This picture of birds resting on a wire reminds us that true rest comes from the Lord of rest, Jesus

True Rest… and Free! (Matthew 12.1-21)

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Jesus is speaking with those who believe in God. These encounters with Jesus are in the context of the people of Israel. That is, Jesus is talking to people who believe in God. What do you think it means to belong to the people of God?

It is possible to be religious and not be a Christian (a follower of Jesus)? How can I understand if I am religious or Christian?

Jesus gives us a simple test: the Sabbath

What is the Sabbath? Exodus 20:8-11 explains: it is a holy day, which means a complete day, a day that lacks nothing. When you think of the word holy, think “whole”, not “religious” because that it is the root of the word. That’s why work is not done on the Sabbath. I do not have to do anything more; I can rest. That is what a day that is complete means.

Nowadays it’s difficult to see the connection between daily work and basic needs. I do not grow wheat to make bread. I do not experience feeling satisfied providing my daily bread. But I can understand the general purpose of work. It is to arrive at rest and feel complete, that is, to feel satisfied. We look for it in any way it is available. If it is not work, then, beauty, possessions, friendship …

The truth is that in this world we do not finish work for this purpose (to feel satisfied). And that is why God gives us the Sabbath, so that we can experience the wholeness of a day not, by our efforts but by his grace. If we think that we am the ones who can achieve wholeness (holiness), the feeling of being satisfied, God response is, you can’t. Only our creator can give us this kind of peace which we can’t achieve through our efforts. And Jesus shows it to us by a miracle of healing.

Jesus makes a very direct statement in verse 8. The son of man (referring to himself) has authority over the Sabbath. That is, he takes care of what it is to feel satisfied, to experience rest, peace, wholeness (holiness).

Think about this: The call to practice the Sabbath is in the Ten Commandments That’s moral law, right? How are the Sabbath and the moral law related? The basic issue is: Do I live to achieve rest, peace, in life? or Do I live because I have peace, rest, in life?

It is interesting to think about the nine commandments that surround the commandment about the Sabbath, because we break one of them in the search for rest, if we search for ourselves.

We want to be generous, so why do we accumulate material treasure? Because deep down we believe that only with wealth can we be complete, live in peace. We want more for ourselves. We violate the tenth commandment about not coveting to achieve what we think is our Sabbath. We have the rich and the poor not for lack of resources in the world but for lack of putting Jesus as the Lord of our peace.

We want to tell the truth, so why do we lie? Because at heart of our being we believe that only by protecting the way we present ourselves to the world can we be complete, live in peace. We violated the ninth commandment of not lying to the detriment of our neighbour, that is, I have to understand myself better than my neighbour so that I feel good. We are suspicious of others’ motives not because we lack the desire to speak truth but because of the lack of putting Jesus as the Lord of our peace.

We want to feel loved and violate the seventh commandment not to commit adultery in the name of what we consider true love. And then we wonder, where is our true peace?

Do you see the difference? We always serve someone or something and we should name that as our personal Lord of the Sabbath. You truly know your Lord by what you think gives you rest, peace, wholeness (holiness). I feel good only when I have money, only when I am in a relationship. And we can’t be moral when our Lord of the Sabbath is not Jesus because that other Lord will violate what we know deep down is true. We live this tension between the desire to rest and the way we live. Only when we rest in Jesus and let him be Lord Sabbath, the way of life can be moral.

The key is: Will I live by my efforts or as an answer to God’s salvation? That’s the context of the Sabbath command: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2). They weren’t saved by keeping the law, they were saved to be able to live the law.

Do I relate to God by what I do? This is not good for any relationship: look at the conflict with what you want to be and what you do. I do not want to lie but I lie to protect myself from being unpopular. My Lord of Sabbath directs my morality.

In the context, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were very religious people. So we can ask: Am I a Pharisee? Or as I said before, that is, Am I just religious?

A Pharisee is someone who wants to establish life on their own. In the account the Pharisees get angry with Jesus because they think they have to fulfil the Sabbath to receive the blessing of God. They force God to respond to them by how they complete the idea of Sabbath. That’s religion, is not Christianity. It’s saying things like:

God, if I’m a good person, you owe me …

God, if I do this, you owe me …

God, if I read the Bible, I go to church, I pray you, you owe me …

And Jesus says to people like that, “At the moment of truth will you accept that I am the only Lord who gives you peace, rest, the wholeness (holiness) that you seek?” (v 8)

The starting point is surprising: If you had known what these words mean, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,”  you would not have condemned the innocent. (Verse 7)

Why start here? Because mercy is what we need. If God is not compassionate to me, I would die.

The path of sacrifices is always, “I do not have enough”. I do no have enough self to cover the cost.

That’s why the Sabbath is in the ten commandments (in the centre!). God wants to give us this peace by mercy.  That’s why the basis of the relationship with God is love. He wants us the best for us: How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! (verse 12),  through his servant Jesus (v 18).

He wants to give me rest. It is this Lord Jesus who is your servant. Can you say the same about money, career, family etc?

Jesus does not obligate us (vv 15-21). We can choose to kill him like the pharisees (v 14) or accept him.

If you do not see that there are only two opinions and they are totally different, you do not understand the problem. There can only be one Lord.

It is true that we killed Jesus, but he returned to life with great compassion. It is possible to change our course because Jesus was resurrected. Our number one enemy, death, the thing that stops wholeness, Sabbath, was destroyed by Jesus being the servant of God. Now we can relax, not by our effort but for his. There is hope! (v 21)

For all of this, Sabbath helps you! Here are the steps:

1. Decide: Do I want to kill Jesus or know him as this compassionate Lord? I ask you to consider this seriously.

2. Learn to rest from “work” and therefore to rest in Jesus.

Do I have to set aside a full day? I do not think so. That could be the way to be religious if you do not understand the reason. The purpose is to grow in finding rest in Jesus.

Start with five minutes each morning giving thanks to Jesus for giving you complete peace. Identify where you want to seek peace apart from Jesus and ask him to help you. That is, start the conversation with the Lord of the Sabbath about how you can enter more into actual rest.

I wonder if we start practising the desire it would increase our desire to have a full rest day? I think you’re going to see why God wants us to stop for a full day. And you get the command not by obligation but by experiencing the love of your creator who has rescued you from slavery.

3. Put into practice compassion that is costly, that is, not only when I benefit from it. That is, the way of Jesus on the cross. It shows you that you have peace in the Lord because you can actually give more than you though that you could.

There is no future in being religious, only in following Jesus, the Lord of Sabbath.

Image: Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash