Summary: Bound by traditions and laws, Jesus breathes new life and love into an old religion and the lives of God's people.
I think that one of the great joys in life is to be able to give a gift and then watch the recipient enjoy the gift. As a grandparent, I love giving a gift to my granddaughters and then watch them play with it. I can’t imagine what it would be like if their parents—wanting to keep the gift looking like new—established rules that prevented them from having fun with the gift. I think it would be even more devastating if the girls completely ignored the gift and it sat at the bottom of their play box.
As horrific as these images are, this is exactly how most of us treat God’s gracious gift of the Sabbath.
RULES, RULES, RULES
After working hard, 24/7 as slaves for the Egyptians, God lovingly gave the Israelites a day off. The Sabbath was for the people of God, because God wanted the very best for them. God didn’t need to rest, but God consecrated the Sabbath by resting on the sixth day after creation. The religious leaders of the Jews took a love inspired gift and made it totally unenjoyable.
The Jews were performance orientated. Their righteousness was based on how well they kept the commandments. Laws were enacted to ensure that everyone kept the Sabbath. A person simply could not work on the Sabbath. The Sabbath became a burden rather than a gift.
Jesus’ interactions with the Jewish rulers underscored how perverted the Sabbath observance had become. Hungry disciples couldn’t feed themselves because it was considered work. Sabbath laws even superseded love. Healing a man with a withered hand was work and therefore forbidden. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath to demonstrate that love trumps all.
For centuries Christians observed laws that “protected” the Sabbath. One by one those laws have been repealed. Now, we respond to God’s gift of the Sabbath by ignoring it.
Laura Ingalls Wilder writes in her books how unbearable Sundays were because the children were forbidden from all activities except reading and playing quietly. Well into the twentieth century stores were closed on Sunday in order to observe the Sabbath. Not any longer!
We are a nation that prides ourselves on being busy. We play “My Calendar is More Crammed than Yours,” and we brag about long days and unbearable work weeks. Our identity is wrapped up in what we do, and we fear being called lazy. We ignore the Sabbath by shopping until we drop, or by being so involved in an activity that we are more tired at the end of the day than we were at its beginning.
Perhaps some of the problem is that we don’t understand what the Sabbath is. We define the Sabbath as either a time to go to church or a time to do nothing.
• The Sabbath is a time to turn our attention away from the world and towards God.
• The Sabbath is a time to celebrate God’s love and grace.
• The Sabbath is a time to be refreshed, renewed, and revived.
• The Sabbath is a time to rest.