Jesus kept the Sabbath, so why shouldn’t we?

If I was an Old Covenant Jew like Jesus was, of course I’d be keeping the Sabbath like he did. I’d also be selecting or buying a Passover lamb every year, building a temporary shelter out of tree branches at the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn each year, have blue cords hanging from the corners of my clothing according to Numbers 15:37-41, and be trying to obey every other Old Covenant ritual as perfectly as Jesus did. I’d also be attending a synagogue every Saturday, offering sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem three times a year, and celebrating Hanukkah – like Jesus did.

If we’re going to do what Jesus did, and keep what Jesus kept, then all those things would be required of us, just as they were required of him. But many Christians don’t do some (or all) of those things, their reason being that Jesus introduced a New Covenant that cancelled out all those rituals in favour of looking to him.

But surely the Sabbath wasn’t a “ritual,” right? It’s one of the ten commandments. But how did God want the Sabbath commandment obeyed? By obeying all the Sabbath rituals he attached to it, like not working, not lighting a fire, and not harvesting, etc. In reality, then, the Sabbath came down to rituals too.

Jesus then showed in Matthew 12 that those Sabbath rituals fell into the same category as the rituals God gave about the temple shewbread. Both sets of rituals were equally subject to human need, which in both cases – of the disciples snipping off grain on the Sabbath, and David and his men eating the temple shewbread – was hunger. According to the Lord and Designer of all the Old Covenant rituals, therefore, human need overruled ritual, including Sabbath ritual. Jesus also made that clear when he said the Sabbath “was made for man.” It was made to serve human need.

Taking that into account, then, what is our greatest human need today? Is it keeping all the Old Covenant Sabbath rituals as strictly as possible, like the Pharisees, or is it trusting Christ? Well, Jesus himself already answered that question in the previous chapter, Matthew 11, when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He wanted people focused on him and trusting him as the solution to human need.

And that was the focus he encouraged the Pharisees in Matthew 12 to concentrate on too when he said, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.” All that temple ritual – and every other ritual too, therefore – had been superceded by Jesus himself.


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