The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
October 13, 2019
Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely. And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go. Then He answered them, saying, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" And they could not answer Him regarding these things. So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 14:1-11
Some people who refuse to attend church services defend their breaking of the Third Commandment by pointing out that many people at church are snooty, stuck up, arrogant, judgmental, religious hypocrites. Tell that to Jesus.
It was the Sabbath. God had set aside the Sabbath for the people to hear his word. On the Sabbath they would hear of God’s love for them and their duty to love God and one another. It was the Sabbath, and Jesus wanted to show love to a man suffering from a terrible disease. But he was surrounded by snooty, stuck up, arrogant, judgmental religious hypocrites. They were watching him. They wanted to find fault with him. They were judging him. If he healed the man on the Sabbath, well, healing is work, it is a sin to work on the Sabbath, and so Jesus will have committed a sin. They were watching him.
Folks regularly break the Third Commandment. They skip church. They don’t repent of their sin and return to church for the forgiveness of sins. No, they justify their sin by pointing their finger at the snooty, stuck up, arrogant, judgmental, religious hypocrites who go to church. They should look beyond their own judgment to see Jesus.
Watch Jesus deal with snooty, stuck up, arrogant, judgmental, religious hypocrites. He didn’t avoid them. He didn’t judge them. He treated them with kindness. He corrected them in a gentle and loving manner. He asked them if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They wouldn’t answer him. They would rather judge him than talk to him. But Jesus talked to them. He asked if they would not pull their donkey or ox out of a pit even if it were the Sabbath. Of course, they would. They knew it. Jesus turned aside their judgment and he demonstrated what the Sabbath was all about. It’s about love.
What about the Sabbath today? Does the Third Commandment still stand? On the one hand, the Sabbath Law as Mosaic Law was abolished when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. The Mosaic Law was abrogated. It was given to ancient Israel, and it was intended for them. The Seventh Day Sabbath was given specifically to ancient Israel. It no more applies to us Christians or to us Americans than does the prohibition against eating bacon, or scallops, or bacon-wrapped-scallops. We can work all day long on Saturday if we want to. This commandment, as recorded in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, strictly forbade any work on Saturdays. Nobody – not the employers or employees, not the visitor, not even the farm animals – was permitted to work on Saturday. This commandment doesn’t apply to us.
On the other hand, the purpose for the Sabbath Law still stands. Its purpose was twofold. First, the Sabbath Law provided bodily rest. You need to take a day off every week. God told Israel that the seventh day of the week was a day of rest during which nobody living in the country would be permitted to work. You get a day off. If your boss doesn’t want to give it to you, he has no choice. It’s the law.
The second and more important purpose of the Sabbath Law was to provide the people with spiritual refreshment. While they were resting their bodies, they would gather together to listen to God’s Word. Every Saturday, the people would go to church, hear God’s word, and receive from God’s word forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. They would be bodily and spiritually refreshed.
The Sabbath law not only provided rest for body and soul, it was also a picture of the rest that the promised Savior would provide. Christ labored on Friday, bearing up under the weight of God’s law and its judgment of sinners. It was the hardest work any man ever did. He worked so that we could rest. By bearing our sin in his body on the cross, he gained for us spiritual rest and peace. He rested on Saturday as his body lay in the tomb. The Old Testament Sabbath signified the rest that we find in Christ. Jesus rose on Sunday morning.
We Christians worship on Sunday morning because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning. Seventh Day Adventists teach that we should gather for worship on Saturday, as it is written in Exodus and Deuteronomy. But we Christians aren’t under the Mosaic Law, as St. Paul writes in Colossians:
Rome teaches that the Church moved the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. The Church has no authority to change God’s law. The Reformed churches teach that the New Testament teaches that the Sabbath is now Sunday. But it doesn’t. Why, then, do we gather together for worship every Sunday morning? On Sunday morning our Lord Jesus rose from the dead. Christ’s resurrection is this world’s absolution. On Easter Sunday Jesus brought to this world the spiritual treasures he won by his death on the cross. He gives us these treasures every time we gather together in his name. Every Sunday is Easter. Easter was the day when Christ brought life and immortality to light by the gospel. We come to church to hear the gospel and receive eternal life.
Martin Luther once said that theology moves like a drunken peasant walking across a bridge. He lurches from error on this side and that side of the bridge, always in danger of falling into the river. So it has been for the Sabbath law here in America. On the one hand, some Christians have opposed any kind of recreation, drinking of alcoholic beverages, or engaging in any secular pursuits on a Sunday. There aren’t many on that side of the bridge these days. Now it is the other extreme. Employers require their employees to work on Sunday mornings. Those running sports leagues for children schedule games on Sunday mornings. It used to be that businesses shut down on Sundays at least long enough to permit their employees to attend church. Those days are gone. For almost two thousand years Christians regarded Sunday as a holy day, but fewer and fewer people go to church these days.
Will going to church save your soul? Maybe not. The lawyers and Pharisees who stood in judgment of our Lord Jesus went to church religiously every Saturday. Their religion was their problem. They didn’t go to church to receive God’s undeserved favor. They went to do God a favor. After church, when attending the Sabbath meal, they all scrambled for the places of highest honor. Clearly, they didn’t come to church as sinners seeking God’s grace.
Will going to church save your soul? Maybe not. Some churches preach little if any gospel. Instead of directing sinners to the forgiveness of their sins that Christ won on the cross for us all, they teach moralism. They preach political correctness. They teach principles for worldly success. They teach spiritually empty doctrines that cannot provide nourishment for the soul.
Will going to church save your soul? It just might. Come to church and humble yourself before God. Jesus says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Those who exalt themselves find no rest for their souls. The Sabbath rest is reserved for those who humble themselves. They don’t go to church to be recognized by others. They don’t go to get praise from others. They come to church to find their gracious God. God is gracious to the humble. St. Peter writes:
To elevate yourself before God will ensure that he will debase you. To advance your cause at the expense of others will not bring you success. It will end in failure. We come to church in humility. We boast of nothing but God’s grace. We glory in the crucifixion of Jesus, for there we are forgiven of all our sins.
Why do people think so much of themselves? Why do they seek status over others? Why do they exalt themselves? It’s because they despise God’s word. In the Little Catechism we learn what the Third Commandment requires. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” What does this mean? “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and his word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
When we listen to what God says in his word we learn to acknowledge our sins and weaknesses. We stood on our pride when we should have apologized for the hurt we caused our neighbor. We wanted to exalt ourselves. What did that get us? The word of God brings us to a sober assessment of who we are.
But more than that, God’s word reveals how much God loves us. The church is where God’s people gather together to hear the gospel and receive the sacraments of Christ. We are gathered together in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We join our voices together in our common cry for God’s mercy. God is always merciful. Yes, even to snooty, stuck up, arrogant, judgmental, religious hypocrites. He graciously turns hypocrisy into humility. He then raises the humble up to heaven. Where God’s gospel sounds forth and we confess it; where God’s body and blood are distributed and we eat and drink; where we confess our sins and receive Christ’s absolution; there is our heaven on earth. There is our Sabbath rest. There we find our rest and peace in the wounds of our Savior, Jesus.
Rolf D. Preus