Turn in your Bible to Luke 14:1-6 as we continue our way through this great gospel. Jesus is addressing a group of Pharisees with whom He is dining, and the subject of the Sabbath comes up. Throughout the gospels you find Jesus in conflict with the Jewish leaders over Sabbath observance. They were concerned that Jesus was undermining the traditions of the elders, and Jesus regularly responded to them that their traditions had in fact undermined Moses. Their adding to the Word of God had actually undermined the theology and practice of the Sabbath Day in the Word of God.

In this passage Luke shows you the difference between Jesus and the Pharisees in the state of their hearts. He paints a vivid picture of a man who has been enduring suffering and serious ailment for a long time, right in front of Jesus. Where are the Pharisees’ eyes? Luke tells you at the end of verse 1: “They were watching Him carefully.” They were watching Jesus because they did not trust His teaching or His practice, especially on the issue of the Sabbath Day.

Jesus knew that this was on their mind because it had been a regular point of conflict. The Pharisees didn't like that He did not teach and enforce on His own disciples the traditions of the elders. Now, these traditions are not found in the Old Testament, but the Pharisees thought that a good Jewish person ought to follow them. They’re watching Him closely to see whether He is once again going to violate these commandments of men which they so highly value, but which He says are an illegitimate addition to the Word of God. So He asks them a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?”

Notice what Luke tells you: “They remained silent.” They could not point to a single word in the Law of Moses that forbade the healing of a person on the Sabbath, so, when he challenges them, nobody speaks up. This is important. Jesus is not saying that what the Bible says about the Sabbath is unimportant to the Pharisees. He is making it clear that our place for final spiritual authority in faith and practice is found in the Bible, not in the doctrines and commandments of men. However pious those ideas are, we are not to burden the people of God with extra commandments.

I want you to see how Luke unveils to you the warped scale of values that exists among these Pharisees. After Jesus heals the man, “He takes him”—verse 4—“heals him, and sends him away” and turns around and asks them another question: “If your son fell into a well or an ox fell into a ditch on the Sabbath Day, wouldn't you pull them out?” Once again in verse 6, Luke tells us, “They could not reply to these things.” This time, the reason they couldn't reply was because they did not have a heart of mercy for this man. The Pharisees had a category in their law that allowed them to help an ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath Day, but their hearts were not moved with compassion when they looked at this man who was before Jesus in dire need.

Who is honoring the command of God on the Lord's Day? After all, the Lord's Day in the Old Testament is rooted in God's mercy. When the Sabbath is commanded in Exodus chapter 20, it's given to a nation of redeemed slaves. God has brought a nation of slaves out of Egypt whose time had not belonged to them. At Mount Sinai He said to them, “From now on, you are going to have one day in seven as mandatory vacation.” It was a picture of God's liberation and mercy to them, and many of the laws which God gave to Moses for the Sabbath Day were designed to make sure that, having received that mercy from God, those who were in positions of privilege and power did not take advantage of the least of the brethren. So those who are shown God's mercy on the Sabbath Day are meant to be merciful to others. In this story, Jesus has a heart of mercy and is keeping the Sabbath correctly. For all the noise they make about caring about the Sabbath, the Pharisees show that their heart is not right.

One of the things we learn from this is that showing mercy is always right. We should never use religious observance to exempt us from showing mercy. The Pharisees were using ceremonial observances as excuses. We can fall into that too, even though we're not under the ceremonial law anymore. But the Old Testament prophets and Jesus both make it clear to us that our ethical conduct is more important than ceremonial obedience. We are always called to love our neighbors, and ceremonial obedience never trumps that.

I encourage you to take your concordance out and look for the word “Sabbath” in the gospels. You’ll find that the gospels, over and over, say that Jesus did three things on the Sabbath Day. First, Jesus worshipped on the Sabbath Day and gave us an example in that. Secondly, as we see in this passage, Jesus showed mercy to others on the Sabbath Day. Third, Jesus gave permission to His disciples to do deeds of necessity on the Sabbath Day.

Those things inform the way we look at the Lord's Day. Jesus cared about the Lord's Day. It's not that Jesus was against the Sabbath practice of the Pharisees in general. It was that the Pharisees had invented demands for Sabbath observance that God had not given in His Word, and Jesus wanted to make sure that God's Word was the rule for how we observe the Sabbath. I think we learn two things from Jesus in our observance on the Sabbath Day.

The first thing is, if we're going to follow Jesus’ example and attitude towards the Lord's Day, we will love to worship. Those who have been shown mercy by Jesus love to get with their brothers and sisters to sing praise to God for that mercy. The second thing is mercy. I love the rest that comes on the Lord's Day, but the Lord's Day is not just about our rest. It's about mercy. Jesus’s active use of the Lord's Day is an illustration of that. The Lord's Day, for us, is a celebration of God's mercy to us in the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What better day to show mercy to others? So you might want to, every once in a while, take your family to the hospital and visit someone in your congregation that you don't know very well. You might write a letter on Sunday afternoon to a shut-in in your congregation that you've never met but whose name you’ve seen on the church prayer list. We ought to be looking for ways to show mercy on the Lord's Day. That's how Jesus used the Lord's Day.

The point of this passage is not that Jesus condemned the Lord's Day or a weekly observance of the worship of God. Jesus’s observance of the Lord's Day points to us how we ought to observe the Lord's Day.