Shelby G. Floyd

Perhaps you have heard the humorous anecdote about governments and two cows. Socialism would have you give one of your cows to your neighbor and you could keep the other. Communism would insist that you give both cows to the state, and if you were lucky you might be fortunate enough to get some milk and butter occasionally. Nazism would shoot you and take both of your cows. In democracy you would sell one cow and by a bull. In legalism there would be so many rules and regulations concerning the keeping of cows that nobody would want them anyway!

In the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell who was religiously devout, forfeited his chances to run in the 1924 Olympic 200 meter dash held in Paris because it would be held on Sunday, which he called the Sabbath. He steadfastly refused to compromise his convictions, which is a commendable thing to do. As a result one of his teammates allowed him to run in his place in the 400-meter dash where he won a gold medal. Eric Liddell said he felt like he could honor God by competing in winning a gold medal for his country of Scotland. He said God made me fast. Like Eric Liddell we must live by our convictions and at the same time we must make sure that our convictions are founded upon truth.

Many of us in this audience who are about my age will remember some of the blue laws in this country, when all businesses and stores were closed on Sunday, except just a few for emergency and necessity.

We should be thankful to God that we live the country where for the most part our government and most businesses not only close down operations on Sunday the Lord’s Day, but also on Saturday. If we are wise we will use Saturday as a time to rest from our laborers and rebuild our energies. And also we will honor God and the Lord Jesus Christ by using the first day the week to worship God, to meditate upon his word, to spend much time in prayer and fellowship with the people of God. In this way we will rebuild our spiritual strength and energies.


God Almighty was the first one who is said to have rested on the 7th day. He is said to have done this after he had created the universe including man. But nowhere is it said that man was commanded to keep the 7th day as a day of rest until the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. We read of God entering into his rest on the 7th day after he created the material universe:

Gen 2:1-3
2:1Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. 2And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. 3Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Let us take a look at the Sabbath day law as taught in the Old Testament. According to the Jewish way of keeping time the Sabbath day was from sundown Friday evening until sundown Saturday evening. This was their 7th day of the week, or Sabbath day. The word Sabbath means rest.

When Moses received the law on Mount Sinai the fourth command was the law of the Sabbath. This law was basically positive, and simply commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath day holy. This means it was to be set aside and sanctified for spiritual purposes. This law is found in Exodus and also in Deuteronomy when Moses gave his valedictory speech before his death:

Ex 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 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 male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 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. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
There were several negative prohibitions concerning work and activity on the Sabbath day, but these prohibitions were not rigid and legalistic to the point that they made no allowance for necessity and mercy. We shall notice how in the days of Christ the Pharisees had taken a basic positive law and had added to that law their own opinions and traditions and changed a law which had been designed for the good of man into a law that became a burden to man.


During the life of Christ we see him involved in a great controversy with the Pharisees over how the Sabbath day should be observed. Christ upheld the true teaching of the law over against the traditions and legalism of the Pharisees, which they had added to the law. Christ was not a lawbreaker, but rather he upheld the Law of Moses in its true intent. We observe that Christ consistently remembered the Sabbath day to keep it holy in his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-20). It is said that his observance of the Sabbath day was his custom.

Jesus and the Pharisees strongly disagreed about taking some grain and eating it on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees charged the disciples of Jesus with doing that which was not lawful to do on the Sabbath day.

Matthew 12:1-2
12:1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

We wonder what the Pharisees were doing following along behind Jesus and his disciples as they walked through a field on the Sabbath day. Perhaps they had appointed themselves as the Sabbath police and were even measuring the distance that Jesus and the disciples walked trying to find some charge that they could level against them as a breaker of the Law of Moses.

The Pharisees interpreted the law of the Sabbath very legalistically and rigidly and it is said that they had enumerated 39 types of work, which were forbidden on the Sabbath day. Jesus often charged them with straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. (Mt. 23:24.) Like some today their hobby was to split hairs instead of keeping the law of God.


Christ answered the charge of the Pharisees against his disciples with five arguments. He could have said your charge is against my disciples not me. But he did not do that. Christ stood up for his disciples since they were being unfairly and unjustly accused of breaking the Law of Moses. This got him into trouble even to the point that ultimately he was nailed to the cross. But it is right to stand up for people who are being treated unfairly.

1. The Example of David

The first argument that Jesus presented was the example of David the great king of Old Testament Israel. Jesus asked, “Haven’t you read what David did?” Jesus makes the point that the rigid interpretation of the law by the Pharisees is inconsistent with scripture itself. Usually false teachers contradict the plain teaching of other scriptures.

Matthew 12:3-4
But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

David was a national hero to the Jewish people. He was much like George Washington would be to the people of the United States of America. This was a strong reproof to the Pharisees when Jesus asked them haven’t you read what David did?” Of course that had read that scripture over and over again, but they didn’t understand it. They knew what David and his companions’ had done when they were hungry. But they did not condemn David and God had not condemned David for that act. Then why are they condemning Christ and his disciples for doing something that clearly was not breaking the law? The law allowed for poor people to walk through the corners of a neighbor’s field and pluck grain to satisfy their hunger. What Jesus and the disciples had really done was to violate the traditions and opinions and man-made laws of the Pharisees.

2. The Example of the Priests

The second argument was the example of the priests who served at the altar in Old Testament worship. Jesus asked, “Haven’t you read that on the Sabbath the priests desecrate the day and yet are innocent?” The priests worked on the Sabbath day in carrying out their priestly obligations. Yet God did not hold them accountable as lawbreakers. Therefore there were exceptions to the general rule of doing no work on the Sabbath day.

Matthew 12:5-6
Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.

3. The Example of Mercy over Sacrifice

God desired mercy over sacrifice. This was the third argument that Jesus presented to the Pharisees. This was based upon the solid teaching of the Old Testament scriptures. The Pharisees knew what these scriptures said but they didn’t understand what they meant. If they had known what they meant they would not have condemned Jesus and his disciples on this occasion:

Matthew 12:7
But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.

The Pharisees did not understand what the scripture meant when the prophet said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” These words are found in the prophecy of Hosea:

Hosea 6:6
6For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

If the Pharisees had understood the meaning of these words they would not have condemned the innocent disciples and their master Jesus Christ. These arguments presented by Christ strongly indicate that we not only must read God’s Word but we must discover also what it teaches. And then we must practice what it teaches.

4. The Sabbath Day Was To Be a Blessing, Not a Burden

The fourth argument that Christ presented was that the Sabbath day was designed to be a blessing and not a burden on man. This is found in Mark’s account of this great controversy over the Sabbath day. Jesus simply said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 27).The Pharisees had piled so many rules and regulations on the keeping of the Sabbath that it had become a heavy burden to worship God rather than a blessing. This same thing can happen today in keeping the Lord’s Day. The worship of the New Testament church was very simple but it also was a great blessing. When men start adding to God’s law their opinions and traditions and binding them up on Christian people, then the worship becomes a burden instead of a blessing. This must be resisted with all strength. When men teach for doctrines the commandments of men worship becomes vain and empty (Cf. Mt. 15:1-9.)

5. The Lord of the Sabbath

The final argument that Christ presented to the Pharisees rests on the fact that “the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath: “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8 NKJV).

This means that the Christian finds his true rest in Christ including salvation from sin and the eternal rest in heaven. The Sabbath day was a shadow of the good things that were to come. These good things have come and find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He is the reality and not the shadow as Paul teaches to the Colossian Christians:

Colossians 2:16-17
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

In the beginning God rested from all of his creative work on the seventh day and made it holy. Later on the Jews were commanded to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. But today Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath, which means he is over the Sabbath and has become the Sabbath rest for the Christian:

Hebrews 4:1-11
4:1Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:
“So I swore in My wrath,They shall not enter My rest,”
although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” 6Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,Do not harden your hearts.”
8For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
11Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.


First, our view of interpreting God’s Law will be based upon our view of the nature of God. If one views God as a loving God full of mercy and compassion then one will interpret God’s Law with compassion and mercy toward others and toward themselves. But if one views the nature of God as mean and vindictive desiring to punish man, then one will interpret God’s Law rigidly like the Pharisees did.

The second lesson we learn is that the religion of the Pharisees and legalistic people today will leave people hungry and in need. The Pharisees didn’t care if the disciples of Jesus were hungry for they were more interested in upholding their human traditions than in caring for the needs of human beings.

Another lesson that we learn is that the religion of the Pharisees and legalistic people today is that they will leave people handicapped rather than trying to help them get well. After Christ had answered the false charge against him and his disciples, he gave them an example of doing what is right on the Sabbath day. He went into a synagogue on the Sabbath day and healed a man with a withered hand. Again Jesus was condemned. His reply was a question! “Is it right to do good on the Sabbath day or do evil? The Pharisees would pull an ox out of the ditch on the Sabbath day but condemned Christ for healing a man on the Sabbath day. Therefore they were very inconsistent and very wicked. While they condemned Christ for doing good on the Sabbath day they had no problem at all after the worship was over in planning to kill Christ: “Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6). Therefore they were doing evil on the Sabbath day.

Let us today follow Christ and not the attitude and actions of the Pharisees. Christ is our Sabbath rest and as someone has said, “If your soul is not at rest, may it never be at rest until it is at rest in Christ.” Christ invited all people to come unto him and find rest for their souls:

Matt 11:28-30
28″Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Take note Christian people, if the son of man was Lord of the Sabbath, then the Son of God is also Lord of the Sunday! Will you take the time today to obey the gospel and find your rest for your soul in Christ?

Copyright © 2018 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon February 4, 2001 at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142.

Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142

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