Title: The Lord of the Sabbath
Text: Matthew 12:1-14
FCF: We still try to be the best Christian we can without understanding grace and dependence.
Prop: Jesus is greater than religion, so we must rely on His grace not our religion.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 12. I hope that you are noticing the theme that Matthew is building through this narrative portion. I hope that you are able to see that although Christ has been demonstrating that He is the Son of God and the answer to our sin problem – that mankind, for the most part, has and continues to reject Him and His message. Throughout chapter 11 we saw people doubt Jesus, we saw entire cities refuse to respond to his message and ministry. Yet Jesus bids them come to Him so they can be free. Today we will see the opposition to the King and His Kingdom intensify. We won’t simply look at the common Jew – but at the religious elite. Even though a crazy hermit and his followers didn’t quite get it. Even though these bustling cities rejected it. Surely the Religious elite would understand. Surely they would be welcomed in and accepted. Read with me in chapter 12 starting verse 1. I’ll be reading from the CSB but follow along in whatever version you prefer.
[Slide 2] What do you think is better?
Watching a full length documentary on the Grand Canyon, or going there to see it?
Reading a description of a gourmet meal, or eating it?
Gazing at a painting of a mountain at sunrise, or traveling to see it yourself?
Reading a letter from the president or meeting him?
Which is better? And while we could joke and perhaps make excuses as to why going and experiencing these things first hand is not ideal – overall – there is one that is clearly better than the other.
The Mosaic law, complete with its traditions, ceremony, moral and societal codes – were glimpses into the nature and character of God. Especially the ceremonial and ritualistic aspects of their law. Most if not all aspects of God’s ceremonial law, from what the priests wore, to the festivals and feasts, and even the sacrifices – were all pictures of something greater.
So what is better? Ritual or what Ritual foreshadowed? Ceremony or what Ceremony means? The law, or the God of the law?
Today we will learn a very valuable lesson, that unfortunately, we still struggle to get through our thick skulls.
Jesus is greater than religion. The New Covenant is greater than the old. Grace is greater than law. In this, we must rely on Him, His grace, His blood, His sacrifice, His righteousness, His provision – and not on religion.
What good is a sign telling you how far you are from a city, when you are in that city? What good is a ritual pointing you to your King, when you stand in the presence of that King.
Let us learn what we can from this passage today starting in verse 1.
I.) Jesus is greater than religion, so necessity should overrule ritual. (1-8)
a. [Slide 3] 1 – At that time Jesus passed through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His Disciples were hunger and began to pick and eat some heads of grain.
i. Again – we need to understand Matthew is tying this together thematically.
ii. The events that follow actually happened before the sermon on the mount.
iii. The events that follow even precede the selection of the 12 disciples.
iv. Disciples here in this text refer to, generally, those who followed Jesus. This is but one of many examples in the gospels where disciple does not always mean he 12, and it doesn’t always mean someone who is a believer. After all – Judas was one of the 12 and wasn’t a believer.
v. The disciples were hungry. According to Deuteronomy 23:24-25 – to enter a person’s field and take enough food to fill your belly, is not theft. However, to take a bucket to fill would be classified as theft.
vi. So His disciples were not stealing and were simply satisfying a need.
b. [Slide 4] 2 – When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “see, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”
i. First of all, these rules that they have called “the law” is in fact, not in the law at all. These restrictions about harvesting grain on the Sabbath are not drawn from any old testament reference. They are pulled from the Talmud. Which is a collection of commentaries and teachings based on Jewish history, law and culture.
ii. So they had taken what Rabbis had said about the law and considered it law as well. A good modern example of this is when people derive their theology from Scofield’s notes rather than what the bible says. Scofield was a man and a great theologian – but a man nonetheless.
iii. Which means that they are living up to the comparison Jesus made earlier. They are the children mourning and they are upset that Jesus and His disciples are not mourning and wailing too. They have created rules to the game they play and expect others to follow those rules.
c. [Slide 5] 3-4 – He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry: 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?
i. Ok so what in the world is this talking about?
ii. So back in Leviticus 24 we have a description of 12 loaves of bread that get changed out every Sabbath. They sit in two rows, 6 in each row with pure frankincense on it. It serves as a reminder of God’s provision for them. After the week is over and the next Sabbath comes, the bread is to be taken and consumed by the priests in a holy place.
iii. Fast forward to I Samuel 21- Saul became a king that did what was right in his own eyes. So God punished him by taking his kingly line from him. God selected David to replace him, but the jealousy of Saul led him to try to kill David. On the run, David comes to the city of Nob – the city of priests and seeks provision for himself and his militia. They do not have any bread. So Abimalech the priest seeks the Lord and the Lord approves of him giving the old bread of the Presence to David and his men. (He only takes 5)
iv. So although it was technically unlawful for anyone but a priest to eat that bread – David and his men ate it because they needed food.
d. [Slide 6] 5 – Or haven’t you read in the law that on Sabbath days the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent?
i. While the first example was from history the second is more of a logical conclusion.
ii. The priests labored at their calling, their role, and for lack of a better term, their job. They did this every day. Including the Sabbath. Because if they did not – no one could offer sacrifices.
iii. Indeed the entire temple system would collapse every week for one day.
iv. Yet God commanded this. He was not holding these priests accountable for their “crimes” against the Sabbath.
v. The natural conclusion is that it wasn’t a crime at all for them. Why?
vi. Because their job was necessary.
vii. Again we see necessity as a primary reason to overrule the ritual of the Sabbath. And as if these were not good enough reasons – Jesus is about to make some comparisons.
e. [Slide 7] 6 -8 – I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what this means “I want mercy and not sacrifice” you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is the lord of the Sabbath”
i. The first is an unnamed thing compared to the temple. To the hearers when Jesus spoke this, it probably was misunderstood. Although they were probably not thrilled about Jesus saying that the house of the Lord and the center of worship for the Jews was not as great as this unknown thing He was comparing it to. What could be greater than the house of the Lord? What indeed but the Lord Himself in flesh dwelling among them.
ii. The second comparison is a quote from Hosea 6:6 where God informs his people that He would prefer they have mercy in their hearts rather than offering sacrifices. The comparison is that between character change and ritual adherence – God takes character change every time. He adds a statement that says – if you understood this principle, you would not have said my disciples broke the law. What is implied is that if they focused on internal character change rather than dissecting and expanding the ceremonial elements of the law, the Talmud may have never been written or at least may not have been elevated to the same level as God’s word. Therefore they would not have falsely condemned someone for violating the law – when they hadn’t.
iii. The final comparison is again between Jesus and another. Jesus calls himself the lord of the Sabbath. Lord here is a word that can be used of God, but can also be a lord like a master or landowner. So the comparison is not drawn by this word – but instead by what Jesus (the Son of Man) is the master of… The Sabbath. Who would dare claim to be the master of the Sabbath? Only the one who created it. And who did that? Yahweh. Jesus is comparing Himself to Yahweh here.
f. With all these comparisons what is it exactly that Jesus is trying to say? Well – let’s save that for the end shall we? We will talk about that a little later. Because there is something from verses 1-5 that I think we need to get through our skulls first. Plus 6-8 connects to the rest of what we will look at this morning too. So let’s just save it.
g. So what can we learn from verses 1-5?
h. [Slide 8] That necessity has ALWAYS been a valid reason to not observe the Sabbath. Necessity forcing people to work on the Sabbath so that they may eat, or forcing people to help others on the Sabbath, has ALWAYS been an exception to keeping the Sabbath under the Old Covenant.
i. And yet when a person works on Sunday because they are poor. Because they are scraping to get by and the only reason they have a job is because they agreed to work on Sundays. Such a person has been notoriously judged by others.
j. I have even heard people say something to the effect of “well the more you work on the Lord’s Day, the poorer you will become. Sacrifice that work for the Lord, and He will bless you” In essence they are saying you are poor because you work on Sunday.
i. Ok first of all - let me say that nowhere in scripture is God’s financial blessing linked to the observance of the Sabbath. It is a command in scripture – one of the 10 commandments – BUT – nowhere is there a financial blessing or curse linked to keeping the Sabbath.
ii. Secondly - under the Old Covenant, to work on the Sabbath because you needed to do so has always been a valid exception. So to say such things to someone, not only are you being their judge quoting scripture that does not exist, posing to know the mind of God – but the person you MOST sound like in all of scripture by saying such a thing… is the Pharisees.
k. And by the way… what would you say is a need? I always work on Sunday. Every week. Nurses, doctors, snow plowers. We all provide necessary services for others on Sundays. But what else could be called a need? Would need of family time count? Need of rest? What about fulfilling the need of others to rest or have family time?
l. What did Jesus teach us here? Need overrules tradition. Need overrules ceremony. And it always has – since the Old Covenant was made.
m. [Slide 9] So what was forbidden in the law? Greed my friends. Working 7 days to line your pockets. Working 7 days when you could work 6 or 5. In the book of Mark, Jesus adds some commentary on these words and shares that the Sabbath was made for men, not men for the Sabbath. It was made to give men rest from their work and a time to commune with God. But it was not made to enslave men and increase their load. Essentially, the Sabbath was a ritualistic fast from work, to recenter your heart on the Lord. But is that still what it is in the New Covenant? More on that in a bit.
[Slide 10 (blank)] So Jesus defends his disciples, calling them innocent, because need overrules ritual. They needed food, therefore the ceremony of keeping the Sabbath was not so important to let themselves go hungry. But there is another ancient exception to the law of the Sabbath. Which Jesus shows us in verse 9.
II.) Jesus is greater than religion, so compassion should overrule ritual. (9-14)
a. [Slide 11] 9-10 - Moving on from there, he entered their synagogue. 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?”
i. The accounts of this between Mark and Luke are helpful to read in tandem. So if you get a chance this week to look at Mark 3 and Luke 6 you’ll see what I mean.
ii. From the other accounts we know that there was a little bit of a dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees. First of all in Luke it is made more clear that they were indeed Pharisees and scribes that were watching him closely. In Matthew’s gospel they speak to Jesus, but in Mark and Luke Jesus speaks to them. This isn’t a contradiction, in fact what is asked of him here he probably responds with all of what he says in the three gospels.
iii. We need not see all of this because Matthew has beautifully summarized it for us.
iv. Their question here in Matthew is a test. It is actually a trick question. It was lawful, even by the Talmud to heal on the Sabbath – but only if it was of a life threatening condition. The man with the shriveled hand would not have qualified.
v. Jesus responds
b. [Slide 12] 11-12 - 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? A person is worth more than a sheep; so is it lawful to do what is good on the Sabbath?
i. Are sheep in any real danger if they are caught in a ditch? Not particularly. They may be afraid. They may lack for water and food. They may suffer for a day. And interestingly enough - Common Talmud practice said, for the sake of the animal and to forgo it’s suffering, to rescue the animal, even on the Sabbath.
ii. So this kindness and goodness can be shown to an animal – but not to a person?
c. [Slide 13] 13 – Then He told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was restored as good as the other.
i. We are unsure what exactly the ailment of this man was – but what is clear is that the use of his right hand was gone. The muscles had probably atrophied and he was, for all intents and purposes – one handed.
ii. Jesus told him to stretch out what he would have no doubt kept hidden – as this kind of illness may have been met with revulsion or even people saying it was penalty for sin.
iii. He heals it as good as the left hand that was whole.
iv. Truly miraculous. Unexplainable – even by today’s medicine.
v. So after demonstrating that the Sabbath law does not forbid doing acts of service and kindness, and defending it with finality. After He heals this man’s hand – what do you suppose the Pharisees would think?
vi. Praise the Lord!... No… Truly this man is the Messiah!... no…
d. [Slide 14] 14 – But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, how they might kill him.
i. This episode is probably in the first few months of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. And already the Pharisees want Him dead.
ii. They cannot abide Him messing with the status quo
iii. And thus they show themselves to be the children in the street, playing the game that everyone obeys the rules to.
iv. Jesus is dancing when He should be mourning. He is mourning when He should be dancing. He has broken the game – rendering it irrelevant… yet they continue to play it.
v. They show that they are part of the cities that have rejected His message and His miracles.
vi. And really, this is only the tip of the iceberg. In a week or two, we will start to get into the depth of their rejection of this Jesus. But more on that later.
e. So what should we learn from this? What is being taught?
f. [Slide 15] We find right here in verses 9-14 and it is yet another exception to the dogmatic rule no work on the Sabbath. That exception is compassion and kindness. And it is not an exception that is new – as with the Talmud saying for the sake of the animal. No it is an exception that they should have understood from the beginning.
g. But rather than knowing the mind of God and endeavoring to be close to Him, they crafted their own rules to their own game. Their rules allowed them to have ungodly practices while keeping a godly appearance. Where they could refuse to help people because it was the Sabbath, or judge someone who did help another on the Sabbath – yet they could save their own sheep from a ditch to spare the animal its suffering. Such distinctions in the law are transparently self-motivated.
h. A pastor from India once said that If your theology leaves you cold to the needs of others then it is bad theology. And that is indeed what had happened to the Pharisees. Their theology, their filter for seeing the world, had displaced compassion for ritual.
i. Breaking that down for us – to miss the Lord’s day service to help your recently widowed neighbor with some household chores her husband used to do
j. To be late for or even miss church to help someone change a tire on the side of the road
k. To miss a service to take bible study, prayer, or fellowship to another who is sick or unable to come.
l. All these and many more are examples of exceptions to the rule of the Sabbath under the Old Covenant.
m. Exceptions that even the Pharisees should have recognized and practiced. But they did not know God’s heart – nor did they wish to know the Spirit of the law. Only its letter. Because only the letter matters when you are trying to earn your way to God’s pleasure.
[Slide 16] And all this feeds into the application for today. And it all comes down to what exactly Jesus meant by drawing those three comparisons in verses 6-8.
To put it as simply as I can – Jesus is saying that the old covenant is dying and a new one is here to replace it. The ratification blood of that new covenant flows through MY veins. And soon it will be spilled out and the New Covenant will be in effect. That new covenant makes our bodies God’s temple. That New Covenant changes us from the inside out to be merciful not just religious. Under the new covenant we no longer need sacrifices, because the sacrifice has been made to end them all. That New covenant takes the old laws the old ceremony the old rituals and fulfills them because the God of those rituals designed those rituals to point to this time.
[Slide 17 (blank)(end)] And friend the New Covenant is already here. Not only was the Sabbath full of exceptions under the Old Covenant, but Christ’s words prophesy a time when the Old Covenant will be replaced, and the ceremony and ritual elements of the law will be fulfilled.
And indeed the Sabbath was established for man to find rest and to reconnect with God. But now we have the Spirit of God living in us. The temple was established so they could rid themselves of accumulated sin and cautiously approach the Holy of Holies, now we boldly approach as sons and daughters and our sin has already been washed away, forever. And the day after the Sabbath they would go back to their work and sacrifices as if nothing had happened – but when we leave the assembly here – we take the temple and the presence of the living God with us – as His Spirit resides in our hearts and we need no other sacrifice.
Friends we have something better than the Sabbath, the temple and the sacrifices. We have the Presence of God living within us. We don’t worship one day a week - we are living sacrifices which is our act of worship – every day.
And can I submit something to you, that perhaps is difficult for you to accept just now. Search the New Testament if you wish- but you will not find any overt reference for Gentile converts to keep the Sabbath. And before you argue, let me simply issue a few facts about the Sabbath.
1.) The Sabbath was and still is on Saturday not Sunday.
2.) God did not change it to Sunday for Gentiles or Christians – Church councils did. To align with resurrection Sunday they changed it to Sunday for when we would meet to worship.
3.) Before the Mosaic Law, God did not tell anyone to honor the Sabbath. Jew or Gentile
4.) At the Jerusalem council, when concessions were being made to accommodate gentile and jewish Christians’ preferences – the council did not command the Gentiles to keep the Sabbath.
With these things in mind, perhaps it is time for us to come to grips with our legalistic ways and understand that we are not bound to the law of the Sabbath any longer. That law has been fulfilled.
But… Like every law in the Old Testament… just because it is fulfilled doesn’t mean necessarily that life gets easier.
In one way it does – we have no obligation to be here every Sunday. We have no obligation to never work on Sunday. There is no command or law that dictates that we must not work for profit on Sunday
In some ways the law of the Sabbath has been expanded. Not one day is a day of dedication but all days are. And while the principle of rest remains on us - we are also called to be broken, spilled out, used up and worn out for the sake of the Kingdom of God knowing that our rest is yet to come. 6 days has become our life. And the seventh day has become our eternity. A day -that in Christ – will never end.
If you are still struggling with this concept – feeling as though I am spouting some unbiblical ideas I’d like you to look up for yourself two bible passages in the New Testament.
The First is Acts 2:42-47 – As you are reading that text, ask yourself, did these people get together to worship God because it was the Sabbath or was there another reason?
Second look at Colossians 2:1-23 – As you read this text, ask yourself exactly what Paul is telling these Colossian Gentile Christians who were eating unclean meat, drinking wine, not attending feasts and not observing the Sabbath. Does he tell them to conform?
Expanding this thought outward we again find ourselves as if we were back in Galatians.
Again we are challenged with traditions and religiocity that bring us dangerously close to being Pharisees.
Christians come to church on Sunday. Christians don’t listen to rock music. Christians don’t smoke cigarettes. Christians wear a suit and tie to church. Christians go out on door to door evangelism and pass out tracts. Christians never watch R rated movies. Christians don’t drink alcohol. And so on.
Where are these laws in scripture? Are they even there? Do we have any right to say any one of these? Search the scriptures. These laws do not exist. And that… is incredibly freeing for us but it is also incredibly binding for us.
Where there is no law there is more grace, and where there is more grace there is more Christ-Likeness. We do not need law to constrain us we need grace and with more grace from God we become more obedient and look more like our master.
Let me try to illustrate.
Does that mean that we don’t smoke cigarettes? Perhaps. But it isn’t because that just isn’t what Christians do. Instead it is because God has shown us grace to reveal to us His will to care for the bodies we have – which are no longer ours. A principle could lead you to not overwork. To know your limits. To not eat junk food. To have a balanced diet. To exercise. To rest. To not overmedicate. To not undermedicate. To go to the doctor. To spend less time in your easy chairs. To lose some weight. To say no to sweets. And yes… to not smoke.
And lo and behold without a law to guide us – we become more and more peculiar with the guidance of the Spirit of the Living God.
We don’t need a law we need Grace. Grace is the only thing that will truly change us anyway.
Does that mean Christians don’t listen to rock music? Perhaps. But that isn’t because some preacher preached against it one day using verses way out of context and imposing his preferences on the text of scripture. Instead it is because a person submitted to the Lord wishes to plug his ears into music that brings not his own satisfaction, but God the greatest glory. Which means he may not listen to Country music. Or contemporary Self-focused – humanistic Christian music. Or old hymns with theologically errant lines. Or old hymns with shallow messages. Or old hymns that dilute the gospel. Or music that is pleasurable to their own preferences. Or any music with philosophies that do not align with the truth of the word of God… and yes, that may include rock music.
But All that gets could be filtered because God gave the person grace to see what HE desires in music.
We don’t NEED a law for this… we NEED grace. Because Grace is the only thing that truly changes us anyway.
Does that mean a Christian comes to church on Sunday? Perhaps. But it isn’t because Sunday is the new Sabbath. Instead it is because God has overwhelmed our hearts with Grace to yearn to be with like-minded people and share the testimony of God’s greatness as often as we can. Which could lead some to visiting the sick on a Monday. And caring for the hurting on a Tuesday. And fellowship with young people on A Wednesday. And rebuking a young father who is failing to disciple his children on a Thursday. And teaching others what God is teaching you on a Friday. And praying with others in their homes on a Saturday. And yes… to worship God with other believers on a Sunday.
All this – a 7 day Sabbath – because God has so impressed grace upon us to see that church is not as an hour event on a specific day but is the body of Jesus Christ – caring for one another – even on days that do not start with sun.
We don’t need a law to keep us coming to church on Sunday… We need grace – because Grace is the only thing that will truly change us.
And grace was given to us in the New Covenant. The law was fulfilled and it was replaced with people who are better than the law keeping Pharisees. Because they are merciful even though they offer NO SACRIFICES.
We live in an age of grace… which many assume means we can get away with more. But friend that isn’t how God’s grace works. In showing you favor – He changes who you are.
So repent of your Pharisaicalism, your religiocity, your churchianity. Cast aside your pride at being the best Christian you know how to be.
And simply beg God for grace to be like His son. But if that is your prayer, be ready to move in obedience… because if He answers that prayer… you’ll never be the same.