Jesus and the Sabbath: Luke 6:1-11

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As we continue moving through Luke’s gospel, we arrive at a point where on the surface, it appears Jesus disregards one of the Ten Commandments on two separate occasions. However, when we look a little closer at what Luke describes in these events, we discover a powerful truth about God’s ideal for His Sabbath day celebration.

Let’s read about what happened. Our passage for this event is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 6, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Luke describes what happened:

One Sabbath day Jesus was walking through some fields of grain. His followers picked the heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. Some Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath day?”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? He went into God’s house and took and ate the holy bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he gave some to the people who were with him.” Then Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath day.”

On another Sabbath day Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man with a crippled right hand was there. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were watching closely to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath day so they could accuse him. But he knew what they were thinking, and he said to the man with the crippled hand, “Stand up here in the middle of everyone.” The man got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath day: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?” 10 Jesus looked around at all of them and said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” The man held out his hand, and it was healed.

11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were very angry and discussed with each other what they could do to Jesus.

In these two events, it appears as though Jesus completely disregarded the Sabbath day. One reason for this was because over the previous few hundred years, the religious leaders had built up the importance of the Sabbath and the significance of it beginning at the time of Nehemiah and the restoration of Jerusalem and the temple.

At that point in history, the Jews realized that their exile had been caused by a rejection of God’s Ten Commandments and it had began subtly as a rejection of the Sabbath commandment. Incidentally, the Sabbath commandment is the easiest commandment of the ten to discount as insignificant.

In response to this realization, the Jewish leaders began building up walls of protection for the Sabbath day to keep people from accidentally or inadvertently breaking the Sabbath and bringing God’s punishment back on the people. By the time Jesus came, there was a complex set of rules around what should be done and what should be avoided on God’s special day. Through the extensive set of rules meant to protect the Sabbath, the religious leaders had sucked out all the joy God had intended for His special day of the week.

With this background in mind, we then come to Jesus stepping into the spotlight. If Jesus had stepped into the spotlight 500 years earlier or 500 years later, we would see Him respond to the Sabbath in significantly different ways. Five hundred years on either side of this issue, the Sabbath was being looked down on and marginalized rather than being overly protected. If Jesus stepped into history at a different point, we would likely get a different impression of what Jesus believed for the Sabbath.

Or would we? Would the impression Jesus gives us about the Sabbath be different?

As I think about this, I don’t think it would be. From our passage and these two events, we discover two huge themes Jesus believed about the Sabbath.

From the challenge the Pharisees give Jesus about His disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, we discover Jesus’ reply doesn’t really defend the disciples’ actions, it simply frames the actions of a highly regarded historical figure in a different light. It is as though Jesus counters the seemingly horrible act the disciples are accused of by saying that David, a great king from Israel’s past, did an even worse thing by eating special bread. However, following this illustration, Jesus makes a startling claim in verse 5, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath day.

This is significant because Jesus uses the phrase “Son of Man” to refer to Himself, and He tells us that He is Lord of the Sabbath day. As followers of Jesus, we would do well to pay attention to how Jesus acted towards the Sabbath day, because He has laid claim to the Sabbath day in this verse. From this point forward, we should look to Jesus for our cues on how to relate to the Sabbath.

Fortunately for us, Luke follows this first event up with a second event focused on the Sabbath. In this Sabbath-day healing, Jesus asks the religious leaders a question that helps to frame what He believes the significance of the Sabbath is. In verse 9, Jesus asks the religious leaders present, “which is lawful on the Sabbath day: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?

Jesus frames the Sabbath as a day to do good, not to do evil; and a day to save lives rather than destroy them. Regardless of what you believe the significance of the Sabbath is 2,000 years after Jesus made this claim, the truth Jesus hints at in this question should be a common foundation for believers.

Jesus intentionally healed the man’s hand on the Sabbath day, in a way that could not be even remotely considered work, but because these religious leaders only saw Jesus as a doctor who healed people, and not a teacher or prophet, Jesus’ healing must be classified as work. The religious leaders’ hostility towards Jesus over how He treated the Sabbath was not because Jesus didn’t take the Sabbath seriously, it was because Jesus openly challenged their traditions and rules regarding the Sabbath and Jesus elevated the Sabbath as a day to worship God and to be a blessing to others.

The Sabbath was a memorial of God creating this world and everything in it, and the Sabbath was also given the status as a memorial of God saving His people out of slavery. In the same way, Jesus elevates the Sabbath and gives it the significance of remembering when He came to save us from sin. Just like God finished His work of creation on the sixth day of the week by creating humanity before resting on the Sabbath, Jesus finished His work of redeeming humanity on the sixth day of the week on the cross before resting on the Sabbath. Jesus modeled the Sabbath and taught it was a day to rest and a day to remember what God has blessed us with, and that it is a time to celebrate just how much God has done for us!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life, and choose to let Him lead and guide you forward. If you haven’t done so recently, look at the Sabbath in the Bible and discover how this might just be one of the most significant forgotten gifts God has ever blessed us with. While many today believe the Sabbath is simply any day that is set apart, realize that the Bible teaches us that the Sabbath is a specific day of the week, and while the term sabbath is used to describe other special celebration days, it is also the name of a specific day of the week.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, purposefully pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow your relationship with God. Decide to study the Sabbath out for yourself. Don’t take my word, or anyone else’s word for what the Bible teaches at face value. Determine to study this out for yourself. I’m certain that you will be surprised with what you discover!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 11: In two side-by-side events in Luke’s gospel, discover how Jesus reframes the Sabbath and subtly shares what He believes about this special day of the week!

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