December 3, 2017

Two Sabbath Experiences

Passage: Luke 6:1-11

The Jews were supposed to “keep” the Sabbath by not working. Resting on the Sabbath amounted to not engaging in your normal employment/occupation. Breaking the Sabbath was a capital crime, punishable by death (Ex 31:13-16). The day belonged to the Lord; it was set aside for rest and worship. That day was holy unto the Lord and not to be used for regular purposes.

At the time Jesus was preaching, the Jews had worked out an extremely detailed and specific set of regulations governing the Sabbath, far beyond what the OT designated. The Jews had developed a whole long list of things—at least 39 activities—that were outlawed on the Sabbath, including

  • walking farther than 1000 cubits
  • drinking outside the camp
  • drawing water into any vessel
  • wearing perfume
  • opening a sealed vessel
  • assisting an animal to give birth or helping an animal out of a pit
  • plowing, reaping, threshing, winnowing, grinding
  • starting a fire
  • riding an animal
  • riding in a boat
  • killing anything
  • making war[1]

These restrictions were widely accepted among the Jews and were a big deal. Sabbath observation was essential to their identity as Jews. Jews kept the Sabbath traditions; it’s what set them apart from all the others. So you can see why the Pharisees were so hostile to anyone who would challenge their traditions regarding the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath traditions was definitional to them.

Both of the stories we’re looking at today focus on Jesus’ controversy with the Pharisees regarding what is lawful on the Sabbath—and, more importantly, Jesus’ right to determine what constitutes acceptable Sabbath observance.[2] Jesus asserts his authority, and the Jewish religious leaders reject and oppose him because of their loyalty to their own traditions. Both of these stories reveal the hardheartedness of the Jewish religious leaders.

Both stories should be a warning to us. Jesus’ authority has to take precedent over any human tradition. Likewise, human need always takes precedence over personal traditions.

[1] Bryan C. Babcock, “Sabbath,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[2] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 251.

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