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22 - The Proper Observation of the Sabbath

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”


There’s nothing quite like the truth to make people angry. It seems quite common that a simple statement of reality leads people to resentment and disgust. Why? We often don’t like having to face facts. As long as our comfortable version of reality can be maintained, we’re content to live in the fantasy we’ve created.


I knew this well as a teenager. I would often sit in my room and play video games as a way of coping with whatever was going on in life. A breakup would result in lots and lots of gaming. Fighting with a friend was no longer a problem once I had a good game in front of me. I learned quickly that escaping reality meant my problems could disappear for a time. The problem, of course, was that the game eventually had to be turned off – and my problems were still waiting for me once that happened.


Taking time away can help us to gather our thoughts and create a more appropriate response to the issues we face, but escapism doesn’t have this effect. Losing ourselves in a world of our own making means we don’t deal with the actual problems we face. Ultimately, we’re worse off if we fail to deal with reality.


Jesus is often seen as confrontational primarily because He is concerned with the truth, not with preserving the façade people have constructed. He knows that the lies people tell themselves have no merit and need to be torn down so that the reality of what dwells within the human heart can be dealt with. Jesus moves past all of the surface-level issues and cuts straight to the heart of what’s going on – the problem is not with what Jesus’ words, but with the people’s rebellion against God. This much is reflected in their accusation – “You have a demon!” How could they possibly identify the work of God with the author of evil unless they themselves are deeply opposed to their Creator?


Do you remember what they’re so furious about? The “one work” to which Jesus refers is when He healed the man who sat by the pool at Bethesda on the Sabbath – two chapters ago. Their problem is that Jesus’ healing violated their understanding of what the Sabbath was supposed to be. But the people had made Sabbath into something which was different than the Law had intended. It was always intended as a time of healing through rest, and that’s exactly how Jesus uses it in healing the man at Bethesda. The Jews have become so caught up in their traditions that they can no longer see the liberation which Jesus is trying to offer.


We can often become so focused on our own biases as to create a world which is not rooted in reality. Christ comes to us and offers the truth not as a way to infuriate us, but to wake us up! We can only come out of sin once we realize the truth that Christ has made us free from the law of sin and death. We can only come out of darkness once we see what the light truly is. In the case of the Sabbath, Jesus was not here to do away with a day of rest; rather, His goal for the Sabbath was that those who observe it would find it to be a true time of healing and restoration rather than a series of seemingly arbitrary rules to follow.


Sabbath today is observed in a number of ways. For the ultra-orthodox Jew, there are preparations to be made on the day before the Sabbath which even include pre-tearing toilet paper so as to avoid any semblance of work on that day. Is that what God intended for the Sabbath day?


On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who no longer observe the Sabbath in any way anymore. Did God ever say that a Sabbath rest was no longer needed?


Both extremes are to be avoided. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, and He has shown by His works that it is to be a day of blessing to the people of God. Rest, but don’t rest in such a way that you’re simply following a rule. Let it be a time where the truth of God is able to wash over your soul and bring you the healing you need.


Jesus, You are Lord of the Sabbath. From the very beginning, You modeled for us a day of rest. Every part of us needs a time to simply be in Your presence. Let me not become caught up in legalism, for I know Your desire is that I would live into the freedom You have given me in Your Name. Yet may I also not ignore the ways in which You have created me. Help me to rest in You and to rest well. Take away that which is within me which bristles against Your truth spoken to my heart. Help me to listen with gladness to the words You speak, knowing that You are molding me into Your image. Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening!

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