Nehemiah 13 : 10 – 30
Throughout this chapter, we read about the reforms that Nehemiah continued to make so that Israel was following God’s Law. Verses 15 – 22 focuses on Nehemiah’s concerns about how the Sabbath was not kept as a holy day and he ordered all merchants out of the city on the Sabbath and closed the gates. If we read Mark 2 : 23 – 27, we see what seems like a contradiction. Jesus and his disciples are picking grains of wheat and eating it and the Pharisee’s tell Jesus that they are not following the law. In verse 27, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” If we read on in Mark chapter 3, we see Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus, knowing what the Pharisees were thinking asked them in verse 4, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
Why is there such a great contrast? I think it goes back to why the Sabbath was given to the Israelites in the first place. Jesus gives a clue when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It is a heart issue. I think God created the Sabbath so we could get some rest and focus on Him. You can look at our culture today and see that we are a very busy society. We over commit to the point of burning out; we see many people working outside of home and earning money over 40 hours a week, and we have stores that are open 24/7. I think God knew our human tendencies were to focus so much on the external, we would forget to focus on the more important spiritual needs. When we rest, we are more open to hearing God. In Nehemiah, they were more concerned with making money than following the Sabbath, it was a heart issue. In Mark, Jesus was pointing out that helping someone in need was a form of worship rather than sitting on our hands and letting someone suffer just because it was the Sabbath. We read that Jesus was “distressed” because their hearts were focused on the letter of the law rather than the purpose of the law.
That is very challenging because it is so much easier to focus on rules and regulations rather than the intent behind the rule. Today, we call such a strong focus on rules legalism. We need to remember that our salvation is not in the law, rather it is through Jesus. This does not mean that we can keep sinning because the law is no longer important. Romans 6:15 says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.” Basically, when we have a relationship with God, we are not bound by the law, but we are bound by grace. Grace is life changing, and we obey not because we have to, but because we want to! Before grace, we have a bunch of rules and regulations that we have to follow and cause us to stumble. After grace, we are given mercy and a desire to obey. I don’t know about you, but I prefer grace over the law and I follow in obedience because I want to live as one who is changed by grace.
Are you living a life that is bound by the law, or are you living a life full of grace with the freedom to forgive and love others?