Read verses 1-5: Jesus the Ruler
Q: Was it illegal for the disciples to do what they did?
A: No. In fact, the Torah actually specifies that this could take place. The only thing the Law specifically prohibits is the use of a sickle. (Deut. 23:25)
Q: Then why do the Pharisees claim “it is not lawful”?
A: If we look carefully at what they said, their actual accusation is that it “is not lawful on the Sabbath”. They are not upset about WHAT is taking place by WHEN it is taking place.
Background: By Jesus’ day the religious authorities had created more than 2,000 rules in their attempt to define what could and could not be done on the Sabbath in order not to break the 4th Commandment. Rather than being simple guidelines or suggestions, these were eventually given the full force of the Law as if they were mandated from God instead of created by man. Jesus refers to these as “traditions”
Q: Why do you suppose Jesus answered them in this way? Why doesn’t He just quote the Law and be done with it?
A: He is addressing the greater issue of how to apply God’s Word the right way and he takes a parallel example from Scripture itself which mirrors the real-life situation taking place.
Application: There are 8 categories of God’s Word, each expounded upon in Psalm 119: “commandments” (“mitzvah”), “law” (“torah”), “ordinances/judgments” (“mishpat”), “precepts” (“piqqud”), “statues” (“choq”), “testimonies” (“edah”), “ways” (“derek”), and “word” (“dabar”). When something was not specifically spelled out in God’s Word, it was supposed to be handled by an “ordinance” or “judgment”, which is the practical application of the Law. They were not to simply make up more laws. Someone seeking to obey God from the heart will earnestly seek to apply the spirit of the Law; those seeking to conform to a religion will pile up rule upon rule in order to avoid dealing with how it should actually be applied and the first casualty is almost always personal relationships.
Q: Did David break any laws?
A: There were legal limits on travel during a given Sabbath and the bread was supposed to be consumed by the priests alone, so there is most certainly violations of the written Law. But there are other additional rules or “traditions” associated with this which are intimated to have been violated, such as the fact that the bread was only supposed to be consumed at a certain time on that Sabbath day. Jesus actually shows them that the ultimate example of David was in violation of both.
Q: What might be suggested by this example of priests doing work on the Sabbath?
A: In the parallel account of this event in Matthew is included Christ’s admonition, “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?” (Mt. 12:5) It is another example of the difference between the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law intended to show them they were missing the point.
Q: But what is actually the far greater statement Jesus is making about Himself in offering, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”?
A: Jesus is affirming that He is the Messiah, someone greater than David to begin with.
Point: Jewish interpretation of the Law grants that He who has made the Law can abrogate the Law as He desires. For instance, in the battle of Jericho it would have been impossible to march around the city for seven consecutive days without violating the Sabbath, yet Hebrew scholars grant that since it was done so at God’s command, no violation of God’s Law was experienced. Jesus is actually making a very powerful statement here about His place in the Godhead.
Application: How does the following apply not just to this specific teaching but to your life in particular?
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
— Colossians 2:13–17