Lord of the Sabbath
We’re going to dive right into Matthew chapter 12 this morning.
Last week, Mike wrapped up chapter 11, which ends with Jesus saying:
Matthew 11:28–30 CSB
28 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
He is saying this in contrast to the burden that the pharisees have put on themselves and the people, the burden of meticulous, oppressive law that has blinded them to who Jesus truly is.
As we go into the next chapter, the narrative continues with two examples, two applications of this principle Jesus just taught. So we’ll get to see exactly what he means by his burden being light, and how it clashes with the teaching of other religious leaders in his day.
Let’s read through the whole passage together:
Matthew 12:1–15 CSB
1 At that time Jesus passed through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick and eat some heads of grain. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry: 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the bread of the Presence—which is not lawful for him or for those with him to eat, but only for the priests? 5 Or haven’t you read in the law that on Sabbath days the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 9 Moving on from there, he entered their synagogue. 10 There he saw a man who had a shriveled hand, and in order to accuse him they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He replied to them, “Who among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take hold of it and lift it out? 12 A person is worth far more than a sheep; so it is lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and it was restored, as good as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might kill him. 15 Jesus was aware of this and withdrew. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them all.
Alright, let’s dig into this! There are two stories here, and both are illustrating the same point in a slightly different context, and both culminate in showing how the pharisees were so livid with Jesus to the point of plotting to kill him.
Sabbath And Grain Law
First let’s start by talking about the Sabbath and grain, and why on earth the Pharisees would be so upset by these disciples eating grain.
The story begins with a very simple statement. His disciples were hungry, so they picked and ate some heads of grain. Nothing too exciting…it would be like eating some really bland, dry cereal, but it would have high density energy to keep them going. They weren’t eating it for fun, trust me, they must have been REALLY hungry to resort to just eating plain, raw grain.
It’s not like they were walking by and thought “wow, that just looks really tasty!” This was done out of a real need. That’s important to realize as we examine this further.
The conflict, the drama in the story happens when the pharisees caught them doing this! They see it, and they tell on them…they report it to Jesus, I assume to see what he’s going to do or say about it.
And what do they tell Jesus? The pharisees told Jesus that his disciples were “doing what is not lawful.”
The CJB translates it this way:
“Look, your talmidim [your students] are violating Shabbat!”
While this might almost seem silly to those of us not raised with Shabbat culture, this would have actually been an extremely egregious accusation!
In our language, it would be like saying “Look! Your students are committing a felony! In fact, they’re committing a capital offense!”
The students of Jesus are breaking the law to the greatest degree possible. That’s the implication the pharisee’s are making.
So, what law prohibited them from picking grain on the sabbath? Where does this accusation, and this mindset come from?
At the very core of Jewish law is of course the 10 Commandments. Everything else really stems from there. And one of those 10 is the command regarding the sabbath. We can read it in Exodus chapter twenty:
Exodus 20:8–11 LEB
8 “Remember the day of the Sabbath, to consecrate it. 9 Six days you will work, and you will do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath for Yahweh your God; you will not do any work—you or your son or your daughter, your male slave or your female slave, or your animal, or your alien who is in your gates—11 because in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day he rested. Therefore Yahweh blessed the seventh day and consecrated it.
In this passage, the reason for the Sabbath is given as being a reflection of God and his resting after the work of creation.
If you look at the ten commandments in Deuteronomy, some of it is worded just a little bit differently. The one about the sabbath is almost identical, but with a slightly different reason given at the end:
Deuteronomy 5:12–15 CSB
12 Be careful to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey, any of your livestock, or the resident alien who lives within your city gates, so that your male and female slaves may rest as you do. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
In this case, the reason is so that they would have time set aside to reflect on their past, their origin story, and remember what God did for them.
In both cases, the sabbath is to be a day of rest for everyone. And the fact that even the slaves were to rest on the Sabbath provides a contrast to how they were brutally treated as slaves in Egypt, again a reminder of where they came from and an encouragement to not fall into the same pattern of behaviors of other countries and empires when they become prosperous.
We can also find this command in Leviticus, where it’s again worded just slightly differently:
Leviticus 23:3 LEB
3 “ ‘For six days work is to be done, and on the seventh day shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy assembly; you shall not do any work; it shall be a Sabbath for Yahweh in all your dwellings.
So there in Leviticus we have this added concept of a sacred assembly; of gathering together to enjoy this day of rest and worship Yahweh together.
But in each of these passages, the command is simply to “not work.” Not a whole lot of detail given there, and certainly nothing about picking grain.
More in Exodus
It does come up again though several times in Exodus. It’s in chapter 20, chapter 23, and then in chapter 31 there are a few more details given, including the penalty for violating the sabbath! Check it out:
Exodus 31:12–17 LEB
12 And Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 13 “And you, speak to the Israelites, saying, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, because it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, in order to know that I am Yahweh, who consecrates you. 14 And you must keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you; defilers of it will surely be put to death, because anyone who does work on it—that person will be cut off from among his people. 15 On six days work can be done, and on the seventh is a Sabbath of complete rest, a holy day for Yahweh; anyone doing work on the Sabbath day will surely be put to death. 16 The Israelites will pay attention to the Sabbath in order to fulfill the Sabbath throughout their generations as a lasting covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the Israelites forever, because in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh he ceased and recovered.”
We do also get one reference to harvesting in chapter 34:
Exodus 34:21 CSB
21 “You are to labor six days but you must rest on the seventh day; you must even rest during plowing and harvesting times.
Later in chapter 35 there’s one more detail given as an example of what not to do:
Exodus 35:1–3 CSB
1 Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 For six days work is to be done, but on the seventh day you are to have a holy day, a Sabbath of complete rest to the Lord. Anyone who does work on it must be executed. 3 Do not light a fire in any of your homes on the Sabbath day.”
They weren’t even to light a fire in their homes!
There are many more references to the Sabbath throughout Exodus and elsewhere, but you get the idea.
This command was a big deal! And it does certainly come across as very strict! To violate it was to face the penalty of death! Can you imagine being killed just because you did some work? Wow!
And to their credit, the pharisees did make a big deal of the sabbath because God made a big deal of it! He did! However, he didn’t really give a lot of detail as to what constitutes “work,” did he?
I think this was intentional when you consider the purpose of the law, which we’ll get to in a minute, but it seems that human nature is to want to legislate every possible scenario so that the law can be methodically enforced.
As such, the teachers and enforcers of the law, the rabbis, scribes, and pharisees, came up with a whole system for defining and prohibiting “work” on the Sabbath.
The Zondervan Bible Dictionary says that
“During the period between Ezra and the Christian era the scribes formulated innumerable legal restrictions for the conduct of life under the law.”
In fact, there were THIRTY NINE sections of prohibition for work. Ready for them? 39 verbs that would be a sin to commit on Shabbat:
Alfred Edersheim, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar wrote this about the sheer length of Rabbinical Sabbath law:
In not less than twenty-four chapters, matters are seriously discussed as a vital religious importance, which one would scarcely imagine a sane intellect would seriously entertain. Through 64 1/2 folio columns in the Jerusalem, and 156 double pages of folio in the Babylon Talmud does the enumeration and discussion of possible cases, drag on, almost unrelieved even by Haggadan. [passover seder] The Talmud itself bears witness to this, when it speaks (no doubt exaggeratedly) of a certain Rabbi who had spent no less than two and a half years in the study of only one of those twenty-four chapters!”
So, rabbinical law regarding the Sabbath clearly got out of hand. But did you notice that out of those 39 categories, three of them were picking, threshing, and winnowing.
The disciples would have picked the grain (a sin), then rubbed it in their hands to remove the husks, which is effectively threshing and winnowing. So they broke this law on three different counts.
That’s what the pharisees are most concerned with here.
But, meanwhile, is nobody concerned about who’s grain this was? None of the disciples are farmers that we know of, and they’re living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle at this point, just traveling around. For all we know, this grain belongs to a total stranger, or a random bystander! So, besides breaking the Sabbath, are they also stealing some stranger’s food and/or livelihood?
Believe it or not, there is actually a law that explicitly permits them to do this!
Deuteronomy 23:25 CSB
25 When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck heads of grain with your hand, but do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain.
In other words, they were allowed to eat directly from other people’s crops to sustain themselves, just not cut it down in bulk, because that would be stealing someone else’s harvest. It’s actually pretty reasonable for a community of loving, cooperative neighbors! Because that’s always how neighbors are, right?
Anyway, they would have permitted to do what they did with no issue except that they did it during Shabbat/Sabbath.
Because the pharisees have made such an accusation against Jesus’s disciples, he is now obligated to respond in some way; either by disciplining his disciples for sinning, even pressing charges against them, or by defending them to the pharisees.
Of course, Jesus does the latter. And his first response is interesting. It’s kind of snarky, actually! He says “Have you not read the scriptures…?”
They are pharisees! Teachers of scripture! They’ve read it a thousand times! He knows this, but he’s throwing it in their face. It’s a way of saying...”you’ve read it, but you don’t get it.”
It would be like someone coming up to me or Mike after a sermon and saying “Have you never read the bible?” It’s kind of a gut punch!
And then he briefly recounts a story to them from the book of Samuel. We can find it in 1 Samuel 21:
What David Did
1 Samuel 21:1–6 CSB
1 David went to the priest Ahimelech at Nob. Ahimelech was afraid to meet David, so he said to him, “Why are you alone and no one is with you?”
2 David answered the priest Ahimelech, “The king gave me a mission, but he told me, ‘Don’t let anyone know anything about the mission I’m sending you on or what I have ordered you to do.’ I have stationed my young men at a certain place. 3 Now what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread or whatever can be found.”
4 The priest told him, “There is no ordinary bread on hand. However, there is consecrated bread, but the young men may eat it only if they have kept themselves from women.”
5 David answered him, “I swear that women are being kept from us, as always when I go out to battle. The young men’s bodies are consecrated even on an ordinary mission, so of course their bodies are consecrated today.” 6 So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, for there was no bread there except the Bread of the Presence that had been removed from the presence of the Lord. When the bread was removed, it had been replaced with warm bread.
This story illustrates how sometimes there were appropriate exceptions to ritual laws, for certain people and in certain circumstances.
The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) Chapter 12
David, God’s anointed, transgressed a ceremonial law concerning the bread of the presence in the tabernacle. Now one with much greater authority is present.
What Priests Did
To further illustrate this Jesus gives another example, reminding the pharisees that priests themselves do work on the Sabbath, and the pharisees took no issue with that! In fact, it’s commanded in Numbers:
Numbers 28:9–10 CSB
9 “On the Sabbath day present two unblemished year-old male lambs, four quarts of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and its drink offering. 10 It is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.
According to rabbinical law, that would be defined very clearly as work. And yet it was a given that this particular circumstance…the priests, working in the temple, were given exception to the rule.
Then Jesus drops this claim that “something” is here who is even greater than the temple! Of course, he’s referring to himself.
Jesus is the greatest and ultimate priest, and his presence on Earth would go on to redefine the very definition and function of the “Temple.”
The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) Chapter 12
The one in whom God dwells personally is greater than God’s dwelling place in Israel that foreshadowed the incarnate Son. Jesus, Immanuel (“God with us”), is the true temple to whom the symbol pointed (John 1:14; 2:21). The disciples, being in the presence of Jesus, have a far greater service than the priests who served in the Jerusalem temple.
The Mercy Quote
He continues this defense of his disciple’s actions by making yet another reference to scripture and yet again insulting the pharisee’s understanding of it. He says in verses six and seven:
Matthew 12:6–7 CSB
6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent.
He has already quoted this once before! Back in chapter 9:
Matthew 9:10–13 CSB
10 While he was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 Now when he heard this, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
This quote comes from Hosea chapter six, where God is condemning Israel for their lack of love, and their betrayal of God’s covenant with them. The condemnation in Hosea is not coming from doing bad things, it’s because of God’s scorned love, He says that Israel’s love is like a mist that disappears in the wind! He’s heartbroken and betrayed!
He doesn’t say “you didn’t sacrifice enough, you didn’t follow the rules well enough…”
The summary of what he’s saying in this chapter is
“You haven’t loved me, and you don’t care to know me!
Then, in Hosea chapter 6 verse 6 he says this:
Hosea 6:6–7 CSB
6 For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
7 But they, like Adam, have violated the covenant;
there they have betrayed me.
Jesus is making a direct connection to this passage to try to help them see that the pharisees, in all their passion and zeal for following the law, have lost sight of the real purpose of the law, which is to know God, and to enjoy his presence in community with each other.
I would go as far as to say that for the pharisees, the law became a stand-in for God. A new golden calf, an idol that they worshiped, and manipulated to control each other, rather than using it simply as a tool to better worship God and care for each other.
Legalism becoming an idol, or being used to manipulate others is never an issue in our culture though, is it?
Of course it is…it’s a trap that is all to easy for many to fall into, and we should be wary of doing so ourselves.
Lord of the Sabbath
Finally, Jesus wraps up with one last statement in verse eight. This time he’s not directly quoting scripture, or insulting the pharisees, but making an extremely bold claim about himself.
He refers to himself, as he almost always does, as “the Son of Man” and says that he is Lord even over the Sabbath!
What is the implication of that claim?
He’s claiming superiority, not just over David, over the priests, over the temple, but over the institution of the Sabbath itself!
Who is lord of the Sabbath but God himself?
God instituted the Sabbath way back in Genesis, at the creation of the universe:
Genesis 2:1–3 CSB
1 So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. 2 On the seventh day God had completed his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it he rested from all his work of creation.
Then he commanded it as we read back in Exodus and Deuteronomy and Leviticus. And it’s FOR God that the Sabbath is observed! To remember and acknowledge who He is and what He’s done!
So…by calling himself the “Lord of the Sabbath” you have to understand that Jesus was clearly identifying himself as Yahweh himself, the God of the universe.
The Shriveled Hand
Alright, moving on to verse nine, Jesus moves on and enters their synagogue. Basically, he goes into their church building. It was common for Jesus to go into synagogues and teach, but here the pharisee’s notice an opportunity to make more accusations against Jesus!
There’s a man with a “shriveled” hand, and it seems the pharisees know Jesus well enough to assume he’s going to want to heal this man’s hand. So they ask him: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
It’s really kind of a sarcastic question. As you can probably guess, according to rabbinical law, it was in fact NOT lawful to provide any kind of healing services on the Sabbath.
CSB Study Bible: Notes Chapter 12
it was illegal to tie a bandage, set a broken bone, or administer medicine. Some rabbis even banned prayer for the sick on the Sabbath.
The ONE exception was if someone’s life were actually in imminent danger, it was lawful to do whatever bare minimum was necessary to keep them from dying, without actually helping them get better.
Isn’t that nice?
Here’s a little excerpt from the Mishnah:
The Mishnah (Yoma)
Further did R. Mattiah b. Harash say, “He who has a pain in his throat—they drop medicine into his mouth on the Sabbath, because it is a matter of doubt as to danger to life. And any matter of doubt as to danger to life overrides the prohibitions of the Sabbath.”
OK, so obviously a shriveled hand doesn’t really fall into the category of a life-threatening condition, hence the pharisees wanting to trap Jesus in his compassion.
He hasn’t even healed the guy yet! He didn’t even say he was going to yet!
So what’s his response?
Matthew 12:11 CSB
11 He replied to them, “Who among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take hold of it and lift it out?
Interestingly, there actually WAS a group called the Essenes who would have said it was NOT permissible to save an animal on the Sabbath, but the vast majority of Jews would have agreed that it was permissible to rescue a sheep or a goat or a donkey.
And of course humans have so much more value than animals, so he was calling out an inconsistency in how the sabbath was practiced and enforced. Their mistake was in elevating rules and regulations over practical human needs.
The response that we see from the pharisees is of course not humility and repentance, but shock and horror. They are appalled by Jesus, for two basic reasons:
His clear and bold claims to divinity…identifying himself as Yahweh, God of the universe, and
His complete and utter disregard for rabbinic tradition.
But, the pharisees’ objections to Jesus and his disciples are based on man-made, oral tradition that both obscures and counters the original law’s true purpose, but rather serves to oppress and manipulate people. And it’s their failure to truly understand the law that causes them to be unable to see Jesus for who he really is…Yahweh incarnate…Immanuel…God among us.
So, what does this mean for us today? Do we totally disregard Sabbath? Should we be following it more closely?
Well, the spirit of the law, the core value of Sabbath, of a dedicated time for rest and reflection, is certainly still quite valuable, especially in our fast-paced, baroquely busy, high stress, high pressure, consumerist culture. We should be carving out time for Sabbath rest, even if it is inconvenient or costs us some productivity!
What we shouldn’t be doing is allowing such a commitment to become burdensome or legalistic! That’s a trap that leads to unnecessary limitations, self-righteousness, and pride.
Paul speaks to this in Colossians:
Colossians 2:14–19 NLT
14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. 18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
Another essential New Testament passage regarding how the Sabbath applies to Christians comes from the book of Hebrews.
Turn with me to Hebrews chapter 3.
Hebrews is one of the most densely layered books in the whole Bible, I think. It’s just so rich with deep cuts and obscure references that draw all kinds of connections between Jesus and the rest of scripture, connecting concepts from Genesis to Revelation! And parts of it are like a very long-winded, winding legal argument.
To me it seems like whoever wrote the book of Hebrews must have been the most super-ultra-bible-nerd expert of all time.
Of course, the Spirit of God spoke through this writer, and could certainly provide supernatural insight if necessary, but I’m still fairly confident that this writer also had a really solid foundation of scholarly study of Hebrew scripture.
I’m gonna read through a pretty hefty section before we close, and there’s a LOT in there, but just try to follow the one thread of the Sabbath, of Rest, in this passage:
Hebrews 3–4 CSB
1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was in all God’s household. 3 For Jesus is considered worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder has more honor than the house. 4 Now every house is built by someone, but the one who built everything is God. 5 Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s household, as a testimony to what would be said in the future. 6 But Christ was faithful as a Son over his household. And we are that household if we hold on to our confidence and the hope in which we boast.
7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:
Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your ancestors tested me, tried me,
and saw my works 10 for forty years.
Therefore I was provoked to anger with that generation
and said, “They always go astray in their hearts,
and they have not known my ways.”
11 So I swore in my anger,
“They will not enter my rest.”
12 Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. 14 For we have become participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end the reality that we had at the start. 15 As it is said:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.
16 For who heard and rebelled? Wasn’t it all who came out of Egypt under Moses? 17 With whom was God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
1 Therefore, since the promise to enter his rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short. 2 For we also have received the good news just as they did. But the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith. 3 For we who have believed enter the rest, in keeping with what he has said,
So I swore in my anger,
“They will not enter my rest,”
even though his works have been finished since the foundation of the world. 4 For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in this way: And on the seventh day God rested from all his works. 5 Again, in that passage he says, They will never enter my rest. 6 Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, 7 he again specifies a certain day—today. He specified this speaking through David after such a long time:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. 10 For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, then, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.
12 For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
Man! What a passage! Maybe someday I’ll do a full exposition on Hebrews, that would be really fun! Obviously we can’t peel back ALL the layers today, but this passage speaks so clearly and boldly about this concept of Sabbath, and how it relates to Christians, Christ followers, in the wake of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
He’s pointing out how the Sabbath has all these layers of meaning: pointing all the way back to God resting after creation, to Israel entering the promised land, and how the Sabbath has a “here and now” significance, but that ultimately all of that points to a future culmination and fulfillment of “rest” when all of creation will finally rest from the pains of sin and death.
So, yes, the Sabbath does still have significance for us and we should cherish it as a symbol of hope as well as a tool to help us rely on God and strengthen our relationship with him. However, there is grace and love and mercy that supersedes legalism, and Jesus has fully and perfectly fulfilled the law by embodying and become all that the Sabbath stands for! He IS and WILL be our ultimate rest.
The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) Chapter 12
The Sabbath is a symbol of God’s sovereignty over the whole created universe (Ex. 20:8). It is a reminder of His redemption of His people (Deut. 5:12), and it is a representation of the hope of eternal rest at the consummation (Heb. 4:9). As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus fulfills all aspects of the meaning of the Sabbath (Col. 2:16, 17), and He defines how His followers should observe the Sabbath. Regulations that contravene the Sabbath’s life-sustaining and life-restoring purposes are at cross-purposes with God’s design for the day