“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
It was not lawful for King Herod to have his brother’s wife, as we heard from St. John the Baptist this past week. And it is not lawful for you to pursue your own ambitions to the neglect of God and at your neighbor’s expense. But, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
The Lord Jesus aims at something deeper, with this question, than whether it is against the rules, or defensible by way of some loophole or legal technicality. It’s not about what He may excuse or get away with, but, rather, what the Sabbath really means and signifies.
What is “lawful” is what the Lord intends: His good and acceptable will, which centers in divine grace and His desire to give Life to those whom He has created and calls to Himself. Behind and beyond what He commands and prohibits, is the saving work of God Himself, who calls you out of slavery into freedom; who declares that He is your God, and that you are His own dear child.
The fulfillment of the Law, and of the Sabbath commandment in particular, is the Life that God gives you in Christ Jesus, which you receive by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, and which you live in love for your neighbor.
To heal and give life, to rescue from a well, to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger and the outcast, to visit the sick and imprisoned, to clothe the naked, and to forgive sins, that is more than “okay” on the Sabbath: It is the Sabbath that remains for the people of God in Christ, our Savior.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lawful One, who not only keeps the Sabbath Day perfectly, but brings it to completion for you and for all people. By His labor of love, He gives you peace and rest. And this He does by faith in His Father. For He receives all things from God, and He gives it all to His neighbor: That is how the Sabbath is rightly kept, and in Him it has been established eternally.
He humbles Himself in the confidence that His Father will exalt Him. For He knows Himself to be the beloved Son, according to the Word and promise of His Baptism; and He knows Himself, also, to be the Ox that pulls the plow, who will become the whole burnt offering for the people; so He trusts that His God and Father will pull Him up out of the well, and give Him Sabbath Rest.
It is this righteousness of faith in His Father, which He exercises and manifests in love for you and all His neighbors. He takes the last place for Himself, in order to exalt and serve His companions.
Not for His own advantage or benefit does He do what He does, but in order to honor you, to give you life and peace and rest. He needs nothing, anyway, since all that belongs to His Father is His; nor could anyone give anything to Him, but He gives everything He has to care for everyone else.
He’s not attempting to curry favor from God or man, but, by faith in His Father, He favors you in loving kindness. In all His actions — His coming in the flesh, His compassion for sinners, His going to the Cross, His suffering, and His sacrificial death — none of it is a pretense, nor a strategy for Self-advancement. There is no hidden agenda here, no false humility; neither a charade, nor an act of passive aggression, but pure love, and the Self-sacrifice of pure divine mercy for you.
It is difficult to comprehend, and it is hard for you to understand and take to heart, because it is so different from the way your sinful heart and mind are wired. Your words and actions are so often a case of promoting and protecting yourself. Much of what you do is not lawful, even when you follow the rules to the letter, and even at your best; because you are driven by pride and a desire for praise, or you are paralyzed by despair and a fear of criticism, instead of being guided and governed by the fear of the Lord, by faith in His Word, and by love for God and your neighbor.
But the Lord Christ has come, not to condemn you, but to save you from yourself and your disease, from all of your enemies, and from your own sin and death. Therefore, He comes and takes hold of you. He embraces you with tender affection. He heals you and frees you from your infirmities of body and soul. He pulls you out of the hole you’ve fallen into, and He raises you up on high in the presence of His God and Father, in His own righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Behold, this is what He has done for you: He has come to share your place and your predicament, in order to give you His place of honor at the Table. He humbles Himself, in order to exalt you.
He comes to live here, in this mortal coil on earth, even unto death, for the sake of the eternal city of God in heaven; that is, to make a permanent place and a home for you there in that City of God.
You cannot repay Him. You are not able to do so, and He needs nothing from you. But that is the point: He receives everything from His Father, and He gives everything to you in divine love.
Even the reward that He receives in His Resurrection and Ascension, is, for Christ Jesus, simply a return to His own rightful place at the Right Hand of the Father; but, for you, it is your true Sabbath Rest, your rescue from sin, your resurrection from death, and your righteousness forever.
It is the Glory of God to conceal this great Salvation under the Cross of Christ, and the Glory of your King, the same Lord Jesus Christ, to reveal this great Mystery by the preaching of the Gospel.
For He has received the place of honor at the Wedding Feast, and now He honors you with that honor of His, by inviting you to join Him, to take your place beside Him, to recline at His Table and to be fed from His hand. Here He sanctifies you with His sacrificial Blood, and He feeds you from His Altar with His own sacrificial Flesh. In the presence of God and all of creation, He says to you: “Dear Friend, come up higher. Here is the place I have prepared for you, the reward of the Righteous, which I give to you. Come, enter into My rest, and be at peace.”
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.