The Sabbath And Service To God

“‘Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here’” (Matthew 12:5–6).

Seldom would any Christian today, even the most fastidious and rule-oriented among us, consider preaching, teaching Sunday school, leading youth ministry, or other similar work as profaning the Lord’s Day. Yet these activities require much time and effort—on Sunday. Likewise, the most scrupulous of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time viewed the priests as innocent of any Sabbath breaking, even though such men worked in the temple twice as hard as on other days. For instance, sacrifices offered on the Sabbath were actually double sacrifices, requiring double the work of offering the normal daily sacrifice (Num. 28:9–10; cf. Lev. 24:8–9).

In this encounter, Jesus embarrassed and upset the Pharisees by showing how inconsistent their legalistic logic was. But they were even more upset and angry when He told them that something far greater and more important than the temple was in their midst. This was somewhat of an oblique reference, but the Jews had no doubt that Jesus was referring to Himself and again claiming to be God (cf. Matt. 9:2–6; 11:3–5, 25–27).

Our Lord’s main purpose, however, was not to prove His deity to the Jewish leaders. It was to argue that, in light of that deity, He had the right and authority to set aside Sabbath regulation as He saw fit—even more prerogative than did David or the temple priests. And above all, no human traditions or customary ways of doing things could or should ever hinder genuine service for God.

Ask Yourself

Some may view this as saying that Jesus was flippant about the commandments of God, as if they weren’t actually that important and could be ignored if desired. How would you respond to a person who saw an inconsistency in the meaning of this passage?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.

The Sabbath And Deeds Of Necessity

“But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?’” (Matthew 12:3–4).

David the great king, psalmist, and warrior was a true hero of the Jews, even more so than the prophets and patriarchs were. Jesus here reminds the Pharisees of what happened when David and his men sought to escape the vengeful and jealous King Saul south of Gibeah. They asked for food when they came to the town where the tabernacle was located.

Ahimelech the priest gave David and his men the bread of the Presence because there was “no ordinary bread on hand” (1 Sam. 21:4). That consecrated bread was baked weekly, and each Sabbath day twelve new loaves (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) replaced the previous ones. Only the priests could eat these loaves.

On that unusual occasion, however, God allowed an exception for the sake of David and his companions, who were weakened by hunger. This exceptional action did not offend the Lord, and consequently He did not discipline either David or Ahimelech. It was better for the men to violate a ceremonial regulation if it was necessary to meet their basic needs.

If God allowed His people to sometimes disregard His own law in order to bene-fit their welfare, how could He not allow the purposeless and silly traditions of men and women to be broken so a work of necessity could take place?

Ask Yourself

How does this picture of a practical God square with your perception of Him? Are we sometimes protective and provincial about the name of God for reasons all our own—or perhaps as excuses for not dirtying our hands with human need?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.

Grainfields And The Sabbath

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath’” (Matthew 12:1–2).

Keeping the Sabbath was still a binding ceremonial duty for the Jews of Jesus’ day, but most of them had little idea of God’s original purpose for the day. Instead of being a day of rest, it had become a day of burden with thousands of man-made restrictions. Ironically it became harder to “rest” than to work the other six days.

The Sabbath had ceased being a delight for people but had become oppressive and frustrating. They were undoubtedly tired of the unscriptural system imposed on the day and welcomed any proper teaching about the Sabbath.

It’s difficult to know what the Pharisees were doing in the fields this day, other than to be watchdogs over the human traditions of the Sabbath. Their accusation that Jesus’ disciples had broken the Sabbath law was simply wrong because it elevated human tradition to the level of God’s Word. Centuries of observing rabbinic ritual had given it the status of legitimate law in the legalistic minds of the Pharisees. They gave only lip service to Scripture and merely used it to justify their traditions, many of which “invalidated the word of God” (Matt. 15:6).

The Jewish leaders’ indictment of Jesus and His disciples on this occasion illustrates a desire to merely protect their distorted, man-made conventions. In that way it perverted God’s original purpose for the Sabbath, which was to give humanity a special day to rest and serve Him, not to deal with an exasperating list of regulations.

Ask Yourself

How do you deal with others’ expectations, even when you know they’re forcing unreasonable requirements on you? Do you fulfill them out of a need to be thought highly of? How does a person balance freedom with proper responsibility?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.

Submission To Jesus Christ

“‘Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:29–30).

Jesus’ great invitation includes a call to submission, which inherently includes obedience and is symbolized by a yoke. The “yoke” was made of wood and designed to fit comfortably on the neck and shoulders of a work animal to prevent chafing. An ancient aphorism says, “Put your neck under the yoke and let your soul receive instruction.”

By analogy, Christ wants His disciples to be submissive and learn from Him. They must submit for many reasons, but foremost is to be taught by Him through the Word.

But in the process of submission, Jesus is “gentle and humble in heart” and graciously gives rest, not weariness, to His obedient disciples. Our Lord will never give us burdens too heavy to carry, because His burdens have nothing to do with works of the law or the human tradition of good deeds.

If we are faithful and submissive, our work of obedience to Christ will be joyful and happy. The apostle John explains, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Submission to Jesus Christ is the only true liberation anyone can experience, because only then can one become what God intended.

Thy precious will, O conquering Saviour, 
Doth now embrace and compass me; 
All discords hushed, my peace a river, 
My soul a prisoned bird set free. 
Sweet will of God still fold me closer, 
Till I am wholly lost in Thee.

Ask Yourself

Jesus’ purpose in calling you to submission is not to embitter you but to better you. Is anything keeping you from trusting that?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.

The Nature Of True Rest

“‘. . . and I will give you rest’” (Matthew 11:28).

Jesus promises genuine, unsurpassed spiritual rest to every person who turns to Him in repentance and humble faith. God’s rest is a key scriptural theme, and the writer of Hebrews warns we must not take it for granted and miss it—especially if we think we’re safe and yet do not believe, much as the Jews:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. (Heb. 4:1–3)

The dictionary provides us several definitions of “rest” that remarkably parallel God’s spiritual rest. First, rest is a cessation from activity and exertion. By analogy, divine rest means stopping all efforts at earning salvation. Second, rest means freedom from all that wearies or disturbs. And God’s rest gives believers freedom from every worry.

Third, the dictionary calls rest a fixed, settled quality. Likewise spiritual rest means our eternal destiny is secure in Christ. And finally, rest means someone can be confident and trustful. The spiritual parallel is the assurance that “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Ask Yourself

Are you suffering from a lack of rest and contentment in your life? What are the main culprits for this? Even if your current circumstances were to change very little, is it possible that God’s brand of rest could still settle down among it all?

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.