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THEOLOGY > God > Work of Creation > The Seventh Day > Jesus and the Sabbath        


Jesus observed the Sabbath. Numerous passages testify to this fact; consider the following Scriptures:

Then they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and taught (Mk. 1:21);

And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him (Mk. 3:1-2);

Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue (Mk. 6:1-2);

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read (Lu. 4:16);

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath (Lu. 13:10).

It is obvious from these passages that Jesus obeyed the Law concerning the Sabbath. It was His “custom,” for He did not come to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. On the Sabbath He attended the services at the Synagogue, using the occasion as an opportunity to instruct those in attendance. He was obedient to the revealed will of God, not only with regard to the Sabbath, but in all of the other dimensions of the Law.

Jesus, however, did not observe the legalistic restrictions that had become attached to the Sabbath, restrictions that had been added by the scribes and rabbis over the years. Their additions to the Law had transformed the Sabbath from a day of “delight” into a burden that was intolerable. Often this was the source of conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious establishment. The Pharisees condemned the practices of Jesus, while Jesus renounced their standards that formed their basis for condemning Him and His disciples. It was not acceptable for Jesus to break the Sabbath, but the keeping of human regulations that had come to be accepted as part of the Law was rejected by Jesus.

For instance, in Mark there is the account of Jesus and His disciples going through the grain fields on the Sabbath; the disciples began to pluck grain and proceeded to eat. Because of the disciples’ action, the Pharisees confronted Christ: “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (2:24). Jesus responds to His critics on two levels: that of Creation and that of His own identity.

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27). In other words, man has the highest priority; man was created before the Sabbath was instituted. After man was created, the Sabbath was then ordained for the good of man; God’s purpose in creating man was not merely for the purpose of his observing the Sabbath. The Sabbath exists for the benefit of man; man does not exist merely to observe the rules of the Sabbath—life is more than that. Work on the Sabbath was not to be done, but man needed to eat, even on the Sabbath. Eating was not wrong, for works of necessity were acceptable on the day of rest. To eat on the Sabbath was to understand properly the intent of the Creation rest and to use that rest appropriately; this was the message in the words of Jesus. The Pharisees had elevated the Sabbath above man.

Jesus also said to the Pharisees: “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:28). Because of who He is, the Son of Man (Deity), Jesus has the authority (Lord of the Sabbath) to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct on the Sabbath. Christ is superior to the Sabbath. He was not bound by the human accretions to the fourth commandment over the years that had transformed the “rest” of the Sabbath into an obligation that was impossible for any Jew to bear because of its legalistic expectations. Jesus refused to honor and to abide by such man-made stipulations. Proper conduct for the Sabbath was to be determined by the “Lord of the Sabbath”; He is not bound by some superior good that constitutes the Sabbath. Because they rejected who He was, they had trouble with the claims that He made and the life He lived. If they had accepted Him, they would have accepted His deeds.

On another occasion Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and did so in the synagogue. To the Pharisees in attendance Jesus asked a question: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mk. 3:4). For the Pharisees, only essential medical aid should be given on the Sabbath day; if the case was not critical, then nothing should be done while the Sabbath was being observed. Medical assistance for the needy could wait until the Sabbath was over. Jesus calls attention to the very essence of the Sabbath; it is a day designed for the good of man. It is good for man to rest; but the emphasis at this point is upon what is good. Deeds of mercy and compassion on the Sabbath are acceptable. The Sabbath is for good, that which is good for man and animal. In healing the man Jesus was doing good for the man, He was displaying the very essence of the Sabbath. It is a day for good, not evil. Not only is this true for humans, it is also true for animals (see Lu. 13:10-17; 14:1-6).

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