I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath…?
While Jesus’ reputation for healing and teaching has grown, this has also attracted the attention of the Jewish elite, namely the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They have witnessed Jesus heal and declare himself able to forgive sins. They have heard him pardon his disciples for revelling in his presence. We now read of the Pharisees seeking out ways to trap Jesus.
- 1-5 Sabbath law lesson number one
- 6-10 Sabbath law lesson number two
- 11 Sabbath law lesson number three?
1-5 Sabbath law lesson number one
“One Sabbath…” It’s clear that this story concerns the Sabbath. Exodus 16:23-29 describes the first Sabbaths instituted (aside from God’s rest on the seventh day of creation). Exodus 20:8-11 describes the Sabbath command. Exodus 31:13-17 expand on this. It is given to the people of God as a reminder that it is God who saves and not people. It is a forced rest in order to learn and practice dependance on God.
“…walking through the grainfields…pic some heads of grain…eat the kernels.” See Deuteronomy 23:24-25 to see how Jesus and the disciples were not guilty of stealing. The crime they will be charged of is breaking the Sabbath.
“Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?” Well, let’s remember where we can read that! 1 Samuel 21:1-6 describes a scenario where something holy is given to David and his men on the basis that they are hungry and this was the only thing available for them.
“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus is most likely referring to himself as the Son of Man. This is the second time Luke has included that phrase from Jesus describing himself and Daniel 7 is the best Old Testament reference to explain why he uses this phrase. It encapsulates both his humanity and his deity. Jesus is stating that the Sabbath reports to Him and not the other way round! Mark 2:27 adds another remark from Jesus where he reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath is a gift, not a chore: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
6-10 Sabbath law lesson number two
“On another Sabbath…” Luke has put these two stories together for their message but clearly at least 7 days separate them.
“…into the synagogue and was teaching…” This was common for Jesus, and later the disciples, to do. Luke 4:14-15; Acts 17:2. Watching movies of Jesus gives me the impression that all he ever did was preach on hillsides and country areas but Luke shows us that he worked alongside faith seekers (AKA faithful Jews) to teach them. He taught in the very places you’d expect to hear the word of God.
“…and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled.” Temple laws of cleanness did not apply in the Synagogues. This man is mentioned not because it was strange that he was there but because the story revolves around Jesus healing him.
“…looking for a reason to accuse Jesus…” We see the temperature rise in the book of Luke as the Pharisees are now on the hunt for something to say against Jesus. What a sorry state for those men’s souls – listening to the Word of Life in order to find fault instead of receive life themselves. They even had his crime predicted: that he would heal on the Sabbath.
“But Jesus knew what they were thinking…” Shall we say that Jesus can read minds or that he is insightful to people’s intentions and hearts? Either and both are possible. No doubt God knows our thoughts before we speak them (Psalm 139:2,23) but how much does Jesus know? See Matthew 9:4. The least we must say is that Jesus knew people and although the Pharisees were secretly thinking this and that, Jesus brings the conversation to the public space for all to hear.
“Get up…so he got up…” Jesus commands the man and he obeys. The man is not just someone in the crowd now, he stands with Jesus on show. Jesus will either make a good point here or humiliate himself and the cripple. Of course the former is true.
“…which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Certain logic would suggest a third option and that is to let it be! Save, destroy or live and let live. That’s three options but Jesus only offers two. God’s holiness only works in binary fashion as the test has always been to choose between good or evil (Genesis 2:10 Psalm 34:14, 37:27, 52:3, Isaiah 5:20, Jeremiah 4:22, Luke 6:45), life or death (Deuteronomy 28-30), love or hate (Psalm 97:10, Ecclesiastes 3:8, Luke 16:13). Loving God and loving our neighbour requires choosing good, love and life. To do anything outside of this aligns with evil, hate and death. Paul spoke about the fruit of the Spirit as virtues that there are no laws against. That is, always choose those ways: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
“He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”” Jesus’ enemy were silent throughout this whole episode. They did not verbally challenge Jesus on anything but Jesus knew what they were thinking. They did not answer Jesus’ question about what is the right response on the Sabbath. Of course the answers to Jesus’ questions were ‘do good and save life’ or ‘don’t do evil or destroy life.’ Jesus answers his own question by healing the man on the Sabbath. What has he done but good to this man. It was an easy thing for Jesus to do and he chose to do good. He could have done it the day before or the day after but his issue was not with this cripple but with the men whose religion was crippled. In healing the lame man, perhaps he could heal the lame worshippers who have misunderstood the point of the Sabbath.
11 Sabbath law lesson number three?
“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” So, it’s not ok for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath but it is ok for the Pharisees to watch carefully to trap Jesus (verse 7) and then plot against him (verse 11). We must ask the Pharisees, ‘are you now doing good and saving life in hearts this Sabbath or is this evil and life destroying pans that you are making?’ The Pharisees fail to see that their view of Sabbath law is entirely external and does not include the attitude of the heart. Sure, they may be abstaining from work and denying themselves, attempting to keep the 5th commandment, but inwardly they are breaking the 6th and 9th (Exodus 20:1-17; Leviticus 19:18) while misunderstanding what the 5th is for.
The Sabbath observance is to promote dependance on God, not dependance on law. It was made for man’s sake. Religion fails to see the good that things are given for and turns them into burdens and masters. The commandments are for loving God and loving our neighbours and will promote goodness and life that the Spirit grows in us from within. Observing the law as the Pharisees did does not care for God and fellow man as God intended. While the Pharisees thought they knew the law and how to live it out, Jesus knows the thoughts of man and how to point them to life.
- Topic A: Does the 5th commandment still apply to Christians today? Jesus’ lessons on the Sabbath to the Pharisees give us an excellent approach to discussing this question. Was Jesus attempting to abolish the law or was he trying to teach the Pharisees how to see the law clearly? As humans, we have hearts by nature which break all ten of the commandments regularly but we know that we find forgiveness in Jesus’ name (1 John 1:8-9). The question is not whether the commandments are still applicable or not but what do the commandments teach us? The Sabbath is given for man’s sake to stop and deny himself and acknowledge that God is in charge (sovereign), God provides and the law of utmost importance is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
- Topic B: Being conscious of evil in us. Jesus brought a challenge to the Pharisees even though they had not said anything to him. He knew what they were thinking and this in itself was a problem. The Pharisees only cared about what people did but Jesus cares about what people think. One way to bring our evil thoughts to the surface is to speak with God about them. Jesus forced the Pharisees’ opinions to be public even though they did not engage verbally with Jesus. God calls on us to confess our sins and be made right with him through Christ’s blood. 1 John 1:5-7ff.
- Topic C: Souls that seek a saviour. Here is a truth: we are not to model our lives after the Pharisees in this passage. They were ‘looking for a reason to accuse Jesus’ and then ‘began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.’ Even as Christians we can practice, at times, the heart of the Pharisee that seeks to accuse and critique at the expense of hearing the truth. Of course, the bible teaches us to be discerning and when there are wolves in sheep’s clothing that is prudent. But would you describe yourself as eager to learn more from God or more often critical, cynical and sore toward people explaining the word of God?
Prayer of the Week
Heavenly Father, thank you for life and health and safety and for the leisure that we have to worship you publicly and openly in this country. Please guide our hearts to greater love of Jesus and the truth. Please guide our minds toward goodness and life and help us to discern when our hearts are bent towards evil and destruction. Thank you for forgiving our sins through the work and resurrection of Jesus. Help us to love you more each day and to care for our fellow-man as Jesus has shown us. Amen.