Making the Sabbath Too Much Work (Luke 6:1-11)
1. Don’t Be Legalistic with the Law (Luke 6:1-5)
2. Be Loving with the Law (Luke 6:6-11)
As we continue to learn about some Sabbath day controversies Jesus had, we need to pause and learn why we as Christians meet on Sunday, rather than on Saturday which is the traditional and historical “Sabbath.” This is a question all of us should be able to answer because of the teachings floating around out there about the Sabbath.
A little book appeared on my lawn one morning called National Sunday Law written by A. Jan Marcussen. It is being distributed by the Seventh Day Adventists, who, as you all know, meet for church on Saturday, and continue to observe the Sabbath by not doing any work in similar ways that we talked about last week. The basic argument to the book is that the Catholic Pope will be the false prophet of the anti-Christ, Catholicism will be the one world religion of the anti-Christ, and that the Catholic church, in cooperation with worldly governments, has duped Christians into meeting on Sunday rather than on Saturday. The book says that in the end times, businesses will be forced to shut down on Sunday, and people will be forced to go to church on Sunday. If they want to go to church on Saturday, on the traditional Sabbath day, they will be put to death. So basically, attending church on Sunday is the prelude to receiving the mark of the beast.
To those who are not students of the Word, the book seems to be very compelling. It appears to make a lot of sense. The new Christian, or the Christian who doesn’t know the Word, or who ignores certain statements in the Bible, might be convinced by the arguments of this book. So let me explain to you this morning why we do meet on Sunday. A brief history of the Sabbath to Sunday transition. Just so you know, the book contains an appendix trying to refute the reasons I am about to give you, but does a very poor job explaining.
A Brief History of the Sabbath-to-Sunday Transition
First, it is true that in the Old Testament, the Sabbath was observed on Saturday, the seventh and last day of the week. It was to be a day of resting, reflecting and rejoicing. The basis for this was in God taking a day of rest after six days of creating the world.
One of the things this book fails to recognize is that the Sabbath is actually a sign of the Mosaic covenant. Any time God makes a covenant, he provides a sign, or a symbol to go along with it so that we can remember what He has promised. God gave the rainbow to Noah, he gave circumcision to Abraham. The Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant between God and Israel (Ex. 31:12-17; Ezek. 20:12). Are we living under the Mosaic covenant any more? No, we are not. We are living under the new covenant in Christ’s blood, and the sign of this new covenant is communion, the Lord’s Supper. That is the main reason we do no have to keep the Sabbath any more.
But besides that, how did it come about that we began to gather for worship on Sunday rather than on Saturday? Why not just stick with Saturday? The simple answer is that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week. Because it was on this day that he rose, it became known as “the Lord’s Day.” It became a day set aside for the Lord. That, in a nutshell, is how it happened.
God did not change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. He is very clear in the Bible that the Sabbath cannot be changed. The Sabbath is always on Saturday. But what God did do was give us a new day, called the Lord’s day. In the book of Acts, we see the early Christians meeting on the Lord’s Day, on the first day of the week to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection and eventual return. In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul instructed the Christians to take an offering on the first day of the week when they met. In Revelation 1:10, the apostle John, while in exile on the island of Patmos, held his own little church service on the Lord’s Day, and it was on that day which he received his Revelation about the end times. Furthermore, in church history, we read that by 115 A.D., Christians had ceased to keep the Sabbath, and lived by the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week. They gathered to sing, study the Word of God, pray, and fellowship together.
This “National Sunday Law” book has some very creative explanations for all of this. Explanations that may or may not be true. But do you want to know why we can know the book is wrong? Because the book never mentions, never explains, never deals with several very important passages in the Bible. It deals with a couple vague passages, but completely ignores many key passages.
For example, the book ignores Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:16, which says, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or…sabbaths.” Paul goes on in Colossians 2 to say that the point is not whether you keep these days or not. The point is not whether you observe Christmas or not. The point is not whether you celebrate Easter or not. The point is not whether you go to church on Saturday or Sunday or some other night. The point is, “Are you gathering with other Christians to pray, fellowship, sing, learn the Word of God and edify one another?” I hear a lot of people today say that they sure wish they could attend church, but they have to work on Sunday mornings. Well, Sunday morning is not the only time you can go to church. We have a service here on Sunday nights, and Bible studies on Wednesday night.
Sunday is the traditional time, and probably the best time to come to church. A Bible study is not a perfect substitute for church, but if you have to work, well come on Sunday nights, or Wednesday nights. You see, Paul says in Colossians 2 that the day is not what is important. What is important is Christ. In fact, I know of churches that have services on Friday night, and Saturday night and Tuesday night so that all people, no matter what their work schedule, can come to church.
We can worship on any day of the week. In fact, we should worship on every day of the week. The point is not what day you worship on, but Who are you worshipping? Is Christ being lifted up? Is Christ being glorified and honored? Is Christ being focused on? Or is some command, some legalistic moral code being emphasized to the point that Christ gets shoved out of the way? Are we, as we attend church, becoming more and more like Christ? That is Paul’s point.
Jesus himself says the same thing over and over again in the Gospels. He says in Mark 2:27 that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man. Jesus is saying that the whole point of the Sabbath is to get a day of rest, reflecting on God and His Word, rejoicing in all He has done for you. If you do that on Saturday, fine. But if you do it on Sunday, or Wednesday, that’s okay too. The point is Christ, not the day of the week. That’s what Christ says over and over again, and the National Sunday law book avoids all these statements.
The book never deals with the passage we are looking at today, either. In Luke 6:6-11, Christ reveals to us one of the purposes for the Sabbath. In Luke 5:33-39, we saw that Jesus came to change some things. To put new wine in new wineskins. To bring grace and a new way of doing things. In Luke 6:1-5, we saw Jesus confront one of the staunchest Jewish traditions – their legalistic and overbearing regulations about the Sabbath. We saw that the Jews had made the Sabbath too much work. They had made it too difficult to keep. So in Luke 6:1-5, Jesus and his disciples went against the grain of the Sabbath day laws, and Jesus taught that they were not to be legalistic with the Sabbath. Instead, what we are going to see today from Luke 6:6-11, is that they were supposed to be loving with the Sabbath.
The Sabbath day rest was not just a day to stop working, it was a day to stop working for ourselves, and spend the day focusing on Christ and serving others, loving others. Don’t use the Sabbath to be legalistic and self-righteous, Jesus says, use it to love and serve others. During the work week, we must often work for ourselves. The Sabbath was an opportunity to stop working for yourself, and spend a day working for someone else. Jesus illustrates this in the passage before us.
Luke 6:6. Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered.
Jesus, as was his custom on the Sabbath, went to the synagogue to teach. And, as always happened, many people gathered to listen, to learn, to be taught. We know from other Scriptures that it was his practice on the Sabbath to read a passage of Scripture, and then to sit and teach through that passage. And that is what the people came to hear – the teaching of the Word of God. Teaching the Bible and being taught the Bible are two of the best things that can be done on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day when you take your eyes off yourself, and put them on the Word, on Christ, on God, and on others. Jesus wants to emphasize serving others.
On this particular Sabbath, we learn in verse 6 that a man was there whose right hand was withered.
Now, let me ask a question? Why was this man there? Why was he there?
Did the Pharisees bring him? It doesn’t appear so. It’s possible, but the text doesn’t give us any reason to think this may be the case.
Did the man come to be healed? It doesn’t appear that this is the case either. Generally, when people come to Jesus to be healed, the Bible clearly tells us that this was their reason, their motive, for seeking out Jesus. So why was he there?
I think this man came to be taught. He did not come to the synagogue for healing. He came for teaching. He wanted to learn the Bible.
But look at the contrast in Luke 6:7.
Luke 6:7. So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him.
Why did the Pharisees come to the synagogue? What did they show up for? Was it to be taught by Jesus? No, they were not there to be taught, but to pick a quarrel. To find some fault with Jesus. It says they came and watched Him closely. The Greek word for watched means “to spy on” or “to watch out of the corner of one’s eye” (cf. Ps. 36:12 LXX). They did not come to learn, but to try to find a charge to level against Jesus. It says to find an accusation against Him. The man came to be taught, the Pharisees just came to spy on Jesus.
Why do you come to church? Some people only go to church because they hope that by doing so, God is going to fix all their problems. Or maybe make them rich. Some people, I know this is surprising, but some people go to church because they want to pick a fight with another Christian, or find something wrong in what the pastor said or did. Some people go to church because it is their religious duty. They know that they are supposed to go to church, they’ve been going all their life, and so they show up just to put in their time. Some people go to church looking for an experience, a thrill, a rush, an encounter with the Holy Spirit. Some people go to church out of guilt. They’ve sinned all week, and so they go to church to try to appease God.
Some go to church to appear holy. They like to raise their hands and say long prayers, and nod their head during the pastor’s sermon. These things are not wrong – if it’s genuine. But as soon as you start thinking, “I sure hope so-and-so hears me singing so loud and sees me taking so many sermon notes,” that is an indication you are just coming to church to appear holy.
I don’t know why you go to church. All of us, I’m sure, have had one or another of these motives at times. But I want to encourage you, be the man with the withered hand. You’re not perfect, and you don’t care. You just want to be taught. You’re not looking to get anything from God. You just want to be taught. You have your blemishes, your problems, your struggles in life, your sin. But you know that you don’t have to be perfect. You just want to be taught. There are many reasons to attend church, but this is one of the best. Almost everywhere in the Bible when we read about reasons for attending church, right near the top of the list is being taught the Word of God. That is why this man came. I am convinced of it.
Jesus knew why the man came, and he knew why the Pharisees came, and what the Pharisees were thinking. He knew that they were trying to find some fault with him. But He is not afraid. He does not shy away from them. He doesn’t get scared by them. He doesn’t try to avoid the conflict; he makes a bee-line for it. He doesn’t think, “Well, Pharisee Jehoash is here today, I better watch what I say and do, or he might make a stink and cause controversy.” No, He says, “Well, they’re not here to be taught, but I’m going to try to teach them anyway.” He decides to show them again that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. That they have completely misunderstood the purpose and intention of the Sabbath. Look at Luke 6:8.
Luke 6:8-9. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them (the Pharisees), “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?”
Jesus asks the Pharisees a question. One of the best ways to teach people who don’t want to learn is to ask them a question. Jesus asks them what it is lawful to do on the Sabbath. We saw last week, that in the thinking of the Pharisees, it really was not lawful to do anything! They could do some minor tasks, but anything major was strictly forbidden. In asking the question, Jesus has also answered it. By the way he phrases the question, he reveals that there is no neutral ground when it comes to helping people. Jesus asks them what it is lawful to do on the Sabbath, and their basic answer was that it was not lawful to do anything. But Jesus indicates here that by doing nothing, they are actually doing evil. By failing to rescue a life, they are actually helping to destroy a life.
German citizens during Word War II who tried to stay out of the mess, who failed to stand up for the Jews, were actually helping the Nazi’s. In New York city, a woman was beaten for half an hour out in a street, while she screamed for help. But nobody came to help her…and nobody even dialed 9-1-1. Those people were just as guilty as the one doing the beating.
When Jesus asks, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” he is saying that when it comes to choosing sides between good and evil, saving life or destroying it, there is no neutral ground. Inactivity is to fight on the side of evil.
That is what Jesus is saying by asking the question. But the fact of the matter is that the Pharisees knew all of this. They had laws which essentially said the same thing. So Jesus was not asking them this question to teach them. He was not even asking them this question to see if they knew the answer. Jesus was not asking the question because He thought they had never thought about it before. He asked the question to show them that neither the question nor the answer really mattered. You say, “What? The question doesn’t matter? The answer doesn’t matter? Why would He ask it then?”
Let me tell you why. The question Jesus raises here was very similar to a question which the Pharisees already answered in one of their books. Remember, they had considered all aspects of what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. One of the questions in their books on the Sabbath was whether it was permitted to heal on the Sabbath or not. Here is the neat and tidy three point answer they had come up with in their books of Sabbath day regulations:
1. On the Sabbath, healing to save a life is not only permitted, but a duty. They were allowed to work if it would save the life of a person who would otherwise die.
2. Caring for the seriously ill was sometimes allowed, but only with certain restraints and conditions which I won’t get into here.
3. Treating minor ailments is prohibited. This is because a minor ailment is not life threatening, and can therefore wait until after the Sabbath is over. Also, treating minor ailments often required the grinding of herbs to prepare medicine, and grinding is one of the prohibited forms of work.
That was their answer. Nice, neat, simple three points. A flowchart for whether they could help a person on the Sabbath or not, and who they could and could not help.
Jesus did not ask the question because He was ignorant of their answer. He asked them because he knew the answer…and He hated their answer. It’s not that their answer was wrong. It may have been wrong, but that’s not what Jesus was trying to point out. The answer was well thought out. It was logical. Jesus wasn’t trying to get into a theological debate with them about healing on the Sabbath. Jesus was not trying to argue with them about the answer. If fact, I believe Jesus didn’t even want them to answer the question. That wasn’t the point, either.
Do you know what Jesus wanted them to see?
He wanted them to see the person.
He was saying, “Look, while you come up with your three simple steps to deciding whether you can heal on the Sabbath or not, here is a real, live human being who is hurting and in need of your help, and all you can do is sit there and debate about him like he was a log blocking the road. He’s a person!”
Jesus wanted to show them that they were being legalistic with the Sabbath, rather than loving with it, as they should have been. The Sabbath is a day to show love to others, to do good for others, if you can. You know what Jesus would do in our day?
He would show up on a Sunday when a young woman visited. She would be 17, unmarried, without a job, pregnant and considering an abortion. And Jesus would stand up and say, “What do you think, should abortion be allowed or not? And as long as we’re talking about abortion, maybe we should also discuss one of the things that lead to abortion – a bad welfare system. What can be done to fix the welfare system?”
He would show up on a Sunday when a homosexual visits our church, and Jesus would stand up and ask, “What do you think, should homosexuals be allowed to get married, or not?”
Jesus would show up on a Sunday when a drug addict visits, and Jesus would ask, “What do you think, should the medicinal use of marijuana be legalized or not?”
And do you know why Jesus would ask these questions? Not because He doesn’t know the answers. He knows the answers, and He cares very much about how these questions are answered. But on those Sunday mornings, when we are worshipping God as a church, and digging into His Word, you want to know what He cares about more than the answers to those questions? He cares about the pregnant teenager. He cares about the homosexual. He cares about the drug addict. He cares about the person.
He cares about you and me, our hurts, our worries, our struggles. And He wants to see each and every one of us healed and delivered from what has us in bondage. Whether it is that teenage girl, or that homosexual, or that drug addict, or a struggle with pornography, or materialism and greed, or lying, or stealing, or overeating. When someone else struggles with their marriage, or their job, or their kids, we tend to sit back and say, “Well, if they had just done this with their kids.” “Well, if they had just gone to this marriage conference and read this book, and if he would have been at home more, she wouldn’t have had that affair.”
You know what? Those are the questions and comments of Pharisees. They would rather talk and debate about such issues rather than actually help. It’s not that knowing the truth is wrong. But debating the truth is wrong when it paralyzes us into inactivity. The Pharisees, like too many of us today, got too caught up in the political and theological debates which focus on the issues, and completely ignored the people who were in need.
James 4:17 says, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins.” We think it reads, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do, doesn’t have to do it if he can articulate his opinion, write letters to the editor and votes on election day.” We think James 4:17 reads, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do, doesn’t have to do it if he can defend his views to others, and write a check to local charity.” No, James 4:17 says, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do, and [he] doesn’t do it, sins.” It’s not enough to vote. It’s not enough to debate. It’s not enough to write out a check. These things are good, but Jesus would say, “They’re people! Help them!”
Luke 6:10. And when He had looked around at them all…
He looked around at them all. Do you think they flinched? Do you think they picked at their fingernails? Cleaned their glasses? All of a sudden became very interested in the pages of their Bible? Do you think they stared at their feet and avoided His gaze? Maybe a few of them stared back at Him, in brazen rebellion, but not for long. You’ll never win a staring contest with Jesus.
He looked around at them all. I think with disappointment. They had all the answers, but none of the love. They noticed all the detail of the law, and had dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, but had failed to notice a person in need.
He looked around at them all. You know, there will be a time when He will look at you also. Will you be able to look Jesus in the eyes without being ashamed? Have you done everything you can with what He has given to you? Your time, your money, your skills?
I know I haven’t…but I’m trying. If I were to die right now, I do not think Jesus would say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I do not think I could look Jesus in the eyes. But I’m trying to get there. How? Well, 1 John 2:28 says, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” Abiding in Christ is how we live a life pleasing to God. Abiding in Christ should be the goal of every Christian. Jesus tells us how to do this in John 13-17, and John tells us how in the book of 1 John. But you will have to study those passages on your own. All we see here in Luke 6 is that Jesus looked at them all – probably with disappointment, maybe even some anger in his eyes. And then, in answer to his question in verse 9, He shows the Pharisees what God would do on the Sabbath. Look again at Luke 6:10.
He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
Jesus healed the man.
In my study this week, I read all of the commentaries on this passage, and almost all of them debated about whether Jesus broke the Sabbath day laws or not. Almost all of them said that he did break the Pharisees understanding of it, but not God’s. I read explanations about how the Pharisees said work could be done to save a life, but not work to heal some minor, non-life-threatening ailment. And the shriveled hand was definitely not life threatening, nor was it serious. Other commentaries brought out how the Pharisees probably had a bit of conundrum, because Jesus didn’t actually grind any herbs or use any medicine and so the argument could have been made that he had not violated the Sabbath. I think all of the commentaries missed the point. It’s not about the law. It’s about the person. It’s not about whether Jesus broke the Sabbath or changed the Sabbath or really wanted to teach anything about the Sabbath at all.
Jesus wanted the Pharisees, and His disciples…and us…to see the man. Jesus saw him. Jesus saw his need. And Jesus had compassion on Him, and healed him. He saw something good to do for somebody, and He did it. Well, the account has a tragic end. Look at the reaction of the Pharisees in Luke 6:11.
Luke 6:11. But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
The Greek word for rage is a strong term, describing irrational anger, even pathological rage. They were livid.
This is a very sad verse for several different reasons. First of all, they never did see the man. In their minds, he was only a good illustration for a theological argument.
A second reason though, that their reaction was so tragic is because they knew that healing only came from God. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, says to Jesus in John 3 that they all know that no man can do the things Jesus does unless God is with him. And so the Pharisees, so intent on keeping the Sabbath, won’t even allow God Himself, who gave them the Sabbath, to go against their man-made traditions about the Sabbath.
But the worst part about this verse, is what they decide to do with Jesus. It says they discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. In other words, they plot to kill Jesus. In effect, their reaction here answers Jesus’ question from verse 9. In asking His question, he indicated that there are only two options – either save life or destroy life. There is no neutrality. And the Pharisees prove the truth of this here. Their law made it wrong for them to help the man with the shriveled hand, but at the same time, they can plot the death of Jesus. In rejecting to do the good that was in front of them, they ended up doing evil. They would not save a life on the Sabbath, but they will plot the death of Jesus on the Sabbath. Isn’t that tragically ironic?
You see, when people get legalistic about the law, that is exactly what happens. In our zeal to obey God, we sometimes blindly accomplish exactly the opposite of what God intends. When we start focusing on the law, we miss the people that the law was supposed to help. You see, the law was never intended to be an end in itself. The law was only given as a guideline to help show love to God and to one another. Jesus says later that the entire law can be summarized with one word: love. Love God, and love others. If you do that, you are fulfilling the entire law.
Don’t be legalistic with the law, coming up with lists of what can and cannot be done. Be loving with the law in order to help people in need. Look at people, not through the legalistic eyes of the law, but through the loving eyes of Christ.
Amy Carmichael wrote a little prose poem called “If.” Let me read it to you in closing.
IF I belittle those who I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting [that God made us different and He has given me all that I have], then I know nothing of Calvary love.
IF I take offense easily, if I am content to continue in cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
IF I feel bitterly towards those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
Do you know Calvary love? If you do, then you will follow the pattern of Christ here in Luke 6. Don’t be legalistic with the law. Be loving with it. Use it for the purpose God intended.