that he preached in Redeemer over a period of time, I am listening to the series at the moment.