Text: Luke 14:1-11; Third Commandment
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The clearest violation of the Third Commandment is when people don’t go to church. Of course, since you’re actually here right now, it doesn’t make much sense for me to beat y’all up about that right now. I also don’t want to get into the practice of beating up people who aren’t here right now. This commandment, of course, is not just about what physical location you find yourself in on a Sunday morning. That is part of it, thought. If we examine the reasons that we give for not being in this place to receive the free gifts that God gives in Word and Sacrament, we’ll discover quite quickly that our excuses are lame. There is nothing in life that actually demands our attention so much that we can’t find two hours or so to come to the place where Jesus places himself for our good and for our salvation. Even if there is somehow a legitimate reason to be absent from the Lord’s house, we know very well that our pastor (that’s me) would be thrilled to being the Lord’s gifts to our house personally for us. That’s truly what church attendance is all about. It’s not about checking something off of our to-do list for the week. It’s about how much our Lord God wants to give us his gifts. He wants to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He wants us to be absolved our sin. He wants us to eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus. He attaches such great promises to these things that we’d be fools to miss them.
The fact is that many do miss out on these gifts though. Some will even say that the church is full of stuck-up hypocrites who think they’re better than everyone else. Maybe that’s true sometimes. It probably is true sometimes. No doubt we are sometimes filled with sinful pride that has us thinking we are better than everyone else out there who’s not here right now.
Jesus finds himself in the presence of some people who fit this bill nicely. The lawyers and Pharisees thought they were better than everyone else. They knew the Law of God and kept the Law of God better than anyone else. They knew full-well that the Third Commandment taught that one was not to do any work on the Sabbath at all. None. It was the day of rest. If you weren’t resting on the Sabbath day, you were breaking the Sabbath.
They weren’t completely wrong. By definition, “Sabbath” means rests. God knows that we need to rest. Our bodies get tired. What is lost on the Pharisees is made clear by Jesus’ teaching to them. A man with dropsy is brought before Jesus. This means that he had painful fluid build-up in his body. This man is seeking healing from Jesus. How will Jesus respond to the man? The lawyers and Pharisees want to know what he will do. They watch Jesus closely.
This is what you call a “no-win” situation for Jesus, at least as far as the lawyers and Pharisees are concerned. They figure that no matter what Jesus does, he will be doing something wrong. If he chooses to heal the man, Jesus will have made himself a Sabbath-breaker. If he chooses to NOT heal the man, he’ll show himself to be unloving and uncaring for the needs of a man that he’s fully capable of helping. These folks are always trying to trap Jesus in his words and actions. They think that just maybe they’ve got him this time.
They don’t, though, do they? Jesus patiently shows them how wrong they are. First of all, he, of course, heals the man. Then he makes it personal for them. He asks them what they would do if their son or their ox fell into a well on the Sabbath day. The answer to these questions is obvious. You’re not going to leave valuable livestock, much less your son, in great danger like this. You’re going to do whatever it takes to save them. The Sabbath was not given for the sake of being a burden on man; it was given as a gift of God to man. The Third Commandment, just like all of the commandments, was given to man as an expression of God’s love to his people. Because man was created in the image of God, man is to reflect the love of God to all of his creation. When faced with situations that seem to pit two commandments against each other, a helpful way to figure out what to do is to ask the question, what would be the most loving thing to do in this situation. Clearly, when applied to the situation of the man who suffered from dropsy, the most loving thing for Jesus to do is to break the Sabbath law (at least as the Pharisees defined it) and heal the man.
What does this mean for us today? After all, the Sabbath was fulfilled by Christ in his death on the cross. We no longer are required by God to cease working for a full day. When Jesus died on the cross, he did not move the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. Rather, he took away the law altogether. So why, then, do we still talk about it? Why do we bother with any of the Commandments? Well, because if we want to see what it means to love God and love our neighbor, there is no better place to go than to the Ten Commandments. The Third Commandment does not forbid us from doing anything on a given day anymore, but it still plays a very important role and shows us how to live as God’s people.
First of all, the Third Commandment teaches us that God wants us to rest. Our Lord knows that we get tired. He knows that our bodies can only do so much before they run out of energy and need to rest in order to recharge. Loving our neighbor does take energy. Rest helps restore that energy.
God does not simply give us rest for rest’s sake, though. The second, and really the most important thing the Third Commandment teaches us is that we need to sanctify, that is, make holy the day of rest. How do you make something holy? You add the Word of God to it. What makes baptism more than just plain water? The Word of God in and with the water. How can the bodily eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood bring about forgiveness, life, and salvation? It’s not just the eating and drinking, but faith in the words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” It’s all about the word. The Commandment is “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.” It’s not just “Remember the Sabbath Day.” That “keeping it holy” part is important. If you want to make something holy, you add the Word of God to it. God gives us rest in order that we might rest and be refreshed by his Word.
In addition to teaching us how to keep the Sabbath, Jesus also teaches us what our attitude toward the receiving of God’s gifts ought to look like. Remember Jesus’ audience here. The Pharisees and the lawyers thought the purpose of our worship as God’s people was to show how good we are. They thought that our keeping of the Law pleased God. The modern American heretic, Rick Warren taught something similar to this. He wrote that our worship provided some sort of “pick-me-up” for God. How arrogant to think that we could actually please God! Additionally, how weak would God be if he needed us to make him feel better?
Rather, Jesus makes it clear that we are to approach our Father in heaven in humility. That is, we are to recognize that we are, indeed, sinful and unclean. We have sinned against him in thought, word, and deed. We are poor, miserable sinners. We deserve nothing from God in heaven. We could never hope to please him. This is what it means to take the lowest seat at the table. It means that we recognize who we are and what we are. Have we loved our neighbor as ourselves? No. Do we think more highly of ourselves than those who aren’t with us in this room today? Sometimes. Are we hypocrites? Yes. We look at God’s Law and look at ourselves, and that’s what we see. We see all of this and we know where our seat at the table is. It’s the lowest place at the table. That’s where we belong.
That’s not where we stay, though. For Christ came and took the lowest place at the table for himself. He did this with his innocent suffering and death on the cross. He went lower, still, from there as his lifeless body was laid in the tomb. Christ suffered this death and burial for you. He suffered this for you that you might not stay at the lowest seat of the table.
For Christ didn’t stay there in the tomb. His cold lifeless body came forth from the tomb three days later (on Sunday) and he was elevated to the highest place at the table by his Father in heaven because his sacrifice (unlike any we could offer) was complete. Just as Christ was raised to the highest place at the table, we too, because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us, will be raised on the Last Day and be elevated to sit at the head of the table with him and with all the saints in God’s eternal feast in heaven.
So let us rest in the Word of God now that we might find eternal rest with him in the life of the world to come.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.