Summary: God’s commandments aren’t to be a burden to us; they are principles help us enjoy life. And when we trust His Word, we experience His life-changing power.
For the past year we’ve been studying the Parables and Miracles of Jesus in the Gospel According to Matthew. In this passage today, we are going to consider a Sabbath parable and in the next message we’ll consider the Sabbath miracle. Many people are confused about the idea of the Sabbath. Are we to observe the Sabbath Day rules the Jews follow to this day? Or is Sunday the Sabbath for us? If so, is it wrong to work or play golf on Sunday? Hopefully, by the end of this message you’ll have an answer to these and other questions about the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:1-14. “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. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ 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.”
Years ago there was a crisis in Holland. As you know, much of the land in Holland lies below sea level but the Dutch have reclaimed the land by constructing an ingenious system of dikes and canals (maybe that’s where my family name originated) to hold back the seawater. On one particular Sunday, storms raised the water level to a dangerous height and the water threatened to overflow the dikes and flood a particular city, ruining the crops. Many residents went to the dikes to add sandbags but there were too few workers to stop the rising tide.
The local constable appealed to the local Dutch Reform Church for help. He knew there were hundreds of able-bodied men who could make the difference. He went to the church to persuade the members to come and help. The elders quickly met and decided it would be sinful to break the Sabbath rules by working on Sunday. The constable appealed to the elders to change their minds and help with the work. He referred them to this very passage we just read in Matthew 12. He pointed out that Jesus broke the Sabbath rules of His day for the good of others. The reply of the chief elder is classic. He said, “Yes, and I have always had a hard time accepting what Jesus did on the Sabbath, too!” That would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. The town flooded and most of the crops were ruined, but many of the Christians felt pious because they hadn’t desecrated the Sabbath Day. Let’s learn something about this Sabbath Parable and Sabbath Miracle.
A SABBATH PARABLE: A LAMB IN A PIT
Jesus was baffled at the attitude of the Pharisees. He said, “If your lamb falls into a pit, you’ll get it out, but you won’t move a finger to help a suffering person.” There are four truths we should learn about the Sabbath.
(1) The Jews had changed the Sabbath blessing into a Sabbath burden
The fourth of the Ten Commandments was pretty simple. Work six days and rest one day. But the Jews added so many regulations to Sabbath it became unbearable. They criticized Jesus’ disciples because they casually picked some kernels of grain and rubbed it between their hands to remove the husks to snack on it. Their accusation caused Jesus to claim they had ruined God’s original intention for the Sabbath.
The Jewish Talmud (not the Bible) devotes 24 full chapters to what Jews could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. They added thousands of picky regulations to God’s simple command. For instance, you couldn’t take a bath on the Sabbath because you might accidentally splash water on the floor—and that would be washing the floor—a sin! You could write one Hebrew letter, but not two. If your house caught on fire, you couldn’t extinguish it on the Sabbath. And you might freeze, but you couldn’t ignite a fire either. Even to this day, the hotel doors with electric sensors that open automatically are disabled from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, because by activating that tiny circuit, it is considered “igniting a fire.” But rather than talk about what the Jews can or can’t do on the Sabbath, what about us?