A young pastor arrives at his new assignment in a small town. So small is the town there is only one church, one doctor, one fireman, one cop, etc.
Early in the week he begins to meet with a few of the elders of the church and discovers there seems to be a strong focus on legalism in this town. Knowing how dangerous legalism is but how stubborn people can be to release it, he decides to meet with the Fred the doctor, John the fireman and Steve the cop together for a meeting. He rightly assumed that these men who were pretty much always on call, did not have the same view of legalism as most of the town. So they agreed to his plan.
On Sunday morning, everyone else in town arrives at the church to locked doors and a note on the front door that read, “Good morning. Knowing how committed this town is to strict legal interpretation of the law, I quickly discovered how important it was to keep the Sabbath. So yesterday when it was still OK for me to work, I came here and locked up the church and left this note. To ensure I did absolute no work on the Sabbath, I have gone fishing and will see you all on Monday.
PS. Fred, John and Steve are all with me since they are observing the Sabbath as well. Be safe.
Now of course this story is ridiculous but that’s the point. A legalistic view itself is ridiculous. And this is what Jesus was trying to point out to the Pharisees in John 6.
“On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grain fields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (John 6:1-11)
Jesus could have done these things on any day, after all, He’s God. He chose to do them on the Sabbath and in full few and knowledge of the Pharisees, specifically to make this point.
God gave us the Sabbath as a rest day because after some hard work, our bodies need to rest and be replenished. There’s nothing wrong with the heart of the law but there’s everything wrong with the legalistic application of the law. In these two cases, the offense was making food and healing someone. Not exactly capitol offenses. But do them on the Sabbath and somehow it is worth of death.
Their legalistic approach would rather see someone drown than a person ‘work’ to go save them
This interpretation of the Sabbath is but one example of how legalism kills. But there are hundreds more. The big point is that legalism shifts the power of salvation from the grace of our Lord to the actions of mere mortals. It removes the power of grace and robs Jesus of the reason He died on the cross.