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Jesus and the Sabbath

      There are many occasions in the Gospels when Jesus is mentioned in connection with the Sabbath day. We will try to look at all of these instances and see what we can learn about Jesus' attitude to the Sabbath.

      As a background, we need to know that God commanded his chosen people, the Jews, to observe the Sabbath from the time they came out of Egypt. They were to gather manna only on six days (Exodus 16:23-30) and on the seventh day they were to rest, having gathered twice as much the day before.

      Then when God gave the Torah to the people at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20:2-17), he said, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD". It is then tied in with creation, since God rested after creating for six days. "Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

      On the Sabbath day people were not to do any work, even to the extent of lighting a fire in their homes (Ex. 35:2-3). Whoever broke the Sabbath was to be put to death (Ex. 31:13-17), since that constituted rebellion against God. It is spoken of as a "lasting covenant... a sign between me and the Israelites forever".

      In the days of the prophets, keeping the Sabbath seemed to be an indicator of whether people were obeying God. When the people were rebellious and desecrating the Sabbath, God would withhold blessing and send prophets to them (Neh. 13:15-22; Ezek. 22:8). When there was a revival and people began keeping the Sabbath again, God would bless them (Jer. 17:24-26). There was even blessing promised for Gentiles who would align themselves with God and worship him and keep the Sabbath (Isaiah 56:2-7). The Sabbath is to be considered a delight (Is. 58:13-14) and God promised joy and feasting to those who honored "the LORD's holy day".

      This is the attitude that Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries would have had about the Sabbath. It was God's gift to them to replenish their strength after a week of work. But of course it was the role of the religious leaders to try to guide the people regarding what should or should not be done on the Sabbath. And as such lists developed, it was easy to get the focus off of honoring God and onto avoiding certain actions. This is the background for many of Jesus' encounters with other teachers regarding the Sabbath.

Sabbath in Nazareth

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Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.
Psalm 119 :116