Sermon on Deuteronomy 5:12-16 – Rest for You and Your Relationship with God
Why follow the Law? Why participate in the Sabbath? Why rest?
These questions may seem like an attempt to circumvent the Law, but we can only benefit from understand our faith and out tradition more. If we can answer those “Why?” questions, it can help us to improve our lives and our relationship with God.
This passage serves as a great conversation point for that question, and I think we can work toward a help answer by answering this question:
What purpose does the Sabbath serve, both for our Israelite brothers and sisters and for us as followers of Christ.
I will apologize now: we have some boring stuff to hit first at the beginning of this sermon. Spoken this will not suffer the same tedium but written I cannot do what I will do preaching. Just hold on for about 200 words and then I will get less boring.
The Hebrew word for Sabbath translates to rest if you go for the cleanest and simplest option. You can also say “ceasing labor” or “bringing labor to a standstill.” You can also say “to take a holiday.” You do not necessarily need to remember all of that, or even care about it, but it should start to paint the picture of “rest” that defines Sabbath.
The Ten Commandments make Sabbath a proper noun, defined as a day of rest at the end of the week. It has a simple rationale: God rested, so humans can and should rest. The rest goes beyond just beer and football—God gave it a holy component, a focal point of God—but Sabbath means rest. Stop laboring and rest in God.
How far should we take that? Should we go as far as some of our Jewish brothers and sisters and not turn on a light during our holy rest? Should we not even care about our holy rest because the Sabbath command changed after Jesus and we not longer follow a legalistic interpretation of scripture?
I do not have a rigid, black and white answer for this question—like many things, the Christian church has argued over this point for 2000 years—but we can point to what Jesus and his disciples did for guidance.
If you look at where the New Testament uses the word “Sabbath,” you have three basic things. You have Jesus teaching in the temple, you have Mary Magdalene waiting until after the Sabbath to prepare Jesus’ body, and you have Jesus and the disciples breaking the Sabbath according to the Pharisees1. I want to look at those times and examine what the Pharisees believed and what Jesus did.
These scenes happen in each of the first three gospels and John has many examples similar to the second. We will use Matthew but the Mark and Luke versions would work.
Read the beginning of the interaction in Matthew 12:
12:1At that time Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry so they were picking heads of wheat and eating them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are breaking the Sabbath law.”
3But he said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? 4He went into God’s house and broke the law by eating the bread of the presence, which only the priests were allowed to eat. 5Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple treat the Sabbath as any other day and are still innocent? 6But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what this means, I want mercy and not sacrifice, you wouldn’t have condemned the innocent. 8The Human One is Lord of the Sabbath.”
– Matthew 12:1-8 CEB
The point of that disciples should jump out at you. The Pharisees concerned themselves with only following the rules without any concern as to why or the consequences. The letter of the law meant everything for them and even served as a reason to condemn others who could not or did not follow it to their frustratingly strict standards.
Hungry people need to eat. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has its problems, but he hit the nail on the head saying you must address physiological needs before other needs. I guarantee starving people will not connect with God in prayer and strengthen their relationship with God unless they fix their starvation first.
If you view the Law as something to follow to somehow make it, then of course you cannot eat on the Sabbath no matter your hunger. If you instead view the Law as written to benefit humans and not to enrich God or serve as the test for salvation, then you can see that God would not desire you to go hungry just to prevent you from doing some physical activity on the Sabbath like plucking grains.
God does not need human Sabbath; God desires humans to have Sabbath, but God does not need it. The Law is for Humans, not for God.
The story goes on and Jesus broke the Sabbath again.
9Jesus left that place and went into their synagogue. 10A man with a withered hand was there. Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they asked, “Does the Law allow a person to heal on the Sabbath?”
11Jesus replied, “Who among you has a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath and will not take hold of it and pull it out? 12How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! So the Law allows a person to do what is good on the Sabbath.” 13Then Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did and it was made healthy, just like the other one. 14The Pharisees went out and met in order to find a way to destroy Jesus.
– Matthew 12:9-14 CEB
The Pharisees interpreted the Law like this: schedule your healings on six days and if you happened to meet the healer on the seventh day, you must suffer an additional day because the time did not work out. Suffer to honor the Sabbath.
I will not mince words: the God of love does not want you to suffer. This does not mean you will not suffer on this broken creation but that God did not create you for suffering. If the opportunity to end your suffering appears, holy rest can wait for your healing. If the opportunity to end suffering for someone else appears, holy rest can wait for you to heal.
Clearly Sabbath should serve humans, but do we truly need it?
Jesus needed it. Legalistic rest that we follow because someone told us to does nothing for our souls, but having rest in God and rest from our labors restores our souls.
One small verse from Luke:
5:16But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer.
– Luke 5:16 CEB
Jesus rested to restore his soul and have time with God. He did not get away just to follow a rule; he got away for his soul and his relationship with God.
Legalistically resting serves no purpose because you do not rest in God when you desire to simply follow the Law. Rest, in prayer, away from your labors, worrying less about the amount of “work” you do and more about your connection to God, will restore your soul and improve your relationship with God.
You need to get away from your labors for rest. Bankers need to get away from money, doctors need to get away from medicine, pastors need to get away from preaching, everyone needs to get away from their labors. Jesus needed to get away and pray.
Allow yourself to rest. Do not force yourself to rest to make sure you followed a law, but also do not allow yourself to do your labors without rest because Jesus broke a human interpretation of Sabbath.
Rest in God, however that looks for you. Amen.
1Matthew 24 also uses Sabbath, and in a different way, but it does not really contribute to or contradict the rest of the sermon.