Lord of the Sabbath

So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

- Mark 2:28

All of the Gospels proclaim the deity of Christ. John teaches this perhaps most explicitly, focusing on those episodes in the life of Jesus where He made explicit claims to be God incarnate (see John 8:12–59). The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) reveal the deity of our Savior more implicitly, emphasizing those points in His ministry when He said or did things that only God can say or do, but where He did not say something explicit like “I am God.” Today’s passage, which concludes the account of Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees over plucking grain on the Sabbath, provides one of Christ’s most important implicit claims to deity.

Jesus has already pointed out the Pharisees’ faulty hermeneutic, or interpretation, in applying the laws against harvesting to define the casual plucking of grain as labor forbidden on the Sabbath. Both David’s example and the general principle that the Sabbath was given to refresh man, and not to create an additional burden, prove that the Pharisees’ exaltation of the commandments as ends in themselves is not tenable (Mark 2:23–27; see Ex. 31:12–17; 34:21; 1 Sam. 21:1–9). It is good to follow God’s law—as long as one does so rightly. However, one does not follow God’s law properly if one makes the commandments more precise and expansive than the Lord has, or if one treats the law as merely a list of do’s and don’ts by which to measure one’s piety. Those were the errors that led many Pharisees to miss the purpose of God’s law in pointing to Jesus the Messiah.

If Jesus were to base His criticism only on these points, we would sit in awe of His skill as a biblical interpreter but would see Him as nothing more than a great scholar. But Jesus not only gives us a sound method of scriptural interpretation. He also calls Himself the “Son of Man” and “lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite self-designation, and His use of it is drawn primarily from Daniel 7:13–14, where “one like a son of man” receives an everlasting, universal kingdom (see Mark 13:24–27).

Daniel isn’t quite as explicit that the “one like a son of man” is a divine figure as he could be, but in claiming to have authority over the Sabbath as its Lord, Jesus makes a strong, though implicit, claim to be God Himself. God created the Sabbath and by His law determines what men and women may and may not do on the day of rest. By taking that prerogative for Himself, Jesus identifies Himself as the Lord and Maker of all things.

Coram Deo

Among the other things we learn from today’s passage is that the proper interpretation of the Old Testament belongs to Jesus Himself. If He is the Son of God and incarnate second person of the Trinity, He is the author of this law and therefore understands it best. In our efforts to understand the Bible properly, we must look to how Jesus handles Scripture, for the principles that He employs give us the necessary tools to comprehend and apply God’s Word to our lives.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 2:1–3
Numbers 15:32–36
Mark 3:1–6
Luke 6:1–5

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