7 “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:7–8, NKJV).
The Lord of the Sabbath did not violate the Sabbath, nor did He sanction its violation when His disciples plucked the heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-2). The Pharisees accused His disciples of being Sabbath-breakers. But Jesus pronounced them “guiltless” because His disciples acted consistently with the law and its provision of mercy (Matt. 12:7; Hosea 6:6; Deut. 23:25). The Pharisees had developed a tradition that such conduct was work, and so to do it on the Sabbath was a sin. They added their tradition to God’s word and bound it on others. Thus, they “condemned the guiltless.” Jesus was not approving situation ethics and justifying violating God’s law. Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets, not destroy them (Matt. 5:17). Neither does this occasion endorse breaking God’s word for a so-called greater purpose (mercy, for example). The law of God allowed for mercy, which the apostles received as they plucked and ate the grain. The tradition of the Pharisees denied compassion and condemned the innocent. Both mercy and truth are present in God’s law (Ps. 85:10). Beware of human traditions. They nullify both (Col. 2:8, 20-23).
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:1–2, NKJV)
Did the disciples of Jesus violate God’s law that said “you shall do no work” on the Sabbath (Exo. 20:10)? Jesus said His disciples were “guiltless,” even though the Pharisees condemned their conduct (Matt. 12:7). The law of Moses said, “When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain” (Deut. 23:25). Thus, the law contained a provision of mercy while safeguarding against taking advantage of one’s neighbor. So, why did the Pharisees object? Their accusation grew out of their oral traditions which concluded thirty-nine activities were specifically forbidden on the Sabbath, including reaping (plucking) grain (Mishnah 7:2; Bloomberg, New American Commentary, 196; Lenski, 461). Yet, the only thing the disciples violated was the Pharisees’ traditional explanation of Sabbath work. Jesus repeated challenged and exposed binding human traditions that pits Scripture against Scripture while ignoring “justice, mercy and faith” (Matt. 12:7; 23:23-24). Let us be mindful, lest in our zeal for God’s will we confuse our expectations of obedience with the divine expectation. Pressing others to conform to our specifications about God’s will leads to merciless contradictions of the divine will and brings us under divine rebuke (Matt. 12:6-8).
1 And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. (Mark 3:1–2, NKJV)
Why do you look at Jesus? Mark tells us why the Pharisees and Herodians watched Jesus: to accuse Him (see Mark 3:6). They did not see in Jesus a teacher of good news, who showed heaven’s mercy by miraculously healing the afflicted, and who brought news of salvation from sin (Mark 3:3-5; 1:14-15). They did not see the Son of God. No, they saw a man who did not honor their Sabbath traditions (Mark 2:23-28). This, they could not abide. So, they watched Jesus closely, so they could bring charges against Him as a Sabbath-breaker and an evil man. Again, we ask, why do you look at Jesus? Do you look to Jesus as your Lord, who has authority over your words and deeds? Do you look at Jesus with humble submission, and do His will? Or, do you look at Jesus to find fault, or to rationalize away your sins? Why we look at Jesus is crucial in determining what we see when we look at Him. The Pharisees and Herodians saw a Sabbath-breaker. His apostles saw the “Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Who do you see?
17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” 18 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:17–18, NKJV)
Jesus had just healed a lame man on the Sabbath. The Jewish rulers, due to their wrong interpretation and traditions concerning God’s law, viewed Jesus and the man He healed as Sabbath-breakers (Exo. 20:8-11; Jno. 5:8-11; 16). But, God’s law never prevented mercy. Jesus did not violate the Sabbath. Jesus forthrightly associated His work with God the Father. By doing so, they understood Him to be making Himself equal with God, and they were right. The Son is due the same honor as the Father (Jno. 5:23). Jesus would later say, “I and my Father are one” (Jno. 5:23; 10:30). Jesus Christ is Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). All who refuse to believe in Jesus as being “the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” join with those who tried and eventually did, kill Jesus (Col. 2:9). What will you believe?
10 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. 11 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” 12 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” (John 5:16–18)
Jesus was not a Sabbath-breaker. If he was, then he was a sinner; he was not (Exodus 20:8-11; 1 Peter 2:22). However, Jesus did break Sabbath traditions which came to be viewed as binding on people as the law itself. Here is our clear lesson: Human traditions and the will of God are not equivalent. To make them so invariably elevates man’s will above God’s will (Mark 7:1-13). We must not bind on others those things that God does not bind. Neither should we think because we hold some religious tradition that it necessarily pleases God. The religious tradition you hold as binding must come from God, not human beings (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:4).