June 18, 2014| 0

Working on the Sabbath (John 5:9b-17)

9b Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Sabbath-keeping is difficult in a 24/7 culture of activity and connectivity. We find ourselves hard-pressed to observe the Sabbath commandment to rest while still meeting the demands of our round-the-clock, “always open for business” society. The information era steadily ratchets up working hours as constant availability is now the norm in more jobs. Many Christians find their Sabbath rests eclipsed. So how do we honor the Sabbath commandment in the face of these pressures?

Some businesses have taken the simple step of closing on Sunday and giving workers the day off. Chick-fil-A, for example, boldly takes this stand on biblical grounds. However, such firms are usually exceptions to the rule and are invariably privately-owned companies; their leaders are shielded from the norms of secular culture. How do those of us who work in other businesses handle the dilemma of Sabbath-keeping in a 24/7 environment?

First, let's hear the word of grace spoken by Jesus. He also worked on the Sabbath, and there is a lesson here about its true meaning. He explained, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Jesus performs the work of the Father—he does the creative work that fulfills God’s good design for creation. Rather than breaking the Sabbath, he fulfills it! This is his mission, his work. Jesus healing the lame man breaks only the literal, legalistic rule of Sabbath-keeping that restricts human activity. But he fulfills the greater spiritual rule of honoring the Sabbath by giving healing to the man and glory to God. By restoring what was lost, Jesus fulfills God’s good design for human life. This is why Jesus says on another occasion, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”  [Mark 2:27–28; cf. Matt. 12:1-14]. Jesus takes Sabbath-keeping to a higher level.

We may not do miraculous works of healing, but we may nonetheless take confidence in Jesus’ promise to be lord of the Sabbath, resting in his grace and forgiveness that transcend the practical necessities of our jobs.

Let us note that we are not free to ignore the Sabbath command. Far from it! Each of us must do our part to honor the Sabbath and bear witness to the transforming grace of God among us. At the same time, let us also note that the Sabbath is more than merely an individual expression; it is a community act, a practice of the worshiping body of Christ. Sabbath rest does indeed refresh our individual spirits and bring rejuvenation, but its stated objective is larger: its primary aim is to remember - as a worshiping community - God’s saving grace, and to ascribe holiness to his creative acts and salvation [Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15].

We do well to worship God in community and to ascribe glory through Sabbath-keeping, whether or not we find ourselves in a job that demands work on the first day of the week. Even in the most demanding jobs, we can find ways to carve out time for worship, community, and family in weekly Sabbath practices. Furthermore, we can look for ways to give rest to our employees, whether we work in the marketplace or in a religious organization.

Whatever our situation, we can rest in the confidence that Jesus is lord of the Sabbath, and he bestows more than enough grace to be shared every day of the week.

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© Bruce D. Baker, 2014

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