How Rejects are Accepted

Have you ever just wanted our Creator to cut-to-the-chase, and give us the “bottom line”? What does it take to be “accepted” by Him. Let’s be honest, it is Jesus, His death, burial, and resurrection that makes any sort of relationship with our Creator possible. But still…

Our behavior matters to our Savior. There are plenty of passages, statements of Jesus, writings of Paul, that clearly indicate that our Creator cares how we behave. So, what is it He wants from us? Can we sum it up? For the Jews of Jesus’ day, it was Sabbath-keeping and circumcision. That was pretty much it. Sounds weird huh? And yet…

This is what the LORD says,
“Promote justice! Do what is right!
For I am ready to deliver you;
I am ready to vindicate you openly.
The people who do this will be blessed,
the people who commit themselves to obedience,
who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it,
who refrain from doing anything that is wrong.
(Isaiah 56:1-2 NET)

Sounds pretty simple, promote justice and do what is “right”. Commit ourselves to obedience and guard the Sabbath. Wait, what? The Sabbath? I know, right? What’s up with this Sabbath-keeping business? Is it really important? Well…yes.

No foreigner who becomes a follower of the LORD should say,
‘The LORD will certainly exclude me from his people.’
The eunuch should not say,
‘Look, I am like a dried-up tree.’”
For this is what the LORD says:
“For the eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths
and choose what pleases me
and are faithful to my covenant,
I will set up within my temple and my walls a monument
that will be better than sons and daughters.
I will set up a permanent monument for them that will remain.
(Isaiah 56:3-5 NET)

Foreigners and eunuchs were excluded from worship, from the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1-8). And yet, here we have them included, if they observe the Sabbath, choose what pleases their Creator, and are faithful to His covenant. If eunuchs do that, their Creator will setup a monument better than sons and daughters…Seriously? But what about “foreigners”?

No foreigner who becomes a follower of the LORD should say,
‘The LORD will certainly exclude me from his people.’
The eunuch should not say,
‘Look, I am like a dried-up tree.’”

As for foreigners who become followers of the LORD and serve him,
who love the name of the LORD and want to be his servants—
all who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it,
and who are faithful to my covenant—
I will bring them to my holy mountain;
I will make them happy in the temple where people pray to me.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar,
for my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray.”
The Sovereign LORD says this,
the one who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
“I will still gather them up.”
(Isaiah 56:3, 6-8 NET)

Oy with the Sabbath-keeping! If foreigners keep the covenant and the Sabbath, their Creator will bring them to His holy mountain, to His temple, to His place of prayer, their sacrifices will be accepted. His temple will be known as a house of prayer. Sound familiar? Maybe something Jesus said when He “cleansed” the temple?

Notice this doesn’t replace exiled Israel, they will still be gathered up, but along with these previously excluded groups. And what is the sign of their obedience? What is the activity by which they will be known to their Savior? Sabbath-keeping. How weird is that?

Here’s a real simple take away: Attend church. Go, participate, worship. And don’t stop once the scheduled service is over. Dedicate the day, live out the message you heard, make real the songs you sang. Set your week by the day starting it off. Dedicate yourself to your Savior and your time for the whole day to His purpose.

Honestly, I don’t. Yesterday, I rearranged my home-office to make it more functional (it’s different anyway). But I think this passage may be pushing me to rethink my Sunday’s. Not that I should only worship or serve my Savior on Sunday, but that this one day should His, not mine.

He made the Sabbath for us, not us for the Sabbath, but He still made it. And it seems He wants us to take it seriously. What will that look like? I don’t know, honestly. I think it may look different for you than for me. All I know that He wants me to honor Him with it.



This is a post I wrote for a devotional blog at my company (not a “ministry” company). So, it sounds a little different:

The sheer volume of possible puns and clever titles dealing with the Sabbath is overwhelming. It seemed good to go with simple. When it gets right down to it, Sabbath is really about rest anyway. There is a very good chance that, even from Genesis 2, the Sabbath has been a metaphor.

By the time Jesus walked the very ground He created, the Sabbath had become anything but restful. In those days, due to the violent oppressive history of the Jewish people, they had gradually turned a day of rest into one of the most stressful practices of any religion.

The sheer volume of rules surrounding the practice of the Sabbath was so overwhelming, it is difficult to imagine how anyone kept track of all of them. For instance, there seems to be a prohibition to pick heads of grain and eat them on the Sabbath:

Jesus was going through the grain fields on a Sabbath, and his disciples began to pick some heads of wheat as they made their way. So the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is against the law on the Sabbath?”

Mark 2:23-24 NET

So, there’s this law, among the Ten Commandments, that says: “Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy.” (Deuteronomy 20:8 NET). Notice the total absence of picking heads of grain and eating them. “Oh”, but you say, “There’s more!” Which is true. Here’s the “more”:

For six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

Exodus 20:9-11 NET

So, do your occupation for six days (not five, by the way), and on the sixth, rest from it. I still don’t see anything about picking heads of grain to eat as you pass through a field. The Sabbath is for everyone, even servants, but the rationale given by our Creator is creation. He rested after making everything. So, He created the Sabbath too.

The religious leadership had tried to define the term “occupation” so tightly they might not unintentionally miss keeping the Sabbath. They over did it to protect from not doing it at all. But it started by asking, “what does it mean to ‘not do any work’?” When we start looking for “loopholes”, the answer isn’t a tighter net.

Jesus brings up another view to show the Pharisees the problem of their own. Notice that the Pharisees were right there with Jesus, close enough to see what His disciples did. They saw the activity of the disciples, but they were missing their own problem of perspective.

He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry— how he entered the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the sacred bread, which is against the law for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:25-28 NET

The event being described here is probably from 1 Samuel 21:1-6, and it is not exactly how it is written there. Even so, the point remains, David ate what was devoted to God, and reserved for the priests to eat. Jesus’ take away from this event is that “…the Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”

What sort of “holy rules” have you, or those with whom you worship, instituted over time? Is there a ritual of music, of preaching, of lighting, or seating? One of the most amazing surprises of 2020 was how resilient even small churches were, adapting to “distance worship”, learning to do live webcasts with little or no warning.

The damage done to congregations has yet to be calculated, but the stories of impressive surprising adaptation are easy to find. The story of your congregation is probably your favorite (or should be). And what this taught us is that the “Sabbath” or “holy day of worship” need not be defined as we have always done it.

Our worship, practiced by congregations of called out ones gathered to declare the worthiness of our Savior corporately, is actually a rather flexible concept. Who knew? But it is also a gift from our Savior to us. We were not created for the Sabbath, but, rather, the Sabbath was created for us. And one day, disciples of Jesus will enter into an eternal Sabbath.

So, let’s work our butts off, and then, enjoy the rest of our Savior. Cue the massive pipe organ and the “four-creature” quartet! Holy Holy Holy is Yahweh Elohim El-Shaddai! All the earth is filled with His glory! I’m almost too excited to rest, but it sure beats working!  

Take A Break

The Sabbath is one commandment that is kind of “out of character” from the others. The ones before are about the priority of God in our lives. The ones following are about how we treat others. What is this one about?

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11 NASB

There is clearly something about this practice that our Creator believes to be important. In fact, Yahweh says He did it. He created everything, and then rested. I doubt that He was tired. I doubt He needed some “ME time”, or to recharge, or whatever.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

Isaiah 40:28 NASB

It seems that the Sabbath was not so God could rest up for His next big engagement. In fact Jesus says something rather remarkable about the Sabbath:

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He *said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28 NASB (Emphasis mine)

According to Jesus, the Sabbath was created for the Creator’s human creatures, rather than the other way around. So, when our Maker rests on the seventh day, He does so for us, not for Himself. This became a marker, setting apart the Jews from the other peoples among whom they lived. And it became a source of ridicule, even nearly cost them their existence during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid rulers (see reference here).

So, the issue may have become more about being obviously Jewish, and less about sanctifying the day. Still, what was God’s point? Why did He sanctify the day in the first place? It wasn’t for Himself, it was for His creatures, but to what purpose?

I suspect that nothing sanctifies like the presence of our Creator and Savior. Whatever He touches becomes holy. Perhaps, because of this, this day is holy because it’s in contact with Him. And when we use a whole day a week to be with Him, that day is holy. In a sense, this law of the ten forms the pivot point where we move from them being about our Creator to being about the creatures. The Sabbath law connects the two sets through association of the two in relationship.

Do you use it that way? The whole day, is it devoted to your Savior? Would others observing your day claim that it is entirely devoted to time between you and your Creator? Is it truly “holy” in the sense that He has come into contact with it, and you? I doubt it. I find it nearly impossible to fill the day only with time with my Master. Perhaps you are more successful than I. If you are, that’s awesome, and I encourage you to keep doing it. If you don’t, if, like me, you struggle to get more than church attendance into it being about Jesus, then what can be done to change our attitude about it?

Perhaps time with my wife counts as I honor my Savior in my time with her. Maybe you have friends that get together after church for lunch or to spend the afternoon doing whatever. Can that time count as holy time? Has it come into contact with our Creator? I’m reminded that nowhere does it say that the Sabbath isn’t a corporate thing. Nothing says that it has to be practiced as individuals. In fact, isn’t going to church on the Sabbath a “group activity”? Why does the end of a church meeting mean the end of celebrating the Sabbath?

Perhaps, like Jesus says, we need to think of the Sabbath as something our Creator created for us. And, like everything else He created, He made it to draw us closer to Him. So, if that’s what this day is about for you, about enjoying all that your Savior is to you, and all those He has connected you with, then perhaps you are dedicating the whole day to Him. Let’s discover that line of peace and rest between legalistically requiring rigid limits to activities, and blatant treatment of the day as just another day off to play. Maybe we can keep it holy together.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

What About Dumb Animals?

And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5 NASB)

Read this explanation of Jesus through a few times, and hopefully it becomes clear that oxen falling into wells is probably not a daily occurrence.  What is even odder is the juxtaposition of the son and the ox.  An inside-joke of my wife and I has to do with a comedian we can’t remember and his poking fun at the old TV show Lassie.  Lassie says, “Bark!”  The person looks at Lassie and says, “What is it Lassie? Did Timmy wander down a trail, look down a hole, and is now trapped in a well over at the Johnson Farm?”  And so this example or explanation of Jesus makes me smile a bit.

The word translated as “well” by so many translations refers to the Middle Eastern “cistern” where run-off water from the meager rains was collected.  It was often an open or sometimes covered pit, and often dry.  The King James Version translates it as “pit” as does the New Living Translation.  This is probably preferred, and makes the example a bit less funny.  The term “well” in English conjures up images of a bricked in, roofed, circle with windlass and bucket.  An ox falling into something like this is sort of funny, and I’m fairly certain that was not what Jesus was after here.

Even so, Jesus mentions a son or an ox.  Why these two?  Before (Luke 13:15) He refers to a donkey untied to water.  What I wonder is if Jesus contextualizes His examples.  So, back in Luke 13, the synagogue leader may have untied his donkey that very morning to water it.  Here, I wonder if one or more of the guests or the host even, had a son mishap involving a pit, and another a similar problem with an ox.  Or maybe the son and the ox in the same pit?  Anyway, had that been something commonly known to the guests what it does is serve to punctuate the lesson even more strongly.  Not only does God work through Jesus on the Sabbath to heal, but Jesus knows stuff He couldn’t or that they couldn’t explain how He knew.

I don’t know that.  I don’t know for certain that one or more of the guests had earlier mishaps involving farm animals, children, and pits.  Luke doesn’t include that detail, and without it, the point Jesus makes remains the same.  It’s not necessary to go there.  In a sense, I’m reading into the passage a habit I have in contextualizing my examples/analogies to the person I’m using it with.  But that’s my habit, it isn’t necessarily Jesus’.  I like the thought though.  I like the idea that Jesus does that with these guys, because as you read through the account of his meal no one seems comfortable being around Jesus.  It would explain what it was about Jesus that made the entire company of Pharisees so silent around Him.  On the other hand, we don’t really know if they were all that silent either.  They could have been milling about speaking as they negotiated for the best place at the table.  We don’t know really.  They just never seem to say anything to Jesus.

So, with or without Jesus contextualizing His example, the point remains that a person is more important than an ox.  But how about more than a son?  I think here Jesus is pointing out that they “heal” people on the Sabbath too.  They wouldn’t think twice, but only “their people”, and I think that’s where Jesus has a problem with them.  So regardless of whether this was a personal example using two guests or not, people matter.  And these guys should know that…already.  It’s actually a powerful example to put the son and the ox together because one is obvious, and other is obvious; but together they are powerful in showing the glaring mistake they have made in their assumptions.  Also notice Jesus doesn’t call them “hypocrites”.  He’s not being mean here, but gentle.  Odd don’t you think?

So, what do you learn as you consider Jesus’ choice of example, His choice of demeanor, and His point about people?  It’s kind of a lot to get from a single sentence.

Answering The Visual Question

It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely.  And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy.  And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:1-3 NASB)

I don’t think anyone reading the Gospels, whether they believe what they read or not, can come away from the experience and think Jesus is not an enigma.  Jesus is an enigma to everyone who meets Him for the first time, and those who spend a great deal of time with Him.  All the people knew is that He did miracles and taught with authority.  The disciples knew that He taught as if He were God.  The Pharisees knew that He taught different than they did, and believed different things about the Scriptures.  What Jesus taught was often impossible to measure or intangible in other ways.  It was a call to authentic belief.

Knowing that, Pharisees can’t leave it alone.  I wonder if there was some internal competition between groups of Pharisees to see where Jesus’ weakness lay.  But they keep repeating their testing.  This is the third time Jesus heals on the Sabbath (Luke 6 and 13 are the previous ones).  Jesus has answered questions from the Pharisees about “work on the Sabbath” in Luke 4.  You’d think by now Jesus’ position on the Sabbath was pretty clear.  But no, not to this group, and so we have with this group another example of why it’s dangerous to have Jesus over for a meal (see my previous blog entries “Giving = Sanctifying” and “Lawyer Drawing Fire“).  This is the quintessential example of Jesus as a dangerous dinner guest.  All the elements are here in verses 1 through 24.

But Luke words this rather interestingly.  The scene is set, an invitation, a host, a “man-test”, and Jesus answers.  Luke is specific, Jesus answers when He asks His question of His host and other guests.  Think that through.  Jesus saw the scene as begging a question, He saw it as the test it was, the setup, the trap.  So He asks the question, in a sense “addressing the elephant in the room”.  But what He asks is the surface question, the one we would expect Him to be asked.  So, if the man before Him with the swollen limbs is a question Jesus answers, and the answer is the question the presence of the man seems to beg, then what is Jesus answering?  Or is it as simple as Jesus simply stating out loud the mute question before Him, He really is “addressing the elephant” everyone else sees but doesn’t acknowledge?  I don’t think so.

What other questions could the man represent?  He could represent, “Will you follow our pattern of practice?”  He could represent the question, “Who are you?”  He could represent the question, “Will you play our game?”  But I think the more likely question answered by the man before Jesus was, “Why did you invite me here?”  The man made clear that the invitation was not a peaceful gesture, but an aggressive one.  The presence of the man was a challenge to Who Jesus was, His role, His validity, His right to teach and lead people, and so on.  I doubt by this time the Pharisees were in doubt about what Jesus stood for, where He stood on various issues, or His interpretations of Scripture.  The man represented a trap, and as soon as Jesus arrived He understood the question, a challenge to Him.

“And Jesus answered and said,” Jesus did deal with the unspoken reason for His invitation, not just the man with a disease.  He entered into the ambush, now knowing why He was invited, and proceeded to dismantle His opponents.  He began by showing them the error of their assumptions about the Sabbath.

The reason I think this is important is that it begs the question from us, “Why do we go to Jesus?”  Why do we?  What do we hope to gain?  I assure you that whatever that is, however you answer that question, all you do is provide the starting point for Jesus, and it will also be the departure point for where He will take you.  It’s at that point that we have a decision to make: Continue to eat with Jesus or find a new dinner companion.  I can tell you that other companions are a lot easier to deal with, nicer, less challenging, and often a lot more boring.  Let’s continue on with this meal.  But I warn you it doesn’t get any easier.

What do you learn so far from Jesus as a dinner guest here?

Upset About Rest

 On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.    The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.    But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward.    And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?”    After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored.    But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11 NASB)

This account closely follows another which takes place in fields where Jesus’ disciples are picking, rubbing and eating heads of the grain as they go.  There Jesus says that the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.  It’s a cryptic statement in which Jesus asserts His deity, but does so within the context of the Sabbath.  But this account is very different.

Continue reading “Upset About Rest”