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Trinity 17, 2015–Sabbath Rest


17th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 14:1-11

September 27, 2015

“Sabbath Rest”

Iesu Iuva

Jesus taught that all the righteousness of the religious men of His time was filthy rags in God’s sight. He taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20) The Pharisees didn’t like hearing that, and they tried to find something wrong with Jesus’ teaching or conduct so they could discredit Him. That’s why in the Gospel reading a ruler of the Pharisees has invited Jesus over to his house for a Sabbath meal. He hasn’t invited Jesus out of real hospitality. He has brought Jesus over to watch Him, to see if they can catch Him doing something wrong so they can discredit Him. Chances are good that the Pharisees have planted this man with dropsy at the dinner knowing that Jesus will heal him, and then they can say, “See, Jesus healed on the Sabbath-day! He did work on the Sabbath! He can’t be from God.”

The Jews had a law from God they were supposed to obey. And the Law God gave didn’t just have moral requirements like, “Do not murder” or “Do not steal.” It also contained ceremonial requirements. Jews were forbidden by God to eat certain kinds of meat, like pork. They were required to observe certain festivals, like the Passover. And one of the chief ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses was that the Jews were to observe the Sabbath day. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…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 and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:8-11) “Sabbath” means “rest” or “stop” in Hebrew. The Jews were to keep the Sabbath day holy by observing “solemn rest” and “a holy convocation.” (Lev. 23:3) That meant it was not only a day for not working, but a day for hearing God’s Word. By observing the Sabbath, they remembered how their God created the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh. They also remembered that God had brought them out of slavery and unceasing toil in Egypt and had promised to give them rest from their enemies.

God made observing the Sabbath very important for the Jews. To underscore its importance, He said, “Above all you shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Ex. 31:13-14) So you can see that if Jesus was breaking the Sabbath by healing people on it, it would not be a minor offense. He would be worthy of death and certainly not the promised Messiah.

The problem, though, was not that Jesus didn’t have regard for the Sabbath, but that the Pharisees didn’t understand the Law.” “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Jesus said in another place (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was given so that people might rest, but especially that they might hear God’s Word and receive spiritual rest through the Word. The Sabbath was not given as a rule to keep which by obeying a person might earn God’s favor. It was not given in order to prevent people from helping their neighbors when they are in trouble. So Jesus points out that even the Pharisees will go pull their son or their ox out of a well if they have fallen in it on the Sabbath day. Jesus sees the man suffering from dropsy, which is a swelling of the limbs caused by water collecting in body tissue. He is suffering, so Jesus helps him out of his suffering. In doing this Jesus is not breaking the Sabbath but keeping it.

The Sabbath was a day of rest. But God’s purpose in it was not simply to make the Israelites rest bodily for one day a week. It was also meant to give them time to hear the Word of the Lord, which gives true spiritual rest. It was a teaching device designed to remind them not only that God rested on the Sabbath day after His work of creating, but also that God planned to give the people of Israel rest. He would do that when the promised Christ came. The Messiah would give rest from the curse of the fall into sin, when God spoke His curse on the earth after Adam sinned. He said, “By the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) But God also promised a Messiah who would save people from the painful labor and death that came as a result of sin. When Noah’s father Lamech named Noah, he thought that Noah would be the Messiah. So he said, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (Gen. 5:29) Noah was not the Messiah, but Lamech’s prophecy holds true for Jesus Christ. He is the One who brings us relief from our work and gives us rest, spiritual rest.

Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) Jesus doesn’t promise to give us an earthly rest from labor. We still have to work to receive our daily bread. He promises “rest for your souls.” We by nature are in painful slavery to sin and death. The Law of God does not give us rest from sin and God’s condemnation. In fact, the Law only increases sin and condemnation.   It shows us what is righteous and pleasing to God, but we are unable to perform it. We know what is right through the Law but we can’t do it. We are left condemned by the Law, which only proclaims to us God’s anger against those who do not do His will.

But Jesus gives us rest for our souls. He gives us the true Sabbath-rest. He took upon Himself all of the Law, whether its ceremonial commands or its moral demands, and He fulfilled all of the Law of God by His righteous, innocent life. Then He endured the painful curse the Law pronounces on those who disobey it. He suffered agony on the cross—not only the painful wounds of the nails and the bitter thirst—but the agony of being separated from God. That is what you and I deserve because of sin. And when sin rises up in our consciences and the law accuses us, we also experience and feel the pangs of hell, of being separated from God. Then our conscience tries to find rest in our works. We say, “I will try harder to obey God and overcome sin.” But there is no rest for the soul in works. There is always something we have left undone, and our souls cannot rest; they still experience separation from God.

But in the Gospel of Jesus we receive true rest for our souls. “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you,” says the Psalm (116:7). We receive rest because in the Gospel God declares that the Law is fulfilled for us, our sins are atoned for, and righteousness is bestowed on us as a gift through the painful work of Jesus on the cross. After He finished His labor for our salvation, for our re-creation, on the cross, crying out, “It is finished,” the Lord Jesus rested. He laid in the tomb on the Sabbath and was raised on Sunday. And we enter into the Lord’s rest from His labor. “We were therefore buried with Him through Baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) In our Baptism into Christ we were placed into the grave with Jesus. We were given rest from our labor to fulfill the Law and be freed from sin, death, and a bad conscience.

“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:4) He has fulfilled the Law for us. He is our true Sabbath-rest.

That is why we are no longer bound to rest on the seventh day of the week. Paul says in Colossians chapter 2: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17) No one can pass judgment on you if you eat meat on Fridays, or eat pork, or work on Saturday. Why? Because Jesus has fulfilled the entire law and made us righteous before God. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses…God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2)

So we keep the Sabbath day by receiving rest from Jesus. It doesn’t mean that we refrain from work on a certain day but that we gladly hear and learn God’s Word. As we learned in our catechism: What is the third commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

 

We receive rest from Jesus when He preaches His Holy Word to us that declares the forgiveness of our sins.   We receive rest from Jesus as He gives us His body that was crucified and His blood that was shed for us. We make time to rest from our other occupations so that we are free to hear His Word and receive rest for our souls. It is Jesus’ Word and Sacrament that gives us rest so that when we lay dying, about to die and stand before God’s throne, we can depart in peace and joy, resting from our labors. We can die saying, “I am a sinner, but Jesus has fulfilled the Law for me and given me rest.”

Seek where you may

To find a way

That leads to your salvation;

My heart is stilled

On Christ I build,

He is the one foundation.

His Word is sure,

His works endure

He overthrows

All evil foes,

Through Him I more than conquer. (LSB 557 st. 1)

 

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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