John 5:16-17 “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”
Sunday is a day of rest! Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby and perhaps other less high-profile Christian-owned businesses are not opened on Sunday. In the not-too-distant past, American businesses at large were not opened on Sunday in observance of the “new” sabbath of Christ’s resurrection.
*the old Sabbath was Saturday, the 7th day of the week. This is still observed by traditional Jewish and Messianic Jewish religions.
Where I live, alcohol of high percentage cannot be sold on Sunday, meaning those who wish to imbibe must make provision for that want on the Jewish Sabbath or before.
When I was young, my family tried the approach that no work, no play clothes, should be done or worn on Sunday.
All of this is very consistent with the religious nature that is in all humans! The Pharisees and the devout in Israel during Jesus day took careful note of who was working on the Sabbath (Saturday, for them).
So, it’s very interesting to see that Jesus healed many people on the Sabbath.
The verse in John 5 underscores this. They persecuted Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath. Verse 18 goes on to say they sought to kill him because, in addition to doing work on the Sabbath, He claimed equality with God (by what he said in verse 17).
So, what’s the importance of Jesus working on the Sabbath? What did He mean when He said, “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working?”
It is entirely possible, and extremely likely, that we misunderstand what the Sabbath is.
The first “sabbath” was on the 7th day of Creation. It is not important to argue the literal 24 hour days of Creation week, or theorize whether God needed to rest. God doesn’t grow weary, He’s God. The act of Creation didn’t drain Him. The Rest Day was His way of telling us something. But, we often misinterpret things and boil them to the simplest, and often most ridiculous thing.
God “rested” when His Creation was complete. He took Creation from darkness to a full, thriving creation with mankind as His image-bearers presiding over all He’d made. Man-Adam was perfect and in authority over the lower creatures and ecosystems that God had made.
The work of sustaining the cosmos, however, never stopped. So, God was still working, spinning the planets in orbit, creating new stars, active in each molecule and atom that holds our reality together.
The Fall, Adam’s choice to rebel against God to be one with his bride, stripped the world of this state of rest. Suddenly, all of Creation groaned with pain, thorns and futility, striving to keep the perfection it had, but failing to meet the demands of God’s design.
In the Fallen world, there is no rest, only vain toil.
Immediately, God gave a promise of His Son who would crush the serpent, the symbol of evil and the tempter who introduced rebellion to our race, and would satisfy the justice of God by bearing the penalty for our sin.
In the Law, God gave the people of Israel this idea of the Sabbath rest. not only on the 7th day, in recognition of God’s completed work which required no additional act of creation, but pointing to something else! There was also the 7th year of rest where they’d not plant crops and let the land rest.
Jewish people seldom kept these Sabbath rituals, working on their own for their increased profit.
Our mistake, however, is to see this as God being concerned that His people simply follow some religious rule.
God’s not interested in us following a list of rules. He wants our hearts!
The recognition of the Sabbath rest was to point, once more to God’s completed work, not our efforts on our own behalf.
The Pharisees observed the Sabbath, but had hearts that were thinking that their religious acts were saving their souls! They were the most pious, most religious people you could imagine. They prayed out loud in the streets. They let everyone know they were fasting. They gave money to the Temple instead of their aging parents (look how they loved God!).
And they expected that all these “righteous” acts proved their salvation as God’s special people.
They were so exclusive in their works-related religious salvation that they persecuted Jesus for performing miraculous healing on the Sabbath.
Jesus performed those deeds because, as He said, His Father is working … and He is working. The work of mending this broken world is always happening. All things are held together by God. Each sunrise, each breath of every person on this planet is ordained and maintained by God. Even the wicked mass murderer is alive at the will of God and will ultimately serve His purpose and will glorify Him (either in judgment in Hell or in repentance and new life).
So, what does the Sabbath really mean? What is the true Sabbath?
The Sabbath always pointed to God’s completed work. First in Creation, second in the New Creation, Salvation.
When Jesus took on Sin outside the camp of the world, bore the full wrath of God and died, was buried, he performed the full “week” of work required for the New Creation to which all humanity is called. With His resurrection, He has declared the New Creation, the New Man, very good. With the ascension, He has brought us, physical humans, back into direct fellowship with God, in Heaven.
The state of Creation before the Fall has been restored in Christ. The work of God is complete.
But there is still work that goes on all the time. The work of sanctification, bringing us along the path of taking off the works of death that are no longer compatible with our new natures, continues 24/7. In other words, the work of Jesus healing us is not stopped by the Sabbath.
Our “works” for acceptance with God must stop! That’s the point of the Sabbath, to remind us that we cannot work for our salvation. We need to accept Jesus’ completed work and enter the rest that no additional work is needed to secure us with God.
Then we need to let Jesus continue to work His healing every day.