The implications are huge. For one, it provides us with a proper authoritative interpretation of Sabbath observance. If we want to know what the Sabbath is about, we can look to Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath; both to His words and actions. This we see in the following passage where Jesus purposely steps into a Sabbath trap set for him by the Pharisees.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. (Mark 3:1-2)
We don’t know whether the Pharisees purposely brought this man to the synagogue to use as bait, or whether he just happened to be there. Whatever the case, they see this situation as a potential trap to catch Jesus out.
A little historical background is in order to properly set the scene. We have already noted the Jewish man-made traditions spelling out lawful and unlawful Sabbath behaviour. According to these traditions, first aid was permissible as long as it was only done to prevent an injury from worsening. It was not lawful to set about curing someone. You were allowed to stabilise someone so that they didn’t die, but you couldn’t go that next step to actually heal them. For that you had to wait until the Sabbath was over. And so for example, it was forbidden to set a dislocated foot or hand on the Sabbath. The idea being, if it’s not necessary, it must wait.
The trap centred around a man with a withered hand. His was a horrible disability, but it wasn’t life threatening. It didn’t necessitate immediate action; therefore to heal it on the Sabbath was to violate Sabbath law. What would Jesus do?
And he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come here." And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:3-6)
Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, unashamedly violated the Jewish Sabbath traditions. By so doing, He tore those traditions to shreds. His purposeful desecration of their rules proclaimed loud and clear that He didn’t recognise them as a valid expression of the Sabbath law. They were simply wrong.
Not only did He free the Sabbath from the burdensome misinterpretation of the Pharisees, He also re-established the real intention of the Sabbath. He asked the question, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” The Pharisees remained silent, but Jesus’ actions in healing the man proclaimed a loud “YES!” Yes, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees were all about what you can’t do on the Sabbath. Jesus re-established what we can do. The Sabbath is a day of freedom from the responsibilities and demands of work so that we can do good. It is a day for doing good. In the previous devotions, we saw that it is a day for loving the LORD our God. Now we see it is also a day for loving our neighbour as ourselves.
Do you want to know what is lawful to do on the Sabbath? Mowing your elderly neighbour’s lawn is lawful. Building a habitat for humanity house is lawful. Visiting the sick in hospital is lawful. Street evangelising is lawful. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
Savouring the Sabbath