Home   e-Library       中文 
e-Library Home |  Browse By Category |  Study the Bible    
 (The Doctrine of Sabbath)
Chapter 8: How Jesus Observed the Sabbath
TOC | Previous | Next

CHAPTER 8: How Jesus observed the Sabbath

8.1         Introduction

The early years of the first century AD, when Jesus came to the world to undertake His earthly ministry, was a time of relative religious freedom. Despite being subject to Roman rule, the Jews were able to practise their faith with little hindrance, and the religious leaders could develop and promote the oral traditions that were so important to them. The latter came to impact significantly on the Jewish way of life, but not necessarily in a positive manner. From the Gospels, we learn of the exacting nature of those laws, and of how the Jewish leaders used them to find fault with Jesus when He performed miracles of healing on the Sabbath. The outcome was that Jesus had to challenge their legalistic stance and make known the true spirit of the day. 

8.2         Sabbaths in Nazareth

Bible passage: Luke 4:16–30

This is the first recorded account of Jesus observing the Sabbath. Luke writes that He went to Nazareth, His childhood home, to attend the synagogue “as His custom was” (Lk 4:16). On that day, Jesus stood up to read from the Book of Isaiah. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To preach deliverance to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed,

To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”  

            Luke 4:18–19; cf. Isaiah 61:1–2

After He finished, He closed the book, sat down and told the congregation, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).

What exactly had Jesus fulfilled? The passage spoke of the “acceptable year of the Lord”—the Year of Jubilee, the fiftieth year in the Jewish calendar—a time when the poor were traditionally released from their debts and servitude. It prefigured the salvation work of the Messiah: the fact that He would come to the world to set mankind free. He would preach the message of salvation to the lowly, comfort the needy, deliver those bound by sin, restore the sight of the blind and liberate the oppressed. It was particularly significant that Jesus chose to announce the nature of His ministry on a Sabbath day, and it set the context for His compassionate and miraculous deeds on Sabbaths thereafter.

It was unfortunate that the people did not respond suitably to Jesus’ momentous declaration. While they marvelled at His eloquence, they could not conceal their underlying scepticism: was this man before them not the son of Joseph, the carpenter? (Lk 4:22). What they wanted was evidence of His prophetic credentials (Lk 4:23).

Jesus’ response was to point out that no prophet had ever been accepted by his own countrymen, and cited the examples of Elijah who was sent by God to a Sidonian widow, and Elisha who healed Namaan, a Syrian commander (Lk 4:22–27). Upon hearing these words, the Jews became infuriated and promptly marched Him out of the city, intending to throw Him off the cliff (Lk 4:28–29). Fortunately, Jesus managed to free Himself and went on His way.

The situation did not improve when Jesus later returned to Nazareth to teach once again in the synagogue (Mt 13:54–58; Mk 6:1–6). The people stubbornly refused to accept Him and were “offended at Him” (Mt 13:57; Mk 6:3). The writer Mark notes, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief…” (Mk 6:5–6).

In summary, Jesus attempted to share the grace of God with the people of His own hometown on two separate Sabbaths. Unfortunately, their hardness of heart prevented them from receiving that grace, and therefore the wonderful blessings articulated by Isaiah bypassed them. 

8.3         Sabbaths in Galilee

Bible passages: Mark 1:21–34; Lk 4:31–41

Here, it is recorded that Jesus went to Capernaum to teach in the synagogue. While there, He cast out an unclean spirit (Mk 1:23–28). Later, He went to the house of Simon and Andrew where He healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was ill with a fever (Mk 1:29–31). In the evening, many people who were sick and demon-possessed were brought to the door, and He extended His hand of mercy upon these also (Mk 1:32–34).

Jesus continued preaching in the synagogues in Galilee and casting out evil spirits (Mk 1:39). By performing many of these gracious acts on the Sabbath, He showed that it was a day of blessing and release.

8.4         Healing at the Pool of Bethesda

Bible passage: John 5:2–18

The event recorded in this passage occurs in Jerusalem during a Jewish feast. On the Sabbath, Jesus came across a man who had been infirm for thirty-eight years. He was lying beside the Pool of Bethesda, near the Sheep Gate. Here, a multitude of sick people—the blind, the lame and the paralyzed—were waiting for a miracle known as “the moving of the water”. They believed that an angel came down at a certain time to stir the water, and whoever was able to enter the pool first when it happened would be healed. Sadly, for the infirm man, no one would help him secure that coveted place.

Fortunately, Jesus took pity on him and said, “Rise, take your bed and walk” (Jn 5:8).  Immediately, the man got up and was able to take up his bed and walk. Later, in the temple, Jesus cautioned him to “sin no more” (Jn 5:14).

However, instead of rejoicing with the man, the Jews ungraciously pointed out, “It is not lawful for you to carry your bed” (Jn 5:10). They then proceeded to confront Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Jesus’ reaction was to declare an important truth: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” In other words,  both He and the Father were “working” continuously for the benefit of man—by giving and sustaining life, and guiding people to salvation. Their gracious deeds did not stop on the Sabbath day.

By performing this miracle, Jesus was found guilty on a number of counts: firstly, He broke the Jewish law by healing on the Sabbath and by instructing the man to carry a burden. Secondly, He dared to call God His Father, thereby making Himself equal to God. These matters provoked the fury of the Jews, and from that time onwards, they plotted diligently to kill Him.     

8.5         The disciples pluck grain

Bible passages: Matthew 12:1–8; Mark 2:23–28; Luke 6:1–5

While passing through some grain fields, Jesus’ disciples plucked at the heads of grain and rubbed off the chaff so that they could eat. The sharp-eyed Pharisees saw what they were doing and complained to Jesus, saying, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” (Mt 12:2; Mk 2:24; Lk 6:2). According to the Jewish laws, the actions of the disciples most likely broke two work prohibitions: reaping and threshing.

Jesus responded with two important points. Firstly, He reminded the Pharisees that God desired mercy above sacrifice (Mt 12:7; cf. Hos 6:6). He illustrated this point by telling the story of David and his men who were, under desperate circumstances, permitted to eat the showbread reserved for the priests (1 Sam 21:1–6). Secondly, Jesus stated that the priests were permitted to perform their sacred duties in the temple on the Sabbath; and now, someone far greater than the temple was in their midst—the “Son of Man [who] is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8). Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah—God manifested in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16; Jn 1:1–3)—the one with ultimate authority over the Sabbath. It was His teachings and personal example they should be following.

8.6         The healing of a man with a withered hand

Bible passages: Matthew 12:9–13; Mark 3:1–5; Luke 6:6–10

After arriving in Galilee, Jesus entered a synagogue where he saw a man whose hand was withered. The Pharisees, who were observing Jesus closely, asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus replied, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mt 12:11–12).

On hearing Jesus’ words, the Pharisees kept quiet (Mk 3:4); they could offer no counter argument. Nevertheless, Jesus was grieved by their hardness of heart (Mk 3:5). They did not realize that their laws were rigid, harsh and flawed. Furthermore, they neglected a fundamental principle of the Sabbath, which was to do good to others.

Jesus told the disabled man to stretch out his hand; and as he did so, was healed. Sadly, the Pharisees viewed this miraculous deed as an affront to their authority and plotted to kill Jesus (Mt 12:14). Their intentions highlighted the added poignancy of His words: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mk 3:4).

8.7         The healing of a blind man

Bible passage: John 9:1–14

One Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples came upon a man who had been blind from birth. The disciples were curious to know whose sin had brought about his condition: the man’s or his parents’. Jesus told them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (Jn 9:3).

Jesus then spat on the earth to make some clay with which to anoint the man’s eyes, and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. On his return, the man discovered he could see. His neighbours and those who knew him were astonished and brought him to the Pharisees. The latter proceeded to interrogate both him and his parents.

Once again, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Some said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (Jn 9:16).

Others were not so sure, however, and commented, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” (Jn 9:16).

The Pharisees pressured the man to denounce Jesus as a sinner, but he refused. As a result, they cast him out of the synagogue (Jn 9:34). Fortunately, his ordeal was ameliorated when Jesus went to find him and to reveal His identity as the Son of God. At that point, the man who once was blind declared, “Lord, I believe!” and bowed down in worship (Jn 9:38).

8.8         The healing of a crippled woman

Bible passage: Luke 13:10–17

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, when He saw a crippled woman whose spine had been deformed for eighteen years. Jesus said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity” (Lk 13:12) and laid His hands on her, making her straight.

It was unfortunate that the ruler of the synagogue reacted with annoyance. Addressing the crowd, he declared, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore, come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day” (Lk 13:14).

The response of Jesus was swift and strong: “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (Lk 13:15–16).

Again, Jesus had to highlight a fundamental problem with the oral traditions: they allowed a person to care for an animal, but did not permit the healing of a child of God. He was astonished at the extent of the religious leaders’ heartless legalism.  

In the end, His opponents could only recoil in shame; the people, on the other hand, rejoiced at having witnesssed the power of God. This miracle led to liberation in more ways than one.

8.9         The healing of a man with dropsy

Bible passage: Luke 14:1–6

Luke 14 records Jesus dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. It was probably more than mere coincidence that there was a man with dropsy (oedema) there. The lawyers and Pharisees observed Jesus closely. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus posed the question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Lk 14:3).

The religious leaders kept silent, and so Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way. He then turned to the dinner guests and said, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” (Lk 14:5).

With these words, Jesus once again highlighted the mismatch of priorities in the oral traditions. Again, no one was able to counter His argument (Lk 14:6). 

8.10       Conclusion

From the Gospels, we see that it was Jesus’ custom to observe the Sabbath: He attended the synagogues, read the Scriptures, taught the word of God, healed the sick and cast out demons. As He did so, He challenged the Jewish teachers over the unhelpful nature of their oral laws. Jesus wanted them to understand that the Sabbath was a day of blessing and release, not one of burden. Hence, He consistently chose to manifest God’s grace on this day.


© January 2012 True Jesus Church.

PDF Download