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Bible verses about Relieving Burdens
(From Forerunner Commentary)

1 Kings 12:4

Though Solomon may have been the wisest man who ever lived, his many extensive building projects placed a heavy burden of servitude on the people, and they had had enough. Notice that the people did not ask Rehoboam to remove the load, just lighten it a bit so that they could handle it. It was not an unreasonable request.

When the people had first asked for a king more than a century before this, God had warned them that this would happen. That story is told in I Samuel 8, and in verses 11-18, Samuel tells them that the king would take all the good things for himself and make them his servants. Nevertheless, the people wanted a king "like all the nations" (verse 19-20), so God gave them one. We should always be careful what we ask for; we might just get it.

Ronny H. Graham
Take My Yoke Upon You


 

Matthew 12:1-8

Matthew 12:1-8 adds yet another example of Sabbath encounters Jesus had with the Pharisees. According to the Pharisees, the disciples reaped, threshed, and winnowed the grain; they were guilty of preparing a meal. What was the disciples' motivation? They were traveling, hungry, and had no place to prepare a meal. They were young and strong and could have fasted without harm, but because it was a Sabbath, Jesus drew attention to one of the Sabbath's main purposes. It is a day of mercy.

Christ draws His justification from I Samuel 21:1-6. He reasons that, if David under unusual circumstances could allay his hunger by eating bread consecrated for holy use, then the disciples could also legitimately provide for their needs in unusual circumstances. The emphasis here is on "unusual." How many times did David flee for his life and find himself hungry near the Tabernacle? It happened at least once, but even for a man of war like David, such situations occurred only rarely.

The overall lesson is that God does not intend His law to deprive but to ensure life. If the need arises, we should not feel conscience-stricken to use the Sabbath in a way that would not normally be lawful. Christ admits David's actions were not normally lawful, and neither were the disciples'—except for the circumstances. In this case, they were blameless BECAUSE A LARGER OBLIGATION OVERRULED THE LETTER OF THE LAW. In this circumstance, mercy is more important than sacrificing a meal. Holy bread or holy time can be used exceptionally to sustain life and serve God.

Christ takes advantage of the situation to teach another connected lesson. He draws attention to the extent of the priests' Sabbath labors in the Temple. Their work actually doubled on the Sabbath because of the number of sacrifices God required, yet they were guiltless. Why? They were involved in God's creative, redemptive work, as Christ explains in John 5, 7, and 9. They fulfilled a purpose of the Sabbath that someone had to do.

Because of the disciple's involvement in the work of God, circumstances dictated a profaning of the Sabbath. From this, we can understand that LOVING SERVICE IS GREATER THAN RITUAL FULFILLMENT. What is mercy? It is a helpful act where and when it is needed. It is an act of loving encouragement, comfort, pity, and sympathy for the distressed. It is the relieving of a burden.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath


 

Matthew 12:5-6

Christ's comments in Mathew 12:5-6 allude to the instructions contained in Leviticus 24:5-9:

And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. [This is the showbread (I Samuel 21), the subject under discussion in Matthew 12.] You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in the holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute.

These five verses together with I Samuel 21 explain that, not only did the priests put the bread in the sanctuary, but they also baked it on the Sabbath. Thus, it was hot when they put it in the Holy Place on the Sabbath—right out of the oven. Was it lawful for a woman, in the ordinary course of her household responsibilities, to bake twelve loaves of bread on the Sabbath? It was not. This is the illustration that Jesus utilizes in Matthew 12.

"The priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless." They not only did these things, they were also made sacrifices on that day, which consisted of a great deal of labor. Why, then, were they "blameless"? For the same reason that Jesus justified healing on the Sabbath (in John 5) and the same reason that the priests were blameless for circumcising on the Sabbath: They were doing the work of God, the work of salvation. They were fulfilling a purpose on the Sabbath that somebody had to do. This is the issue throughout John 5, 7, and 9.

Christ is greater than the Temple. He is the Head of God's spiritual Temple. He is its High Priest, and the disciples are His priests in training, His agents! Thus, their Sabbath ministry intensifies, even as Jesus' does. Were they justified, then, in eating on the Sabbath? Absolutely! They were justified because of the circumstances and the offices they were now holding in God's spiritual Temple!

So, the circumstances dictated a "profaning of the Sabbath" because of their involvement in the work of God. Loving service is greater than ritual fulfillment. What loving services were Jesus and His disciples performing on the Sabbath? They were teaching God's way. They were healing people. Now, what is mercy? Mercy is doing helpful acts: acts of love, aid, comfort, pity, and sympathy for other's distress. All these works help relieve a person of a burden.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)


 

Matthew 12:9-14

Jesus' healing of the man with the withered hand (also in Mark 3:1-6) reveals a fundamental difference between Jesus and the Pharisees in their approach to the Sabbath. The Pharisees had not entered the synagogue to worship, nor did they ask Jesus their question—"Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"—out of loving concern. No, they were an accusing authority attempting to judge Christ by their regulations.

It helps to remember the historical context. The Jews were developing specific regulations to cover any and every possible circumstance to keep them from sinning. Eventually, they compiled 1,521 regulations covering Sabbath conduct alone. By Jesus' time, they had already turned their observance of the law into a legalistic ritual rather than a loving service to God and man. They did this sincerely in a vain effort to become holy, not understanding that this is not how a man becomes spiritually holy.

In this vignette, does Christ do away with the Sabbath or restore it to its original divine value and function, as He did with marriage and divorce in Matthew 19:8? He gives no indication that He intended doing away with it. He merely broke their misguided perception of how to observe the Sabbath.

We also need to recognize that the liberating healing He performed was not done to a man whose life was in immediate danger, but to one who was chronically ill. So are we spiritually; as Jeremiah 17:9 says, our heart is "incurably sick" (margin). God gives us the Sabbath day to help free us from the chronic problems of human nature.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part Two): Christ's Attitude Toward the Sabbath


 

Matthew 12:9-14

There is an obvious difference between Christ and the Pharisees on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were not there to worship God. Their questions were not asked out of loving concern. They were there as accusing authorities who wanted to judge Christ by their own regulations.

At the time, the Jews had been compiling for a number of years a code of regulations by which they hoped to make it virtually impossible for a person to sin. Eventually, there were 1,521 regulations just regarding keeping the Sabbath! These people did it in sincerity, a misdirected zeal. What happened is that they turned the observance of the day into a legalistic ritual rather than a loving service toward God and fellow man.

Consider the actions and words in Matthew 12 and in Mark 3. Is Christ doing away with the Sabbath observance, or is He restoring it to its original, divine value and function? Jesus helps us understand this by a principle He gives in Matthew 19:8. Referring to divorce and remarriage, Jesus says, "But from the beginning it was not so." So it is here. He is showing God's original intent for the Sabbath.

He is not saying, "You don't have to worry about breaking it," or, "I'm going to do away with this day in the future anyway, so it doesn't matter what we do." Instead, by what He says and does, He focuses attention on His own Sabbath activities: To relieve somebody of a burden, to deliver one from a withered hand. By these acts, we see that the Sabbath is a day of redemption, deliverance, freedom, and healing. It is a day to do kind acts. It is a day to help one's fellow man in some way and to relieve him of some burden, as much as lies within us.

Jesus' healing here was not done to a man whose life was in danger. He had a chronic problem, and it easily could have waited until the next day. He could have said, "Come back tomorrow." Instead, He purposely shows what the Sabbath is for. It is for healing—either physical or spiritual healing.

The man's chronic illness parallels us spiritually: We are chronically sinful! Jeremiah 17:9-10 says that the heart is incurably sick. The Sabbath, then, is a day given to free us from the chronic problems of human nature.

By Jesus' example—His reactions, His words—it becomes clear that God not only intends that "good" be done, but to fail to do good when the opportunity presents itself implies "evil" and "killing." If not, why was He angry? He was angry because the Pharisees were failing to do something to relieve this man of his burden. Instead, they were using him to provoke Jesus into what they considered as sinning so that they might accuse Him. Thus, the person who is not concerned for the physical and/or spiritual salvation of others on the Sabbath is automatically involved in destructive efforts and attitudes.

One of the Sabbath's uses is to prepare us to be used for the salvation of others. We are not in the position yet that Christ was. He was able, because of His closeness to God, because He was God in the flesh, because He had the Spirit of God without measure, to do things that we are unable to do. But the principle is there!

There are many such things—as opportunities present themselves—that we can do on the Sabbath. It is within our power to relieve other's burdens. It may only be giving someone encouragement or writing a letter or telephoning to let another know that he is cared for and thought of. It may be a little thing, but it is within our power to do things like this to help others along the way.

Consider the Sabbath command in Deuteronomy 5: The Sabbath was made to show compassion toward the weak and the defenseless. The command says that we are to give others who are under our authority the Sabbath day to rest. We relieve them—manservant, maidservant, even animals—of the burden of work. They, too, are to be given the opportunity to be relieved of a burden. They are physical. If they are worked constantly, they will wear out more quickly. And so it is wise to give them rest, is it not? It is to our benefit to give them the relief that they need. A similar command is given in Exodus 23:12:

Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)


 

Luke 4:16-19

This is the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, we could call it His inaugural address. Jesus began His ministry on a Sabbath. His ministry ended on a preparation day, Passover. He completed the cycle. Major things happened to Christ on the Sabbath, for instance, He was resurrected on a Sabbath. Major things occurred in the history of Israel on the Sabbath as well. All those events draw attention to one supreme purpose for the Sabbath.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-2 and Isaiah 58:7. "The acceptable year" is not a time when God is acceptable to us, but when God, in His sovereign mercy, moves to make men acceptable to Him. In other words, it is an appointed extension of His grace, of His calling of men, to make them acceptable to Him. It is a time when He moves to deliver people.

More specifically, "an acceptable year" refers to two Old Testament institutions, which these people in Nazareth would have undoubtedly recognized: either 1) to the seventh year land Sabbath or 2) to the Jubilee year. If it was the sabbatical year, think about its purpose: It was given to give the land rest, to relieve it of the responsibility of growing food. The land was to lie fallow and to produce food voluntarily for the poor, for the dispossessed, and for animals. Also in the seventh year, slaves were freed and debts were remitted.

These things, plus an additional one, occurred in the Jubilee year: seized property was restored to its original owners. They may have lost it many years before, but in the Jubilee year they were relieved of the burden of their indebtedness. They were restored the ability and power, therefore, to earn money once again, since all wealth ultimately comes out of the land. This freed them of the burden that they very likely put upon themselves.

In what is Christ's inaugural address, we see that He is stating His mission, and in each point, it involves setting at liberty.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)


 

Luke 4:31-39

What Jesus did on the first Sabbath of His ministry is to signal an attack against the forces of evil. He began a holy war to free mankind from Satan and sin. The demon knew it, which is why it reacted the way it did. It threw a tantrum. If we would put what the demon said into modern, colloquial terms, it snapped at Jesus, "Why are You interfering here?" And Jesus came right back, with authority, "Shut your mouth! And come out of him."

The demon was not about to give up easily. It was probably a strong demon, but it did obey its Master and came out - yet not without thrashing the man around. Fortunately, the man was not hurt.

So the first shot that was fired in this war was a spiritual healing: Jesus liberated a man from a demon on the Sabbath day. He may have done a few other things before, but this was the first public act as part of His ministry.

This began the war for control of the earth, for the right to rule over it after He had defeated the demons' master, Satan. Jesus was showing that the demons would not fare any better than he. By casting out the demon, He restored order and peace to the congregation, as the possessed man had been causing trouble.

The second thing He did, then, was a physical healing that resulted in service to others. This unfortunate woman, who was bound by a disease, is relieved of it by Jesus Christ. Then she rose and immediately served everybody else. This ought to give us a clue - those of us who receive healing - as to what we are supposed to do with our healing. We are to rise and serve.

Here, in a nutshell, are major principles by which our Sabbath activities can be judged. The Sabbath is for redemption, liberty, joy, peace, and service that comes through fellowship and instruction that reorients our devotion to the right direction.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)


 

Luke 6:6-10

An honest evaluation of what Jesus teaches will show that He gives very few rules, if any, for keeping the Sabbath (or for that matter, for anything). There is a reason for that. For one thing, the rules were already laid down in the Old Testament. Also what He came to do was to magnify the spiritual application of that law, that is, teach and expound the spirit of the law, the intention for the law.

There is hardly a law that He paid more attention to than the Sabbath, magnifying its use. There are at least seven different occasions in the four Gospels in which the Sabbath is the issue, when Jesus magnified its use for us. Every one of them has a theme of redemption in it.

What He teaches us are principles for applying the rules that have already been given in the Old Testament. For some of us, that is kind of disconcerting. We would like to have something like a bus or an airline timetable to take us through life in which every possible avenue is detailed as to exactly how we should go, where we should do something, when we should do it in every possible situation that might arise.

God allowed the Jews to try that. They eventually came up with 1,521 rules concerning the Sabbath, which they felt would cover every situation that one might possibly get into. What God is showing us through Jesus Christ is that this is unnecessary. In short, it does not work, or God would have done it. A person is not free when he is bound to those kinds of regulations.

Living in the twentieth century is not quite the same as living in the first or second centuries. Besides, that approach does negative things to a person's character; it produces an extremely narrow, intolerant, and critical casuist. What Christ did in giving us principles is that He gave us things that will last unalterable to the end of time and allow us to be free. They allow a person not always to do exactly the same thing each time. Every situation has to be judged on its own merit.

What does God want to do with our lives? What is He trying to form? He is creating in us an ability—an expertise—to judge. We are going to be kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). What does a king do? A king judges in civil matters, things that pertain to the community. What does a priest do? A priest also judges, but he judges in things spiritual. God is teaching us how to judge.

How we use the Sabbath is an integral part of His training program, and so He has purposely left out all kinds of details. But what He did through Jesus is magnify things so that we can see the intent. What we are seeing is that the intent for the Sabbath is to free. It is to liberate. It is not to bind people with rules.

There is a risk involved in what God is doing. In one sense, it puts a person at very grave risk. Blundering, foolish, and self-centered as we are, there is a grave danger of taking our liberty and turning it into license to do virtually anything we want. Or, on the other hand, to take our liberty and do as the Jews did, becoming so restrictive that we turn the Sabbath into bondage.

But God has to do that! If we are going to become judges, trained in the purpose that He wants, He has to allow us this liberty to make the judgments. So it is a risk that must be taken if a person is going to grow in judgment and character, so one will be prepared to be a king and a priest, knowing when to act and when not to act. God offers to us His Holy Spirit to give us counsel and to guide. But we must apply the principles in the circumstances of our lives.

In no case did Jesus give any indication of doing away with the Sabbath. Always the examples show Him magnifying the Sabbath's intent by doing an act of freeing someone.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)


 

Luke 13:10-17

On this occasion, Jesus did not wait for somebody to ask a question, as He did in Luke 4. He just went out and did what needed to be done. This episode shows God's purpose for the Sabbath very clearly. Jesus says, "You are loosed." When one is loosed, one is made free. The lesson is clear. This woman was in bondage to an infirmity, something Satan had afflicted her with.

On the other hand, there were the Pharisees. To them, the Sabbath was rules to obey—their rules, their traditions. To the ruler of the synagogue, then, the Sabbath was unfit for loosing somebody from his pain or from his infirmity.

Jesus calls him a hypocrite in verse 15. "Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose [untie, free] his ox or donkey from the stall? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed [freed, delivered, redeemed] from this bond on the Sabbath?"

How plain! Once we begin to see what Jesus did and talked about on the Sabbath, it becomes clear that He was magnifying its use. The Sabbath is the day of liberation; it is the day God blessed so that we can remain free and no longer be brought into bondage. (Incidentally, the verbs translated "loose" are the Greek word that means "to free.")

Does Jesus say, "Oh, it doesn't matter. We're going to do away with the Sabbath anyway"? No! Instead, He argues for a right, merciful evaluation of a person under a heavy burden and then using the Sabbath to relieve him of it. He is arguing for true values in the use of God's Sabbath.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)


 

John 5:5-10

This was a case of chronic illness. This was not a healing that needed to be done immediately—Jesus could have waited until the Sabbath was over. It would not have made any difference at all to this man if he was blind or crippled for another day or a few more hours. However, Jesus did not wait because He wanted to teach us a right and proper use of the Sabbath. It is a time to relieve burdens, to heal, to make life a bit easier for others.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)


 

John 7:21-24

The Jews considered circumcising on the Sabbath a lawful Sabbath activity. Why? The Bible does not give a direct answer. It is in this point that Jesus nailed them to the wall! The Jews knew why circumcision was lawful on the Sabbath: It was a redemptive act because circumcision was an Israelite lad's introduction to entering the covenant. So circumcision was a redemptive act, even as today we consider baptism a redemptive act. And we rightly, lawfully, will baptize people on the Sabbath.

The Jews' reasoning was that it is lawful and right to cut off a piece of skin from one of the 248 (by their count) parts of the body to save the whole man by making this person a part of the covenant. Christ's reasoning, then, was that works of salvation are accomplished, not only by the Father, but also by His servants, who are His agents. In this case, the priests did the work of circumcision. And the Jews considered it lawful.

Jesus' reasoning is beautiful: "If you can do this act to save a man, why can't I also make a person whole and save his physical life on the Sabbath?" He says, "This is the work of God." It is redeeming somebody, setting them free, giving them liberty.

For Christ, the Sabbath is the day to work for the salvation of the whole person, physically and spiritually. If it is legal to cut off a part of a boy's body on the Sabbath because of the covenant, they have no reason to be angry with Him for mercifully restoring a person to wholeness. His opponents, however, cannot perceive this. It somehow does not enter their minds. We can understand why: God just was not working with them yet - it was almost as if they had blinders on. They could not perceive the saving nature of His work. To them, the pallet (John 5:8) and the clay (John 9:15) were more important than the healed man himself.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)


 

 




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