The Pharisees had done it again! Jesus and His disciples were taking a refreshing walk through the grain fields one Sabbath. Jesus, as was His custom, was probably using the time to teach His friends more of the truth. As they walked, some of the disciples casually plucked off a few heads of grain to munch on. The Pharisees were outraged. These self-righteous religious leaders prided themselves on their strict observance of the Sabbath. In the ignorance, they had made the Sabbath a spiritual obstacle course with hundreds of picky dos and don'ts. In their view, picking a few ears of grain was a serious breach of the law. "Why did you let them do it?" they asked Jesus accusingly (Mark 2:23-24). So once again Jesus had to correct them. "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," He said (verse 27). Jesus reminded them that God did not make man just so there would be someone to keep the Sabbath. Rather, God made the Sabbath for the benefit of mankind.
Many people have since misunderstood what Jesus meant by this. They think that by "liberalizing" the Pharisees' strict rules, Jesus was giving us license to do whatever we like on the Sabbath. Jesus' words, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," have often been abused, and have become a catchall to justify doing anything and everything people want to do during the time that God has set aside as holy. And that, of course, was not what Jesus meant. Jesus Christ had the deepest respect for the law of God. He observed the Sabbath carefully. He knew it was one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11). To break it would have been sin, and Jesus never sinned. If He had, He would have incurred the wages of sin — death (Romans 6:23) — and thus He couldn't have died for your sins. But Jesus, unlike the Pharisees, never lost sight of the purpose of the Sabbath day. He remembered why it was created.
The first Sabbath
In the first chapters of the book of Genesis, we read how God, through Jesus Christ, made the world as we know it today. In six days of stupendous creativity, He sorted out the chaos and confusion that was left over from Satan's rebellion and restored light and life to this planet. Then , sometime on the day that we now call Friday, God stooped in the dust and molded a creature in His own image, and breathed the breath of life into him (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7). Later, He created a wife for him, also made in the image of God. A wonderful plan was beginning to unfold. The Bible shows us that God rested on the day after the day He created Adam and Eve, setting aside the time as holy forever. Exodus 31:17 tells us that on that Sabbath God was "refreshed." But what does this mean? God surely wasn't tired, was He? No, God never runs out of energy. But neither is He a robot an automaton. God enjoys moments of relaxation, when He can pause and enjoy the fruits of His labor. God was pleased with His creation. As He looked at the earth, once again green and beautiful, teeming with life in all its wonderful variety, He had the satisfaction of knowing it was good (Genesis 1:25). Most wonderful of all were Adam and Eve, living, breathing, thinking beings, made in God's own image. As God watched them explore their new environment, He saw that that was indeed very good (verse 31). Adam and Eve may not have known it then, but God had plans for them. They were filled with wonder and excitement of their new physical life, but their Creator knew the real reason why He had created them. So, as the sun set on the evening of the sixth day, God finished the physical creation. The seventh day would be different — devoted not to physical activity, but set aside as a Sabbath — a day of rest — a time to think about what happens next. God had not yet completed the creation of Adam and Eve. Al though they were finished physically, there were some vital spiritual details that had not yet been created. In this they were unlike the creatures around them. Although they ate food and breathed air like the animals, there was a great difference. Adam and Eve were made after the image of God and were destined to live forever, if they so chose. But first they had to qualify. The newly created man and woman needed to be reminded that there is more to life than mere physical pursuits. God set aside the seventh day as holy time for that purpose. When Adam and Eve listened to Satan and were persuaded by him to choose their own way rather than God's way (Genesis 3:1-6), they cut themselves off from knowledge that could have shown them the way to eternal life. To this day the vast majority of Adam's descendants are totally unaware of the real reason why they exist. (If you haven't already read it, send for a free copy of our eye — opening book The Incredible Human Potential.)
A break from routine
In a materialistic world, spiritual values are elusive. Left to ourselves, most of us would never take time out of our busy schedules to concentrate on spiritual values for a while. We see this clearly by the way most professing Christians "observe" Sunday. They may go to church, but the rest of the day is spent doing their own pleasure — sports, watching television, going to the beach, working around the house. Certainly that accomplishes the purpose of providing a physical break from routine, but there is more to a real Sabbath than that. That is why God made the Sabbath a commandment. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day" (Exodus 20:9-11). That's not a suggestion — it is an order. God wants us to take seriously His command to keep the Sabbath. It is not just like any other day, to be used in any way you please. Although the Pharisees went overboard and made the Sabbath a burden, our modern world has gone to the opposite extreme.
More than just "a day off"
God kept the first Sabbath with Adam and Eve, and He found it refreshing. Probably He used that time to teach them more about life and how to live it. God has never changed. He would enjoy spending the next Sabbath with you. He has the time set aside for that purpose. God is ready to use next Sabbath to teach you , through His Word as you study the Bible, and through His true ministers as you attend services in His Church. He will be with you as you fellowship with His people (Matthew 18:20). He will listen to you as you pray (plenty of time on the Sabbath — so there is no excuse not to, right?). God would find it refreshing to open your mind to more of His truth and to teach you what you need to know so that you can inherit the wonderful eternal life that He is eager to share with you. But not if you spend the time working, or on the golf course, or fixing the roof, or doing the week's grocery shopping. If you keep the Sabbath properly, then when the sun sets next Saturday evening and the Sabbath is over , your mind could be tuned to the real purpose of your life. The worries, fears and problems of living in this world will be placed in perspective. You will be ready for another week of accomplishment — of life being lived for its real purpose. That purpose has never changed. The Sabbath has never changed, and the reason for observing it is the same today as it was in the first century, when Jesus taught, "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27).