The theme that underlies our Old Testament and Gospel readings today has to do with “the proper observation of the Sabbath.” How do we ‘keep the Sabbath holy’?
In our Old Testament reading, Moses preaches to the congregation, telling them that they MUST keep the Sabbath holy and HOW to keep it holy. In our Gospel reading, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of negligence for failing to teach His disciples how to keep the Sabbath holy.
Let’s begin by listening to Moses once again.
“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” (Deut. 5:12)
Moses is referring the time 40 years earlier when, reading from the two tablets of stone that he received from God on Mt. Sinai, he recited the 10 Commandments for the FIRST TIME. Israel was just beginning its journey to the Promised Land back then.
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, he preached. Why? “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.” (Ex. 20:11).
In his Exodus sermon on the 3rd Commandment, Moses took the congregation all the way back to the seventh day of CREATION when “God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Gen. 2:2-3)
It’s NOT that God got tired from all the WORK He had done that He needed to ‘REST.’ God never gets tired. No, it’s clear that God rests for the purpose of ‘enjoying’ what He has done. “And God SAW everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…” He stops His work to LOOK at all that He had made. And He’s ‘pleased’ with it.
Because really, what’s the use of doing all that ‘WORK,’ if you never stop working to ENJOY it, admire it, appreciate it?
So, when God commands MAN to stop working and rest, ‘Shabbat,’ every seven days, the purpose of this ‘rest’ is not physical – as much as is to appreciate and enjoy the work that GOD HAS DONE.
Which may certainly include the ‘grandeur’ and ‘beauty’ of God’s creation – BUT SHOULD ALSO most certainly include all those DAILY things we tend to take for granted, such as Luther lists in his 1st Article explanation – “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that he had given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me ‘clothing, and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, animals and all that I have.” “For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”
Of course we should mingle our thanks and praise into our serving and obeying every day of the week – as we pray, ‘at all times and in all places.’ But the Sabbath Day is a day set aside to intentionally do so without the mingling of work.
To STOP ‘WORKING’ for the purpose of appreciating all that God has done – just like God did – is at least a part of what it means to have been made in the image of God. Unlike the ants and the beavers who work, work, work and never stop to appreciate what they have made, man is to stop working and enjoy, not what he has created, but what God has created. What God has “finished.”
And isn’t it right here that we can see means that we have ‘LOST THE IMAGE OF GOD’ from another angle. To work, work, work, – or even – play, play, play, and never stopping to ‘KEEP THE SABBATH DAY HOLY,’ is a sign of our fall into sin and rebellion against God.
And I suspect this also at least contributes to why we get so WEARY not only in our WORK but also in our PLAYING. We fail to HONOR THE SABBATH DAY AND KEEP IT HOLY.
Now once again, Moses preaches on the 10 Commandments. “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” This sermon comes 40 years after the first one – at the end of Israel’s journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land.
But this one is a different sermon. Here in Deuteronomy, Moses connects the SABBATH COMMANDMENT – NOT to the Lord’s Creation in the beginning, BUT to the Lord’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. ““‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. THEREFORE the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
Here Moses says that the Sabbath day is for ‘REMEMBERING’ THE LORD’S DELIVERANCE. It’s a day for ‘REMINISCING,’ for telling and retelling the stories about their “slavery in Egypt,” and how hard life was, and for all of their ‘working, working, working,’ old Pharaoh was never satisfied.
The Sabbath is a time set aside by God Himself for His people to ‘remember,’ to ‘REMINISE,’ to tell and retell the story of God’s rescue and deliverance. Telling and retelling the story of God’s “mighty hand and outstretched arm.”
This practice of a keeping a “Sabbath day” where all work stops and all attention is directed to God –is something that is utterly unique to Israel among all the other nations. No other nation has anything like a biblical “SABBATH DAY.”
And over time, the Sabbath Day becomes a point of NATIONAL IDENTITY for Israel. They’re known as the people who stop working every seven days for the sole purpose of sitting back and ‘reminiscing about God’s creation and deliverance by His “mighty hand” and His ‘outstretched arm.’
So the keeping of the weekly Sabbath day literally ‘made them holy.’ That word ‘holy’ literally means, ‘to set apart.’ The keeping of the weekly Sabbath “set them apart” from all the other nations.
There’s lots of ‘reminiscing’ throughout the Old Testament about how when Israel got so caught up in their working and playing that they forgot to STOP and KEEP THE SABBATH DAY, they lost their identity as the ‘people of God’ and became just like all the other nations. They were no longer ‘holy.’
And we should have no trouble seeing the connections to our own day.
So, in order to try to protect its identity, it’s holiness, the religious leadership of Israel developed a body of laws to enforce the ‘PROPER’ keeping of the Sabbath.
For example, if keeping the Sabbath Day means that you shall do no ‘work,’ it might be important to clarify what actually constitutes ‘work.’ How far can you travel for a ‘Sabbath day’s journey,’ and how does that vary depending on how much weight you are carrying? How much work can you do to prepare food for your family on the Sabbath Day? How much work can you do if someone gets injured on a Sabbath Day?
A body of over 400 of these ‘laws’ about THE SABBATH DAY evolve and become the focus of the Pharisees and Scribes who become Israel’s ‘SABBATH POLICE.’ And this is what gets Jesus into trouble with the Scribes and Pharisees. He pays almost no attention TO these laws.
And when they challenge Him, He rebukes them.
“One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.” (Luke 14:1-6)
“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him…4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” (Mark 3:1-6)
So, when we hear in today Gospel reading that as Jesus was walking with His disciples, ‘through the grain fields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain,” the ‘Sabbath police’ turn pull Jesus over. They say, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’” (You’ve got to wonder if they were hiding in the field or what.)
25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God…and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”
If they’re going to arrest Jesus for violating the Sabbath, then they needed to arrest David too. Jesus was doing no more for those with him who were hungry than David did for those with him.
And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
When Jesus says, “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath,” He means that the true Sabbath is not a day – but a person. Some argue that “the Sabbath day” should be Saturday. Others say Sunday. That’s an argument the Scribes and Pharisees would love to engage in but that misses the point entirely.
Jesus Christ IS our Sabbath rest. When Jesus cried from the cross, “It is finished,” it’s the same “FINISHED” that He announced at Creation – but now it is a NEW CREATION. By His mighty hand and outstretched arm, nailed to the cross, He has DELIVERED HIS PEOPLE from their bondage to sin and death.
Jesus Christ IS the “mighty hand and outstretched arm” of God by which God has delivered you.
In Jesus Christ, there is NO MORE WORK TO BE DONE – either for your life or your salvation. In fact, now that the Son of Man has FINISHED HIS WORK, to keep working for yourself, for your life, for your salvation, is burdensome and makes us weary – because you will never be able to satisfy the demands of the one, true God who is already completely satisfied with the work that His Son has FINIHSED for us. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, He says, and you will have SHABBAT for your soul.”
Truly, “the Sabbath was made for man.” God created the Sabbath Day for our good. It’s good for us to set the rhythm of our life to the weekly rest from our work and our play, to gather together to ‘reminisce’- to tell and retell the story of God’s creation and how He delivered us – to come together at this railing to ‘take and eat, and take and drink, “in remembrance” of the Lord of the Sabbath. May God help us to keep the Sabbath day holy.