Jesus and the Sabbath

There is much disagreement about Jesus and the Sabbath — did he follow the Sabbath, break the Sabbath, fulfill the Sabbath, or did Jesus come to do away with the Sabbath? And how does that relate to how you practice Sabbath today?

Paul instructed the believers at Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). We too can look to Jesus as our model and follow his example!

In this article we will explore…

  • What Jesus’ Sabbath days looked like
  • An example for church leaders today
  • Scriptures about Jesus and the Sabbath
  • How to go deeper into Sabbath rest

Let’s dive in…

What Jesus Did (and Didn’t Do) on the Sabbath

What were Jesus’ personal Sabbath days like? He went to the synagogue and rested, sometimes alone or with a few friends. The Gospel accounts show him taking walks through grain fields or by the lake and having conversations with those he encounters along the way.

We often see Jesus respond to the needs of the people around him on his Sabbath days, which included healing people, delivering them of demons, and teaching. In other words, he did a lot of “work” on the Sabbath day. He didn’t follow the rules set by the religious leaders of his day. And this got him in big trouble with those leaders.

Was he breaking the Sabbath? Did he show or teach us that we don’t need to keep the Sabbath anymore? The answer to both questions is no.

Jesus’ Example for Pastors and Church Workers

Pastors and church workers today are in the same position that Jesus was in: helping other people celebrate the Sabbath means that you’re doing some work on the Sabbath. But Jesus did his work in the “easy yoke” of the Father and taught us to follow his example and take on the “light burden” of his yoke (Matthew 11:25-30). The Sabbath is a day for setting down our burdens (Jeremiah 17:21).

It’s important to note that Jesus got Sabbath rest on other days. I recommend that pastors and other church workers choose a day of the week other than Sunday to take a consistent Sabbath day.

Jesus learned how to practice the Sabbath as a boy in Nazareth. Probably this included times of soul training in solitude and silence where he prayed, meditated on Scripture, and cultivated his life-giving intimacy with  his Father. In the years of Jesus’ public ministry, he often withdrew to be alone for quiet prayer (Luke 5:16).

Jesus stayed in tune with the Father’s love and never over-worked or acted on his own initiative without being led by and dependent upon his Father. He lives and ministers from a place of strength in “the Father and Son intimacies and knowledge” (Matthew 11:27, MSG). Sabbath-keeping wasn’t a defensive posture for Jesus to recover from being worn out or frustrated. Instead, it was his starting point: Jesus ministered from a Holy Spirit infused state of being relaxed, rested, and renewed.

From this state of peace and power, Jesus cared for people in need or pain, demonstrating time and again that the Sabbath is a day for healing and renewal — physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

We need to ask ourselves, Do I get the spiritual rest and healing that I need? Am I practicing my abiding in Christ by getting regular Sabbath rest? If the answer is “no” or “not much” then your ability to love the people around you is diminished.

Bible Study on Jesus’ Sabbath-Keeping and Teachings

Let’s consider some Scripture meditations from the Gospels of Jesus’ personal experiences and teachings related to the Sabbath (Bible verses are arranged in chronological order and are from the NIV84):

“When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach… ‘Be quiet!’”  People were amazed at his teachings, demons fled, and the good news spread (Mark 1:21-28).

On the Sabbath Jesus “went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them” (Mark 1:29-31).

“Very early in the morning [on Sunday, the day after the Jewish Sabbath], while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

“On the Sabbath day [Jesus] went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read [from Isaiah]… ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me…’  ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16, 18, 21).

Jesus asked the invalid at the Sheep Gate Pool: “Do you want to get well?”  He cured him…  He told him: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5:1-15).

“Jesus [walked] through the grainfields on the Sabbath [with] his disciples” (Matthew 12:1).

Jesus taught, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8).

In the synagogue on a Sabbath Jesus said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he healed the man with the shriveled hand (Matthew 12:9-13).

Jesus exclaimed, “On the Sabbath I heal the whole person” (John 7:23 paraphrase).

On the Sabbath Jesus healed a blind man, putting mud in his eyes and said: “I have come into this world, so that the blind will see” (John 9:39).

“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues… ‘Be set free on the Sabbath day’… He put his hands on [a crippled woman], and immediately she straightened up and praised God… The people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing” (Luke 13:10-17).

“One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee…”  He healed a man with dropsy… Jesus said: “He who humbles himself will be exalted…  When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed” (Luke 14:1-14).

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week… The angel said… ‘[Jesus] has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him’” (Matthew 28:1-10).

Go Deeper into Sabbath Rest

Want to build Sabbath practices into your rhythm of life? Our article Sabbath in the New Testament offers four specific ways to practice Sabbath rest.

To learn about how you can enjoy Sabbath days of rest and learn to do all of your work or ministry in a relaxed way read “Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke.

The best way to learn the practice of Sabbath, especially for pastors and other men and women in ministry, is on an extended spiritual retreat or Sabbatical. We show you how this can be a reality for you in our booklet, Your Sabbatical: An Introduction. We also provide an all-in-one-toolkit in our Sabbatical Guide online coaching program. This program has everything you need to experience rest and renewal on your Sabbatical.

Father, thank you for the gift of Sabbath. We are so grateful that you call us to rest. Bless my friend who seeks to follow this restorative rhythm, looking to Jesus and his Sabbath days as a model and inspiration. Amen.


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