Jesus and the Sabbath (John 5, Matthew 12, Luke 13, Mark 3)

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We are now in week 4 of Pursuing Christ, which I mentioned last week is not a message series but a quest – a quest to know the one who saved us in a deeper and more intimate way. It’s about abiding in the vine, fixing our eyes on Jesus, learning what he’s like, what he loves, what he hates, how he acts, and why?
And I don’t know about you, but for myself, personally, just in my studies to prepare for these messages and for the life group content, I’ve already gained a deeper appreciation for, admiration of, and devotion to my Lord and King than ever before in my life. And it’s only week 4!
But enough about me, let’s talk about Jesus!
Let’s pray first…
Today we will be starting in John 5 but also looking a bit in the other three gospels at one of Jesus’ favorite things to do – mess with the Pharisees.  If you remember last week, the Pharisees were the elite religious leaders of the day that prided themselves on their ability to keep all of the Law, which was not necessarily a bad thing except that the Law they followed was not God’s Law, but their own inflated version of the Law that had become a huge burden for the people and barely even resembled what God had intended it to be.  And so, Jesus spent a good deal of his time pointing out their errors and exposing their hypocrisy. A practice that ultimately got him killed…which is probably partly why he did it.  But I also think he had a lot of fun getting them all flustered. Like the Scripture says – God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Aside from claiming to be God in the flesh, the one thing that Jesus did over and over that really got the religious leaders in a tizzy was how he treated the Sabbath.
Now, the Sabbath day was something that was in the original Law God gave to Moses. In fact, it’s one of the Big 10 – number 4 to be precise.
Exodus 20
8“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.9Six days you shall labor and do all your work,10but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.11For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word SHABATH, which means to “cease, desist, rest.”
And so, it was a command straight from God that the people of Israel were to rest from their work one day a week. And so, their Sabbath was on Saturday – the last day of the week. They counted their days from sundown to sundown rather than sunrise to sunrise or midnight to midnight like we do it now. And so, the Sabbath day began at sunset on Friday and lasted until sunset on Saturday. And on that day, they were to do no work.
One of the first clear implementations of this was when they Israelites were wandering in the wilderness and God gave them manna from heaven. God made it so that the manna was there to gather every morning except on the Sabbath. Also, he made it so that they could not keep any manna overnight or it would spoil and get maggots in it…and that’s exactly what would happen….except on the night before the Sabbath. They would collect twice as much the day before, and on that night only would it not spoil so they would not have to work in gathering it on the Sabbath.  Pretty cool, huh!
There was also something similar in the practice of land-sabbaths, but I don’t have time to get into that today…
And so, the Sabbath was a real law, but what the Pharisees had done with it was turn it into a set of hundreds of very specific laws about what exactly constituted work. And it was their ridiculous version of God’s perfect law that Jesus made a practice of stepping on, to the people’s delight at the Pharisees expense.
One such instance we find in John 5…
John 5
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Commentators suggest that since the pool was connected to a natural spring, sometimes it would be “stirred” as the water flow fluctuated. It was believed by some that this was an angel present that would heal the first person into the water. There are no known reports of healing actually happening that way, so it’s not known why they believed such a thing.
This man had been laying there on a mat for a long, long time. It’s not said whether he had anyone to help him with living, but apparently no one wanted to help him get to the pool for the hope of healing. And, so, Jesus comes to him.
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
How amazing that would be to see. How amazing it must have been for this man – 38 long years – healed in an instant!  Jesus is awesome! But he also had another motive in healing this man on this day…
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
Now, I just read the actual law to you from Exodus. It didn’t say anything about carrying a mat. In fact, why would anyone consider carrying a little mat to be “work”? Well, that isn’t even the half of it. We’ll get to that in a minute….
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
The man was so elated at the sudden and extreme change in his life that he didn’t think to stop and get the guys name who healed him. But Jesus wanted to make sure the Jewish leaders knew what he had done on their precious Sabbath.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
A lot of commentators try to glean a bunch of stuff about the man that was healed because of what Jesus said to him. But honestly, I think Jesus only did this to ensure the Jewish leaders got the message. And he got what he wanted, and the reaction to go with it.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Some try to claim that Jesus never actually claimed to be God, or the Son of God, or the Messiah. Clearly those people have never read the Bible, or at least not the Gospel of John. The Jewish leaders here surely thought that’s what he was doing – so much so they already wanted to kill him.
I’m not going to get into the rest of John 5 here, I’m saving that for the Life Groups. But I will point out that the very next verse is the one I’ve been talking about each week where Jesus tells us his motivation for everything he does.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
And this time is no different. He healed that man how he did and when he did because that’s what the Father lead him to do, and the same is true for how he got the Jewish leaders’ attention and how he responded.
And this wasn’t the only time Jesus did such a thing on the Sabbath.
Another incident is recorded in Luke…
Luke 13
10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues,
Apparently teaching was ok to do on the Sabbath. How was that not considered work? …anyway, I’ll get to that in a minute…
11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
Another one with a rather long infirmity.
12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Once again, Jesus is the initiator. He goes to her. She didn’t go to him. And in an instant, 18 years of suffering come to an end. Jesus is awesome!  And once again he had a double reason for doing this.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
Can you believe that? How calloused and hard-hearted these people were, such that they cared more about keeping their own made up rules than about helping hurting people. Clearly they did not have our core value of “People Matter More.” But Jesus did…He just added some awesome, and now he’s about to keep it real!
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
Man I love Jesus! He sets the hook for them, and when they bite, he reels them right in and filets them on the spot!
You pompous wind bags think it’s ok to untie an animal on the Sabbath but not a person?
17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Jesus was like the original Judge Judy…but even better. He called it like he saw it to the shame and disgrace of the proud and to the delight of everyone else who had always wanted to say such things but were too afraid to do so.
Jesus wasn’t some weakling little coward who hid from his enemies. He confronted them. He called them out. He embarrassed them. Jesus was a force to be reckoned with.
Matthew 12 and Mark 3 record yet another run in Jesus orchestrated with the religious leaders on the Sabbath.
Matthew 12
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
What were the Pharisees doing hanging out in the grain fields on the Sabbath? Obviously spying on Jesus to try to catch him in some nefarious infraction of the Law, which wasn’t going to be very hard because with all the rules they had made up for the Sabbath, it was almost impossible not to break some of them just by living.
John MacArthur points out a few of the more ridiculous rules in his commentary…
Under Sabbath regulations, a Jew could not carry a load heavier than a dried fig; but if an object weighed half that amount he could carry it twice. (Hence the restriction on the man carrying his mat – Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he told him to pick it up, which clearly was not necessary for the healing itself).
Eating restrictions were among the most detailed and extensive. You could eat nothing larger than an olive; and even if you tasted half an olive, found it to be rotten and spit it out, that half was considered to have been eaten as far as the allowance was concerned.
Throwing an object into the air with one hand and catching it with the other was prohibited. If the Sabbath overtook you as you reached for some food, the food was to be dropped before drawing your arm back, lest you be guilty of carrying a burden.
Tailors did not carry a needle with them on the Sabbath for fear they might be tempted to mend a garment and thereby perform work. Nothing could be bought or sold, and clothing could not be dyed or washed. A letter could not be dispatched, even if by the hand of a Gentile. No fire could be lit or extinguished—including fire for a lamp—although a fire already lit could be used within certain limits.
Baths could not be taken for fear some of the water might spill onto the floor and “wash” it. Chairs could not be moved because dragging them might make a furrow in the ground, and a woman was not to look in a mirror lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it out. You could carry ink enough to draw only two letters of the alphabet, and false teeth could not be worn because they exceeded the weight limit for burdens.
If a person became ill on the Sabbath, only enough treatment could be given to keep him alive. Treatment to make him improve was declared to be work, and therefore forbidden. (Hence their objection to healing a non-life-threatening illness on the Sabbath)
And there were thousands more just like these.
According to their hair-splitting regulations, a Jew could not pull off even a handful of grain to eat on the Sabbath unless he were starving—or it was considered “reaping” which is work.
The disciples were not reaping on the Sabbath, but simply satisfying their hunger, which was actually a provision spelled out in
Deuteronomy 23
24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.
Rabbinic tradition, however, had ridiculously interpreted the rubbing of grain together in the hands (which the disciples were doing) as a form of threshing; and they regarded blowing away the chaff as a form of winnowing.
This was the kind of lunacy that Jesus made a point of frequently pointing out.  In response to their issue with his disciples eating grain…
Matthew 12
3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 
That last statement about the temple probably ticked them off more than anything. They pretty much worshiped the temple and ignored the God who lived there.
Jesus was recounting to them an OT story they would have known all too well about how King David himself, their pride and joy, broke a different rule for a similar reason and was not in the least punished or even reprimanded for it. And then the fact that the priests in the Temple have more work to do on the Sabbath than any other day of the week (like preachers on Sunday), and yet are innocent.
Once again he is pointing out how they miss the whole point. Specifically…
7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.  8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
In other words, it’s not about the rules. It’s about loving God and loving others. It’s not about restricting things to the point of debilitating on the Sabbath for fear of breaking the rule.
And once again, Jesus is making some bold claims about himself. First he says he is greater than the Temple. Now he calls himself the Son of Man (a Messianic title from the prophecies of Daniel) and the Lord of the Sabbath – which is the same as calling himself equal with God.
Then Matthew records he went from there straight to the synagogue to prove his point. But I like the Mark version better, so we’re going to look there. The same things happen, but Mark is little more descriptive of Jesus himself.
Mark 3
1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
No doubt the room was silent. You could hear a pin drop. The people probably anticipating another miracle and another showdown with the Pharisees. The Pharisees, smug in their smocks, waiting to self-righteously catch Jesus in the act.
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
What could they say? There was clearly only one right answer, but it would have been condemning themselves to answer it. They were trapped in a lose-lose situation. And so they just played dumb.
And now we see we get to see the face of God…
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Mark’s description of the emotions of Jesus are rare and oh so precious. And as usual, the English does not give it justice.
First, the “anger” mentioned is not the short term flare up kind of anger, but the deep seated long term kind of anger. The anger Jesus expressed was not something that was a reaction to this one incident but a glimpse at the righteous anger of God against his stubborn rebellious creation. An anger that had been burning since Adam and Eve and will continue to burn for all eternity in the form of a lake of fire where these Pharisees and many others will no doubt end up.
But that’s not the only emotion Mark describes.
At the same time, he says Jesus was “deeply distressed”. The Greek behind this is a word that means “to be moved to grief by sympathy.”
At the same time that Jesus felt the righteous anger of God against their sinful hearts – he also felt sorry for them. He was grieved that they would not turn and be saved. It broke his heart that they would be so stubborn in the face of obvious truth.
This is a beautiful picture of God.
God is perfectly righteous and just in his judgment of the sinful world, but at the same time he desires that all people be saved. He is both righteously angry and compassionately merciful.
As the beautiful Psalm 103 says
Psalm 103
8The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
The key there is that all of those things are for those who fear him. Those who are humble. Those who believe in and submit to Jesus as Lord and King. But for those who don’t – like these Pharisees – another fate awaits them.
Jesus made it clear in
John 3
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
And that doesn’t mean that you believe his name is Jesus. It means that you have put your full faith and confidence in him as your Lord and Savior. Anything short of that is to be like one of the religious leaders that Jesus sparred with, who were so crippled by their pride that they couldn’t even answer a simple question, and instead of bowing to Jesus as Lord, they looked for a way to shut him up permanently. But they failed.
I got to tell you that I love these kinds of stories about Jesus. I love the miracles and the teaching too, but I just love to watch Jesus work. It think it’s because it satisfies a deep need to see justice prevail. We all have it. We all want to see good win out over evil. To see right be victorious over might. To see the truth conquer the lies.
Well, in Jesus we see that every time he opens his mouth or takes a step. He walked through this world on a mission to set things right and right what had become wrong, and he had the courage and the power to do it in the face of much opposition.  He was a hero for the little people. A man who said what he meant and meant what he said and backed it up with action.
Like I said at the beginning today, the more I look at Jesus the man, the person, the more and more impressed I am with Him. He’s the kind of guy that would be great to hang around…so long as your heart is right….but if it’s not, watch out! Anyway, those of you in the groups will see what I’m talking about with the video I recorded for you this past week.
I want to end today with an invitation that Jesus gives at the end of chapter 11 of Matthew – just before the Lord of the Sabbath story we just covered.
He says….
Matthew 11
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
It almost seems like the story of the grain fields and the man with the shriveled hand were there to illustrate this invitation of Jesus. He knew that the people of that time were under heavy burdens due to the oppressive system of Law that the Religious leaders had invented. I told you about what they did with the Sabbath. Jesus is saying to all of them and to all of us to come to him for rest. Because we too are under heavy burdens. It may not be due to an oppressive system of Law, but one of our burdens is the ridiculously fast paced and overloaded lifestyles we live, such that rest of any kind – physical, emotional, mental, you name it – is unheard of for most of us. And it’s killing us. It’s killing us physically. Constant stress wears on our bodies. It’s killing us mentally and emotionally. We barely have time to think or feel.  And it’s killing us spiritually because we no longer have time to be still and know that He is God.
Jesus says to come to him, all who are weary and burdened, and He will give you rest. It almost sounds too good to be true. But Jesus wouldn’t have said it if he couldn’t make it happen.
And then he says how it’s done.  He says, “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.”
That’s another way of saying that God is the worker and we are his tools. A yoke is something that is used to harness an ox to pull a cart or a till. It’s what a farmer uses to turn the animal into a farm tool. It’s how he guides the animal and also how the load is attached to it. The yoke of Jesus is the yoke of being like him. The son does nothing of his own, but only what he sees the father doing. The yoke of Jesus is the laying down of your own will and surrendering it to his will so that he can then use you for his purposes.
He says that his yoke is easy – which in the Greek and in that cultural context means that it is custom fit. For an ox, if the yoke is a one-size-fits-all, it would likely cause chaffing and be painful, but a custom fitted yoke would practically become one with his body. Likewise, the will of God for your life is custom fit just for you.  He designed you for a purpose that is uniquely yours. He won’t ask you to do someone else’s purpose. And his burden is light because He will not will you to do anything that he himself will not provide the power and ability to do it.
Isn’t Jesus awesome! Isn’t he worthy of our praise and admiration! Such might and power in his opposition of the proud, but such gentleness and mercy in his invitation to the humble.
How will you respond?