Recently we had a session on the recently passed bill in the parliament. Before that I heard an explanation about it on Facebook by a supreme court lawyer. He was very convincingly explaining why it is a good bill. Later we had a session on the same bill by another lawyer with biblical world view.
One makes it sound like the bill is absolutely alright and good. The other does not exhibit the same confidence. Which narrative is correct? Which narrative can give me rest? There is no rest in the country today because a given law can be interpreted by two different sets of people in two different ways. The govt. which has passed the bill and who is behind it, makes it all the more difficult for some to rest in it.
In today’s passage also, we see a similar tension. It’s about an important law in the Bible. The law regarding the sabbath. The religious Pharisees interpret it and Jesus interprets it. When we look at both the interpretations and also who interprets it objectively then we clearly see who is telling the truth. Jesus not only interprets it but also delivers us from ‘work’ to have absolute rest in Him as he has done all the hard work that was required. Whereas, the religious leaders burdened the people and did nothing to help people.
1. Religion deprives us of rest
2. Christ alone restores our rest
Tension in the passage:
What is and is not lawful to do on Sabbath?
Is it alright to do good on Sabbath?
What is Sabbath?
Why had God given this Sabbath regulation?
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
2. Keep it Holy
3. Work for six and rest on 7th
4. No exception
5. God modelled it
Gen 2: 1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
In Genesis account we see God pronouncing a benediction after every day saying ‘it is good. After sixth day he says it is very good and then on Seventh day God rests from his work and blesses it and hallows it.
And in Exodus God gives us the reason for this command. The reason was that since He rested so we ought to rest after six days of work. But does this mean God was tired after six days of work? No, what it means is that God, after finishing all the work, was completely satisfied with what He had accomplished. Almost saying, ’What I did is really really good. I will bless it and hallow it so that the creation would also stop and see what I am capable of. What an incredibly creative Creator I am. Let me give a day off so that the creation can adore me’. More than for God, the seventh day is for the creation to behold God’s majesty and glory.
So, when God looks at the things that have happened in our lives it’s as if God says, ‘what an incredible work I have done in each one of my children’s life; it is really good, everything happened as per my sovereign plan and purpose.’ And He expects us to see all the work He had done during the week that has gone by and see the majesty of God, through His works, we see the faithfulness of God, we see how He provided, protected and preserved us. We see His handiwork in each and every detail of everything that had happened. When we see everything in the week like this, we are worshipping God for who He is. This is true act of worship. God intended the Sabbath to be a day we truly worship Him by focusing all our attention on Him.
God is blessing us with a day off not to indulge in our own pleasures, or sleep or take up some holy or finish pending work. All these maybe good things but the most important reason why God blessed us with a day off is to remember who He is and focus on His attributes. If we do that we will be blessed and with that benediction we would go back to work on the first day of the next week in anticipation of how God is going to show up again in the new week.
Sabbath is a time off from work so that we come back home to behold His glory, marvel in His mercy and be restored in His Love
If this is not happening on Sabbath. We would never find the rest God intended us to have. Wonder why many of us never find rest, because we did not meet God the way we are supposed to meet Him on this day. It has become a day to finish off a religious activity. I went to church, I have fulfilled my Christian obligation. No wonder we are not experiencing the blessing God intended for us to experience on this day.
We also see many rules and regulations are added by men to make the day Holy, though it has already been declared holy by God.
That is the tension in the passage. Jesus was not concerned about keeping the day holy as He allows His disciples to perform work. Jesus addresses this religiosity and tells them the real meaning of Sabbath is to marvel at His WORK
Mercy Over Sacrifice
On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing vwhat is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”
The Pharisees did not complain that they were stealing the grain, because they new that OT made a provision for their action.
Dt: 23: 24 “If you go into your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. 25 If you go into your neighbor's standing grain, dyou may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor's standing grain.
God in His mercy allowed travellers or anyone who is hungry to pluck the grapes or grains to be eaten.
What the Pharisees are complaining here is that they were doing it on a Sabbath day. In their minds what they did was a lot of work.
1. They plucked the grain which is ‘reaping’
2. They rubbed the grain in their hands which is ‘threshing’,
3. They blew the chaff away which is ‘winnowing’
4. Then they ate which is basically preparing the food.
In that sense they violated at least 4 laws by doing all this work on Sabbath day.
So, they were asking Jesus how He, as a teacher or Rabbi, didn’t know the Law and allowed his disciples to violate the law so blatantly and seemed to be not bothered about it. What kind of teacher are you? How can you allow what is not lawful to do on Sabbath?
By raising this question they were in a way boasting about their own ability to keep the law and uphold it. ‘Look at us, how well we know the law and how zealous we are to uphold it…. Look at us Jesus, we are better than you…’
Jesus exposes their religiosity by bringing their attention to what was written in the Scriptures.
3 And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” 5 And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Jesus basically asks these scholars which book have you been reading? Haven’t you read? What a way to confront these religious leaders! And He brings to their notice what was written in 1 Sam 21. David gets some bread from the priest Abiather. The show bread or bread of the presence. Which was only to be eaten by the priests. But David, and his followers eat this bread. And nowhere in the OT we find anything more said about it. Neither David nor the priest was accused of violating the law of God.
Where the scriptures were silent in the OT, Jesus sheds more light on it. If you take the religious approach then what David did was condemnable. But if you go by the Spirit of the law, neither David nor the priest violated the law.
God would never tolerate violating the moral law. God deals with David when he breaks the moral law. But eating the bread of the Presence was not a violation of moral law. It is a ceremonial law. When it comes to Ceremonial law God always gives the benefit to man in His mercy.
God places Human need over tradition.
But religion exalts tradition over man
Mathew adds more details to this same narrative
5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
Through this He was asking them to check the work done by the priests on the day of Sabbath. The priests were busy doing many jobs on that day. They were not resting on that day. They were performing all their priestly duties. They are working tirelessly on that day. As per the Pharisees, they were profaning the temple by working. But yet, God says they are guiltless.
So, Jesus points out through this that at the heart of Sabbath is mercy not Sacrifice.
Redemption came before the Rules
Do you know when the law was given? On the way to the promised land. They were already redeemed by God from the slavery of Egypt. He set them free from the bondage. He delivered them by an outstretched arm through wonders and miracles. No one heard of such a deliverance. God did that for Israel, the chosen people. They are His ambassadors to proclaim the mercies of God. Law was never a means to have the relationship with God. Law was given as a means to show their love to God. It was never intended to win the love of God. In fact God eliminated the need to perform by redeeming them in the first place.
If they would have looked at their own redemptive story they would understand that God desires mercy as they are the recipients of Mercy not sacrifice.
Religion moves us away from God and what he has done. It focuses on self, what we do or need to do. It takes delight in one’s ability to work and keep the rules. Jesus asks them if you know the royal law, you would have chosen love out of your mercy and would not have committed a crime by calling this innocent guilty.
And then he makes an outstanding claim to his deity, I am the Lord of the Sabbath. That was a shocking claim for the Pharisees. They understood what he said. He basically said, I am the one who defines Sabbath as it is about me. I am glad Jesus helps us to understand Sabbath not the Pharisees. They put unbearable burden on people with their religious traditions and rules.
Jesus lifts those burdens away and frees us from religious rituals. I am the Lord of the Sabbath.
Religion deprives us of rest by insisting on sacrifices, by putting the load of rules to win the favour of God.
Jesus delights in Mercy not in Sacrifices.
Mat11: 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We can rest in Jesus’ Mercy.
Compassion Over Tradition
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he xlaid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and gall the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.
Here we see yet again an example of how religion embraces tradition over compassion. A woman was healed after 18 years. What a joyous moment is must have been. But all that the religious people could think of, was how sabbath day was not kept. Seriously, all that the synagogue leader said was to come another day to be healed and not on Sabbath day. It is absurd right? But that’s what religion does. It blinds us to not be able show compassion.
But Jesus showed Compassion and helped her to observe the Sabbath the way it needed to be. As soon as she was healed she glorified God. Sabbath is all about giving back the glory to God for the healing he provided.
How much more you and I need to glorify God on a daily basis for healing us from sin and death and giving us eternal life in him.
Religion delights in holding on to tradition
Love delights in acting in Compassion.
Restoration Over Restrictions
6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
Yet another incident on a Sabbath day. Jesus was a famous teacher, he went to synagogues to teach and he was at a synagogue teaching. The scribes and Pharisees followed Jesus not out of reverence and to learn but out of jealousy and with a motive to trap him and convict him. To find a chance to get rid of him. Because he constantly showed a mirror to their fake religiosity. He constantly highlighted how shallow and fake their religion is.
So, here we see the motive of the Pharisees. Perhaps they even arranged for the man with a withered hand, to trap Jesus. To see whether He would heal him on the day of Sabbath. V8. Jesus knowing their thoughts, asks the man to come and stand next to him.
And he exposes the hardness of their hearts by asking a question about what is lawful “I ask you, fis it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”
In Mathew we see a few more details
11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, kif it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 lOf how much more value is a man than a sheep! So mit is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
So, Jesus shows them that a day can not dictate whether you should do good or not. Any day is a good day to do good. It’s absolutely lawful to do good on Sabbath. Man is not made for Sabbath. Man always precedes Sabbath as Sabbath was made for man.
I am glad that Jesus is the Lord of Sabbath. I am glad that he defines Sabbath for us, not Religion.
But the modern day orthodox Jews are still very pious about following the Sabbath regulation. I recently came across a funny and sad incident. In 1992, in the suburbs of Tel Aviv an apartment had a fire accident in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood. The general reaction would be to call 100, or the fire department. Instead, they consulted a Rabbi first to find out whether calling a fire department on sabbath would be violation of Sabbath laws. The Rabbi took 30 mins to say that they can call. But by that time 3 apartments were burnt down.
Another incident happened in Brooklyn. Orthodox Jews don’t cook food during Sabbath, in order to keep the food warm they used a hot plate for 25 hours starting sundown on Friday till the sunset on Saturday. Because to kindle a fire or manually adjust an electric switch on the Sabbath is a violation of law. So, a mother of 7 kept a hot plate on throughout the day which probably caused the electric circuit and killed her 7 children.
Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath
Implications for us today
1. Jesus gives us rest from religious work
Jesus gives us rest from these kinds of religious work by giving us the right perspective through his interpretation. Its about relation ship not about religious work.
During Christmas season our church was literally empty. Because most of us are from different parts of India and Christmas was a time we go back home to meet our parents, relatives, childhood friends, eat the home made food, indulge in local delicacies, for few days. It’s a wonderful family time. Its most joyful, meaningful and fulfilling time. At least once a year we go back to live few days without any burden of anything. And we come back to Delhi to work for whatever reason we are here. But there is something in us wants to go back. There is something in us tells I don’t belong here but at home.
And we all look back to home to be with our family.
Sabbath in its truest sense is going back home. To be home with our father in heaven. And have fellowship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with our all our being, having communion through the Spirit of God. So, that we enjoy him and are refreshed by him and with the power we receive we go back to work again.
Sabbath at its core is a call to be in relationship with our God. In OT times God gave them a day to come back home, to be with him. Just with him nothing else. It’s family time. If we miss going back home, he understands and eagerly waits for you to be home with him to enjoy his company to be filled again with blessing.
For us today, who are living on the other side of the cross, it's a daily affair. After a long day of work we come back to him, to rest in him. To be refreshed by him. And as a corporate we come together as a larger family.
If we do not view Sabbath like this, we end up being religious. So, here the scriptures in a way tell us not to be like the religious Pharisees who behave like orphans not like sons of God by constantly focusing on works they do to win God’s favor.
2. Jesus gives us rest from self exaltation
All these narratives in a way expose the hearts of religious Pharisees. By accusing Jesus they are exalting themselves. Look at us Jesus how well we are keeping the law.
But Jesus exposes their hypocrisy. They are good at their ability of OUTWARD OBSERVANCE in order to win the praises of people. They are good at keeping the doctrines and commands of man in order to be praised but they are very bad at following the commandment of God.
Jesus sets us free from this trap of doing things to be praised by men.
We are restless to win the praises of men. To be approved and accepted by men. We go great lengths to be praised and exalted. If we do not get this, we are depressed and feel we are worthless. If that is what is beating in our hearts, we are worshipping ourselves. It’s religion of SELFIE….. We can never find rest in this religion.
Jesus sets us free from this, He gives us an identity in him. He satisfies us with him. He gives us a heart to put to death the self so that we live to glorify the LORD of SABBATH.
3. Jesus gives us rest from false confidence
This holiday season for some reason again and again I had to hear or deal with things that are to do with property. I heard story after story of how people are after property and their desire and longing to own property. Even families are fighting and dividing because of property. Why it is so?
At the root of it why are people so desperate about it?
I think at the root of it property gives them security. It gives people immense confidence that, that property has their back. Their life is set and secured. If something happens they are prepared to take care of it. Their rest lies in that FALSE CONFIDENCE, Just like these pharisees who confronted Jesus. The Pharisees’ false confidence was in doing the works of the law. They thought they would have salvation by perfectly keeping the law. They would never find the Sabbath promised in the Bible by doing the works of law.
Jesus shakes their confidence. He would say to them depart from me, I never knew you.
None of the worldly securities would ever give the rest we are looking for. Only Jesus gives us true rest.
If your rest today is in you job, bank balance, or children or a relationship, or an investment. These things would never give you rest.
Only Jesus gives you Rest. He is the Lord of Sabbath and is the Lord of the universe.
4. Jesus gives us rest from works to be saved
Any religion that places more emphasis on rules or restrictions over Restoration is not a true religion. Such a religion can not give you true rest. Only Jesus who is the Lord of Sabbath gives True rest.
Because he alone reached out to humanity to restore us from our fallen nature.
Only Jesus reached out to restore us by doing ‘the work’ for us so that we can be free of works.
If we do not rest in the work of Jesus we would be forever working hard to win our salvation.
Jesus came so that you and I can find the ultimate rest in him. There is no morning and evening after the 7th day. The seventh day was a long day. Pointing to the future hope we have in the Sabbath God is going to give.
If you do not have the Salvation provided by Jesus, no matter what you do in this world you would never find the rest you are looking for. The first and foremost rest you and I need is to have the Salvation Jesus gives us through his work on the cross.
5.Jesus gives us rest so that we too can be merciful like him.
Throughout the narrative, we see the Pharisees constantly going around with a big magnifying glass to find faults in people and accuse them of not following the religious traditions. Not once do we see them acting in Mercy.
On the contrary, we see Jesus not coming with a magnifying glass but with marvellous grace and extending mercy to people who are struggling to carry the burden of religion.
Once we experience his mercy, Jesus gives us rest in him so much so that we too can be just as merciful as him… You see, keeping accounts with people is a very tiring work. Our processors overheat thinking of ways we can get even with people. All the things we think of saying and doing to get back at those who hurt us…. What a restless work that is…
Jesus gives us rest by showing us, Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. When we experience Jesus' mercy ,we are able to rest in it by extending Mercy to other.
In Jesus alone you and I can have true rest.