“Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:2).
Earlier, some Pharisees had asked the disciples why Jesus ate with publicans and sinners (Matthew 9:11).
When Jesus had heard about that, His response had included this: “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). This seems to be a quote from Hosea 6:6, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
But they were unpersuaded, asking soon after: “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?” (Matthew 12:10).
Do we understand their fixation with the Sabbath?
If you accepted that God established the Sabbath as a sign and a covenant with Israel (Exodus 31:13,16,17; Ezekiel 20:12,20), would you endorse its violation? Of course you wouldn’t!
Nevertheless, their priority choices regarding God’s Law were different than His. Let’s see to it that our own spiritual priorities come in line with God’s.
Remember it was a Pharisee (in a group of them) who asked Jesus to identify the great commandment (Matthew 22:34-40). It seems they had made the Sabbath the commandment from which they hung all else. Their relationship to God and man seemed predicated on observance of this commandment. Jesus hung everything on two commandments — love God and love your neighbor.
At the end of Creation, God established the law of rest. It is a natural law; that is, a universal law applying to everyone. Our all-wise Designer and Creator established the rest principle to benefit man. God certainly didn’t need to rest!
Centuries later on Mount Sinai, the LORD based the fourth of the Ten Commandments on that natural law. He made this part of the Mosaic Law a token and weekly reminder of His covenant with Israel.
In the New Testament, though, this commandment is called “a shadow” (Colossians 2:16,17). It heralds the rest we have in Christ and thus has been fulfilled in Him. So there was no need to repeat or reinforce this commandment in the New Testament. Having Jesus, the fourth commandment is no longer needed.
Though the Mosaic Law has been fulfilled, the natural law remains in effect. We should still observe the day of rest God mandated at the end of Creation. But are we bound by the Mosaic applications in living under the natural law? In other words, do we carry over to Sunday what the Jews observed for Saturday? I have found no evidence in the New Testament that we are bound to do that.
Additional reading: Hoping for Negatives