What does this say about Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Much of the rest of the Old Testament on the Sabbath is really about the people breaking it and not keeping it. It’s not about the nature of the Sabbath. Thus, we’re going to move ahead to the New Testament. The first place to go to is Matthew 12. This pericope shows up in other Gospels, so we’re only going to look here:
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.”
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. 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.”
So in this passage, Jesus’s disciples are picking heads of grain and eating them. The text doesn’t say, but knowing how the Pharisees are, I wonder if Jesus told them prior it was acceptable to do this. Why are the Pharisees with Jesus? Most likely keeping an eye on a new teacher and making sure their own status in the community is safe.
And now they’ve got him! His own disciples are violating the Sabbath! Now Jesus Himself isn’t getting the grain, but it doesn’t matter. The disciples are supposed to reflect the teachings of the master and Jesus is not rebuking them at all! The Pharisees have Jesus cornered.
Yet as we know, Jesus always turns the tables on them.
In this case, Jesus first points to the example of King David and let’s not miss the underlying cut He gives these guys? “Haven’t you read?” It’s so simple, but Jesus is really shaming them. “Hey, guys. Haven’t you heard this story? Most of us learned it in Sunday School. You really don’t remember this?” Obviously, these were the guys that were supposed to be masters of the book. Surely they would know this!
So what happens? King David comes in and takes bread that is meant for the priests only. There is no condemnation of David. He had men who were hungry and defending Israel and they needed to be cared for. The needs of the people come before the Law.
What about priests? Priests themselves have to work in the temple on the Sabbath. Thus, they are desecrating the Sabbath, but there is no condemnation for them. They are innocent even though they could be seen as technically breaking the Law.
An indignant Pharisee could have said at this point “You think you can just set the rules for everyone? Who do you think you are?”
That is not in the text, but had He done it, Jesus’s next statement would really show them and stun them. Jesus says God desires mercy, not sacrifice, meaning real actions of faithfulness to God from the heart more than ritualistic behavior. He then says if they had understood, they would not have condemned the innocent, namely His disciples.
This is sandwiched between two statements. The first is that one greater than the temple is here. The second is the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
Consider the first one. The temple was where the glory of God was supposed to dwell. The glory of the second temple Haggai said would be greater than the glory of the first. This was where the very Shekinah dwelt. This was how the people knew God was with them.
And Jesus says He is greater than that place where the Shekinah glory dwells.
The second is that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath. One of the big ten. The one that got Israel in trouble for not obeying. The one that let the land have rest for seventy years.
And Jesus is Lord of that day.
Now if you were a Jew, you could think “Wait. The Lord of the Sabbath is….”
What does that mean about who Jesus is?
Jesus declares what the Sabbath is and what it is for and how it is to be honored. We’ll see how that happens in salvation history as we go on.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)