It’s summer vacation. No more helping kids with homework, driving them to sports or remembering schedules, just freedom. At least that’s what we tell ourselves, but summer can quickly become more complicated than the school year.
We take all the freedom of summer and then we pack it full of things we just have to do like vacation, which means planning the trip, packing, driving or flying, making sure we stick to the schedule once we arrive at whatever exotic destination we are at so we don’t waste our time and money, and when the trip doesn’t go how we planned or we miss events or things are more expensive or people’s expectations clash – summer vacation can quickly turn into a summer nightmare.
We are self-defeating when it comes to summer vacation because we quickly turn the opportunities summer freedom allows us into the chance to make up a whole new set of rules to make sure we have fun. The Pharisees had taken the freedom of the Sabbath day and turned it into a day of rules to make sure people spend their day of rest the right way.
In our gospel lesson from Mark 3, the Pharisee’s rules had become so strict, it prevented them from seeing the heart of God’s gift of the Sabbath day. Jesus showed the Pharisees and all people the wonderful gift of God not only in the Sabbath, but God’s gift of the Savior. Jesus had not come as a rule checker to make sure everyone was doing the right thing. Instead, Jesus came to free us from law, sin and death, which means Jesus came to save your life.
In the Old Testament lesson today from Deuteronomy, God explained what the Sabbath day was,
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.
We can take three points away from this sentence, one, Israel was to have a Sabbath day, sabbath is a Hebrew word that means ‘rest,’ two, the day was to be holy, which means to set something aside for special use, meaning the Sabbath would be a special day, set aside for a special purpose, and three, God commands that this be done, which means he is serious about this day and expected Israel to observe it.
The explanation continues:
13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.
God made it clear this was a weekly observance. Then he explains what to do on the Sabbath, on it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor…basically everyone stops working.
Then God gives the reason why he is asking Israel to take a break once every seven days:
15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
God’s whole goal with the Sabbath was to give the Israelites, the people of God, those who believe in the one true God, who have seen the great saving power of God deliver them from slavery, the opportunity to take a day and remember the great things God has done for them and the promises he still had for them.
Jesus came to make good on the promises God still had for Israel. Jesus shared the good news that the Savior had come wherever he went, but he wasn’t always welcomed with open arms.
1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees hoped to catch Jesus breaking the law on the Sabbath, but Jesus knew the true reason for the Sabbath. It was to give believers the opportunity to hear the Word of God and to be reminded of his saving power, but the Pharisees had forgotten this. The Pharisees saw the Sabbath as their chance to show how pious they were by keeping a long list of rules designed to prevent them from doing excessive manual labor, thus forcing themselves to rest. Their idea of the Sabbath was purely self-righteous and earthly minded, while the true purpose of the Sabbath was to remind us of God’s work to save his people and provide them with eternal life in heaven.
The Pharisees completely missed the point of the Sabbath. They are like any of us who is given a simple task and a great deal of freedom to get it done, but then gets power hungry and ruins everything.
For example, a mother tells her oldest child of four children she is in charge of clearing the dinner table and doing the dishes along with her three younger siblings. When mom leaves the room to get a few minutes to herself, it only takes a minute for the screams and tears to call her back into the kitchen. The simple task mom gave to the oldest to coordinate her younger siblings to clear the table and do the dishes had turned into a war zone. The power-hungry oldest child quickly developed many unnecessary rules, strategies and punishments to get the job done, leaving her younger siblings angry, defeated and rebellious.
The Pharisees took God’s command to take one day a week to remember his great saving work, and instead they turned it into a day that bound the people to manmade laws, crushing the people under a mountain of guilt and despair. All of this happened because the Pharisees rejected Jesus as the promised Savior. They had seen Jesus do things they didn’t approve of on the Sabbath and seeing Jesus again defy their laws by healing a man, the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
The Pharisees were so against Jesus, they were blinded to his miracles, healings and forgiveness. Their blind unbelief caused them to work with the Herodians (secular, pagan group), who the Pharisees despised, to find a way to destroy Jesus. The Greek word in verse six is different from the word kill. The word is better translated destroy. The Pharisees wanted to completely get rid of Jesus, his life, his memory and his influence. They wanted all of this because Jesus was showing them that they were hopeless and destined for death without faith in him.
The Pharisees began work to destroy Jesus because one Sabbath Day, Jesus came to the synagogue and called out to a man with a shriveled hand:
“Stand up in front of everyone.” 4 Then Jesus asked [the Pharisees], “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Jesus came to the synagogue to save lives. He had not come to demand the people follow rules and regulations to earn their way into heaven. Instead, he had come to once again display the awesome power of God to heal and to save. Jesus proved himself as the Savior by his miraculous healing of the man with a shriveled hand. That day, the man who was healed received more than the use of his hand, he also got a lesson in the purpose for Jesus’ coming. Jesus made it very simple, he had come to save life.
When we forget what the man with the shriveled hand saw, we are tempted to fall into unbelief. It happens to us when we listen to others who tell us we need to live a certain way or we must conform to a certain life style, then our lives will be good, successful and God will love us. When we bind ourselves to those things, the outcome is trust in ourselves, rather than Jesus. When we bind ourselves to those unrealistic goals and perceptions, it leads us to either hypocritical arrogance or guilt ridden depression (feeling we are better than others or feeling we are no better than anyone else).
Jesus came to save us because we are like the man who was healed. Not that we all have some physical, mental or emotional damage that Jesus will heal for us so that we enjoy a better life in this world. No, we are like the man with a shriveled hand because he was there on the Sabbath Day to hear Jesus share the message of forgiveness.
You and I keep the Sabbath Day holy by setting aside time during the week to hear the Word of God. We may miss the opportunity to hear the Word of God, we may come here filled with guilt because we have fallen into the trap of trusting in ourselves or what we do and how we live to find favor with God. We have all come here aware that this world and our lives are filled with hardships and it all comes from sin. And that sin leads to death, but friends, Jesus came to give you life.
And so, let us live as we heard in our second lesson from Hebrews 3, let us:
“encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ.”
Above all, you and I are here today to hear about Jesus. Jesus who came to this world, knowing he would face opposition and eventually death. He came despite all of that because he wanted to give you life.
Jesus knows that our time is this world isn’t like a fun filled summer vacation, but instead we live trapped by rules and laws that we cannot hope to keep. Jesus came to keep those laws for us. He lived a life that was perfect, even better than the Pharisees. Then he gave up his perfect life on the cross, he died, trading his perfect life for our sinful lives, and now we are free from our sins. Through our Savior Jesus we now look forward to eternal life in heaven confident that he will raise us back to life. Jesus did all of this because he was fueled by his love for you. Jesus is the one we are aching for, and Jesus came to give you life. Amen.