By Sam E. Stone
Questions about fasting 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 (see Mark 2:18). Luke records five criticisms in a row from the Pharisees with two of them claiming a violation of the Sabbath.
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.
When Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field on the Sabbath, they picked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate the kernels. This was completely legal and a common practice. The Pharisees did not criticize them for taking a small part of some farmer’s crop. That was permitted. They condemned Jesus because he did it on a Sabbath Day!
The Pharisees considered the disciples’ action to be “reaping, threshing, winnowing, and preparing food all at once” (Alfred Plummer). No wonder Jesus later condemned them for straining out gnats and swallowing camels!
When they condemned Jesus for doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath, he turned the tables on them. Jesus used David as an example of one for whom the law was violated under particular circumstances. When fleeing from Saul, he ate bread consecrated for use in the Holy Place of the tabernacle (1 Samuel 21:1-6).
Jesus then declared that the Sabbath is not Lord, but the Son of Man is. He alone has the authority to override any rule or law concerning the Sabbath. Up to this time in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has used the title “Son of Man” only once (Luke 5:24). Now he reasserts his authority again.
Luke next recounts another conflict over the Sabbath. Matthew and Mark describe the incident also. Interestingly it is only Dr. Luke who mentioned specifically that it is the man’s right hand that is crippled. The word translated “shriveled” was a word used of dried-up plants.
Christ’s enemies teamed up against him on this occasion—both the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had been lying in wait to confront Jesus. They watched closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. Jesus knew what they were thinking. He challenged the man to stand in front of everyone. This would ensure that everyone there could see exactly what happened, including Jesus’ enemies.
R. C. Foster notes, “Evidently, when Jesus in answer to their thoughts called the man forth, some of the Pharisees voiced their objection by a question and then Jesus replied with a question . . . . The man was asked to stand forth in order to test his faith and obedience.”
The question Jesus asked the religious leaders was basic: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” The question went unanswered, while his critics burned with anger. Lynn Gardner observes, “How ironic that they were faulting Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, while they were filled with rage and a desire to destroy him” (Mark 3:6). This confrontation solidified their dedication to find a way to remove Jesus completely from the public eye. Having made his point, Jesus instructed the man, “Stretch out your hand.” When he did, his hand was completely restored!
Luke next describes the fury of his opponents, as they began again to discuss what they might do to Jesus. (Their conspiracy is also mentioned in Matthew 12:14 and Mark 3:6.)
A. T. Robertson noted, “Already nearly two years before the end we see the set determination to destroy Jesus. We see it here in Galilee. We have already seen it at the feast in Jerusalem (John 5:18) where ‘the Jews sought the more to kill him.’”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.