Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Kingdom of Sabbath Rest

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30).

For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8)
Early Jewish tradition spoke about taking on the “yoke” of the Law of Moses. However, this was a hard yoke that no one was able to bear. When a group of legalistic Jewish believers wanted to impose the law on Gentile Christians, Peter rose up at the Jerusalem council and said, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). In Romans 7, Paul details his own desperate struggle — and ultimate failure — to bear this bondage and uphold the law, finally finding deliverance in Jesus Christ (v. 25). The centerpiece of his letter to the Galatians is found in 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”

Jesus calls us to a different yoke. Not the yoke of Moses, which He came to fulfill (Matthew 5:17), but His own. To take His yoke means that we must set aside all other yokes. Formerly, the law was a “tutor” whose purpose was to bring us to Christ. Now that He has come, we take His yoke and learn of Him. The yoke of the law was heavy and difficult; the yoke of Jesus is easy and light. It is a yoke of freedom, not of bondage, and the promise of Jesus is that by taking His yoke, we will find rest for our souls.

The rest we find in the Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the Sabbath rest it required. The Sabbath was a type; Jesus is the full realization to which the Sabbath could only point. Indeed, Jesus called Himself the “Lord of the Sabbath.”

One day, as Jesus was walking through a field of grain, His disciples helped themselves to a little bit of it and ate. This was on a Sabbath. A group of Pharisees witnessed this and were upset. Not because of what they did — that was quite acceptable by law and custom — but by when they did it. They complained to Jesus, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” But Jesus said to them:
Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:3-8)
Jesus vindicated the act of His disciples by comparing it with three examples from the Law and the Prophets:
  • It was not lawful for David to eat the sacred bread, which was a special offering to the Lord to be eaten only by the priests. Yet the necessity of hunger prevailed. How much more would this be true of Jesus, who was recognized with the messianic title Son of David (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9)? He accepted this designation, and even argued later that, not only was He the Son of David but He was also greater than David was because He was David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-46).
  • It was not lawful to work on the Sabbath, and yet the priests of the Lord did not refrain from their work on that holy day. If the service of the Temple was exempt, then how much more would this be true of Jesus, who was greater than the Temple? On another occasion, He even compared His body to the Temple: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:18-22).
  • God desires mercy more than sacrifice. That is what the Lord said by the prophet Hosea: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). There is a principle that is greater than the requirement of the law and that is the mercy of God.
As if the Pharisees were not already scandalized enough by what Jesus said, He concluded with this declaration: “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Here was another designation with messianic implication, for “Son of Man” spoke explicitly of the humanity of Jesus, but it also implied His divinity. As Messiah and Lord, Jesus was greater than the Sabbath.

Jesus then went into their synagogue where, seeing a man who had a withered hand, the Pharisees asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10) They were still looking for a way to entrap Him. Turning the table on them, Jesus asked, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?” (v. 11).

No one answered; it was an accepted practice to rescue one’s livestock, even on the Sabbath. Then Jesus answered them, while at the same time revealing the hypocrisy of their question. “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (v. 12). Then to prove the point, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched out his hand and it was healed (v. 13). The Pharisees were livid, and went out, plotting how they might destroy Jesus.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath, the Temple, the Law of Moses and the promise God made to David. He calls us to set aside all other yokes and take up His, for it is easy and His burden is light, and we shall find rest for our souls. For the kingdom of Heaven on Earth is a kingdom of Sabbath rest.



The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.