In today’s chapter the question rose of what is lawful to do on the Sabbath. What is commanded to do and not do on the Sabbath, according to Torah, is rest and do no work (Exo 23:12), and set the day apart and honor the Lord in it.
How does abstaining from our daily work, which we engage in in order to provide for our needs, give honor to God? Daily labor, especially in those days, required all a person’s time and energy to accomplish. Men (and women for that matter) did not work eight hours and day and then have eight hours for leisure, and eight hours for sleep, as they do today. The normal work day was at least twelve hours (Mat 20:1-16). Having a day of rest from work meant that people had time to assemble together to worship the Lord, to fellowship, and to learn from His Word – something the work week would preclude because there are only so many hours in a day.
Another significant way a day of rest honors the Lord as God, is that on a day of no work, no crops or food or merchandise is produced, nothing is bought, and nothing is sold. On the Sabbath, a man stops trusting in the strength of his labor to provide for his needs, and must trust in the Lord his God to provide for his needs.
The reason we rest and do no work on the Sabbath, is historic- prophetic, like all of the Torah. The history relayed in Torah is also prophecy of the Messiah. All of the Torah including its commandments in fact prophesies, and the command concerning Sabbath is no exception.
The history part, is that God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh, and blessed the seventh day as a set apart day to Him (Exo 20:11). So when we rest on the Sabbath, we are acknowledging that it is Elohiym who is our Creator and God. We honor Him as God when we hallow the day He hallowed as Creator and God. We identify ourselves as His people by our action of resting.
The prophecy part, is that for 6000 years man and sin and the curse of work which man brought upon himself by sin (Gen 3:16-19) has reigned, but the seventh millennium will be a millennium of rest — freedom from sin and the curse and work (works? works of self righteousness which cannot save) — under the reign of the returned Jesus Christ (Rev 20:1-6). So when we rest on the Sabbath, we are acknowledging that it is Jesus who is our Savior and Messiah, by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast. When we rest on the Sabbath, we proclaim His return and millennial reign.
By the time Jesus arrived on the earth, the Pharisees had added all kinds of safeguards around the Torah, additional commands that they taught men were to do. The purpose was to be a “fence” around Torah, so that if you don’t transgress the “fence,” then there is no possibility of coming close enough to Torah to transgress it. The problem is, a fence in itself is a violation of Torah:
“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Deu 4:2
But the fence, the additional regulations, add to the word which the Lord commanded. God didn’t want more than He commanded, because at some point the sheer weight of regulations makes it impossible to keep them all. It becomes burdensome. So as we have been seeing throughout Matthew, Jesus is restoring the proper meaning of Torah, and that often got Him on the Pharisees’ bad side.
When Jesus’ disciples ate grain from the wheat field on Sabbath, they were eating only what they needed to satisfy their momentary hunger. They were not engaged in the work of harvesting a crop or making food out of that crop, and this is why Jesus said to the Pharisees, in essence, they were more concerned about making rituals out of Torah than they were about showing mercy to others — what the heart of Torah is all about.
The Pharisees were less concerned that Jesus had violated the Sabbath (which He hadn’t) and more concerned about losing their position of authority as Torah experts. They leapt on the excuse that Jesus violated the Sabbath as the explanation for their animosity, but it was not. That is usually the way with people who are consumed by pride. Even if they see a miracle, such as a mute and deaf man instantly healed, it will not speak to them, as it did to the common people, “The Spirit of God is at work here, this might be the Son of David.” The Pharisees had eyes to see, but they did not see the message of the miracle, because their pride had blinded them.
We have to be on guard ourselves, because as soon as we start learning Torah in order to obey it, pride becomes a tool the enemy uses to derail us. When we were ignorant of Torah, his weapon was lawlessness, the idea that we have been forgiven, all is under grace, so we can do whatever we want. But when we begin to obey Torah, he will either try to beat us up in the points that we stumble in, or seek to make us feel proud in our obedience. That pride chokes out mercy for other believers that maybe don’t see or do everything the way we do, and it also quenches the Spirit who desires to flow through us to be living water to a thirsty and dying world out there.