Robert Jeffress - Squabbling Over The Sabbath
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. For thousands of years, the sabbath has been considered a holy day. Up until recently, there were even laws that prohibited the buying and selling of certain items on Sunday. But does God really expect us to keep the sabbath in our modern day? Or, is honoring the sabbath just another way of being legalistic? Today, I want to challenge you to look beyond the letter of the law and see the principle behind it. My message is titled "Squabbling Over the Sabbath", on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
How would you react to the following situations? Situation number one, a friend or family member tells you that he's received a promotion that will result in a much-needed increase in salary. The only catch is his new position will require him to work every Sunday and miss church on Sunday. But the good news is your church has Saturday night worship services. So his question to you is, "Is Saturday night worship the same as Sunday morning worship? Should I take this new position or not"?
Situation number two, you've had a hectic week, you didn't have time to go by the hardware store to get a new blade for your lawnmower. And so Sunday, while you're munching on a Doughnut at Sunday School, you just mentioned to a friend that as soon as church is over, you're going by the hardware store to pick up a blade for your lawnmower. Your friend is horrified. "You're going to shop on Sunday? Don't you realize that by shopping on Sunday, you're encouraging a store to stay open? And that means employees will be missing church". How do you respond to that objection?
Situation number three, your child has been offered a spot on a very select sports team that travels out of town three or four weekends every month. Being on this sports team will give your child a very good advantage in securing a college scholarship. The only problem is he or she will be missing church almost every Sunday for a year. You're concerned, but the coach tries to allay your fears by saying, "Don't worry, we'll have a devotional thought on the field right before the game every Sunday". Do you allow your child to participate or not?
All of these situations have in common the fact that they deal with the issues of the commandment, "Remember the sabbath and keep it holy". Does that commandment apply to us today who live under grace and not the law? Are there principles that transfer to us even under the age of grace? I would say outside of the issue of baptism or eschatology, no issue causes more controversy in the church than the issue of the sabbath. That shouldn't surprise us. The fact is Jesus had his own share of squabbles about the sabbath. We're going to look at two of them today and learn some invaluable principles that apply to us 2.000 years later of what we ought to do on that day of warship.
Turn in your Bibles to Luke 6. As we've seen, Jesus was constantly doing battle against the pharisees, that sect of Judaism that was seeking to destroy him. We saw last time how they criticized Jesus for hanging out with sinners. Why, who else does a Savior hangout with except a sinner? That's why he came, not for the righteous, but for the unrighteous. And now we're going to see today they also criticized Jesus for the way he kept or didn't keep the holy day of worship called the sabbath. Now, before we get into Luke 6, I want to say just a word about the sabbath in general. First of all, its meaning. The word sabbath, contrary to popular opinion, does not mean seventh. Instead, it comes from the Hebrew word SHABBAT, which means to cease or desist from any kind of work.
In fact, somebody has said it means to seize from even thinking about working. And the idea of the sabbath comes from the passage we read just a few moments ago. The fourth commandment found in Exodus 20:8-11. God said, "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God". Verse 11, "For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy". God is saying, "Just as I created the world and finished all of my work in six days and rested on the seventh, you are to do all of your work for a week in six days and you were to rest on the seventh day". What was the purpose of the sabbath? Listen, the sabbath was never meant to be a burden to God's people. It was to be a blessing to God's people. In Mark 2:27, Jesus made it clear that the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath. The sabbath is God's gift to us.
A number of years ago, I was riding around in a taxi cab in New York city and trying to make conversation with the cab driver. I asked him, "How many miles does this cab have on it"? By looking at it, it looked like it had a lot of miles on it. He said, "300.000 so far". I said, "300.000? How do you keep this thing running after 300.000 miles"? He says, "It's real simple, I change the oil every 3.000 miles, I change the air filter and I keep it lubricated". In other words, he was saying, "I follow the maintenance schedule".
Did you know God, our Creator, has given us a maintenance schedule? A program to ensure our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. And part of that maintenance program for us is observing the sabbath. That is, we are to do all our work in six days and we're to do something different on the seventh day. All of our work in six days, not in seven days, not in four days, but in six days we work and the seventh is a sabbath day. It's a gift to us. Of course, the pharisees distorted that. They took what was a blessing and turned it into a burden. They came up with all of these man-made regulations about what you could and couldn't do on the sabbath. They said, "It's okay to ride a donkey on the sabbath, but you can't carry a switch with you to make the donkey go faster because that would be laying a burden on the donkey and making it work". They came up with all of these ludicrous restrictions of what you could and you could not do on the sabbath.
Of course, we say that's silly, but there is some relevance for us today. We understand we're not under the pharisees' man-made rules, but the question is, what about the Old Testament rules about the sabbath? Should we follow those as well? As you look at the New Testament, it is clear that once Jesus was raised from the dead, the early church changed its day of worship from Saturday, the last day of the week, to Sunday, the first day of the week. Mark down Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2. Sunday, the day Christ was raised from the dead, became the day of worship for Christians. Nevertheless, there were some in the early church who weren't comfortable with that change. They wanted to keep worshiping on Saturday. They wanted to keep the Old Testament restrictions of the sabbath. So what were they to do? Do you worship on Saturday or Sunday? Well, Paul addressed that issue head on in Colossians 2:16-17. He said, "Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day, things which are a mere shadow of what is to come: but the substance belongs to Christ".
Paul was saying all these Old Testament laws, they were simply a shadow pointing to Jesus Christ. And now that Jesus has come, there is no reason to go back and keep all of these Old Testament laws. But he also said, "If you still want to worship on the sabbath, fine, worship on the sabbath. If you want to keep these Old Testament dietary laws, go ahead and keep them, but don't judge others who choose not to keep them". You know, the same truth applies to us today. If you don't want to dance, fine, don't dance. Frankly, some of you shouldn't even try to dance. It's a sin against God and man for you to try. If you don't want to dance, fine, if you don't want to go to the movies, fine, if you don't want to smoke cigars, fine. There are very good reasons not to do that. But don't make your personal conviction somebody else's obligation. That's legalism. That's what he's saying here.
Now, even though we're not under those Old Testament restrictions, I do believe there's some very valuable principles for us about the sabbath we can observe today. But before we look at those principles, let's look very quickly at Jesus' sabbath squabbles. There were two of them in which Jesus was confronted with the sabbath. First of all, I call the case of the hungry disciples. It's found in verses one to five of Luke 6. Look at verse one. "Now it came about that on a certain sabbath, Jesus was passing through some grainfields. And his disciples were picking and eating the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the pharisees said, 'why do you do what is not lawful on the sabbath'"? Jesus and his disciples were headed somewhere. We don't know where, it's on the sabbath day. They're very, very hungry and they don't have a McDonald's in which they can pull into and get some bagel McNuggets. So they need to do something. What do they do for food? Well, they're walking through a wheat field, and so they grabbed some heads of grain, heads of wheat, they plucked them from the stalk, they rubbed them in their hands, take the grain, plop it in their mouth, and that's a snack that will tide them over.
Well, some pharisees saw them doing this. They said, "You can't do that". Now you may say, "Well, they shouldn't do that. That's stealing". No, that's not stealing according to the Old Testament law. In Deuteronomy 23:24-25, there is a provision that if you were going through somebody's field, you could take some heads of grain and feed yourself. You couldn't fill up a container with the grain, that would be stealing, but you were permitted to do that. But the pharisees added to God's law. And they said, "On the sabbath, you couldn't reap, thresh, winnow, or prepare any kind of food on the sabbath day". And, therefore, the disciples were breaking the pharisees' rule.
How did Jesus answer? Look at verses 3 and 4. "And Jesus answered them and said, 'have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God and took an ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for any to eat except the priest alone, and he gave it to his companions'". And now this is a reference to 1 Samuel 21. David and his men were fleeing king Saul. They were hungry, they had no place to eat. So they go into the tabernacle, they see those 12 loaves of bread, the showbread that were dedicated to God, and they ate it. Now, 1 Samuel 22:22 gives a strong inference that the priests had inquired of God of whether this was okay or not. But nevertheless, they ate this bread showing that God is more interested in the spirit of the law than the letter of the law. And that's what Jesus said.
Now, somebody might say, "Well, Jesus, if you just start interpreting God's law however you want to, that leads to chaos". We'll, look at what Jesus said in verse 5. "And he said to them, 'the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath'". Jesus was saying, "Hey, don't forget who I am. I'm God. I'm the one who wrote this law to begin with. I can interpret it any way I want". And by saying such a thing, he enraged the pharisees.
We find the second sabbath squabble beginning in verse 6, the case of the handicapped man. Look at this in verse 6. "And it came about on another sabbath that Jesus entered the synagogue and was teaching. And there was a man there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the pharisees were watching him closely," literally in Greek, they were spying on him, "To see if he healed on the sabbath in order that they might find reason to accuse him". They were really worried that Jesus was actually going to do something nice for somebody on the sabbath and heal this man. Look at how Jesus responded, verse 8. "But Jesus knew what they were thinking. And so he said to the man with a withered hand, 'rise and come forward'. And so the man rose and came forward. And then Jesus said to them, 'i ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to destroy it'"?
You see, the Old Testament law said, "You weren't to work on the sabbath. However, if you had a sheep that was lost or was injured, you had the freedom to rescue it". Now here's the point. If you can do that for an animal, if you can rescue and help heal an animal, don't you think you ought to be able to do it for another human being? Why is it people would care more about animals than they do human beings who are created in the image of God? And yet you're seeing that same hypocrisy today. And then Jesus sticks the knife in even deeper. He said, "By the way, pharisees, is it better to save a life or destroy it on the sabbath? You're all concerned what I'm doing on the sabbath? What are you doing"? What they were doing was plotting to kill the Son of God.
So what he's saying is, "Who's really doing good and who's really doing evil here as well"? Verse 10, "And after looking around at them all, he said to him, 'stretch out your hand'! And he did so: and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus". Now, look, I understand, 2.000 years later, most of you are not wrestling whether or not you can pluck a head of wheat from somebody's field. You're not trying to determine whether or not you ought to heal somebody of a withered hand. But I believe God's word is given to us for a reason. I believe in this story and in God's word, we find some invaluable lasting principles that ought to help us in our own walk with God. And so I want to close today briefly with three lasting lessons that come from this passage about our observance of the sabbath.
First of all, principle number one, recognize the difference between legalism and obedience. Whenever I speak out against legalism, I'm hesitant to do so because I know people will misunderstand. People confuse legalism with obedience. When we talk about legalism, we're not talking about God's laws, we're talking about man-made laws. And we are to avoid those because we live under grace. But a lot of times, people confuse that with obedience. And they use God's grace, listen to this, as an excuse for immorality, self-indulgence, non-involvement in God's kingdom's work. You present to people a standard of what they should be doing, and many Christians say, "King's X, that's legalism. I don't have to do anything, I'm under grace, not under the law".
May I remind you that those of us who live under the New Testament, under grace, and not the Old Testament, the law, don't operate according to a lower standard, we have a higher standard. Grace imposes a higher standard of obedience, not a lower standard. Didn't Jesus say that? He said, the Old Testament said, "You shall not commit adultery". But I say to you, whoever looks on somebody with lust is guilty of adultery. The New Testament is a higher standard of behavior. Listen, grace is not an excuse for disobedience to God. A few years ago, I wrote a book about the abuse of grace called "Grace gone wild". And it's what I'm seeing in the church today. And I gave this definition of grace. I said, "Grace is not the license to do what you want, it's the freedom to do what you should". Grace has its own obligation. And we need to understand the difference between legalism, following man-made rules, and obedience, which is following God's rules.
Secondly, remember the principle behind the sabbath. Now, we're not under the Old Testament restrictions about what to do on the seventh day, but the principle still applies. There needs to be one day a week when we focus on our relationship with God. And by the way, we don't do that by ourselves. We do it in the community of other believers. In Hebrews 10:24-25, the New Testament gives us the standard. "And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another: and all the more as you see the day drawing near".
Now, look, this passage is not saying, "You can never, ever miss a Sunday". It's not saying that. The key word is habit. What is your habit on Sunday? If you find yourself being gone from here as much as you're here, or you find yourself being gone more than you're here, you're not obeying God. First of all, you're robbing yourself of the spiritual encouragement we all need that comes from being with God's people, singing together, hearing God's word, praying together, encouraging one another. You are robbing yourself of the spiritual resource you need that comes from fellowship. But when you're not here, you're also robbing other people of what they need.
You heard me say a few weeks ago, when you're not here on Sunday morning, that's one less voice praising God in song. That's one less prayer being offered during the invitation. That's one less spiritual gift being operated and exercised in the body of Christ. Your absence has an impact, just not on you, but on others as well. And that's why we need to make our presence in church an absolute priority. One of the things I am so concerned about, I see happening in our church and so many other churches, is the number of parents of grade school children and teenage children who are pulling their kids out of church on Sundays for sports activities.
It wasn't that long ago, you would never think of having an athletic contest on a Sunday. High schools would never have a practice on a Sunday. They would never have a tournament. But you see it over and over again. And many parents are allowing sports to become a God for them and their children as well. And they're going to reap the consequences of that. There is nothing on that athletic field they are going to get that is going to help them weather the storms of life. The only way they're going to stand in the storms of life is by building their life on God's word. And that's why it's important to have your children in church every Sunday. There's a principle behind the sabbath.
Now, the final principle, the final lasting lesson I want to talk about today is resist the urge to impose your convictions on others. In issues that the Bible doesn't address directly, the gray area, so to speak, resist the urge to impose your conviction on others.
The two most famous preachers of the 19th century was the American evangelists D. L. Moody and the London pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon. One day, D. L. Moody decided he would travel to London to meet Mr. Spurgeon in person. He arrived in London, went to Spurgeon's home, knocked on the door. When the door opened, D. L. Moody was shocked to see the legendary Charles Spurgeon standing there smoking a cigar. D. L. Moody said, "How could you, a man of God, smoke that"? Spurgeon took the stogie out of his mouth, started tapping the rather large stomach of D. L. Moody and said, "How could you, a man of God, be so fat"? Jesus said, "Before you take the speck out of your brother's eye, remove the plank out of your own eye". Look, in these areas that the Bible doesn't give specific direction on, try to learn the principles from God's word that are behind those regulations. Pray for God's leadership in how you should act and behave. But resist the urge to make your conviction somebody else's obligation. If we do that, we'll all live happily together.