Redefining the Sabbath Day: Unauthorized Worship, Part 1

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.

Jesus said:

“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.

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12 thoughts on “Redefining the Sabbath Day: Unauthorized Worship, Part 1

  1. I am not disagreeing with you on this one but I did want to point out that I thought Jesus and his disciples broke the traditions surrounding the Sabbath and not the Sabbath law itself.Maybe I am not remembering that right but that is what comes to mind when I think about those passages.

  2. You’re right, of course; but the law <>did<> say “you shall not do any work.” The traditions were logical extensions of this blanket prohibition.Right?

  3. I think one of the fundamental arguments of the acapella police is the whole idea that if something can be proven as being a human “innovation” then it is therefore sinful presumptious worship. In my study, however, I find that God not only allows for innovation of certain kinds, but encourages it. What else could be meant by the statement, “Whatever you do in word or deed do it all for the glory of God.”? This is a fairly explicit license to take all that we do – including the human gift of innovation, and use it for God’s glory. Personally, if this discussion is going to be geared toward the infamous instrumental music, I’m happy to share my view.I personally and Biblically don’t care a flip if a person is praising God with or without an instrument. But as soon as the use or non-use becomes a matter of gospel, I stand firm believing that we are set free from such nonsense by the gospel itself. Enjoyed your post and look forward to part 2.http://www.evenkeele.com

  4. Keith,Wonderful post yet again.I want to thank you for making us think. I love that about your blog brother. I have a special request. I was wondering if you could stop by my blog and leave an encouraging commeent or prayer for a family who really needs it during this time in their life to say the least. Please it won’t take long at all.God bless you Keith in all you do and may God’s richest blessing fall on your lap. In Him,Kinney Mabry

  5. Very good and very interesting post. I agree with you wholeheartedly.I’m not sure that many of our brothers understand that the Sabbath was not consecrated for worship, it was for REST. Just that tiny correction in the minds of some might start them thinking a bit more logically.His peace,Royce Ogle

  6. Keith, I enjoy your posts, my brother.I do think the problem here is one of traditions and not explicit violation of the law (and I would not grant that the traditions are logical extensions of the law). Indeed, I would suggest the embedded in the law (love your neighbor) is the principle articulated by Hosea that God desires mercy more than sacrifice. Consequently, the law itself teaches that persons are more important than rules (the case of David in point) and that the rules serve the people rather than vice versa.So, while I agree with the basic point that mercy was prioritized over rules, I don’t agree that Jesus was innovator in this story. He certainly acted contary to the traditions and thus overturned their legal reading of the law for the one the law intended which is a merciful reading. In this fashion, Jesus is the Rabbi who interprets the intent of the law for his disciples.Shalom, John Mark Hicks

  7. Well, John Mark, matt didn’t come back to argue with me.The rabbinical leaders who interpreted the law in their oral traditions surely felt that they were logically extending a blanket prohibition of any work on the Sabbath, for that was what the law said and they took it very literally.If, as you point out, “Jesus is the Rabbi who interprets the intent of the law for his disciples” in this way, then He doesn’t even have to be the first one to interpret it this way in order to be an innovator. All He need do is stand against the majority and the status quo.<>series spoiler alert<>I know the idea that Jesus might have innovated in some way gives some folks heartburn and esophageal reflex, but He would never have done so without it being the Father’s will: “For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (< HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=50&chapter=12&verse=49&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">John 12:49<>) There are plenty of folks who see God’s law as law only, to obeyed and not questioned – and certainly not meditated upon as David delighted to do in order to see the principles behind the law that testify of God’s righteousness <>and<> His love; His justice <>and<> His mercy.That meditation does not free one from obeying, but frees one <>to<> obey – the Spirit behind the letter of the law.If you will permit my appropriation of these well-intentioned folks’ proprietary term “innovation,” that is the principle I hope to defend in these posts.

  8. Rabbinical leaders fenced the law more than they logically extended…but this may be mere semantics and a point that I would not press upon you.I suppose I misread your sense of “innovation.” Thinking of Jesus as the fulfillment of the law means he is not fundamentally an innovator in the sense of bringing into being something new but rather fulfilling the longings and bringing to fruition the intent of God in Israel. I would see this as N. T. Wright’s basic point. In this sense, he definitely stands against the status quo of the religious leaders who could not see the law clearly due to their blindness (much like our own blindness).No doubt, my friend, we hear the words differently given our experiences and orientations at any given moment. That’s ok with me. 🙂 We can both be right. 🙂If the series is directed at showing how Jesus “innovated” and thus it is permissible for us to innovate, I don’t think I would move along that line myself. My reason would be that I don’t perceive Jesus as an innovator but as one who embodies the Torah itself and fulfills it. But, I admit, this may be a mere quibble.Shalom, my friend.John Mark Hicks

  9. Pingback: Every Day or Sunday Only? Unauthorized Worship, Part 6 « Blog In My Own Eye

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