A Sabbath Remains for the Weary
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Before we deal with the meat of this text, we must first ask an important question: What is the Sabbath? Forgive the shameless plug, but if you join us for our study of the book of Genesis on Sunday mornings, in a few weeks you’ll learn that the word “sabbath” means rest, and the observance of the Sabbath comes from the recorded account of creation. In Deuteronomy chapter five Moses repeats to the children of Israel the Law which God had delivered to Him: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” The teachers of the Law in Jesus’ day took this very seriously. So that the Sabbath day would not be dishonored, they set forth all sorts of restrictions regarding what could be done on the Sabbath. You could only do so much cooking on the Sabbath, for instance. You couldn’t transport goods. You could not harvest on the Sabbath. In fact, they even put a number on the steps a person could take on the Sabbath, to prevent a person from putting forth the amount of effort that would dishonor the Sabbath.
It should come as no surprise to us that Jesus would find Himself challenged regarding these restrictions. We don’t know if this was set up as a test, but while Jesus was with a group of the Pharisees, a man with dropsy came to Him. Today we call this “edema”, which is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body. Jesus knew that the Pharisees were watching Him closely. He asked them a simple question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” These men who made their livings with their mouths found themselves speechless. In fact, the Greek tells us that these men were not strong enough, not healthy enough, to answer. In focusing all of their attention to the details, the teachers of the Law missed the bigger picture. They were very good at teaching the letter of the law, but very poor at living the true spirit of the law. Any answer they gave would convict them. Since they would not respond, Jesus answered His own question—not with words, but with actions. He healed the man and sent him on his way.
So what is the Sabbath today? God Himself established the pattern for us to follow when He rested at the end of His week of work on the creation of the heavens and the earth. God blessed that day and declared it to be holy for us. Just like our Father, we children are to rest for a day from the labors of our hands and mouths and minds. So that means it’s the day to sleep in, or to get up early and go fishing, right? There is certainly nothing wrong with fishing or sleeping in or helping your neighbor paint his house, not even on a Sunday. Without a doubt, it’s eternally beneficial for your body and soul for you to receive the gifts of God when they are offered. That being said—and I hope I don’t regret saying this—you aren’t going to go to hell for missing one week of worship, even if it’s to go fishing. Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” So the Sabbath is about rest—godly rest. The Sabbath is a day of mercy, not a day of rules by which you may earn eternal life. But how often do we take our rest in things apart from Jesus? Why do we constantly seek our peace in worldly things to the exclusion of Jesus? When our Sabbath is constantly all about the Rams or Cardinals, when it is only about the comfort of our bodies, when our Sabbath is constantly opposed to the Word of God, it is then that we despise preaching and the Word of God. It is then that we stand silent with the Pharisees, when any word which we could utter would convict us.
With all that in mind, let us answer the question: Yes, it is, indeed, lawful to heal on the Sabbath. It is not against the law that God gave to His people concerning the Sabbath Day to bring healing to a sick person. It is not against God’s Law to do a good work for someone on the Sabbath. In fact, it is the very spirit of the law regarding the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day for healing. And more than that, the Sabbath is a day to remember deliverance. As we heard earlier from Deuteronomy, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm.” Jesus delivered the afflicted man from his disease, just as the Lord delivered the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, the Lord has delivered you from your bondage to sin and death. Those chains which held you in captivity to the power of the devil have been dissolved in the waters of Holy Baptism—the water combined with the Word of God which washes away the dreaded disease of sin. Instead of drowning in those waters, the Lord Himself pulls you out into new life in His name.
All of this is yours through the death and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf. He suffered the sickness of sin so that you would be healed. Because of His death, you receive new life, eternal life. We remember the Sabbath day as the day when Jesus rose from the dead, celebrating the healing He gives us in His body and blood. Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the Sabbath, for we receive our promised rest. As He did with the man with dropsy, He reaches out and touches you, blessing you and healing you with the forgiveness of your sins. And as forgiven children of God who have found rest in Him, we are ready for another week of labor in the midst of our various vocations—whether it’s labor for our daily wages, labor with husband or wife, parents or children, labor among our neighbors, whatever the labor may be. And we are blessed that we may receive a measure of that Sabbath rest every day, for we may return to our baptism daily to receive rest for our souls in His holy Word.
Just as it is lawful for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath, it is lawful for us to seek healing from Him on the Sabbath; for we know that He will graciously hear our prayer and deliver us. God grant that we always seek our rest in Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.