It is no coincidence that as soon as Matthew writes that Jesus promises rest to all who come to Him in chapter eleven, that the next passage deals with the Sabbath. The Sabbath institution was given to man as a gift in order to establish a regular rhythm of rest into their lives (cf. Gen. 2:1-3). The rest was not limited to the physical realm, but extends to the spiritual. Our spiritual rest comes as we remember and celebrate God as our Creator and Redeemer.
It’s always interesting to me that though many people consider the Ten Commandments to be so important and crucial today, many Christians cannot name them all. Of the Ten, the one most often forgotten is the fourth commandment, the Sabbath. Why is that the case? God gives this precious gift of the Sabbath to all, not only unto Jews but to us especially as His people, the Church.
Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. in his book, The Lord’s Day, writes, “In the three years of Christ’s ministry recorded in the Gospels, on six different occasions He crossed swords with the Jews over the proper observance of the Sabbath…whereas He taught on only one occasion about murder and three times on marriage.” That’s rather interesting isn’t it? In terms of pure numbers, Christ spoke most about the Sabbath.
If you do not hold to the Christian Sabbath, whereby we commit ourselves to holy rest on Sunday, I challenge you to specially to consider Pipa’s words, “If this commandment were destined for the dustbin of ceremonial law, why do the Gospel writers devote so much attention to it?” Many scholars have wrongly put forward that Jesus in Matthew 12:1-8 abolishes the Sabbath; but nothing could be further from the truth!
Space does not permit me to expound this passage more fully but I’d like to focus on two primary works established as proper and celebrated for the Christian Sabbath by Christ. The first is the work of necessity. The Apostles were hungry and walking through the grain field Matthew tells us in verse one. The Pharisees accusation is met by Jesus exposition of David’s account from 1 Samuel 21 where David and his mighty men ate the forbidden bread on the Sabbath and yet were guiltless. Puritan Reformer John Calvin explains that the Pharisees acted as if “famishing men ought rather to die than to satisfy their hunger.”
Jesus uses this example to show that on the Sabbath necessary works are allowed such as eating, feeding your children, keeping your heat on in the winter, using your vehicle to get to church and the like. But of course, the Sabbath at its core is a resting from our ordinary works and ordinary jobs, but not to the neglect of the worship of God which brings us to the second proper work celebrated on the Sabbath.
Christ introduces this second laudable work for the Sabbath in verse five where He speaks saying, “have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” (Matt. 12:4 ESV) The priests of the Old Covenant, of the Mosaic economy, were more akin to butchers than modern preachers and on the Sabbath their sacrifices were doubled. And as many of you hunters know, there is strenuous labor involved in working with meat. Nevertheless, this work was celebrated on the Sabbath because it was a pious work. For such reasons we celebrate the works of piety on the Sabbath such as preaching, teaching, musicianship, laboring to study and read the Scriptures on the Lord’s Day, Sunday, which is the Christian Sabbath. So at the very least these two works, of necessity, and of piety or religious worship, are celebrated and acceptable on the Sabbath.
The question I would have you consider is this: When was the last time you were concerned with keeping the Sabbath in a way that honors God? We are so often preoccupied with our own pleasure that we fail to give God what He deserves. God gave His Son so that we could be free not only to rest in the grace He gives to those who believe in Him, but also that in this life we could begin to taste the delight of the Sabbath rest. If we take seriously the fact that Jesus died for our sins, then we must recognize that Christ died for our Sabbath breaking. God has freed us from the gods we serve to serve Him, let us set apart the very day God has and begin in this life the eternal Sabbath which is heaven before us.
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