Feasting with God #32
“Lord of the Sabbath”
Text: Luke 6:1-5
1On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. 2But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” 3And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” 5And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Ever on the watch to catch Jesus in some wrong, the Pharisees thought they had him now: his disciples were clearly breaking the Third Commandment! By taking grains from the field, technically they were “harvesting,” and by rubbing the grains on their hands, technically they were “milling”—they were working on the Sabbath! So the Pharisees, smug at their apparent victory, asked Jesus, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”
But Jesus had a precedent which he could refer to that defended the actions of his disciples: he called attention to King David, who, on an expedition with some men, had to feed them, and all that was close by was bread designated as sacred for the priests to eat; in his necessity, it was lawful for him to eat this sacred bread. Cleverly Jesus points out this great Old Testament hero, for who among the Pharisees would dare claim that by this action the great King David had done wrong? If what David had done was acceptable, then what Jesus’ disciples were doing should also be considered acceptable. Ultimately, however, this is not because David set the precedent, but as Jesus explains: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
The thinking of the Pharisees is an easy slope to slide down. We can observe our behaviors: I go to church on Sunday, I have family devotions, I pay my taxes, I drive the speed limit, I do this or that good for my neighbor and I never do anyone any wrong. Then we see someone else, someone who perhaps skipped church, someone who speeds past us on the highway, someone who walks by on the other side when his neighbor is in need. These comparisons are easy to make: I’m good, that guy isn’t.
There are certainly hints in outward behavior that give us some clue towards the state of a person’s heart, but we also must remind ourselves that only God judges the heart. And we can remind ourselves of Jesus’ words: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:4). It is far too easy for us to catch others in sins, and nearly impossible for us to notice our own sins.
In fact, what Jesus’ disciples were doing was not a sin: that’s how blind these Pharisees really were! They snapped to a judgment about their character and their flaws without actually knowing the truth; a prime example of a log in the eye blinding the sight. But how could this be no real sin? Weren’t the disciples working when it was unlawful to do so, because it was the Sabbath? And God had said, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Ex. 20:9-10).
The key is in what Jesus said to close this section: “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus Christ is himself the ruler of the Sabbath, being himself God. In a parallel account in Mark’s Gospel Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath with its laws ought to be seen as a gift, an opportunity for us to rest in quiet from our work as God rested from his work of creation. He rested in order to look out over all his creation and to instead do the work of preservation. We rest from our day-to-day work in order to look over God’s creation, his preservation, his salvation, and to do a different sort of work; a blessed work which God enables us to do. It is not a work which wins any righteousness, but a work which shares the righteousness that the Son of Man already won for us. This Sabbath was made for us (whether it’s Saturday as the Jews celebrated, Sunday as Christians traditionally celebrate, or any other day or even a few hours when we can sit with God’s Word), so that we can rest in God’s blessed works for us.
Yes, the Sabbath was a command. There were harsh penalties for those who disobeyed the command. But the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, fulfilled all laws in himself, the Sabbath included, and he paid the price for disobeying all laws. Therefore we are set free from having to obey any laws ever again. Instead, now we live our lives in thankfulness for the Son of Man’s payment. This means that we are free to observe the Sabbath on any day, or on every day. This means that we may enjoy the food and work that God provides for us, without guilty conscience.
Dear Lord, we thank you that you have given us the gift of Sabbath rest, when we may meditate on your work and your Word. Lead us to see the great blessing we have received in your Son’s payment for all broken laws, keeping those laws in our place. Lead us also to use our newfound Christian freedom to worship you in thankfulness. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.