*Which day is the Sabbath of the Bible?
*How did the Jews make a burden of the Sabbath?
*What did Jesus do on the Sabbath?
*Did Jesus actually work on the Sabbath?
*Why is Friday an important day for the Sabbath?
One of the primary considerations Christ repeatedly addressed had to do with the weekly Sabbath, that is, Saturday, the seventh day of the week. What did Jesus have to say about the Sabbath? We know from the Bible that the Sabbath was established at Creation. “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:1-3). In Exodus 20:8 we find Israel was instructed to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” This means the knowledge about the Sabbath was already known by the people of Israel.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Ex. 20:9-11).
Ask any informed theologian which day is the Sabbath of the Bible, and he can clearly tell you. Neither Catholics or Protestants are confused regarding which biblical day of the week is the Sabbath. The same is true with the Jewish people. All these are clearly aware which day is the seventh day of the week and which day is the first day of the week. The Sabbath day is a day of rest, set aside for mankind’s use and benefit. Also, the Sabbath is a sign given to identify God’s true people. In Exodus 31:13 we read: “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. . . . Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord.” The universal scope of the Sabbath is seen in Isaiah 56:2, 5-6.
Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. . . . Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant.
But the children of Israel did not keep God’s Sabbath faithfully. They polluted it. We read this in the book of Ezekiel.
Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted . . . (Ezek. 20:10-13).
After the return from the Babylonian captivity, the Jews had learned their lesson regarding Sabbath-breaking. But, they went to the opposite extreme. They added a myriad of man-made laws to the Sabbath, making its observance intolerable. This was one of the sources of great irritation between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus took these leaders to task on more than one occasion for their man-made traditions.
. . . He answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? . . . Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:3, 7-9).
This accusation against the religious leaders was certainly true regarding the Sabbath. Jesus said it was just as bad to add to God’s Word as it was to take away from it. During His time period it was not a matter of Sabbath-breaking; it was adding all kinds of rules and regulations that God never intended.
Jesus demonstrated, as recorded in the book of Mark, His habit regarding the Sabbath. Remember, He did set the example and we should follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21). Notice His example.
And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him. And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes (Mark 1:19-22).
Notice the connection here-Sabbath and synagogue. As God in the flesh, Jesus taught. It was His mission to teach the way to salvation, but the important point for us to notice is that He set the example by attending services on the Sabbath. Assembling at a holy convocation was His practice. Notice again. “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16). So, Christ kept the Sabbath.
What are other teachings and examples of Jesus regarding the Sabbath? Notice this example.
And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).
The disciples were doing nothing wrong. They had an Old Testament precedent for what they were doing. “When thou comest into the standing corn of thy neighbour, then thou mayest pluck the ears with thine hand; but thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbour’s standing corn” (Deut. 23:25). The disciples were not breaking the Sabbath by harvesting; they were simply tasting a few handfuls of grain. But to the Pharisees they were Sabbath-breaking. So, the problem was with the Pharisees, not with Christ or His disciples. There was no law prohibiting what the disciples had done, but there was a manmade law the Pharisees had added. Jesus, by His teaching, was saying that if there is a necessity, it is permissible to eat something on the Sabbath when nothing has been previously prepared. The key is found in Mark 2:27, “. . . The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” It was never God’s intention to make Sabbath observance an intolerable burden to shoulder. The Sabbath was intended to be a day of rest and joy. The Sabbath was to serve man; it was not established for man to serve the Sabbath.
Another teaching regarding the Sabbath is found in Matthew 24. Though it is brief, it points out an important principle. “But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day” (Matt. 24:20). To flee on the Sabbath day would cause one to break the Sabbath. One could not keep the Sabbath under such circumstances; he would be running for his life. If we have any real concern for the Sabbath, this is one thing we will be praying about. It would not be a pleasant experience to break the Sabbath under such circumstances. The Sabbath is not a day to be running for one’s life. The Sabbath is set aside in honor of worship toward God. It is a day to refrain from labor, from one’s normal routine, from one’s job, and the things one does on a regular basis. It is not a day to be fleeing.
Jesus often healed the sick on the Sabbath. Here is one example.
And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him. But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other (Luke 6:6-10).
Now, where in the Law of God can we find that it was forbidden to heal anyone on the Sabbath? There is no such law! Yet, the Pharisees had one; it was another addition to the Law of God. In their quest to be righteous they had made themselves more “righteous” than God. Matthew’s account records that Christ pointedly told them, “. . . it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (Matt. 12:12). So, what Christ was saying here is that when the opportunity arises it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. What was their reaction to this instruction and miracle? “And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11).
Here is another example of Christ healing on the Sabbath and His teaching regarding it.
And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day (Luke 13:11-14).
Notice the accusation here. Jesus was accused of working. Now, how much work was involved in laying hands on the woman and saying, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity”? Such hypocrisy! This is why Jesus answered, “. . . Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16). The teaching here is that if leading an ox or an ass to drink on the Sabbath was not work, then laying hands on someone for the purpose of healing on the Sabbath is not work either. There are other examples of Jesus healing on the Sabbath where He was accused of working, but this one makes the principle plain.
The accusation that the Jews made against Christ for Sabbath-breaking in John 5:18 reflects their interpretation of what work was. He had ordered a man to carry his mat on the Sabbath, which could hardly be classified as work in the normal sense. Jesus had just healed this man who had been unable to walk for thirty-eight years. Jesus’ reply to the Jews was, “. . . My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17), proving that healing a man and carrying a mat on the Sabbath was not work in the sight of God. Another point to call to our attention is that circumcision was a requirement under the law. If the day of circumcision fell on the Sabbath, circumcision took precedence over the normal restrictions of the Sabbath (John 7:23). This operation was permitted on the Sabbath, which involved a lot more work than a miraculous healing by Jesus Christ. So, according to Christ there was no justification for condemning Him for healing on the Sabbath. The same conclusion can be drawn regarding the miraculous healing of a man born blind. Jesus was accused of Sabbath-breaking because he mixed a little clay with spittle and anointed the man’s eyes (John 9:16). The extremes that the Pharisees went to in order to accuse Jesus are so unbalanced they are senseless.
So, it is important to be balanced in worship and not to go to extremes one way or the other. Friday is the preparation day for the Sabbath. Most of the cooking should be prepared in advance so that the day does not have to be spent in the kitchen. There should be no need for shopping and heavy cooking on the Sabbath. In this way the observance of the Sabbath can be happy and balanced. It is all a matter of one’s orientation and learning to think in advance. If one has the proper respect and fear for God and His law then common sense will prevail and one will be balanced in one’s worship toward God.