Lord of the Sabbath | Luke 6:1-11 | Chapel Hill Church
During the height of Covid a ruling came down from Orthodox Jewish leaders regarding hospital visitation on the Sabbath. They declared that the use of a handheld thermal monitor at the entrance to the hospital constituted work and therefore, was a violation of the Sabbath. Consequently, observant Jews were not allowed to visit the sick on the Sabbath…unless a Gentile was taking their temperature at the door. Another ruling said that plugging in an electrical device on the Sabbath is forbidden. But, if plug the socket in with your mouth and push it in with your head…that is OK.
This probably sounds as ludicrous to you as it does to me. But that’s because the Western world, including most western Christians, have pretty much decided that God changed his mind about the Fourth Commandment, the longest of the ten.
“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
Part of our vacation was spent in North Carolina. We visited Rachel and I attended my first board meeting of Montreat College, one of the most exciting Christian colleges in the country. But something you notice a lot as you drive Carolina highways? Chick-Fil-A! Tons of ‘em! But if you are driving on a Sunday, don’t bother stopping. Every Chic-fi-la is closed. The owners decided from the outset that they would honor the Sabbath in this way. It costs them millions of dollars, but that’s ok.
Now, you might find that odd. Or quaint. Or irritating if you just gotta have Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday afternoon. But the fact is, one generation ago, this was the norm. I remember Blue Laws in this state when I was in grade school. State laws that made it illegal for certain types of businesses to be open on Sundays. If you are under 50, this is probably unimaginable. But there was a time when you couldn’t shop on Sunday…because everything was closed. Why? Because it was the Sabbath!
But why? Why did God command such a thing? Is he a killjoy? Just wants to take away our Sunday fun? No!! The first thing we must understand is this: Sabbath is a gift! A gift of rest…a gift of restoration. It is the only commandment mentioned in the creation story. After God creates everything in six days, he rests on the seventh. Not because he was exhausted. God didn’t need to catch his breath. But to model a weekly rhythm of rest so that we could enjoy his creation…and the Creator.
Did you notice that everything and everyone rested on the Sabbath? Even visitors from another land. Even slaves. Unthinkable! Even animals. Even vegetation…nothing was harvested. Everything stopped on Sabbath. It was time set aside for rest…for renewal…for family…for community…and for God!
But that meant they had to define what “work” was. That’s where all the Jewish rules came in. Some from the Bible but most of them were made up. You couldn’t light a fire. You couldn’t carry a child. You couldn’t help the birthing of animal. You couldn’t tie or untie a knot. You couldn’t push a chair on the floor because the leg might dig into the ground – that was plowing. You could only sew one stitch. You could only write one letter…as in “A, B, C.” Not sure how helpful that was. And per today’s Luke story, you could give first aid to save a life, but not medical care that would cure a life.
Our culture doesn’t take Sabbath at all seriously. But at the time of Jesus, they took Sabbath dead seriously…and this put the religious rule-keepers and Jesus on a collision course. Over the last few weeks, Luke has strung together a series of stories about how Jesus upset the apple cart…turning religious convention on its head. These are the last two of those stories for now…and they are the final straw. By the time he is done, Jesus has turned the religious leaders and rule-keepers into his mortal enemies.