October 8, 2017 A+D
St. Luke 14:1-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have learned the third commandment by heart: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” In Exodus 20 there is a bit more to it. It reads as follows:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8–11, ESV)
This commandment was given for the good of the people. Even in the Old Testament, the Law’s purpose was more than merely accusing and showing sins. It was also meant to show the goodness of God and His concern for us.
The first thing this commandment did was provide the people with a weekly day off work. God set down the first labor law. He guaranteed a day of rest for every worker. Even the foreigners and servants, even the animals, got a day off. This law served was useful purpose not only in making people more productive but also in protecting and honoring them. This law also showed that human beings were made in God’s image and should follow His example.
The main purpose of this Law though was to provide the people with an opportunity to gather together to hear the preaching of God’s Word. It is not enough that we have food and clothing for the body, shelter from the elements, and enough water to drink. We need also to be fed spiritually. We need to receive a well-balanced diet of solid spiritual food. If we don’t, the results are more devastating than physical death.
Weekly worship was easier for the people of Israel than it is for us. They didn’t have to juggle their schedules to figure out when they could gather together for church services. The freedom that we have is subject to abuse. For them, it was always on the same day, the Sabbath or rest day, Saturday. There were no choices to make because there was nothing else to do that day. On this day God rested from His work of creating the world. His people gathered in imitation of this.
In this way, they confessed that God is creator and that we belong to Him. Their rest was also a witness to His grace. Salvation is not won by man’s efforts. It is received by men as a gift from God. No other religion, as far as I know, commands people to rest and receive.
For us, of course, the day is Sunday. When Jesus finished the recreation of the world He rested for a final Sabbath and when He rose the next day it was the dawn of a new age. Every day is now sanctified and we rest in Him at all times. There is no law requiring us to worship on Sundays. God has no preference for any day of the week. We are free in regard to days. Sunday worship is a tradition that helps us to engage in a weekly commemoration of the Resurrection,
As good of a design as Sabbath worship was, sinful men ruined it. The Law of God, good and merciful and useful, got corrupted by legalists like the Pharisees recorded in Luke 14. This law became a club to use against one another. A legalist is not someone who takes the Law seriously and wants to keep it. For example, if “Hotel California” comes on the radio, a Christian might turn the station. You might think that is silly. Maybe it is, but it could be done without judging those who like the song. The Christian who finds that song creepy out and is uncertain as to whether or not it is satanic, rightly avoids it. That doesn’t make that person a legalist. It makes him a Christian. A legalist is not someone who avoids temptation and sin or a person who loves God’s Law. All Christians do that. A legalist is someone who uses the law of God to serve himself and to make others feel inferior. The legalist would condemn anyone who didn’t turn the radio station or have his exact same concerns. Modern day legalists even do that in the name of the Gospel – they seek make others feel inferior because they are concerned about the law and try to avoid sin, as though that were spiritually immature. A legalist uses the law to make himself judge. He uses it to accuse others. That’s a satanic misuse of God’s law – no matter what he calls it.
Neither the law nor the Gospel were designed to make anyone of look better than anyone else. Neither the Law nor the Gospel is a measuring stick of faith or good works or even sin. The Law’s purpose is to expose our sin so that we see that we need a Savior and at the same time instruct us in how to help our neighbors – not judge them. The Gospel’s purpose is not to get us into some club of spiritually mature people and pseudo-profundity but to forgive our sins and declare us righteous. If I use the law or what I call the “Gospel” to hurt my neighbor, to make him feel bad about himself or admire me, I am denying the essence of God Himself, of Law and Gospel, and I make myself a blasphemer.
That, of course, is exactly what was happening in the house of the ruler of the Pharisees. It is obviously lawful to heal on the Sabbath to anyone who is paying attention. If it were not then it would also be a sin to love your children on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was created for man not man for the Sabbath. Its purpose was never to burden men or give them ways to judge one another. Rather it was meant to show the way to be fully human, that is humans are made in God’s image and designed to rest in reception of His righteous Word. The law’s accusations weren’t meant to be a contest to see who was better or worse. Its accusations provide a necessary diagnosis and exposure so that we would know that we can’t save ourselves and need forgiveness.
The ceremonial aspect of this law was lifted at Pentecost along with the dietary laws and Temple laws. They all pointed to and were fulfilled by Christ. They are not binding on us as they were in the Old Testament, but there is a moral aspect to this law that is binding. Luther beautifully explains it as we learn by heart: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but gladly hear and learn it.” If we aren’t spiritually fed, we will die.
The Lord begs the people in the house to recognize His compassion. “Which of you,” He says, “having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” What He means is, “Of course I am going to heal this guy. Why would I allow him to suffer a minute longer than necessary? Can’t you see that I love him, that he is my son whether he believes in Me or not? And if he is my son, then so are you. You are caught in a well of your own design. I gave you my hand in my Word but you would not take it. I am coming down there, to the lowest place. I am coming to get you, Pharisee, legalist, and scared person. I will die for you in that well of law. You can step on my back to get out. It is the Sabbath and I have good things for you here.”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Some help for this sermon was found here: http://christforus.org/Sermons/Content/2012/TrinitySeventeenSermon2012.htm