“These people approach me with their speeches
to honor me with lip-service—
yet their hearts are far from me,
and human rules direct their worship of me.”
– Isaiah 29:13
When the Lord spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah, He was not confronting a new problem or speaking about a phenomena that would magically disappear when Jesus came into the world. As a species plagued with sin and living in a fallen world, human beings tend to value the form of religion rather than the heart behind it.
Jesus came face to face with this tendency from the early days of His ministry. He challenged it, and in doing, so inflamed some of His opponents who wanted to put Him to death. In one incident, recorded in Luke 6, the Pharisees criticized Jesus because His disciples were picking heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath (vv.1–5). In the same chapter, but on another Sabbath, the Pharisees became “filled with rage” because Jesus healed a man with a withered hand (vv.6–11).
In the controversy over the heads of grain, Jesus pointed the Pharisees to the actions of David in 1 Samuel chapter 21. While on the run from Saul, David went into the house of God where he and his men ate the consecrated bread. David’s actions showed that human need trumps strangling legalism. If David’s men could eat the consecrated bread on the Sabbath, then how much more could the Son of David’s disciples fill their bellies with unconsecrated heads of grain on the Sabbath?
Jesus made another startling claim in this discussion about the Sabbath, saying that He, the Son of Man, is “Lord of the Sabbath” (v.5). Think about this statement for a second. In Genesis 2, we read that God created the seventh day as a day of rest, the Sabbath day (v.2). In claiming to be “Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus announced to His enemies that, at the very least, He had authority over that which the Father created and ordained.
Jesus further exposed the Pharisees’ glaring hypocrisy when He healed a`man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Instead of rejoicing that this poor man had regained the use of his hand, the Pharisees became filled with righteous fury. Then, in their indignation over Jesus’s supposed violation of the fourth commandment, they began plotting in their hearts to break the sixth (Luke 6:6–11).
Lest we think we are wholly unlike the Pharisees, James, the brother of our Lord, painted a picture in his letter that could be a scene in one of our own churches (see James 2:1–4). Whenever we discount the poor and the vulnerable while celebrating the rich, the powerful, and the well-connected, we are honoring the Father with our lips while our hearts are far from Him.
The Lord of the Sabbath showed unparalleled compassion in each of His Sabbath healings. Shouldn’t those of us who gather in His name welcome the weak, the powerless, the broken, and the poor in His name? He is present through the Holy Spirit, who enters into the hearts of His people, and He is present with us when we gather together. Since we are His, we ought to welcome those He would welcome.
Written by Scott Slayton