At the end of chapter 11 we saw Jesus state that his “yoke was easy and his burden light.” (Matthew 11:30) Now we see him begin to teach things that have reduced that burden of the Old Covenant.
Under the Old Covenant men were required to keep the Sabbath day holy. This was one of the Ten Commandments. On the Sabbath they were not to travel, nor work, nor prepare food. All food preparation was to be done the day before so they could rest and worship the Lord on the Sabbath day.
Now as Jesus and his disciples walked through some grain fields, the disciples plucked some of the grain and began to eat it. The Pharisees, who were sticklers for the smallest points of law took any opportunity to find fault and brought this to Jesus’ attention saying, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” (Vs. 2) The Pharisees expected Jesus would upbraid and condemn his disciples for breaking the law, but instead Jesus responded by showing other instances of where men did what was unlawful and yet were not condemned. David the king entered the temple and took the bread of the Presence, which no one but the priests were allowed to eat, and ate and gave it to those with him and yet he remained guiltless (1 Samuel 21-16). This was clearly a more significant issue than the disciples rubbing a few heads of grain to eat for the bread of the Presence was part of the offering and was consecrated as holy to the Lord. Then too Jesus said of the priests who offer the lamb and cereal sacrifices in the temple on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10), which technically is breaking the Sabbath, also remain guiltless.
Jesus then showed that this new teaching under the New Covenant was greater than the old teachings under the law. At the end of this section he says, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.” (Verses 6-8)
Under the New Covenant those who come to Christ are guiltless for Jesus has taken away their sin. In the Old Covenant men had to seek forgiveness of sin by sacrifices and offerings, but the forgiveness in the New Covenant is not based on offering sacrifices. The one perfect sacrifice has already been offered and we have been set free from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice is the only one that can not merely give us forgiveness of sin, but completely remove and take our sin away. John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) This is why Jesus came to offer his own blood on our behalf. So that our sins would be taken away, not simply forgiven.
Expanding on this we see in Hebrews 10:5-6, “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.” God does not want constant offerings for sin. He wants us to not sin at all. He wants us to be merciful toward each other for our weaknesses and not judgmental over minor points of law, which is what the Pharisees were doing. In the constant sin offerings there was also the constant reminder of sin. But when Jesus took away our sins, he also took away the law so that we would not need to continue to make the offerings and would not be bound by sin.
This is too lengthy a subject to go into here, but if you wish to see more on this matter there is a free eBook on you can download here that looks at the Foundation Teachings of Christianity There is much more detail in this booklet covering this message about freedom from sin and freedom from the law through faith in Jesus Christ.
When we are set free from the law through Christ Jesus, we are also set free from the law concerning the Sabbath. This is why the disciples could be considered guiltless for the law applies only to those under the law. In Christ we are set free from the law and no longer under it and thus guiltless.