“When the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, ‘Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath” (Matthew 12:2)
What would it be like to work and yet no effort was involved? It would be - rest. What if you worked eight hours or more and were simply REFRESHED by what you did? What would life be like? And what if you added to rest and refreshment the discovery that you truly CARE for those that you work for? What if you liked what you did and then additionally felt an honest delight that you did well for your customer, the consumer or whoever it is you serve? No more striving, no feelings that you were cheated out of the time that you think should have been about YOUR needs. Work, rest and joy all come at the same time. You like it! In fact, you can’t wait to do it again!
But how do we do it? Or even more important, CAN life BE like that? The word “Sabbath” or “Shabbat” from the Aramaic (“cease, stop or rest”) is a concept and a command found in places like Exodus 20:8-11, where we read, “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 of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the 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.” The “Sabbath” reminds us to – rest – and help others rest also.
Much can be drawn from all this, but two important concepts are clear in this Scripture: 1) We were created to need rest! Our tendency is to “make hay while the sun shines,” as the old saying goes, an adage which acknowledges the human tendency to overwork in many situations, especially in areas in which we feel we are skilled. The need for rest is not only about you and me, but also those in relation to us, including our spouse, children, if we have them, and any workers or other people who might report to us. Our bodies and our minds need rest, whether we acknowledge it or not. And 2), when we experience a time of “rest,” which is like a “fast” from overwork, our focus is to be on God the Creator. This is more than just relaxing. We are to prayerfully ponder the truth that the universe is not merely some mindless landslide down an evolutionary mountain, but it is the precise Act of Him who made us. As God revealed through human writers in places like Psalm 46:10 - “Cease (be still) and know that I am God.”
The people of Israel who directly received God’s Law, including this command to rest, had many theologians, just as we do today, and they worked hard to define what it was all about. The underlying word for “work” was the Hebrew “melakhah” and because a form of that word is in Genesis 2:1-3, where it says of God, “He rested from all His work,” the Fourth Commandment was understood to prohibit people from performing any creative acts.
It was decided that there were thirty-nine categories of “work” including: “planting, plowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading, cooking, shearing, laundering, beating wool, dyeing, spinning, warping, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying, untying, sewing two stitches, tearing, trapping, slaughtering…” and more. It is commendable that many theologians (Rabbans) through the centuries permitted the saving of a human life on the Sabbath, even insisting that the saving must be done though it was technically a violation of the Law. Not so commendable was that many also refused to save the life of a Gentile. People everywhere are less inclined to help outsiders, making Scriptures like Exodus 22:21 especially important – “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” To not help someone in need is to disobey God.
Many have noticed that when Jesus walked this earth, He often chose to heal people on the Sabbath. He could easily have healed them on the next day or any other day. The reality is, He did not break the Sabbath, He broke man’s interpretation of what it was all about. He actually COMPLETED the Law. As He observed about His mission in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” In helping, in healing someone in need, He showed us how life should be. Whatever gifts we might think we have, they are to be used for the benefit of others and for the glory of God.
Has the Lord directed your attention to one or more Scriptures that particularly seem to apply to you? The answer is probably – yes – He has touched your heart with at least several of them and one of them for many is Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and My load is light.” The fact is that for most of us, we often do become weary, our load seems heavy many times and our burdens do, too. How can we do it? How do we come to Jesus and find His rest?
For one thing, by going to Him when times are hard (and at all other times), you’ll find that His intention is to bear the burden with you. He doesn’t take it away necessarily, though He might, but you are no longer alone in your pain, depression and sorrow. The Greek word for “rest” seen in Matthew 11:29, as you might expect, means to “cease” or to “be refreshed.”
Flowing out of Matthew 11:28-30 we find Matthew 12:1-2 - “At that time, Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grain fields, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.” The various religious leaders of that time and place were watching Jesus and His disciples intently, hoping to accuse Him of something; and in our verse for today they shouted at Jesus, “Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” We know that the religious leaders of the time tended to be insincere because of places like John 12:10-11 – “The chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus to death also because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.” This was the Lazarus who was raised back to life by Jesus in John 11, after four days in the grave. They wanted to get rid of him. How would you feel if your enemy, your rival suddenly died? And how would you feel if they were raised back to life?
Jesus reminded His accusers in Matthew 12:3-8 about an incident involving David, as recorded in 1 Samuel 21, in which he and his hungry men ate the showbread that was reserved for use in the temple by the priests. Leviticus 24:9 and its context specifically limits the use of that bread for “Aaron and his sons,” the priests of Israel. David and his men were not priests. Jesus observed that the priests themselves work on the Sabbath and are not condemned (Matthew 12:5), and He revealed that “the Son of Man (Jesus) is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Verse 8).
Something wonderful is presented here. Yes we are to rest and help others to rest, as we are told in many places, including Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. And yes, the Commandments of God have never been set aside. We are to love God, honor our parents (which is rare today), respect human life (rare, too), refrain from adultery (also rare), be honest (almost nonexistent), speak in a positive manner about our neighbor whenever possible, and not lust after what they have. And we are to come to Jesus. It’s more than just outwardly doing something or not doing it. We go to the Lord, finding that He is waiting for this moment to help us, and all we have to do is place our trust in Him. He is “Lord... of the Sabbath” and He is the Lord of you and me. Let’s go to Him and find His rest.
Dear Lord, we come to You now. We take Your “yoke” upon us and find to our surprise and delight that it is lighter than the load of worries we tried to bear ourselves. We love You, Lord and we trust in You now. We give you our burdens. Thank You that Your “yoke is easy and (Your) load is light.” We praise Your Holy Name. In Jesus Name. Amen.