Luke 6:1-16: Sabbath and Prayer
June 20, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The action in this section first of all centers around the “Sabbath.” The Sabbath day, of course, was a primary distinctive of the Old Testament religion. Because God made the world, as Genesis chapter 1 describes it, and rested on the seventh day, so God commanded that his people would rest (Exodus 20:11). They are also to rest because he rescued them from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). The Sabbath, then, was intended as a visible and physical break in the working week in order to indicate that they were created and redeemed people.
When people work without ceasing, they seldom pray without ceasing. Working without ceasing is a statement of arrogance: it assumes that we are not created people. It also assumes that we are not redeemed people. It arrogates to ourselves a power—to work ceaselessly—that we do not possess. It also arrogates to us a salvation—to work for our own redemption—that we also cannot achieve. The Sabbath, then, is a precious resource for God’s people.
In the New Testament the day of rest is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. As Jesus says, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is fixed into the Ten Commandments to teach us that even the Ten Commandments are gracious: they are about resting from our labors, and about coming back into worshipful relationship with our Creator. All this Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, fulfills.
This is why New Testament Christians are not held to the same legal structure with regard to the Sabbath anymore. Colossians makes this crystal clear: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17).
The sad reality was that the Pharisees had become fixated by the “shadow” to such an extent that when the one who cast that shadow (Jesus Christ himself) arrived, they missed it—and wanted the shadow to remain. They had also added law to law to law regarding the Sabbath. Their list of rules with regard to the Sabbath make ridiculous reading unless you consider the sad legalism to which the human race (whether of a religious or secular form) is always prone. We cover up our moral nakedness with fig leaves of increasingly petty rules, excluding and being excluded, judging and being judged—when Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath and has come to give us rest.
All this is background to, and fulfilled in, the story in front of us. The Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples of breaking the Sabbath because they pluck ears of grain. This was not considered “work” by even the strictest interpretation of Sabbath rules, but they are straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.
Jesus quotes from David to show how, under duress, a man of God breaks ritual laws in order to fulfill a greater moral agenda. Who would object to ending a worship service early if a terrorist walked into church? So David broke some of the laws of the temple in order to achieve the greater purpose to which he was called in his moment of crisis. And with Jesus present there is the ultimate Crisis: The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. But they cannot see the who casts the shadow; they prefer the shadow (or the old wineskins).
Even when he heals a man on the Sabbath, they object (6:6-11). And they not only passively complain, they actively are furious and start to plot to do something against Jesus (6:11). With such people there is no reasoning; they are rapidly moving beyond help as they reject the one who has come to save them. Be careful that we follow our rules and regulations in a way that does not take from the priority of Christ. All is intended to be fulfilled in him, the substance; all else is mere shadow.
Rest is important. Do not work unceasingly. Take a day off. Relax. You cannot keep the string of the bow taut all the time or it will break. We live in a tired age because even in our leisure hours we do not rest; we are looking for constant stimulation from entertainment. Rest. Sit quiet in a room. The stillness will reveal the state of your soul—and cause you to rush to Jesus for salvation, I pray, if you have not already; or enjoy him more and more and more.
Then, verses 12-16, Jesus famously selects his twelve apostles. Apostle means “sent one.” These are those that he is going to send to represent him. The choice of these twelve is of critical importance. How does Jesus go about selecting his staff team? “All night he continued in prayer to God.” Take note manager, executive, pastor, missionary. Before laying hands on someone, make sure you have sought God in prayer regarding your selection. Even then one of them was a Judas; but that too was God’s plan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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