Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 15

"Did Jesus Break the Sabbath Law?"

Luke 14:1-6

August 28, 2016

Once upon a time, and some of you remember that time, Sunday was the quietest day of the week. For you younger people, can you imagine leaving church this morning and discovering no businesses were open. No gas stations, convenient stores, restaurants or malls were open for business. There was such a time but, obviously, times have changed.

Once upon a time, going to church was the way to break the monotony of too quiet Sundays. Now, since everything seems too busy, church is often put aside in the face of all the other things people think they "need of get done on their day off of work."

Once upon a time, the Jewish people had very strict Sabbath laws. They didn't seem to allow any kind of work. It was like a trick question, "are you still abusing your children. Whether you answer yes or no, you are guilty. This was the trick question addressed to Jesus. The implication was that He was doing something that should not be done on the Sabbath day of rest. This is the situation placed before Jesus.

Luke 14:1-6. It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. 2 And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" 4 But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 And He said to them, "Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" 6 And they could make no reply to this."

Jesus had been invited to what we would call a Sunday dinner. He was supposed to be the guest of honor but the host and his friends had another agenda. They hoped to blindside our Lord by bringing in a man afflicted with dropsy. This is a condition when the body retains fluids and becomes distended. It's a pathetic situation. What will Jesus do?

Since our Lord knows everything, He could see through their game playing and asks a simple question: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? The Law forbade work on the Sabbath but the question now became, how do you define work? If a child fell down and was injured, do you ignore the pain and crying because it is the Sabbath? If there is an emergency, do you sit on the sidelines until the Sabbath is over? The answer is also in the Law. Mercy supersedes everything else.

Indeed, God said "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.." [Hosea 6:6]

It's interesting that the Pharisees seemed stumped by our Lord's question. They were the ones who were trying to set Him up. You'd think they would have thought this through a little more and been ready for their answer to what seems to be such an obvious question. After all, we have to wonder in their minds what was allowed. Surely, they would have had a list of do's and don'ts ready.

What's the point of this story? Is this an intellectual exercise in the interpretation of Jewish law or can we also learn something from it? How are we supposed to understand the Sabbath? Although we are no longer bound to the Sabbath regulations of the Old Testament, the Third Commandment is still in play. Jesus honored the Sabbath. He did not cancel it or tell us we could ignore it. Once again we have the genius of Luther's Small Catechism. The explanation to the Third Commandment helps us understand it.

He writes: We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Luther goes on the further explain all this:

"The doctrine of Sabbath has mainly this object, that we learn to understand the Third Commandment correctly. For to sanctify the Sabbath means to hear God's word and to help our neighbor wherever possible. For God does not want the Sabbath kept so holy that we should on that account leave and forsake our neighbor in his trouble. Therefore, if I serve my neighbor and help him, though this means work, I have kept the Sabbath rightly and well; for I have performed a divine work on it." Luther.

The priority given us in the Third Commandment is to be attentive to God's Word. When the church was first established in the Roman world, there were no Sunday closings. It was business as usual seven days a week. In fact, the pagan critics of Christianity noted that the members of the early church would meet before dawn to worship. They met early so they could carry out their other work responsibilities.

Even in our over scheduled world, we are reminded to take time to hear the Word. Although there are all kinds of tugs and pulls on Sundays, Christians are to avoid despising the Word by neglecting to hear it. We may not be able to change culture. We certainly will not return to the old days when everything was closed on Sunday. That was then but the present is different.

How do we keep the Third Commandment? First we hear, then we do. We gather on Sunday morning or even on Saturday evenings. We hear the Word. The Holy Spirit works through the Word to grow and strengthen our faith. Once we are fed and nourished on the Word and Sacrament, we are equipped to return to the world. We live our vocation as parents, children, spouses, workers and friends.

The question for us is not whether it is proper to do good on the Sabbath. The answer to that is "yes." Every day presents us with opportunities to do good. Sunday has been set aside by the church as the day to hear the Word of God collectively with fellow believers.

We are encouraged not to despise preaching and His word but to gladly hear and learn it.

In our very busy world, it is easy to put worship aside in favor of whatever else seems to be pressing. The devil uses this busyness to put us from the Word. He uses this busyness to erode and destroy faith. Satan tempts us with what seems to be the riches of the world's buffet while at the same time causing us to starve because we are not being fed on the Word of God.

We are invited today and every Sunday to feast on the Word of God. The more we are attached to the Word, the stronger our faith will become. Once we are fed and nourished, we can return to the world and its overly busy agenda living as children of God witnessing His love to our spiritually starving culture. Amen.


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