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Jesus shined the spirit of the law into every dark corner of religiosity, threatening the power base and sensibilities of the establishment from the temple to grain fields. Of all His iconoclastic behaviors—feasting with publicans, befriending prostitutes, touching lepers, flipping tables—none upset them as much as His deliberate actions on the Sabbath. His favorite activity on the seventh day of the week was healing people, but on this particular occasion His disciples were helping themselves to a snack.

Mark 2:23-28
23 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.
24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:
26 how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”
27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”[1] NKJV

Jesus is the master of simply profound theological statements. He uses the legal precedent of David to show that hunger supersedes religious observance. The other gospels record different nuances of His full argument. Mark states the central argument; Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. This is a profound conclusion from a simple reading of the Genesis narrative. Which was made first, man or the Sabbath? Man, of course, as he was created on the sixth day (Gen. 1:26-31). Since the seventh day follows the sixth, clearly it was made to serve man. Were this not the case, man would have been created on the eight day to serve the Sabbath.

Genesis 2:1-2
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

Genesis tells us God ended his work on the seventh day. Jesus said the Sabbath “was made.” Since Sabbath making was not work, then everything involved with making it did not involve labor or any energy output. The writer of Hebrews states it in the following way:

Hebrews 4:4
For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.

The Greek word translated “works” is ergon, which Louw and Nida define as a deed or function “with possible focus on the energy and effort involved.”[2]

When God declared, “Let there be light,” energy was used and released. All works done in the six days were work. The seventh was not. Even so, it was made. The term Mark used is ginomai, meaning “to begin to be.” The Sabbath day was because God rested and made it so. He rested, not for His sake as He is omnipotent, but for man’s sake. Furthermore, God wanted man to rest from his labor in a particular state of being.

Genesis 2:3
And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. [Emphasis added.]

Verse three tells us that blessing and sanctifying—making things holy—isn’t work to God. They are outcomes of His being. Not appreciating this may be why we fall short of the mark every time we work to be holy instead of simply walking out our sanctification in the manner the Lord prescribes.

1 Peter 1:15-16
15 But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
16 Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

Holiness is a matter of identity, not self-improvement. All my behaviors should be holy because God is holy. Because He is holy, I am to be holy. Holy is what He made and makes us, it is part of our identity and spiritual character. Our righteous actions follow from this truth. To modify our behavior in an effort to become holy is in essence a denial of identity and puts the effect before the cause. Blessed and holy living is restful. The Sabbath is our regulated lesson in this reality.

Matthew 5:43-45
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Ask yourself what takes more energy, cussing someone out or wishing them a nice day? Does love deplete your strength or energize you to do impossible things? How debilitating is it to hold a grudge? In light of what we have learned of Sabbath living, look at the words of Jesus in verse 44. He enumerates several holy behaviors: loving enemies, blessing cursers, doing good to haters, praying for abusers. These behaviors are based on the precept that we are to be like our Father in heaven. The holy activities are identity driven. We are to emulate our Father. This is wearing His yoke and resting in His strength. He calls us to behave in a manner consistent with how He created us to be. What could be simpler?

Paradise is the place of rest for the saints in the afterlife.[3] Jewish writers used the term to refer to the blessed state of the Garden of Eden lost to man. Many view the new heavens and the new earth as the reestablishment of the original Paradise. Man was created and placed in the garden within time. Why would the redemption of God’s sin-stained creation eradicate time? Time is not a result of sin or the curse. It was part of all that was good. It should not be viewed as an evil thing.

Man’s first day was eventful, but as beginnings go I don’t think he could have asked for a better one. He was brought to life and placed in a beautiful garden and then went to the zoo. Actually, God paraded the zoo in front of him and Adam got to call all the animals whatever he wanted. The names stuck. Next, he took a nap. Who wouldn’t be in the mood for a good nap after a zoo visit? He woke up and got married after which God gave him the day off. I’m sure he and the woman found something to occupy their time, but the Lord didn’t consider that to be work. Perhaps our view of time would be better if we had more days like that. Good thing God gave us the Sabbath.

[1] Jesus’s claim to be Lord of the Sabbath day is nothing less than a claim of divinity.
[2] Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domain, United Bible Societies: New York, 1988.
[3] See Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; and Rev. 2:7.