“If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the
innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” —Matthew 12:7-8
On the Sabbath day, Jesus’s disciples were hungry and picking some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands and eating them. The Pharisees used this to attack Jesus by saying, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” To their statement, Jesus retorted, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.…For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:2-8).
Jesus took the Pharisees to the Old Testament and challenged them with what David did in 1 Samuel 21 as well as what the priests did in the temple. Then, Jesus dropped the bottom line; He told them, “Something greater than the temple is here” which could be understood as “I tell you One greater than the temple is here.” Jesus was making a huge statement. The temple was the most sacred site in ancient Israel; it was where God’s name dwells. For Jesus to say that, He was essentially declaring that He is greater than Israel’s greatest king, greater than their sanctioned priests and even greater than the sacred temple itself. Finally, Jesus concluded, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In essence, Jesus was saying, “This is My day.”
How does this make sense? The Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments and sits at the conclusion of all commands related to God. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt.…You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an image.…You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.…Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.…the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:2-10).
The Pharisees usurped God’s command and saw themselves as lords of the Sabbath and Jesus seized it back. “I am the Lord of the Sabbath. David understood that My mercy permitted him to eat when he was in desperate need. The priests understood that My mercy would overlook their work as they cared for people worshipping on the Sabbath. I am the Lord of the Sabbath and I will determine what is lawful.”
May we not fall into the trap, like the Pharisees, determining for ourselves what is appropriate but humbly remember that Jesus is the Lord who desires mercy more than sacrifice.
Dear Jesus, You are the Lord of the Sabbath and You alone determine what is lawful. Help me to humbly remember that You desire mercy more than sacrifice. Thank You, Jesus