The law said:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but 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 manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” ~ Exodus 20:8-10
” ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.’ ” ~ Exodus 31:14
There’s no equivocation there. No loopholes. This is one of the Ten Commandments, not just one of the other 603. Observe the Sabbath, or be cut off from your people. Desecrate it, and die.
“Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 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. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,‘ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” ~ Matthew 12:3-8
“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” ~ Luke 6:9
There’s no equivocation here. Jesus and his followers broke the Sabbath law. They picked grain and ate it on the Sabbath. Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath – right in the synagogue where He was teaching! He deserved to die; to be “cut off from [his] people.” So he was. Just like Isaiah and Daniel predicted.
Yet He said He was innocent.
Don’t loophole on me. I already know that it was Jesus’ disciples who picked the grain and ate it to satisfy their hunger – Matthew, Mark and Luke are quite clear about it. They don’t say that He did it. His sin would have been, to the ever-watchful eyes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, in failing to correct them. Rabbinical tradition was quite clear about that. And the sin was not in picking the grain at the edges of the field; that was perfectly permissible (Leviticus 19:9; 23:22). The sin was in doing it on the holy Sabbath.
I also know that Jesus was probably the only person on the planet at that time who could have “sinned” by healing someone on the Sabbath. (In fact, that’s His point in response to His critics: He IS Lord of the Sabbath.) But just a couple or three chapters of Luke earlier, He had sent out his disciples by twos to heal people and cast out demons and preach repentance. He is serving as their example for future missions, remember. And nothing in His meticulous instructions to the twelve or the seventy(-two) forbids them from healing, casting or preaching on the Sabbath.
Think about it, now. Here are just two examples where Jesus permits doing something that the Law forbids doing. One permitted His followers to do something good for themselves – eat – and the other permitted good to be done for others – the sick, the lame, the demon-tortured. He was not restricted from doing good on a holy day and in a holy place just because others felt it was bad because it was on a holy day and in a holy place.
The law is dead silent on giving such permission.
Just as it was dead silent on relieving priests from the brutal, exhausting work of preparing sacrifices on the Sabbath; just as it was dead silent on giving David and those with him access to the showbread of the tabernacle. Still, David was not struck dead nor specifically punished for this act. He was the King. He was famished.
Mark even quotes Jesus as adding, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” ~ 2:27. And Luke twice quotes Him as pointing out that those around Him would have mercy on a thirsty ox (13:15) or on one which fell into a well on the Sabbath (14:5).
Jesus did not stick to the letter of the law, even before all was accomplished. He introduced unauthorized worship on the Sabbath: seeing to the needs of others. Showing mercy to them actively, rather than keeping a passive law whose intent was to inspire mercy and prevent overworking. He turned the “don’t” into a “do.”
In short, Jesus innovated.