Jesus and the Sabbath

“He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’ For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:17–18).

The Sabbath observance was at the heart of Jewish worship in Jesus’ day. The Lord’s reply to those who persecuted Him for violating it (5:16), “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working,” implies that the Sabbath was not instituted for God’s benefit but for man’s (Mark 2:27).

Jesus’ statement that He worked on the Sabbath just like the Father was nothing less than a claim to full deity and equality with God—that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:8). His words also served as a subtle rebuke to the Jewish legalistic system, under which He had been indicted for doing good and showing mercy on the Sabbath. After all, God Himself does good and shows mercy on the Sabbath. Jesus, therefore, maintained that it is right to do good on the Sabbath, since God does.

The hostile Jews instantly grasped the import of Jesus’ words and as a result were continually seeking “all the more to kill Him.” He was not just breaking the Sabbath, but even worse, Jesus “also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” From this time forward they intensified their efforts to take His life, not just for flouting their man-made Sabbath regulations, but even more for asserting His deity.

Ask Yourself
Do you observe any Sabbath distinctions in your usual practice of the Lord’s Day? What are the benefits of these various habits or self-imposed restrictions? Would you say that the church today has a healthy understanding of the Sabbath? How could we lead each other to a better stance on it?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 60610