What four men had the Lord called from their fishing nets to be His disciples? We learn today of the Lord's calling another disciple to follow Him. This time it is not a fisherman, but a publican, one of the men who collected toll or taxes from the people, and were despised by the Pharisees and their followers. This publican's name was Levi, and he had also the name Matthew. It was this disciple who afterwards wrote the Gospel that bears his name.
After Levi was called he made a great feast to the Lord and a great many publicans were there, and the Pharisees were much displeased. "When Jesus heard it He saith unto them, they that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Meaning that these more humble people who knew that they needed forgiveness and wanted to be taught, He could help; but the Pharisees who thought themselves perfect, and felt that they had no need of forgiveness He could not help. Read verses 13-22.
After this the Lord and His disciples went through the cornfields, or grain fields, on the Sabbath day, the Lord teaching and the disciples listening as they walked. And as the disciples were hungry they picked some of the heads of grain, and rubbing them in their hands to get off the hulls they ate the kernels. In Palestine in those days they were allowed in walking through a grain field to take any that they could reach without stepping out of the path. But the Pharisees again found fault, and said unto Him, "Behold, why do they on the Sabbath day that which is not lawful?" The Pharisees made it unlawful to do any useful thing on the Sabbath day, and this picking the grain they called harvesting, and rubbing off the hulls they called threshing, which were both especially forbidden on the Sabbath. But the Lord asked them if they had never read "what David did when he was an hungered, he, and they that were with him." Does anyone remember the story? You find it in 1 Samuel 21:1-9.
The Jews had books full of things they must and must not do on the Sabbath. They must only walk a certain number of feet; they could only carry the least little thing, could not even set a broken bone; and they entirely forgot that the Lord's day should be a heavenly day, full of kindly uses to one another, and thoughts of the Lord and heaven. In putting aside the work and work-a-day thoughts of the week, we should look out that their place is filled full of heavenly thoughts and uses. The Jews' Sabbath was a most unlovely day, and one of the lessons the Lord came to teach was that it should be a lovely day - that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day.
Reading on, we learn of the Lord's going again into the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath day and teaching. The synagogues were the Jews' churches, you know; they had at one end a platform on which was the reading-desk and a place on the floor for the teacher to sit when he taught the people. The hearers sat on the floor below, the women apart by themselves, and those who loved the chief seats sat on rugs about the platform. The Pharisees were among those who sat about the platform, watching the Lord as He taught. Among those who sat in the synagogue was a man who had his right hand withered; that is, it had been paralyzed and helpless so long that it had shriveled up. It was a trouble that no physician could help. The Lord saw the man, and the Pharisees saw him, and were watching to see if the Lord would heal him on the Sabbath day. The Lord said to the man, "Stand forth." Then He turned to the Pharisees and asked them if it is right to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath day, but they did not know what to say, so they did not answer. He looked at them "with anger," that is, sorrowfully, because of the hardness of their hearts, and turning to the man who was still standing before them all, He said, "Stretch forth thine hand." He had not been able to move it before. "And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other."
Let us say the Commandment that begins, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." The Lord gave this Commandment to help people to prepare for heaven. One day in which they shall lay aside their worldly cares which keep their hands and thoughts busy through the week, and shall think about heavenly things, helps to prepare them for heaven. And a day of rest, peaceful and quiet, is a picture of heaven, where there is no more fighting with evil thoughts and feelings and no more wearisome effort in doing right. The Jews forgot that the Sabbath ought to be a heavenly day, that they ought to think about the Lord and heavenly things; and that they ought to do good, kind things which would make the day like heaven. They said that people must keep the day by not doing the least thing that was useful. There were large books full of the rules about what could be and could not be done. Find a summary of these rules in Edersheim's "Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," Appendix 17. If one kept these rules he would surely not make the day at all like heaven. Did the Lord keep the Sabbath so? How was it on a Sabbath when He walked with the disciples in the grain fields? How was it on a Sabbath in the synagogue?
How shall we keep the Sabbath? We must keep it holy by laying aside our usual work and play, by learning about the Lord and heaven, and by making the day like heaven by saying kind words and doing kind things which will make other people happy. When we are in church, think that the Lord is there to make us strong. When we walk in the fields, He is with us teaching us heavenly lessons in all we see.
1. Which of the Lord's disciples was a publican? What did a publican do?
2. How did the Pharisees treat the publicans? How did the Lord treat them?
3. How did the Pharisees keep the Sabbath? How did the Lord keep it?
4. How was the withered hand healed?
"Lord of the Sabbath." The word "Sabbath" means rest. One kind of rest is found by laying aside our weekday labors. What harder labor and what more blessed rest did the Lord speak of when He said, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"? These labors are conflicts with evil desires, and efforts to do right. And is the rest that is promised, idleness? Nothing is more tiresome than idleness. Rest comes in heavenly usefulness, which is delightful when evil desires are overcome. The Lord is the Lord of the Sabbath because He has overcome all our enemies and can give this rest of heavenly usefulness and peace to our souls. (T. 301-304)
What David did is a picture of the Sabbath. David represented the Lord, and they that were with him were like the Lord's disciples. David took the holy bread of the tabernacle and gave to those with him; the Lord gives of His own love of heavenly usefulness, which is the Sabbath. The same was pictured in the disciples' eating as they walked with the Lord. The Pharisees condemned the disciples' act, but the Lord loves "mercy and not sacrifice," heavenly usefulness and not idleness and empty forms.
What finds expression through our hands? Our love of doing, of being useful; and our knowledge of how to be useful guides the hands in their work. When we are anxious to be doing, our hands move eagerly. Such eagerness to put in practice the Lord's teaching in heavenly usefulness is suggested by the disciples rubbing the grain in their hands. This is the right way to listen on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees called this unlawful; they had separated from the Sabbath and from religion all care for useful life. They were therefore like a man with his hand withered. The man in their synagogue was a picture of them, and of many of us in church. He was cured as he stretched forth his hand. If we begin obediently to be useful, the love of being useful will grow strong. (A. 10061; E. 600)
Do you see in the Lord's teaching of new and truer ways of keeping the Sabbath, an example of new garments, and new skins to hold new wine? (E. 195, 376)