The Lord Of The Sabbath
"For the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8); therefore he is Lord of God's commandment. This puts him on an equality with God; this proves his divinity.
The primary purpose of the first four books of the New Testament is to prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the Savior of men. John states the main objective of all four of these books when he says, "These are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name" (Jno. 20:31).
Many kinds of proof were presented, the testimony of many witnesses was given, and many arguments were made by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to establish the divine sonship of Jesus. One argument was used by all four of these writers to prove that Jesus was "equal with God" (Jno. 5:18), and therefore was everything he claimed to be; namely, that he was Lord of the Sabbath. To prove that he could set aside or abolish the Sabbath law, is to prove that he is Lord of the Sabbath. If he is Lord of the Sabbath, he is Lord of a commandment of God. If he is Lord of God's commandment, he is divine. If he is divine, he is everything he claimed to be.
In their zeal to prove that the Sabbath law is still binding, Sabbatarians do not seem to realize they are attacking an argument used by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to establish the divinity of Jesus.
That the significance of the statement, "The Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:28), may be more fully appreciated, attention is directed first to
THE SABBATH LAW UNDER THE OLD COVENANT 1. To whom, when, and why given.
The word Sabbath, meaning cessation from labor, was first applied to the seventh day of the week in Ex. 16, about 2500 years after creation, when the Israelites were forbidden to gather manna on that day. "Tomorrow is a solemn rest, a holy Sabbath unto Jehovah." God's purpose in this first Sabbath commandment was, "That I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or not" (Ex. 16:4).
The sanctity and the significance of the Sabbath was not revealed to any man until the law was given on Sinai, when it became the fourth commandment of the Decalogue. "Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai. . . and madest known unto them thy holy Sabbath" (Neh. 9:13, 14). God had rested on the seventh day of creation week, and some time later (we know not when), he "blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made" (Gen. 2:3). The Sabbath is not a "memorial of creation, God created any thing at any time, but because "he had rested" on that day.
The law given at Sinai revealed the sanctity of the Sabbath to the Israelites, and made known unto them its meaning as a memorial of their deliverance from Egypt. There they were told, "Thou shalt remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and Jehovah thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm: therefore Jehovah thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day" (Deut. 5:15). It could not be observed as a memorial of the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage until that event had occurred; therefore the covenant containing the Sabbath was not made with the fathers before the exodus from Egypt (see Deut. 5:2, 3). The Sabbath was a "sign" between God and the Israelites (Ezk. 20:12), and nobody else, because they were the only people delivered from Egypt.
2. How Kept.
Work on the Sabbath was forbidden for both man and beast. "In it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy man-servant and thy maid-servant may rest as well as thou" (Deut. 5:14).
They were forbidden to carry so much as an arm load through the gates of Jerusalem or out of their houses. "Take heed to yourselves and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, neither do ye any work" (Jer. 17:21, 22).
They could not kindle a fire on that day. "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day" (Ex. 35:3). It is well to observe just here that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27) ; therefore it was never made for men who live in the coldest climates. A commandment that forbids a man's kindling a fire in a cold climate could not be for man's good. That would make man the servant of the commandment rather than the commandment the servant of man. No fire was to be kindled "throughout your habitations" the Israelites' habitations. They never lived in a real cold climate.
They were forbidden to buy or sell on the Sabbath. "And if the peoples of the land bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy of them on the Sabbath" (Neh. 10:31).
3. Penalty for Violation
Death was the penalty for violating the Sabbath law. "Whosoever doeth any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death" (Ex. 31:15). "And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness they found a man gathering sticks upon the Sabbath day... And Jehovah said unto Moses, The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him to death with stones; as Jehovah commanded Moses" (Num. '15:32-36).
No law can be of any force unless there be a penalty for violation of that Law. To abolish the penalty for violation of a law is to abolish that law itself. If the Old Testament penalty—death—has been abolished for violating the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, then that Old Testament commandment has been abolished. The New Testament fails to give any penalty for violating the Old Testament law; therefore we conclude that the law of Moses has been "blotted out," even as Paul said (Col. 2:14).
Jesus And The Sabbath
Jesus intended all the time to abolish the Sabbath law, which he did in his death (Col. 2:14-16). Nine of the ten commandments were to be included in changed form in the New Covenant, but the Sabbath law was not to be included in any form; therefore Jesus must prepare his disciples for its removal. Then he can serve a twofold purpose in proving himself to be Lord of the Sabbath: it will establish his divinity; it will prepare the disciples for the abolition of the Sabbath law. This aroused, the hatred and bitter opposition of many of the Jews. Their hostility and their persecution of Jesus can be traced in all the first four books of the New Testament to his apparent disregard for the sanctity of the Sabbath law.
1. At the Pool of Bethesda.
On the Sabbath day at the Bethesda pool (Jno. 5:1-18), Jesus commanded an impotent man: "Arise, take up thy bed, and walk." It was unlawful for this man to carry his bed on the Sabbath day (Jer. 17:21), and the Jews told him so (Jno. 5:10). When they learned it was Jesus who had told the man to take up his bed and walk, they persecuted Jesus because he did these things on the Sabbath (Jno. 5:16).
On this occasion Jesus made no denial of a breach of the Sabbath law. He did not try to explain that the law provided for what he had done, for it did not. The law said "thou shalt not do any work;" Jesus answered his persecutors with a bold confession that he had worked (Jno. 5:17), and a public assertion of his equality with God (Jno. 5:18). This demonstration of his lordship over the Sabbath has an important bearing on the discourse of his claim of equality with God, which immediately followed (Jno. 5:19-47). Modern Sabbatarians do not understand the fifth chapter of John. Jesus later referred to the events of this chapter and gave circumcision precedence over the Sabbath law (Jno. 7:21-23).
2. In the Grainfields.
While passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath the disciples of Jesus plucked ears, "and did eat, rubbing them in their hands" (Lk. 6:1). Again the Pharisees charged them with violating the Sabbath law. Jesus justified what his disciples had done, not by denying that it was contrary to the Sabbath law, but by two illustrations:
(1) David and his men entered the house of God and ate the showbread, which it was not lawful for them to eat, but only for the priests (Matt. 12:4). The need of David and his men was more important than the sacredness of the showbread, and this justified their unlawful procedure. Then the need of the disciples of Jesus who is Lord of the Sabbath (v. 8) is more important than the sacredness of the Sabbath, and this justified their unlawful procedure in gathering and rubbing out the grain.
(2) The priests profaned the Sabbath in performing their duties in the temple, and were guiltless because the temple service was greater than the Sabbath (Matt. 12:5). Then the disciples of Jesus, who is Lord of the Sabbath and greater than the temple, can profane the Sabbath and remain guiltless (Matt. 12:6-8).
In the two illustrations of Matt. 12:1-8 Jesus teaches that human needs are superior to the sanctity of the Sabbath; that the burnt offerings of the temple service justify profaning the Sabbath; that he is greater than the temple, therefore greater than the Sabbath which is inferior to the temple service and sacrifices.
3. The Woman Healed.
Because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath a woman who had been afflicted for eighteen years, a ruler of one of the synagogues was moved with indignation and ordered such work to cease on the Sabbath day (Lk. 13:10-17). In his reply Jesus told these opposing Jews that they themselves gave the thirst of an ox or an ass greater importance than they gave the sanctity of the Sabbath. Then he reasoned that surely the health of this woman was of greater import than any Sabbath law.
We conclude from the teaching of Jesus concerning the Sabbath that it was never "the great" commandment of the law. Jesus taught that it was inferior to everything in
the law of Moses with which he compared it: the hunger of men (Matt, 12;1-4), the law of mercy to an ox or an ass
(Lk. 13:15), the law of circumcision (Jno. 7:21-23), the burnt offerings of the temple service (Matt. 12:5), the health of an afflicted woman (Lk. 13:16) the recovery of a sick man (Jno. 5:2-18); all were more important than the sacredness of the Sabbath, and for them the Sabbath could be and was set aside. This proves that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath; that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and therefore can remove it when the good of man requires; that being Lord of the Sabbath—Lord of a commandment of God—he is equal with God who gave the commandment, and therefore divine. It also prepares his disciples for the final abolition of the Sabbath law which was accomplished in his death on the cross (Col. 2:14-16).
The End Of The Law
A new covenant was necessary because the old covenant was weak, faulty, against us, and contrary to us. The old covenant had to be removed before a new covenant could be given. Sabbatarians seem unwilling to accept the fact that the old covenant was weak and faulty, even though God himself did say so. "For there is a disannulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness" (Heb. 7:18). "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Heb. 8:7, 8).
To say that the law of Moses is faulty is no reflection on God. The trouble was with man, not God. God could have given man a perfect law at Sinai; but man was "not able to bear it." Jehovah gave man a weak law because of the weakness of the man to whom the law was given. Jesus said (Matt. 19:7, 8) that was the reason why the law of divorce and remarriage (Deut. 24:1-4) was included in the old covenant. For this same reason God said nothing in the ten commandments or the rest of the law of Moses to prohibit polygamy. Because of their faulty spiritual nature God gave the Israelites a law that tolerated polygamy (II Sam. 5:13; 12:8), until man could be made ready for a law that would not tolerate polygamy, nor divorce and re-marriage for every cause. A new born babe is given a very weak food, not because a stronger food cannot be supplied, but because the weakness of the child requires a weak food.
No law is perfect which permits polygamy, divorce and remarriage for every cause. These things were permitted under the old covenant. Therefore the old covenant was not perfect.
The Sabbath law was one of those "ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross... Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come" (Col. 2:14-17). This is the only reference to the seventh day Sabbath, which was made by Paul in any of the books written by him. And here he listed it with the meats and drinks and feast days and new moons and the other shadows of the law.
But how could the Sabbath law be against us and contrary to us? Much in every way. First, it made no provision for the kind of work which Jesus did (Jno. 5:8, 16, 17; Matt. 12:1-8); if so, where? Second, because it made no provision for the operation of the law of mercy to man and beast (Lk. 13:10-17) ; if so, where? Third, because the people of the extreme northern regions would freeze to death, if they were bound by it (Ex. 35:3). Therefore when Jesus challenged the law of Moses in Matt. 5, he challenged the whole system, Decalogue and all.