Commentary: Christ as the Lord of the Sabbath
Sabbath: A Day of Love
The members of a church make a trip to the lake on the Sabbath day. Everyone knows not to go in the water, and if they do, not to go beyond where the water is beyond your knees. All of a sudden a deacon dives in the water and goes off swimming far into deeper waters. Can you see the faces of disapproval? Can you hear the murmuring? The Elder – trying to assert authority – states categorically, "This is unacceptable. What kind of testimony is he giving? We will have to disfellowship him. This kind of behavior should not be tolerated. He has shown today what kind of Christian he is." Everyone said, "Amen!"
3 minutes later the deacon is seen swimming back to shore. He is struggling. He is dragging someone along. Who could it be? The elder's face fell and turned read when he realized that the deacon - the elder had just condemned - had saved his daughter. No one, except the deacon, saw her drift away into the deeper waters of the lake - far beyond where the water hits the knee. Things are not always what they seem. The intentions of the heart matter. Needless to say, there was no mention of disfellowshipping the deacon after that. Christ said, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Mark 3: 4).
The Church in Christ day was no different. The Jews had made the Sabbath a burden with their strict rules and requirements. They turned the Sabbath into a curse instead of a blessing. In Desire of Ages - pages, 206 and 207 - Ellen White elaborated upon the difference between the Jewish Sabbath and Jesus' Sabbath says that Jesus had come to "magnify the law, and make it honorable." He was not to lessen its dignity, but to exalt it. The scripture says, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till He has set judgment in the earth" (Isaiah 42:21, 4). He had come to free the Sabbath from those burdensome requirements that had made it a curse instead of a blessing.
She adds, "…it was for this reason He had chosen the Sabbath upon which to perform the act of healing at Bethesda (John 5). He could have healed the sick man as well on any other day of the week, or He might simply have cured him, without bidding him bear away his bed. But this would not have given Him the opportunity He desired. A wise purpose underlay every act of Christ's life on earth. Everything He did was important in itself and in its teaching. Among the afflicted ones at the pool He selected the worst case upon whom to exercise His healing power and bade the man carry his bed through the city in order to publish the great work that had been wrought upon him. This would raise the question of what it was lawful to do on the Sabbath, and would open the way for Him to denounce the restrictions of the Jews in regard to the Lord's Day, and to declare their traditions void.
You would think that the healing of a fellow Jew would have made them rejoice, but the Jews were more interested in their rules than the well-being of their neighbor. This hardness of the religious establishment could be seen in the healing of the man blind from birth (John 9). Verse 16 reveals how little mercy they had,
John 9:16, Therefore, said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
Talk about law without love!
Ellen White continues saying that Jesus stated to them that the work of relieving the afflicted was in harmony with the Sabbath law. God's angels are ever descending and ascending between heaven and earth to minister to suffering humanity. Jesus declared, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." All days are God's, in which to carry out His plans for the human race. If the Jews' interpretation of the law was correct, then Jehovah was at fault, whose work has quickened and upheld every living thing since first He laid the foundations of the earth; then He who pronounced His work good, and instituted the Sabbath to commemorate its completion, must put a period to His labor, and stop the never-ending routine of the universe. Should God forbid nature from continuing it's never ending work from which all men benefit? In such a case, men would faint and die.
The demands upon God are even greater upon the Sabbath than upon other days. His people then leave their usual employment and spend the time in meditation and worship. They ask more favors of Him on the Sabbath than upon other days. They demand His special attention. They crave His choicest blessings. God does not wait for the Sabbath to pass before He grants these requests. Heaven's work never ceases, and men should never rest from doing good. The Sabbath is not intended to be a period of useless inactivity. The law forbids secular labor on the rest day of the Lord; the toil that gains a livelihood must cease; no labor for worldly pleasure or profit is lawful upon that day; but as God ceased His labor of creating, and rested upon the Sabbath and blessed it, so man is to leave the occupations of his daily life, and devote those sacred hours to healthful rest, to worship, and to holy deeds. The work of Christ in healing the sick was in perfect accord with the law. It honored the Sabbath.
And man also has a work to perform on this day. The necessities of life must be attended to, the sick must be cared for, and the wants of the needy must be supplied. He will not be held guiltless who neglects to relieve suffering on the Sabbath. God's holy rest day was made for man, and acts of mercy are in perfect harmony with its intent. God does not desire His creatures to suffer an hour's pain that may be relieved upon the Sabbath or any other day.