AN EXAMINATION OF OUR LORD’S ATTITIDE
In this second paper on the Sabbath we shall investigate those passages which reveal our Lord’s attitude towards the Sabbath Day. It is well known that the Jews had compassed the Sabbath about with numerous ADDITIONAL laws. So complex had the issue become that instead of the Sabbath being a day of delight and relaxation, of family enjoyment, and worship in the Synagogue, it had degenerated into a strait-jacket of negativism, a 24-hour minefield of prohibitions, each of which could cause a Jewish man-in-the-street to become a “sinner” or even “cast out” from among the people, “excommunicated” by the Sanhedrin. One can imagine a steady stream of people being required to present sin offerings at the Temple for transgressing laws, not God’s laws, but man-made laws. And one wonders how the heart of the Almighty reacted towards all this abomination as He watched simple folk being taught in effect to hate God because of the restrictions. It was in this atmosphere that Jesus grew up, and during His ministerial years He sought to demolish the ungodly edifice that Pharisaic Jews had erected.
From a purely historical point of view the situation had developed since the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. We learn that before the Babylonian Exile, Israel as a nation had paid little attention to the Sabbath Law. People worked on the Sabbath. They carried burdens on the Sabbath. They exchanged money on the Sabbath. Furthermore they had totally disregarded the Sabbatic Year, apparently from the days of King Saul until Nebuchadnezzar, a total of 49O years. This caused the Lord to say that the land would enjoy its Sabbaths for 70 years, the duration of the exile. Indeed, as one reads the major prophets of the O.T. the clear impression emerges that the exile was largely due to Sabbath-breaking.
With the return of the remnant under Ezra and Nehemiah, a whole new regime was established. The Jewish leaders said, in effect, “We shall never make that mistake again. We shall be most punctilious in our observance of the Sabbath, lest the Almighty send us away again.” This was the causative factor in spawning the multiplicity of additional Sabbath laws over the four centuries between then and the coming of the Messiah. It was a fear of God that turned the Day of Delight into a Prison House of Prohibitions.
Without wasting space by giving numerous quotations (does anyone ever look them up? I seldom do myself!) the stated purposes of the Sabbath were as follows
(a) Rest from labour, and a memorial of Creation,
(b) Opportunity for family worship of God in the Temple or Synagogue,
(c) A time for God’s people to sit and listen to instruction from the Torah, a task that was laid upon the Priesthood as “teachers of the Law.”
Upon this scene came the Jewish Messiah, with a clear understanding of what His Father required of Him. With the anointing of “the whole fount of the Holy Spirit” He brought healing and deliverance to all those who came to Him.
In our mid-week Bible studies we have just been reading Matthew 12, and this will be a good starting point for this article.“And at that time Jesus went on the Sabbath Day through the corn, and His disciples were hungry.” In the Greek the words TOIS SABBASIN are plural, and therefore we gather that this was not a singular incident, but one which was repeated a few times. Their hunger indicated that they had not been offered food by anyone, perhaps through fear of repercussions from the ever-watching Pharisees, who were following them on this occasion. “They began to pluck ears of corn and eat them.” Up march the Pharisees with righteous indignation. “Look here, your disciples are breaking the Sabbath Law. !“they remonstrate, and if their charge was sustained, then Jesus and His followers would stand as “sinners” in need of sacrifice.
The Jewish Sabbath law said that if a person plucked ears of corn, then he was working, if he rubs them together in his hands, then it is the equivalent of threshing, if he bruises the ears, it is grinding, and if he throws them up in the air, it is winnowing. In all these actions, there is LABOUR involved, which is an act of Sabbath-breaking. The Pharisees had, no doubt, already partaken of their Sabbath meal, and were not in need of food. The Lord was justifiably angry.
“Have you not read what David did when he and his soldiers were hungry? They went into the Tabernacle and ate the Showbread of the Presence, which is only lawful for Priests to eat.”
No doubt this engendered dispute and murmuring amongst them as they compared notes on the historical precedent. But the Lord had more to say. “Furthermore, haven’t you read in the Law how the Priests continually profane the Law each Sabbath in the Temple?” He was referring to their necessity to work, the morning and evening sacrifices being TWICE the number of those which were ordained on other days.
This caused their anger to boil over, and they were about to say something like, “It’s all very well for you to speak like this, but who are YOU . You are nothing but a commoner, an unlearned carpenter’s son.” But once again the Lord pre-empted their criticism. “I tell you, there is One standing here who is greater than the Temple. Go, study the saying, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’, It would save you from condemning the guiltless.”
I can imagine the crowds standing there. There were the twelve disciples, together with a number of women who ministered to their needs and followed as “unwritten disciples”. Facing them there were the Pharisees in their best Sabbath attire, together with a number of other people, mainly those who were either inquisitive, or in need. I get the distinct impression that the Pharisees would go no further lest they broke the law relating to the “Sabbath Day’s Journey” a distance from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives. But Jesus had already broken one law in their eyes, and if He was about to break the Journey law, that was His business. Clearly He could not be the Messiah they were expecting, who would never transgress even the smallest of their laws. They were about to turn away and go. The Lord gave them one final, decisive word. “Here this! The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In Luke’s account of this confrontation, the Lord also said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
One cannot help but draw the conclusion that the Lord was baiting the Pharisees. He knew they were following. He knew what would happen if He and His disciples plucked ears of corn. But He engineered the circumstance so as to make Himself into a Mirror. They flung accusation. It bounced off the Mirror and landed full force on their own heads. Jesus was not so much concerned about the Pharisees. He WAS very concerned about the simple ordinary folk who were with Him. He wanted them to know that he had come to bring TIMES OF RESTITUTION, times of the re-establishment of Divine Law, and the abolition of unacceptable human legislation encrusted on that Law. And it is quite remarkable how many times Jesus provoked situations on the Sabbath Day to reinforce His teaching, and concurrently to demolish Jewish fable, myth, and invention.
In the twelfth chapter of Matthew, we are led into another of these encounters. “When He had departed thence He came into a Synagogue of the Jews.” Now a casual glance at the other Evangelists will show that this occurs on another Sabbath, not immediately after the former event. But Matthew is not concerned about strict chronology. It is the teaching that is important, and therefore he continues his history relating to the Sabbath conflicts.
“And behold, a man with a withered hand.” He was a “plant.” The Pharisees of that place had found this man, and brought him into the Synagogue as soon as they learned of Jesus’ arrival. “Is it lawful to heal on Sabbath Days?” they said, hoping to condemn Him by His answer. Once again, the Lord was angry. “Which one of YOU having just one sheep,will not pull it out of a ditch on the Sabbath? Isn’t a man more important than. a sheep?”
Here again, the Jewish laws about such an event were very strict. Although “donkey work” was permitted on the Sabbath by Divine Legislation, the Jews had elaborated it. It the donkey or sheep seemed to be ‘comfortable’ then it could be left until after the Sabbath. If it was struggling, then pillows and cushions were permitted to make it comfortable! Only in the last resort was it permitted to drag it out. But in making this law, they had introduced a further element. It was not permitted to use cushions or pillows that would thereby be destroyed in the process. One can imagine people standing round a struggling animal arguing about what was allowed before offering the creature the assistance it so clearly needed. No wonder the Lord was angry.
“He said to the man ‘Stretch forth your hand’” , And he stretched it forth, and it was restored healthy as the other hand. What a parallel! His hand was RESTORED. Jesus had come to set in motion the TIMES OF RESTORATION. But the Pharisees wanted none of it. They withdrew, and consulted with each other how best to DESTROY Jesus. Knowing their savage thoughts, He quickly departed from there and was followed by crowds of excited people. Visiting the Gentile cities on the east of Jordan He healed all those who were unwell or afflicted. No ‘stick’ there, just rejoicing. “In His name shall the Gentiles trust.“
In the 5th chapter of John’s Gospel we are told of the healing of the man who had been infirm, probably a cripple, for 38 years. Together with many other distressing cases, this man had been taken daily to the Pool of Bethesda, where at odd times a strange movement of the waters announced the presence of a healing angel. But someone else had always managed to get into the waters ahead of him. It was the Sabbath Day, and Jesus made His way to the Pool. Ignoring the plight of all the others, He went directly to this man. “Do you wish to be made whole?” The man answered in the context of the waters of the Pool, not knowing who it was speaking to him. “Jesus said to him, ‘Arise, take up your mattress and walk.’ And immediately the man was made whole.”
Acting on the Lord’s instructions, the man rolled up his pallet and strode off. no doubt ‘walking on air’ . Jesus had disappeared in the crowd before he could ask any further questions. The man had been so amazed at his miraculous healing that he hadn’t noticed the Lord’s departure. Walking away jauntily, he hadn’t got far before being accosted by the Pharisees, the “Jewish Police”. “Don’t you know it’s the Sabbath? It’s not lawful for you to carry your bed.”
The man explained his circumstances. “Who told you to take up your bed and walk?” Notice. they didn’t say. “Who healed you?” It is passing strange in all these cases that the Pharisees never show any interest or enthusiasm in the well-being of those healed. Their focus was always on the shibboleths of their law. The man didn’t know, and made his way to the Temple. Why did he go there? We can only surmise. Either he wanted to express his thanksgiving at the appropriate place of prayer, or perhaps he was SENT there by the Pharisees, to present a sin-offering for breaking the Sabbath.
Jesus must have watched all this, using the shelter of the crowds, and unknown to the man. But now He approached him.“So, at last you are made whole. Sin no more, lest a worse thing befall you.” Here is the word of the Master, who saw deep within the man, and knew the first cause of all things. What had occasioned the man’s infirmity we are not told, but he was cautioned. Whether this caused the man to smart , we don’t know, but he left the Temple and went straight back to the Pharisees and told them the identity of his healer. Was this wise? – Was it kind? He must have known that trouble was in store for Jesus, and yet he was prepared to betray Him, even though he had been healed after 38 years. A very poignant tale.
The Jew’s were quick to attack Jesus. They totally ignored the blessing of new health to a crippled man, and got to the point of their criticism. “Why did you do this on a Sabbath Day?” There was murder in their faces, as John declares in his account “My Father has been at work until now, and it is the same with me.” The heated Pharisees now boiled over. Blasphemy was added to Sabbath-breaking. But the Lord hadn’t finished with them. A crowd of people had gathered around, and He used the opportunity to teach them obliquely whilst addressing the Pharisees. It was a lengthy address, in which are found those all important words, “I know you, that you do not have the love of God within you. “
It was during a festival that all this happened. A day or so later Jesus was in the Temple teaching the people. He knew that some of the Pharisees were present in the crowd. “Did not Moses give you the Law? And yet none of you keep that Law. Why do you seek to kill me?” Some of the Jews must have inwardly scorned and derided Him for this. “You must have a demon! who on earth wants to kill you?” But the Lord knew whom He was addressing, and made the point to them. “You will circumcise a manchild on the Sabbath, so that the Law of Moses is not broken. Why then are you angry with me for making a man completely whole on the Sabbath?” Another confrontation followed, and the Lord spoke boldly of His commission from His Father. It created a state of polarisation in the crowd. The Jewish chiefs sought to arrest Jesus, but were unable to lay a finger on Him. His “right time” had not yet come.
On another occasion Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, “as was His custom on the Sabbath Day. Upstairs, in the women’s gallery there was a woman bent double, unable to straighten herself due to the cruel operation of a demonic spirit. Our Lord was aware of her presence, and called out, saying “Woman, you are now released from this spirit of infirmity.” And to effect the deliverance and cure, He climbed the stairs to the gallery, and laid His healing hands upon her. Immediately she straightened up, and in a fit of ecstasy, cried out, giving glory to God. There was much excitement amongst the other women in the gallery But downstairs, the Ruler of the Synagogue was red in the face with anger, which he gave vent to by. addressing the men. “There are six days in the week to do work. Why didn’t he heal her then, instead of on the Sabbath?”
The Lord had by this time descended the stairs, and was once again in the midst of the men. The noise of the women’s excitement was still unrestrained, and the Lord had no intention of quietening them. They were glorifying God for the wonderful miracle just performed. But down here – what was the matter with this man? Why the anger? “You hypocrite!”cried the Lord to the Ruler .. “Each one of you legitimately releases his ox or ass from the stall on the Sabbath Day. Why shouldn’t this woman be released from her oppression on the Sabbath Day? I tell you, she is a true daughter of Abraham, for she has glorified God. Eighteen years she has been bound by this demon, but is now free at last, and you refuse to rejoice. ”
On this occasion the Ruler, and those who took his part, were not only silenced but were ashamed. As a result, there was a burst of praise and rejoicing from the whole congregation.
Finally we come to the wonderful story of the man born blind, found in John chapter 9. It is a strange tale inasmuch as JESUS “Spat on the ground and made clay, which He put on the man’s eye-lids. ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam’ , He said. ” Now why did Jesus use this method? Why. didn’t he just touch him and give him his sight? Part of the answer is to be found in the later events of the story. When the man received his sight, he was able to see but unable to recognise the man Jesus, who had healed him. That served our Lord’s purpose. But additionally, it was the Sabbath Day, and to make clay with His spittle was classified as doing work! ! It was as though the Lord did it on purpose yet again, so as to shine a light on the Pharisees’ darkness.
The Apostle John tells the story in depth, but I shall only relate it briefly here. A crowd gathers, and the man is questioned by the Pharisees. He tells his tale, and hears the accusation of some of the Pharisees. “This man is not from God because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath Day.” But on this occasion, there were other Pharisees who were offended by this remark.“How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” But excommunication had been threatened to all who accepted Jesus as Messiah, and therefore it was dangerous to say too much. Even the man’s parents were careful in their choice of words. But the man was so astounded at their lack of enthusiasm for his healing, that he cast all caution to the wind, and loudly declared, “If this man were not of God he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were altogether born in sins, and you dare to teach us?” And they straightway excommunicated him. And that was a very serious matter in those days. He was to be wholly shunned by the community at large, though still able to purchase the necessaries for his existence. He was “sent to Coventry”, as we might say today. But the Lord met him, – and revealed Himself to him, and the man said, “Lord I believe”. and he worshipped Him.
Here then is the evidence from the pages of the New Testament. Our Lord’s insistence on revealing their total misappropriation of Sabbatic Law had resulted in Him being classed as a sinner by the Jewish leaders. If He’d kept within THEIR laws, they might have accepted Him as Messiah.
ANALYSIS OF OUR LORD’S TEACHING ON THE SABBATH
“The Sabbath was made for man. not man for the Sabbath.” It is as clear as daylight that the Sabbath was God’s gift to man. Even from before the fall, the Sabbath was instituted. God rested (literally, “ceased” from working) on the Seventh Day. It was not because He was tired or exhausted. That thought is not contained within the word “rested” It was a cessation from labour. And for what purpose? To look and see that “all was good”. To enjoy the product of His own workmanship and know that it was not in vain, but with a great and solemn purpose in view, a purpose that concerned the multitudes of Adam-kind in ages to come.
When a man builds his own house, he may likewise relax on completion, and take a good look at his workmanship. If he has done well in every respect, he has reason to be satisfied. Furthermore, he knows he has not built it in vain (i.e.. without purpose) but for habitation. In this respect man is able to reflect the creative ability of God.
But neither God nor man continues to rest. Once the reflective purpose of the “Sabbath” is over, then work begins once again. Jesus said “My Father has been at work until now, and it is the same with me.” God the Father enjoyed His Sabbath at the completion of Creation. Likewise the Son, who, as the Master-builder has declared His post-resurrection, and heavenly purpose in the words, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
The Sabbath was made for man. And since the fall man has needed a physical rest every seventh day. Not only is it a time to reflect on the creative toil of the previous SIX days, but also a time to recuperate, a time for the body to regain its poise for the following week. When I was a young man I worked in a motor components factory for a few months. It was a hectic form of work, with long hours and noisy conditions. And the management had arranged for the machines to continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and weekend work was encouraged for the workforce, with double-pay for Sundays. I fell into this trap on one occasion, and worked thirteen days in a row without a break. The sheer exhaustion that followed made me realise how foolish I had been. We learn that Napoleon tried to “decimalise” the week, making it ten days in length. But he soon found that his soldiers frequently became sick, and even the horses suffered, and so he reverted to the septenary cycle. “The Sabbath was made for man.” We are designed to operate at our best when we observe a seven-day-cycle, not ten, twelve, or fourteen.
But coupled with this thought is the statement, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” No one has ever questioned the identity of the Sabbath. It is, and always has been, the seventh day of the week. There is no such thing as “the Christian Sabbath” (meaning Sunday. ) The word Sabbath must always be associated with the seventh day of the week. And our Lord said that He was the Lord of the Sabbath. And from the foundation of the world, the Sabbath Day has never been lost. When we speak of Saturday we know that it is still the seventh day of the week. Calendars have changed, but the seven-day cycle has never been broken from Adam until now. Chronologists are all agreed on this point.
It may not be common knowledge, but the incorrect labelling of Sunday as a synonym for the “Sabbath” never came about until the 17th century. The Oxford English Dictionary (complete edition) verifies this, saying that the first written intimation was in 1654 in Trapp’s Commentary on Psalm 24. In the Introduction he says, “The first day of the week – – which is now the Christian Sabbath.” But in 1897 the January edition of “Quarterly Review” of the Anglican Church stated, “The term Sabbath as applied to the Lord’s Day is unknown to the Articles, the Canons, and the Prayer Book of the Church of England,” we shall have occasion to return to this in P.T.84
Now if Jesus declared that He was “the Lord of the Sabbath “, then which day of the week is “the Lord’s Day”? Dare we suggest that it is Sunday, the first day of the week? I am fully aware that from earliest times, in the writings of the Christian Fathers, the Lord’s Day has been identified as Sunday but does that provide us with the AUTHORITY we need to make such a change? Let me quote from Hastings Dictionary of the Apostolic Church under the heading of “LORD’S DAY”. “How this [change] was brought about cannot be exactly stated. We cannot point to any definite act of institution, any such impressive story and legislative sanction as the Pentateuch supplies with reference to the Jewish Sabbath. No authority of the Lord Himself can be cited for it; there is no ‘Jesus said’ to correspond to ‘God spoke all these words saying’ (Ex.20:1), or the Lordspake unto Moses, saying’ (Levl9:1-3)”
In point of fact the Lord gave every reason why the Sabbath Day should remain as “the Lord’s Day”. He said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfil. Truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass, one Yod (the smallest Hebrew letter} or one Tittle (an ornament placed over certain letters} shall in no wise pass from the Law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. “
Of purely academic interest, maybe, is the fact that the Jewish Massorites numbered no less than 66,420 occasions when the letter Yod is found in the Hebrew of the O.T Of greater moment to us, perhaps, is the fact that in the fourth commandment, the Sabbath commandment, the letter Yod occurs no less than TWENTY TIMES, and the words “seventh day” contains the letter Yod THREE TIMES, which is twice repeated in the Commandment. On this basis alone, I would fear greatly to tamper with the Commandment, and suggest that the Sabbath has been changed to the eighth day, (i.e. the first day of the week. )
In the past we have, like most others, just accepted the norm of Sunday worship without question. It is so much a part of Christianity in this present world that to question it seems almost presumptuous and high-handed. But in retrospect the Protestant Churches are quite prepared to accept the enormous changes that Luther and the other reformers brought about from 1537 onwards. Could it be that this process of “restitution” is one which needs constant upgrading? Jewish people still maintain the seventh day Sabbath. So also does that branch of the Christian Church known as “Seventh Day Adventists.” And in America there is a community of people, known as “The Kingdom” who came to this conclusion through the studies of their founder Frank Sandford. Undoubtedly there are yet other small communities of people who have returned to a seventh day Sabbath. But the Church as a whole has not yet taken this stand.
Finally. one may ask, does it matter? What an awful upheaval it would be if the British Sunday disappeared! How could we handle it? From a purely practical point of view I concur. And I do not wish to become polemical on this issue. In P.T.84 we shall return to the subject.
Finally in this paper I should like to share a recent finding from the ancient Jewish writings known as the Talmud. Although there are many things in the Talmud which our Lord would have questioned (as with the proliferation of Sabbath laws), yet it contains great wisdom and understanding, the compilation of the learning of numerous Rabbis who treated the Torah with a respect which is lacking today amongst many Christians.
I am referring to the Hebrew word for TRUTH. The Talmud states that the word EMETH contains just three letters, and these letters are the FIRST, MIDDLE, AND LAST in the Hebrew: Alphabet. The learned Rabbis found this most exciting, and when they read such verses as Psalm 119:142 “Thy Law is Truth” and verse 151, “All Thy Commandments are Truth” and verse 160, “Thy Word is Truth” they gloried in the “Scripture ofTruth” (Dan.10:21) and meditated on it day and night. What a testimony!
I have done a little further digging. I don’t know whether the Rabbis knew about this – somehow I think they must have done. If we add together the numbers of the three Hebrew letters we get a total of 441; This number is (3 X 3) X (7 X 7) and what a powerful number that is. both 3 and 7 are “perfect” numbers, and here we have the square of each.
No wonder our Lord said that He was “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Also He said “I am the First and the Last”, quoting the words found in Isaiah 44:6. In Revelation Jesus said that He was Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. And so the timeless message of the Hebrew word EMETH was made available to the Gentile world, the “first and the last” letters of both alphabets.
But between them is the letter Mem, meaning water in Hebrew. And so it is that in the time span that God has allowed for His creation, the time between the beginning and the end. the “Water of Life” flows freely and constantly to all the sons of men. Praise God for. this little gem of understanding.