Luke records five criticisms in a row from the Pharisees with two of them claiming a
violation of the Sabbath.
Questions about fasting and the Sabbath arose early in Christ’s ministry (see Luke
5:33-35). It seems as though the disciples of John the Baptist joined the Pharisees in
asking Jesus questions about fasting. Mark suggests that the questions were asked
on one of the fasting days observed by both the disciples of John and the Pharisees
The Sabbath existed even before the law was given at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19). When
the Lord provided manna for the Israelites to eat in the wilderness, he instructed them
to collect a double portion of manna on the sixth day, so that no one would have to
work for food on the seventh (Exodus 16:1-26).
The Jews were taught to ―remember the Sabbath‖ and thus keep it holy. The Sabbath
was intended as a day of rest and worship, a time to remember that God ceased his
work of creation on the seventh day. The Bible does not give complete guidelines for
what is to be considered work on the Sabbath.
The principle of Sabbath-rest finds its most important expression as the fourth of the
Ten Commandments, and it is the longest one in both Exodus 20:8–11 and
Deuteronomy 5:12–15. To ―remember‖ the Sabbath was to keep it holy. It was to be a
day of rest, a cessation from all normal work activities. To work on this day was to
break the Sabbath. Violators were subject to the death penalty (Exodus 31:12–17).
Two Sabbath events involving Jesus are found in this Gospel prior to chapter 6. Luke
4:16 records Jesus teaching in the Nazareth synagogue, attending the synagogue on
Saturday, "as his custom was." In verse 31, we find Him teaching in the Capernaum
synagogue on the Sabbath, amazing the people with His power and by casting out an
The two encounters in today’s lesson involve issues of the Sabbath day. Sabbath is a
Hebrew word meaning ―rest‖ or ―cease.‖ This fact is fundamental for understanding
God’s requirements for Sabbath-keeping. Instructions regarding the Sabbath (the
seventh day of the week) form a central component to the system of law of ancient
The study's aim is to reveal how certain traditions can become more sacred to us than
the Word of God and to show us that God's Word can stand on its own and does not
need man's rules added to it. The study's application is to see God's rationale for
giving the Sabbath Day to man.
There is more to the Sabbath than Jesus' opponents understood. There is more to
Jesus than they understood. The Sabbath was and is a sign between Israel and God. It
stands for rest in God's power. Only Jesus truly understood what the Sabbath was all
about, and He left us an enduring lesson.
One Sabbath while Jesus was going through the grain fields, his disciples
plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But
some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the
Sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and
his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the
bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and
gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord
of the Sabbath.”
As Jesus’ ―Sermon on the Plain‖ (Luke 6:20-49) indicates, many of Jesus’ disciples
and followers were from among the poor. Not all were poor from the beginning;
some, such as Peter, were fishermen. Matthew was a tax collector.
Jesus did not feed His disciples miraculously every day by multiplying loaves and
fishes. Instead, they all lived with total dependence on God the Father to meet their
daily needs (as Jesus taught them to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: ―Give us this day our
As Jesus’ hungry disciples walked through a grain field, they plucked some heads of
grain and rubbed away the chaff which would blow away in the wind and ate the
―Some,‖ not all of the Pharisees, condemned Jesus’ disciples for doing something
their traditions made unlawful as they interpreted the ceremonial law under the Old
Covenant (the Old Testament ceremonial law; not the Old Testament moral law;
which was summed up in the commands to love God and your neighbor).
According to their interpretation of Moses’ law, Jesus’ disciples were committing a
sin on the Sabbath.
The disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees over the Sabbath concerned additional
rules about what was forbidden on the Sabbath. The rabbis themselves called the
Sabbath rules they devised "mountains hanging by a hair" of evidence (Mishnah
Hagigah 1:8). In other words, the rabbis themselves believed their interpretation of
Sabbath rules was strictly a guess and not a biblical requirement.
The "corn fields" in Luke 6:1 (and anywhere else in the Bible) were either barley or
wheat fields ("corn" in British English is a general word for grain). The husk around
each seed of wheat or barley can be removed by rubbing it between two hands. The
uncooked seeds are edible and nutritious.
It was not considered theft to pick for one's immediate needs: "When you come into
the standing corn of thy neighbor, then thou may pluck the ears with thine hand; but
thou shalt not move a sickle unto thy neighbor’s standing corn" (Deut. 23:25).
The disputes Jesus had with the Pharisees on this matter do not concern overturning
the Sabbath law of the Bible as a requirement for Jews. The Sabbath was and remains
today a sign between God and the Jewish people (Exod. 31:13).
We should beware of traditions based on principles of the world
(Col 2:8) See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive
philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world
rather than on Christ.
Jesus explained that His companions (His disciples) were hungry and that justified
their eating the grain in the grain field on the Sabbath. Some of the Pharisees
interpreted the ceremonial Law of Moses as forbidding any harvesting and threshing
on the Sabbath, and that meant Jesus’ disciples had broken the Sabbath by simply
feeding themselves as they followed Jesus in a time of need.
Jesus replied to these Pharisees that His disciples had done what they did because
they were hungry, just as David fed his companions the ceremonial bread reserved for
priests because they were hungry.
Jesus explained that He was allowing His hungry disciples to violate their
interpretation of the ceremonial law of the Sabbath in order for Him to feed them.
Jesus could have worked a miracle to feed them, but He chose not to do so, because
He needed to show what His disciples (or anyone else) could do whenever they were
The Pharisees had been observing Jesus, watching for Him to make a mistake that
they could publicly criticize. They had accused Him of allowing His disciples to
break the Sabbath (by their interpretation). Jesus typically answered criticism with
riddles and by suggesting interpretations that were beyond the skill of His critics.
Jesus explained that for David to feed his hungry companions in a time of real need,
he had fed them ceremonial bread meant only for the priests to eat. The physical
necessity of David’s companions and Jesus’ disciples made it appropriate to feed
them bread set apart for ceremonial use.
Because of David’s honored position among all the Jews, the Pharisees could not
condemn David for his actions; instead, they justified what David did. The Old
Testament also shows that God did not condemn David for his actions when he
needed to feed his companions.
Then, Jesus must have startled them when He referred to himself using the Messianic
title ―Son of Man,‖ and claimed before these Pharisees that He was ―Lord of the
Sabbath.‖ Then Jesus proclaimed Himself Lord of the Sabbath, a statement that
claimed deity, for it certainly was God who established the day.
The use of that example from Scripture was apropos and seems to have been chosen
to communicate that since it was fine for David and his men, it should also be fine for
the Son of David and His men to meet their needs on the Sabbath. Though not
explicit in the Samuel text, it is quite likely the incident occurred on a Sabbath Day.
Jesus claimed the right of God’s Messiah to set aside the Old Covenant ceremonial
laws and the Pharisees’ interpretations of these ceremonial laws in order to achieve
higher purposes and eventually fulfill the law of God. In Mark 2:27, Jesus explained:
―The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.‖ God gave people the
Sabbath for their benefit.
Two ways of observing the Sabbath are on display in Luke 6:6-7. The way of Jesus is
teaching and healing. In the synagogue He observed the Sabbath according to the
customs of His people, focusing on the words of God in Scripture. He was also
observing the Sabbath with the intention of doing good deeds, the work of God in the
On another Sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man
there whose right hand was withered. (7) The scribes and the Pharisees watched
him to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, so that they might find an
accusation against him. (8) Even though he knew what they were thinking, he
said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up
and stood there. (9) Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good
or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” (10) After looking
around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and
his hand was restored.
These scribes and Pharisees planned evil—to accuse Jesus and get Him into some
kind of trouble when He went down to Jerusalem. Jesus planned good—to teach and
to heal a man with a disability. Jesus' lesson was pointed and simple: merely keeping
the form of a command does not make one righteous.
In describing what happens on another Sabbath, Luke does not specifically identify
this as the very next Saturday. But we are to understand that this particular incident
follows closely after the grain-plucking confrontation. We also are not told which
synagogue this is, but the one in Capernaum is as good a candidate as any (Luke
4:31). The critics of Jesus seem to have a readymade opportunity to embarrass Him—
they even may have set it up themselves.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners and help people in a variety of ways. As
Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus demonstrated the types of things He and His followers
could lawfully do on the Sabbath. They could love their neighbors and meet their
needs on the Sabbath whenever they had the opportunity.
In many cases, they might be leaving a town or synagogue after a short visit and
could not reasonably say to someone, ―Wait until tomorrow to get the help you need
The New Covenant in His blood opened the door for all of His followers to love and
serve God and others seven days a week without regard to the Old Covenant
ceremonial laws, but Jesus never used His authority as Lord of the Sabbath to teach
that people can use the Sabbath in selfish and self-centered ways that dishonor God
or harm others or themselves.
On this Sabbath day, the scribes and Pharisees did not go to listen to Him to learn of
God or to praise God on the Sabbath. They gathered in the synagogue to find a reason
to harm Jesus, not to think about the truth of God.
We should be doing good for others by being sensitive to needs especially when it is
in our power to provide
(Prov 3:27)27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your
power to act.
Jesus took every day seriously as a day for honoring God and helping others. He did
not interpret the Sabbath ceremonial law as strictly as possible in order to be certain
that He was obeying the Pharisees’ ―letter of the law‖ without consideration for the
―spirit (or God’s intention) of the law.‖
As the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus used the Sabbath as a day to truly love God and His
neighbors. Jesus knew that these religious leaders were intent on trapping Him so
they could do away with Him and His followers; still, Jesus called the man with the
withered hand forward so He could do good and heal him. Jesus did what was right
even when others did not want Him to violate their traditions.
It is possible that this condition causes social problems for the man, for the right hand
is used for eating while the left hand is ―the bathroom hand‖; this is consistent with
the Bible’s depiction of the right hand as being the one of greater honor (Genesis
48:13, 14; Luke 20:42; 22:69; Galatians 2:9; etc.). The man’s disability may serve to
exclude him from social gatherings that involve communal eating; such functions
involve taking food from a common dish with the right hand, something this man
may be unable to do.
Jesus knew that He wanted to do the right thing and save others no matter what the
personal cost, even at a sacrificial personal cost. Jesus spoke to their conscience so
they would need to choose who was right: themselves who wanted to harm Jesus or
Jesus who wanted to heal those who were sick.
Of course, these religious leaders did not answer Jesus, but kept watching Him so
they could accuse Him of some sinful behavior according to their interpretations of
the Sabbath law. He knew that these leaders or others like them would eventually
seek to have Him crucified and succeed in crucifying Him.
We can easily believe that He looked with compassion on the one He planned to heal
and also on the family and friends of the man with the withered hand.
Jesus did not need to touch the man or say any ―magic words‖ to heal him. Jesus
simply said to the man, ―Stretch out your hand.‖ Jesus’ method of healing the man
demonstrated that he was healed by God when he believed and obeyed Jesus’
command. Jesus gave the religious leaders ample evidence that the man’s healing was
an act of Almighty God through Jesus.
We should remember that God created us to do good works
(Eph. 2:10) For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.
But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might
do to Jesus.
Though Jesus had spoken to their conscience and had given them reasons to
reconsider their intentions and repent of their sins, these religious leaders had so
hardened their conscience (or hearts) that they would not even consider the facts that
Jesus’ teachings and miracles proved that He was the Son of Man, the promised
Messiah, the Lord of the Sabbath, and a Prophet approved by God.
Instead, Jesus’ good deeds and healing of the sick man so infuriated them that in their
hearts they wanted to harm Jesus even more – even on the Sabbath.
Contemporary, observant Jews still assert that all "of these tasks are prohibited, as
well as any task that operates by the same principle or has the same purpose. In
addition, the rabbis have prohibited handling any implement that is intended to
perform one of the above purposes (for example, a hammer, a pencil or a match)"
Because of the Sabbath prohibitions, observant Jews carefully prepare for it. All food
preparation is done in advance so that nothing is made on the Sabbath. Washing of
clothes should be done on Thursday, with bathing on Friday afternoon, along with
cleaning the house and setting the table. "It is customary in Jewish communities to
signal or announce the arrival of the Sabbath half an hour or an hour in advance, so
that people can stop working and complete their preparations"
Today there are differing opinions and convictions as to what is allowable and what is
not on the Lord's Day. It is often pointed out that the commandment concerning the
Sabbath is the only one of the ten that is not repeated in some form in the New
Testament, thereby granting liberty in that regard.
There is a reason that both Mark and Luke precede these episodes with the parable of
new wine. As new wine needed new wineskins, so Jesus' teaching required a new
mind-set. Christians need to continually search the Scriptures and make God's Word
the basis for their decisions.
When we listen to the still, small voice inside of us that urges us to step outside of our
traditions to bring about freedom for the captive, healing for the infirm, and peace for
the oppressed, we may be labeled as rebels. We may endure scorn and shame;
nevertheless, what is our reputation compared to the eternal destiny of a soul?
This account was designed to reveal how certain traditions can become more sacred
to us than the Word of God.
This account also shows that God's Word can stand on its own and does not need
man's rules added to it.
God's people were required to provide food for the hungry; we should likewise care
for the poor (Luke 6:1; cf. Deut. 23:25)
The spirit of the law leads us to praise God (Luke 6:3-4; cf. I Sam. 21:1-6)
Self-righteous people are always enforcing rules that enable them to condemn others
We humans tend to look for opportunities to criticize other people (vss. 6-7)
Believers in Jesus have many opportunities to honor Him by doing good —though
sometimes at great personal cost (vss. 8-11)