Matthew 12:1-14 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
12 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
Who here has ever just wanted to push the pause button of life and bail out for a little bit. Just to kind of catch your breath. In the modern world I think more and more of us feel like that, and I have picked up, especially this year, people are tired. I’m tired. This is why many of us live for the weekend and live for holidays. But we go on holiday and by the first couple of days back we want to go back on holiday.
Nat’s and I have a favourite place in the Drakensberg called the Cavern that, when we can afford it, love to visit. Now, it is not cheap but it is great. So, we went off the one year and had a great holiday. The thing that stuck me the one afternoon as I was walking past all the rooms was how many people we sleeping away their entire holiday. They had paid a significant sum of money to go to an idyllic place, with beautiful vistas and things to do, and they were sleeping.
Now, I have no issue with sleeping, but something inside of me said, when people travel hundreds of kilometres and spend this much money just to go and sleep, something is wrong with the world. And church something is wrong with the world. We have, because of sin lost the rest, the peace of being that should be in everything we do. Jesus addresses this tonight in the gospel of Matthew and so we are going to look at resting well.
So let’s dive in. this passage gives us great insight into the nature of rest and the blessing of rest.
However, as we dive in to this passage the first thing that jumps out is how we ( and in this passage the Pharisees) have broken rest.
1. Rest is not what you have made it
In the opening of what we read tonight we see the Pharisees condemning Jesus and His disciples for picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath. Now, what we must not do with a passage like this is jump to the wrong conclusion; Jesus is not saying the Sabbath is irrelevant or on our terms. We see throughout Scripture God goes to great length to protect the sanctity of the sabbath and in fact in Exodus 31:14 it says;
“ ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people.Death is demanded from people who work on the Sabbath, in other place in the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah and Amos condemn the people of God because they do not observe the Sabbath; that is their main sin against the Lord!
It can become quite a difficult reality to reconcile in Scripture. God on the one had is jealous for us to observe His Sabbath (His rest), and yet, Christ’s words of almost violating the Sabbath. How do we reconcile these two realities? And for us today, what does all this mean? Must we observe a Sabbath? I remember when I first joined this church, we were invited over for lunch with someone in the church and as soon as lunch had finished, one of the guests simply stood up and said my wife and I take seriously the Sabbath, thank you for lunch but we must go rest. And he was going to take a nap! I was taken aback at how to ensure he “enjoyed” the Sabbath – he literally dined and dodged. Should we be like this? Well no.In another place Jesus makes the clarity; “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mk 2:27)
What does this all mean? Well the reality is that we don’t rest well church, many of us have a completely wrong idea and completely wrong application of rest, of Sabbath. Many take it as the rest from labour reality and make it essentially about us; in other words I need rest or I wont be able to do everything I need to do. Where rest in the Bible is a reflection of the creation itself. God made the world, and on the 7th day rested from his creating work and made that day holy!
Essentially rest is a reflection of the work of God; to put it simply it is a state of being more than it is an activity to do, and it is more about God than it is about us! Therefore, resting well is a part of going back to the way that God made the world; where He looked out at his creation and said it is good! It is a state of being more than a rule to follow. It is the cycle of output and recovery that we all need; yes, but it is a worship of the way God made a good world too!
So, how do we do this effectively?
Well, I think this passage gives us clarity on this in two ways; firstly we see;
2. Rest is mercy not sacrifice
Jesus goes into a defence of his disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath by recounting in the scriptures two event that effectively breaks the “rules” of the Sabbath but maintains the “reality” of the Sabbath; he recounts when David and his men eat the scared breads and how the priests permanently break the Sabbath because they have to work on it! Both these accounts the needs of people trump the observation of the Law, David and his men were starving; it was good to meet their needs, and the Priests serve the people and by doing so break the Sabbath. That is why Jesus calls the Pharisees to learn what “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (a quote from Hosea 6:6) actually means. God’s command for rest was not a random command to keep people religious. It was a mercy in itself. Within the command of the Sabbath was also a concern for others! For example in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 it says;
12“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 14but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
God calls them to observe the Sabbath and then reminds them also everyone who works for you and all who are connected to your household, because remember you were slaves. There is a justice here in the command; because mercy is better than Sacrifice. We have a tendency in making rest so much about us and our agenda that we miss that rest is baked into the very fabric of the creation and is it about God more than it is about us.
If we are so obsessed about getting “the rest we need” that it is at the expense of others, we don’t understand the Sabbath. If we are so obsesses about rest that we miss out on the beauty of it as a gift of God for us; we don’t understand Sabbath or God. Rest is about enjoying God more that it is about getting what I need!
Secondly we see;
3. Rest is Jesus!
Jesus says, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” And this is important and it in Christ that everything will come together tonight.Rest is not about you feeling good, it is not about your energy levels; it is a celebration of the gifts that God gives you; the rhythm of life that God gives to us as a gift.
I’ll explain it like this; when last have you had something important the next day and so you go to bed early so you can get the rest you need, only to discover that because you are so intent on getting the rest you need that you can’t sleep. Or when last did you go on a long weekend to “recover from a hectic year” only to discover that because you are so desperate to “recover” that you don’t or can’t feel rested enough in your break.The issue is that in these moments you have confused the created order, you have messed up creation and rest; you have made it all about you! The weekend is all about YOU, your holidays are all about YOUR recovery. Life is all about YOU! but the irony, is the more you make life about you the worse you feel, the less rested you find yourself and the more you struggle to find rest.
God commands us to take a day a week where we rest from our labour, because we are not our own creators and creation is not ours, but His. We need to be reminded often that even the effort we exert is a gift, the rest we need is a gift. We cannot produce for ourselves, and therefore one day a week we take time to remind ourselves, that God is our provider, that all this is actually about Him! And ultimately real rest is only found in Him; last week’s verse ended with come to me and I will give you rest for your soul! All the holidays, breathing exercises, mantra, self-help guides and detoxes will not release the wariness of your soul. But Christ is the God of Sabbath, you want real rest, come to him!
Now, quickly as this might have seemed too theoretical; how do we apply this this week?There are three ways you can apply Christ’s rest this week:
a.) Rest in the gospel
Realise that your effort is not what makes you worthy but the fact that Christ has done it all, and rest.
b.) Rest in his goodness
Realise that everything you have in your life is his, and that every bad thing is given for your good; Rom 8:28, for we know that in all things God works together for the GOOD of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
c.) Rest in his greatness
Jesus is God over everything; it is the fact that God is in control of the rhythms of our life, of our path of our everything that should get us to rest; He knows what He is doing!
Although this should be a daily thing; we can start with a weekly rhythm; and allow the Sabbath to be celebration of the goodness of the creation that God has given us.