Jesus, Sabbath Regulations, and Justification
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 14:1-14
September 01, 2019

We see Jesus today confronting the experts in the law and the Pharisees. What is the issue? Jesus identifies it: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:3).

Here is the scene. Jesus was at the house of a prominent Pharisee on the Sabbath. There was a man there who had an illness they called dropsy. Jesus wanted to heal him, but there were Sabbath regulations prohibiting healing on the Sabbath. The regulators were present watching Jesus very closely.

Chapter 13 of Luke’s Gospel tells us about the Sabbath regulation regarding healing (Luke 13:10ff). On that occasion, Jesus was in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. There was a woman there who had suffered from a disability for 18 years. Jesus freed her from the disability and made her well. She glorified God (Luke 10:13).

But the ruler of the Synagogue got angry. He told the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14).

By the time we get to our text this morning, Jesus has had enough. So He takes on the perpetuators of such thinking directly.

This issue of the Sabbath and its regulations went right to the heart of the matter in ultimate terms. The Sabbath commandment was the heart of the law for the lawyers and Pharisees. And the law had to do with being in or out of the Kingdom of God for them. Keeping the Sabbath, with all its regulations, was a sign of their divine election as God’s people.

It is important to see that they had reduced God’s law to one commandment, one issue. You shall do no work on the seventh day.

This commandment is difficult to obey as a practical matter. All kinds of regulations, definitions, and exceptions were devised.

If no work shall be done on the Sabbath, an immediate need for definition is raised. What is work? Call in the lawyers, the experts in the law. Well, walking 1000 cubits on the Sabbath is work. How about 999.99 cubits? Oh. That is okay.

Get out the tape measure.

Oh, and by the way, how long is a cubit?

Can we heal a person on the Sabbath? Well, healing is work. So, no, unless they are in peril of death. In that case, it is okay to heal them.

Now if you have had any experience with the law, this raises another set of determinations. Was the person really in peril of death or not? If the facts show that he was, then it was okay to heal on the Sabbath. If not, then it was not okay. Then punishment and sanction are in order.

Call in the expert testimony.

Now we can come up with another exception. Well, we’ll go easy on you because it was a mistake of fact you are guilty of—whether the person was in peril of death or not—not a mistake of principle. So we will lessen the sanction, though we can’t completely let you off the hook.

The Pharisees and experts in the law made the kingdom of God rest on all of this. Can you imagine having your entry in the kingdom of God depend on navigating this minefield of Sabbath regulations and whether you comply or not? And you would have been completely at the mercy of the experts. This is what Jesus was confronting.

Imagine having your entry in the kingdom of God depend on navigating the regulatory state and bureaucracy that is our reality in the United States today.

There was something more. If the law really boils down to just the Sabbath commandment, then one can be cruel, tyrannical, greedy, and full of spiritual pride and conceit, and still think of oneself in a good place with the law and God’s kingdom. So long as one is keeping the Sabbath regulations, then one is fulfilling the law and in.

Jesus rejected the way of the lawyers and Pharisees. He took the man who had dropsy and healed him. As the Gospel itself, Jesus heals the man without regard for the Sabbath regulations.

Now the dye is cast between Him and the movers and shakers of Judaism of His day, of the Pharisaic kind of religion. They thought of Jesus as the worst kind of lawbreaker. Isn’t it ironic, though? Look at what Jesus did? How good it was. How powerful it was. Who could possibly do what He did? It must be God Himself, come in grace and mercy.

How blind they were in their Sabbath rules and regulations such that they could not see who was in their midst, staring them in the face, and the wonderful salvation and good news He brought. In their blindness they were enraged at Jesus’s violation of the Sabbath. They thought it horrible and awful. Jesus must be the worst sinner.

The man, on the other hand, must have felt great joy and freedom at what Jesus did. Now consider what he was able to do; the work and the fruit of his labor he was able to enjoy in the fear and love of God in Jesus.

Violation of the laws and regulations is all the Pharisees and lawyers could see. Jesus must die. And they felt fully justified in the law in putting Him to death, by any means or method possible.

But who wins in the end? The lawyers and Pharisees, or Jesus. They thought they had won with the most potent weapon available; death. They were able to use the machinery of apparent legality, the power of government and courts to accomplish that end. The machinery itself could not stop them.

But who wins in the end? Jesus wins. Jesus lives. He is risen from the dead.

And He wins in the kind of triumph we really need. It is not a triumph of laws and politics. It is a triumph of defeat of death, and so it is the defeat of the fear of death. It is a triumph of forgiveness for those who are burdened by their sins; who wish their sinfulness and sinful acts were otherwise; who are burdened by the sickness, death, and tragedy we experience in this world.

Here is the good news of the Gospel this morning. Jesus has come. He won the triumph. This triumph is yours in Him, who is forgiveness, righteousness, peace and eternal life for you. And through Him and the redemption He won for you, you are in the kingdom, irrespective of the Sabbath regulations. Amen.