Luke 6:1-11: The Lord of the Sabbath
Many have the wrong idea about Christianity thinking that God has a taste for dry religious service. Many think God to be a stuffy bureaucrat who loves to multiply rules and empty ceremonies. But this is the wonderful thing about Jesus Christ, He reveals the Father and His will to us, and in this next section in Luke 6:1-11 we see that Jesus overturns false religion when he overturns man made laws which have been added to God’s laws, as well as loveless interpretations of His laws. Love and law are not opposites, but rather love fulfils the law. We must remember that religion is not something that is automatically pure in and of itself, it too can bear the marks of our sinfulness. This is what was happening in first century Judaism when Jesus exposes and rebukes the false religion of the Pharisees.
The law to keep the Sabbath holy was one of the 10 commandments and is the law under dispute in this section, it was originally a law given by God to man for his benefit and as a sign of the final rest that could be had in the new creation. God gave His law as a gift to benefit us, or as Jesus put it, Mark 2:27, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’ It was intended to be a day of fellowship with God, a day to rest from one’s labors, a day full of joy and anticipation of the final Sabbath rest when we would have unbroken fellowship with God.
This reality, this blessing, this positive purpose of the Sabbath law was lost sight of. This was in part due to the fact that because the Sabbath day was a sign of the covenant of works, it had the death penalty attached to it. Added to that was the fact that God made Israel observe all the Sabbaths it had broken when the land rested for 70 years during the exile (2 Chron. 36:20-21). This raised the importance of observing the Sabbath in everyone’s mind. 1Added to this was the time between Malachi and Matthew when there was no prophet and in the absence of a word from God the teachings and interpretations of men on the Bible came to be more highly esteemed than they ought. For example, because the Bible did not give a lot of detail about certain rules, like Jer. 17:22, ‘And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers.’ Schools of interpretation rose up to elaborate on all the ways in which one could break the Sabbath, because the Bible was not clear enough. These teachings came to be known as the Halakah. Sadly the Halakah added man’s teachings to God’s law and inevitably made it all about the rules and not about why the rule was originally given and a system of difficult burdens ensued. For some the law of God and these man made interpretations were put on a par. The clash between the Pharisees and Jesus on the question of the Sabbath is not a case of Jesus coming and abolishing the OT command to keep the Sabbath, but overturning the man made rules and loveless interpretations that had been added.
Our portions records two instances of conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus, the first is in the grainfields, the second takes place in the synagogue. The first has to do with Jesus allowing His disciples to break the man made additions to the law; the second has to do with the loveless interpretations of the law. These will be our two points.