Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sermon: Wednesday of Laetare (Lent 4)

2 March 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 9:1-41

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Nearly every time our Lord got Himself into trouble with the Jewish authorities, it was over a dispute over the Sabbath.

The Sabbath today remains a point of controversy among Christians. Some groups argue that it is sinful for churches to meet on Sunday, since the Sabbath day, per Jewish law, runs from sunset Friday to sunset Sunday. One sect even claims that any church that meets on Sunday bears the mark of the antichrist (which, if true, condemns the apostles themselves, whose Sunday services are recorded in the Book of Acts).

Why is the Sabbath such a hot-button issue?

I don’t think it is the Sabbath itself, but rather who defines the Sabbath. The Sabbath is our Lord’s institution, dating back to the creation. And since our Creator rested on the seventh day, He decreed that creation likewise rest.

Man and beasts of burden alike are to spend a day out of seven to rest. Even the land was commanded to lie fallow one year out of seven. All over the world, even in Pagan countries, a seven-day week is acknowledged.

But the Pharisees in our Gospel do not see the Sabbath as a gift from God, but rather as something they do for God. This seemingly small misunderstanding results in big consequences. For when our Lord Jesus Christ Himself seeks to save, to heal, and to renew on the Sabbath, the Pharisees see some sort of violation of the law. So blinded are they to the idea of love, of service to their fellow man, of the need to build up and help – that instead of rejoicing in miracles, they seek to put God on trial and kill Him for playing around with their Sabbath.

This hatred for Jesus for stealing their thunder is even doled out to the man born blind whom our Lord healed. He who was told to wash in the Pool of Siloam, whose eyes were recreated anew, was promptly charged with defending a lawbreaker who would do a good work on the Sabbath.

For disagreeing with their twisted logic, the Pharisees “cast him out.” This man was excommunicated from the synagogue – not for living an immoral life, not for unrepentance, not for false doctrine – but because he pointed out the simple logic that Jesus must be divine to do such marvelous things, such as give sight to a man born blind.

Our Lord finds the man cured of his blindness, and asks him: “’Do you believe in the Son of God?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.’”

Now here is a critical point in their conversation. For note this man’s attitude, he whom the Pharisees have cast out. He wants to meet this “Son of God.” He wants to “believe in Him.” Our Lord reveals Himself to him, and unlike the Pharisees, look at his response: “’Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.”

It didn’t matter what charges the Pharisees had made against Jesus. This man knew what Jesus had done for him. He understood that the Son of God has authority even over the Sabbath. Far be it from him to accuse God of breaking God’s own laws.

In the end, the Pharisees were the blind men. For even with God standing before them, doing miracles, giving sign after sign, fulfilling all prophecy and all righteousness, they were blinded to the very truth looking them in the eyes.

And this indeed fulfills our Lord’s prophecy, as He proclaims: “‘For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’”

Those who believe they are more righteous by their own interpretation of the law than those who have been made righteous by the healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ are truly blind, spiritually blind, eternally blind. Their darkness cannot be healed, for their sin is unforgivable. Those who refuse to believe, refuse to see – unlike the blind man who confessed: “Lord, I believe.”

“Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘we see,’ therefore your sin remains.’”

The Pharisees were more culpable, more accountable for their sins because they were students of the law – and they were also hypocrites. Had they not seen the works of our Lord Jesus, they might have been able to claim ignorance. But far from being ignorant, they were arrogant. And it is that spirit of arrogance that drove them to the point of spiritual madness not to see God’s grace at work, to be blinded to the fact that the Sabbath rest was not a matter of the law, but was actually the Lord’s grace and mercy at work.

The Sabbath rest is a gift from God. A police officer, a fireman, a nurse, or a pastor is not sinning against the Sabbath when he carries out his work of mercy on the seventh day. For Sabbath-keeping is not a job, it is not work. To make the Sabbath a work is to work on the Sabbath! The Sabbath is a rest – a respite from sin. When our Lord frees sinners from the results and the guilt of their sin, He is fulfilling the Sabbath, not merely keeping it.

The Sabbath is not about putting on a show to your neighbors that you don’t cut the grass or play cards on Sunday (for Sunday isn’t even technically the Sabbath), but rather the Sabbath is a rest for you, a time to step away from work (which is a curse for sin), a time for you to relax in body and soul, an opportunity for you to be forgiven of your sins, and like the man born blind, to be made whole by the wholesome Word of God.

For thanks to the holy presence of our Lord Jesus, every day is a Sabbath! This is how it is that St. Paul tells the Colossians (2:16): “Let no one judge you in… Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is Christ.” This is how St. Paul exhorts the Romans (14:5): “He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.”

Whether you observe your seventh day of rest on the Sabbath Day, which is Saturday, or on Sunday (which is the apostolic custom), or even on Wednesday, the importance is that you are resting, you are hearing the Word of God, you are partaking of the Holy Supper, and that your sins are forgiven. You are receiving His gifts.

For as the God-Man Himself declares: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”

And because our Lord keeps the Sabbath for us, “we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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