An honest evaluation of what Jesus teaches will show that He gives very few rules, if any, for keeping the Sabbath (or for that matter, for anything). There is a reason for that. For one thing, the rules were already laid down in the Old Testament. Also what He came to do was to magnify the spiritual application of that law, that is, teach and expound the spirit of the law, the intention for the law.

There is hardly a law that He paid more attention to than the Sabbath, magnifying its use. There are at least seven different occasions in the four Gospels in which the Sabbath is the issue, when Jesus magnified its use for us. Every one of them has a theme of redemption in it.

What He teaches us are principles for applying the rules that have already been given in the Old Testament. For some of us, that is kind of disconcerting. We would like to have something like a bus or an airline timetable to take us through life in which every possible avenue is detailed as to exactly how we should go, where we should do something, when we should do it in every possible situation that might arise.

God allowed the Jews to try that. They eventually came up with 1,521 rules concerning the Sabbath, which they felt would cover every situation that one might possibly get into. What God is showing us through Jesus Christ is that this is unnecessary. In short, it does not work, or God would have done it. A person is not free when he is bound to those kinds of regulations.

Living in the twentieth century is not quite the same as living in the first or second centuries. Besides, that approach does negative things to a person's character; it produces an extremely narrow, intolerant, and critical casuist. What Christ did in giving us principles is that He gave us things that will last unalterable to the end of time and allow us to be free. They allow a person not always to do exactly the same thing each time. Every situation has to be judged on its own merit.

What does God want to do with our lives? What is He trying to form? He is creating in us an ability—an expertise—to judge. We are going to be kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). What does a king do? A king judges in civil matters, things that pertain to the community. What does a priest do? A priest also judges, but he judges in things spiritual. God is teaching us how to judge.

How we use the Sabbath is an integral part of His training program, and so He has purposely left out all kinds of details. But what He did through Jesus is magnify things so that we can see the intent. What we are seeing is that the intent for the Sabbath is to free. It is to liberate. It is not to bind people with rules.

There is a risk involved in what God is doing. In one sense, it puts a person at very grave risk.Blundering, foolish, and self-centered as we are, there is a grave danger of taking our liberty and turning it into license to do virtually anything we want. Or, on the other hand, to take our liberty and do as the Jews did, becoming so restrictive that we turn the Sabbath into bondage.

But God has to do that! If we are going to become judges, trained in the purpose that He wants, He has to allow us this liberty to make the judgments. So it is a risk that must be taken if a person is going to grow in judgment and character, so one will be prepared to be a king and a priest, knowing when to act and when not to act. God offers to us His Holy Spirit to give us counsel and to guide. But we must apply the principles in the circumstances of our lives.

In no case did Jesus give any indication of doing away with the Sabbath. Always the examples show Him magnifying the Sabbath's intent by doing an act of freeing someone.