On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands.2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”3 And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:4 how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”5 And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered.7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there.9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.”And he did so, and his hand was restored.11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus. – Luke 6:1-11 [ESV]
I think I know why Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees. On the one hand they believed the Scriptures. They held fast to the commandments of the Old Testament. They valued the temple and worship, and had a great reverence for God. In fact it was at least in large part due to the Pharisees that the Jewish faith did not go away during the 400 years of silence after the Old Testament prophet (Malachi) and the last Old Testament prophet: John the Baptist. They jealously guarded the Word of God. They set up the synagogue system to allow Jewish families to learn and worship. This was especially important when there was no temple in Jerusalem.
But as good as they were about keeping the Law, they missed the point of the Law. Man was not made for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man. Think about that. And think about the important truth that Jesus is Lord even of the Sabbath.
All this becomes so very clear when Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath, and rather than rejoice in that, the Pharisees begin to plot how to take Jesus out. Rather than praising God for healing the man they are filled with rage. Rather then being filled with joy and gratitude they plot Jesus’ demise.
I’m not certain we ever go to that extreme – picking and choosing our pet sin and ignoring a greater deliverance. But I suspect we all do. Somehow Jesus kept it all straight. And in doing so, he made a way for anyone to be delivered. Through humble faith. By his grace. We all want to put God on trial. But that has already been done. And the outcome was a sad commentary on the sorry estate of fallen men and women.
But just as God worked through the man with the withered hand, he also worked through a cross and cruel torment. And any who look to him – all the way from the sabbath to the cross, and then to the empty tomb – will be saved. We certainly could never deliver ourselves!