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Luke 6:1 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels

Some might consider this stealing, but there was a provision in the Law of Moses that allowed people to eat their neighbor’s produce, as long as they were not harvesting. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain (Deuteronomy 23:25), wrote Moses.

When the Pharisees caught the disciples picking grain, their objection was not that they were stealing, but that they were working on the Sabbath. On it you shall not do any work (Exodus 20:10), said God. The Pharisees thought picking grain was a form of work, which should not be done on the Sabbath. 

Jesus’ defense of his disciples’ behavior is interesting. He referred to an Old Testament event in which David was given bread from the tabernacle which was only for the priests (1 Samuel 21:1-6, Leviticus 24:8-9). David needed food, and violated God’s law, without correction or punishment. Jesus’ point was that human need takes priority over legal minutia. Picking grain on the Sabbath to satisfy hunger was perfectly acceptable.

The Pharisees seem extreme, but they wanted to protect the Sabbath because it was an important part of biblical religion. Anyone who desecrates [the Sabbath] is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people (Exodus 31:14), wrote Moses.

On one occasion, a man was caught gathering wood on the Sabbath, and was placed under arrest until a determination could be made. Then the Lord said to Moses, The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp. So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses (Numbers 15:35-36). Honoring the Sabbath was very serious business.

Luke 6:5 Then Jesus said to them, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.

This probably made the religious leaders crosseyed. The Sabbath was ordained by God, so Jesus’ claim to be Lord of the Sabbath was a claim to be God himself. Why did Jesus say such things? Did he try to upset the religious leaders? Did he want to be crucified? Actually, yes. [T]he Son of Man [came] to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), he said.

Jesus’ mission was to die on a cross for our sins, so he created controversies about the Sabbath, to turn the religious leaders against him. Crucifixion was not something that happened to Jesus, but something he brought about by contradicting the religious leaders. One of the most effective ways he did this was by opposing their view of the Sabbath. This man is not from God [they said] for he does not keep the Sabbath (John 9:16). 

Luke 6:6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled

We can only imagine how much this man hated his shriveled hand, and prayed for healing as a boy. Every night, perhaps, he stretched it out and said, Dear God, please heal me. I’m willing to do whatever you want. If you’ll just heal me I will be your servant for the rest of my life. This may have gone on for years until he finally accepted the fact that he would not be healed. He did not abandon his faith in God, but simply accepted his condition. 

Then one Sabbath, he went to a synagogue where Jesus was teaching. It may have been his regular synagogue, or he may have traveled to get there. Maybe Jesus saw him when he came in, or maybe their eyes met during the service. Then the moment came when Jesus told him to stand up in front of everyone. Stretch out your hand, he said. So once again, the man stretched out his hand, but this time it began to open. Tendons stretched, muscles formed, and suddenly it was a perfect match to the other. What an amazing answer to prayer after so many years!

Luke 6:11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus

Some were convinced that caring for the sick on the Sabbath was a sin, unless they were in danger of dying. Jesus refuted this idea by healing this man on the Sabbath, and he undermined their authority. This made them so furious that they began to plot how they might kill Jesus (Mark 3:6).

And yet, this was Jesus’ plan all along. Since the religious leaders would not believe in him, Jesus used their wicked hearts to bring about his death for the salvation of all who would believe. From this we learn that whoever opposes Jesus Christ will serve his purpose in some other way.

Reflection and Review
Why were the religious leaders so concerned about the Sabbath?
How did Jesus use the Sabbath to bring about his crucifixion?
How should Christians view the Sabbath?