This picture shows how some religious leaders were offended when Jesus’ disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23 ff). The Sabbath, or Saturday, was set aside by God as a day of rest, as the Third Commandment teaches:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work… For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11).
So when Jesus’ critics, the Pharisees, saw the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, they accused Jesus of letting them break the Third Commandment.
JESUS ANSWERED WITH A BIBLE STORY
“’Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God…and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?’ And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2:25-28).
Here Jesus shows Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus put an end to the Law as a list of things we must do before God will be gracious to us. He came to give us rest from our labors, saying: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:29).
It is true that Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ very strict view of the Third Commandment, by healing sick people and feeding the hungry on the Sabbath. These are things that, in the Pharisees’ view, went against the “letter” of the Third Commandment. But by giving relief to people burdened by hunger and sickness, Jesus fulfilled the “spirit” of the Third Commandment.
JESUS IS OUR SABBATH REST
And finally, Jesus gave us relief from the curse of the Law – forgiveness and a promise of eternal rest – by dying for our sins on the cross. God’s whole plan for our salvation came to fulfillment in Jesus. Everything the old law pointed to, with its sacrifices, feasts, and even the Sabbath, was completed when Jesus died on the cross.
Jesus fulfilled the Third Commandment, once and for all, in His Sabbath rest in the tomb. Then He rose again to free us from the curse of the law. So we are also freed from the requirement to observe a specific day of rest. Jesus Himself is our rest from eternally striving to satisfy God. His death and resurrection free us from our burden of guilt, and give us an eternal rest in heaven.
The freedom Jesus gives us is also an invitation to gather frequently for the nourishment and comfort of His Word and Sacrament. We love God by devoting time and attention to His Word; but more importantly, God loves us through the refreshing and life-giving power of the Gospel. We are now free to observe any day of the week as our day of rest – or no day at all. But we are privileged to gather on Sunday – the day of our Lord’s resurrection – to receive forgiveness and refreshment for our souls. As Jesus said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
IMAGE: Valckenborch, Lucas van (1535-1597). The parable of the Shabat - the month of August from a series of the months (Matth. 12). Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Photo Credit: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY