One of the great challenges for the church today is understanding how and where the law fits within the context of the New Covenant. Here in this section is a classic example in relation to the keeping of the Sabbath day.
One of the Ten Commandments was that the seventh day of the week should be kept holy as a Sabbath for the purpose of worship to God. On the Sabbath there was to be no work performed but it was to be a day of complete rest. A person was not permitted to journey more than a couple of miles maximum and were not to even prepare food. All food for the Sabbath had to be prepared the day before so that every person, including the family cook, usually the wife or mother, could rest and thus keep the requirements of the Sabbath.
In this section of scripture we see Jesus and his disciples walking through some grain fields with some of the Pharisees tagging along. It was a Sabbath day when this occurred. The disciples were hungry and so they picked some of the grain and rubbed it in their hands to remove the husks and ate it. Jesus did not do this but only his disciples. The Pharisees condemned the disciples to Jesus for this practice saying they were not keeping the requirements of the Sabbath as they were preparing food.
This was a legalistic argument by the Pharisees to try and condemn Jesus and his disciples, and Jesus knew it. The Pharisees were often brought to account for their legalism by Jesus and he was about to show them how they were wrong once again.
Jesus quoted the example of David the king and those who were with him when David went into the temple and took and ate the bread of the Presence that only the priests were permitted to eat. And yet David and those with him were not condemned for doing this. The point being made here, as with the disciples of Jesus, is that the Lord did not require a person to go hungry on the Sabbath just to keep a precept of the law. It was not God’s intention to starve his people to keep the law, but this is what the Pharisees would have had them do. Jesus showed elsewhere that, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
God gave the Sabbath to man for the purpose of rest, relaxation and to remember all God had done for man in a time of worship. He did not create the Sabbath to be a rigid and onerous day when for one reason or a another the minutiae of the requirement could not be kept. The Sabbath was given for man’s benefit, so why would God expect a man to suffer on the Sabbath for any reason? If a man is hungry, is it good that he remain so on the Sabbath just because he is not supposed to prepare food? No, as he showed in David’s example, which was even more extreme for David not only did what he did on the Sabbath, but he also took food that was not permitted for any but the priests and yet he was not condemned. This is brought home even more powerfully in the next section of Luke 6 which I will review in the next post.
Since the introduction of the New Covenant we have now been released from the law when we enter into the death of Jesus through baptism in water. And if we have been removed from law through Jesus then we are no longer under the law of the Sabbath. But that does not mean we ignore the law. There is great wisdom in the law and in this law of the Sabbath we see the wisdom of God and his love for mankind. In the law of the Sabbath he shows that man needs rest. Man needs at least one day a week to rest and recharge so that he can be refreshed and ready for the week to follow. Thus we should take note and be certain to take a day’s rest each week to recharge and worship the Lord as was intended in the law.
We may not be under the law now, but we should not ignore it for there are great benefits to be had by using the law properly and as it was intended. But unlike the Pharisees who used the law legalistically such that the keeping of the law becomes the end in itself, then it has gone wrong. The law is based upon the love of God, but legalism is based on works of man. When we approach the law to understand the love of God and how he meant for man to live, then we receive the benefits of the law and the blessings of God. Even more, when we come to Jesus in faith we receive even greater blessings for we approach God in faith and love through Jesus.
So should we keep the Sabbath day as stated under the law? Well it is good to keep a day holy to the Lord and we need a day of rest each week as was intended in the law, but we do not need to do this because the law says so. We do this because it is a good and right thing to do and we recieve the benefit of what the wisdom of the law is offering. Jesus released us from the law, but that does not mean we ignore the law. I am free from the law but I will still suffer the consequences of my actions if I do something opposite to what the law says. And if I work constantly throughout the week without a day of rest I will eventually drop in productivity, suffer emotionally, physically, psychologically and in my health. We may not be under the law but we should still listen to it to gain the wisdom of the law and the benefits God provided under the law.