Missing the Point
We are early in our study of Luke and we have already discovered that Jesus faced stern opposition to his ministry. Sadly, most of that opposition came from the religious leaders of the day. In Luke chapter five we saw several occasions when the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were critical of the Lord.
- They criticized Him for granting forgiveness
- They criticized Him for hanging around the wrong people
- They criticized Him for doing things the wrong way
This morning we will look at one of the most contentious issues: Jesus behavior on the Sabbath. The fourth commandment says,
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [Exodus 20:8-11]
Breaking the Sabbath was a serious offense in Israel. Some people were put to death for breaking the Sabbath. In the prophetic books one of the most common indictments of the people was their disregard for the Sabbath. Their disregard for the keeping of the Sabbath was seen as a disregard for God himself. To ignore His directive, to turn away from honoring Him on this one day a week, was rightly seen as an indication of a lack of regard for God himself.
The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees were determined to keep the Sabbath. To help the people they made a long list of rules on how to keep from breaking the commandment. They drew up a catalog of 39 principle works and then they sub-divided these into six minor categories and all of these comprised a list of what you could and could not do on the Sabbath. The list told you how far you could travel, what activities you could do, and even what you could wear (for example you could not wear any sandals that had spikes because you would be digging the ground when you walked and that was work).
Jesus did not break God’s command….but he transgressed these added restrictions. Jesus set out to clarify what the Sabbath was really supposed to be.
Is Sunday the Sabbath for Christians?
Some people have dismissed any discussion of the Sabbath principle saying it is no longer relevant. They say every other commandment is reaffirmed in the New Testament except the Fourth commandment. I don’t agree. I believe in this passage Jesus is doing just that while refocusing the commandment. The Sabbath command is anchored to creation. This means it was the way God created us. God created the world in six days and then rested not because He needed this time but because He was teaching us something. The Sabbath principles are not a response to man’s sin but is the way God intended us to live. This means the Sabbath principle is a timeless part of God’s design plan for our lives.
In these two accounts I believe Jesus is changing the focus of the command. I think this is why we are justified in moving the day of rest and worship to the first day of the week. Those of the Seventh Day Adventist Church would disagree. Of all the letters I have gotten from people who read sermons from our website, the most negative (almost to the point of being unchristian) are in relation to our messages on the Sabbath. These almost always come from Seventh Day Adventist who believe the church should continue to observe a Saturday Sabbath.
By applying the Sabbath principles to the first day of the week the church was distancing itself from the legalistic over-regulation of the Jewish Sabbath. It also was putting the focus on the work of Christ. Christ arose on Sunday, Pentecost was on a Sunday, Jesus met with the disciples after the resurrection on a Sunday. When we are told the day on which the church met it was always the first day of the week. Because of the resurrection the focus of the Lord’s Day focused on the grace of God in salvation rather than on the necessity of keeping rules to keep God from getting angry. The creation principles are applied in light of grace rather than law.
This is why we hold to Sunday as our day of worship and rest. There will be those who disagree with us and I believe it is our responsibility to respect their convictions about a Saturday Sabbath while hoping those people extend that same grace to us.
The Sabbath was a Gift Not a Burden
Whenever people talk about the Sabbath the focus turns to regulations. Should we work on Sunday? Should we shop? Should we participate in sporting activities? Is it wrong to go out to eat on Sunday? Can we watch football games on television?
The story is told about a Pastor who woke one Sunday morning to see the area covered by ice and snow. Since he lived near the canal that ran near his home and the church he decided to skate to church that Sunday morning. The leaders who saw him skate up to the church were upset because they believed that what he had done was tantamount to work on the Sabbath. After a lengthy debate about whether or not skating to church was appropriate one board member said he knew a way to get past the impasse. He looked at the Pastor and asked, “Did you enjoy it?” If the answer was “Yes” he would be censured, if “No” the case could be dropped and his actions would be viewed as a work of necessity! In their mind any enjoyment on the Sabbath day showed you were violating the Sabbath.
This same kind of mentality confronted Jesus. We are told, “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain-fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels.” The Jewish law stated that people could do this very thing. They could not load up a wagon with someone’s crop but they could get something to eat from the standing crops. What they did was not the problem; it was when they did it.
In the mind of the Pharisees, taking the kernels of wheat was an act of harvesting. Rubbing the grain between their hands (to get rid of the shell) was considered to be threshing. Therefore in their mind the disciples were working and violating the Sabbath.
Jesus responded in two ways. First, he cited Jewish precedent. He pointed to the time David was running away from Saul and he and his men were hungry. David went to the Priest at Nob and asked to have the consecrated bread. These were twelve loaves of bread that were set in the tabernacle each week on the Sabbath. The old loaves were to be given to the priests. David was given the loaves even though He wasn’t a priest. Jesus cited the precedent to show that the law must give way to necessity. If David could disregard a Law of God out of necessity, Jesus should be able to ignore man made regulations because the disciples were hungry.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”. The title Son of Man goes back to the book of Daniel where it was unmistakably a reference to God. I believe Jesus was saying that He (as God) has the right to interpret (or to clear up misinterpretations) of the Sabbath.
In Mark 2:27 Jesus added “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. This is an important clarification. God did not need to take seven days to make the world. He could have done it with one word. God also didn’t need to rest. God does not get “tired”. God created as He did to teach us something about the rhythm of life: work for six days, rest for one.
God gave us the Sabbath to benefit us. These principles were to keep us from getting off course. On this one day out of seven we are to
1) Reconnect with God. We are to keep the day Holy which means our focus should be the Lord. The early church used this for their day of worship. What better way to reconnect with the Lord than to meet with the company of believers in His name?
2) Restore our body. It is a day of rest. If we keep running without a break we will eventually suffer physically. People who never take a break from work become less effective and this is when most accidents happen.
3) Restore Rhythm to Life. As you talk to people today you hear the same thing: “We are running all the time” “We don’t know whether we are coming or going.” People who are always running become cranky. They start making bad decisions and they completely lose sight of what is important.
A.J. Jacobs, in his entertaining book The Year of Living Biblically, records his attempts to follow all the Biblical instructions, even though he claimed to be an agnostic. He notes that following the Sabbath instructions was wonderfully refreshing. The idea of “unplugging” for a day restored a sense of order and peace to his life.
I hope you have found the wisdom, compassion and love of God’s direction about the rhythm of life in your own experience. I have seen that wisdom in my own life. God is not seeking to burden us with these commands; He is giving us a key that unlocks true joy in living.
The Sabbath is for Doing Good
We are told,
6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.
Once again the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were watching Jesus. This time they were looking for a reason to accuse Him. It is possible that they were the ones who invited the man with the withered hand into the synagogue so they could test Jesus. The opinion of the religious leaders of the day was that you could only heal on the Sabbath if a person’s life was at stake. In their mind, this man needed healing, but his life was not at stake. In their mind, Jesus should have told the man to return on the next day.
When Jesus saw the man He asked him to stand. He then asked the people “Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil; to save life or destroy it?” There was no response. Everyone knew that it was certainly better to do good rather than to do evil.
In Isaiah 58 God rebuked the religious observances of the people,
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Jesus understood God’s heart, so he told the man to stretch out his hand. The hand was immediately healed. The man moved off the welfare lines and one again became a contributing member of society. It was a good thing. God was pleased. However, Pharisees and the Scribes were furious. They were so furious that they started to talk about what they could do TO Jesus.
The principle seems to be this: The Sabbath was meant to be a time of rest and renewal and for doing what is good and pleasing to the Lord. Sunday is a great day to visit people who are in the hospital, or shut in at home, or at the Nursing Home. Sunday is a good day to give of yourself to benefit someone else. It is a good day to honor parents with a visit. Doing good on the Lord’s Day honors the Lord.
As we try to apply this to our life I am reminded of the words of Bishop J.C. Ryle
There is little risk of our committing the error of the Pharisees, and keeping the Sabbath more strictly than God intended. The thing to be feared is the general disposition to neglect the Sabbath, and to rob it of that honor which it ought to receive. Let us beware of making God’s day a day for general visiting, feasting, journeying, and pleasure parties. These are not works of necessity or mercy, whatever a self-willed and unbelieving world may say. The person who spends his Sundays in such ways as these, is sinning a great sin, and proving himself entirely unprepared for the great rest in heaven.
Ryle says we have the opposite problem of the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law. Rather than being legalistic and restrictive about the Sabbath, we have become too lax in setting the Sabbath principles aside. We tend to view the Lord’s Day as simply a day off of work when we can do all the stuff we didn’t do the rest of the week.
There is no question that we have ignored the weekly rest and worship to our peril. “Family time” when we are all together at home is often non-existent. We are always on the go. As a result, families are fractured and children are learning their values from their friends rather than from the Lord through their parents. Look around and listen to people. Most of the people you talk to are stressed out. They don’t know how to stop! They don’t know how to listen, to enjoy, or to experience contentment. Why? It is because they ignore God’s principles about rest. Who knows how many people are ill simply because they have worn themselves out. Our society is drifting from the things of God because the people of God are just going through the motions. We have a serve God when it is convenient or when it serves our purposes. We treat God’s command like a buffet table where we can choose what we have a taste for at the moment. The world recognizes the inconsistency of our profession and therefore rejects the message of the gospel. If we don’t honor the Sabbath principles, why would anyone else do so?
Take a moment to ask a question: Why have you come to worship today? Are you here simply because it is your religious habit? Are you here because you have nothing “more important” or interesting to do today? If your children came to visit you because they felt they “had to” come or because they didn’t have anything better to do would you feel honored by their visit? No. And neither does the Lord.
The Lord wants us to look forward to Sunday as an anchor for our lives. We should hunger for a fresh Word from the Lord and be eager to reflect on that Word in our lives. We should love seeing the people of God and be eager to invest our day in ministering to others in whatever way we can. When this happens, we find that we are recharged by our worship. We will often spend the rest of the day resting and enjoying the life God has given us.
Look at your schedule for today. Is your day filled with things that draw your attention to the Lord? Are you resting from your labor? Are you doing things that help others and build relationships?
There is a part of us that would like to have a list of things we can or cannot do on the Sabbath. We would do OK with a checklist. We have a bunch of questions: Is it OK to watch sports on television? Is it OK to play in ballgames after you have worshipped? Is it OK to go shopping since you know that those who are working on Sunday may be neglecting their Sabbath responsibilities because of their job? Can you mow the lawn? Can you have a big family dinner? The list could go on and on.
I’m not going to try to answer those questions. To do so would be to make the Lord’s Day about rules. I think the thing that Jesus wanted us to see is that the Sabbath is about a relationship. It is about honoring God in our lives. It is about putting God first in our living. It is about trusting His counsel about the right way to live. It is about believing that He knows what is truly best for us.
The Lord has come to set us free from the rules and regulations. He has given us the Sabbath principles so that we might be refreshed in body and in Spirit. He has given us the Sabbath principles so that we could do good and not evil. He has given us the Sabbath principles so that we could get closer to Him. He didn’t give us a whole book of regulations because he knew that we might strive to keep the regulations and still miss the point entirely.