Lord of the Sabbath
The authority of Jesus is a prominent theme in Luke’s Gospel. Luke tells us that Jesus teaches with authority. His authority is manifest when He casts out a demon and then commands it to be quiet (Luke 5:35). When speaking to the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus assigns Himself the title, Son of Man (Luke 5:24). The title comes from the prophecy of Daniel which describes the Messiah receiving all authority from God (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus proves His authority to forgive sins when He heals the paralytic.
In chapter six, Jesus proclaims the authority of being Lord of the Sabbath. The New Covenant does not have a Sabbath command (read this). The Sabbath is unique to the Mosaic Covenant.
When we hear Jesus say He is Lord of the Sabbath, we might think, “no big deal.” But, for Jews in the time of Jesus, it is a huge deal. For us to understand the impact of Jesus declaring Himself Lord of the Sabbath, we need to put ourselves in the shoes of a Jew living under the Law of Moses.
Understanding the Sabbath
Most people know the Sabbath Law as the fourth commandment in the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
The Lord God expounds upon the Sabbath Law. He says to Moses,
'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. (Exodus 31:13-14).
We learn three important truths from this passage. First, the Sabbath is a sign. Second, to not keep the Sabbath is punishable by death. And third, the way to profane the Sabbath is to work on that day.
First. When God makes a Covenant, He sometimes gives a sign of the Covenant. When we see a rainbow, God remembers He made a covenant with Noah not to destroy the earth with a flood (Genesis 9:8-17).
Everyone who is part of the Abrahamic Covenant, whether a blood relative or a foreigner, must be circumcised. The circumcision is a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:11).
We have two signs to show we are participants of the Covenant of Christ, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper.
The Sabbath is a sign showing the Israelites are a people separated unto the Lord (Exodus 31:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; and Ezekiel 20:20). When foreigners observe Israelites not working on Saturday, they are witnessing people who are in covenant with God.
People who work on the Sabbath are given the death penalty. It is a serious offense.
The Sabbath is to be kept holy. The way to keep the Sabbath holy is to not work. Shabbat, means cease (stop). Cease working. To work on the Sabbath is to take down the sign. To work on the Sabbath is like us taking the name Jesus off the sign and to take down the cross in front of the church.
When we understand that the Sabbath is the sign demonstrating a relationship with God, we can understand why God calls for the death penalty for those who defile the Sabbath.
The Law Points to Mercy and Love
Luke begins the chapter with Jesus and His disciples walking by a field on the Sabbath. They haven’t eaten, and are hungry. They pick heads of grain, rub the grain between their hands to separate the grain from the chaff, and eat the grain.
In our culture, we don’t go into someone else’s garden to pick food when we are hungry. But, what Jesus and His disciples do is allowed by the Law of Moses. The Law says that if you are hungry, and are walking by a garden, you can pick the fruit and eat it (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). What is not permissible is to take extra and put it in your pocket or knapsack for later. They couldn’t take a sickle to the field. God doesn’t want people to go hungry, so He permits eating from another’s field.
The Pharisees are watching Jesus and His disciples. Their dislike for Jesus is becoming blatant. They watch Jesus and His disciples eat the grain. They don’t accuse Jesus of stealing because they know what they do is lawful. Instead, they accuse them of working on the Sabbath. They are profaning the Sabbath.
The Pharisees consider themselves experts at interpreting the Law. We might ask, how is picking the grains on the Sabbath against the law? They interpret plucking grain from the stalk as harvesting. Rubbing the grain, and separating the kernel from the chaff is threshing and winnowing.
The Pharisees don’t care that Jesus and His disciples are hungry. They don’t care to show mercy and compassion. Their primary care is to falsely accuse Jesus of working on the Sabbath.
Jesus shows their hypocrisy
We might expect Jesus to challenge their interpretation of working. But, He doesn’t. He lets the Pharisees go along with their interpretation of work. Like He did when He confronted the Pharisees over the issue of forgiving sin, Jesus gives a two-part defense.
His first defense is to address their inconsistency.
He reminds the Pharisees about an account of King David. He says, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?”
For us to understand Jesus, we need to be familiar with the account He references.
Jesus speaks about an incident in the life of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6). Saul is chasing David. He and his men are very hungry. David encounters Ahimelech, a priest, and begs for five loaves of bread, or whatever he can find.
Ahimelech knows what is going on. He asks David if he and his men are consecrated because if they are, there is consecrated bread from the Temple they can eat. It is seven-days old, but it is still edible.
Ahimelech is offering David the Bread of Presence from the Temple. Every Sabbath, the priests place twelve fresh loaves of unleavened bread on the golden table in the room with the incense and the candlestick. It is called the Bread of the Presence because it is placed in the presence of God (Exodus 25:30; 35:13; 39:36). The bread symbolizes God as the source of Israel’s strength and provision.
At the end of the seven days, fresh bread is placed on the table. The old bread is only to be eaten by the priests (Leviticus 24:9). It is holy and consecrated. Ahimelech is not offering David the fresh bread from the table, but the bread from the previous week. David tells Ahimelech his men are consecrated, and he gives him the bread.
The use of the example of David is a form of reasoning known as an ad hominem argument, which is not made for the purpose of establishing truth. It is an argument to show hypocrisy or inconsistency.
We can paraphrase Jesus’ argument like this: “You Pharisees honor David as a great king. David broke the law of Moses by eating the Bread of Presence (Leviticus 24:5-9). You place David on a moral pedestal, and justify, and do not condemn him. In contrast, My disciples violated your oral traditions—yet you charge them with sin. You are quick to condemn My disciples and I. Your accusations are inconsistent.”
The first part of Jesus’ argument is this: the Pharisees are more interested in condemning Jesus than they are in showing mercy. They inconsistently apply the Law without care for people in need.
Live knowing God’s commands point to mercy and love
Before we get into the second part of Jesus’ argument, let’s pause and think about how we respond to the commands of God.
The Pharisees use God’s commands to condemn others and to make themselves appear righteous.
Let me give you an example of when I was a very young Christian.
I was attending an adult Sunday School in a small church. The teacher was talking about the Ark of the Covenant. I knew very little about the Bible, but I was an eager student. I shared that morning that I recently watched a movie with the Ark of the Covenant. The movie was “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Perhaps you have seen it.
I was expecting encouragement. Instead, I was publicly ridiculed. The teacher said, “We don’t watch movies in this church.” The teacher did not show me grace. Instead, he showed himself as being self-righteous. Restricting people from watching movies is not a Biblical mandate. It was a man-made law. It took me a long time before I spoke up again in Sunday School.
I later learned the church had many rules that were not Scriptural. Just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, we need not condemn people with commands that are not Biblical.
The Pharisees are self-righteous. There is a lot of self-righteousness in the church, and it is very repulsive. It happens when people parade their good works to others. It is an attitude of moral superiority. Have you ever heard people say things like: “I always go to church, even when I am on vacation.” “I never watch movies unless it is a Christian movie.” “I always share the gospel at work.” Usually, in the process of speaking about their good works, they look down their nose at people who don’t do what they do.
As Christians, we need to show much grace. Jesus doesn’t teach it’s okay to break the Law. He does teach is that God’s laws point to mercy, and love, and not the condemnation of others.
The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath
After pointing out their inconsistency, Jesus reminds the Pharisees about His authority as the Messiah. He says to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
With this statement, Jesus again makes Himself equal with God. It is the same as Him saying He has the authority to forgive sin.
God gives the Ten Commandments. God institutes the Sabbath. Jesus says He is Lord of the Sabbath, implying He is Lord over the Ten Commandments.
So, when the Pharisees accuse Jesus of disobeying the Sabbath command, it is the same as saying God is guilty of breaking the Law. God works every Sabbath, and He is not guilty of breaking the Law. Neither is Jesus. Jesus could say, I am equal with God. Therefore, I do not break the Sabbath if I work, although I was not working.
The Sabbath Law is subject to Jesus. Jesus is not subject to the Sabbath Law. He is the giver of the Law. Jesus is the author of the Law. The Law is for men, not God. Jesus willingly obeys the Law because He willingly became a man, but He doesn’t have to.
We also need to understand the prophetic picture of the Sabbath. It is a prophetic picture of the coming of Jesus; that there will be a day of rest for God’s people. Jesus is Lord over our rest. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. His yoke is the yoke of salvation. Our salvation is a gift of grace; we don’t need to work.
Jesus is greater than Levitical priests, the sacrifices, the Temple, and the Sabbath. Jesus is Lord of all.
Live knowing God’s commands declare Jesus as our Sabbath
Do we see Jesus as Lord over the Sabbath? Or, are we trying to work and earn our salvation rest? The Pharisees teach a works-based salvation. Jesus’ salvation is salvation by grace. It is a gift, not something we may earn.
Jesus’ work on the cross is finished. The writer of Hebrews says, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). By sitting down, Jesus enters a time of rest.
Listen again to the writer of Hebrews:
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. (Heb 4:9-11)
Jesus is our Sabbath.
Think of it this way. A sign represents a greater reality. The sacrifices of the Mosaic Law are a sign of the future sacrifice of Jesus. The priests of the Mosaic Law are a sign of the great High Priest whose name is Jesus. The Sabbath of the Mosaic Law is a sign pointing to our complete rest in Jesus (and eventual eternal rest in heaven). For us to not enter into His rest, is disobedience. It’s like making an animal sacrifice for our sins.
Save Life or Destroy Life?
Luke makes his point about Jesus being Lord over the Sabbath with the first incident in the field. He drives the point home by telling us of another event that also takes place on a Sabbath. He intentionally pairs these two events together in his narrative.
Jesus is teaching, and there is a man whose right hand is withered. It is likely Luke calls attention to the right hand because most people are right-handed. This man will have difficulty working, and so his withered hand presents a problem of being able to care for his family and others.
The Pharisees, once again, don’t care about mercy. They only care about condemning those who don’t obey the law like them. They didn’t care when Jesus and His disciples were hungry. They don’t care this man has a withered hand. They only care about Jesus possibly doing something on the Sabbath which the think is unlawful.
Jesus knows their thoughts. He calls the man with the withered hand and tells him to come forward.
Jesus says, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?”
Let’s think it through. It is never lawful to do harm. It is never lawful to destroy life. Both of those things are against the Law of Moses. But, here is the dilemma. If Jesus can do good but refuses to, the Bible calls that the sin of omission. In other words, if I know I can help someone, and walk past them, it is sinful. For Jesus, to know He can heal the man, but to walk by, and not heal him is a sin. Jesus has no choice. He cannot sin, so His only choice is to heal the man. The Law of Moses commands Him to do good, He cannot turn His back.
Jesus looks around at everyone, tells the man to stretch out his hand, and the man’s hand is restored.
Live knowing God’s commands lead to life
God’s commands lead to what is good.
Some Christians have the impression that we are to study the Bible for the sake of studying the Bible. We go to church because Christians go to church. We pray because God commands us to pray. These things are our duty.
When the commands of God are a duty, we are like the Pharisees. The Pharisees do religion for the sake of religion. What they don’t realize is the religion God loves is a religion that loves our neighbor.
The reason we study the Bible is so we can learn how to love our neighbor. The Bible teaches that being deceitful is not loving our neighbor. We learn that we are to show justice and mercy. We learn that we are to care for the widows and the orphans. If we study the Bible, and have all knowledge, and know all prophecy, but we have no love, we are like the Pharisee.
Prayer is the same way. We don’t pray because it is a command. We pray because it gives us a heart of repentance. We go before God as beggars, asking for His help to change us into being a people who do good. We need to go beyond praying to be healthy when we are sick. Pray, God grant me health so I can do good for my neighbor. God, help me understand Your Bible so I may more clearly share the gospel. Our prayers need to focus on asking God to help us do good. We want to be like Christ. To be like Christ is to love our neighbor.
Every law of God has a foundation in love. It will take far too long to go through every command of Scripture, so instead, let me give an example.
The Bible commands us to give tithes and offerings. We could be like a Pharisee and brag about our tithing. Or, we can give, and pray God uses the money for the good of His kingdom. God desires for us to give because it is loving our neighbor. Giving reflects God’s character. Let’s give, not because it is a command and we need to obey God’s commands. Let’s give because we love God and love others. That is why Paul’s letter to the Corinthians says if we give all our money and possessions to the poor, but have not love, it is nothing.
The Hate of Self-Righteousness
The picture of what brings about the crucifixion of Jesus is becoming clear. We read of how Jesus is loving, heals people, and is God the Son. Luke shows how the opposition to Jesus grows increasingly hostile. The Pharisees cannot theologically fault Jesus; nevertheless, they are filled with rage. They can’t stop His ministry, no matter how hard they try. He is out of their control, and they need a plan.
At one point, as we read Luke’s gospel we have to ask, why did the people kill Him? Luke is helping his readers to formulate an understanding.
Everything about the Law of God, whether the law is from the Mosaic Covenant, or the New Testament, points to Jesus. The Mosaic Covenant points to Him prophetically. The commands of the New Testament call us to follow His example.
Let’s not be like the Pharisees who use the commands of God to fill themselves with pride. Let’s live knowing God’s commands are for good. They point to mercy and love. They declare Jesus as our Sabbath rest. And, God’s commands lead to life.
 Jackson, Wayne. "Did Jesus Endorse Situation Ethics?" ChristianCourier.com. Access date: March 18, 2020. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/297-did-jesus-endorse-situation-ethics