Lord of the Sabbath

How does the Sabbath function in your life? Do you disregard it as a requirement for Israel that has been fulfilled? Does it get buried under the busy demands of your schedule? Is it an inconvenience in our secular culture? The Sabbath, according to Matthew 12:1–14, is an area over which Jesus claims lordship.

Christ claims divine authority. Christ’s relationship to the Sabbath shows his majesty. The name, “Son of Man” indicates divine authority. Jesus already used that name as he claimed the authority on earth to forgive sins, Matthew 9:6. The source of the term is the majestic figure of Daniel 7:13,14. The Sabbath shows Christ’s authority. The Pharisees presumed to be experts in the interpretation of the law. But Christ authoritatively defines the meaning of the commandment. The Son of Man calls himself “Lord of the Sabbath.” He takes to himself the term that was used to translate the Hebrew name of God, YHWH. He claims sovereignty. The connection between Jesus acting on the Sabbath and his claim to sovereignty is made explicit in another incident in claim to sovereignty is made explicit in another incident in John 5:16–18.

Christ’s authority is absolute. The legalism of the Pharisees denied God’s authority. Their human additions to God’s law (starting out as concrete applications of the law) became a substitute for it. (A man could not carry any burden, but if he held something on the back of his hand, or in a bag upside down, then it was not a violation of the commandment!) Human additions soon replace God’s law. The religion of the Pharisees became one of works. They attacked Jesus for allowing his disciples to pluck and eat grain on the Sabbath. Yet they plotted murder on the Sabbath! v. 14. Their attitude was precisely the kind of superficial religiosity that Hosea 6:6 and Isaiah 58:13–14 condemned. Jesus, as Son of Man, could have abrogated the Sabbath. Instead he points out its proper observance. Lordship of the Sabbath includes rule over all of life. The tithe, bringing the firstfruits to the Lord, indicated that the whole harvest came from God, and all of it was to be used to his glory. The Sabbath, with the principle of one day in seven set aside to the Lord, similarly indicates a commitment to use every day to serve God. The origin of the Sabbath takes you back before Sinai to Creation. God’s rest was not because he was weary. Rather, he entered his rest in anticipation of his people entering it. As the day is changed by the climax of Christ’s redemptive work, his resurrection from the dead, that principle still applies in the Lord’s Day or the Christian Sabbath. No time, no activity in your life, can be divorced from his lordship.

Christ’s lordship includes the Sabbath. Submit to Christ’s lordship as you keep the Sabbath. He is present as one greater than the temple. “Clearly, Jesus is saying that what is necessary for life and necessary for worship itself is not con­trary to the real meaning of the Sabbath command­ment. His pointing to himself as the “one great­er than the temple” (verse 6) and “Lord even of the sabbath day” (verse 8) is a declaring of his right to define what is and what is not in accord with the Sabbath. . . . In the heal­ing of the man with the withered arm, our Lord further defines the Sab­bath as a day for which works of mercy are pecu­liarly appropriate. After all, ‘it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days.’” (“Report of the Committee on Sabbath Matters” Minutes of the Fortieth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, pp.96f.). Christ explains the proper keeping of the Sabbath. David and his men, fleeing from Saul, ate the consecrated bread from the tabernacle, food which was designated only for priests, see 1 Samuel 21:6. Works of necessity are appropriate on the Sabbath. He also points to the command to offer sacrifices on the Sabbath, an instruction which required the priests to work on the day of rest, Numbers 28:9. Worship requires activity, yet is appropriate on the Sabbath. Healing the man could have waited to another day. By healing on the Sabbath (and pointing out that healing someone is more important than the accepted practice of showing mercy to an animal on the Sabbath) Jesus makes clear that doing works of mercy are a way to keep the Sabbath. How these principles work out is not easy, especially in an increasingly apostate culture. Make the Sabbath positive, a delight, Isaiah 58:13.14. What can you do to make the day one of joyful, even busy, rest from the work of the other days of your week? Beware of the danger of the convenience of livestreaming leading to ignoring worship and minimizing keeping the sabbath as things return to normal.

Remember that the Son of Man continues to be Lord of the Sabbath. He had this authority on earth. He rebukes the Pharisees for a basic misunderstanding of God’s law, for an attitude that accuses the innocent, v.7. It was while he walked here on earth that he claimed this lordship. In glory he continues to be Lord of the Sabbath. His ascension involves an expansion, not a diminution, of his authority. “The main point is that between worship, hospitality—and, since it is a Sabbath, could we add fellowship and rest?—Christians can easily devote their whole day to the Lord. A day with morning and evening worship, and fellowship and hospitality in between, tends to answer most Sabbath practice questions. Indeed, we would do well to avoid being over-prescriptive in defining the structures and activities of that day. . . . If we remember the Sabbath day, worshipping our Lord and aiming to do good—if this is the longing of our hearts, with God’s help, we cannot go far wrong. And if we do err, we can turn to the Lord of the Sabbath, who rose one Sunday morning so that sinner would find life and look forward to an eternal rest with him and all his people.” (Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, p. 295). Keeping this day to his glory continues to be a sign that you acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of Man, as someone who is greater than the temple, as your Savior.

Today should not be a burden, but a delight. It not just one more day, but, rather, a celebration in which you rejoice that Jesus is Lord.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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