Read Matthew 12
We begin this chapter with Jesus and his disciples walking through grainfields. It begs the question: Were there no roads?
The disciples were picking a few grains as they walked. Give it a couple thousand years and someone would invent the drive-through, but this was a walkthrough. They would pluck a few grains and eat them. Surely, the landowner would neither notice or care.
He was probably more concerned that they didn’t trample the grain. Somehow the Pharisees saw this. Were they in the grainfields or stationed on a nearby outpost assigned to watch every move of this man called Jesus?
We don’t know but the scripture says they saw the disciples of Jesus picking grain on the Sabbath. They confronted Jesus asking why did he let them get away with what is unlawful.
They didn’t really put their accusation in the form of a question. They said:
Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.
Jesus didn’t answer them by citing exceptions to the Sabbath rule. He didn’t say in the case of transiting a grainfield, all restrictions are suspended. He challenged these rule-keepers to consider others who did not observe the law as they perceived it.
David brought his whole patrol into God’s house and ate bread consecrated for the priests.
Consider the priests themselves. They break the Sabbath law on a recurring basis. The Sabbath is a lasting covenant and it is for everyone—including your slaves and servants and the alien. It is a special day for your family, your employees, and the visitor that you have taken into your home.
It’s for everyone, yet the priests do much of their work on the Sabbath and God considers them innocent. Their work on the Sabbath does not offend God.
Jesus gave the Pharisees words that he charged them to understand before. I desire mercy not sacrifice.
Jesus reminded these religious leaders who were blinded by the rules that one greater than their religious obedience and obsession was right in front of them. They loved the temple built by human hands but were blind to the One who God sent so that the Spirit of God could live within the human temple.
They were so fixed on compliance that they missed compassion. They defined duty but were blind to the divine. They took the directives of God that were given for the people’s own good and embalmed them to be put on display.
The Pharisees knew the Sabbath rules—some from God and surely some from their own interpretation and addendum—but they did not recognize the Lord of the Sabbath.
They did not know the Lord of the Sabbath.
Understand that when you look upon the Sabbath as a restraint instead of a constraint, you have missed the heart of God. Some of you are Googling constraint and restraint, so I will give you the short definitions.
Constraints are things that we must do. Restraints are things that we must not do. That’s simplified, but it will serve us here.
What must we do? Receive the Sabbath as a festival. It’s not a painful duty. Remember when Jesus taught about fasting and how he used the religious hypocrites as examples. They put on their long faces so people would know that they had given up eating for the day. Oh, feel sorry for me. Look on me as one going the extra mile for God.
You should hear Linda Ronstadt singing Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me in the background.
What must we not do? Receive the Sabbath as a duty or burden or something that must be done. Work 6, rest 1 was a model given for our own good. The Owner put this in the Owner’s Manual. It’s for our own good. It’s not something that makes us good. Only Christ brings us into right standing with God.
It is something to be celebrated as a festival unto the Lord and it is for our own good. The religious hypocrites didn’t get it. They did not understand that God desires mercy over sacrifice. Sacrifices were commanded, but mercy revealed the heart of God and God wants to see mercy in all of us so much more than he wants to see all A’s on our report cards.
If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
Enough for the grain McMuffins that the disciples had eaten. Everyone was on their way to the Synagogue including the grain-fed disciples.
There was a man with a shriveled hand present. There is no back story here. There were no friends who brought a man on a mat with great faith on display. There was no one crying out to the Son of David. There was a man with a shriveled hand.
Perhaps the Pharisees knew that he would be there because he was there every Sabbath. Perhaps they made sure he was there and presented himself to Jesus. In any case, he was there.
The man with the shriveled hand had no speaking part in this encounter. The Pharisees had scripted this encounter. The man was simply on display to set up their question.
Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
For being among the smartest men of their age, the Pharisees were slow learners. Jesus replied with a mini-parable type answer.
If you have a sheep that falls into a hole that it can’t get out of it on its own and it happens to be the Sabbath, do you enjoy your day of rest and hope that no harm comes to this sheep while you are kicked back in your recliner?
Of course not. You go rescue the sheep. It will take a little work but who would risk losing a sheep over compliance with a rule made for our own good?
Of course, you rescue the sheep! Consider the words of Jesus that begin the segue from lecture to application.
How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus didn’t say acceptable. He didn’t say permissible under certain very specific circumstances.
When we get to chapter 24—the short course on eschatology, Jesus will caution his followers that they should hope that they do not have to flee the abomination that will come on the Sabbath day. Is that because God will hold that against you? No. You will need every bit of Sabbath rest that you can get when this time of Great Tribulation comes upon the earth. Everything will seem out of sorts, even your celebration of the Sabbath will be disturbed.
The Pharisees—the lawyers of God’s law—might have argued that the remarks of Jesus were just obiter dictum. The lawyers might have started listing specific exceptions: David’s men, priests, sheep…
Jesus would not be restricted. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath! This was not an academic discussion for Jesus.
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.
And the Pharisees immediately believed and followed Jesus. Not exactly. That would have demonstrated that they were beginning to understand mercy over sacrifice.
Instead, they started making plans to kill Jesus. The very people who were such sticklers on the Sabbath law seemed to have no reservation about God’s directive against murder. Those plans will be in play another dozen chapters or so.
For now, how do we deal with the Sabbath? Is it Friday, Saturday, or Sunday? It was and is the seventh day. Six days you shall labor and then rest one. Make that one day special to the Lord as you would a festival.
God made a special day for you. This day serves you. When you observe it as the celebration that God intended, you bring glory to God. When you look at others with your penalty flags at the ready, we too miss the mercy over sacrifice part of God’s very being. It’s as if we would rather serve a god of wood or stone with rules as rigid as their man-made composition, than one of love and mercy.
The law has its purposes. The one that we know best is to point us to Christ, but it also works like training wheels on a bicycle. It helps us when we stray too far one way or the other. Someday, we will be guided by and driven by love. We will desire God and his ways and his righteousness and the loving God that we know will draw closer to us as we draw closer to him.
The training wheels were not bad. We just have learned to live by God’s love much better than by his checklist.
The analogy that I like best is that of headlights. Imagine that you are driving to Cordell on Highway 152 at midnight. There is an oncoming car with headlights on that are blinding to you. They are those new ones that it doesn’t matter if they are on high beam or not, they illuminate 4 sections of land at once.
It is all you can do to stay on the road with the intensity of these lights. Occasionally, a mean word or two for the owner of the headlights slips out.
The next day at noontime, you are driving the exact same route and meet the exact same car and it has its headlights on. You barely notice the vehicle and its lights. It’s not that the lights were any less intense. It’s that the intensity was surpassed by the intensity of the sunlight. There was no lessening of the intensity of the headlights. They remained unchanged.
Jesus was and is greater than the law, than the temple, than the best levels of compliance that humankind has ever seen. His glory surpasses all of these.
When we think of the Sabbath, it has not lessened in one degree. It remains with us generation to generation as a festival of the Lord that has been given for our own good.
It is a day in which it is lawful to do good, even if it seems to break the hard and fast rules.
When we began this message, I asked: Were there no roads?
Of course, there were roads but Jesus was not restricted to the roads of humankind. There were roads of human expectations but Jesus walked through the grainfields with his disciples. The ways of his Father gave him reason to do some off-roading.
In the previous chapter, I asked all to consider rereading the words of our Master in the context of human expectations. Once we consider the expectations of John the Baptist, of the weary and worn out, and on those cities who saw the miracles but would not repent, we should consider how often do our modern-day expectations get in the way of seeing the truth?
There is a whole range of discussion concerning the Sabbath and our modern observances of the Lord’s Day. There is plenty of discussion online, much of which contains the tools of the Father of Lies—logical fallacies inserted between a biblical premise and the desired outcome of the author. Make sure that you can take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ Jesus so that you are not baited into these traps and deceived as to the truth.
So for now, we focus on is it lawful to do things on the Sabbath that might otherwise seem out of bounds but are good? Jesus said that it was and is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
And if it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, it is surely lawful to do good on all of the other days of the week. When we understand that, we are closer to understanding that God desires mercy so much more than sacrifice.
We understand more the God who sent his Son to save and not condemn.
Let us abide in the words of our Lord and do good every day even on the Sabbath.
Let us not be restricted where we are purposed to be liberated. Let us do good every day even if that is Monday or Thanksgiving Day or the opening day of bow season or the Sabbath.
Let us do good and bring glory to God.