The Saviour kept the Sabbath, and taught His disciples to keep it. He knew how it should be kept, for He Himself had made it holy.
The Bible says, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it." Exodus 20:8, 10, 11; 31:16, 17. Christ had worked with His Father in creating the earth, and He had made the Sabbath. The Bible says that "all things were made by Him." John 1:3.
When we look on the sun and the stars, the trees and the beautiful flowers, we should remember that Christ made them all. And He made the Sabbath to help us keep in mind His love and power.
The Jewish teachers had made many rules about the way to keep the Sabbath, and they wanted every one to obey their rules. So they watched the Saviour, to see what He would do.69
One Sabbath, as Christ and His disciples were going home from the synagogue, they passed through a field of grain. It was late, and the disciples were hungry. So they broke off some of the heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate the kernels.
On any other day, one passing through a field or an orchard was allowed to gather what he wanted to eat. But it was not so on the Sabbath. Christ's enemies saw what the disciples were doing, and they said to the Saviour:
"Behold, Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day." Matthew 12:2.
But Christ defended His followers. He reminded His accusers of David, who, when in need, had eaten of the sacred bread of the tabernacle, and had given it to his hungry followers.
If it was right for David when hungry to eat this sacred bread, then was it not right for the disciples when hungry to pluck the grain on the sacred hours of the Sabbath?
The Sabbath was not made to be a burden to man. It was to do him good, to give him peace and rest. Therefore our Lord said, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." Mark 2:27.
"And it came to pass also on another Sabbath, that He entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered.
"And the scribes and Pharisees watched Him, whether He would heal on the Sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against Him.
"But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth.70
"Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?"
"And when He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, He saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other."
"And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus." Luke 6:6-9, 11; Mark 3:5.
The Saviour showed how unreasonable they were, by asking them a question. "And He said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?"
This they could not answer. So He said, "How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days." Matthew 12:11, 12.
"It is lawful;" that is, it is according to law. Christ never reproved the Jews for keeping the law of God, or for honouring the Sabbath. On the contrary, He ever upheld the law in all its completeness.
Isaiah prophesied of Christ, "He will magnify the law, and make it honourable." Isaiah 42:21. To magnify is to make larger, to raise to a higher position.
Christ magnified the law by showing in every part its wonderful meaning. He showed that it is to be obeyed, not only in the actions, which are seen by men, but in the thoughts, which are known only to God.
To those who claimed that He came to set aside the law,
He said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." Matthew 5:17.
To fulfil means to keep, or perform. (James 2:8.) So when He came to be baptised by John the Baptist, He said, "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." Matthew 3:15. To fulfil the law is to obey it perfectly.
God's law can never be changed; for Christ said, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:18.
When He asked the question, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it?" Christ showed that He could read the hearts of the wicked Pharisees who accused Him.
While He was trying to save life by healing the sick, they were trying to destroy life by putting Him to death. Was it better to slay upon the Sabbath, as they were planning to do, than to cure the suffering ones, as He had done?
Was it better to have murder in the heart on God's holy day than to have love toward all men--love which is shown in kindness and deeds of mercy?
Many times the Jews charged Christ with breaking the Sabbath. Often they tried to kill Him because He did not keep it according to their traditions. But this made no difference with Him. He kept the Sabbath as God wanted it to be kept.
In Jerusalem there was a large pool of water called Bethesda. At certain times this pool was troubled; the people believed that an angel of the Lord went down into it, and stirred the waters, and that the first one who stepped
in after the waters were stirred would be cured of whatever disease he had.
Great numbers of people came to the place, hoping to be cured; but most of them were disappointed. At the moving of the waters there was such a crowd, that many could not even get to the edge of the pool.
One Sabbath day Jesus came to Bethesda. His heart was filled with pity as He saw the poor sufferers there.
One man seemed more wretched than the others. For thirty-eight years he had been a helpless cripple. No doctor could cure him. Many times he had been brought to Bethesda; but when the waters were troubled, another would step in before him.
On this Sabbath he had tried once more to reach the pool, but in vain. Jesus saw him as he crept back to the mat which was his bed. His strength was almost gone. Unless help should come soon, he must die.
As he lay thus, now and then lifting his eyes to look at the pool, a loving face bent over him, and he heard a voice say, "Wilt thou be made whole?"
The man answered sorrowfully, "Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me."
He did not know that the One beside him could heal, not one only, but all who should come to Him. Christ said to the man: "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk."
At once he tried to obey the command, and strength came to him. He sprang to his feet, and found that he could stand and could walk. What a delight it was!
He took up his bed and hurried away, praising God at every step. Soon he met some of the Pharisees, and told
them of his wonderful cure. They did not seem glad, but reproved him for carrying his bed on the Sabbath day. The man told them, "He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk." John 5:1-11.
Then they were no longer displeased with him, but they blamed the one who had told him to carry his bed on the Sabbath day.
At Jerusalem, where the Saviour now was, many of the learned rabbis lived. Here their false ideas about the Sabbath were taught to the people. Great numbers came to worship at the temple, and thus the rabbis' teaching was spread far and wide. Christ wished to correct these errors. This was why He healed the man on the Sabbath day, and told him to carry his bed. He knew that this act would attract the attention of the rabbis, and thus would give Him an opportunity to instruct them. So it proved. The Pharisees brought Christ before the Sanhedrin, the chief council of the Jews, to answer the charge of Sabbathbreaking.
The Saviour declared that His action was in harmony with the Sabbath law. It was in harmony with the will and the work of God. "My Father worketh hitherto," He said, "and I work." John 5:17.
God works continually in sustaining every living thing. Was His work to cease upon the Sabbath day? Should God forbid the sun to fulfil its office on the Sabbath? Should He cut off its rays from warming the earth and nourishing vegetation?
Should the brooks stay from watering the fields, and the waves of the sea still their ebbing and flowing? Must the wheat and maize stop growing, and the trees and flowers put forth no bud or blossom on the Sabbath?
Then man would miss the fruits of the earth, and the blessings that sustain his life. Nature must continue her work, or man would die. And man also has a work to do on this day. The necessities of life must be attended to, the sick must be cared for, the wants of the needy must be supplied. God does not desire His creatures to suffer an hour's pain that may be relieved on the Sabbath or any other day.
Heaven's work never ceases, and we should never rest from doing good. Our own work the law forbids us to do on the rest day of the Lord. The toil for a livelihood must cease; no labour for worldly pleasure or profit is lawful upon that day. But the Sabbath is not to be spent in useless inactivity. As God ceased from His labour of creating, and rested upon the Sabbath, so we are to rest. He bids us lay aside our daily occupations, and devote those sacred hours to healthful rest, to worship, and to holy deeds.