Eurasia Blog Wednesday Devotion: The Letter or The Spirit?

–By Elizabeth Ahlman

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things (Luke 14:1-6 ESV).

The Pharisees knew all about the Law. They knew how to keep it safe from ever coming near breaking it. They hedged it in with 4oo some odd extra laws just to be SURE they weren’t breaking it. Oh, they knew the Law. And as far as they were concerned, they could keep it 100% perfectly.

But Jesus, Jesus knows the Law, too. And He can see the hearts of those oh so perfect Pharisees. Notice that Luke says “Jesus responded to the lawyers and the Pharisees.” As far as we know, they haven’t actually said anything, but He knows their hearts. He knows that they are watching and waiting for Him to make a mistake — or at least what they reckon to be a mistake. He knows that they may “know” the Law, but they know only its letter, not its spirit. They “know” the letter of the Law and they “keep” it, but the spirit of the Law? This they know not.

Today’s lesson, then, the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, we are commanded to rest. So the Pharisees built a hedge around that one, too. No lighting fires, no carrying sticks. Get the fire going before sundown so it keeps on into the night and day of the Sabbath. Lots of little rules and regulations just to be sure you don’t “work.” But healing. What to do with that? It doesn’t fit the “letter of the Law” scheme. How do you build a hedge around someone’s dire need?


Jesus, though, knows what the Sabbath is for, and He is the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is for man, a gift from God Almighty, a foretaste of the eternal rest to come when there will be no sickness, no dying, no straining, no striving. So Jesus takes the man with dropsy to Himself, and He grants him rest from his illness — He heals the man.

And then He asks a question that the doers of the letter of the Law cannot answer. Their language is Law, not gift. And our Old Adams sit silently with them, dumbfounded by the undoing of all of our careful attention to the letter of the Law as we go busily about trying to look like the best possible Christians we can. We like to think we know what God really wants from us.

But Jesus stands waiting. He wants none of our exacting actions or shiny deeds or 4oo some odd tiny regulations. He wants to give us rest, too. He stands ready to take us to Himself and to heal and make new. He stands ready to forgive our self-reliance and our idolatry of the Law, and show us a better way. He stands ready to give to us His status as one who has fulfilled the whole Law and to usher us into grace, mercy, compassion, love, hope, peace and rest.

Let us pray: Lord God Heavenly Father, You are righteous and holy beyond measure; thank You for sending Your Son to fulfill the Law. Teach us to live in grace and mercy, resting in the gifts You give, rather than in our own actions; for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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