Last week, we took a look at Matthew 11, where we saw Jesus identifying Himself by means of reminding the crowd of who it was they went out to see in the wilderness, John the Baptist. Jesus clearly identified who John the Baptist as the great prophet (and more) prophesied in Scripture to come as the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus. We closed with Jesus offering rest that only He can provide.
27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Beginning here, to what is Jesus comparing His yoke and His burden? What is Jesus offering for those who come to Him? Remember who His audience is, Jesus is speaking to Jews. Jesus is declaring Himself to have authority over all things because His Father, God the Father, has handed all things over to Jesus. That’s monumental, and worth taking a moment to ponder. Furthermore, Jesus is declaring that He alone knows the Father, and that Only the Father truly knows who Jesus is. In this statement, who is Jesus refuting? The Pharisees, the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes who have (and will) rejected Jesus. They hold themselves to be the knowledgeable ones, the teachers, the keepers of the keys to the Kingdom (where the Scriptures are kept). Jesus was offering rest to those who would come to Him. Coming to Jesus meant walking away from the Earthly Temple and its priests, the yoke of the Law and the burden of sin. Jesus the Messiah had come, to fulfill the Law and to take away the sin of the world, so that by His blood we might be made the righteousness of Christ, adopted as heirs to the Kingdom of God. His yoke is indeed easy and His burden is light, for only by Him can we find Life. With this in mind, let us continue into Chapter 12.
Matthew 12:1-21 (ESV) | A Rest Greater than the Sabbath
Matthew 12 | Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
The Pharisees accused the disciples of profaning the Sabbath by plucking the heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath. Was their accusation valid? Not according to the Law. The Law stated that no one was to do any work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were not judging by the Law; rather, they held to their own law, the oral tradition that they held equal to the written Scripture. Their oral tradition became the means by which the religious leaders would add definitions, restrictions, and ceremony to the Law of Moses so that they would be the ones who decided on all matters. They added so many rules and regulations to define what constituted “work” and what didn’t so that it was extra difficult and complicated to keep the Sabbath externally. They decided how far you could walk (a Sabbath day’s journey) and the maximum size something you could carry on the Sabbath without it being considered work. Jesus doesn’t blast them outright in this just yet; rather, He points out in Scripture that would constitute greater offenses of the Sabbath if the Pharisaical assertion were kept. David and his men ate the bread of the Presence (1 Samuel 21:1-6 ESV), which was not lawful for anyone but Priests to eat. But if you’ll read the text that I linked, David was in a time of great need and the Temple did not have any other food to provide, no common bread. Thus the ceremonial law of the bread was set aside to meet David’s (whom God had chosen as King to replace Saul whom God now rejected) need. Jesus is greater than David, and His disciples were hungry. But Jesus didn’t stop there, He also points out that the blanket prohibition from work on the Sabbath is set aside for the priests fulfilling their duties in the Temple on the Sabbath. This is huge, for there is simply no way for the Pharisees to wriggle out of this one, everything they did in the Temple is by any measure work. Now something greater than the Temple (Jesus) is here. The earthly temple is a foreshadow of Jesus. His disciples are serving a greater Temple, they serve the Messiah, the Son of God. So not only were the Pharisees wrongfully accusing the disciples of breaking the Sabbath according to the Law, their standards of Sabbath observance didn’t pass the test of Scripture. Their attempt to ensnare Jesus and His disciples in breach of the Sabbath falls flat because the authority of their oral tradition paled in comparison to the Authority of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
Matthew 12 | A Man with a Withered Hand
9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
The Pharisees didn’t get it, and persisted in their attempts to ensnare Jesus. Their man-made definitions of work now pitted God’s miraculous works of healing against their own laws of the Sabbath. They didn’t get it. They attributed miraculous healing to being a work performed by men, rather than God. Check out the evil scenario that has unfolded… within the synagogue of the Pharisees who wrongly accused them of breaking the Sabbath already, there was a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees then ask Jesus if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath… imagine what is going on in this man’s heart? Dare he hope for Jesus to heal him? And what if Jesus does, would that act condemn Him under the Law? Where you and I can only imagine what was stirring in this man’s heart, Jesus knew. I read Jesus’ response with a very hard tone of rebuke… I’m surprised we don’t get a “you hypocrites!” here. But I think His concern moved more toward the man with the withered hand than the Pharisees. Jesus looked at the man and told him to stretch out his hand. Praise the Lord. And these Pharisees… so blinded by their sin, their power, their position, they completely missed both the lesson of the Sabbath and the testimony of the Messiah standing in their midst… a man was healed miraculously, in a way that we do not see to this day, and they conspired against Him in how to destroy him.
Matthew 12 | God’s Chosen Servant
15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known.17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
At first it might seem odd that Jesus would so plainly demonstrate who He is yet order those whom He heals not to make Him known. The Jews didn’t understand the prophecy of the Messiah, Who He was or what He planned to do. So, Jesus made known to many Who He was, but ordered them not to make it known. Jesus came first to fulfill the Law, then to suffer and die in our place as the sacrificial Lamb of God, to be raised again on the 3rd day, to ascend into Heaven and send His Holy Spirit to all who believe in Him. The next time He comes to Earth… will be a lot different. He will come in Glory, and in Power, ready to judge both the Living and the Dead. Amen.
Until Next Week…
Matthew’s account takes a shift here in the middle of the chapter. Matthew has made a clear case for who Jesus is, by sharing who Jesus claimed to be. Now we will start seeing more focus on His teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven, on Salvation, and we will also see increased confrontation with the Pharisees and those plotting to kill Him. Until then, be faithful stewards of the Gospel of Grace, and preach the Word. Pray for wisdom and for boldness to speak the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even when it isn’t politically correct or socially acceptable.
In Christ Jesus,