Lord of the Sabbath

I. Introduction

We’re in Luke 6 today, and yet again the Pharisees are trying to trip Jesus up, and yet again Jesus sets them straight. We’re going to read about 2 Sabbath days that the Pharisees because angry because Jesus was doing good.

But first I want to talk about who we are, or rather, who we think we are. Back in the old days, people used to shake hands. You might remember old people like that, unafraid to touch one another. We’d stick out our hand, they’d grasp it, and say, “How do you do? I’m Michael.”

And they’d usually say something like, “Hi Michael, what do you do for a living?”

Odd. After my name, what I do is the first piece of information we exchange about ourselves. In many ways, work defines who we are. And work is good – in Genesis 2:5, before God creates man, scripture says,

Now no shrub of the field was yet on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.

Then God creates man from dust, and before God even creates woman, scripture says in Genesis 2:15,

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and tend it.

God put man to work. Even before “go forth and multiply,” God put man to work. No wonder what we do defines us.
But it wasn’t God’s intent that we should become workaholics. And He set an example for us at the beginning of Genesis 2:1-3,
And so the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their heavenly lights. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.


But Michael, you say. I thought we were studying Luke.

Well, in man’s fallen nature, we’ve corrupted God’s plan for us. In Luke 6, this corruption is evident in the pharisees, and Jesus addresses the problem we inherited after Adam and Eve were removed from their work in the Garden of Eden. So let’s see the first Sabbath day and see the event , then we’ll study the details. Luke 6:1-15,

Now it happened that Jesus was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath, and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus, answering them, said, “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 anyone to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” And He was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

There’s a lot to digest here, so let’s look at each verse. Luke 6:1,

Now it happened that Jesus was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath, and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.

Sabbath is the biblical idea that we should set aside one day a week to rest and not work. Sabbath stands for the Hebrew verb, shabbat, which literally means “to rest from labor.” This concept of Sabbath can be traced all the way back to the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 where God rests – or shabbats – after six full days of work. Sabbath is also the 4th of our Ten Commandments,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11,

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Israel was to treat the Sabbath as a holy day, one that was set apart, to follow God’s example and rhythm of creating, working, and resting.

But from the first two verses in Luke 6, we see that the Pharisees – the religious elite and scriptural scholars at the time – accused the disciples of violating the Sabbath.

Luke 6:2,

But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

Now, it doesn’t seem like a major infraction to me. Are the disciples were breaking the Sabbath by simply plucking off a few heads of grain and eating them? And why would somebody do that? This would be worse than those oat bran muffins, they’re just eating oats. Right off the ground.

The Pharisee had corrupted God’s plan for the Sabbath. The Pharisees had developed the Halakha. A comprehensive, overreaching, complex and ever-evolving set of laws that regulated everything – religious observances, daily life, and conduct of the Jewish people. It provided very particular scenarios and actions of what would and would not qualify as an infraction against God’s law. At the time, the Halakha prohibited 39 different forms of work on the Sabbath day, one of which was reaping grain.

The Pharisees lived by the Halakha and regularly added more and more addendums to God’s commandments. Originally I’m sure they meant well, just to help practically guide the Jews in their daily lives. Also, they imposed upon each other these new rules as a type of “hedge.” They neither wanted to break God’s laws themselves or let a neighbor do so. The Pharisees wanted to ensure God’s blessing on themselves and their community, so they kept adding addendums to God’s law to keep people further and further away from breaking them.

Jesus points out that they completely missed God’s intent with the law, Luke 6:3-4,


And Jesus answering them said, “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?”

Jesus’ response sounds unrelated to the Sabbath, but the Pharisees understood. There was a complicated and confusing situation in 1 Samuel 21 that muddled the otherwise mechanical, simple framework of how the Pharisees understood and related to the laws of God.

In 1 Samuel 21, King David is running for his life, runs into the tabernacle, and eats the Showbread. What was showbread? Twelve loaves of bread, each weighing about 5 pounds, arranged in two piles on a special table. These showbread were always present and changed weekly, and represented a continuous offering to God. And David eats it.

David does what appears to be an act of deliberate disobedience. But God’s response is astonishing: God does not condemn him for doing so.

The Pharisees knew this story, but it didn’t fit. It didn’t agree with the way the Pharisees understood how rigid and demanding God was. They wrote their Halakha laws about the Sabbath, and just sort of ignored this story. Maybe they just didn’t want to think about because it just made many rules and regulations too complicated, even for the Pharisees. So… let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.

And yet, Jesus brings this story of David eating the showbread right in front of their noses. Not as excuse against the Sabbath, but as an illustration for better understanding it.

II. Misplaced Laws on a Misplaced Rest

Jesus prompted the Pharisees (and us) to think thoughtfully – not mechanically or legalistically or simplistically – but to think through this story. Was David in violation? Why was God’s response surprising?

God’s response to David when he ate the showbread in 1 Samuel 21 is that sometimes the Sabbath laws and worship laws can be set aside when there are more important things at hand. Not more important than God, but more important *to* God.

Not the moral laws – there’s no exception to commit adultery or to slander our neighbor. But 1 Samuel 21 shows us that there are times where the ceremonial, ritual and priestly laws can be set aside. Why is this the case?

It is because the ceremonial laws are provisional. They are meant to point us to the messiah. But when the messiah arrives, the provisional laws no longer have the same purpose. They are obsolete.

In other words, Sabbath laws, worship laws, priestly and sacrificial laws existed in Old Testament times to point to the Messiah who would come to fulfill those laws. Jesus.

Luke 6:5,

And He was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Notice that Jesus does not say that He has come to take the Sabbath away; but rather, that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “I am the one to whom the Sabbath regulations all point. Everything that the Sabbath is designed to point you to for rest and restoration – I am. I am the Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus is not advocating lawlessness or abolishing the law. He is actually advocating for the true intent of the Sabbath law that the Pharisees have clearly misplaced. He is reframing the Pharisees’ (and our own) sense of law and of rest. He is saying that the Sabbath law is not merely for following the regulation itself, nor is deep rest the reward for having kept the
law. The Sabbath is designed to lead us to where we can find true rest.

Jesus is saying that these particular Sabbath laws – which the Halakha outline in great detail – are obsolete because something greater is now at hand. Deep rest for the soul is found in Him and in His work for us.

What is deep rest, what does it look like, and how can we get it? Let’s look at the next part of Luke 6 verses 6-11,

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

This story happens on another Sabbath where Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Again, the Pharisees looked on, seeing what Jesus would do – whether He would violate a Sabbath law in the Halakha or not. Scholars say that the Halakha actually did include a provision for a doctor to work on the Sabbath if there were a great medical emergency. For instance, if someone was on the brink of death on the Sabbath, a doctor would not be condemned for laboring to save a life.

The medical case in our story was not great or urgent; it was a medical condition that had persisted for some time, likely since birth. It did not qualify for the medical provisions made in the Halakha. So, when Jesus, who was known for His many miraculously healings, approached the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees looked on with condescending anticipation. They actually wanted to see Jesus break their own law. They were ready to accuse and to condemn Him. In the face of these hostile Pharisees, Jesus healed the man’s withered right hand. And in doing so, He also exposed the Pharisees’ withered souls.

Ironically, the Pharisees and the Halakha already knew there had to be provision because of the medical practice was acceptable as long as it was something important. But they missed the “something important” because they were only focused on the law itself, rather than what the law pointed to: Someone more important. The purpose of the law to to enable man to flourish under God’s care, but they focused on the law, not the purpose of the law.

The purpose of the Sabbath is to provide rest in Him. And this story from Luke 6 illustrates this purpose. He takes what is withered in our life, and He restores it.

Luke, a doctor himself, made sure the readers understood it was the right hand. What is interesting is that in the Hebrew culture, the “right hand” was the clearest symbol of “power” and “work.” So when Jesus restores the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, Jesus also demonstrates that He has the right as the Lord of the Sabbath to restore our “right hand,” our “work,” our “power” to be free to do good on the Sabbath. The Lord of Sabbath works in our souls, our lives, and our daily work.

III. Restoring the Withered Soul

The Bible tells us that humanity ultimately cannot find deep peace and hope in this temporal life, what the Jews call “shalom,” not because we are overworked, but because we have all sinned against God and are separated from Him. God is the source of all peace and life. We feel this deep dissatisfaction because we are trying to fix what is wrong deep down by working at it, do fix this broken peace using our own ability and effort. But only God can restore what is broken and withered. God fixes it for us when we finally accept we cannot fix it on our own.

Remember in the Garden of Eden, before the fall of mankind and the introduction of sin, mankind was working. Work was a part of the paradise in which we lived. Work is good. Our sin, however, separated us from that paradise with God, it broke our relationship with the work He gave us to do. Work itself is not the problem; the problem is why we work, and for who we work. The problem is not that work exists, but the peace while work does not. We want to work and work and work to restore our peace, ease our turmoil, eliminate our insecurities and dissatisfactions.

Religious people often try to solve this deep dissatisfaction by their work for God. They think, “If I do many good works, then God will bless me.” Sometimes they even think, “God owes me.”

But non-religious people feel the same inner turmoil as religious people, but maybe they think, “If I do many great things, my self-image will be improved, I will have worth.”

Both religious and non-religious groups are working to prove themselves. We may think, “More work is what is needed. I can work my way up, I can work my way out.”

But how many good works is enough to be worthy? How much must I do for God to accept me? We will never know. Those religions that push good works can never answer this question. How much is enough? There is no rest; our soul withers under this unknown.

Jesus says, “I am the Lord of the Sabbath.” The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we cannot work our way through moral goodness back into right relationship with God. And we cannot work our way through worldly accomplishments to achieve deep feelings of acceptance, approval, and justification in our self-worth and self-image. A soul that has been forgiven and loved and restored can only happen when we trust in Jesus’ work for us on the cross, not our work for Him for ourselves. Our work will never be enough. His work is finished.

Matthew 11:28-30,

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Are you looking to your “moral work” to give you a sense of deep peace and relief that God really loves you and accepts you? Are you looking to your “vocational work” to give you a sense of deep peace that you matter and are significant? Both moral work and vocational work will not save our souls from existential dread. Only Jesus on the cross can. To our withered souls, He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus’ work restores our relationship with God, restores the way He relates to us, and the way we relate to Him. But His work also restores the way we relate to our work.

IV. Restoring the Withered Hand

How does Jesus’ work restore not only our souls but also our work? The gospel says we are not God, our identity is not in our work, and therefore, we can rest from our work. As Christians, we do not have the “rules” surrounding the Sabbath any longer, as the Old Testament or the Halakha outlines. But this does not mean we neglect the Sabbath altogether; after all, it is a moral law. It’s one of the Ten Commandments.

The question is not what laws we follow regarding the Sabbath, but how we follow the intent of the Sabbath. What is in our hearts? God gave us the Sabbath to restore our withered hands, bodies, and minds for a continued, renewed sense of work. We must employ a structure and follow disciplines in our own lives to ensure that we have a day off from our work.

So what should we do? Here are some ideas to make sure you have a Sabbath in your life that restores your soul, mind, and body –

A. Take the Sabbath religiously. Maybe you can’t be at church on Sunday or when most people would typically “Sabbath.” But set aside 1 day a week after the example of God to rest from your work. Makes sure your day off is truly a day off. Forbid yourself from working on your Sabbath. Work hard on work days. Rest hard on rest days.

B. Spend time in contemplation, reminding yourself who God is and who you are. Worship Him.

C. Unplug. Don’t structure your day. Let yourself be drawn into what you like to do instead of what you must do.

V. Conclusion

God wants to bless us through our work, but He doesn’t want us to be slaves to our work. We need a healthy balance of working hard and resting well. And that rest can only be found in Him, and recognize the work He did, He did it all. Our own efforts cannot fulfill us. Rest in the Lord Jesus Christ and the work He did can restore our withered lived.

Why did God create the Sabbath? Like so many precious things from the Lord, it’s a gift to us. Mark 2:27,

Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath. Receive the Sabbath as a gift to restore your mind, your body, and your soul.

To God be the glory.