Matins Devotion: April 21, 2023
Why do the Pharisees get so furious with Jesus over his refusal to obey their Sabbath regulations? And why does Jesus seem to so often instigate conflict with the Pharisees by deliberately breaking their Sabbath regulations?
Well, when we look at the institution of the Sabbath both in Exodus 20 and its restatement in Deuteronomy 5, the Lord commands the people to observe every Sabbath (seventh) day and to keep it holy by resting from their labors. Why? Because “it belongs to the Lord.” In other words, it’s as if the the Lord is saying to every man: “I’m giving you ownership over six days out of every week. Want to spend six days plowing your fields? Harvesting your grain? Working on your house? Fine.” But God says that every seventh day you must lay down your plow and put down your hammer because this seventh day belongs exclusively to him. And he wants to remind you of that. And how does he want to remind you? By giving you rest. Rest from your labors. By recalling to your mind that it is he who is the true bringer of life, and goodness, and blessing.
But by the time we get to the Pharisees, we find that they had taken the Sabbath and transformed it from a day of rest into a seventh day of work. What I mean, is that they had turned resting into a work. They had fabricated Sabbath rules that were so complicated that only they could follow them. Rules like: you’re not breaking the Sabbath if you spit and your spit lands on a stone surface, but you are breaking the Sabbath if you spit and your spit lands in the dirt. Why? Because now you’re making mud that can be used for making bricks—and that counts as work. Through the tyranny of their laws, the Pharisees had taken the day that belonged to the Lord and had made themselves the lords of the Sabbath. They had become the new taskmasters who were enslaving the people with regulations that robbed them of their God-given rest. They loaded the people down with so many burdens that the people forgot that, through the Sabbath, God wanted to remind them that true rest was a gift that could only come from him.
And that’s why Jesus reminds the Pharisees that he, the Son of Man, is the true Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath belongs to Jesus because Jesus is God. And Jesus, as lord of the Sabbath, wants to give his people rest. That’s why Jesus has come. For this very purpose. To fulfill the Sabbath not by imposing more burdens on the people like the Pharisees, but by magnifying the rest that the Sabbath gives. Jesus accomplishes this by his cross. There, he completes the work that his Father has sent him to accomplish. There he says, “It is finished.” There, he wins for us an eternal Sabbath. His innocent suffering and death frees us from our slavery to the demands of the law, and it gives us the right to rest with him in Paradise.
The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is our true Sabbath rest.