“Was Jesus Making the Sabbath Day a Labor Day?” (Luke 14:1-14)

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 2019

“Was Jesus Making the Sabbath Day a Labor Day?” (Luke 14:1-14)

Many of you know that I grew up in the most Jewish neighborhood in the city of Chicago. Lots of Jewish families on every block. The family next door to us were Orthodox Jews, meaning that they tried to keep the laws of Judaism, literally, very religiously. I remember one time they hired my sister to come over next door to their place on Saturdays, so that she could turn on the air conditioner for them, since that was considered work, and they were not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath.

Well, what about that? I suppose they were following the laws of Judaism as they had been taught, I’ll give them that. But were they understanding the prohibition of work on the Sabbath aright? Did God really say, “Thou shalt not turn on an air conditioner on the Sabbath day,” or else you’re working and thus violating his commandment?

What prompted my memory of this is an incident recorded in the Holy Gospel for today. There Jesus is being watched closely by the Pharisees, to see if he will violate God’s commandment by doing work on the Sabbath day. Well, did he? “Was Jesus Making the Sabbath Day a Labor Day?”

Our text is the Holy Gospel from Luke 14. I’m focusing on the first few verses, which read as follows: “One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 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?’ And they could not reply to these things.”

Had the Lord God told the Israelites that they should not work on the Sabbath day? Yes, he had. It’s right there in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20: “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.”

See? It’s right there: no work on the Sabbath. And so, if the Pharisees could say that Jesus healing the guy with the dropsy was a form of work, then they could accuse him of breaking the Lord’s commandments. Which brings us back to our opening question: Was Jesus making the Sabbath Day into a Labor Day?

But the Pharisees couldn’t see the forest for the trees. They got all hung up on minutiae, but they couldn’t see the big picture. They had twisted the Sabbath commandment into something that God had not intended.

What was God’s intent in giving the Sabbath commandment? What was the purpose of the Sabbath? Oh, by the way, the Sabbath was Saturday, the seventh day of the week. That’s the day, starting on Friday evening and going up until sundown on Saturday, when the Israelites were not to do any work. Even the Hebrew word “Shabbat” means to stop or pause what you’re doing. Stop the work you’re doing on the other days of the week, and set aside this day, the Sabbath day, as a day of rest. That was the command to the Israelites.

But what was God’s purpose for setting that day aside as holy? For one thing, it was an exercise of trust in the Lord. It’s OK to stop your job for one day of the week. The good Lord will still take care of you. And so the Lord provided the Israelites with a double portion of manna on Friday, so that they would have enough to eat on Saturday as well. They wouldn’t have to go out and work on the Sabbath day. So the Sabbath command taught the Israelites to trust in the Lord to take care of them.

And what were they to do on that day of rest? Just lay around in bed and read the morning papyrus? No. Go fishing? Watch football? No. No. The Sabbath was set aside as a day free from work so that Israel could gather as God’s people and hear the word of the Lord. The Sabbath was a weekly reminder of how the Lord had made them his chosen people. How God had acted in human history to free them from their bondage in Egypt. To give them a distinctive way of life as his blessed people at Mount Sinai. To bring them up through the wilderness, providing for them and forgiving all their grumbling and rebellion along the way. And to bring them into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. That’s what the Sabbath was for, so that the Israelites could continually find their life centered in the word and work of the Lord to make them his people.

Now, for the Israelites to skip out on the Sabbath, to instead do their daily work because they didn’t trust God to take care of them or because they were greedy and wanted to amass more wealth by working the extra day–well, yes, working on that day would be a violation of the Sabbath commandment.

So the Sabbath was to be an exercise of trust in God’s care. It was intended to be a weekly rehearsal, from God’s word, of the Lord’s saving works to make Israel his people. And third, very simply, the Sabbath day was to be a day of rest. A day to refresh and restore and recharge our minds and bodies and souls. Human beings and animals and even the fields for crops–all of creation needs some periodic rest, or else we’ll burn ourselves out. Life is difficult. Work is tiresome. Labor is toilsome. We need a break from time to time. And so God built that into the system. A day of rest. The Sabbath.

You see, creation doesn’t work the way it should. With the fall into sin, there was some collateral damage. The ground doesn’t produce as plentifully as we’d like. There is drudgery involved–sometimes back-breaking toil–in tilling the ground, planting the seeds, and pulling the weeds. The futility and frustration of flooding or crop failure. Even the daily grind at the office can wear you out. We get aches and pains piling up as we get older. We need the rest. The Sabbath is about rest and refreshment and the restoration of our sin-damaged bodies.

So, in that light, was Jesus breaking the Sabbath law by healing the man with the dropsy? No! By no means! In fact, quite the opposite. Jesus was fulfilling the purpose of the Sabbath by restoring the man’s health! The Sabbath is about the restoration of creation, and that’s exactly what Jesus was doing.

And that’s what Jesus is doing today! Jesus comes today with healing. Jesus is restoring us in soul and spirit, through the good news being preached here today. Know that by Christ’s death on the cross your sins, though they be many–your sins are forgiven! Jesus has paid the price. Jesus has done the work! Your salvation is his work, not yours. Jesus says to you today, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Christ’s perfect righteousness, which he gifts us with, puts us right with God. Now we can rest from the frightful prospect of having to work our way into God’s favor. Christ Jesus has already taken care of that work for us! We rest in his works, not our own. Jesus did all the heavy lifting when he was lifted up on the cross. And there he cried out, in victory, “It is finished!” No more work needed to be done. It’s already accomplished, your right standing with God.

Jesus comes today with healing. You and I may not have dropsy. I didn’t even know what dropsy was; I had to look it up. It’s “an excessive swelling caused by fluid retention.” We may not have dropsy, but we do have an assortment of ailments that debilitate us. Our bodies don’t work right. And eventually we die. So, what is Jesus doing about that? He’s promising you the final and full restoration of your body in the resurrection. Dear Christian, you have been baptized! God has applied the gospel to your body, when he poured water over you with the word. God not only redeems your soul; he also redeems your body. You receive the pledge of that ultimate healing here in the Blessed Sacrament. Dear Christian, today you are receiving Christ’s body and blood into your body! This is the medicine of immortality. It is a foretaste of the feast to come. God will raise you up, bodily, perfect and whole, on the day when Christ returns. All of creation will be restored on that marvelous day! “There remaineth a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

So, back to our initial question: Was Jesus turning the Sabbath day into a Labor Day by healing the man with the dropsy? By no means! Just the opposite. Jesus was fulling the Sabbath purpose by restoring damaged creation. And he gives us a sneak preview of what’s in store for us in the age to come. Jesus is the Lord of life, and he gives us his life, eternal life, through his saving death and victorious resurrection. He delivers this life to us through the very means of grace you are receiving here today, in Word and Sacrament. Dear brothers and sisters, this Labor Day weekend we rest from our labors, and we find rest and refreshment and restoration in the perfect work of Christ.

Published in: on August 31, 2019 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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