The 17th Sunday After Trinity October 12, 2003
747, 364, 385, 313(1, 3)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.
In Christ Jesus our True Sabbath, dear fellow-redeemed:
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor…but on the seventh day…you shall do no work!” God thundered these words from Mt. Sinai when He gave His law to the Children of Israel. God spoke these words as part of what we have come to know as the “Ten Commandments.” The “Sabbath Day” started Friday at sunset and ended Saturday evening at sunset. How well did you do in remembering the Sabbath Day this weekend?
Did you stop all you were doing from sunset Friday until last evening? Did you offer the required sacrifices? Did you spend the whole day in restful meditation? Chances are pretty good that none of us did these things. We know that we no longer observe the Sabbath Day as God commanded it in the Old Testament and yet, God says Remember the Sabbath Day. Why don’t we observe Saturday? Why don’t we rest on the 7th day? Why don’t we sacrifice the Sabbath offerings anymore?
There are some who believe that in order to properly “remember the Sabbath Day” we must follow the Old Testament Sabbath laws. They insist that work must end on Friday and that Saturday be occupied with nothing but rest and worship. Another, more common, belief does not restrict itself to Saturday as a Sabbath. Rather, it insists that no work should be done on Sunday. If we compare our practice with these two examples we find that it does not match either one. According to these beliefs we are not following Scripture and are not remembering the Sabbath Day as God has commanded.
Of course, we don’t gain our spiritual guidance from anyone but God. So this morning we would like to study God’s Word and learn His will for us in regard to the Sabbath Day. We pray that the Holy Spirit would bless our meditation on the Word and lead us to properly REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY. By remembering the Sabbath we will find that I. GOD ESTABLISHED IT. II. IT WAS INTENDED FOR MAN. III. IT IS FULFILLED IN CHRIST.
The word “Sabbath” means rest. The Sabbath has been in existence since the 7th day of this world’s existence. God created the world in six days. On each of those days He brought something new into being. First He created light and separated it from the darkness, then the environment for all living things, and then all of the plants, animals and also man. At the end of six days, God was done and declared it all “very good.” “Thus the heavens and the earth and all the host of them were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done and He rested on the seventh day…” (Genesis 2:1-2).
God doesn’t grow tired so He didn’t need rest because he was exhausted from all of His creating. God’s “rest” was that He brought His creating to a rest. God ended His creating and then separated the seventh day from all the other days and blessed it. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it He rested from all His work…” (Genesis 2:3).
God Himself observed the first Sabbath. Later when He gave His laws to the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai, He commanded that they too should observe the Sabbath Day. God also gave details as to how this should be done. “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work…” (Exodus 20:8-10a).
On the seventh day, the Children of Israel = were not to kindle a fire (Exodus 35:3), not to carry a burden (Jeremiah 17:21), not buy, sell, or do any trading (Amos 8:5, Nehemiah 10:31, 13:15). God even provided extra manna on Friday because there would be none to gather on Saturday. Once each week, Israel was commanded to stop their daily work.
God established the Sabbath by His own action and by what He commanded His people to do. That was His Sabbath. There was another Sabbath—the Sabbath which was established by men. The Pharisees had created their own Sabbath. They started with what God said and proceeded to add more rules and traditions. The Pharisees kept every one of their own laws and took great pride in them. Therefore, the more rules and additions they made, the more they could keep and the better they would look to others. The result of this was a Sabbath Day and laws that were far different from God’s established Sabbath.
With these two Sabbaths in mind, hear again the events of our text. “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!’” [vv.1-2]
The Pharisees accused the disciples of breaking the Sabbath, on the terms of their Sabbath and their laws. God did not forbid eating on the Sabbath. If He had forbidden eating He would never have allowed extra manna to be gathered on the day before the Sabbath. Nor were the disciples stealing grain from the field because in Deuteronomy God made provision for just that thing. “When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle…” (Deuteronomy 23:25). However, since the Pharisees had determined that picking was reaping and that shelling the grain in the hand was threshing, it was (to them), therefore, work and the disciples were breaking the Sabbath. The disciples were breaking a Sabbath, but it was the Pharisee’s Sabbath and not the Sabbath established by God.
If the disciples had broken God’s law, Jesus would surely have stopped them from doing it or rebuked them for it. Later, Jesus healed the man with the withered hand. This, likewise, did not break the Sabbath law or Jesus would not have done it.
Jesus told the Pharisees, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” [v.8]. Jesus is the Son of God. He was at creation when the Sabbath was begun and He was at Sinai when the Law was given. He established the Sabbath and what He allowed or what He did Himself was not breaking the Sabbath as the Pharisees supposed. God established the Sabbath. God is the authority on the Sabbath and no one else.
God had a purpose in mind when He established the Sabbath. Mark records these words of Jesus to the Pharisees: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).
Work was never meant to be a chore or exhausting. Before sin existed, work would have always been a great joy. The sore muscles, the weariness, the never-ending task, the tediousness, and the stress & strain of work would not have been known. God established the Sabbath in his Law as a blessing for mankind so that he could rest from these consequences of sin. “Six days you shall labor…but on the seventh day…you shall do no work” (Exodus 20:9,10). This rest from day-to-day work was not a rest of laziness or idleness. It was to serve toward physical health, rest and refreshment and serve spiritual health and refreshment.
On the Sabbaths, the Israelites offered sacrifices and worshipped God and ceremonial activities were conducted in the temple. None of this was just for outward show. The Sabbath Day and its sacrifices were meant to draw the people to the Lord as they worshipped Him in this way. The Lord says in the book of Ezekiel, “Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (Ezekiel 20:12).
The Sabbath was to be a time of worship. A time in which the people could be assured of the forgiveness of sins which they so badly needed. A time in which they could perform what God had commanded in His sacrificial laws and thereby show their love and obedience to God.
As with all of God’s dealings with man, the Sabbath was intended to be blessing not a burden. With the Sabbath came the blessing of rest—rest for sin-ridden bodies and rest and peace for sin-ridden souls. The Sabbath kept the Lord in the people’s minds and gave them a small taste of the true rest from all the effects of sin, which Jesus the Messiah would bring.
In the text, Jesus uses two examples from the Old Testament to uncover the Pharisee’s false Sabbath and to show the true Sabbath. “He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?’” [v.3-4]
The showbread was itself a part of God’s Sabbath Day Law. Each week, 12 loaves of bread were made—one loaf for each tribe of Israel. On the Sabbath Day, the bread would be placed on a table with frankincense and it became an offering to the Lord. The bread would remain on the table until the following Sabbath when it would be replaced by fresh bread. Only the priests were allowed to eat the old bread and they could only eat it in the Holy Place of the tabernacle (and later the temple).
The incident to which Jesus refers, took place before David became king. David was fleeing from an angry king Saul who wanted to kill him. David and his friends were hungry and weary from their travels so David asked the priest for five loaves of bread or whatever was available. The only thing the priest had was the old showbread. The priest gave this bread to David and his men (1 Samuel 21).
Jesus went on with another example, “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” [v.5]. Every Sabbath the priests were busy with work. Killing animals for sacrifice was heavy work! The priests themselves labored on the day of rest!
Strictly according to the Sabbath law, the priests and David had broken the law. Jesus quoted a passage from Hosea to explain why David, the priests, and Jesus’ own disciples had done nothing to break the true Sabbath. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” [v.7].
The sacrifices and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament were not themselves what God wanted. He desires mercy and not sacrifice. The spirit or motive behind the sacrifice was the important thing. Israel, in all of its wickedness in later years still kept on sacrificing to God, but the proper spirit of why they sacrificed was not there (cf: Old Testament reading). Even though the outward things were being done the sacrifices were empty because the Lord desires mercy and not sacrifice.
The prophet Micah wrote “With what shall I come before the Lord, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8).
God’s Law can be summarized in the two familiar passages, “You shall love the Lord your God,” (Matthew 22:37) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The laws which God established for the 7th day did not set aside the remainder of God’s law. God did not say show love for 6 days a week and hold to the Sabbath day laws without exception on the seventh.
The Sabbath Law was established by God and valid, but when it came to a choice between the ceremonial laws of the Sabbath and the law of love, God’s law of love should always rule.
Therefore, when David was given the showbread, it was acceptable to God because it provided for David’s (God’s anointed king in waiting) physical need. The priest that gave him the bread showed love for his neighbor, which followed the higher law rather than the ceremonial Sabbath law. When the priests offered sacrifices, they did it as part of the people’s worship. Those sacrifices served the spiritual welfare of the people and provided for their souls’ needs. In so caring for the people, the priests showed love to God and their neighbor. They followed God’s higher command of love.
The Pharisees too followed the law of love to some extent. Jesus asked them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?” [v.11] The Pharisees would follow a law of love for an animal, and so Jesus concludes the discussion, “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” [v.12] After this, Jesus provided an example for the truth of what He just said by healing the man with the withered hand.
The Sabbath was intended for man and his physical and spiritual blessing. It was not a burden nor something that would prohibit showing love to God and neighbor.
The rest which the Sabbath provided was only temporary. After the 7th day, work resumed and the body soon ached for rest again. After the Sabbath worship, the sinful flesh would rise up again and the people would sin. The significance of the Sabbath went beyond the immediate situation. It was a “type” of something to come.
The Sabbaths were a type, signifying the one true, eternal, Sabbath—the rest from all our sin. This is a rest that is found and fulfilled in Christ.
Jesus told the Pharisees, “In this place is one greater than the temple” [v.6]. There is One whose importance outweighs and surpasses all of the temple regulations and sacrifices. That one is Christ. The rest and peace of the Sabbath day pointed ahead to the rest and peace which comes from Christ.
Jesus came to conquer sin. Jesus came and willingly placed himself under the Law in every point. He died the death of sinners and rose from the grave so that we have forgiveness of our sins. To more fully appreciate what Jesus did for us, hear again what he told the Pharisees, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” [v.8]. Jesus established the Sabbath and the Sabbath laws. He is the Lord of the Sabbath and still He voluntarily submitted to those very same laws for us, in order to save us. In our text, Jesus does not reject the Sabbath law as established by God. He only rejected the Sabbath laws as were established by men. The true law He kept in our place. The Lord of the Sabbath came to give us Sabbath—rest.
Once Jesus declared “it is finished” from the cross, the veil in the temple tore in two. Christ had completed the work of redemption. The Old Testament came to an end and the New Testament began. Christ came and fulfilled the law that had pointed ahead to Him. As a result, the laws that pointed ahead to Jesus are no longer binding for us in the New Testament because we have the fulfillment in Jesus! “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). Instead of the Law we have the fulfillment of the Law—Christ. Our Savior from sin has brought us true rest. He is our Sabbath and He was really the substance of the Sabbath all along.
Children of God, whether of the Old or New Testament, have a need for rest. In the Old Testament God provided for that rest in the Law. We are now no longer bound under the Law to keep a specific day, but the substance of the Sabbath is still necessary for us.
God wants us to take care of our physical bodies so physical rest is important. Even more important is that we have proper rest for our souls. Jesus is our soul’s rest, but Satan and the cares of this world try to take that rest away. It is so important that we go to the Word to learn of our Savior and recharge our souls for their stay on earth.
We are no longer bound to a strict observance of the Sabbath on a particular day, but let’s make every day a Sabbath day. We dare not let a day go by where we do not seek rest for our souls. We dare not neglect the opportunities to “take a break” from the things of this life and spend it by gathering together to hear God’s Word and strengthen one another with it. A struggling soul without the rest and reassurance and nourishment of God’s Word will eventually collapse from exhaustion. Jesus suffered and died in order to give us rest. He invites us to come to Him for our rest, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Remember the Sabbath. Remember your Savior and the rest which He brings you. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.