a. First mention of the Sabbath in the gospel of Matthew; b. Jesus' custom on Sabbath; c. Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth.
Let us continue with the events that happened with Jesus' disciples in that
grain field on a Sabbath. We have seen already discovered Jesus' response to the
Pharisees accusing his disciples of breaking the Sabbath law. We have seen that
the moral law is above the ceremonial law, but somehow the Sabbath law can be
broken in favour of the ceremonial law.
The first mention of Jesus and the Sabbath in the gospel of Matthew is this very episode, found in Matt 12:1-8. It is interesting to note that Jesus and His disciples, on the Sabbath Day, were gathering food. This is exactly what the Israelites were forbidden to do 2000 years earlier (Exodus 16)! It is obvious to all that Jesus is trying to teach us something here. Not only is He breaking the rule of not gathering food on Sabbath, He is pointing out that the Sabbath can be broken in favour of the ceremonial law!
By what authority can He do this? Matt 12:6: "I tell you that one greater than the temple is here." Jesus' authority is greater than the temple and it's ceremonial law. Jesus is the Son of God, soon to be giving His life in ransom to bring salvation to a fallen humanity. Jesus has authority that humans do not have! He is the Creator: John 1:10-11 "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." Jesus knows what He is talking about!
Let's read Jesus' next response: Matt 12:8 "For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." What does this mean? Does this mean the Sabbath law is never to be broken? Well, we've just seen that Jesus and His disciples were breaking the Sabbath law. We also discovered that Israelites were permitted to break that law in favour of ceremonial laws.
To understand the concept of Jesus being the Lord of the Sabbath, I would like to use an illustration. Let's pretend that I just bought a house. Who is the Lord (in other words the Master) of that house? Is it the one that just moved out of it? No. Is it the one who lives next door? No. The Master of that house is me. I bought the house, I paid for it. I have the deed in my name. It is my house. And being lord of my house, what do I have the authority to do? Can I change the colours of my walls? Absolutely! Can I make a hole in my ceiling? No one will be able to stop me. Can I enlarge my bedroom? Why not. I have authority over my house, because it is legally mine. No one can come into my house and start painting the walls a different color unless I give him/her permission to do so. Being the Lord or Master of my house, I have full authority over my house. I can do with it as I please.
Jesus says that He is the Lord (Master) of the Sabbath. What does that mean? It means that He is the one who has authority over the Sabbath! He had the deed over the Sabbath. It is His. He is the Creator, He rested on the seventh day. He can do as He wishes with the Sabbath. So is the accusation of the Pharisees that Jesus and His disciples are breaking the Sabbath law legitimate? Not at all. Sure, He was breaking the Sabbath laws, but He had authority to do so. He is the Master, the Lord of the Sabbath, and how can we, as created beings, complain about what He, the Creator, is doing with something that is legitimately His?
It is interesting to note that this same story is mentioned not only once in the gospels, but three times! See Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5. When God gives a message once, we need to listen to what He tells us. When God gives us a message twice it is of upmost importance. When He gives it three times, we better pay close attention to it!
Jesus faithfully attended the synagogue on Sabbath.
Luke 4:16 "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom."
What was Jesus' purpose for doing so? The gospels reveal clearly His purpose: Luke 4:31 "Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people."
Luke 4:42-44 "At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent." And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea."
Jesus' purpose in going to the synagogue on Sabbath was clear and simple: it gave Him opportunity to preach "the good news of the kingdom of God". There was no better place for doing so. All Jews attended the synagogue on Sabbath. Jesus had a captive audience all in one place! There was no better place than a synagogue filled on Sabbath to preach the gospel message! Sure, a market place would have a lot of people. But how can you have the undivided attention of a whole town when most of these people were busy doing their business? Only in the synagogues, on the Sabbath day, would the entire town pay close attention to what was being said.
The apostle Paul followed Jesus' example as well and did the same kind of preaching in synagogues on Sabbath. Why? Because it was a God-given way to preach the gospel to a whole town, at a time when they would be paying close attention to what was said! Acts 18:4 "Every Sabbath he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks."
Jesus, His disciples and the apostle Paul were using the same technique of preaching the gospel.
Let us look a bit closer to one of Jesus' encounters on Sabbath in a
synagogue. Here we find Jesus in the town of Nazareth, where as was His custom,
He went to the synagogue on Sabbath. Let us read together what happened: Luke
4:16-21 "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath
day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The
scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place
where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed
me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the
prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to
proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it
back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were
fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is
fulfilled in your hearing.""
Wow! Jesus was using the Scriptures to summarize His ministry on earth. He was quoting Isa 61:1-2, which speaks of the jubilee in reference to the upcoming Messiah!
Now what was the jubilee? Let us go to Lev 25:8-17 which explains in details what the Jubilee consists off: "'Count off seven sabbaths of years--seven times seven years--so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 1For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields. 'In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property. 'If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops."
In other words, jubilee is the Sabbath of Sabbaths. It is celebrated "seven sabbaths of years--seven times seven years" and it announces freedom. Slaves are free to leave their master and go back to their family. Land that was sold goes back to the original owner. It was a time of great rejoicing!
Now in Luke 4:21 Jesus announces "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." What was He meaning with this? Jesus proclaims not only to be the Messiah, but also calls Himself the jubilee! Jesus is the ultimate Sabbath personified. He is the ultimate Sabbath in person!
Was Jesus able to back up His claim? Surely: Matt 11:5-6 "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." In other words He is our jubilee, the ultimate Sabbath in person.
No wonder Jesus could proclaim with confidence: Matt 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." NIV
Jesus is our ultimate Sabbath! In Him we find rest! We can lay our burdens down at His feet and not worry about how to solve our problems. He will guide us and will give us not a once a week rest, but a continual rest! He is the Sabbath personified!
Click here to go to: Chapter 7: The Sabbath after Jesus' resurrection.