Is the Sabbath an arbitrary test of obedience?Have you heard that before? Perhaps we should consider how Jesus treated the Sabbath. He usually got into the most trouble on Sabbath, didn’t He? Mark 2 is a good example.
“One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?’ ” (Mark 2:23-24, ESV)
Where’s that rule? In the Sabbath commandment it says, “you shall not do any work.” And yet it doesn’t define what is work. It was the Mishna that defined 39 different kinds of work, according to human thinking. But God didn’t come up with that. Jews did.
Notice Jesus’ extraordinary answer. “And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’ ” (Mark 2:25-26, ESV)
In other words, Jesus reasoned, under certain circumstances, people are more important than rules. Even the Sabbath, He says, was made for us; we aren’t made for the Sabbath. It was to be a blessing, but they were making it a burden and a curse. The Pharisees would have the disciples starve till sundown. God was saying, Let them relieve their pangs of hunger.
So what do you think about the One who gave us the Sabbath defending and explaining it in this way? Does He sound arbitrary? They thought Jesus was loose and heretical. Today they would use another word—liberal. In fact, Jesus wasn’t ever criticized for being a conservative or a fanatic, but for being liberal and heretical. Actually, liberal is a very good word. Have you ever heard of the elder on Sabbath morning calling for a conservative offering?
Although the Pharisees observed the Sabbath in an arbitrary manner, Jesus certainly didn’t. The Sabbath actually gives us opportunity to reflect on all the memories that are associated with it, from the creation of the world in six days to the Exodus and even the death of Jesus on the cross. Within the context of the great controversy, we are to remember these evidences that God is not as Satan has represented Him.
So there is a beautiful reason for the Sabbath and it is not meant to be anything arbitrary at all, but something beneficial. Most of all, the God behind the Sabbath is anything but arbitrary.