SABBATH REST

[Jn. 5:1-47; Mark 2:23-28; Mt. 12:1-21; Lk. 6:1-11; Mk. 3:1-6]

Today’s readings from the gospel contain something that has puzzled me for a while. Three times in these readings Jesus confronts the religious leaders on the issue of the Sabbath. Is Jesus — the one who “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21) — breaking the Law of Moses when he does so?

To solve this puzzle, we have to look at the command of the Sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11. The command has two directives: to cease from our labors (“Shabbat” Ex.20:10), and to rest (“Nuach” Ex.20:11). That second directive—to rest—can also have the sense of settling down or being quiet. So the purpose of the Sabbath was not only to stop working, but to rest in communion with God; or as a contemporary Jewish author puts it, “to construct a palace in time, a dimension in which the human is at home with the divine.”1 Beautiful!

But the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had twisted the Sabbath law, emphasizing the “don’t work” part and pushing aside the “rest in communion with God” part—the part that truly mattered. Is it any wonder that when Jesus—God the Son—intrudes on the scene, He sets about to restore this Law to its true intent? Here are some things the religious leaders were getting wrong from our readings:

* As God, Jesus created the Sabbath and has authority over it (Matt. 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 3:5)
* God works—even on the Sabbath—and Jesus does as well (John 5:17-20)
* The Sabbath is for our benefit, but it is not intended to be our master (Mark 2:27)
* Showing compassion and care should absolutely override the “don’t work” part of the Sabbath (Luke 6:6-10)
* Holiness / sanctification laws are about the state of the heart, and the state of your walk with God (Matt. 12:3-4, Mark 2:25-26, Luke 3:3-4; Matt. 12:5)

As followers of Christ, let us pursue that true Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:1-16): a rest and communion with God, knowing that He has given us the mercy and grace to help in our time of need.


1 Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath, Its Meaning for the Modern Man. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

by Erik Brommers, Elder

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