This question was often asked of the Lord. Why did He persist in doing things guaranteed to arouse the ire of His detractors? Seems like almost every time He healed someone, it was on the Sabbath.
Several times I’ve shown how ordinances that were external and physical in the Old Testament became internal and spiritual in the New. (The failure to understand this is what causes many to believe the God of the Old is somehow different from the God of the New.) Viewing the Sabbath in this way will give us the answer to our question.
In The Beginning
Let’s start at Genesis 2:2-3, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” And Exodus 20:8 and 11, the passage where the 10 Commandments are given; “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy … for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Pick up Sticks
The fact that this was a serious matter is underscored by an incident in Numbers 15:32-36 where a man was discovered gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Not knowing what to do, Moses inquired of the Lord. “The man must die, said the Lord.” So they stoned Him to death.
The Pharisees are coming from this perspective when they condemn Jesus. His response, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27) has been interpreted to mean that it’s good for us to take a rest one day in seven, but not to become fanatical about it. I think there’s a lot more to it. Otherwise, how do you reconcile the Old Testament view with the New? In one you have the Lord condemning a man to death, and in the other His almost caviler attitude toward violation.
Contained in the Old, Explained in the New
This only makes sense if the Lord was trying to teach them that their obsessive obedience to an external and physical ordinance was missing the point. The phrase “the Sabbath was made for man…” clearly means that man is supposed to learn something from the Old Testament experience, but what? Let’s find out.
The Lord made the Sabbath a day of rest because He had finished “all the work of creating He had done.” There was nothing left to do. Having pronounced it all “very good” He declared the job done and rested. Get the point? When the job is finished, stop working and rest.
Another Work of Creation Finished
In 2 Cor 5:17 we are described as a “new creation” and told that from the Lord’s point of view the old has gone and the new has come. This new creation occurred the moment we invited the Lord into our hearts. The work of salvation was finished. There was nothing left to do. Having become holy and blameless, without spot or blemish, we rest. See the parallel?
Read Hebrews 4:9-10. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” The writer was explaining to his believing Jewish readers that just as God rested from the work of creating when it was finished, so are we to rest from the work of salvation when it is finished. (The only work we can do is to believe in what He has done; John 6:28-29.) It’s called our Sabbath-rest and it lasts the remainder of our lives. What was external and physical has become internal and spiritual.
With Man This is Impossible, but Not With God
For the Pharisees, the work was never finished. Each morning as they began the new day, 613 laws were right there before them, demanding to be kept. It didn’t matter how well they had done yesterday, the score was reset to zero every morning. Try as they might, they could never produce a new creation, because “the law was only a shadow of the good things to come, not the realities themselves.” (Hebrews 10:1)
From the cross, Jesus cried, “It is finished,” and died. He was referring to the work of salvation. When you accept His death as payment in full for your sins, your work is finished. You have become a new creation and enter His Sabbath-rest.
Why Do You Do What is Unlawful on the Sabbath?
So the Sabbath was made for man; to teach us that when the work is finished we rest. No need to add anything; no need to worry. Continuing to work for salvation during your Sabbath-rest is still punishable by death, because it means you aren’t really saved. It proves that you haven’t accepted the Lord’s work on your behalf as being complete and are trying to finish the work of salvation yourself, something that can only lead to spiritual death. Remember; it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… not by works lest anyone should boast.
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)