Jesus Is Our Perfect Sabbath Example

Author: Aubrey Duncan

Author: Aubrey Duncan

The work of a prophet, as we have discovered, has always been to correct God’s people and point them towards God. Also, their work involved comforting and consoling God’s people when they are hurt and confirming their actions when they are on the right path.

Not only were they teachers by expounding upon the word of God, but their lifestyles testified to their connection with God. At all times, during their ministry, prophets lived according to the word and will of God. No one fulfilled such a mission more than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He thus spoke of Himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor, He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).

Quite interestingly, it was on the Sabbath-day that Jesus chose to declare to the world who He was and what His mission was all about. Such are the blessings of the Sabbath. The record reveals, “And He (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day, and stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16). This record alone is evidence enough regarding Jesus’ attitude towards the Sabbath. How men can conjecture that Jesus abolished the Sabbath is beyond reason and without Scriptural foundation. Jesus, being his/her example, the committed Christian should do likewise by honoring God on the Sabbath-day.

By so doing, they would indeed be in the company of their Savior. The Scripture confirms that Jesus was a prophet. Moses prophesied, “The Lord thy God will rise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Lest there be any misunderstanding as to whom that prophet would be, Stephen declared to the Pharisees, “This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, ‘A prophet shall the Lord thy God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me, Him ye shall hear” (Acts 7:37).

As a true witness for Jesus, Stephen, in speaking to those that were about to stone him to death, boldly proclaimed Jesus Christ to be the prophet that Moses prophesied about. The apostle John concurs. In referring to Jesus, he declared, “Many of the people therefore when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is THE PROPHET ” (John 7:40).

Not only was Jesus a prophet, The apostle Peter declares that He is our example. Says he, “For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). As we follow Jesus, through the dusty streets of Palestine, we will surely discover what He has left us as an example with regard to God’s Sabbath.

It, like all of His revelations to us, is a matter of faith. As we look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, we observe that He, above all men, kept the Sabbath in highest regard. He did not, as some teach, break the Sabbath. Had He done so, He would be just like us, a lost sinner. Consequently, He could in no wise have been our Savior. Ultimately, it is to Him that we look as we seek to understand and settle this issue of God’s Sabbath in our hearts.

Our first encounter with Jesus, on the Sabbath- day, is found in the account of Jesus and His disciples being accused by the Pharisees of breaking the Sabbath. The incident, recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, revolved around Jesus’ disciples plucking corn to eat on the Sabbath-day. Matthew reports, “At that time, Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and His disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat…But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto Him, Behold thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day” (Matthew 12:1,2). In responding to their charge, Jesus reminded them of David and his men when they entered into the sanctuary and ate the shewbread, which was not ‘lawful’ for them to do. Jesus also reminded them of certain indiscretions of the ancient priests in carrying out their duties. His (Jesus) conclusion to the matter is recorded thus, “But if ye had known what this means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless…For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day” (Matthew 12:7,8).

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First of all, Jesus was not the one who plucked the ears of corn. The Scripture is abundantly clear that it was his disciples.
Secondly, Jesus declared them to be guiltless. For one to obtain food and eat on the Sabbath- day, if they are hungry, is not breaking the Sabbath. It is clear from the account in three Gospels that Jesus and His disciples did not purposely go out on the Sabbath-day to pick corn in defiance of the commandment not to do any work on the Sabbath-day.

In fact, it is obvious that they were in transit from one place to another. During that time, Jesus’ disciples got hungry and proceeded to feed themselves. More importantly, Jesus used the occasion to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in their exacting, non-Biblical rules regarding the Sabbath. Had His disciples been wrong in their actions, Jesus would have been the first to rebuke them. He did so, on other occasions, when they erred in His presence. Please note also that even if His disciples had erred, Jesus did not condemn them, but rather, extended mercy.

Forgiveness for breaking the law is not the same as condoning one’s breaking the law. Finally, and most importantly, Jesus declared that He is Lord of the Sabbath. Nowhere in this episode did Jesus make the slightest reference to doing away with the Sabbath. He simply reinforced the principle that the Sabbath was still binding. He also declared that He is the Master of the Sabbath. The Savior further taught that He would forgive men if, in ignorance, they transgress the Sabbath or any other commandment.

As we follow Jesus, we find Him in the temple on yet another Sabbath-day. The example is again given that attending worship services on the Sabbath-day is what God requires of us.

By the example of Jesus, and not the tradition of men, we must order our lives. In doing His work of mercy for which He came, Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath. The record reads, “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 the Pharisees watched him, whether He would heal on the Sabbath-day; that they may find an accusation against Him” (Luke 6:6,7). Jesus, perceiving their thoughts, posed the questions, “What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath-day, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore is it lawful to do well on the Sabbath days” (Matthew 12:11-12).

Of course, the Scribes and Pharisees were dumbfounded and could not answer Him truthfully. If they did, they would have condemned themselves. They therefore kept their silence. Then Jesus, looking upon the man with the withered hand, declared, “Stretch forth thy hand.” (Matthew 12:13). And He (Jesus) healed him. Again, nowhere in this scenario, did Jesus remotely indicate that the Sabbath was no longer in effect. He certainly did not indicate that it was in any way less binding upon men because He came. Quite to the contrary, He confirmed that not only is the Sabbath-day yet holy; but showed by example that it is lawful, in the eyes of God, to perform acts of mercy on the Sabbath day.

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As we continue our journey with the Savior, we find Him proclaiming the message of the Kingdom on the Sabbath-day, at church. And once again He encountered an opportunity for healing. The Scripture records, “And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath…And behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself… And when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thy infirmity…And He laid hands on her and immediately she was made straight” (Luke 13:10-13).

The leader of the synagogue was filled with indignation. He thought that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. This leader had the unmitigated gall to remind Jesus that God had given six days in which men should work, including performing acts of mercy, and no such thing should be done on the Sabbath day. To which Jesus replied, “Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall and lead him away to watering…And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke13: 15,16).The Scribes and Pharisees were convicted and ashamed.

They could not, in good conscience, doubt His pronouncement or truthfully accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The lesson taught here is not that the Sabbath is eliminated or otherwise abandoned; but rather, that the Sabbath is established by performing works of mercy on the Sabbath day.

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Accompanying Jesus, again on the Sabbath-day, we remain with Him as He makes His way to church. On His way there Jesus encountered a crippled man. This man found it impossible to get others to help him step into the pool of Bethesda. It was the prevailing belief that if, at certain times, one steps into the pool, he would be healed. Jesus, upon seeing this man and the helpless condition in which he found himself, was moved with compassion. Jesus appealed to him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:7). The crippled man, obviously not realizing who it was that spoke to him, replied by recounting all the problems he was having in getting healed. To which Jesus responded, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk” (John 5:8). Because it was on the Sabbath-day, the Jewish leaders were extremely angry with Jesus and sought to persecute and slander Him. They pursued Him relentlessly until they finally caught up with Him. Realizing their motives and reading the intents of their hearts, Jesus asked, “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keep the law…I have done one work and ye all marveled… Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers) and ye on the Sabbath- day receive circumcision, that the Law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath-day…Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:19,21- 24).

We are once more faced with a situation where Sabbath keeping is confirmed and uplifted by Jesus. He taught, by both precept and example, what is proper to do on the Sabbath-day. Though many see these incidents as evidence not to keep

God’s Sabbath-day holy; Jesus, our Savior plainly demonstrated differently by His living example and teaching. These encounters exemplify that we are to keep the Sabbath day holy. They help us to do so by giving us examples of what it is permissible to do and accepted by God on the Sabbath. Jesus teaches us that it is right in the sight of God to do good on the Sabbath-day. In stark contrast to what false prophets and teachers advocate, Jesus does not teach that men should profane or otherwise do away with the Sabbath-day, simply because He came and died for us. Instead, He simply gave us many examples of how to keep the Sabbath-day holy.

As He gazed down the highway of prophetic time and foresaw the destruction of His beloved city, Jerusalem, and the end of the world, Jesus warned, “But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath- day” (Matthew 24:20). It was almost another forty years before the destruction occurred. Here is the clearest indication that Jesus did not abolish the Sabbath.

Rather, it is plainly presents the fact that the Sabbath should be kept after His death, even to the end of time. Jesus, not unlike the other prophets before and after Him, constantly kept the importance of God’s true Sabbath before the eyes and minds of the people. He, the only true Messiah, demonstrated the sanctity of the Sabbath even in death. All four of the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, testify to this fact. They all are remarkably consistent in reporting the events of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. This being the case, the mention of one such account will be sufficient to illustrate the point of Jesus’ rest on the Sabbath, even in death. Luke records thus, “And that day was the preparation day, and the Sabbath drew on…

And the women also, which came with Him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre and how His body was laid…And they returned and prepared spices and ointments and rested the Sabbath day, according to the commandment” (Luke 23:54-56).

Certainly, Jesus’ disciples never gave any thought to the notion that because He was crucified, the Sabbath was abolished. Nowhere, in His three and one half years of earthly ministry, did Jesus address the issue of changing or abolishing the seventh-day Sabbath.

As He laid in the grave on the Sabbath-day, His disciples honored Him by continuing to follow what He had taught them by example, that the Sabbath-day is holy and must be kept thus. The sanctity of the Sabbath has never changed. We who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ must strive, by His grace, to do as He did in all areas of our lives, including keeping of His Sabbath-day holy. The apostle John cautions us, “He that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself also to walk, even as He walked” (1 John 2:6). And how did Jesus walk in regards to the Sabbath-day? He honored it and kept it holy according to the commandment. So must we. In all the examples cited regarding Jesus Christ’s attitude toward the Sabbath, we are presented with the facts of how Jesus perceived the Sabbath and how He reflected it in His personal life.

For the Jews of Jesus’ time, the Sabbath was a burden. It was a time to be rigidly observed by complying with a regimen of man-made rules, rituals and regulations. That which God has given as a blessing at creation, man had corrupted by adding a multitude of unwarranted rites and unbiblical regulations, thus making it burdensome. Unfortunately, that’s the legacy of the Sabbath that has been handed down through the ages. That is a false picture. By boldly defying human custom and tradition, Jesus has left us with the right picture and the perfect example of how to keep His Sabbath-day holy.

For Christians, God’s Sabbath-day is a reminder of who our Creator is. It is also a commemoration of who our Redeemer is. Paul stresses to Titus, “Who (Jesus Christ) gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good work” (Titus 2:14). Paul additionally declared to the Jews who had come to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, “For He spoke in a certain place of the seventh-day on this wise, ‘and God did rest on the seventh day from all His works… For if Jesus had given them rest, then would He not afterward have spoken of another day…

There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:4, 8,9). Our rest is in Jesus Christ. Keeping His Sabbath-day holy is an outward demonstration of that rest in Him. It is an honor, a joy, and a privilege to do so. Sabbath keeping is a revelation of God’s love and compassion for all humanity. It is a blessing. It is truthfully abiding in Jesus. It is being yoked up with Him. To keep God’s Sabbath holy is to delight in Jesus Christ as our Creator, Savior and Redeemer. God’s Sabbath day is not only a commemoration of our rest in Jesus, but a sign to the world that we are truly His. Jesus Christ, on His sojourn on this earth, taught us how to truly keep His Sabbath-day holy. He continues to empower us to do so today.

Ellen G. White, the nineteenth Christian commentator, tells us in her classic, Desire of Ages,”By His humanity Christ touched humanity; by His divinity, He lays hold on the throne of God. As the son of man, He gave us an example of obedience; as the Son of God He gives us power to obey” (Desires of Ages, pg 23-24). When we are truly resting in Him, He will lead and empower us to keep holy His blessed Sabbath-day. We will come to realize that Sabbath keeping is not a mere round of rituals, encompassing a list of burdensome rules. Instead, we will experience being a partaker of a joyous experience in He who is our Maker and Redeemer. John, the beloved disciple counsels us, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… The same was in the beginning with God…all things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made… In Him was life and the life was the light of men… And the light shined in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 14). Paul reminds us, “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, who he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

This is He in whom we find our rest. The Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that are in them is also our Redeemer who came to save us from sin and death. If you, by faith, claim Him to be your Creator and accept Him as your Savior and Redeemer, then He simply asks you, “Remember His Sabbath day to keep it Holy” It is not a burdensome task that He had to abolish. Keeping God’s Sabbath holy is simply a love response to the one who created us, saves from our sins, and who will ultimately deliver us from this world of sin and woe. Jesus Christ is the One who made the worlds. “For by Him were all things created, that are in the heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether there be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).

Rest is found only in Him. In Him the works of God are completed. In Him is the new creation. The apostle Paul tells us, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). On the cross Jesus cried, “It is finished” (John 19:30), thus showing that in His cross we find the perfect rest that comes only from the finished work of the Lord. This rest is gained by faith. Those who believe do enter into His rest. By faith, we have the finished, perfect work of the Lord as our own, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent” (John 6:29). Believing Him means obeying Him. Since in Him (Jesus Christ) the works of God are complete, it follows that by believing in Him we find the rest that God intends for us to have. The rest Jesus gives is rest from sin. The heavy-laden, whom He calls to Him, are those who are burdened with the weight of their sins. All men are thus burdened. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Our best works are utterly worthless to gain God’s favor. Nevertheless, Christ will have a people who are “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). The good works must be those that God Himself has wrought for us in Christ. Only His work is enduring. “His work is honorable and glorious; and His righteousness endures forever” (Psalm 111:3).

Our Lord and Savior emphatically declares, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19). Jesus’ fulfillment of the law was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah thus, “The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake: He will magnify the law and make it honorable” (Isaiah 42:21).

His fulfillment of the law is not to do away with it; but rather to make it more clear through His living example. He kept it perfectly as an example for us to follow. Jesus never asks us what we think about the law, or what does Paul say about it. He simply beckons us to follow Him. He asks us to keep His Sabbath- day holy as evidence of our trust in Him. The Savior longs to see His character reflected in our lives. His desire is for us to uplift Him as our Creator and submit to His will in our lives. When, by God’s grace, we do that, we demonstrate to the world our genuine faith in His word. Our obedience to His will is the evidence of our saving relationship with our Creator, Savior, and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He counsels and assures us, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven…Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill… For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:16-18). By Hs grace, our lights must shine, as we strive to keep all of His commandments thus glorifying our Father which is in heaven. God has encoded His sanctifying principles in His moral law, the Ten Commandments. In the next chapter we will take an insightful look at the Sabbath in God’s supreme law, the Ten Commandments.

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