In Matthew 12, Jesus and his disciples were walking through some grain fields on the Sabbath day. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw this and objected. They accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.
The response given by Jesus is very intriguing to me. Jesus does not protest he and his disciple’s innocence in typical fashion. He actually cites two accounts from the scriptures where the “technical” breaking of the Sabbath occurred and He cites these to defend his actions.
In verses 3-4 Jesus says, “Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungered, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”
Then in verse 5 He says, “Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple PROFANE THE SABBATH, and are blameless?”
Profaning the Sabbath (KJV), is a reference to the priests who carried on the service of the Temple on the Sabbath. In other words they were working. For instance notice the following translations:
1. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? (NIV)
2. And haven’t you read in the Law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? (TNLT)
Jesus goes on to say, “But I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is LORD even of the Sabbath day.”
Jesus is greater than the Temple because He is the Son of God and by definition He is greater than those who are blameless for working in the Temple on the Sabbath. He is Lord of the Sabbath.
There is a hint here that we do not need to overlook. Jesus’ Lordship trumps the mere rules and regulations. The Sabbath is not Lord. Jesus is Lord and the Sabbath serves Him and His purposes not the other way around.
Suffice to say, Jesus’ theology really irritated the religious leaders because his understanding of the purpose of the Sabbath wasn’t conducive to their religious bondage.
Now, in John 5 we have another interesting set of events. During one of the Jewish feasts Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda and healed a man who had been sick or infirmed for 38 years. This healing by Jesus happened on the Sabbath and this infuriated the religious Jews.
Verses 16-18 says the following, “And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the Sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had BROKEN THE SABBATH, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
First, Jesus actually claims that his Father God, was working on the Sabbath as the defense of why he healed the man on the Sabbath. Jesus says “My Father WORKETH hitherto, and I work.”
Secondly, John (the Gospel writer) doesn’t say Jesus was falsely accused of breaking the Sabbath, John says He broke the Sabbath and claimed that God was His Father.
This is a real problem for those who point the finger at others as lawless for not keeping all the rules according to their standards.
In Luke 13, as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath day, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. The KJV says she had a spirit of infirmity. When Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” Then Jesus laid his hands on her and immediately she could stand straight, and she glorified God.
The ruler of the synagogue became indignant because Jesus had healed this woman on the Sabbath day. He said to the crowd in the presence of Jesus, “there are six days of the week for working, come on those days to be healed, NOT on the Sabbath.”
Jesus then replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”
They had no understanding of the REASON for the Sabbath. It’s wasn’t about a legalistic observance to please a Law-driven God. Instead it should have been observed as a gift for a day of rest in remembrance of the goodness of the God Israel who is gracious and full of tender mercies and loving kindness. If they had sought God by faith, rather than by the works of the Law (i.e. their ethic status) they would understood this.
On another Sabbath the Scribes and Pharisees watched Jesus to see if he would heal on the Sabbath day. They did this because they were looking for the opportunity to find an accusation against him. Luke 6 records this as follows:
On another Sabbath day, a man with a deformed right hand was in the synagogue while Jesus was teaching. The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees watched Jesus closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew their thoughts. He said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” So the man came forward. Then Jesus said to his critics, “I have a question for you. Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” He looked around at them one by one and then said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At this, the enemies of Jesus were wild with rage and began to discuss what to do with him. (Luke 6:6-11)
The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees had no desire to celebrate the man’s healing because their hearts were hardened to the purpose for which the Sabbath was given. They were bound in their legalistic traditions and completely blind to the goodness of God.
Throughout the gospels we have Jesus’ interpretation of the true meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. He taught, healed, worked Miracles, and cast out demons; all on the Sabbath day.
According to Jesus, the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). One translation of Mark 2:27 says, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath ought to be about finding rest in Jesus and abiding in Him. He is the true rest that we are all looking for and in Him alone there is the TRUE SABBATH REST!
Jesus met the needs of the people on the Sabbath and in meeting their need they experienced their true Sabbath rest and that is the rest that is found in Him alone.
Jesus said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, except the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that LABOR and are HEAVY LADEN, and I will give you REST. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:27-30).