Jesus and the Sabbath
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Many years ago, there was a popular movement to wear bracelets that read “W.W.J.D.” – which was short for “What Would Jesus Do?” I can remember many people wearing these bracelets. The idea was to help people to think about what Jesus would do in a given situation – and hopefully provoke people to take Christ-like actions.
One thing they missed with that movement was “W.D.J.D.” – What DID Jesus do?
There are some things we know Jesus did. Therefore, we don’t have to guess what He would do. We can already know what He did! Such is the case with the Sabbath!
In this series of articles, we want to review Jesus and the Sabbath. What did He say about the Sabbath? What did He do on the Sabbath?
Let’s look into this more!
What Did Jesus Say About the Sabbath?
Jesus actually taught about the importance of the Sabbath. In this section, we will look at three sets of verses where He taught us important truths about the seventh day.
“27 He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’” (WEB)
Jesus gave us two important details about the Sabbath in these verses. First, he said that the Sabbath was made for man. In other words, the seventh day was set apart not just for Israelites, but for all mankind. It was set apart in Genesis chapter two before there were any nations. There was only mankind. There are many promises in the Bible for Gentiles who keep the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:1-7 is one example; CLICK here to read about 13 Sabbath Promises).
Secondly, Jesus said that He is Lord of the Sabbath. Let’s stop and think about the implications of this statement. There are seven days in the week, but He announced that He was Lord over only one of them – the Sabbath. He is the Lord over that twenty-four hour period. That is an incredible statement!
Jesus connected the Sabbath to His Lordship. For every Christian, we realize that He is our Lord. He also connected His Lordship to the Sabbath. While the Sabbath is for all mankind, it is also for all who call Jesus their Lord.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’” (NIV)
Jesus also taught us that it is lawful to do good and save life on the Sabbath! He taught this principle after He healed someone on the Sabbath. Works which bring God glory are acceptable on the Sabbath!
“Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.” (NIV)
In His discussion of the last days of this age, Jesus taught us to specifically pray for our flight not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. Winter is a rainier season in Israel, so it would not be suitable for travel. The Sabbath is the day of rest; we would not want to flee on that day. This verse also informs us that the disciples of Jesus would be keeping the Sabbath in the days leading up to His return.
What Did Jesus Do on the Sabbath?
So let’s get back to this idea of “What Did Jesus Do?” The Lord of the Sabbath will show us how to observe this day. What did He do?
“16 He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. He entered, as was his custom, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 The book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, 18 ‘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 heal the broken hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to deliver those who are crushed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ (Isaiah 61:1-2) 20 He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began to tell them, ‘Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” (WEB)
In these verses, we learn that it was Jesus’ custom to gather with others on the Sabbath. Synagogues such as the one discussed in Luke have been found in Israel. Migdal, the hometown of Mary Magdalene, had two synagogues that dated to the time of Jesus (Click here to learn more). They have found other such synagogues in Israel.
Jesus also read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. This helps us understand that He read the Scriptures on the Sabbath. Moreover, He chose this day to announce to the people that the prophecy from Isaiah about the captives being free was fulfilled. This happened in part because the Sabbath is the day of freedom! The principles discussed in those verses from Isaiah are embodied in the Sabbath!
Later in this same chapter, we are told of another instance of Jesus keeping the Sabbath!
31 He came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. He was teaching them on the Sabbath day, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word was with authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 saying, “Ah! what have we to do with you, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God!” 35 Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” When the demon had thrown him down in the middle of them, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 Amazement came on all, and they spoke together, one with another, saying, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 News about him went out into every place of the surrounding region. 38 He rose up from the synagogue, and entered into Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a great fever, and they begged him for her. 39 He stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her. Immediately she rose up and served them.” (WEB)
In this example, we learn that Jesus taught people, cast out a devil, fellowshipped with people in homes, and prayed for the sick to be healed on the Sabbath. Later in Luke, we see yet another example of Jesus’s actions on the Sabbath:
“1 When he went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees on a Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching him. 2 Behold, a certain man who had dropsy was in front of him. 3 Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ 4 But they were silent. He took him, and healed him, and let him go. 5 He answered them, ‘Which of you, if your son or an ox fell into a well, wouldn’t immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?’” 6 They couldn’t answer him regarding these things. 7 He spoke a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the best seats, and said to them…” (WEB)
There are three things about Jesus and the Sabbath we learn in Luke 14:1-5, which I have broken down below:
1) He ate with others on the Sabbath. In another place, Matthew 12:1-12, we learn that Jesus and the disciples ate grain on the Sabbath. We learn that eating is an important part of the Sabbath. When people get together, food is often involved!
2) He healed someone, which was a common part of His Sabbath observance. The gospels give us many examples of Jesus healing others on the Sabbath. Some other examples include, but are not limited to, Mark 3:1-6, John 5:1-15, John 9:1-12.
3) Lastly, Jesus taught other people in Luke 14. The lesson did not make them feel comfortable or good; He challenged them. He called out their traditions about healing and then told them a parable to correct their attitudes about how to treat other people. Later in the chapter, Jesus told the parable of the wedding banquet.
So when it comes to Jesus and the Sabbath, the example is very clear. The New Testament record reveals that He did the following:
– Gathered with other people
– Read the Scriptures
– Taught about the Scriptures, how to treat others, and the proper way to observe the Sabbath
– Declared prophetic fulfillments
– Offered correction to false beliefs/doctrine
– Taught parables
– Healed people
– Cast out devils
– Freed people from affliction, illness, bondages, strongholds
– Fellowshipped in homes
– Ate with other people
What an example for us of how to keep the Sabbath!
There are some people who claimed that Jesus broke the Sabbath. How could that be possible?
In next week’s article, we will address this issue!
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org