Honoring the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-8
Isa.38:1-8,21-22 / Isa.38:10-12,16

Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the sabbath.
(Matthew 12:2)

We are like chaff apart from grain
If we preach but do not practice
Laws that we craft burden and pain,
Charity weighs more than justice.

At that time Jesus went through the wheat fields 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 them, “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 the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something 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.” (Matthew 12:1-8)


The reason why the scribes and pharisees were very strict about observing the sabbath was because the destruction of Israel and their ancestors’ exile into Babylon were the consequences of their violations of God’s laws, especially the observance of the Sabbath. The words of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel were vivid in their memory: “If you will not heed the Sabbath day…then I will kindle a fire…and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched” (Jer.17:27); “I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. Yet…they greatly defiled My Sabbaths…They despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths” (Ezek.20:12,13). They were so obsessed with its legalistic observance, however, that they had made the Sabbath oppressive, and burdensome to the people.

God’s will for the Sabbath was to serve mankind as a day of rest and recreation, and to bring blessings and fellowship among relatives and friends. Christ showed the Sabbath’s true intent as a blessing by doing most of His healing on this day. His acts of mercy showed the spirit and purpose of God’s law, which is love.

Sunday is the Christian’s ‘sabbath.’ When my two brothers and I were on a tour in the Middle East many years ago, I prayed that we could find a church in Beirut, as it was a Sunday. Sure enough, we heard the chimes of a nearby church, and when we got there just before the mass started, the first person I approached to inquire about where I could have confession not only spoke English, but turned out to be a priest. God truly favors those who seek to honor His day of rest.

May we always honor Your sabbath, Lord, by praising and adoring You more intensely, and fervently practicing acts of charity and kindness on this day. Amen.

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