Matthew 12: 1-8: 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. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful o n the Sabbath.” 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 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. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
In Israel today, if you went on an elevator on the Sabbath Day, you would automatically stop at every floor so that people observing the Sabbath wouldn’t be forced to operate machinery on the Sabbath Day. A few years ago, a Jewish mother turned on her stove just before the Sabbath began because she wanted to use the oven on the Sabbath, and it was not permitted to “turn on” your oven on the Sabbath. She burned her home down along with her family. The Pharisees treated the Sabbath in the same way – rules to keep on the day of rest.
Jesus taught them that the Sabbath was not about rules but about the Savior, Jesus. The word “sabbath” means “rest.” Our devotion yesterday was about rest, too, rest that we find in Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. That’s what the real Sabbath is all about, not about rules to keep. The law of not working on the Sabbath was for God’s people, so that they would take time to find rest for their souls in the gospel.
It’s interesting how Jesus made his point. He went to the Scriptures to show that the law must always be interpreted in the context of the law of Christian love. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Jesus said. Today, our “sabbath,” our day of rest, should be all about knowing Christ and loving each other. We find rest when we gather to hear the word and gather with God’s people to encourage one another.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, my soul finds rest in you and you alone. Let my worship always be about you. Let my purpose be to know you better. Bless the gatherings of your people during this holy week so that we find rest for our souls. Amen.
Matthew 12: 9-14: Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 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?” 11 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? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 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. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
It’s hard to imagine religious leaders plotting to kill Jesus! How did that fit with their idea of keeping the law perfectly? How had they deceived themselves into thinking that they were the “righteous ones” who didn’t need a Savior?
The Pharisees had developed an extensive set of rules just for the Sabbath Day. For example, you couldn’t travel more than 999 steps from your house on the Sabbath or you would be breaking the Sabbath. Unless you took a lunch and put it in someone’s house a mile away, in which case you could say that was your temporary house, so you could go another 999 steps from there. In other words, the LETTER of the law became more important than INTENT of the law.
The Pharisees forgot the most important law, the law of Christian love. No commandment and certainly no man made rules could supercede the law of Christian love. Can you heal a man on the Sabbath? That was a no-brainer. You would pull your sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath day. Why wouldn’t you heal a man with a withered arm?
This story reminds us that Jesus not only understood the law properly, but that he lived it perfectly for us as our Savior. For us, the law is fulfilled in Christ and only in Christ.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, sometimes I struggle to understand the law and what it requires of me. It’s not that I don’t know it, but because of my sinful nature, it is so easy for me ignore what I don’t like or forget that it boils down to loving God above all things and my neighbor as myself. But I know that you fulfilled the law for me perfectly and that I am dressed as a saint in your robes of righteousness. Help me to find joy in keeping every commandment from the heart. Amen.
Matthew 12: 15-21: Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18 “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. 19 He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. 21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”
The prophet Isaiah gives such a beautiful description of Jesus’ ministry. He was not a “rabble rouser.” He was the opposite of what the Pharisees claimed he was. He was not one who quarreled about everything. He simply taught the truth in a clear and gentle way. If anything, our text shows that he avoided conflict. He withdrew to a different place. He warned those who listened to him not to tell others about him at this time.
I have always found comfort in the description Isaiah gives to Jesus. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Have you ever felt that your faith was weak, like a broken plant? Have you felt that your faith was in danger of being extinguished? We have a Savior who binds up the broken hearted and strengthens the weak. Everytime you blow out a candle and see that little spark and curl of smoke, you can remember these words about Jesus. He won’t let your little faith be snuffed out.
I hope that in my ministry I have ministered to God’s people as a gentle shepherd, like my Good Shepherd. That is hard to do when people oppose us or attack us. But it is times like those when a gentle heart and soft approach is most important.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for being my gentle Shepherd. For being patient with me when I like to wander from your side. For being gentle with me when my faith is weak and fragile. For being persistent when I am being stubborn. Help me to be the same as I minister to those you have placed into my care. Amen.