“Then Jesus said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!’” Mark 2:27-28 (NLT2)
Only religion, I suppose, can turn a blessing into a burden! And unfortunately, that’s exactly what the Pharisees did with the Sabbath by the time Jesus walked this earth in His humanity. According to one Biblical scholar, “Jewish tradition stated that there were thirty-nine acts that were strictly forbidden on the Sabbath. Moses had prohibited work on the Sabbath, but he did not give many specifics (Ex. 20:10). It was wrong to kindle a fire for cooking (Ex. 35:3), gather fuel (Num. 15:32ff), carry burdens (Jer. 17:21ff), or transact business (Neh. 10:31; 13:15, 19). But Jewish tradition went into great detail and even informed the people how far they could travel on the Sabbath (200 cubits, based on Josh. 3:4). In short, the Sabbath Day had become a crushing burden, a symbol of the galling religious bondage that had captured the nation.” (Bible Exposition Commentary)
On four separate occasions Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees and religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath Day. Mark describes one of those accounts in chapter three:
“Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If He healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse Him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man, ‘Come and stand in front of everyone.’ Then He turned to His critics and asked, ‘Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?’ But they wouldn’t answer Him. He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then He said to the man, ‘Hold out your hand.’ So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.” Mark 3:1-6 (NLT2)
Bible teacher and Pastor Warren Wiersbe adds, “Jesus could see ‘the hardening of their hearts’ (literal translation), and their sin made Him angry. Our Lord never became angry at the publicans and sinners, but He did express anger toward the self-righteous Pharisees (Matt. 23). They would rather protect their traditions than see a man healed!” How tragic!
This is the problem with legalism about the Sabbath today. God created the Sabbath for man, Jesus said, “not man for the Sabbath.” But for the religious leaders and Pharisees, Sabbath rules had become more important than Sabbath rest. The problem comes when we elevate the letter of the law above the Spirit of the law. The intent of God’s laws is to promote love for God and others. Love is supreme. If love is not motivating your obedience then it has been reduced to ritual and tradition. Because God loves us, He commands a Sabbath rest. Keeping the Sabbath holy means setting aside one day out of seven to rest from your regular work. It means working 24/6 instead of 24/7 and using that one day for worship, fellowship, and rest out of love for God.
In the New Testament Church, we find a shift of corporate worship to Sunday, referred to as “the Lord’s Day” because it was the day Jesus arose from the dead. It was a day of celebration and became the first day of the week. As Christ followers became more and more removed from the Temple or Synagogues through persecution and excommunication, they would gather in homes for worship on Sundays. One Bible teacher put it like this:
“On this day (Sunday), we are reminded of, and participate in, the glorious reality that we have already entered God’s rest (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 4:10) and that we await the experience of the fullness of this rest in eternity in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21-22). We now assemble corporately for worship and enjoy a foretaste of our eternal rest, then go out into the kingdom of this world to work for six days.” (Daniel Hyde, Ligonier Ministries)
Under the New Covenant, Jesus is Lord, even over the Sabbath. You don’t have to become legalistic to keep the Sabbath. It was intended to be a blessing and not a burden, to be enjoyed, not endured. Use it for the rest and recreation God designed and experience His love for you and others as you do.