Sermon, August 2, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church
“Jesus Cared about the Lord’s Day. A lot.”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Our scripture lesson today comes from Luke 14. We will read the passage where Jesus is addressing a group of Pharisees with whom He is dining and the subject of the Sabbath comes up — the Old Testament Sabbath, the Hebrew Sabbath, the seventh day of rest which was appointed by God, commanded in Exodus and in Deuteronomy, a sign that set Israel apart from the nations around them.
But especially in the five hundred years previous to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, a very, very important religious institution, around which a lot of manmade commandments had been built, so that when Jesus arrived on the scene, the elders and the scribes and the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jewish people were concerned that the people not only obeyed the words of God inscribed in the Ten Commandments and in the other Sabbath laws contained in the Old Testament ceremonial code, but that they also follow the traditions of the elders – specific accretions and interpretations and applications of those Sabbath commandments. And the catalog of things that you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath Day had grown rather large and cumbersome, not to mention burdensome.
And throughout the gospels, you find Jesus in conflict with the Jewish leaders of His day over Sabbath observance. They were regularly concerned that Jesus was undermining the traditions of the elders, which He was, but they accused Him of undermining Moses, which He was not. And Jesus regularly responded to them that their traditions of the elders had in fact undermined Moses. In other words, their adding to the Word of God had actually undermined the theology and the practice of the Sabbath Day in the Word of God. And so this conflict plays out regularly.
And this is one of those passages. Jesus has been invited to a Pharisee’s home. This is another indication that Jesus didn’t always have open conflict with the Pharisees. Sometimes there was just that awkward tension of being in the home of somebody who has got their eye on you. Well this is one of those passages, where some Pharisee has invited Him into the home, He’s in the context of a formal dinner party, and this conversation ensues.
So let’s look to the Lord in prayer and ask for His blessing as we prepare to
read and hear His Word.
Lord, this is Your Word and we need to hear it. We need to hear it because it’s Your Word and it’s true. Not one word of Scripture will be broken. Not one word of Scripture will pass away until all of it is fulfilled. Jesus has told us this. But it’s not just that Your Word is true, it is that Your Word is absolutely necessary for the living of the Christian life because all Scripture is given by inspiration and it’s profitable for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. So make the Word of God profitable to us today, by the work of Your Holy Spirit, opening our eyes to see and our hearts to understand Your truth, and then by grace, by faith, to follow it. We ask this in Jesus’ name.
Hear the Word of God in Luke 14 beginning in verse 1.
We’ll read down to verse 6:
“One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they remained silent. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they could not reply to these things.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Jesus, in this passage is showing us something about the hearts of those who opposed His ministry, and He’s showing us something about His heart. And He’s showing us something about how our hearts ought to respond to the Lord’s Day. And I want to give attention to those things this morning because Jesus here is instructing us that the way we observe the Lord’s Day is an indicator of our spiritual condition and the state of our hearts and especially reveals whether we have, by the Holy Spirit and by God’s grace, been conformed to the heart of our Savior.
In this passage, the first thing I want you to see is how Luke shows you the difference between Jesus and the Pharisees in the state of their hearts. In this passage, Luke paints a vivid picture. It is a picture of a man who has been enduring suffering and serious ailment for a long time, right in front of Jesus. You notice how Luke tells you that the man was “before Him” in verse 2. So you have this picture of Jesus in the midst of a gathering and the Pharisees around Him and there is a man in dire need and in suffering right in front of Jesus.
But where are the Pharisees’ eyes? Well Luke tells you at the end of verse 1, doesn’t he? “They were watching Him carefully.” Who were they watching carefully? The man in need? No, they were watching Jesus. They were watching Jesus not out of reverence or respect. They were not watching Jesus because they were hanging on every word and they were ready to do His bidding and every wish as His command. N0, they were watching Him because they suspected Him. They did not trust His teaching or His practice, especially on the issue of the Sabbath Day. And He had been criticized by them before because of His practice of healing on the Sabbath Day, and so now, on a Sabbath Day in the midst of this meal, He looks at them and He asks them a question. He asks them a general question — “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”
Now Jesus knew that this was on their mind because this had been a regular point of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. They didn’t like in the area of the Sabbath and in other areas, that He did not teach and enforce on His own disciples the practice of the traditions of the elders.
Now the traditions of the elders are not found in the Old Testament, they’re not found in the Torah, they’re not found in the first five books of the Bible, they’re not found in the Law of Moses. They are interpretations, elaborations, applications, and expansions on Old Testament ethical and ceremonial obedience. And Jesus did not enforce those traditions on His disciples and He regularly came into conflict with the Pharisees because the Pharisees thought that a good God-fearer, a good Jewish person ought to follow those traditions. Those are some of the things that set them apart in their religious practice. And so they’re watching Him closely to see whether He is once again going to violate these commandments of men that are a part of the traditions of the elders which they so highly value, but which He says are an illegitimate addition to the Word of God. And so He asks them a question —“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” And notice what Luke tells you — “They remained silent.”
Now, why do you think they remained silent? One reason is they could not point to a single verse or word in the Law of Moses that forbade the healing of a person on the Sabbath. Not one verse of the Old Testament would substantiate a prohibition on Jesus, the Lord of Glory, healing someone on the Sabbath or of anyone being healed on the Sabbath. And yet, they believed that Jesus’ ministry practice compromised the Sabbath and so they were locked in on Him. And yet when He challenges them — “Is it right or not?” — nobody speaks up because they can’t quote the Bible. Now this is important because Jesus is not saying what the Bible says about the Sabbath is unimportant to the Pharisees. He is saying, “You have added to the Bible, and thus, you have diminished the authority of the Bible.” Jesus makes it clear that our place for final spiritual authority in faith and practice is found in the Bible, not in the doctrines and commandments of men, not in the additions that people come up with. However pious those ideas are, whatever the good motivations are for coming up with those extra things, we are not to burden the people of God with extra added commandments. This is one of the points of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.
But I want you to see here how Luke unveils to you the warped scale of values that exists among these Pharisees. Notice that as this man is in front of them in need and in suffering, they are not looking at him or thinking about him. And this becomes apparent after Jesus heals him. “He takes him,” verse 4, “heals him and sends him away” and turns around and asks them another question. He asks — “If your son fell into a well or an ox fell into a ditch on the Sabbath Day, wouldn’t you pull your son out? Wouldn’t you take your ox out?” And once again in verse 6, Luke tells us “they could not reply to these things.” Now why do you think they could not reply this time? This time, the reason I think is a little different. This time, the reason they couldn’t reply was because they did not have a heart of mercy for this man. The Pharisees had a category in their law that allowed them to help an ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath Day. They could quote the Old Testament on that. So they allowed for that kind of necessary care for domestic animals within their Sabbath law code but their hearts were not moved with compassion when they looked at this man that was before Jesus in dire need and suffering.
Now what Luke is doing is he’s showing you their hearts. How in the world could you think that God would make allowance for the kind treatment of a domestic animal that had come into distress on the Sabbath Day and that He wouldn’t care about a human being created in the image of God? What Luke is showing you here is a contrast in the heart of Jesus and the heart of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are making a big hoo-hah about how much they care about religious observance, but they don’t care about a human being made in the image of God in need, whereas Jesus shows a deep concern and compassion towards that man and mercy towards him and actively works to bring about the changing of his state and the improvement of his well-being. In other words, Jesus demonstrates mercy and compassion.
Now which of them is in fact honoring the command of God on the Lord’s Day? After all, the Lord’s Day in the Old Testament is rooted in what? It’s rooted in God’s mercy. Remember that when the Lord’s Day is commanded, the Old Testament Sabbath is commanded in Exodus chapter 20, it’s given to whom? It’s given to a nation of redeemed slaves. In other words, God has brought a nation of slaves out of Egypt who, for four hundred and thirty years, had been enslaved and their time did not belong to themselves. They were captive to other people. And at Mount Sinai He said to them, “Now look, here’s how it’s going to be. From now on, you are going to have one day in seven as mandatory vacation. You are going to have seven and a half weeks a year of mandatory rest.” How do you think those slaves would have responded? “You mean we get to rest one day in seven?” It was a picture of God’s liberation and mercy to them and many of the laws which God gave to Moses for them to be careful on the Sabbath Day were designed to make sure that having received that mercy from God, those who were in positions of privilege and power did not take advantage of the least of the brethren — servants who might be made to work on the Lord’s Day while the rest of the family enjoyed the rest, and others like that. So the whole of God’s Law was meant to make sure that the Sabbath Day was a blessing to all His people.
But you’ll notice in Scripture that whenever you’re given a blessing, what are you expected to do? You’re meant to become a blessing to others. So when Abram is taken from paganism in Ur of the Chaldeans in Genesis 12 and he’s made the father of the faithful, he’s given a blessing — but he’s made to what? To be a blessing to all the families of the earth. So those who are shown God’s mercy and reminded of that mercy on the Sabbath Day are meant to be merciful and to show their mercy to others.
This is one of the points of Jesus’ parable when He talked about the man
who was forgiven a great debt, and then he went back, having been forgiven a great debt, and demanded that all the people that owed him money immediately pay back and he did not show them mercy. And God, in that parable, judges that man because having been shown mercy he did not show mercy. Well Luke is showing a picture of this to you here. Who, in this story, has a heart of mercy? Jesus. Who is keeping the Sabbath correctly? Jesus, not the Pharisees. For all the noise they make about caring about the Sabbath, they show that their heart is not right.
Now what are the things we learn from this? One of the things we learn is that showing mercy is always right. We should never ever use the excuse of religious observance to exempt us from showing mercy. One of the things that the Old Testament prophets repeatedly said and that Jesus picks up on in His teaching is what? To obey is better than sacrifice, or to sum up, to love mercy and do justly and walk humbly with our God, that’s the sum of religion. It’s not merely ceremonial observances. And the Pharisees were using ceremonial observances as excuses not to show mercy. Well, we can fall into that too, even though we’re not under the ceremonial law anymore. Even though we haven’t been under the ceremonial law for two thousand years, we can still use religious observances to exempt us from having a heart of mercy. But the Old Testament prophets and Jesus both make it clear to us that our ethical conduct is more important than ceremonial obedience.
And Jesus demonstrates this of course in the story of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite, when they come along the road from Jericho and see the man who may be dead because he’s been beaten up and left there by thieves or robbers or highwaymen, the priest and the Pharisee don’t go and help him. Why don’t they do that? Because under the ceremonial law, if they had touched a dead body, what would have happened? They would become ceremonially unclean and they would not be able to participate in the temple service.
Well, who does Jesus commend in that passage? Not the priest and the Levite, but the Samaritan who came along and touched the man and helped the man and took him to a place where he could be restored to strength and health and paid for him to be taken care of.
In other words, Jesus was making it clear that no concern for ceremonial cleanness can trump the ethical demand for neighbor love. We are always called to love our neighbors. We are always called to seek the well-being of others. We are always called to be those who are showing mercy to others. And ceremonial obedience never trumps that. And of course that’s something that the prophets taught in the Old Testament. It’s not new to Jesus, but Jesus emphasized it and of course demonstrated it in His life in a very emphatic way.
In fact, I would encourage you this afternoon to take your concordance out and look for the word “Sabbath” in the gospels, especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And look at every passage about the Sabbath that describes what Jesus did on the Sabbath. And I think if you do that you’ll find out that the gospels, over and over, say that Jesus did three things on the Sabbath Day.
First, He worshipped. Jesus worshipped on the Sabbath Day and He gives us an example in that.
Secondly, and we see this in this passage but we see this frequently, Jesus showed mercy to others on the Sabbath Day.
And third, Jesus gave permission to His disciples to do deeds of necessity on the Sabbath Day.
And if you look at all of the passages in the gospels where Jesus Himself shows us by His positive example and teaching what to do on the Sabbath Day, you’ll see at least those three things — Jesus worships on the Sabbath Day, Jesus shows mercy on the Sabbath Day, and Jesus allows for deeds of necessity on the Sabbath Day.
I think those things inform the way we look at the Lord’s Day. Jesus cared about the Lord’s Day and He cared about it a lot. And it’s not just that Jesus was against the Sabbath practice of the Pharisees and the Pharisees were concerned for Sabbath practice, it was that the Pharisees had invented demands for Sabbath observance that God had not given in His Word and Jesus wanted to make sure that God’s Word was the rule for how we observe the Sabbath. And so I think we learn something from Jesus in our observance on the Sabbath Day. And I would just say two things very briefly.
The first thing is, if we’re going to follow Jesus’ example and attitude towards the Lord’s Day, we will love to worship. We will love to worship. I must say, I’m miserable when I’m not with you on Sunday. Even if I’m somewhere else worshipping, this is where I want to be because this is where my vows have been taken. I took vows — just like you took vows to be members of this congregation, I took vows to be a minister of this congregation. And when I’m not with you worshipping on the Lord’s Day, I’m not happy, even when I’m worshipping with other folks, because this is the place where I want my commitment to be. Do you have that same kind of desire to worship the Lord? I think that those who have been shown mercy by Jesus love to get with their brothers and sisters who have been shown mercy by Jesus to sing praise to God for the mercy that we’ve been shown by Jesus. And I think that those who are like their Savior love to gather to worship God. That’s one way that we follow Jesus in His attitude towards the Lord’s Day.
But the second thing is this — mercy. Does there, or in your experience of the Lord’s Day, is there a component of mercy? I love the rest that comes on the Lord’s Day. I almost always try to get a little nap on Sunday afternoons. It’s the only day of the week that I can ever get a little nap. And even though Sunday is a work day for me, I always look forward to about forty-five minutes of closing my eyes on Sunday afternoons. It’s one of my regular rituals. But, you know the Lord’s Day is not just about our rest, it’s about mercy. And Jesus’ active use of the Lord’s Day is an illustration of that. Jesus was always about the purposes of mercy. Why? Because we are blessed in order to be a blessing.
When I was in Scotland, I was very often invited into the home of the “clerk of session” of Holyrood Abbey Church of Scotland in Edinburgh where I attended. And he and his wife and family would welcome me in the home for Sunday dinner and about two o’clock the table would finally be spread. And we would eat and talk and fellowship. And when the meal was finally over, Neil, the clerk of session, would excuse himself from the table. He would invite all of us to rest and make ourselves comfortable, because typically when you’re invited into a home in Britain on Sunday you’re expected to stay the whole afternoon. And he would excuse himself and he would head to the nursing home and he would visit as many people as he could in the nursing home. And then he would come back, have tea with us, and then we would go to the evening service together. And I thought what a great example that elder was setting of not just using the Lord’s Day as a day for rest, not just seeing the Lord’s Day as a day of worship, but seeing the Lord’s Day as a day of mercy.
Jesus did that regularly. The Lord’s Day was a day that He showed mercy. Why? Because the Lord’s Day, for us, is the day of Jesus’ resurrection which accomplished for us the certainty of our resurrection as we trust in Him. So the Lord’s Day is a celebration of God’s mercy to us in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the “day of rest and gladness” because it is a day that signals to us God’s mercy. And what better day to show mercy to others? So you might want to, every once in a while, take your family to the hospital and visit not just relatives or friends, but visit someone in the congregation that you don’t know very well and show the Lord’s mercy to them and the love of Christ to them. Or you might want to write a letter on Sunday afternoon to a shut-in in the congregation that you’ve never met but you’ve seen his name or her name on the church prayer list year after year maybe and you’ve never ever met them but maybe you want to write a letter and give encouragement to that person who can’t come to the worship of God because of their physical condition or because of their age and impairment. But we ought to be looking for ways to show mercy on the Lord’s Day. That’s how Jesus used the Lord’s Day.
Well, the point again of this passage is not that Jesus condemned the Lord’s Day or a weekly observance of the worship of God. I love what J.C. Ryle says —
“Our Lord does not do away with the observance of a weekly day of worship and He doesn’t do it anywhere else in the four gospels. Thousands have rushed to the hasty conclusion that Christians have nothing to do with the fourth commandment and that it is no more binding on us than on the Mosaic Law about the sacrifices, but there is nothing in the New Testament to justify that conclusion. The plain truth is that our Lord did not abolish the law of a weekly Sabbath, He only freed it from incorrect interpretations, purified it from manmade additions, but He did not tear out of the Decalogue the fourth commandment. He only stripped it of the miserable traditions with which the Pharisees had encrusted the day and by which they had made it not a blessing, but a burden. He left the fourth commandment where He found it, a part of the eternal Law of God of which no jot or tittle was ever to pass away. May we never forget this.”
Jesus’ observance of the Lord’s Day points to us how we ought to observe the Lord’s Day.
May the Lord bless us as we consider His Word.
Our Lord, we thank You for the mercy of Jesus Christ that’s shown on the Lord’s Day. We thank You for the picture of Your Gospel blessings that are shown on the Lord’s Day. And we ask that You would give us the kind of heart of mercy that Jesus has and that that would show in the way we observe the Lord’s Day. We ask this in Jesus’ name.