How Jesus Spent “Labor Day”

Topical Scripture: Mark 1:21-39

As you know, Monday is Labor Day. Where did the holiday come from? I did some checking and was surprised by what I discovered.

The first Labor Day in America was celebrated on this day in 1882 in New York City, but this did not become a national holiday until 12 years later, in response to a national crisis.

A railroad workers strike in 1894 shut down the railroads. President Grover Cleveland sent 12,000 Army troops to break the strike; 13 railroad workers were killed, 57 were wounded, and 6,000 rail workers did nearly $9 million in damages (in today’s dollars). Fearing further conflict, legislation was rushed through Congress six days later to make Labor Day a national holiday.

This week I’ve been wondering what Jesus did when he had a day off. He feed 5,000 families with a boy’s lunch, walked on water, turned water into wine, healed the sick and raised the dead. He was constantly with his disciples meeting needs around him. Now, let’s look at what he did on the day after such a time of miraculous work. How did Jesus spend his “Labor Day” holiday? What does his example say to our souls today?

The text

Our text describes Jesus’ first day of public ministry in his home region of Galilee. On the Sabbath, their day of worship, he preached the sermon in the synagogue in Capernaum. A demon-possessed man stood up in the middle of his message to disrupt him, but Jesus threw the demon out of him. The people were “amazed,” and spread the news about him around the area.

He went to Peter’s home, his adopted base for ministry, for lunch. There he found Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. He touched her and healed her. After the Sabbath ended and work could begin again, “the whole town” gathered at his door; remember that Capernaum was the largest city in that part of the world. Jesus healed the sick and drove out demons. Not a bad way to begin a ministry, but an exhausting day, to be sure.

What would Jesus do the next day, on our Monday? Take the day off? Go to the golf course? Read a novel?

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (v. 35). Why?

He needed to know what to do next. Should he stay here in Capernaum and build a mega church? Should he go on the road as a missionary? Should he be a preacher or a healer? What is he to do in this ministry to which he has been called by his Father?

Peter can’t believe it—the crowds have gathered but the preacher didn’t show. Jesus replied, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that [emphatic] is why I came out” (v. 38).

And they did. “He went throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (v. 39).

This would be the pattern for the rest of his ministry. He would go to the people, not waiting for them to come to him. He would not build a church and hope the people would find him—he would go to the people, where they were, with their needs. Taking grace to those who need it most.

This is the essential difference between Christianity and the world’s religions.

Religion is our attempt to climb up to God. Buddhists keep the four noble truths and the eight-fold noble path, seeking Nirvana and enlightenment. Hindus believe they will pass through multiple reincarnations as they learn the disciplines which will lead to Moksha, salvation. Muslims follow their five pillars, hoping to be accepted by Allah into his heaven. Orthodox Jews live by the Torah, hoping to please Yahweh.

Religion climbs up to God—in Christianity, God climbs down to us. He came to us because we could not come to him. Because none of us could be good enough to earn entrance into his perfect paradise. The Bible says that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and that the “wages” or results of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). So Jesus came to us, died on our cross, bore our sin, went to our grave, so we could receive the eternal life his grace came to give.

And the pattern for all of that was set on this day, as Jesus went to his Father to learn how he should serve him as his Messiah.

Make God your King

What does Jesus’ Labor Day example say to us? It reminds us that God has a will for every part of our lives—for Monday, not just for Sunday. For what Jesus would do during the week, not just in the Sabbath synagogue service. For what you and I do tomorrow, not just today.

You see, the God we worship this morning is a King. Not a hobby, a part of our lives, but the King of our world.

  • From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
  • As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7)
  • “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
  • “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

If he is your King, you’re sitting in his chair, breathing his air, wearing his clothes. He is King of Monday, not just Sunday. Of what we keep, not just what we give.

In our culture, of course, God is a hobby. Christianity is for church, religion for Sunday. We separate the soul from the body, the spiritual from the secular, and leave God in our chapels and churches.

But he can lead only those who will follow and bless only those who will receive his gifts. He has a good, pleasing and perfect will for us. He has a plan to prosper us and not harm us, to give us hope and a future. But only when he is our King can he do for us and with us and through us all he wants to do.


When last did you make him your King?

The question is simple: will you belong fully and completely to Jesus?

John D. Rockefeller, Sr. became a millionaire by the age of 23. He formed Standard Oil Company in 1870; by 1879, it controlled 90% of oil refining in the United States and about 70% of refined oil exports. By the age of 50 he was the world’s only billionaire, the richest man on earth. His net worth would be $323.4 billion today; some consider him the wealthiest person who has ever lived.

In 1891, at 53 years of age, Rockefeller fell gravely ill. The hair on his head, eyebrows, and eyelashes dropped off. He could digest only milk and crackers, and could not sleep. Doctors predicted that he would die within a year.

Rockefeller was a committed Christian, the son of a devout Baptist mother, but his business ambitions had dominated his life. One night, as he struggled to sleep, he came to realize that he could take nothing with him into the next world. The next day he changed the course of his life.

He established the Rockefeller Foundation, which channeled his fortune into mission work, medical research and hospitals. His contributions led to the discovery of penicillin, and to cures for diphtheria, hookworm, malaria, tuberculosis, and yellow fever.

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s life was transformed as a result of his benevolence, and he lived to the age of 98.

God gives the best to those who leave the choice with him. Always.

The Day after Labor Day

Topical Scripture: 1 Corinthians 3:10–15

Labor Day is the day when we do the opposite of what the name says. It’s a bit oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp” or “plastic silverware.” Nonetheless, it’s good to have a day not to labor. But the day will soon be over, and the world will be waiting when we get back.

What could we decide today that would make the day after Labor Day as hopeful and fulfilling as possible?

There are more than 155 million Americans in full-time and part-time employment today. Researchers say we work for six reasons, on a scale from less to most meaningful:

  • Inertia: working to do what we’ve always done
  • Economic pressure: working to make a financial living
  • Emotional pressure: working to please family, friends, and society
  • Potential: working to fulfill personal goals for a better future
  • Purpose: working for a sense of accomplishment
  • Play: working because we find joy and fulfillment in what we do.

All six are legitimate, but obviously, the more we can move further to the side of meaning, the better. When we can’t believe someone pays us to do what we do, we’re in a good place.

In our walk through the Sermon on the Mount, last week we noted Jesus’ statement that whoever does and teaches the word of God “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).

The Bible describes specific rewards in heaven, crowns given to those who are faithful on earth. On Labor Day weekend, let’s explore the reasons to labor that have eternal significance.

Work for reward that lasts

Our text begins: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (v. 10). Paul is describing his apostolic ministry as apostle to the Gentiles, a ministry that brought him to Corinth and led him to establish the first Christian church there. This is the “foundation” he laid; now that he has left the city, those who followed him in faith are “building on it.”

However, the apostle is clear: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (v. 11). He is the one true foundation of the church, the rock upon which we stand as Christians.

Now Paul comes to our choice: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw” (v. 12). We can build on Christ using materials that are precious and last, or material that are cheap and temporal.

Here’s why we should give God our best: “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (v. 13). The “Day” to which he refers is the day of judgment when “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Here’s the good news: “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward” (v. 14). As fire reveals gold, silver, and precious stones for what they are, so God’s judgment will reveal the good works we have done in his name and for his glory. For them, we will “receive a reward.”

Here’s the bad news: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (v. 15). At question is not our salvation. If we have asked Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and become our Lord and Savior, he answered our prayer and made us the children. We will therefore “be saved,” no matter what. But we will forfeit eternal reward that God can give only to those who are faithful to him.

It stands to reason that we would want to work most for that which is most valuable. Eternal rewards in heaven are the most valuable purpose for which to work on earth.

Seek crowns in heaven

The Bible describes these rewards as “crowns.” It’s a powerful metaphor. In the ancient world (and today), crowns are made of the best materials and awarded only to the most significant people. To wear a crown is to be royalty, to be recognized above all others.

Scripture lists four such crowns that God wants to give all of us.

First, there is the “imperishable crown.” “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24–25 NIV).

Here we learn about the importance of “strict training,” of running “in such a way as to get the prize.” This means to live with discipline, to know and live by God’s word, to walk with him daily as his Spirit empowers us.

Are you in “strict training”? Are you walking daily with your Lord?

Second, there is the “crown of life.” “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 NIV). Jesus said, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

This crown comes to those who choose to suffer in order to be faithful to their Lord. When we take unpopular but biblical stands, when we share our faith with those who ridicule us, when we serve Christ in hard places and times, he knows what we do for him. And he rewards us forever.

When was the last time it cost you something significant to follow Jesus?

Third, there is the “soul-winner’s crown.” “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NIV).

Paul is speaking of Thessalonians he led to Christ when he came to their city. There, he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’ And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:2–4).

Now he rejoices that these and others he helped find Christ will be “the crown in which we will glory.” Every person you lead closer to Christ is such a crown waiting for you. How many will you have in heaven?

Fourth, there is the “crown of righteousness.” “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7–8 NIV).

This crown comes to those who are faithful to the end, who glorify Christ with their lives and service until he calls them home. We cannot know that we will be faithful until the day we die. But we can decide every day to be ready to meet him every day, until that day comes.

Have you made that commitment yet today?


If we live with spiritual discipline, paying any price to serve Jesus, leading others to him and being ready to meet him daily, we will live and work in ways God can bless. We will give him our best and receive his best.

C. S. Lewis once said that there are two kinds of people. Some say to God, “Your will be done.” For them, meeting God in judgment will be reward and victory. To the others, God must finally say, “Your will be done.” They have rejected heaven, or rewards in heaven.

Is it his will or yours? You have only today to decide.

I’ll close with a personal word. More than four decades years ago, like millions of other people, I was preparing on Labor Day weekend to go to college. Choosing God’s will or my will was the major issue before me.

My dream was to become a professional tennis player or trumpet player. My parents, being a bit more realistic, would have preferred that I become a doctor. I knew that God had called me into the ministry of the word.

So, I kept all my options open. I chose to major in music, medicine, and religion, while keeping up my tennis game on the side. I tried to do my will and God’s will at the same time.

But I was miserable. I wasn’t happy in school or in life. I actually made plans to transfer to another university, hoping that would help.

Then, three of my professors befriended me. They gave me opportunities to teach Bible studies and preach sermons, to become involved in the ministry to which I knew I had been called.

And the more I served Jesus, the more I came to love Jesus. And the more I came to love the life he intended for me. Through that process, I chose to submit my life to God’s purpose for my life.

Looking back on that decision forty-three years later, I will always be grateful I chose his will over my own. Always.

I’ll make you a personal promise: if you’ll choose his will over yours, you’ll be glad you did. You will receive eternal rewards that far outweigh their cost, and you’ll live a life on earth of significance, purpose, and joy.

My college pastor told me something I’ve never forgotten: “The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.” If you’ll live for God in heaven, you’ll live your best life on earth.”

This is the promise, and the invitation, of God.

Working as God Works

Scripture: Matthew 9:1-8

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer. It is also the end of hot dog season. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, hot dogs are consumed most often between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

I had no idea there was such a thing as the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, so I visited their website. There I learned the answer to a question that has vexed me for nearly all my life: Why do they sell hot dogs ten to the package but hot dog buns eight to the package?

It turns out, hot dog buns are baked in clusters of four in pans designed to hold eight rolls. In 1940, however, when hot dog manufacturers began packaging their product as they do now, they chose the ten–pack formula. Why the hot dog makers and hot dog bun makers cannot collaborate on this is beyond me.

By the way, the council estimates that Americans eat twenty billion hot dogs a year, averaging around seventy per person.

Labor Day is known for more than hot dogs, of course. It’s the annual day for us to honor the 160 million people who are either full or part-time workers in our nation. We celebrate their labor by giving them a day free from labor.

Here’s the good news: The God whom we worship today never needs a Labor Day off. Scripture promises: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).

When we go back to work on Tuesday, we can ignore the fact that he is working in the world, separating Sunday from Monday and “religion” from the “real world.” Or we can resist his work in the world, rebelling against the King of the universe as he works to extend his kingdom on earth. The best option, of course, is to join him at work. How do we partner with the God of the world in the work of our days?

Use your influence for God’s glory

Matthew 9 finds Jesus on his way back to Capernaum from Gadara, a region on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is his adopted home town, where he lives in the home of Simon Peter.

This was never a large city, numbering 1,500 inhabitants at most. But it was one of the most significant towns in Galilee, for five reasons.

First, it was a thriving business center. The town stood astride the Via Maris, the international trade route connecting Damascus and Mesopotamia to the north with Caesarea Maritime (the major seaport in Israel) and Egypt to the south. Caravans made their way through its streets daily. A large number of coins and imported vessels from Syria, Phoenicia, Asia Minor, and Cyprus have been found here.

Second, Capernaum was home to a thriving fishing business. Nearby springs and the Upper Jordan River feed into the Sea of Galilee, making this part of the lake especially vibrant for fish even today. There was a large fish market here, exporting dried fish across the country. Peter’s home, the largest yet discovered in Capernaum, attests to the financial significance of this industry.

Third, Capernaum was a major agricultural center. Standing on the plain of Gennesaret, it enjoys abundant rainfall and a warm climate. Olives, dates, and citrus were grown here in abundance. Giant millstones and olive presses found in the area attest to its agricultural vitality.

Fourth, the city was an important political center. It was a major port of entry into the region of Galilee from the north, serving as a customs station and military outpost. A military garrison included a centurion and detachment of troops (Matthew 8:5–9) as well as a Roman bath with caladium, frigidarium, and tepidarium.

Fifth, Capernaum was an important religious center. The largest synagogue yet discovered in Israel was located on the highest point of the town. It served as Jesus’ “home church,” where he taught regularly and performed miracles.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, forty miles to the west. He could have based his ministry in Jerusalem, the religious capital of Israel. But he chose Capernaum, one of the most influential cities in all of Galilee. He chose a place where he could reach Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slaves and free.

Paul did the same thing, choosing to begin his ministry in the West in Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of the district. He spent the most time in Ephesus and Corinth, two of the cultural centers of the Roman Empire. He spent several years in Rome itself.

In the same way, God has given us a Kingdom assignment that includes a place and a time for our lives. He wants us to use our influence for his glory. What resources, gifts, and abilities has he entrusted to you? How are you using them for his glory and our good?

Bring hurting people to the Great Physician

Our story continues: “And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed” (v. 2a). Luke gives us a clue as to the location of the house: “Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem” (Luke 5:17). This must have been a big house.

Since Simon Peter’s home is the largest yet discovered in the city, it seems likely that this miracle occurred there. Luke continues: “Some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus” (vv. 18–19).

This man obviously could not make his way to see Jesus, so his friends brought him. They climbed up to the roof, most likely a flat structure, and set aside the “tiles” there to make an opening. Then they lowered their friend down on ropes and set him before Jesus.

Our text continues: “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven'” (Matthew 9:2b). Does this mean all sickness is associated with sin? Absolutely not. In fact, this is the only time in all the Gospels when Jesus associates sickness with sin.

The response from the crowd was disappointing: “And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming'” (v. 3). The paralytic most likely had not sinned directly against Jesus. For him to forgive the man’s sins was therefore something only God could do. The scribes considered Jesus’ claim to be blasphemous in the extreme.

So our Lord responded: “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk?” But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—’Rise, pick up your bed, and go home'” (vv. 4–6). He proved his divine status by his divine omnipotence.

With this result: “And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men” (vv. 7–8).

We are not surprised by Jesus’ power to forgive sins or heal bodies. We are not surprised by the religious authorities’ reaction and rejection of our Lord. But we should take note of the surprising initiative of the friends who brought the paralytic to Jesus.

They are the unsung heroes of our narrative. Without their work on behalf of their friend, the paralytic would not have been laid before Jesus. They did what they could, and God did what he could.

This is the divine-human partnership in a single text. Noah builds the ark, then God closes the door. Moses extends his staff, then God parts the Red Sea. Joshua and the priests step into the Jordan River, then God stops the flood. The people march around Jericho, then God destroys the city.

Peter preaches at Pentecost, then the Spirit falls and three thousand are saved. Paul follows God to Philippi, then the Lord brings the gospel to the Western world. John worships Jesus on “the Lord’s Day” while imprisoned on Patmos, then Jesus gives him the Revelation.

As we work, God works. If we seek to lead people to Christ in all we do, God will use all we do.

We can bring paralytics to Jesus in all kinds of practical ways. I know a CEO who has a Bible present on his desk where people can see it and who is known for praying before making decisions. I know a business owner who leaves Christian literature on tables where people wait for service.

One of our ministry’s board members uses his conference room for early morning Bible studies to which all are invited but none are required. Another member of our board uses his leadership position in a significant service club in Dallas to bring ministers before the group to pray before events and to speak when appropriate.

I once served on the board of a secular business that tithed its income to ministries. Not only did the leaders tithe from their personal income—the company itself tithed. From the gross, not the net. This was a powerful witness to employees, customers, and the community.

God has paralytics for us to bring to Jesus. If we will ask, he will direct us and use us for eternal good.


Where is God working on this Labor Day weekend?

Philip Yancey: “I have observed a pattern, a strange historical phenomenon of God moving geographically from the Middle East, to Europe, to North America to the developing world. My theory is this: God goes where he’s wanted.”

Do you want him to work as you work? Then ask him to use your influence for his glory. Look for ways you can make your faith public and your compassion clear. God has entrusted paralytics to you. Now he wants you to entrust them to your Lord.

One last point from our story: if you’re a paralytic, Jesus is ready to heal you. He’s ready to forgive your sins, to meet your needs, to redeem your suffering and show you his love. You can come to him today, knowing that he will never turn you away.

Last weekend, I got to be with all of my grandchildren. One had a birthday party (he’s now two years old), and the other two were invited. It was one of the great days of life. It’s been well said that being a grandparent is the only thing in life that’s not overrated.

We spent much of the day at a public park. And we spent every minute of that day watching our grandchildren. We were never more than a few feet from them. They never left our sight. We did all we possibly could not to let anyone hurt them or anything happen to them.

As I was playing with my granddaughter, loving her and loving every moment with her, the thought occurred to me: my Father in heaven loves me even more than this.

He loves you the same way. Bring your paralysis to him and your paralytic friends to him as well. As you work, he works. This is the invitation, and the promise, of God.