When Jesus healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda, did the onlookers cheer at the sight of this man who was miraculously walking along, carrying his bed? No, they said, “It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed” (John 5:10).
When Jesus’ disciples were eating corn that they had plucked from a cornfield, did the Pharisees say to Jesus, “Sorry to disturb your lunch”? No, “they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:2, Mark 2:24, Luke 6:2).
Seems to be a pattern developing.
After leaving the cornfield, Jesus goes into the synagogue. It’s still the sabbath day. There is a man there with a withered hand — it’s his right hand (reports Luke, the doctor) that is unable to be used, likely making it impossible for the man to be able to work. Oh boy — Jesus is here, a sick man is here, it’s the Sabbath day. No wonder the tension is thick as “the scribes and Pharisees watched him [to see] whether he would heal on the sabbath day” (Luke 6:7).
Jesus calls the man forward so that everyone can see him. He tells him to stretch forth his hand and everyone watches the man’s hand restored to normal, equivalent to his other hand!
The place erupts! Praising God for this miracle? No, “the Pharisees were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus, how they might destroy him” (Luke 6:11, Matthew 12:14, Mark 3:6).
What mistake were the Pharisees making? OK, they were so blinded with hatred for Jesus that they couldn’t see straight. But, besides that, the Pharisees had taken a concept that God had instituted for the good of mankind (the Sabbath) and turned it into something totally different.
When God established the Sabbath day, it was defined simply as a day when men shouldn’t work — God wanted man to rest from his labors one day in seven (as God did when He created the world). It was man who expanded the definition of work to include a wide range of activities that were forbidden on the Sabbath day. Getting something to eat, healing the sick, even rescuing an animal who falls into a pit — did God intend for these actions to be punishable by death because they were done on a certain day of the week?
No, it was always about it being a day of rest. As Jesus puts it, “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that people would tend toward working themselves (and each other) to death, given the opportunity. That they would fill their lives with an abundance of “things to do” such that every day would be busy, busy, busy. A day of rest gave the opportunity to recharge, both body and mind.
However, the intention was not that people would do absolutely nothing on this day of rest. Rather, without having to work, people would be able to focus on worshipping God, something that could very easily be pushed aside by someone who is oh-so busy every day. Worship included attending the synagogue, studying the scriptures, prayer, etc. And, as Jesus made clear, anything associated with serving God, including healing the sick. As He stated, “it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (Matthew 12:12).
Does any of this apply to us today?
Well, on the one hand, the Church today does not observe a “sabbath day.” The Sabbath, as described in the Bible, was (A) for the House of Israel, (B) a mandate to not work at all, (C) on the seventh day of the week (Saturday) and (D) punishable by death if violated. We do not have a sabbath day today. Over the years, some people have tried to call Sunday the “Christian Sabbath,” but there is nothing in the scriptures to support this concept.
On the other hand, if you look at the reasons why God created the Sabbath (as described earlier in this article), those very much apply to us today.
- We need a time to rest from our busy lives.
- We need a designated time to attend church (and hear God’s Word, take communion, pray, sing, testify, fellowship, etc.).
- We need time to do other good things related to our service to God (which can include visiting the sick, fellowshipping with the saints, spending time with family, etc.).
Is there a time we can set aside on a regular basis to accomplish all of the above? How about Sunday? It’s not the Sabbath, but it is the first day of the week, allowing us to put the Lord first. It’s the day of the week that Christ resurrected. Church services take place on that day. Doesn’t it make sense for us to arrange our lives such that we can be active in serving God that day while we rest from our regular labors?
This is not to say that Sunday has to be the only day that we do these things, but, at a minimum, we should try to reserve Sunday for these purposes. Think of Sunday as “The Lord’s Day” — it belongs to Him. If we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us on “His day,” we will be exactly where He wants us to be — and exactly where we want to be — without the need for rules and regulations to govern where we should be or what we should be doing.
Or we can work seven days a week — whether to earn money or just trying to “get everything done” — and wish we had time to be closer to God. Which approach sounds better?
OK, your life is really busy, but can you spare a day? God knew what He was doing when He pushed Israel to set aside one day per week. Today, we need to push ourselves to do the same.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.