At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
Allow me to fill in some gaps: In the story the Pharisees are referencing, David is being chased by Saul who wants to kill him. David’s men come to the tabernacle hungry from being chased, and the only bread available was the bread that was for ceremonial use. This bread was to signify God abiding with his people, and it was not for common use. But the priest gave the bread to David and his men to eat, breaking the ceremonial law in order to keep the moral law of “love your neighbor” given in Leviticus, and God did not condemn him.
Jesus asked them, “Have you not read this story?” Of course they had! Hundreds of times! He goes on,
“I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Jesus’ statement here was not lost on the Pharisees like it is on us today. To claim to be Lord of the Sabbath was an undeniable statement of deity. Jesus was proclaiming himself to be God and nothing less. If you don’t think this was how the Pharisees understood him, consider that it says later in the chapter they “conspired to destroy him” because of this.
So, what does it mean to us that Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath?”
Ok, so back to the story about David. Jesus didn’t just arbitrarily mention it to show his greater knowledge of the Old Testament. David, by the ceremonial aspect of the law, should have died for eating that bread, but he and his men did not die, neither did God discipline the priest who allowed them to take it.
Catch this…the rules concerning the Old Testament Sabbath were provisional. Sabbath was a ceremony. It was a picture of something to come. Jesus says “something greater than the temple is here.” Can you see the faces of the Jewish teachers reeling from that statement??
Their lives revolved around that temple and the Sabbath, but you know what…we don’t meet in a temple today. There is no more temple, there are no more sacrifices, and the veil was ripped in two because something greater than the temple is here!
The Sabbath, a day of rest from the workweek, was always meant to be a picture of the spiritual rest of salvation that God had planned for His people. Look at Hebrews 4:
“While the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest.” … “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
That will preach. The reason the day we worship doesn’t matter anymore is because Jesus, the fulfillment of the Sabbath, has come! We who have come to Christ can enjoy the fulfillment of Sabbath — rest from trying to work our way into God’s favor. The rest the Jews enjoyed on Sabbath was a picture of the spiritual rest God’s people would enjoy because of Christ! The reason there are no more ceremonial laws required to attend worship services is because the one who fulfilled those laws perfectly has come! The reason there’s not a blood soaked altar at the front of your church is because the perfect Lamb of God has died once and for all!
No more shadows! No more pictures! Just one spotless God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, we have established that the law is fulfilled, but you know what. Man is still made from dust. We still get tired. We still get weak and testy when we are overwrought. And guess what…we still have the principle in Scripture set before us that we ought to work six days and rest one. Not as a matter of morality anymore, but as a matter of practicality.
So if you have found your spiritual rest in Christ, then not only do you have spiritual rest from the drive to earn salvation, but you can also take a day to rest from your physical labors, knowing that God will care for you and provide all your needs according to his riches in glory.
May you have a wonderfully blessed and restful Christmas season!