By Ben Fiddian. 

Since the earliest days the Christian church has met to worship on a Sunday, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. There have been some disagreements between Christians over the details of how exactly this relates to the Old Testament Sabbath. Those arguments are not my concern here! The vast majority of Christians agree that the ‘spirit of the law’ goes back to the creation story. God set a principle of one day in seven for rest and worship and in practice for most Christians this happens on ‘church day’, Sunday.

But what happens in times when churches cannot meet, when doctors and nurses have more night shifts than usual, and any of us might find ourselves having to care for sick loved ones?

This is a story from Mark’s gospel:

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.
Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely
to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath:
to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

The Sabbath was important to Jesus; it was His normal day for worship. But the principles of love for God and love for neighbour undergirded everything He did. He was willing to act on the Sabbath to preserve and promote life even though – ironically – this enraged the merely religious people so that they wanted to kill Him! Jesus is our God-given example in this matter, our living ‘exposition’ of what the Scriptures mean in practice.

If we ignore God’s commands and principles by choice it is sin.

If the necessary duties of compassion prevent us from keeping the ‘letter of the law’ it is not sin.

If slavishly keeping the ‘letter of the law’ stops us fulfilling the necessary duties of compassion this too is sin.

This is true of all our good devotional habits – Sunday services, prayer meetings, quiet times. They are all good things. But on those occasions when giving time to these things would prevent you from doing your clear, God-given duty in caring for the sick, as a Christian you should not be in bondage to them. Your worship will not be acceptable to God anyway, if your duty lies in doing something more important:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

We are not saved by services and quiet times but by the free grace gift of God received by simple faith in Jesus! Hallelujah! These things are good and necessary to nourish faith in normal times. But like the Israelites manna in the wilderness, what we gather in the ‘normal’ times will carry us through when we are serving on the Sabbath.

Wherever you are caring – in a hospital, on an ambulance, with a loved one in the living room at home – if you are doing it for Jesus, trusting in Jesus, holding on to Jesus’ promises, breathing out moment by moment emergency prayers in Jesus name, then Jesus will be in you and Jesus will be with you. May the Spirit of Jesus make you like Him and give you all the wisdom and grace you need!

Ben is part of the lecturing team at the Faith Mission Bible College
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