Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 17, 2014
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it 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 how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And 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 of the Sabbath.” He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” — so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “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? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
— Matthew 12:1-14, ESV
What you say about Sunday says a lot about you. It does not tell it all, but it tells a pretty good tale. Since Sunday is the first day of the week, how you spend it reveals what, or who, gets first place in your life.
While the Scriptures teach that every day is special and holy to the Lord, there has always been a certain day that is especially holy to the Lord. At the beginning of the Old Testament it is called the “Sabbath,” and by the end of the New Testament it is called “the Lord’s Day.” Under the Old Covenant, the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, from sunset Friday to sunset on Saturday. Under the New Covenant, the Lord’s Day is the first day of the week, Sunday, and throughout Christian history it has been referred to as the Christian Sabbath.
Jesus Christ is Lord, Savior, and the bridge between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. So it is interesting to look in the Bible and see how He observed the old Sabbath Day and inaugurated the Christian Sabbath, or the Lord’s Day. The first mention of Jesus on a Sabbath is here in this text. It provides fascinating details and sparks a controversy that will take Him to the cross and the empty tomb, the same tomb from which He arose on the very first Lord’s Day.
Jesus Kept the Sabbath
The picture of our Savior on this Sabbath Day is fairly typical of what any God-fearing Jew would have done on just about any Sabbath Day. I dare say it is not unlike what you might observe a devout Christian doing on a Sunday. The Lord of the Sabbath was keeping the Sabbath Day holy, as we should keep the Lord’s day.
Jesus went out to eat, albeit to a grainfield instead of a restaurant. He took time to help someone in need, healing the crippled man. He engaged in a conversation about Holy Scripture, including Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 23:25, 1 Samuel 21:1-6, Jeremiah17:27, and chiefly Hosea 6:6. And all of this took place because Jesus took the time to travel to a local synagogue for public worship. This day was not without controversy, not without difficulty, but you could not say it was not a Sabbath Day well spent. This is how our Lord kept the Sabbath, in public worship and all of its peripherals.
This is also how Christians should keep the Lord’s Day. Everything should revolve around our privilege and duty to gather together in a public place of worship, according to Hebrews 10:25 and many other passages in the New Testament. We should enjoy meals, in or out, with family and friends. We should engage ourselves in serious Bible study. We should be sensitive to opportunities to help people, especially those in our own church. But most of all, we should give our attendance and attention to our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who is Lord of all, especially the Lord’s Day!
And by the way, there were hypocrites where Jesus went to church, too.
The Pharisees Used the Sabbath
The Pharisees in the Gospels were perhaps the worst hypocrites of all time. They were judgmental, prideful, sinful, and just plain full of, well, you know. They used religion as a means for personal gain, and gained personally by trumping tradition over truth as a means to control other people.
In this case, they had taken one of God’s ten commandments (the fourth and longest one regarding the Sabbath), and turned it into thirty-nine major commandments with a plethora of sub-commandments under them. Because of their twisted traditions, Jesus was accused that day of practicing farming (plucking grain) and medicine (healing a man) without a license to do so on a Sabbath. Please remember that Jesus was breaking their law, not God’s law. And Jesus deftly pointed out by quoting the prophet Hosea that covenant love is more important than commandment keeping, although the former usually leads to the latter.
But here is where the plot turns sinister. Because Jesus broke their traditional misunderstanding of God’s word, they did not just disagree with Him, they did not merely break fellowship with Him, the Pharisees devised a plot to try to kill Him. The major issue at hand had less to do with commandments and more to do with control.
Religious hypocrites love to control other people. The Pharisees devised their own system of do’s and don’t’s for the Sabbath, for whoever controlled the Sabbath controlled the people. Jesus’ right keeping of the Sabbath threatened their wrongful control, so they wanted to kill Jesus. It happens today when Baptist Deacons devise their own system of do’s and don’t’s for the church, so that they can control other people. When a good pastor begins to show people the right way to worship and serve God, they want to fire or destroy the pastor. It may be Pharisees, it may be Deacons, it may be a small group of men, or even a couple of old ladies. But certain people in the church love to have control over other people. If you get in their way they will get you, unless the Jesus-followers outnumber the Pharisees.
As true as the text makes this point, it is still not the main point I want to make today. Jesus gives us a glimpse of the proper way to keep the Lord’s Day, even if it involves associating with hypocrites. The hypocrites show us how not to use the Sabbath and other sacred things. But they all combine to give us a monumentally important lesson about Sundays and control. How you control the use of your Sundays reveals what or who is in control of your life.
How You Keep or Use the Sabbath Says a Lot About You
God the Son served God the Father seven days a week, not just one day in seven. But making the Sabbath Day and public worship a priority set the tone for every other day of the week. Jesus demonstrated how to love and worship God on this day, and every other day. The Pharisees destroyed Jesus for demonstrating the hypocrisy of their ways. Jesus kept the Sabbath to please God. The Pharisees used the Sabbath to please themselves.
The question now for each one of us is, are we Sabbath keepers like Jesus or Sabbath users like the Pharisees? Does God control our lives, do others control our lives, or do we try to control it ourselves apart from God? A close look at how we keep or use the Christian Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, will tell the tale.
If you keep the Lord’s Day for the public worship of God, this says a lot about you. It says, quite likely, that God is in control of your life, that Jesus is Lord. It does not say it definitively, for hypocrites as hard as the Pharisees still abound even in the best churches. But putting a priority on Sunday worship says your priorities may well be in order. A Christian Sabbath should be a gift from the Christian to God and a gift from God to the Christian. Worship is first, but there is still plenty of opportunity for food and family, rest and recreation, and other joyful pursuits that glorify God and are good for people. And God, who is by no means a legalist, will not strike you with lightning if you miss on occasional Lord’s Day worship service for providential means of hinderance like work, travel, or certain personal concerns. Temper duty with grace, and grace with duty, and always be mindful to Whom you owe your highest devotion.
If you use the Lord’s Day for work and earning wages, this says a lot about you. It does not definitely say if you are a godly person or an ungodly person, for only God knows the heart, mind, and motives in most cases. The Bible is set in agrarian times, while the modern world runs on an industrial and service-oriented scale. Today, some of the Lord’s best people have to spend some Lord’s Days at the factory, hospital, or other businesses that requires 24/7 attention. You do not sin against God if God has called you to a vocation that requires some work on Sundays. After all, I, as a Pastor, work every Sunday! But, if you chose to work on the Lord’s Day simply to make more money, then money, not the Lord, is in control of your life.
The same thing can be said about lesser things, even good things, that are not as good as God. If you uses the Lord’s Day consistently for sleep and rest at the expense of public worship, then, you lazy dog, sleep and rest control your life. If you blow off worship and use the Lord’s Day consistently to play or watch sports, go shopping, etc., for your own pleasure, then your own pleasure, not God’s pleasure, is controlling your life. If you use the Lord’s Day frequently to visit or host family members at the expense of visiting with your local church members in worship, as precious as family is, then family, not God, is in control of your life.
Whoever or whatever controls your Lord’s Day controls your life. Don’t let it be a bunch of bad Pharisees. Don’t let it be a bunch of good family and friends. Don’t let it be yourself. Don’t let it be lesser things. Let it be God. For when God controls your Sunday, whether it be spent with your church or some other divine appointment, God is in control of your life.