Summary: A lot of people have had questions about the purpose of the Sabbath. Jesus takes it head on and reveals a lot about how we should live our lives.
Last time we ended with Jesus promising rest and peace for anyone who would come to Him and take His yoke—a yoke where He does the heavy lifting—no more striving to earn God’s favor by being good—only submitting lordship over your life to Him. The Jews got a picture of the rest of God through the Sabbath.
Gen 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
It didn’t mean God was tired, it just meant that everything He set out to do was accomplished so He stopped. In Exodus 16 the people had just received Manna and were told to pick it up off of the ground every morning, but not on Saturday, which was a solemn rest. They were to gather twice as much the day before.
The Jews, in their later attempts to please God, decided that just “not working” on the Sabbath wasn’t enough, so they created a bunch of rules to keep themselves holy. The Jews created 39 categories of work that should not be done. They included chain stitching, weaving, unraveling, selecting, erasing, knotting, and finishing. What started out as a way to celebrate what God had accomplished in His provision for His people, turned into an opportunity to show how really good you are, or how much better you were than others who weren’t as “holy,” and as a way of keeping the people in line.
What we find in Chapter 12 is Jesus coming against the assumed authority over the Sabbath by the religious leaders. We’ll see in just a second that it is Jesus that is over the Sabbath, not the other way around. Paul will later tell us that the Sabbath was meant as a shadow of things to come—that is, the rest we have from all works in Jesus. (Colossians 2:17). The Sabbath became “don’t do anything or be punished.” But the spirit of the Sabbath was “you don’t need to do anything because God has provided.”
This becomes one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the Jews as Jesus begins to assert His authority as Messiah and King—not by big words but by big actions. It leads the people to one of three possibilities: Jesus is possessed, crazy, or just what He is hinting at: king. It begs the question to us, who is Jesus and how much authority over your life are you willing to cede to Him? We’ll get to that as we progress through the chapter. For today: the Sabbath and the character of the king.
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This story shows the ridiculous lengths the Sabbath rules had gone to. It was not illegal for Jesus and His disciples to pick some grain along the road when they were hungry. Deut 23:24-25 "If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in your bag. 25 If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain. The reason the Jews got upset was that the disciples had rubbed the grain in their hands and that was, according their rules, “harvesting.”
Jesus responds with three statements—1) a wooden response to the Law misses the intent of the Lord of the Law. 2) A slavish devotion to a building (the temple) misses the Lord of the temple. 3) Jesus is Lord over both (and in turn the Sabbath).
He first gives the story of David in 1 Samuel 21. David was running from Saul and came to Nob, home to the priests in that day and the Tabernacle. Each week 12 loaves of bread (representing the 12 tribes of Israel) were put hot before the Lord called the “Showbread” or “the Bread of the Presence.” When the old loaves were removed only the priests were supposed to eat them. But David, God’s anointed king, was in desperate straits. His need was more important than the regulation in that case, and so Ahimelech gave him the bread. It was also okay because David was who he was, just as it was all right for Jesus because of who He is.
Secondly, Jesus points out that the priests “work” on the Sabbath by offering sacrifices (the burnt offerings only) but are held guiltless. The “work” of worshipping God took precedence over the requirements of the ceremonial law. In the same way, the work of Jesus supersedes the temple.