Tag Archives: sabbath

Today’s Scripture – January 16, 2018

Luke 14:1-6 (NIV) One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him away.
Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” And they had nothing to say.

Jesus had several run-ins of this kind with the Pharisees over His healing on the Sabbath. Jesus saw nothing wrong with it, but the Pharisees listed healing as an activity that they always considered work, hence one that was not allowed on the Sabbath.

The situation that day was a total setup, and Jesus knew it. It would be extremely rare for someone with dropsy, extensive fluid retention, to be on the Sabbath dinner guest list. And the fact that the dinner guests were watching Jesus carefully showed that this was an orchestrated meeting – a trap.

Far from shying away from the conflict, Jesus actively entered into it as a teachable moment. And He did that by cutting right to the chase, asking the key question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” Everyone in the room remained silent. They couldn’t say yes and be consistent with their own theology. But if they said no, they could end up deterring Jesus from healing the man, and spring their own trap on empty air. So they sat there silently.

Jesus allowed just a few seconds before He touched the man, instantly healing him, then sending him on his way home. The man had just received a great blessing, but it was not necessary that he be part of the conversation that would follow.

Jesu’s point was made again with a single question that attacked the heart of the Sabbath controversy. If a child or an ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, nobody, even the staunchest Pharisee, would refuse to pull it out. The life of a child was precious; an ox was valuable – one’s whole livelihood could depend on it. So they all would definitely pull either one out of the well immediately, Sabbath or no Sabbath. The point was immediately clear: there was scant difference between saving the life of a precious being who had fallen into a well, and saving the life of a precious being who had fallen into a desperate illness or demon possession. If the one was okay, logically the other had to be okay as well.

The dinner guests realized that they had lost the argument without even entering into it. They silence now was not out of rebellion, but out of frustration. There really was nothing left for them to say.

Father, Your priority is always quite clear: loving people. Not a doting love that refuses to acknowledge or punish sin (that would violate Your justice), but a love that most naturally results in good being done to the bodies and souls of people seven days a week, with You acting directly in some cases, and through the hands of Your people in others. Help us to never limit what You are wanting to do, to never put You into a box of our own prejudices or rules, but simply to love others with Your love every day. Amen.


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Today’s Scripture – January 10, 2018

Luke 13:10-17 (NIV) On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

The conflicts between Jesus and the religious leaders over Sabbath rules continues. Even though Jesus healed on the Sabbath on several occasions, breaking the Sabbath rules that the rabbis had enacted over the centuries before, He never broke the Sabbath the way that God designed it. He did not pursue His livelihood on the Sabbath. But He did consciously act on God’s agenda.

In this case, it was God’s will to heal this crippled woman who had come to the synagogue to worship Him and to hear Jesus teach. She had not come to be healed, and indeed had no expectations that a healing was in store for her. She had been profoundly crippled for eighteen long years, and had simply resigned herself to the fact that she would be crippled like that for the rest of her life.

As usual, Jesus did not heal her in a corner, which would have been safer for Himself, but which would have brought no glory to God the Father. Instead, He called her to the front of the synagogue, proclaimed her free of her infirmity, and placed His hands on her. The wholeness flowed through her and healed her instantaneously, and the now upright woman praised God for her healing.

The synagogue ruler was not indignant that Jesus had healed the woman, but that He had done so on the Sabbath. But Jesus pointed out to him and to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who were there that, according to their own definitions, they themselves did “work” on the Sabbath every time they fed and watered their animals. They untied them, freeing them from the constraints that prevented them from obtaining the food and water that they needed, and led them out to where food and water could be obtained. In a very real sense, what Jesus had done was similar, unbinding the woman from her long-standing disability that was severely limiting her life and her ability to get what she needed on her own.

Jesus’ answer stymied His critics. He was simply right, and they were simply wrong, and they knew it. They had no comeback, so they merely sat in silence as the people around them rejoiced over what Jesus was accomplishing.

Father, we can still get mired in our own rules, and end up limiting what  You can do through us because it doesn’t fit with our preconceptions of who You are and how You operate today. Help us to broaden our minds, to listen carefully to Your voice and, when You speak, simply obey without invoking a lot of rules and limitations. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 2, 2017

Luke 6:6-11 (NIV) On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

The Pharisees were bound up in their own definition of what work was to be avoided on the Sabbath. They had even decided that if someone cut their hand on the Sabbath, a bandage could be applied to control the blood, but no salve could be put on the wound until the Sabbath was over, because that could promote healing, and healing was considered work to be avoided on that one day each week. That’s why they were watching Jesus so closely. If He healed this man with the withered hand, they considered that doing work on the Sabbath, and they could then dismiss Jesus as a Sabbath-breaker, and a sinner.

Jesus knew that this was their line of thinking. He also knew that it was God’s intention to heal that man on that day. Jesus was not the kind of person to do the work of the Lord in secret, so He decided to confront the issue head-on.

He began by calling the man with the shriveled hand to the front, so that what He was doing could be seen by all. Then He confronted the Pharisees directly, challenging them to publicly declare what they believed was permissible on the Sabbath: to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy life. Mark tells us (3:4) that they all remained silent. They weren’t even going to go on record as saying that it was okay to do good on the Sabbath, or to save a life, because that would possibly compromise their stand on healing on the Sabbath!

Their silence irritated Jesus, but it didn’t sway Him from His determination to follow through with what the Father had called Him to do. But HOW He did it really threw a wrench into the plans of the Pharisees. He simply commanded the man to stretch out his hand as if it were whole. He didn’t touch the man. He didn’t pray over him. He didn’t even speak a word of healing. Just “Stretch out your hand.” And when the man obeyed, the healing was instantaneous; the hand was made whole and was easily stretched out.

But this left the Pharisees in a terrible spot. They couldn’t really accuse Jesus of the healing, because none of His actions could be considered that kind of “work.” Simply telling the man to stretch out his hand wasn’t work, and neither was the man stretching out his hand in obedience. And the fact that the healing had actually happened left them open to the dreaded possibility that God Himself had done the healing on the Sabbath, which threatened to undermine their whole theological integrity on this issue.

But instead of reacting in an honest questioning of their beliefs that could have led them deeper into the truth, they dug their heels in out of anger, and determined that Jesus had to be destroyed.

Father, none of us likes to have our theology challenged, especially to have it challenged publicly. It makes us feel unsure and insecure. But if we stubbornly dig in our heels instead of coming to You and to Your word in an honest seeking after the truth, we run the risk of closing ourselves off to what You are trying to show us, to how You are challenging us to grow. Help me to always stay open to all of the light that You want to reveal to me, so that I can continue to be shaped and molded by Your word. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 1, 2017

Luke 6:1-5 (NIV) One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

The Pharisees had ringed the Sabbath with a whole suite of rules to ensure that people didn’t inadvertently sin by doing some kind of work on that day. They had rules for how far a person could walk on the Sabbath before it crossed the line and became work, as well as long lists of forbidden activities.

The Pharisees were not worried that the disciple were stealing grain. A hungry person was actually allowed to pull off heads of grain in someone else’s field, as long as they didn’t use a sickle (Deuteronomy 23:25), or to pull grapes off a vine to eat, as long as they didn’t put any into a basket to take away (Deuteronomy 23:24). But, to the Pharisees, pulling the heads of grain off constituted harvesting; rubbing the chaff off the grain constituted winnowing; and chewing the raw grains constituted grinding flour; all of which were, according to them, classified as work, and therefore not allowed on the Sabbath.

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t argue with them about their interpretation of the law. He turned their attention instead to another instance where God allowed a clear need to be met in spite of the rules. In this instance (1 Samuel 21:1-6), David was fleeing from Saul and had no supplies for him and his men. He approached Ahimelech the priest at Nob, asking for any food that might be available. All the priest had was the bread of the presence which had just been replaced with fresh loaves that day. Normally only the priests could eat that bread, but Ahimelech allowed David and his men to eat it, actually sacrificing his own food because of their apparent need.

Jesus’ point was not that God’s clear commands don’t matter. His point was that if God was willing to relax a rule in order to meet a genuine human need out of compassion, the Pharisees should be willing to do the same with their own rules regarding what was permissible on the Sabbath.

Father, it’s clear that this wasn’t primarily about permission to break rules or commandments (You don’t, for instance, approve of stealing, even by a hungry person), but about compassion for genuine need, and about being willing to receive Your gracious provision, even on the Sabbath. You are a great and compassionate God, and I praise You today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 1, 2016

Matthew 12:9-14 (NIV) Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
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?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
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.  But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees over the rules for the Sabbath.

The original command for the Sabbath is short and simple (Exodus 20:8-11).  The rhythm of six days of work followed by one day of rest was embedded into creation when God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.

The focus of the Sabbath was not on rule-keeping; it was on rest and worship, on refocusing one’s life on God and all of the blessings that He has given.  But it wasn’t long before people began to ignore God’s call to devote themselves to rest and attention to Him one full day each week; to leave their livelihoods in God’s hands and leave their quest for financial security, focusing instead on their relationship with Him, and the spiritual security that can only come from that relationship.  Instead they began to see the Sabbath as a wasted opportunity.  So, ignoring the command to rest and refocus, they treated the Sabbath as just another day to do business.  Many attended synagogue or went to the temple first, but then they went to work.

In a real sense, the sin of these Sabbath breakers was a form of idolatry – allowing the pursuit of more supplant their devotion to God.  And for that idolatry, the people experienced penalties.

In an effort to build strong walls around the fourth commandment, the Pharisees and teachers of the law had compiled volumes detailing exactly what would constitute “work” on the Sabbath, so that people would have clear guidelines.  They developed a list of 39 categories of prohibited work activities, each with numerous sub-categories and finely detailed interpretations.

This complex list was developed with good intentions, to keep people from sinning on the Sabbath, but its ultimate effect went far beyond what God intended, and ultimately made the Sabbath a chore and a hardship for the people, rather than a joyful and restful respite from their normal routines.

Jesus confronted the situation head-on.  When asked if it was lawful for someone to heal on the Sabbath (the Pharisees’ rules said no, unless it was absolutely life-threatening), and presented with a man with a withered, paralyzed hand (which was not life-threatening), He approached it pragmatically, trying to help them to see the errors of their way of thinking.

No one thought that it was wrong to pull a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath.  Sheep were valuable.  Jesus made the point that, in God’s sight, people were far more valuable than sheep.  If it is okay with God to do good to a sheep on the Sabbath, it is far more okay with Him to do good to a person.

Jesus’ final act completely stymied the Pharisees who were looking for a reason to accuse Him.  Instead of touching the man or speaking specific words of healing, He merely told the man to stretch out the hand that was shriveled and lifeless.  And when the man did, his hand was miraculously healed.  Unfortunately for the Pharisees, Jesus had done nothing that could be considered “healing”.  Telling someone to stretch out their hand on the Sabbath wasn’t forbidden, even by them.  So they went away frustrated, plotting some other way to trap and kill Him.

Father, left to our own devices we do tend to make things more complicated than they need to be, more effort than they need to be, and so often miss out on the blessings of rest and restoration that You want to give us.  Help us, Lord, to be simpler in our obedience, like children, just walking in Your ways, without trying to build so many extra safeguards into our faith.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 28, 2016

Matthew 12:1-7 (NIV) At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  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.  Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?  I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.  If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

Right on cue, the Pharisees provided an opportunity for Jesus to show clearly the contrast between His light and easy yoke and the hard, burdensome yoke that the Pharisees insisted on putting on people (cf. Matthew 11:28-30).  The disciples were doing nothing wrong.  In fact, the law actually allowed hungry travelers to pick grain and fruit from the fields, orchards, and vineyards they passed, as long as they only picked what they could eat on the spot (Deuteronomy 23:24-25).

What the Pharisees were objecting to was that the disciples were (by the Pharisees’ definition, not God’s) breaking the laws against doing work on the Sabbath.  By their definition, picking grain was harvesting (even though they had no sickle, and were merely picking a few grain heads to eat on their way), rubbing the kernels in their hands to remove the hulls was threshing, and chewing the grains was milling, using their teeth to grind the grain into flour.

The Pharisees wanted Jesus to call His disciples on what they saw as the heinous sin of Sabbath breaking.  But Jesus wasn’t going to do that.  He knew that the rules they were referencing were man’s rules that had made the Sabbath an onerous duty, not the real, God-given commands that were designed to allow man to rest from his labors one day each week.

Instead, Jesus gave the Pharisees two illustrations to show how God’s rules were more flexible and adaptive than those that had been added by people.  The first happened when David was fleeing from King Saul, and had to flee so quickly that he had no time to gather supplies for himself and his men.  The priest, Ahimelech, gave him the consecrated bread that only the priests could legally eat. (1 Samuel 21:6).  But God wasn’t so hard and fast on his rules that people were required to go hungry when there was perfectly good bread right inside His tabernacle.

The second illustration is taken from the fact that the priests do their work of leading prayers and making sacrifices in the temple, even on the Sabbath, but God didn’t count that as a violation of the Sabbath laws.  When faced with a choice of obeying God’s command to make the Sabbath sacrifices, or obeying the Sabbath law that forbids them working on the Sabbath, they chose, correctly, to obey the work that God had called them to.

Jesus pointed these Pharisees to the words God spoke through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:6), that God wanted His people to reflect His character by showing mercy to others even more than he wanted their sacrifices.  (Also see Isaiah 10:11-20.)  When these Pharisees saw their rules as more important than caring about the hunger of the disciples, they betrayed a heart that was massively different from God’s heart.  And, unless they softened their hearts, it would prove to be their undoing.

Father, we can be really good at keeping the rules, and still have hard hearts toward others that completely negate any good that comes from our keeping the rules.  Soften our hearts, Lord, so that they are filled with mercy, just like Your heart.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 26, 2015

John 5:16-20 (NIV):  So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.

The Jewish leaders were so focused on the fact that Jesus had broken their rules about the Sabbath that they completely missed the big picture.  Instead of rejoicing over the fact that God had miraculously healed a man through Jesus, a man who had been an invalid for 38 years, they were incensed because the healing at taken place at the wrong time.

Jesus tried to help them to understand what they were missing.  Jesus was not a lone wolf, an independent agent.  As a member of the Trinity, He always acted in unity with God the Father.  If He healed a person, it was not just His idea; He was working in concert with the Father.  If He did that healing on the Sabbath, it was because the Father had decided that the Sabbath was the right time for the healing to take place.  And if Jesus was obeying the Father, then His actions in no way broke the Sabbath laws as the Father prescribed them, and was in no way sin.

God’s focus for the Sabbath was not simply to avoid any and all activity, but to change the focus of a person’s activities to Him and His agenda.  Every one of God’s people was to cease their normal work for one full day every week, entrusting their livelihoods to Him.  They were to leave their businesses in His care, and even leave their crops in His care for a full day, even during the plowing and harvest seasons (cf. Exodus 34:21), entrusting even their food supply to Him.  For a full day they were to put aside the concerns of their lives, and focus entirely on God and His agenda.

Admittedly, it is simpler for people to simply “outlaw” all activities on the Sabbath.  But even on the Sabbath God is still speaking, still working to save people, to draw people closer to Himself.  Instead of merely being a day of inactivity, Jesus properly understood the Sabbath as a day set aside completely to God, to focus wholeheartedly on His agenda, His will, unclouded by the day-to-day concerns of life.

It is this focus which leads to what some might see as contradictions.  The same devotion to God and His Sabbath that would cause a person to close His business on that day would also cause him or her to obey God’s call to heal a person, or make time to take them to the hospital.  The same devotion that would cause them to not mow their law on the Sabbath would also cause them to obey God’s call to mow the lawn of a sick or disabled neighbor.

The key point of the Sabbath is not to count the number of steps that we walk, but to take the steps that God directs us to take.  It is not about how heavy a load we should carry, but about carrying the load that God directs us to carry.  If the Father Himself had not directed Jesus to the pool of Bethesda to heal this long-disabled man, the man would not have been healed.

As always, to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention better than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22b).  The rules which the Jewish leaders had erected around God’s Sabbath actually had the effect of blinding them to God’s leading and making them deaf to God’s voice for one full day each week – a malady that did NOT afflict Jesus.

Father, this points out that You are still present and active in our world today, guiding and directing Your people seven days a week.  We know that You will not contradict today what You said in Your word – You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.  But, as Jesus understood, as He experienced and lived out in His obedience to Your voice, obeying Your direction to minister to others, to heal, to evangelize, and to help someone to grow in their knowledge and experience of You will never violate Your commandments – even on the Sabbath.  Amen.

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