Jesus and the Sabbath
Lesson 15

When Jesus first appeared in His public ministry, the religious leaders formed part of the crowds that flocked to hear Him. They listened with interest, and hoped that He would fulfill their expectations, but when they saw the interest and enthusiasm of the multitude reach the point where they would have taken Him by force to make Him a king; and Jesus, instead of accepting the honor or encouraging their efforts, withdrew Himself from them; they realized that all their ambitious hopes of deliverance from the dominion of Rome were utterly vain so far as Jesus was concerned.

But by this time His influence with the people had become so widespread and so strong that the church leaders saw that their influence over the people was very rapidly vanishing. Something must be done, and that very soon, to preserve their own place and dignity. It was manifestly too late to think of commanding Him not to preach or teach, for by this time they knew full well that not only He, but the multitudes themselves, would pay no attention to any such prohibition. But there was a way out—a means by which to assert their power over Him and the people.

If, however, the religious leaders were to successfully bring about Jesus’ death, two things were necessary. They must first of all seek to prove before the people that He could not possibly be the long awaited Messiah and secondly, they must have the assent and cooperation of the Roman power.

The first they sought to accomplish by proving Jesus disregarded the law, at least so far as they interpreted it, and no precept of the law had they more perverted than the keeping of the Sabbath.

1. While walking by a field of ripe grain, what did Jesus’ disciples do?

Mark 2:23

Note: The rabbis had so perverted the Sabbath that its observance reflected the character of selfish and arbitrary men rather than the character of a loving heavenly Father. It was these misconceptions that Jesus deliberately set out to correct. The controversy between Christ and the religious leaders of His day was whether God’s ideas of the Sabbath, or man’s ideas, should prevail. There was no dispute then as to what day was the Sabbath, or even if the Sabbath should be kept, but as to what constituted Sabbath-keeping and what the real meaning of the Sabbath was.

2. For what did Jesus tell them the Sabbath was made?

Mark 2:27

3. What did Jesus claim was His position relative to the Sabbath?

Matthew 12:8

Matthew and Mark both carry the record right on as though it was the same Sabbath day, but Luke indicates it was a “on another Sabbath.” Luke 6:6. At any rate, it seems to have been no later than the following Sabbath when Jesus again confronted them and their idea of Sabbath-keeping.

4. As Jesus entered the synagogue, what did He see?

Mark 3:1

Note: Jesus knew they were watching, and that they might have the fullest possible evidence, He told the man who had the withered hand to “stand forth in the midst.” This drew everybody’s attention to Jesus and the man standing their waiting.

5. After telling the cripple man to stand forth, what did Jesus ask those watching?

Mark 3:4

Note: It was a maxim among the Jews that a failure to do good, when one had opportunity, was to do evil; to neglect to save life was to kill.

The Jews were already waiting and watching to see whether Jesus would yield to their demands, and compromise in order to please them. If He does not, they believe they will have something with which to accuse Him to the people. They could not say it was lawful to do evil, for that would be contrary to their teaching, and they dare not say it was lawful to do good, because then they would then be sanctioning the healing of this man on the Sabbath. They dare not say it is lawful to kill, yet to say it was lawful to save life would be, in effect, to condone what Jesus was about to do. He told them to their faces, and they knew it was so, that if one of them had a sheep that fell into a ditch on the Sabbath day, they would pull it out to save its life. Matthew 12:11. Whether they would do this out of mercy to the sheep, or for fear of losing the price of it, matters not, they would have done so. Therefore, “they held their peace.”

6. What did Jesus then say to the man with the withered hand?

Mark 3:5

7. In their counsels, what was it determined should be done with Jesus?

John 11: 47, 53

8. If they let Jesus alone, what did they conclude would be the results?

John 11:48

Note: In their opinion of themselves it was a very easy thing to make their place and dignity identical with the very existence of the church and even the nation itself. But subject as they were to the Romans, it was not legal for them to put Jesus to death.

9. Who did the Pharisees now take counsel with?

Mark 3:6

Note: Now as the Pharisees saw that Jesus was not going to yield to their ideas of Sabbath-keeping, they, in order to carry out their purpose to kill him, joined themselves to their sectarian enemies. They could not carry out their purposes without political power and thus they entered into politics.

In the church the Pharisees and the Herodians stood at opposite poles. The Herodians were so called because they were partisans of Herod. They were the apologists of Herod in his position as king of Judea. But as Herod was king only by the direct appointment of Rome, and held his place and authority as king by the power of Rome, for anyone to be a partisan and an apologist of Herod was to be even more a partisan and an apologist of Rome. However, there is naturally no enmity between fallen angels and fallen men. Both are evil; and evil, wherever it exists, will league against the good in a desperate companionship.

10. What question did Jesus ask that showed He read their purposes?

John 7:19

11. For what reason were they angry at Him?

John 7:23

Note: What was the controversy? The Sabbath.

In the ninth chapter of John and again in Luke 13 and 14, we have three more instances of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. Each time, his enemies saw just what they were watching for.

Next, we read in John 11 that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and that the religious leaders were ready to go so far as to kill Lazarus in order to destroy the evidence of Christ’s power to raise the dead. See John 12:10.

12. What did the religious authorities believe would be the result of all men believing on Jesus?

John 11:48

Note: Notice the argument was really this. They were continually accusing Jesus of Sabbath-breaking; and here they are saying in essence; “If we let Him thus alone, all men will believe on him.” This, they reasoned, would make all men Sabbath-breakers, and when the whole nation became Sabbath-breakers, the judgments of God would be visited upon them, and the Lord would bring the Romans and sweep away the whole nation. Thus, in their reasoning, it was better that “one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not.” John 11:50

13. What did Jesus challenge the religious authorities to do?

John 8:46

Note: The New International Version puts it this way: “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”

14. What is the only Bible definition of sin?

1 John 3:4

15. What was Jesus’ attitude towards His Father’s commandments?

John 15:10

Note: Jesus did not, as some charge, disregard or set aside the Sabbath, but as He said, fulfilled the law. Matthew 5:17. In so doing, He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah in magnifying and making it honorable. See Isaiah 42:21.

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