The book of Mark describes the incident we examined in our last post, but with an additional statement by Jesus that sheds more light on the purpose of the Sabbath:
“And He [Jesus] said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2:27)
The Sabbath was made for man.
“That is, the Sabbath was intended for the welfare of man; designed to promote his happiness; and not to produce misery, by harsh, unfeeling requirements. It is not to be so interpreted as to produce suffering, by making the necessary supply of wants unlawful. Man was not made for the Sabbath. Man was created first, and then the Sabbath was appointed for his happiness, Ge 2:1-3. . . . The laws are to be interpreted favourably to his real wants and comforts. This authorizes works only of real necessity, not of imaginary wants, or amusement, or common business, and worldly employments” (Albert Barnes, on Matthew 12:6).
The functional purpose of the Sabbath is to be of service to man. In His infinite wisdom, the Creator of the universe provided one day out of seven to be a blessing to man, and that blessing is in the form of rest. This truth is not, of course, an excuse to do anything and everything we want on the Sabbath. Wants and needs are two separate categories; sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. Because we are sinners by nature, we should be careful not to equate all wants with necessities. Sometimes something we want may not actually be good for us. In providing us with the Sabbath, God designed to meet our real needs, not our imagined needs.
From this Scripture passage, we see that the Sabbath law allows for “works of necessity” (as church leaders have often called them). Jesus appeals to the example of King David: when he and his men were fleeing from Saul and faint with hunger, the High Priest allowed them to partake of the holy bread (i.e., food set aside only for the priests), even though in normal circumstances that was forbidden. Similarly, Jesus’ disciples plucked heads of grain on the Sabbath because of their need to eat. With the Sabbath having been created for man’s well being, it is ludicrous to deny man’s well being in order to “honor” the Sabbath.
Commentaries Cited from
Hall, Kay. Online Bible. Beersheba Springs: Ken Hamel, 2000. CD-ROM.
Notes on the New Testament, by Albert Barnes