Lord Of The Sabbath


‘At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, ‘Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’ Matthew 12:1-2

See also Mark 2:23-3:6 and Luke 6:1-11.

At that time, is the time after the second Passover of Jesus’ ministry. Luke 6:1. It’s important to remember that the legalistic Pharisees weren’t accusing the disciples of stealing the grain. Under the Old Testament law, a person had a right to pluck the grain from someone else’s field when travelling, though they couldn’t put a sickle to the crop. Deuteronomy 23:25.

They were accusing them of breaking their traditions of the Sabbath by doing the minor work of plucking out the grain on the Sabbath. Jesus and the disciples were violating one of the numerous laws the Pharisees had bound as a result of the traditions of the fathers in order that the Sabbath be kept. Exodus 20:10 / Exodus 36:2,3 / Numbers 15:32-36.

‘He answered, ‘Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?’ Matthew 12:3-5

What did David do exactly? 1 Samuel 21:1-7. What David did was actually against lesser legalities of the law, for only the priests were to eat of the showbread, Exodus 25:30 / Leviticus 24:5-9 / Numbers 28:9-10 / 1 Samuel 21:6.

Though David’s actions were technically unlawful according to the law that forbade anyone eating the showbread other than the priests, there was a higher law of God that superseded the original law. That higher law was the preservation of David, God’s anointed. The Pharisees recognised this.

However, they justified David’s actions while at the same time complaining that Jesus and the disciples were breaking the law of the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out their inconsistent application of the law, though in this context Jesus and the disciples didn’t violate any Old Testament law. They violated the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Sabbath law.

The priests had to work in violation of Sabbath laws in order to prepare sacrifices because they had to work on the Sabbath in preparation for the sacrifices. Numbers 28:9-10.

However, they were blameless because their God-ordained work to prepare sacrifices for the people superseded the law to rest on the Sabbath.

‘I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.’ Matthew 12:6

Someone greater than the temple is here is a clear reference to Christ. Matthew 12:41-42 / Isaiah 66:1-2. Jesus was more glorious than the temple that the Jews honoured above all things on earth. Haggai 2:7-9 / 2 Chronicles 6:18 / Malachi 3:1 / Hebrews 3:3.

‘If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ Matthew 12:7

Sacrifice was a law of God, however, Mercy was a higher law of God. The Pharisees in their legal understanding and application of the law could not understand this principle concerning the laws of God, Hosea 6:6 / Micah 6:6-8.

Jesus here attacks the judgmental attitudes of the Pharisees that motivated them to criticise the plucking of the grain.

The One who was in their midst was the One who had authority over the Sabbath. Jesus was of the triune God who instituted the Sabbath. Mark records that Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man.

‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ Mark 2:27

He explained that God had intended for the Sabbath command to provide relief for man, not be an additional burden. The Sabbath was made for the benefit of man, for on the Sabbath men were to rest from their labours, Exodus 20:11.

The Pharisees thought that man was made for the Sabbath. In other words, they believed that God made the Sabbath a holy day of worship in order that men renew their spiritual life and worship God on this day.

However, God intended it to be a day of rest for man, Exodus 20:10-11. It was thus a law that was established for the physical well-being of man.

‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’ Mark 2:27-28

Jesus proclaimed His authority over the Sabbath saying that He Himself was Lord of the Sabbath. If Jesus created the Sabbath, surely, He knew what activities violated it.

The Sabbath was supposed to be a day of blessings and relaxation, free from work but the Jews had turned into a bunch of rules which consisted of dos and don’ts, and with over 613 laws, they always found a way around them.

In reference to the nation of Israel, the Sabbath was given to national Israel as a sign between God and the nation of Israel. When the Old Testament law was abolished, the Sabbath law was also taken away, Colossians 2:16.

‘Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ Matthew 12:8-10

The events recorded in Matthew 12:9-10 took place on another Sabbath than the one in the previous verses. Mark 3:1-5 / Luke 6:6-10 / John 5:10 / John 7:23.

The legalistic Pharisees are here more concerned over the violation of their Sabbath laws than the healing of this man. Such manifests the hypocrisy of religion that is based on an outward manifestation of a legal presentation of religiosity without concentration on the heart for spiritual change.

‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:’ ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’ And he continued, ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!’ Mark 7:6-9

The Pharisees here seek another opportunity to accuse Jesus of violating their laws of the Sabbath. They do such in order to accuse Him before the people that He violates the law.

‘He said to them, ‘If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Matthew 12:11-12

Mark records that at this time Jesus was angered by their hardened hearts.

‘He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ Mark 3:5

It seems that they didn’t doubt that Jesus could miraculously heal the withered hand. They wanted to see if He would do such on the Sabbath. If He did such work on the Sabbath, then they could accuse Him of working against their laws of the Sabbath.

The real conflict here is between the legal and earthly interests of the Pharisees as opposed to the human interests of Jesus. Jesus pointed out that if the Pharisees’ material interests were in danger on the Sabbath, they would do what was necessary to rescue a sheep. However, they were here critical of Jesus because of His human interest in healing on the Sabbath.

By asking, ‘is it lawful’?

Jesus was saying that it was always right to do good. Galatians 6:10.

It was simply right to do good on the Sabbath in reference to human interests because men are more important than sheep.

‘Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So, he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.’ Matthew 12:13-14

Notice Mark 3:3, Jesus asks the man ‘to stand up in front of everyone’. Jesus wanted to really make a point to these teachers of the Law, He didn’t hide what He was doing. Jesus then told him to stretch his hand out. Apparently, He neither touched him nor did any other physical thing, He merely asked the man to reach his hand out. When he did, it was healed. Jesus’ critics were furious and began plotting to assassinate Him.

To save a life or to kill!

In Mark 3:4 Jesus asked His opponents, ‘Should one save a life or kill on the Sabbath?’

They chose not to reply, which showed that they were not interested in truth, but only wanted to discredit Him. It is always easy to find fault, but it’s much harder to give a positive recommendation. Normally Christ healed men by laying His hands on them or performing some other physical sign.

If He had accompanied the healing by physical action, in this case, they would have attacked Him for doing medical work on the Sabbath, something contrary to their tradition. This time, however, Jesus did nothing, He merely told the man to reach his hand out. Mark 3:5.

Even Jesus’ enemies didn’t believe it wrong to stretch out your hand on the Sabbath.

Thus, He outsmarted His opponents and they were furious. When a man in an argument begins to get angry, it is a sure sign that he is losing. As it turned out, Jesus’ enemies are the ones who plotted to kill on the Sabbath, because He had done good. The Pharisees and the Herodians who actually were enemies of each other, joined forces to get rid of Jesus.

The Pharisee’s actions show the hardness of heart of those who profess a legal-oriented religion. The Pharisees cared nothing for the man with the withered hand. Their concern was for their doctrinal strictness in keeping their traditions in reference to the keeping of the Sabbath. By upholding their legal practices in reference to the Sabbath they were maintaining their arrogant positions of leadership among the people.

At this time in the controversy between Jesus and the religious leaders, the tension begins to grow. The Pharisees at this time in the ministry of Jesus schemed to remove Jesus.

‘But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.’ Luke 6:11

He was in competition with their positions of leadership, their hypocritical lives and inconsistent beliefs. They were infuriated because He manifested the inconsistencies of their theology and the callousness of their hearts.

Because these religious leaders couldn’t consistently argue with Jesus through correct reasoning from the Old Testament Scriptures, they were frustrated to the point of killing Him.

Religions that are developed with an emphasis on outward appearances and ceremonial worship are often hypocritical in the sense that people can be members of such religions without changed hearts.

The religious leaders in this context manifested the hypocrisy of such religions by planning evil when professing a form of righteousness. Mark 3:6 / Luke 6:11 / John 5:18 / John 10:39 / John 11:53.