During our various trips to Israel, we had the opportunity to observe the Jewish people observing the Sabbath day. As in the days of Jesus, the religious leaders today have set some clear standards on what could and what could not be done on that day. The elevators at our hotels were set to stop at each floor on the Sabbath because pushing buttons in an elevator was considered work. The Rabbis would run string along the telephone poles to show the limits that citizens could walk on the Sabbath. Guzik observes in his commentary, “In observant Jewish homes today, one cannot turn on a light, a stove, or a switch on the Sabbath. It is forbidden to drive a certain distance or to make a telephone call—all carefully regulated by traditions seeking to spell out the law exactly.”

It was worse in Jesus day. From what I read, ancient Rabbis taught that on the Sabbath, a man could not carry something in his right hand or in his left hand, across his chest or on his shoulder. But he could carry something with the back of his hand, his foot, his elbow, or in his ear, his hair, or in the hem of his shirt, or in his shoe or sandal. Or on the Sabbath, Israelites were forbidden to tie a knot—except, a woman could tie a knot in her girdle. So, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, an Israelite could not tie a rope to the bucket, but a woman could tie her girdle to the bucket and pull it up from the well. In Luke 6:1-2, Jesus disciples’ were accused of breaking the Sabbath because they were picking and eating corn out of a field. They broke four different rules: they reaped, threshed, winnowed, and prepared food! Can’t do that!

All of these specifications made man a slave to the Sabbath. Jesus intentionally went against these traditions in order to set man free. In Mark 2:27, amidst one of his disputes with the religious leaders, Jesus explained “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” He continues in that verse and says, “The son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” During the course of his life on earth, Jesus broke the Sabbath rules numerous times. He clearly wanted us to understand that it’s not about rules and regulations. It’s about realizing that God is sovereign over the works of man’s hands. The commandment goes on to say we shouldn’t work on the Sabbath to commemorate the fact that God’s work is what really matters. This is true for Christians today more than ever. Jesus did the work of our salvation. There’s nothing our hands can contribute to that. Stop all the business of life in this world of sowing and reaping and “rest” (that’s the meaning of the word “Shabbat”) in the work that God has done for you.