Jesus Rebukes Legality
“And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath days? And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him; How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone? And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.
“And it came to pass also on another Sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the Sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him. But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.
“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God”—Luke 6:1-12
We have really two incidents here which took place a week apart. Both have to do with the same general subject, that is the legalistic attitude of certain of the leaders in Israel in regard to the Sabbath, and the manifestations of our Lord’s grace. These men made a burden of the very thing that God had given them for comfort and blessing of His people, while that which He commended as of more value than any ordinances was ignored completely. God gave the Sabbath to Israel for blessing, and commanded that on that day they should not do any work. But one class of people flaunted the Word of the Lord and went to the fields and their business and used the sacred hours of the Sabbath in order to enrich themselves. Then there were the rigid legalists who looked upon the Sabbath as though it had more or less to do with the salvation of their souls. If they kept it they would be saved and if not they would be lost and so they added to the Word of the Lord restrictions without number until it was almost impossible for a man to keep in mind all of these rules. It is almost amusing to read the Talmud and note these absurd regulations.
Our Lord disregarded these man-made rules. God made the Sabbath to be a delight, a means of joy and gladness and help for His people, not linked with hard and fast rules difficult to observe, that they might obtain merit, but because He knew the need of the human body and mind for physical rest. Then, too, it was His joy to have His people gather together on that day and worship Him. We, today, are not under these ancient laws of the Sabbath. We read in Colossians 2:16, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” We have the Lord’s day instead.
The Sabbath was a shadow of things to come. Man toiled for six days and rested on the seventh. Men toil on through life until they know Christ and enter into rest in Him. The Sabbath is a type of Christ, and the rest He gives.
New Testament believers are taught to observe the first day of the week, but out of love and recognizing the fact that God has honored it above every other day in bringing His Son back from the dead on the first day of the week. “This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” People who spurn the privileges of the Lord’s day, think nothing of buying and selling, whether necessary or not, doing their own pleasure on that day, are wronging their own souls. Many professed Christians make it the one day of the week when they can enjoy a game of golf or go on an excursion instead of valuing the opportunity to use the day to meet with fellow-believers for worship, prayer and testimony.
Here we are told that our blessed Lord and His disciples were walking through the field of corn in the countryside. It means wheat, not corn like we know it. As they walked through the fields of wheat, His disciples plucked the heads and began to eat, rubbing the kernels out in their hands. According to the law of Moses, one might pluck the corn and eat as he went through the fields, but he was not to put his sickle in it. So the Lord and His disciples availed themselves of this privilege. They were rubbing out the kernels of wheat and eating them, but certain of the legalists, the scribes and the Pharisees, were watching them and said to the Lord, “Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day?” Had the Word of God prohibited it? Why did they use this term, “not lawful?” This was according to tradition. Our Lord answered them by referring to an incident that had occurred many years before. David was fleeing from Saul to escape from his jealous rage. David and they which were with him became anhungred and went to the house of God and asked the priest if he had any bread and he replied that there was none except the showbread. David asked for some of that in order to satisfy his hungry men. The priest complied and David and his men ate of that bread. Jesus said to them, “Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him; how he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone?” The point the Lord Jesus was emphasizing is this that man is more important in the eyes of God than any ritual observance. And yet how slow we are to realize this! David and his men were suffering and Jesus commends the high priest for giving them the showbread. Our God is a lover of men and He has given to His people ordinances that they might be used as a blessing, and not made into a burden. “And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.” In other words, He was the one who had given the Sabbath. These people were finding fault with Him, the Son of man, the Lord of the Sabbath. Here was God manifest in the flesh standing among them, yet they knew Him not.
The second incident was of similar character. “And it came to pass also on another Sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right had was withered.” The one incident occurred outside in the wheat field and this one in the synagogue. He saw a man with a withered right hand. Jesus always sees the one who is in need. He never overlooks one in distress, always sympathizes with any one who is in trouble. The Sadducees and Pharisees saw this man also. I can imagine they said among themselves, “This is the Sabbath day and if he dares to heal that man on the Sabbath we can brand him as a Sabbath breaker.” You know when people get taken up with some little religious niceties they can be as cruel as savages. These legalists would rather have left this man in his wretched condition than have him healed on the Sabbath. So they watched to see what Jesus would do. He knew their thoughts, of course He did, and that speaks of His deity. He read their inmost thoughts. He knew all that was running through their minds. And so He turned to the man saying, “Rise up, and stand forth in the midst.” I think I can see that poor fellow standing there with such an expectant expression on his face! Is Jesus going to do something for him? The Pharisees and scribes and priests are all watching Him and Jesus turns to them and says, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? To save life, or to destroy it?” The legalists did not dare to reply. They stood there with downcast but angry eyes, and then the Lord Jesus said to the man, “Stretch for thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.” In a moment new life and strength came into the hand. One would have thought that the most hard-hearted man there would have shouted praise to God but instead these zealots were filled with anger. They wanted to get rid of Him, because He had broken their regulations and did not fit in with their legal standards. They did not realize that He was manifesting the love and graciousness of God. So they would have destroyed Him, but nobody could kill Him till the time came for Him to lay down His life on the cross.
“And it came to pass in those days that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” Instead of arguing with these men, He left them and went out in the mountain to talk with God, His Father, to commune with Him, whose will He had come to do.