16th March 2023
Read (Matthew 12v1-14)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
One Saturday long ago Jesus and His disciples were making their way through some grain fields. The Lord's disciples were hungry and so plucked some heads of grain to make something to eat (v1). This act was not theft and had long been established in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 23v25). Nevertheless when the Pharisees witnessed the actions of the disciples they said to Jesus “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” (v2).
In Christ's day there were thirty-nine different types of work that were prohibited on the Sabbath and every good Jew understood “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 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. 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." (Exodus 20v8-11)
At first glance the Pharisees seemed to have an open and shut case. Christ was supposed to be a great teacher and yet His followers broke a basic and fundamental principle of the faith - the picking of grain was work and work was not for the Sabbath. In response Jesus took the Pharisees to the Scriptures and reminded them of when David received loaves from the tabernacle for his men to eat (1 Samuel 21v1-6). David had no right to eat the loaves as they were reserved for the priests and it would appear that this incident took place on the Sabbath. Yet David was not condemned for his actions either by Ahimelech the priest or Scripture itself.
Furthermore, Jesus made the point that strictly speaking the temple priests broke the Sabbath every week by their work. It was required that they changed the consecrated bread (Leviticus 24v8) and offered the doubled burnt offering (Numbers 28v9-10). Despite this "Sabbath breaking" the priests were guiltless in the sight of God (v5).
What point was the Lord making? David's hunger was a work of necessity was met by no Scriptural condemnation. Later the temple laws allowed the priests to do their Sabbath work without guilt. Finally with the arrival of Jesus the greater temple had come (v6). The tabernacle pointed to the temple and the temple pointed to Christ. He alone was and is the Lord of the Sabbath and He alone gives the correct interpretation of true Sabbath observance.
Jesus was clear that the Sabbath is a day for mercy and not sacrifice (v7). To underline His point He entered the synagogue of the Pharisees and came across a man with a withered hand asking him "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" (v10). Additionally Jesus asked “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?" (v11). Whilst the Pharisees sought a debate about the plucking of grain, Christ declared the lawfulness of doing good on the Sabbath day (v12). There isn't a farmer alive who would refuse to rescue his sheep on the Sabbath despite the work required. People are much more valuable than sheep and so at Christ's word “Stretch out your hand.” the man's withered hand was healed (v13). Tragically the Pharisees continued to miss the point and responded with hatred and seeking to destroy Christ (v14).
What are we to make of all this? Firstly, the Christian Sabbath is no longer a Saturday but a Sunday. Why? Because Christ rose on the first day of the week which is Sunday. When we gather as a Church we consider Sunday to be the Lord's Day and a day for rest and the things of God. Secondly, the Christian is still bound to keep the Sabbath day holy. The moral law of God is still in force and we have no right to make the Lord's Day an anything goes affair.
So how then do we keep Sabbath in a Christ honouring way whilst avoiding Pharisaic squabbles? Our shorter catechism gives a helpful answer "The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy."
There are three parts in that answer. One, we rest from our work and other recreations on the Lord's Day - there are six other days to cut your grass. Two, we spend the day in the public and private worship of the Lord. Three, we are able to engage in works of necessity and mercy - feeding your family is a necessity and helping your widowed neighbour is a mercy.
Brothers and sisters, our modern problem is not that we squabble like the Pharisees about what is and isn't lawful on the Lord's Day but more that we have grown to treat the day just like any other. Covid didn't help and for many it has proved incredibly difficult to break the bad habits of lockdown. But the Lord's Day is not a chore but a delight. It is a day set aside by the Lord to remove the baggage of this world and to spend time delighting in Him. It is a day for mercy and it is a day where necessary acts are not prohibited but most of all it is a day to feast on the riches of Christ. He is the true temple and the Lord of the Sabbath, rejoice in Him this coming Lord's Day and may you find a wonderful rest for your soul.
Q102 What do we pray for in the second petition? In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come,” we pray, that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.