In our study of Matthew chapter twelve, we look at the fact that, at some point, we all have to make a decision concerning the identity and authority of Jesus Christ. At this point in Jesus' earthly ministry, He has shown the religious leaders His credentials to be the Messiah as well as demonstrating His authority through signs and miracles. Now, they will have to make a choice to either believe Him or to deny Him and that is the same choice that we all must face.
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At 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. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, 'Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.'
At the end of chapter 11, Jesus spoke of giving people rest and this goes to the heart of the matter of the Sabbath. In Exodus 35:1-3, Moses revealed the Law of the Sabbath to the people and they were told that it was to be a day without work. The Hebrew word that is translated as "work" is "m@la'kah and it speaks of an occupation or business. Shabbath (the Hebrew word for Sabbath) means intermission or break and gives the idea of taking a rest from the struggles to get ahead in this world. In this case, Jesus was being accused of allowing His disciples to harvest and thresh grain (work) on the Sabbath. According to the traditional law of the Jews (halakah), even picking heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands to separate the grain from the chaff constituted harvesting which would have been a commercial venture. This religious tradition (halakah) was formed as extra protection so that the people would not accidentally break the real Law of Moses. In this passage, we see an open break between Jesus and the religious traditions (halakah) of the Pharisees. It is at this point that the religious leaders will have to make a choice between their traditions and the actual word of God. The original command concerning the Sabbath contained just a few words but, by this time, the rules had been expanded to cover every possible aspect of life on that day.
He answered, 'Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread - which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.'
Jesus answered the charge with a little history lesson for the Pharisees and the events that Jesus spoke of are recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. On each Sabbath, twelve loaves of fresh bread were set on a table in the Holy Place. At that time, the old bread was removed and was given to the priests to eat. In Leviticus 22:10 & 11, we see that, even though the bread was given to the priests to eat, it was lawful for other Israelites to be given it to eat. David must have entered the tabernacle on the Sabbath to get the bread and so it was also accepted that he had not broken the Law in getting food for his men. It was widely accepted in religious tradition that David had not broken the Law concerning the consecrated bread because of the fact that him and his men had been kept from relations with women and they were on a mission for King Saul. To their way of thinking, this equated David and his men with being priests and so they accepted his actions. Why did Jesus bring up David and his actions? In effect, Jesus was pointing them back to the Scriptures and away from their traditions.
'Or haven't you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?'
Jesus continues with the fact that the priests (who were compensated for their efforts) worked on the Sabbath. In this, He goes on to point out that, under the letter of the Law, the priests would be guilty of breaking the Sabbath but were not put to death. With both of these examples, He was trying to get them to see the spirit of the Law and not their perceptions of what God meant.
'I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.'
Jesus goes on to tell His accusers that the temple, which represented their religious efforts, is not above God but, what did He mean? He was simply pointing out the fact that they had elevated their religious efforts to a place that was even above the Word of God.
'If you had known what these words mean, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," you would not have condemned the innocent.'
Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to them and points out the fact that they may have known the words but they did not understand the spirit of the words. Those words had been given to Israel when they had turned to chase other gods while keeping up their religious obligations. This was a reminder to the Pharisees that God had never approved of mere religious rituals but was pleased when they simply acknowledged Him for who He is.
'For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.'
In Judaism, "Son of Man" was a term that was used to point out the difference between God and man but it also pointed to Jesus Christ although that was veiled from them. In this case, Jesus is pointing out the fact that the Word of God concerning the Sabbath was to be above the traditions of men. This was a major break with the religious leaders as Jesus was, in effect, telling them that their rules had no authority and so they were looking at losing their position in society. They were being forced to make a decision about who had the superior authority concerning the things of God. So, what does this have to do with our lives in Christ today? This same type of religious attitude is among the church and I give you an example. One time, I was scheduled to mow the yard at the church for the week but had worked long hours all six days even late into the night. I had Sunday off and so, after the morning worship service, I changed clothes and proceeded to mow the grass. At service that evening, I was approached by an elder of the church who informed me that my mowing on Sunday was an abomination and put me at risk of going to hell. Long story short, I soon left the fellowship of that congregation as I knew that the leaders did not have a firm grasp on the Word of God.
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, 'Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?'
After their confrontation out in the field, Jesus went into the local synagogue and found a man with a shriveled hand. This man had been planted there by the religious leaders as a trap for Jesus as they were looking for a legal reason to kill Him. The very fact that the man was there shows us that the religious leaders knew that Jesus had the power to heal and that He was a man of compassion. They had seen Jesus in action (or at least heard about what He had been doing) and knew that He would not be able to say no to this man. They ask the question about legality of healing on the Sabbath and, once again, it shows us that they did not understand the spirit of the Law. The Pharisees prohibited healing on the Sabbath unless it was a matter of life and death. Since the man before them was in no danger of death at the moment, healing him would not have been allowed under the Law according to their interpretation.
He said to them, 'If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.'
Their religious traditions made exceptions and Jesus used their own traditions to show why it would be right to heal the man. He could have debated the nature of work and pointed out the fact that He was not conducting business in healing the man but was, in fact, going about God's work. Instead, Jesus went back to the fundamental principle of good and evil. The reference to "do good" speaks of God because, in Judaism, goodness is a characteristic of God. Once again, Jesus was pointing them to the words and nature of God instead of their religious traditions.
Then he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
The religious leaders had no answer for the words of Jesus so He turned His attention to the man in need of healing. We notice a few things about this and the first is that Jesus did not put on some kind of dramatic show but, instead, simply told the man to hold out his hand. This would have been a huge contrast between the way that the Pharisees made a big show of their religious virtue and the way that Jesus demonstrated His power. We also see that it required faith on the part of the man that needed the healing. He had been caught in the middle and maybe he knew about Jesus and maybe he did not. In either case, he simply believed that Jesus could do it and obeyed His instructions. It is also important to note that the healing was not based on the quantity of the man's faith but only on the presence of faith. There are some fakes out there today that will have "healing services" but when someone is not healed they blame it on insufficient faith.
But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
This open break with religious tradition could not be tolerated by the leaders or they risked losing their power and position. They had to find a legal way to eliminate Jesus.
Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill.
We notice that Jesus did not stay in that area and attempt to change their minds but went on about His business. News of Him continued to spread and large crowds that needed healing followed Him. We don't know how many people He healed only that He took care of them all. That is a reminder to us all that the healing (both spiritual and physical) that Jesus offered is freely available to all.
He warned them not to tell others about him.
The people that Jesus healed were instructed to keep it quiet and, once again, this is a huge difference between Jesus and the religious leaders. The Pharisees made sure that everyone knew how pious and powerful they were while Jesus humbly went about exercising His power for the good of others.
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.'
Why did Jesus tell those He cured to be quiet about it? We see that this description of the Messiah was given to Isaiah and it spoke of this. The first part speaks of the fact that Jesus is the Chosen One of God and similar words were spoken by the Father at Jesus' baptism. We also remember that, at that baptism, the Spirit descended like a dove (see Matthew 3:16).
'A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.'
This last part of the quote from Isaiah 42 speaks of the fact that Jesus would keep and, in fact, restore the Law. The phrase "bruised reed" is from the Hebrew words "ratsats" which means to crack and "qaneh" which speaks of a measuring rod. As we saw in the field and synagogue, Jesus tried to get the religious leaders to abandon their religious traditions that had been added to the Law of Moses. When accused of breaking the Law, He merely pointed them back to the Scriptures and their original intent. The idea of bringing justice to victory speaks of establishing a particular right or privilege and Isaiah spoke of the fact that Jesus would open the door so that we all might be saved. In effect, Jesus will force us all to make an individual decision concerning who He is and what He has done.