Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 14, 2017
1 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” 3 And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” 5 And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
— Luke 6:1-11, ESV
A Sabbath and a Sunday are technically two different things, according to calendar and covenant. Yet they are the same thing, spiritually speaking. To the Old Covenant Israelite, the Sabbath day was literally the last day of the week, lasting from sundown to sundown. Sunday, of course, is the first day of the week, from midnight to midnight. It is the New Covenant Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, for the devout Christian. So, examining Sabbath days with the Lord in the Gospels should prompt us to search for the proper way to spend Sundays with Jesus today.
Jewish Sabbaths in the Gospels were days of constant conflict between the Lord Jesus Christ and the Pharisees. Jesus’ new wine was being poured into the old wineskins and, just as the Lord prophesied, they were bursting. Either the new wine had to be bottled back up, or the fledgling followers of Jesus would have to become new wineskins, supplanting the old. On this issue Jesus lost the battle but won the war, at the cost of the cross.
Luke’s account of two Sabbath days taken together give us a good record of the conflict, the issues involved, and the infinite wisdom of Jesus. He is our Lord and guide for the Sabbath Day, Sunday, and every day. We should desire to spend all of our days with Jesus, especially the one we name after Him.
What Jesus Did Right on the Sabbath Day
About 1,400 years before the two Sabbath days depicted here, our triune God spoke these words in the fourth commandment given to and through Moses:
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 20:8-11
God ordained one day out of seven to be different. In keeping it, we become different people dedicated to God. Every seven days we are to refrain from our normal activities, gather with likeminded family and friends, and enjoy a day of holy worship and blessed rest. It is a divine commandment from our King, a written doctor’s excuse from our Great Physician, and a formal invitation to share in the celebration of the Lord. Jesus did it right.
Jesus spent Sabbaths in restful enjoyment with family and friends. Here we find them delighting in an impromptu picnic in a grain field. At this point in his life and ministry, Jesus’ biological family thought he was a little bit crazy, townsfolk were a little leery of Him, so His twelve spiritual disciples were his closest family and friends. The Sabbath day was a special day to enjoy their company and do things with them that were good and satisfying.
Jesus spent Sabbaths in the public worship of God. Sabbath days in the Old Covenant and Sundays in the New Covenant begin with the gathering of God’s people for the express purpose of worshiping God. Worshippers share His holy word, engage in the prescribed rituals or sacraments, offer prayers, sing praise, and give offerings. For some strange reason there have always been small circles of professing believers who are so enamored with individualism that they blow off this sacred commandment and divine opportunity. Jesus was not one of them. When you find Him in the Gospels on the Sabbath day, you find Him in a synagogue preaching, teaching, and otherwise worshiping God.
Already the text is telling us how to spend Sundays with Jesus. We are to make is a special day, spent with our spiritual family, delighting in public worship, resting in the joyful presence of the Lord. Stay tuned. God is watching. And, so are others.
What Jesus Did Wrong on the Sabbath Day (according to the Pharisees)
As previously pointed out, the Pharisees had by now put a tracking device on Jesus and spied on the Lord everywhere He went. They pulled out the binoculars on Sabbath days and watched closely as they waited for Him to do something wrong. They did not have to wait long.
Pharisees are fault-finders and fault-finders never fail to find fault. The Sabbath day was a good day to do it, too, for the Pharisees had taken one commandment of God and turned it into at least thirty-nine more. If someone did not do the Sabbath day their way, the Pharisees would nail them, quite literally in Jesus’ case.
Here is what the Lord did wrong on the Sabbath, according to the Pharisees. He engaged in farming and practiced medicine. The Christian farmers and physicians I have known always take Sundays off, except in case of an emergency. Jesus, the Lord of the harvest and the Great Physician, did likewise, although not in the illegitimate opinion of the ill mannered legalists. Though Jesus acquitted Himself well of their false charges, their fault-finding would continue to hound Him until the end of Jesus’ life.
My earliest days as a Christian were spent in the company of legalists. Far more than the careful exegesis of Scripture, I was taught rules and regulations, what to wear and what not to wear, where to go and where not to go, what to eat and drink and what not to eat and drink, who to hang out with and who not to hang out with, etc., etc. These prohibitions were loosely based on the word of God but were really nothing more than Pharisaical traditions. They robbed me of usefulness and joy and I will never put such prohibitions upon another child of God.
According to Jesus, if you want to pick some grain or go to the market on Sunday, go. If you want to medically or otherwise help somebody, help. If you want to dine at a restaurant, go to a store, play a little golf, catch a few fish, go, go, go. Just make sure you go somewhere else first, namely to a gathering of God’s people for the public worship of God. Worship and enjoyment, in that order, is what we should do to spend Sundays with Jesus.
What We Can Do to Spend Sundays with Jesus
Recognize the importance of one day every seven. Every day is holy unto the Lord, but Sunday is especially the Lord’s Day. God took a generation of forty years, from the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, to transition His people from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Before Christ, God’s people Israel spent the last day of the week in worship and rest. In Christianity, the first day of the week, Resurrection Day, the Lord’s Day, becomes the Christian Sabbath.
Once you recognize that Sunday is the Lord’s Day, you have to decide what you are going to do with it and on it. Since it is the Lord’s Day, I suggest you give it to the Lord. Worship Him, publicly and steadfastly, in the manner in which He has prescribed in the Bible. Fasten yourself to a people and place where, in Calvin’s infinite wisdom, the word is preached, the sacraments are observed, and the membership contains true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Do not fear if you are absent due to providential hindered of sickness, work, or travel. Only fear if you are absent due to lack of desire to gather with God’s people and worship God. A person who has no desire for the public worship of God has no desire for a personal relationship with God. A person who refuses to worship God because hypocrites are numbered with the people of God is himself a hypocritical, judgmental Pharisee. Christianity is indeed a saving relationship with God, not the ritualistic worship of God, but you cannot have one without the other. As Augustine said, “One cannot claim God as Father if they do not embrace the church as mother.”
Once your desire and duty for public worship has been quenched, spend the remainder of the day in heavenly rest and holy comforts. This day is God’s gift to you! Feel free, once you have pleased Him in worship, to enjoy yourself in any manner of rest and recreation that does not expressly contradict the word of God. The Pharisees may have collected a cadre of “thou shalt nots” for the Sabbath, but God really doesn’t have that many. If it glorifies God, blesses others, and pleases you, just do it, especially on Sundays.
Spending Sundays with Jesus should be holy, peaceful, and dare I say, fun. It should recharge your batteries, spiritual and mental and physical. It should improve your relationship with God and God’s people. It should serve to enlarge the very essences of life, the glory of the Lord, the benefit of others, and the image of God in you. Spend every Sunday with Jesus, and it is likely that you will spend every day with Jesus, for now and eternity.
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