The Lord of the Sabbath

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


"...If you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (Matt. 12:7-8)

The supreme reason for the Lord to bow the heavens and take on the Human was so that He might unite the Divine Itself with the Human, and so save the universal human race from self-destruction. This was the Divine purpose behind the Incarnation that every one who desires it might have the peace and rest of heaven. This is the reason the Lord came to earth, and took on a Human through which He might be tempted by the hells and conquer through victory in temptation; and when the combats were over, He ascended once again with His Glorified Human in His spiritual kingdom where His rule brings rest and peace to all who genuinely desire it.

At the same time that the Lord was waging His hidden battle with the hells for the sake of our eternal lives, He walked on earth among us as a man, teaching all those who were willing to hear the true meaning of the laws of Moses, opening minds to the idea that we could follow God s laws according to the spirit, not merely the letter. He had intended from the beginning that His laws should be upon our hearts so that they might lead us to do good to others. It was, however, the nature of those who kept His laws on earth to use them to bring power and authority to themselves, and by abusing God s laws, by twisting them into unrecognizable forms, the Scribes and the Pharisees had made the laws of the Lord of no effect.

This contrast between the law of the Lord and the law of man is clearly established by our first two lessons this morning. In the Ten Commandments, the Lord commands us not to work on the Sabbath, nor to allow those who serve us to do our work for us, but that we are to dedicate one day each week to things pertaining to God. By the time the Lord came to earth, this commandment had been changed by tradition and practice to the point that it had become ridiculous in the extreme, for, as we read in the second lesson, the Pharisees condemned the Lord and the disciples for breaking the third commandment by merely plucking a handful of grain to eat. Such action was considered by the Pharisees to be "harvesting" the grain, and therefore forbidden work. The Pharisees depended on the law for their authority and power, and they saw Jesus as a threat to their position because He was teaching that it was the spirit behind the law that was important. They feared that if people began to believe and act upon that, there would no longer be a need for Pharisees to interpret and enforce the law. Therefore the Pharisees were eager for the Lord and His disciples to break the law, for then the law could be used to destroy Him.

As always, the Lord turned this challenge by the Pharisees into an opportunity to teach His disciples in every age about His law in general, and the Sabbath in particular. First, He reminded the Pharisees that king David himself had broken commandments when he entered the house of the Lord and ate the showbread. The Pharisees, and all Jews, recognized the justice in that, for king David represented to them the height of their power and influence in the world, a state to which they all wished to return. It was not possible for them to consider condemning king David s actions, since they all knew the story and knew that he only did it out of necessity and from his authority as king of Israel, the anointed of God. The point would not have been lost on the Pharisees that if God s anointed could eat of the showbread, then certainly it was permissible for the Messiah, Himself the "Anointed One" to eat grain on the Sabbath.

The Lord then reminded them that the priests themselves worked on the Sabbath, for it was required of them to perform the various duties in the temple. Again, the point was made that if the law allows God s other servants to work on the Sabbath, certainly the famous Rabbi Jesus and His assistants could not be criticized for gathering a few handfuls of grain for a meal. The Lord continued to develop this point, telling the Pharisees that He was greater than the temple, referring both to the rituals and to the laws of the scribes and Pharisees.

We don t know how the Pharisees took this answer, for their words are not recorded in scripture. We might guess, however, from their extremely literal nature, from their inability to see the spirit behind the letter of the law, and from their desire to sacrifice all for the sake of their own positions of power, that they probably thought that He was openly challenging their power and authority but of course we don t know for certain.

We do know that when the Lord taught that He was greater than the temple, He was teaching by representatives that the temple existed on earth to represent Him to mankind; that the temple was inferior to Him because it was from Him as a source. Indeed, the whole of the ritual to which the priests, scribes and Pharisees so tenaciously hung was nothing but a representation of the Lord to men on earth. This is why the Lord taught them that He was greater than the temple.

The Lord concluded His answer to the Pharisees by saying to them, "But if you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (text) The children of Israel had never really known what was behind the Mosaic law, they had never inquired into their ritual. They were interested only in going through the commanded motions in the commanded sequences. They were not interested in the reason for the sacrifices. For them, it was enough to know that as long as they performed the ritual, and remained in a semblance of external order, they would be the "chosen" people. They ignored the Lord when He taught them through the prophet Samuel that "to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken than the fat of rams" Through the psalmist, He taught them, "you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit & and a contrite heart". Through Isaiah, the Lord taught, "I am full of burnt offerings & Bring no more vain oblations". But the Word of God fell upon deaf ears.

There are, of course, many more passages of scripture which openly carry this same message, and yet the Pharisees were living examples of how the Israelitish church had ignored the clear teachings given by the Lord through His prophets; how they had refused to turn away from their literalistic, materialistic views; and had so perverted the Lord s laws that they were being used not to lead men to eternal life, but rather to persecute and punish the innocent. The Lord told the Pharisees that if only they had looked to mercy and justice, they would not have condemned the guiltless, because they would have understood that He was the Lord of the Sabbath, that is, they would have been able to see the truth about the Lord, that He was the true Messiah.

The word "Sabbath" is from the Hebrew for "rest," and it represents both the rest that comes to people when they finally conquer in temptations and the state of rest for the Lord that comes when He is finished fighting the hells for the people who have been in temptation. This is why, when the six days of creation represent our combats with evils, it is said that on the seventh day, the Lord rested. It is because it is the Lord who actually fights for us in the combats of temptation, although it seems to us that we are fighting for ourselves.

The Sabbath comes at the end of the battle, and it is a state of rest for those weary from the battle. It is also the state of peace and rest that comes to those who are victorious in their battles, have driven the enemy away, and have restored order into their lives. The Sabbath represents the state of peace and happiness that the Lord gives to people after good and truth have been conjoined in their minds by means of the combats of temptation. In regard to the Sabbath, the Word teaches that there are only two states for mankind the first is a state of truth alone, where there is combat while the will and the understanding are not as one the person knows one thing but wills to do another. The second state is a state of peace that follows the combat when the will and the understanding are in accord, the one part willing what the other part now knows with a certainty to be true.

It should come as no surprise that the state of heaven is one of peace and rest, for the King of Heaven is the Lord of the Sabbath. The peace and rest of heaven is from the conjunction of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human in the Lord, for when good is conjoined to its proper truth, there is no conflict, nothing to disturb the peace. From the conjunction of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human in the Lord come all other states of harmony and peace, all other states of conjunction of good and truth in the descending planes; the conjunction of the Lord with Heaven, the heavenly marriage of good and truth in the minds and hearts of angels and regenerating men, the fact that doing what is true feel good, and brings a calmer state all these states of peace on all levels of life arise from the supreme truth of the Lord s conjunction of the Divine with the Human in Himself by His own power.

The Sabbath represents the unition of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human. It is the essential truth of the church that it is the Lord in His Divine Human that is to be worshipped. The reason why this truth is the essential truth of the church is that the salvation of the human race depends solely on the union of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human. If the Lord had not come down to earth, taken on the Human, and Glorified it by means of victories in combats with the hells, it would not have been possible for people to freely choose to live according to the truth. It is mankind s nature to try to make God as distant and mysterious as possible. God has reveled truths about Himself to man in many ways in many times, and in every case there have been men who quickly took the simple and open truths and made them so complex and confusing that no one could follow them, let alone understand them. This then prevents mankind from having to actually repent and reform. When we read the Word carefully, we can see that the whole Word treats of the Lord s Incarnation and Glorification, and indeed the very rituals of the church instituted among the sons of Israel represented and signified this essential truth.

To keep the Sabbath inmostly means to worship the Lord in His Divine Human, for the acknowledgment of the Divine Itself in the Lord s Human is essential, for it is according to each one s under standing and acknowledgment of the true nature of the Divine that determines his final resting place in heaven.

Everyone alternates between states of truth, and good, combat and rest. When we are in states of truth alone, we are in conflict and temptation as we try to find our way through falsity and evil. When we seek the Lord s help, and conquer in temptation, then good is conjoined with the newly fought for truth, and there comes a state of peace. But this peace can come from one source only, the Lord of the Sabbath, the Lord God Jesus Christ. The Sabbath state cannot come without the acknowledgment of the Lord in His glorified Human. The Lord taught this supreme truth to the disciples in the presence of the Pharisees, that by the extreme contrast between what the Pharisees were doing and what the Lord was speaking of, all who heard these words of the Lord would be able to understand His message that we are to seek to live according to the spirit of His truth, not the letter. Truth by itself condemns. No one can stand in the sight of the Divine truth untempered by the Divine Mercy. No one can stand in the sight of his fellow men in the light of the law applied literally and without regard for circumstances.

The essence of keeping the Sabbath is not the mere change of pace, the cessation of work. The essential idea contained in the third commandment is that we are to keep the Sabbath by putting aside time in our lives to reflect on the marvelous truth of the Lord s incarnation for the sake our own personal eternal life, to reflect on the sacrifice, the effort, the supreme expression of love that the Glorification represents. We can read the Word and see that inmostly it speaks of nothing else than the Lord s efforts to save, to ever uplift, to continuously draw us into His Heavenly kingdom, and eternal peace. Amen.

1st Lesson EXO 201-11

And God spoke all these words, saying {2} "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. {3} "You shall have no other gods before Me. {4} "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; {5} you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, {6} but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. {7} "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. {8} "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. {9} Six days you shall labor and do all your work, {10} but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. {11} For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Amen.

2nd Lesson MAT 121-14

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. {2} And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" {3} But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him {4} "how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? {5} "Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? {6} "Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. {7} "But if you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. {8} "For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." {9} Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. {10} And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"; that they might accuse Him. {11} Then He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? {12} "Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." {13} Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. {14} Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. Amen.

3rd Lesson TCR 3011

In the natural sense, which is the sense of the letter, [the Third Commandment] & means that six days are for man and his labors, and the seventh for the Lord and rest for man from the Lord. In the original tongue Sabbath signifies rest. With the children of Israel the Sabbath, because it represented the Lord, was the sanctity of sanctities, the six days representing His labors and conflicts with the hells, and the seventh His victory over them, and consequent rest; and as that day was a representative of the close of the whole of the Lord s work of redemption, it was holiness itself. But when the Lord came into the world, and in consequence representations of Him ceased, that day became a day of instruction in Divine things, and thus also a day of rest from labors and of meditation on such things as relate to salvation and eternal life, as also a day of love towards the neighbor. Amen.


Copyright 1982 - 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009