In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How have you been doing at keeping the Sabbath? Do you rest on the Lord’s Day? Besides coming and hearing His Word and receiving His gifts, is your day full of work and “catching up” with the thousand things that need to get done? Or is it one of resting and thanking God for His mercy and blessings?
You know good and well that you are not resting perfectly. You are rejecting this gift of God, and join all the hypocrites challenging Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.
“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” It sounds ridiculous to our ears. We have a doctor, several nurses, first responders and others trained in first aid here. We all trust that if anyone had an urgent medical need, someone would help. But for those asking Jesus, and for those listening, it was a completely serious, completely honest question. The Pharisees were holding to such a slavishly literalistic understanding of the third commandment, that they declared any work on the Sabbath to be breaking the Sabbath. Many would quietly have agreed with Jesus that the right thing to do would be to help on the day of rest and worship. But according to their strict misunderstanding of God’s Law, they felt that Jesus, as He was healing, was breaking the law.
Here Jesus reminds His hearers that their focus was entirely in the wrong place. Remembering the Sabbath is not about what you are doing or not doing. Remembering the Sabbath is simply receiving this rest as a gift from the Lord. God has entered flesh to bring help and wholeness and healing – not merely of the body, but soul as well. And as Lord of the Sabbath, Christ brings true rest and peace even, no especially, on the Sabbath.
As our Savior suffered and died on Good Friday, He endured hell on the cross. Then Jesus rested in His tomb, and during that rest, descended into hell to proclaim His victory. In the Old Testament Scriptures, they would have said that He went to the pit. Far more important to Him than some ox or donkey, the Son of God goes into the pit on the Sabbath to rescue you. And so our Lord Christ reached into that font, going down into hell to raise and rescue you from those depths, bringing you out of that pit – that well – to save your life and give you new life.
By going down to the pit of hell and rescuing you, Jesus has saved you from your old rest-rejecting self. He forgives and renews, drawing you to Himself as He gives His gifts. Today we especially thank Him for His gift of Bible study and Sunday School. Besides the Divine Service, this Bible study is the most important thing you will do for the week.
Ah, but there is that phrase, “you will do.” Sure, you are there, but Bible class is all about God speaking and you listening. Great conversations will happen, but all based on what God is saying to begin with! Once again, you are receiving rest from Him; the Lord is the One working on the “Sabbath” for you!
Having been rescued from the pit, Christ washes us in the font and calls us to dinner. Again, sinful nature looks at the feast as “What’s in it for me?” You want a place of honor. And here He warns not to try to have the best seat – maybe THAT’s why so many Lutherans sit in the back! Jesus also then says not to go inviting only those who can invite you in return. Far better to “invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” Is that what you do? I would venture to guess, no. Family came at Christmas. Maybe a few friends in the mix for Thanksgiving or Easter. But often, the guest list includes those who would invite you in return. Those who have shown kindness and friendship to you. There is that self-serving scoreboard again – keeping track of the things others have said or done for you, and you do something to repay them. But that is not what Jesus says. He says NOT to keep track. Don’t do good only to receive in return; do good for all.
Again, you can’t. You fail. Even when you try not to, you are keeping that chart in your mind that says who deserves your good acts of kindness. Well, STOP! Repent! This is a miserable, Pharisaical sin.
But once again, Jesus comes to your rescue. He has not kept track of your score against him. He has forgiven and removed the record of such selfish sin. And now He constantly invites you to the feast where He says, “Friend, go up higher.” He knows you could NEVER repay Him, and yet He welcomes you in boundless love to His ongoing feast.
Thanks be to our loving Savior, who constantly welcomes you to His feast, and will do so until the day you depart this life, and He welcomes you to Paradise saying, “Friend, go up higher!” Amen.