23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 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. 5 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. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The Sabbath is one of the most distinctive features of Judaism. It was founded in the 4th of the Ten Commandments, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." (Ex. 20:8) The Sabbath day occurred every week from sundown Friday evening to sundown Saturday evening. It was a day of rest and synagogue (Jewish church, sort of) was held on the Sabbath.
Sabbath simply means to cease or to stop. The practice of Sabbath was rooted in God's actions in the creation account attesting to the divine order of the universe. Sabbath was written throughout the fabric of Israel's society. If you listen to the Bible Project's podcast on Sabbath, you'll see just how interwoven this concept is in Israel's society. It's stunning! This was to be an active practice that pointed back to the garden paradise and forward to his completed kingdom as a part of his new creation.
This practice intentionally inconvenienced the lives of everyone in Jewish society. Think of the inconvenience prior to going on vacation: making sure everything is accounted for, shopping beforehand, prepping food for the trip, etc. Those who practice Sabbath do that every week! There is also the economic toll. In ancient cultures taking an entire day off work, especially during the harvest season was costly and very risky.
In Jesus' day the rules around the Sabbath had simply gone too far, so much so that people missed the point. The Essenes (as noted in the Dead Sea Scrolls) forbade carrying children, giving help to birthing animals, retrieval of an animal which has fallen into a pit on the Sabbath. Pharisaic traditions were slightly less rigid, yet equally legalistic. According to the Mishnah they were not allowed to untie knots (shout out to velcro shoes), sew more than one stitch, or write more than one letter. Particularly pertinent to our story today, it was forbidden to set a dislocated foot or hand on the Sabbath. They could only take 1,999 steps (pedometers would've been very helpful). Jesus' disciples picking heads of grain was considered "reaping". They had legislated just about every imaginable situation.
Jesus calls them back to the original intent of the Sabbath by reaffirming that "he Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" and that Jesus himself is lord over the Sabbath. This is a major point of discontinuity between the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus here, declares himself to be lord of the Sabbath and loosens Sabbath regulations. Paul writes in Colossians 2:16–17: "16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." Jesus fulfilled all of the Mosaic Law (Matt. 5:17) so Christians are no longer held to any of the Law as law. Yet, it is vital to understand the heart of the Sabbath Laws: we need rest; rest forces us to trust God to provide; ceasing work allows us to focus our thoughts on God; in resting we are acting like God in creation; it points us to the new creation. These are not minor themes. So, although we are not required to in a legal sense, sabbath is a practice that I believe we need to be employing.
<aside> 🔍 Take one day in the next week (it doesn't have to be Friday-Saturday) to spend 4 hours resting. Intentionally plan and prepare for rest. What do you need to do the day before so you won't be stressed? What will you do in your time of rest? Who else do you need to coordinate with to make this happen? Remember this isn't a legalistic thing, but the true intent and purpose is good.