If you’ve been with us for a while you may have just had something of a deja vu experience. You might have wondered if I read the right passage. It wasn’t that long ago that we studied a passage that is almost identical to this one. Back in chapter 13 we encountered another controversial Sabbath healing. There was a woman who was bent over whom Jesus straightened.
So today we have another opportunity to talk about the Sabbath. You might be wondering what else there is to say since we covered that ground already. I have to say that I was kind of wondering that myself! For Jesus it was easy. He’s moved on to another city. So he can preach the same message again. Just like itinerate preachers, he can pull out the same message. I still got a lot of the same faces. I don’t have that luxury.
But I think you will agree that when it comes to the fourth commandment, there are some things that bear repeating—especially given the trends in our day. To be sure, there are a number of things that we can consider from this passage. Yes, there is certainly going to be some overlap. There are a number of lessons that we can draw from it. And perhaps a good place to start is by simply remembering important the fourth commandment is. As we look at this passage we cannot help but see how the principle of Sabbath Rest is reiterated.
I. Sabbath Rest is Reiterated by God’s messenger (Luke)
I just said that this is the second story that we’ve looked at where a healing takes place on a Sabbath. But the gospel of Luke has at least 4 stories that deal with the issue of Sabbath and how it is to be properly observed. And if you take into consideration all of the gospels, you will find that there are at least 8 passages which deal with the Sabbath.
I think that this is important to see. For I think this is the NT’s way of affirming the fourth commandment. It is true that the day of rest would change, but the principle is at least recognized as a true and enduring Christian principle.
Now, remember Luke’s audience. He’s writing to a Gentile, and he is seeking to disciple him. And it is likely that this Gentile needed to have some clarification on the importance of the fourth commandment. It’s likely that, like most Gentiles, he didn’t have a concept of setting aside his labors and giving over one day to the Lord.
It is also likely that he had a rather bad view of the Sabbath. The Gentiles didn’t like the Jews and their Sabbath. It was bad for business. They were often annoyed that these Jews wouldn’t come out and deal with them in the marketplace. They wouldn’t sell or buy that day. And so a lot of Gentiles thought these Jews were fools and they looked down on their religious observation.
So, I do not doubt that Luke wants to help his Gentile listeners recognize that the Lord Jesus upheld the fourth commandment. In repeating these things and showing how Jesus honored the Sabbath principle, he was communicating to his audience that they needed to do the same.
We need to recognize too that the fourth commandment is still incumbent upon us. A lot of people read this as Jesus’ way of saying that there is no Sabbath. They think that Jesus is telling these Pharisees to take the Sabbath and be rid of it once and for all.
I hope you recognize that is not what he is doing at all. He’s not abolishing it, he’s showing the proper place of the Sabbath. He’s clearing away all the junk that came to be associated with it, so that we might understand the propriety of Sabbath life.
I know I touched on this a few weeks ago, but given our society’s tendency to downgrade the Lord’s Day and corrupt everything that Sunday stands for, I think it is good to reiterate how we need to be obedient to this command.
Our day is a lot like Luke’s. We are surrounded by the hustle and bustle. We are tempted to disparage the Lord’s day at every turn. They’ve got the marketing that is trying to lure us out to the shopping malls. We have bosses who would like to see us get a few more hours in. Or we have bills that need to be paid, and oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little extra cash on hand.
But we have to remember that God calls us to unplug from all that one day a week. He commands us to rest.
Think about that. Usually it’s the other way around, isn’t it? Usually we hear the command to “work, work, work!” But God says, “Hey, take a minute here. Come sit with me. Let’s spend some time together.”
It’s interesting too that this was the significance of the Sabbath in the life of Israel.
If you are familiar with the Bible you know that the Sabbath was instituted way back at the creation. God rested on the 7th day, and he set it as a pattern for us. But you know, the Sabbath doesn’t really become a big thing until the time of Moses. You don’t hear a lot about the Sabbath until the book of Exodus. That’s not to say that it didn’t exist prior to the Exodus. But it didn’t become a big issue until Moses’ time.
That’s because the Lord made it a big issue at that time. The Sabbath was kind of repackaged and reintroduced at Mt Saini. It became emblematic of the covenant God made with his people there. Why? Because it was an emblem of their freedom. They could finally rest!
Imagine what it would have been like living as a slave in Egypt. Every day was Monday! You worked, and worked and worked, and it is likely that you never had a day of rest. Imagine, for the first time in your life, you were commanded to rest. Every day you up to this the only command you were given was “WORK!” Now, your master was commanding you to “rest.”
No wonder it became the chief expression of God’s covenant at Saini. Sabbath is a sign of freedom. It is a sign that they were not in bondage.
The same is true for you. God wants you to know that you are not to be bound to your work. God has given you the liberty to stop. You are free! You are free to rest. And most of all, you’re independence means you can have fellowship with the Lord.
So that’s the first thing we need to do. We need to understand that Sabbath rest is mandated by God. And you might want to take some time this afternoon, while you are resting, to think more about what that implies.
But I want you to see something else. When we look at this passage, we not only see how the Sabbath is reiterated by this text, we see how it is regulated by God’s law.
II. Sabbath Rest is Regulated by God’s word
The first three verses of our passage remind us of this. It begins by telling us that Jesus was at this dinner party and behold, there was a man with dropsy. Now, he might well have been planted there by the Pharisees. It says in verse 1 that “they were watching him carefully.” In other words, they wanted to catch him.
The word here for watching carefully has something of a sinister intent to it. It is like a state trooper out on the highway. The trooper isn’t out there because he likes to watch cars go by. He’s watching with the intent of catching them. Anyone spotted going over the speed limit is going to be pulled over immediately.
That’s they way the Pharisees were watching Jesus. So it may likely be that these Pharisees planted this man here because they knew Jesus would be moved to compassion and would likely heal him.
What does Jesus do? He heals the guy. But prior to that you’ll notice that he puts a question to them. In verse 3 He asks them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” And you will notice that they do not answer him. Verse 4 says that they remained silent. One might make a case that it could be translated, “They remained motionless.”
Now these guys were the experts in the law. They knew what the law said. They also knew what their traditions said. Over time, they came to say that if one was not in danger of dying, then you should refrain from doing anything to help him until the next day.
You understand that their intention was originally good. They had tried to keep people from breaking the law. They wanted people to rest. But they took it too far, and they ended up adding to the word of God. And the commands of man overshadowed the commands of God. It took away from the liberty that God grants in his word.
That’s why I say that the Sabbath rest is regulated by God’s word. It is not regulated by man’s word. Our consciences are not to be bound by any rules other than the Lord’s.
The word of God grants us a great deal of liberty. There is freedom in God’s restrictions. But whenever we go beyond the Scriptures, we begin to intrude on that liberty.
This whole ordeal with the mandated healthcare is one example of this. God doesn’t require you to have health insurance. It may be a good idea, and, depending on your situation, it might not. But God doesn’t require it of you. You are free to buy it, and you are free to do otherwise.
But along comes lord Obama and he says, “Thou shalt have healthcare.” Now, you’re liberty is lost, isn’t it? You are now bound to his law.
We have to understand we have a tendency to do this. We overstep our bounds and intrude upon God’s law and the freedom that it offers. For instance, we all know that family worship is important. It is important for a man to lead his family by having devotions with them—praying with them and reading the Scriptures. But if I came along and said, “It’s got to be after dinner every night.” Then I’ve gone too far. I’ve overstepped my boundaries. I’ve just put a restriction on you that God does not permit.
When we do that kind of thing, we are sinning. It is called, “becoming the lord of someone’s conscience.” We are setting ourselves up as god and becoming a tyrant. And Scripture does not allow us to play God.
What Jesus does here is really re-emphasize the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. No traditions, no personal whims, no “good ideas” are allowed to supersede Scripture. In everything we do we need to make Christ the Lord of the conscience.
We are coming up on Reformation Day, and you will remember that this idea of binding the conscience was part and parcel with that. Martin Luther, when he looked into the Word of God, he saw things like, “Justification by faith alone.” And so he began to speak out against things like indulgences and penances and all the other theatrics associated with the Catholic Church. Then, when he was summonsed to the Diet of Worms, he was threatened and told to recant. And this is how he replied, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest evidence...I cannot and will not retract, for to act contrary to our conscience is neither good nor safe. Here I stand. God help me! Amen!”
Those words were his way of saying, “No pope or king can tell me what to believe and do, save king and head of the Church: Jesus Christ.”
Jesus basically does the same right here. He’s reacting against the tyranny of the Pharisaical order. No one can regulate your conscience except God. It is his word alone that must govern our thoughts and actions.
The Sabbath is a sign of our liberty, and no one has the liberty to bind our conscience.
But look what comes next. In the next part of the passage we see more liberty. We see the truest form of liberty in the healing that occurs. Or at least a picture of it. We might say that the principle of Sabbath rest is not only reiterated and regulated, but it is also demonstrated by God’s Son.
III. Sabbath Rest is Demonstrated by God’s Son
Think about this poor fellow and how he is a perfect demonstration of the rest that the Lord affords. He’s been suffering from dropsy, what we call enema today. It is when certain parts of your body swell with fluid. Oftentimes it occurs when your internal organs are beginning to shut down. So this man, is likely dying. And, back in that day, people would have associated this with some sort of sin.
Here is a man who has been in bondage to this affliction. He’s no doubt in pain. Likely, he wouldn’t have been allowed to go into the temple. He is probably seen as one who is cursed of God.
In every way this man is a picture of who we are in our sins. We have an internal problem—we call it evil. Because of it we are cut off from the presence of God, and we are under the condemnation of death.
And what does Jesus do? He heals him. He sets him free. That’s what the text says in verse 4. My version says that Jesus “took him, and healed him and sent him away.” But literally it could say that Jesus took him passionately, made him whole and set at liberty. He was a free man. He had been delivered from his bondage. He had become a living demonstration of the Sabbath.
Really, I like what the original language says a lot more. I’m not sure our English versions do this justice. Mine says that Jesus “took him and healed him.” The word actually means “to take vigorously” or “to seize upon.” He grabbed him passionately. I think it means he hugged him.
That’s really getting at the compassion that Christ is trying to show here. The Pharisees used this guy as bait. To them this sickly fellow was nothing other than a lure to reel Jesus in on. He was a guinea pig for their little experiment.
But to Christ, he was an object of love. He was one who received compassion and mercy.
And the words that he speaks in verse 5 are something of a confirmation of this. He says, “You guys wouldn’t hesitate to help your animals if they got caught in a hole. You’d do everything in your power to set it free. You have compassion there. But here’s a man who needs compassion.
And that is what Jesus affords to sinners like us. Jesus is one who has compassion on people like us; people who have offended him and rebelled against him. And he came to set us free from the bondage of sin and death. He offers us liberty from our sins. Through him we can live life the way it is supposed to be lived and have the chains of death broke. He gives us the freedom to live for eternity.
If you’ve been living in bondage to your sin, look at Jesus here. And know that he can liberate you.
There is one more lesson we need to take from this passage though. When it comes to the Sabbath, we’ve seen how it is reiterated by God’s messenger, it is regulated by God’s law, it is demonstrated by God’s Son. But our text reminds us that the Sabbath is repudiated by God’s enemies.
IV. Sabbath Rest is Repudiated by God’s enemies
It’s interesting how the Pharisees are presented in this passage. They seem to be “resting” throughout the passage. The first verse says they were watching him. They are not moving about, they are just watching. Then the very middle of the passage, in verse 4, it says that they remained silent. They were just sitting there, motionless. Now look what it says in verse 6. At the end of the passage it says “they could not reply to these things.” Literally it reads, “They were not able to reply.” They didn’t have the capacity to speak. Their tongues were completely immobile.
These Pharisees had a warped view of the Sabbath. And here they are shown to be “at rest”—completely unable to move or speak. You might say they are comatose. Their Sabbath is one of deadness.
That’s exactly what is going on here. You understand that in settings this trap, they didn’t question Jesus’ ability to heal. They had no doubts about his willingness to heal and the depths of his compassion. In other words, they recognized that he was the Son of God! He had divine power and divine attributes. But their tongues refused to confess him.
You know, the swelling that typically occurs in dropsy is usually malleable. It is really soft. If you push you finger into it, you can actually leave an impression in the skin.
But these guys here are presented to us as hardened— extremely hardened against Christ. They were the ones who were swollen--swollen with pride. They could not bring themselves to confess that Christ was their Lord.
As a result of their repudiating Christ, they were left in a comatose state. They were not permitted to take part in the rest—the freedom, the life!—that Christ affords.
Would you be careful not to let the same be true of you.
May your heart be soft towards Christ and receptive to his grace. And may you take possession of the true and eternal rest that he affords.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.