Main Street Community Church

Sabbath: Matthew 11-12

This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The Bible reading and talk is long.

Before the talk, the Bible passage was read from Matthew chapter 11 verse 25 to chapter 12 verse 14.

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A transcript is available lower down the page.


{Later today, I will travel] up the M6 to help run a Christian youth camp. Under normal circumstances, it would be in Wales, but Lancashire seems to be an easier bet, apparently. I’m happily taking some of my holiday entitlement in order to chop carrots and peel potatoes so that young people can learn more about the love of God and perhaps make a decision to follow Jesus. This camp has been a huge part of my life since I think it was 1999 and understand that it was Moira who was a cook on the camp just a few years before I was. “A lot,” she says.

Camping in a field ready to make porridge for eight o’clock in the morning doesn’t sound much like a holiday, does it? Especially when my experience of being in the cookhouse doesn’t mean that I’ll lock up until one in the morning, but, hey, it’s a change. I’m sure you’re all thinking, “What on earth does this man think he’s having a holiday by hardly sleeping?” Well, different, isn’t it? Instead of being a leader or a preacher, I’ll be the sous chef. I’ll be the one who’s told how many carrots to peel or how many tins to open and floors to mop.

It’s a different type of rest because I’ll be under someone else’s instruction. After 24 years of being involved, it wouldn’t be a summer holiday without it. It is here in the scriptures that we find Jesus walking through a field and tired-out people. He says, “Come to me, and I’ll give you rest.” If it’s the joy of people’s salvation and relationship with God has been belittled, so you’re merely following rules. For that mention, if they fail to follow those rules to the letter, they get slapped over the wrists.

What kind of relationship must they have with this God who is, apparently, interested in them? As someone who’s looking to obey God, this sense of this God being an angry ogre figure really, really doesn’t help. In our first scene, we need to understand that Jesus is inviting people to come to Him who is God. He invites people to come to Him, to come to Him in a childlike fashion, loving, enjoying, having simple trust, and fun in the God that loves them.

The inference is that the Pharisees have sucked out all of the enjoyment of being faithful followers of God, and all that’s left is a system that enforces people to just follow the rules. Now not wishing to be too political, but over the last year or more, I have noticed that our government’s encouraged us to follow the rules when in lockdowns, follow the rules so that we can get out of this thing as soon as possible 18 months ago.

Regardless of whether this was the right thing to do, it seems to me that humans are pretty rubbish at following the rules. I don’t think that we were ever advised that if we follow the rules for lockdown, it was for the good of our neighbour or of our community. Even now, it seems that we’re being told that we’re just going to have to live with COVID. Nothing regarding how we live best with our neighbour. People have received fines, of course, and then have them overturned because the police have been overzealous to try to fine people.

The problem with rules, of course, is that it’s either everyone has to follow them, or nobody does. That’s been the hardest part of this for all of us, I think, over the last year and a half. When we see people not following the rules, or at least interpreting them for their own gains, it becomes laborious and tiring, rant over.

Perhaps for those in Jesus’ time, this is what’s happened for them because the Pharisees have become so heavy-handed in giving out punishments for not keeping the rules. No wonder it is then that Jesus has a different approach to the law and, in particular, what Sabbath means. In this nugget of Matthew’s gospel that Ruth read to us, He reminds His people that His interpretation of the yoke of law is easy. His teaching load is light.

The Pharisees were telling people that they were breaking the law under every and any circumstance. They weren’t helping in explaining what they might do to get back on track. No wonder the people like Jesus’ idea, a breath of fresh air to those who really want to follow God, but who are rather getting fed up with those who are, at every turn, being reminded that every jot and tittle of the law must be kept.

Jesus reminds people that God is not the tyrant who wants them to follow rules for their own sake. Jesus reminds them that God created rules because they had a covenant with Him, a loving, kindness acceptance that they were bound together come what may. The Commandments were there to enable God and the faithful community to live in partnership and relationship with one another.

Over years, it seems that different factions of Judaism have put barriers around the original laws and interpreted them so harshly that the joy of a relationship with God just became drudgery and gloom and legalistic.

To quote the Message version of Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus says, “Are you tired? Are you worn out? Are you burned out on religion? Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I will show you how to take your real rest. Walk with me, and work with me. Watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything ill-fitting or heavy on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

That’s why, for me, chopping onions and stirring custard and mopping floors at midnight and serving in the Tuck Shop from this afternoon and for the next few days will be a holiday, because it’s different, because it’s following in a different way. Here’s a thought for us, for you, what is it that gives you rest? A real Sabbath to the Lord. What is it that allows you to experience those unforced rhythms of grace, which gives you opportunity to honour God through your rest in your play, your praise, and your worship?

Have you experienced this recently? Where are you finding those Sabbath times, those perhaps musing upon the Bible, thinking about the comforting love of God, the grace and peace that the Bible speaks about being shown in the person of Christ? How the Pharisees and, perhaps, even sometimes ourselves, forget that wonderful verse in John 1:17, which says, “The law was given through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

I know that I can beat myself up over being a bad Christian or not being a good Christian, but I don’t think it was ever about that. Feeling under the cosh by the religious police or putting myself under some kind of pressure to please God will never work. This is why we need to accept that God loves us just the way we are. God loves us because He loves us, because He loves us, and that’s why He wants us to become more like Him. Not for any good or fault of my own. Successes and failures don’t really matter in the eyes of God.

Sabbath brings a time for relationship to grow and to know that we can come to God, that He is still our Heavenly Father. We can call Him Dad, Daddy, Abba Father. The thing about Sabbath, as I hope that we’ve been learning over these last three or four weeks, is that it was never about doing stuff because God tells us. That doesn’t curry favour in the heavenlies. It doesn’t get us into heaven. Sabbath, right at the start of it all, was a ceasing because everything had been done at creation.

In Exodus, as we found out in the last couple of weeks, see, the Israelites have been delivered from the hard labouring of the Egyptians. God gave the people some new normal rules to live by, including having a whole day off in every seven in order to rest and to relax and to worship and enjoy God and community. Sabbath was about stopping. The seventh day was a Sabbath to the Lord.

It was never about a law that must be kept for fear of making God angry, but because perhaps, an interpretation to the Lord was a pleasurable thing in which to be with God face-to-face, as it were, to honour God in gratitude for a regular day off, to receive a balanced view of life, which includes worship.

Sabbath, and this implied rest, was always good for the good of humanity. Indeed, this is something that’s reinforced in Mark 2:27 when Jesus says, “Sabbath was made for mankind, not mankind for the Sabbath. When the people find Jesus and His friends being apprehended by the Pharisees here in Matthew 11 and 12, I’m sure they looked on with interest. How would he respond? What would he say?

Jesus looks at Sabbath from a completely different point of view from the Pharisees. They see it through a Pharisaic legislation. He sees it through Old Testament examples of when, because they were hungry, David, not yet that he was king. His friends ate the most important bread from the altar, the Showbread. That was okay because Jesus knew that people mattered more than things. Even according to Tom Wright, the things that are part of the Biblical law, people matter.

People’s hunger even trumps the most religious of religious laws, because when we look back to these 10 Commandments that we looked at last week, they were given to restore a normality to God’s people. We remember in Exodus, it says the people were in captivity, and they had to make bricks and bricks and bricks, and get straw and straw and straw. When God rescued them, they had to find a new normal, a new way of being with one another, and a new way of worshipping God.

The 10 Commandments, including the Sabbath, were designed for restoring and developing and building relationships one with another and with God. When Jesus goes on to say that He’s the Lord of the Sabbath, can you imagine what was going through the heads of the Pharisees? If Jesus is Lord, and therefore, over the Sabbath, then He can decide what does and doesn’t happen. Priests have to work on the Sabbath, and He sees Himself as God’s son, therefore, He’s much more than a priest. In service of God, a breach of the law could take place.

The disciples were in the service of God. They were serving the Lord of the Sabbath, too. Jesus says directly to them that there’s something, that is Himself, more important than the temple being here. Can you imagine how that went down, well, with Pharisees? To hammer home the point, the drama moves to the synagogue, the local place for worship. When inside, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees if it’s lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus knows probably where this is going. He also knows that the law says it’s okay to help someone on the Sabbath who’s dying.

The man with the withered hand is there. We assume that he’s not dying, but to show them and to prove that He is indeed the Lord of the Sabbath, He reminds them of their silly extra laws that they’ve set up around God’s laws such as being able to help a sheep if it falls into a well on the Sabbath. Well, that’s fine. Goes the extra mile in acting to heal the man’s hand, not because it’s illegal, but because it’s good, decent, and the right thing to do, regardless of the day.

The reason why in Matthew that the Pharisees want to plot to get rid of Jesus now is because His new normal is showing them up. He’s reinterpreting the law. Even more importantly, He’s getting into territory which has been sacred for centuries. He’s breaking their version of the Sabbath law. Now, healing on the Sabbath day.

How sad it is that they didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, the Son of Man, the High Priest, the one who was able to miraculously heal a man inside the synagogue. Was this a regular occurrence, or was there something really special about Jesus that the Pharisees really didn’t want others to recognize?

What about the man who was healed? I wonder what He thought of it all. How did he respond to Jesus? As we come in to close now, what about us? What does the Sabbath mean for you and for me? Is it merely a time off to come to church? Is it a day to worship God in a different way as we gather in all sorts of ways as we sing, as we worship, as we take communion?

Whilst these actions are different to perhaps what we might do other days of the week, why are they significant to you? What is it to you that makes a Sabbath day holy? How is it that you see Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath? How do you feel about coming to Jesus for Him to offer you Sabbath rest, an easy yoke that you may need today? Should we take a moment of silence before we come to our final song?

All of this is worship. All of this is part of the Sabbath to the Lord. Take a moment now to allow anything that God wants from this morning to stick, to indelibly write into your soul and your mind right now.

[pause 00:16:57]

This day, may you know the continuous offer of Jesus to come to Him however you are, whoever you are. For Jesus to give you rest and comfort and peace for your soul, strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow. May you know that you don’t have to try to keep the rules to please God. May you be reminded afresh that God loves you because God loves you, because God loves you, because God loves you. May you know that today and every day, you are enough. May you know that at the heart of it, Sabbath is about God’s love and for us to receive it afresh. Amen.

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This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0 license logo

Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.