“Here I am to worship / Here I am to bow down / Here I am to say that You’re my God / You’re altogether lovely / Altogether worthy / Altogether wonderful to me”
- Sonicflood, Here I Am to Worship, from the 2003 album “Cry Holy”
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work.”
- Deuteronomy 5: 12-14 (NLT)
Moses lays out the fourth commandment well in the final book of the Torah by going into a detailed description of who was to be included in a person’s household. Thousands of years later, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had established at least 39 different categories of actions that were considered “work” and therefore forbidden on the Sabbath. This was a case of forcing people to adhere to the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit behind it.
In Matthew 12, Jesus and His disciples are walking through a field of grain. Some of them are hungry, so they pick and eat the grain. The religious leaders see them do it and protest that they are working on the Sabbath and are therefore in violation of one of the original ten commandments. I don’t know what the penalty is for breaking any of the them, but I suspect it’s pretty serious, so the Pharisee’s accusation is nothing to be trifled with.
Jesus, however, rebukes them and offers a short diatribe on why the Sabbath was established. He finishes by claiming to be lord over the Sabbath. But the part I like the best is when He quotes the old testament by saying “But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices’ (v. 7). He’s quoting Hosea 6:6, something the religious elite of His day should have known and obviously didn’t.
You see, it was forbidden to perform 39 different types of action on the Sabbath according to the Pharisees, but them working on the Sabbath to offer sacrifices did not make the list. In other words, Jesus is yet again pointing out their hypocrisy. They were so concerned about performing religious rituals that they completely missed the point of the Temple altogether: to bring people closer to God. Instead, they were imposing their own morality, which was incredibly inferior to God’s, on others and then not living up to their own standards. “The Pharisees had lost the spirit of the law and were rigidly demanding that the letter (and their interpretation of it) be obeyed” (Study Bible, p. 1565).
The importance of this part of scripture today is that we can miss God even as we are supposedly trying to worship Him if we become more concerned with the means of worship than with the one we are worshipping. This was true of the Pharisees then, and it tends to be true of us now. We tend to be more concerned with the style of music, the lights, the sound, the performance – than we do about truly connecting with our Heavenly Father. If this were not true, there wouldn’t be mega-churches. Dare I say I believe our hearts are not in the right place. And our “heart attitude” toward God should come first in all things because only then can we properly obey and observe religious rituals and regulations.
I think America is heart-sick. And I think we cause the heart of God to grieve with the way a lot of us are choosing to worship nowadays. I don’t think He’s pleased with us, or our worship, at all. Especially when our mega-churches sit empty six days of the week and there are thousands who are still homeless and hungry in our communities. When our pastors pull in six-figure salaries and live in seven-figure homes. When service to our community is a once or twice a year event for our congregation, and even then, most of us don’t show up to participate.
Finally, in verse 8 – Jesus claims authority over the Sabbath. When He did this, he states Himself “to be greater than the law and above the law. To the Pharisees, this was heresy. They did not realize that Jesus, the divine son of God, had created the Sabbath” (Study Bible, p. 1565) and therefore He alone was authorized to overrule their traditions and regulations. Remember, this comes on the heals of His statement that His yoke is easy and He longs to give us rest. He is reiterating, for the Pharisees’ sake, that He is more concerned with freeing people from the burdens of the religious establishment. Which brings me to this question: What is weighing me down as I seek to worship Him? What burdens do I carry around that He is begging me to drop in regards to worship? Is it that Sunday is the only day I must dress up and worship Him in the company of others? What if my work schedule doesn’t permit me to attend church on Sundays? Is it that I must only vote for GOP leaders in government because conservative is the only way to go?
I think there are a lot of “traditions” that we need to be questioning for ourselves. I think Jesus demands it. I think in order to be more like Him, we need to demand it of ourselves. I think that when we do question the established religious status quo – we will find the kind of freedom that Jesus is offering. And I think we’ll be better off for it both for ourselves and in the way it frees us to worship Him.