Did Jesus Profane the Sabbath?
Did Jesus Break the Sabbath? Did Jesus sin? On several occasions we see the Pharisees accusing Jesus of violating the Sabbath laws. Jesus healed multiple people on the Sabbath. In one instance Jesus and His disciples pick corn on the Sabbath. Did Jesus profane the Sabbath? No. It is my contention that if Jesus did violate the Sabbath laws then He would not be that pure a spotless lamb that is necessary for our atonement.
In this article and series were going to look at the multiple instances that Jesus is said to have profaned the Sabbath. We will see what Jesus actually did to supposedly violate the Sabbath laws. We will look at what the Bible says concerning the Sabbath. We will discuss what oral traditions the Pharisees had built up around the keeping of the Sabbath and we will look at how Jesus responded to the Pharisees when they accused Him of profaning the Sabbath.
Jesus and His disciples pick corn on the Sabbath
Matthew 12:1-12 “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. (2) But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. (3) But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; (4) How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? (5) Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? (6) But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. (7) But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. (8) For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.
In this account we see that Jesus and His disciples are being accused of profaning the Sabbath by harvesting corn and technically speaking, harvesting on the Sabbath is prohibited.
Exodus 34:21 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
Is picking small amounts of grain for immediate consumption considered harvesting? We do know that minor food preparation was not considered breaking the Sabbath. God does not intend for the Sabbath to be a burden to mankind, but a blessing.
Mark 2:27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: (28) Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.”
Why then were the Pharisees so bent out of shape over the disciples picking grains? Because the disciples were breaking the Pharisees oral traditions found in the Mishna. The Mishna is a collection of oral traditions/commentary concerning the Jewish law. The Mishna is not inspired of God but many Pharisees believed it to be so. In the Mishna we find thirty nine tasks that are considered work on the Sabbath. Threshing and winnowing are two tasks that are listed as work. In other words, the Pharisees were accusing Jesus and His disciples of breaking their oral traditions not God’s commands.
One of Jesus’ responses is to point at how the priests in the temple work on the Sabbath yet they are “blameless”. How much more blameless are His disciples who are working for the Messiah Himself?
Jesus then quotes this amazing passage from Hosea 6:6
Matthew 12:7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.
As I mentioned before, the Sabbath was not to be a burden for God’s people. God made the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath.
Jesus Heals a Man’s Hand on the Sabbath
Matthew 12:9-12 (9) And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: (10) And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.
Here we see another account of the Pharisees accusing Jesus of violating the law by healing someone on the Sabbath. The Bible makes no such rule about healing people on the Sabbath. This idea that healing on the Sabbath is a violation comes from the Mishna. According to these oral traditions, it was forbidden to even help an injured person on the Sabbath. This is completely contrary to how God is portrayed in the scriptures. Again remember that Jesus said He would” have mercy, and not sacrifice”. Our God values mercy over sacrifice.
Jesus then asked the Pharisees the following question.
Matthew 12:11 “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? (12) How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.”
Jesus was pointing out the hypocrisy. On one hand they claimed it was a violation of the Sabbath to help someone who was injured on the Sabbath, yet they believed that it was ok to help an animal out of a ditch on the Sabbath.
Consider the following verse.
Mat 23:23 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
The Pharisees were notorious for their strict legalism and lack of mercy to those who were in need. This seems to be the theme of most the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees. They were more concerned about keeping their law (oral traditions), than they were doing the will of God.
Having mercy on an animal during the Sabbath
It’s interesting to note that Jesus does not condemn the practice of helping an animal on the Sabbath. This is consistent with our God’s character. He is a God of love and mercy who even values the lives of animals.
Proverbs 12:10 “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
If Jesus prefers doing good and showing mercy to animals in need on the Sabbath day, how much more would He prefer helping a person in need on the Sabbath?
Here is another instance where Jesus talks about showing mercy to animals on the Sabbath.
Luke 13:10-17 “And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. (11) And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. (12) And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. (13) And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. (14) And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. (15) The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? (16) And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? (17) And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.”
If showing mercy to an animal is acceptable on the Sabbath, how much more acceptable is showing mercy to mankind on the Sabbath?
Part of God’s law is to love your neighbor as yourself
The Pharisees were so concerned about keeping the Sabbath and their oral traditions that they neglected the weightier matters of the law, such as loving your neighbor as yourself.
Leviticus 19:18 “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”
Jesus reiterates the importance of this part of the law.
Matthew 22:35-40 “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, (36) Master, which is the great commandment in the law? (37) Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (38) This is the first and great commandment. (39) And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (40) On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Loving your neighbor is a higher priority than strictly following the Sabbath
Mark 12:33 “And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Moral Dilemmas and God’s law
There are times in our Christian walk where we are faced with moral dilemmas and we must choose how to best please our God. Jesus spoke about this when he was confronted about healing on the Sabbath.
John 7:19-24 “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me? (20) The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee? (21) Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. (22) Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the Sabbath day circumcise a man. (23) If a man on the Sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the abbath day? (24) Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”
The law states that we should abstain from working on the Sabbath and yet it also states that a child must be circumcised on the eighth day. What if the eighth day falls on a Sabbath? This truly is a moral dilemma. In these situations, Jesus says we must “judge righteously”. This is no different than the priests working on the Sabbath day and are said to be blameless. It is not that they are breaking the Sabbath. They were given an exception to the Sabbath as they observed the more “weightier matters of the law”.
We have already seen that God desires mercy over sacrifice. We also see that loving your neighbor is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. When faced with the dilemma of whether to strictly observe the Sabbath or help someone on the Sabbath Jesus tells us the most important thing is to show mercy and in this case, there is an exception to the Sabbath.
Jesus did not sin on the Sabbath
Now that we see that there are exceptions to the Sabbath rest, I would like to look at plain and clear scriptures that prove that Jesus did not sin on the Sabbath. First it should be noted that transgressing the law is sin.
1 John 3:4 “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”
Yet Jesus was without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
1 Peter 2:21-22 “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (22) Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth”
2 Corinthians 5:21 “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
Did Jesus sin against the law? Absolutely not.
- Jesus violated the Jews oral tradition, not God’s law.
- When two laws conflict we are to judge righteously, favoring mercy over sacrifice.
- The Bible is clear that Jesus did not sin and break the law.