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.” 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? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 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 12:1-8)
Last week, we established that the solution to our restlessness can be found in Sabbath-like rest from the sources of our restlessness. Next week, we will look at how practically we as Christians do that in the 21st Century. But first, we must look at what Sabbath is not for today’s Christian. And the best place to start is the origins of Sabbath itself.
When God handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai, he commanded that the Israelites rest on the seventh day of each week. This was meant to be a sign of God’s covenant with His people. And, of course, Sabbath was modeled after God’s own day of rest from the work of creation on the first seventh day.
In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was observed with strict rules and regulations. For example, the Israelites were prohibited from lighting fires (Exodus 35:3), gathering food (Exodus 16:23-29), and selling goods in the marketplace (Nehemiah 10:31). And the punishment for intentionally violating the Sabbath was nothing short of death (Exodus 31:14-15).
Over time, the Israelites took the Sabbath to its most legalistic extremes, to the point in which, by the time Jesus came to earth, they even viewed healing on the Sabbath as a sin. When the Pharisees saw Jesus healing and picking grains in a field on the Sabbath in Matthew 12, they confronted him, calling out his seeming unlawfulness. Jesus responded by proclaiming “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8) signaling that a new covenant was here in the person of Christ. In Mark’s account of the same events, Jesus is recorded as saying that “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, Jesus is saying that through Him, the Sabbath is no longer a command of the Law. Instead, it is a gracious gift for the restless.
What did Jesus mean that Sabbath is now for man? How, practically, can we take advantage of that gift? And how can we rest regularly today, without making our rest legalistic and life-sucking? Those are the questions we will seek to answer next week.