During Jesus’ ministry he was repeatedly criticized for allegedly breaking the Law of Moses. Those who had taken upon themselves the responsibility of making sure the Jews were obedient to the Law used their usurped authority to follow Jesus around scrutinizing his actions for any imagined violation. Their motive was more to discredit Jesus than to please Yahweh. They witnessed his signs and miracles but refused to accept the implications of them. When we become more concerned with rule-keeping than godliness, we jeopardize our salvation and that of those we discourage and hinder.
It is instructive to study the words and actions of Jesus as he countered the “spiritual enforcers” in regard to the Sabbath. It helps us know whether we are more concerned with mercy and compassion or legalistic rule-keeping. Are we focused on “getting it exactly right” while neglecting justice and the love of God? (Luke 11:42). Is our goal the letter or the Spirit? (2 Corinthians 3:6).
What Jesus said about the traditions and teachings of men are applicable to today’s nit-picking counterparts of the Pharisee enforcers (Mark 7:5-13). Here are nine points regarding the Sabbath for our consideration:
1. Many rules for keeping the Sabbath were men’s additions, inventions and traditions and therefore extra-biblical and non-binding.
2. Jesus is the law-giver (even the Law of Moses) and Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8)
3. The purpose of the Sabbath was rest and rejuvenation and was created for the benefit of humans
Mark 2:27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
4. The Sabbath, as originally given, did not restrict necessary physical labor (such as eating when one is hungry and the labor necessary to feed one’s self (Matthew 12:1-8)
5. The Sabbath did not forbid spiritual labor
Matthew 12:5 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?”
6. Compassion (relieving suffering) trumps sacrifice (laws and traditions)
Matthew 12:7-8 But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
7. Doing good on the Sabbath is lawful
Matthew 12:9-12 Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse Him. 11 And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
8. If God, who gave the Sabbath, is working, then it is permissible for us to do His work
John 5:17 But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working.”
9. Rules which violate common sense and logic are invalid.
John 7:22-23 “For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?”