Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath…
–John 5: 8-9
There is a well-known pastor of a very large church in Minneapolis who caught my attention some years ago with a very interesting statement. He said that “[Christian] missions exist because worship doesn’t…”
Making so much of worship might sound confusing to some. I know that when I was a boy I loved Jesus and wanted to follow Him, but I also know that I didn’t always feel like being in worship, and would often, for example, pay attention to the clock, counting the minutes…
Even if now, of course, I am glad my parents made me go!
So, in order to understand this statement better, perhaps it is helpful to think about worship more broadly… thinking about the broader definitions of what is meant by worship – and even taking seriously a statement not from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, but one from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a Calvinist document of all things!:
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
What does that mean and is it true, right?
Well, going along with this idea is certainly the thought that as creatures, we were created to worship God. This pastor I already mentioned is in fact well-known for his self-proclaimed “Christian hedonism,” saying in his book titled Desiring God, for example, that “God is most glorified when you are most satisfied in Him.”
Again, is this true?
Well, the Bible talks about how we, being creatures, are to glorify God in our body and spirit, whether we eat or drink or whatever we do (I Cor. 6:10; 10:31); and also how all nations will worship and glorify God’s name (Isa. 60:21).
And Romans 11:36, for instance, puts things this way as well: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
This is good, right, and proper. For by God’s will all things were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11). As the Psalmist says, “the Lord is the portion of mine inheritance” and then goes on to say:
“I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
Psalm 144:15, for example, also says “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.”
Perhaps above all these verses, Romans 12:1-2, following right on the heels of that other Romans passage I just read earlier, says this:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
In view of God’s mercy… [meaning, of course, God’s mercy shown to us in Jesus Christ…] we worship… and of course not only Sundays!
So “rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). I Thessalonians 5:16 says “Rejoice evermore.”
I don’t think it can be denied, and why would we want to deny it?
About God being most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him, I think this pastor is surely right.
And there is indeed a connection between missions and worship, or more accurately, there is surely a connection between the proclamation of the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth and our own worship – our own proclamation and praise….
So God created each and every one of us – all people of this world! – to be those who find our meaning and our purpose in glorifying Him.
I submit that we see this truth illustrated in our texts today…
In our Psalm we hear:
“May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples with equity
and guide the nations of the earth.”
And in the book of Revelation reading we hear all about the “Heavenly Jerusalem”!
We are to understand that it will transcend the earthly Jerusalem, the center of Israel’s worship and home of the earthly temple. And we also hear not only how Israel – but all nations – will be welcome to come in!
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
And in the reading from the book of Acts, we hear about how one of the individuals from these foreign nations, or Gentiles, Lydia, comes to Christ through the preaching, the mission, of the Apostle Paul.
And though not a Jew, Lydia, it seems, was already worshiping the One True God on the Sabbath day, and this mention of the Sabbath gives us a connection with what we heard in our Gospel reading…
If we pay close attention to the messages from the Scriptures, we can see that this kind of thing was in the cards, was in God’s plan, from the very beginning.
In the OT, for example, we read how even though it was the Israelites specifically who were given God’s law, all nations would be impressed with the law given to Israel.
The 16th century reformer Martin Luther said that God shared the Ten Commandments – given in history specifically to the Israelites – because they help [all of ] us remember, “who we were before [the Fall] and who we will be in the future” (Luther, SDEA 321).
In other words, Luther fully identifies the natural law, or the law that we find in the creation, “written” in the hearts of all men, with the law given in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, to Moses.
The book of Isaiah in particular says that people from all nations would follow this law…
Including the Sabbath! In Isaiah chapter 56 for instance, we read:
“I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord,
who serve him and love his name,
who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest,
and who hold fast to my covenant.”
And at the end of that book we also see this:
“From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.”
So, the Sabbath.
What was it, this day that is a part of the 10 commandments, which Martin Luther, along with many others before him, insists are eternal?
If that is the case, what is its significance for us today? Its purpose and meaning?
Well, we know that it was one of the more controversial things about Jesus, right?
Jesus seems to always be doing things on the Sabbath – even intentionally! – and the religious leaders are always trying to catch Him healing on the Sabbath, or trying to do other kinds of “work” on the Sabbath…
We see that today in our Gospel reading, where Jesus tells the man to pick up his bed and walk, which they interpreted as Jesus telling the man to do work…
Perhaps one of the most important passages about the Sabbath is from Mark 2:23-28:
“One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.””
It is true that the law forbade work on the Sabbath Day (Ex 31:13-15), including the harvesting of grain (Ex. 34:21; Dt. 5:14).
But were the disciples harvesting? Or were they simply trying to meet their hunger through allowances the law made for all Israelites – where even gleaning on the outskirts of others’ lands was permitted?
It was in fact the latter – the disciples were actually within the written law here – but Jesus nevertheless doubles down and points out that in particular circumstances or contexts what was “unlawful” should be taken into consideration along with other needs.
In bringing up David’s actions seemingly in violation of the divinely written code, Jesus is essentially getting at the proper interpretation of the law in accordance with its original purposes… what we call the “spirit of the law”….
His opponents could not see His point though because they not only lacked wisdom in properly applying God’s law but also had added human traditions to it, even giving every impression that men were justified before God by obedience to their own laws! (see Matthew 23)
Meanwhile, for those with ears to hear, Jesus is saying something very important about the Sabbath: man was not created for it, but it was created for man…
This should tell us something.
The overall good of man… his benefit, his peace, his comfort, his renewal, his welfare, his consolation, his temporal and finally eternal rest and provision, was the goal here…
Perhaps we could best summarize matters by saying this: Man was not made to serve the Sabbath, but the Sabbath, made after man, was to serve man…
Certain kinds of order, structures, forms of life, ways of being, were created for the benefit of human beings. Again, to serve them….
The Sabbath was not created as a duty for man like honoring one’s father and mother – or especially any kind of work we might be tempted to try to complete in checklist fashion! – but was given that we might find rest with one’s fellows, temporally and, finally, eternally….
Of course, God always had people who were aware of this, but Jesus makes it entirely clear.
The New Testament shows that Jesus was without sin – and not only this but that He completely fulfilled God’s law as it was intended to be fulfilled!
Specifically for us, on our behalf!
And God, the Son of God, is love… and that means the One who embodies the law rightly and perfectly… love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13)
The plain words of the law themselves however do not show this in a way that is without shadows and darkness – even for we who are believers and love God’s law!
For we are creatures. And what is more, we are sinful creatures. We are sinful creatures who often fail to put into practice God’s commands rightly.
Not only because we do not do God’s commands, or perhaps we do them with improper reasons and poor motives in tow – even as this is all true as well! – but also because we need wisdom to understand how they should be applied in this or that circumstance, this or that context… and fallen circumstances and contexts to boot! (where the sinful effects of Adam and Eve’s Fall affect everything)
Well, again, this can help:
Only Christ, only the Son of God, only the God-Man embodying God’s purposes and very heart, can reveal the light to us and chase away the shadows and darkness!…
In John 1 we read: “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ…”
In Him is found the fullness of both grace and truth.
The love of God is behind the law and the love of God is behind the Gospel – and He means for us to know both – even as the latter is greater…
For it is the source of all life, love, and light…
In the Old Testament, God’s people often sung the praises of the law… for the law was indeed the highest wisdom the fallen world had ever seen!
But the law was always disregarded by many of God’s chosen people, and in the New Testament, we see this disregard begin to be taken to new levels…
Now, people like Jesus’ parents, for example, attempted to follow God’s law as it was intended to be followed…
…but the religious leaders on the other hand often used it as a cudgel to beat others, used it to their own advantage, used it en route to their inevitably misinterpreting it and making false claims about Jesus.
It is like they could not help themselves!
Jesus even says to them… “You study the Scriptures because you think that by them you have eternal life… but these testify to Me and you refuse to come to Me for life…”
The Pharisees not only focused on the minutiae of the Law, ignoring its more important parts (see Matt 23:23) – they, again, also produced additional laws of their own, like a hedge around God’s law, which others felt they must follow in order to be God’s people!
…and they missed the heart of everything, the plot, the purpose! They could only condemn the One who truly understood what the Sabbath was all about!
In truth then, when it came to God’s law, they did not try to do the maximum, but more like the minimum… and not even succeeding to do the minimum either!
Not loving God, not loving their neighbor, not loving His Son… Really, not even able to really love at all, because they were blinded by – and could not abide by, could not stand! – the True Light….
God means for all of us to have the joy of knowing Jesus Christ – the one and only Savior! – who frees us
…from this fallen world under the influence of the devil
…from the empty ways of life we see all around us
…from the sin that inheres in our hearts and brings damnation upon the whole human race.
Again, missions exist because right worship, in all its faces, doesn’t…
God’s gospel reveals the light of Christ to us where we might know peace and properly understand and interpret the law….
Ultimately, the law is weak and useless without Christ because it was always meant to point us to Christ…. Because it existed and exists to point us to Christ.
Why do I say “existed” and “exists”?
By “existed” I am speaking about the kinds of laws that provided good order, made the Jews a distinct people, and pointed to Christ in various ways…
While the knowledge of the 10 commandments is written in some way on every person’s heart, knowledge from certain kinds of ceremonial practices and civil laws were not universal, but particular, given only to the Israelites (Luther, SDEA 321).
In other words, Jeremiah’s “new covenant” (see Jer. 31:31,34) does not mean that the Decalogue passes away but that circumcision and other “ceremonial and judicial laws” do… (Luther, SDEA 215, 217).
And not just thing like circumcision, but other things too: laws that prohibited eating certain kinds of animals, special holy days of obligation, required worship on the Sabbath day in particular, a special priesthood, the Temple, the city of Jerusalem, the ark of the covenant, the sacrifice of animals, particularly lambs….
These things, we are told, all pointed to Jesus, and so with the coming of Christ were abrogated, were done away with.
Hear what Paul writes in Colossians…
“Therefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a feast, a New Moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body that casts it belongs to Christ…”
To the idea that the “dividing wall of hostility” mentioned in Eph.2:14 is the 10 Commandments and not these ceremonial practices, Luther responded as follows:
“And here Paul speaks about the law of Moses proper, not about the Decalogue, since the latter pertained to all nations. For the nations did not hate the Jews because of the Decalogue, but because they separated themselves from the remaining nations by way of unique worship and ceremonies, and called themselves alone the people of God, all the others they called atheists and unbelievers. The quarrel was about the temple and the ceremonies. Yet finally Christ came and destroyed this obstruction and Jews and Gentiles were made one…”
So that law “existed”. By “exists”, I mean those commandments from the ten, the Decalogue, which connect distinctly with the basic kinds of love, which are derived from God Himself. Hence we see the Apostle Paul writing this in Romans 13:
“The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Even adherents of other religions deny Christ and hence can only live by the law, they at least seem to recognize what many modern people do not:
The law of God is good and is related to love, which can, of course, be tough…
And yet, the Sabbath was not about man loving God but God loving man!
Even though the Sabbath was a part of the 10 commandments it really was not about what man was to do for God – or His fellow men – but how God came to man in mercy and grace!
Brothers and sisters, in some ways, insofar as we are new creatures in Christ, the law means little to us!
For when it comes to its involvement in our relationships with one another, seen in the second table of the commandments, it is written in every human heart anyway (suppressed though it may be) – and when we have peace in Christ, we can simply recognize the law’s goodness for what it is and be eager to walk in it…
Yes, the law does not allow one bit of our sin to escape, and this will go on until we no longer have an old Adam, a sinful nature that will finally drag us into the grave!
But when we have the Son of God on our side it is ultimately a new ball game.
The old has gone, the new has come!
Getting back to those rascally Calvinists, the chief end of man is not that some God, in the abstract, would be glorified, but that Jesus Christ in particular, the resurrected God-Man, would be glorified.
And while this certainly involves Him being proclaimed by us…
And involves His Name being glorified by our words and deeds as we serve our neighbors in true love.
And involves Him being imitated by us….
And involves Him being exalted by us…
It first and foremost involves Him being heard by us…
By hearing Him as He tells us that we sin against Him in thought, word, and deed – and in this or that particular sin – and that He has come to take those sins away from us, and to forgive us…
And we, in faith, say “Amen” to these things!
We confess that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, not just in some abstract way, but for us, too!
We, now, stand in His presence and He means for us to increasingly recognize our beautiful and right dependence on Him and His good words to us!
What do we have that we have not received?
Faith in Christ, my friends – weak faith progressing to faith that grows ever stronger and more powerful in love – is the chief end of man.
We are a resurrection people!
The Seventh Day Adventists, God bless them, are wrong when they insist that we must worship God on the old Sabbath, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.
Because man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man!
Yes, in a manner of speaking, people from all nations will keep the Sabbath, from Sabbath to Sabbath, as God’s word proclaimed in the Old Testament long ago…
But we also are free! We are free to agree together on a time for corporate worship or divine service, and what time would be better than on the Eighth day, so to speak, the day when Christ arose!?
And so, within a generation, even the Christians who were Jews by birth, finding themselves alienated from their fellow Jews, they gradually stopped worshiping in the Temple and synagogues on the Sabbath, and begin to worship on Sunday instead, the Day of Resurrection (see Acts 20:7)…
And so we continue in their train, in their stead.
And we too rejoice in the feast that He gives us in His supper, a meal of rest, refreshment and peace!
And we rejoice that we hear the proclamation that creates worship in our hearts, and gathers us together to hear more, sitting at our Lord’s feet and resting…
Again, God’s law has an altogether different function: it reveals to us the truth about who man is meant to be – a God enjoyer! – and everyone, to one degree or another, knows this in their bones…
And yet, even if we ultimately know that this is who we are meant to be, such knowledge, apart from a special revelation from God, can’t not terrify us.
Because it is not only that we do not do what we should do, but it is because we are not who we should be.
The special revelation we need is seen in our Gospel reading today:
“The day on which this [healing] took place was a Sabbath…”
Man was not created for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was created for man, and it is a sign for us that God is always working to help and heal and serve us….
…and so God heals His people’s diseases of body and soul in Jesus Christ.
In Him, you are given what the book of Hebrews calls “Sabbath rest” – that is, healing, joy, and peace in the Presence of God, who forgives you even now through His Son… and who created all things and rested on the Seventh Day.
Don’t shrink back from that “Sabbath rest” you have in His forgiveness, life, and salvation!
Instead, ever embrace more! “[E]nter that Sabbath rest” more and more (Hebrews 4:11)….
And – as much as he gives us the power to do so! – let’s bring our family and friends and neighbors along for the ride, I mean, the rest… as well…
Until that day when in heaven we finally, finally see with our own eyes what the Apostle John testifies to in Revelation:
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He makes all things new.