Opposition through legalism 2: The Sabbath is about rest

It’s not what is the Sabbath, it’s WHO is the Sabbath

Matthew 12:9–14

The conflicts of Jesus

40 Blogs of Lent: Day 18

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
Matthew 12:9–14

Painting of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand.

Growing up we never had a Noah’s Ark toy though I have seen them in museums. Compared to other toys of the same age arks are usually well preserved, the reason is that they were a Sunday toy, children being banned from playing with their usual toys on Sundays, only toys on a biblical theme would be allowed on Sundays, In fact, there were a lot of things that tradition did not allow even adults to do on Sunday’s. Rules about what you were allowed to do and not do on the Sabbath, man-made rules, were a problem in Jesus’ day too.

The Sabbath rules are important, they are in the 10 commandments given to Moses:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 29:9–11

“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 For six days you shall labour and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
Deuteronomy 5:12–15

Two versions of what was written in stone, and they differ, especially in the different reasons that are given for the Sabbath. Exodus goes back to creation when God rested, Deuteronomy goes back to what was recent history, the captivity in Egypt and stresses that everybody, even foreigners in the land, should be allowed rest.

The Sabbath is about rest, we need to be rested to do our work, but it is also a time for preparing for work. It is a time for recreation, for family and for fun. Rules that make things harder or less interesting go against the reason behind the rules, enjoyment brings refreshment, have fun.

Mark’s version of the previous story, the disciples picking wheatears, has extra words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27. The rules are made for the benefit of man. The rules are about setting people free from drudgery, not enslaving them.

This attitude to the Sabbath is reflected in the season of Lent, which we are celebrating now. There are 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, 40 fasting days from Monday to Saturday and Sundays which are feast days, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, even during Lent.

Matthew’s Gospel is carefully constructed. Things are gathered together often by theme. Not only have we got two events on the Sabbath here, but they follow straight after Jesus saying come to me and rest. Matthew is making it plain that not only is the ministry of Jesus about freedom and justice for all, but the law of God is also. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, The Sabbath laws are to be interpreted by what we see in Jesus, by our relationship with Jesus. It is not about rules. The Sabbath is about rest, Jesus brings rest:

Jesus is the Sabbath!

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