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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 27, 2013
The Lord of the Sabbath
The last several sermons in our series on the Life of Christ have been from John 5. Jesus had returned to Jerusalem from Galilee for Passover and while there had healed a man who was by the pools of Bethesda. This man had been lame for thirty-eight years, but Jesus instantaneously healed him by simply commanding him to take up his pallet and walk (John 5:1-9). This great miracle should have been a cause of great rejoicing to everyone that saw the man, but because it was a Sabbath day and the man was carrying his pallet, some of the Pharisees who were at Bethesda took issue with him for breaking their Sabbath regulations. They had taken the command of God concerning the Sabbath as a day of rest for man from his burden of labor and turned into a day of burdensome religious restrictions. When the Pharisees found out it was Jesus that had healed the man and told him to take up his bed and walk, they began to persecute Jesus. They ignored the miracle that had just been performed and only paid attention to their own sense of indignation that the man who was healed was breaking their Sabbath restrictions based on Jesus’ command (John 5:10-16).
The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders escalated at this point. Jesus responded to their persecution by telling them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” They understood Jesus’ point that He was calling God His Father and making Himself equal with God which made them even more angry to the point they were seeking ways to kill Jesus (John 5:17-18). Jesus responded to this by restating in even stronger terms His equality with God the Father as the Son. Jesus specifically pointed out that He only did what the Father was doing, the Father shows Him all things, and the Father had given to Him authority to both grant eternal life and to judge (John 5:19-30). The equality between Jesus and the Father is so strong that a failure to honor the Son is also a failure to honor the Father who sent Him (John 5:23).
Jesus then continued on to point out the four witnesses to His claims being true. These are John the Baptist, the works that Jesus was performing, God the Father Himself, and the Scriptures (John 5:31-39). However, the Pharisees rejected John, were ignoring Jesus’ works, did not pay attention to the witness of the Father and were falsely claiming to believe the Scriptures. Jesus pointed out that if they believed Moses they would have believed Him, but they were more interested in receiving glory from one another than from God and so were unwilling to come to Jesus (John 5:40-47).
This morning we turn to Matthew 12:1-4 and the parallel passages in Mark 2:23-3:6; and Luke 6:1-11 which continue the narrative of what occurred next in Jesus’ ministry. The antagonism of the Jewish religious leaders against Jesus escalates to the point that they blaspheme while trying to get Jesus to conform to their man made rules and religious requirements.
Pharisaical Legalism – Matthew 12:1-3
“At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath through the grainfields, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Behold, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”
Now we do not know exactly when or where this occurred other than it was sometime between April, when the Barley ripened in the lower Jordan valley, and August, when the wheat is harvested in the Trans-Jordan east of the Sea of Galilee. The exact time and location are not important to the point made by Matthew, Mark or Luke that the Pharisees were against Jesus because He would not follow their custom. What custom? Specifically here it is picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Notice that it is not the picking and eating of grain as they walk through a field that has them upset, it is the fact that this is being done on the Sabbath.
The Mosaic Law specifically allowed a person to pick and eat what he wanted as he traveled through his neighbor’s fields. Deuteronomy 23:24-25 states, “When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket. When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain.” That may seem a little strange to us, but it made a lot of sense to the agrarian society of ancient Israel. The means of travel was by foot or animal which would limit what a person could carry. Most roads were narrow with the farmers’ crops planted to the edge of the road. There were no McDonald’s, Burger King’s or KFC’s around to get something to eat, so this was a provision for travelers. It did not allow theft, but it did allow a person to satisfy their hunger as they traveled.
The Pharisees did not have a problem that the disciples of Jesus were satisfying their hunger. They recognized that it was lawful to do this on any normal day. Their objection was that it was not lawful to do this on the Sabbath according to the religious traditions they had created. Their conclusion was that Jesus could not be a godly leader if He was allowing His followers to do something that was against the law. In a sense, this is a continuation of the conflict they had with Jesus when He healed the lame man at Bethesda on the Sabbath. How could Jesus be a godly man, much less the Son of God, if he is breaking the Sabbath?
Keeping the Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. The word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word which has a root meaning of “to rest,” “to cease, desist,” “to come to an end.” It came to be used for the seventh day since it was the day of rest which brought to an end the six days of labor during a week. The specific command in Exodus 20:8 is, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Several other passages repeat this injunction such as Exodus 23:12 which adds that a purpose of the day was so that they “may refresh themselves.” Exodus 31:12-17 adds that the Sabbath is a sign between Israel and the LORD God throughout their generations and that a person who did work on it would be cut off from the people and a person who profaned it would be liable for the death penalty.
With these commands and the strong penalties for violating them in mind, we can understand the concern of the ancient Rabbis in instructing the people to be careful so they would not break the Sabbath. However, the endless debates that had taken place about what was and what was not work had over time developed into a very complex s
eries of rules about what could and what could not be done on the Sabbath. The Mishna and the Talmud, the codified teachings of the ancient Rabbis, devoted whole sections just to keeping the Sabbath. One of the six sections of the Mishna contains twelve chapters on just the Sabbath. The Talmud devotes twenty-four chapters to it.
Among the things set down as law within the rabbinic tradition are the following. You were allowed to walk without restriction in your dwelling place, but travel away from the home was limited to 2,000 cubits, about 970 yards. This distance was referred to as a Sabbath Day’s journey. However, there were additional rules that would allow a person to circumvent these restrictions to some degree. If prior to the Sabbath you placed food for two meals somewhere else and ran a rope to that location, then your dwelling placed was considered extended to that location and you could move freely between them.
You could not pick up anything heavier than the weight of a dried fig, but there were further restrictions on that. For example, an object thrown into the air and caught with the same hand would break the Sabbath, though there was debate about whether it would be sin to catch it with the other hand. However, if you caught it in your mouth, it was not sin because the object ceased to exist once you swallowed it. False teeth cannot be worn because if they fell out and you put them back in, that would be work (No, I am not making this up!).
You could do nothing to improve the condition of anything. Medical care was limited to keeping the person in the same condition. A medical treatment such as an ointment could be used only if its purpose was to prevent the injury from getting worse, but it could not be used if it promoted healing of the injury. Regulations allowed bathing, but care had to be taken that no water splashed on the floor otherwise work would have to be done in cleaning the floor.
A fire could neither be kindled nor put out. This resulted in a lot of regulations concerning how food could be kept warm on the Sabbath and what could be done if a fire spread in your home. In modern Orthodox Judaism, this has resulted in the use of a lot of electric timers so that the pious Jew would not be guilty of doing work by physically touching a switch to turn it on or off. I read an article some years ago about a fellow who invented a light beam switch for appliances since the rabbis ruled that breaking a light beam would not be considered work.
There were specific regulations concerning what did or did not constitute labor in farming, animal husbandry, homemaking, manufacturing, and even studying. You could not drag a chair because it might create a rut in the dirt, an agricultural practice, but you could move one that had wheels because that would only compress the dirt.
The disciples were in trouble over the regulations concerning harvesting. It was declared that rubbing the ends of grain stalks together would be threshing. Bruising the stalk would be grinding. Throwing the grains into the air and catching them would be winnowing, and rolling the grains together to remove the husks would be sifting. The disciples in picking the grain heads and rubbing them together were guilty, according to the Pharisees, of harvesting, threshing, and sifting on the Sabbath. Of course, you have to wonder what the Pharisees were doing out in the fields on the Sabbath watching Jesus and the disciples. Maybe they had special privileges to break the Sabbath themselves since they were PC – piety cops.
Pharisaical legalism had turned what was fitting and proper under the Mosaic Law into something which was “unlawful.” The rule of God was exchanged for the rule of man. The word of man superseded the Word of God. No wonder it was seen by many of the rabbis to be more important to study the Mishna and Talmud than to study the Scriptures themselves. Does not the same danger exist today among Christians and in churches which put more importance on studying traditions or the thoughts of teachers and theologians than on what the Scriptures themselves say? A quick and simple way to determine that is to listen carefully to whom they reference as their source of authority. Which do they cite more often – the word of God or the words of men?
Jesus responds to their accusations by giving three arguments why the disciples were innocent and then seals those arguments with a declaration about Himself. 1) The Law could be breached. 2) The Law had exceptions. 3) The Law was meant for man. 4) Jesus Ruled over the Sabbath.
The Law Could Be Breached – Matthew 12:3-4
Matthew 12:3-4, But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he became hungry, he and his companions; how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?” Jesus’ first statement, “have you not read,” was a strong rebuke to these people who were supposed to be the upholders of the law. In effect Jesus is saying, “You pride yourself in your knowledge of the Law, yet you don’t even remember this.” Jesus’ reference is to the story recorded in 1 Samuel 21 of David and his men fleeing from King Saul who wanted to murder them. When they arrived in Nob where the Tabernacle was at that time, David asked Ahimelech the high priest for food. There was nothing there except the twelve loaves of the Bread of Presence that was in the Tabernacle. These loaves, each one representing one of the tribes of Israel, was replaced with fresh loaves each Sabbath. The old loaves were to only be eaten by the priests (Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:9). Ahimelech told David he could have the bread if the men had kept themselves pure, which they had, so he gave David the bread. The high priest saw no problem in breaching the ceremonial law concerning the bread in order to meet God’s higher law of loving one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), and in this case, providing for the anointed king of Israel. It is as recorded in the parallel passage in Mark 2 where Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” If there were times when the ceremonial law could be breached to uphold the moral law, then without question the traditions of men can be breeched to uphold God’s laws.
The Law Had Exceptions – Matthew 12:5-6
Matthew 12:5 states Jesus’ next argument, “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent. But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here.” Again the opening phrase is a rebuke to them. This example they certainly should have known since some of them lived by that provision of the Law. The priests were very busy on the Sabbath. In fact, they had twice as much work to do on that day because sacrifices made on the Sabbath were to be double sacrifices. Even those that want to make Sunday into sort of a Christian Sabbath (which it is not) understand that there is no restriction on the work of ministry done on that day by the preacher, teachers, ushers, singers and the congregation in worshiping God. There are exceptions within the law.
Jesus concludes this argument with a reference to the fact that He was greater than the temple. Undoubtedly this made the Pharisees mad, but it made His point clear. God made provision in the law so that the temple service could be carried out. Jesus is greater than the temple, and any work done by His servants, including feeding themselves, was excluded from the Sabbath restrictions just as the priest’s temple service was excluded.
The Law Was Meant for Man – Matthew 12:7,
Jesus’ third argument is based on the meaning of the Law. Matthew 12:7, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” In the parallel text in Mark 2, as already mentioned, Jesus also said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not ma
n for the Sabbath.” The purpose of the law was plain. The law was for man’s benefit to point out his need for God’s grace and mercy. It was not a system by which to appease God and earn your way to heaven. As Paul said in Galatians 3:24, the Law is a tutor to bring us to Christ. It was never meant to be used in the manner of the Pharisees, but they did not understand this quote of Hosea 6:6. They were interested in fulfilling every nuance of their tradition in order to earn their righteousness so God would have to let them into heaven. They had no understanding of God’s compassion toward them or anyone else.
As already pointed out, their Sabbath traditions even restricted medical care to only what would keep a person from getting worse. Think about the ramifications of that. You could stop the bleeding, but you could not bind up the wound. You put the man with a broken leg on a bed, but you could not set the bone. No wonder they had ignored the fact that the lame man at Bethesda had been healed and instead focused only on his breaking their rule about working on the Sabbath by carrying his bed. They had become heartless and lacked compassion. The disciples were innocent because what they had done was in keeping with the meaning of the law.
We are to be strong in our proclamation of God’s word, but that is to be done with compassion towards those to whom you are speaking. We are to be like Paul who pleaded with people to repent and not like Jonah who pronounced God’s judgment with the desire to see it come upon those to whom he was preaching. There is compassion in God’s law for God desires that from us more than sacrifice.
Jesus Ruled over the Sabbath – Matthew 12:8
Jesus sealed His arguments in Matthew 12:8 with His declaration, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” What was implied by His earlier statement that “something greater than the temple is here” is now declared openly. Jesus is telling them directly that He is greater than both God’s temple and God’s Sabbath, and if there were any two things that the Pharisees held sacred, it was the Temple and the Sabbath. To them, only a person who actually believed he was God could have made such a statement, and that is exactly what Jesus was telling them. The disciples were innocent because there were times when the Law could be breached, there were exceptions within the Law, the Law was made for man’s benefit, and Jesus Himself ruled over what was right and wrong to do on the Sabbath. He was the final authority – not their traditions. In Matthew 12:9-14 Jesus proves this very point.
Proving the Point – Matthew 12:9-14
“And departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they questioned Him saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ – in order that they might accuse Him.” Jesus does not wait for the Pharisees to respond, He continues on His way and goes into a Synagogue. Inside there was a man with a withered hand. Luke tells us it was the man’s right hand. The Pharisees are so blinded by their hatred for Jesus that instead of learning from the rebuke and teaching they had just received from Jesus, they only see an opportunity to trap Him. Remember again that they taught that it was not lawful to improve even the medical condition of someone on the Sabbath because that would be work. They regulated compassion to only keeping the person from getting worse. Here was a man with a medical condition that compassion would seek to heal, but it was not a medical emergency. A withered hand was not life threatening and so could easily wait until the next day. That is why they are specific in their question. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? If Jesus healed the man, He would be doing it in direct violation of their Sabbath regulations which prohibited it.
Luke 6:7-8 tells us that the scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to see what He would do so that they might accuse Him. Jesus knew what they were thinking and took the challenge directly. Mark and Luke both tell us that Jesus at that point commanded the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward.” By doing this, Jesus called everyone’s attention to the situation and the question.
Jesus then rebuked the scribes and Pharisees with several pointed questions that would expose their hypocrisy and lack of compassion for people. Mark and Luke record that Jesus asked the scribes and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it? They kept silent. Matthew 12:11-12 then records Jesus asking them,“What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Jesus changed the question from healing on the Sabbath to a more general question of whether you could do good on the Sabbath. He pointed out what they would do themselves on the Sabbath which was primarily economic. Notice that Jesus did not say the sheep was injured, only that it fell into a pit on a Sabbath day. It was not a life threatening immediate emergency situation. By the definition of their Sabbath regulations, it would be work to get the sheep out of the pit. Jesus points out that all of them would do such a work to get the sheep out of the pit. They would do this to prevent any risk that it might injure itself or possibly even kill itself in trying to get out of the pit. In such a situation it is doubtful that even the Pharisees would have considered that rescuing the sheep would violate their Sabbath restrictions. Jesus uses this to point out since men are more valuable than sheep, and since it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, then it is lawful to do good to a man on the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:13 records Jesus’ next action, “Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.” Jesus did not touch the man or even command the hand to be healed. He commanded the man to stretch out his hand and it was healed as he stretched it out. Jesus was the Lord of the Sabbath and He would not be restricted from doing good because of the legalistic limitations of the Pharisees.
They should have responded with amazement and praise to God to see such a miracle take place before their very eyes, but that was not their response. Matthew 12:14 records, “But the Pharisees went out, and counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” Luke 6:22 states they were filled with rage and Mark 3:6 adds that the Pharisees reaction was so strong that they immediately went out and started to conspire together with their very arch-enemies, the Herodians, the irreligious political supporters of King Herod.
Jesus’ actions proved beyond the shadow of a doubt to anyone that was willing to see that He is indeed Lord of the Sabbath because He is the Son of God and shares equality and authority with the Father. The one that established the Law, including the commands concerning the Sabbath, has authority to interpret and apply the law.
The ancient Rabbis developed a legalistic system that killed the very purpose of God’s law, which in turn killed the spirit of the people who were under its bondage. It also killed the moral fiber of the Pharisees as they became so blind to the truth that they would commit acts clearly against the Mosaic Law, such as plotting murder, because their traditions were not being upheld. Sadly, there are still people around today that are like the Pharisees were then. They try to please God by their own means and methods rather than according to God’s directions. These are the legalists who take the Scriptures, interpret them by their own standards, and make out of them a detailed system of what can and cannot be done. They declare that those who follow their
rules are righteous, and that those who do not are unrighteous sinners.
Legalism is destructive wherever it shows up and so it still poses a danger today. Some legalistic religious systems claim to be Christian, but legalism is a barrier to salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ for it develops its own false system of salvation based on works. Legalism also creeps into churches that proclaim salvation by God’s grace where it becomes a barrier to faithful Christian living. We are to approach our fellow man in keeping with New Testament law of speaking the truth in love and in compassion, calling the sinner to repentance in following Christ. We are not calling them to follow religious traditions or man-made rules. Jesus has freed us from the curse of the law that we might live by the Holy Spirit. Regardless of how strongly you or I may feel about various issues whether they are those that are clearly against God’s commands such as adultery, promiscuity, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, etc., or issues that are questionable such as drinking, smoking and entertainment choices, you must make sure that it is the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are following and neither the dictates of man nor the whims of your own desires. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath because He is the Lord of all.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up. 2) Count how many times “Sabbath” is said. Talk with your parents about how to make sure you are following Jesus Christ and His commands and not fall into the trap of legalism.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What evidence is presented in John 5 that Jesus is equal with God? Why were the Jewish religious leaders so upset with Jesus in John 5? In Matthew 12:1-3, why did the Pharisees claim what Jesus’ disciples were doing was unlawful? What does the Mosaic Law state about picking and eating grain as you walked through a field? What is the meaning of “Sabbath” and how did that become a reference for the seventh day? What were the Biblical consequences for Jews who violated the Sabbath? What are the Mishna and Talmud? How did the disciples violate them in picking and eating the grain? What do they teach about medical care on the Sabbath? Jesus used four arguments in Matthew 12:3-8 why His disciples were innocent – explain each of them. Describe the confrontation recorded in Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6 & Luke 6:6-11 between Jesus and the scribes & Pharisees and His healing of the man with the withered hand. Explain this incident proved Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. Why is that important?
Sermon Notes – 10/27/2013
John 5 – Jesus healed the lame man at Bethesda, but the Pharisees were upset He did it on a ____________
Jesus’ claim that He was God’s Son and __________ with God made them even more mad
Jesus backed up His claim with the _______of John the Baptist, His works, God the Father & the Scriptures
Pharisaical Legalism – Matthew 12:1-3
The Mosaic Law specifically allowed for picking and eating grain as you walked by a field – ____________
The Pharisees allowed the practice on normal days but objected to it being done on a ______________
Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to ___________,” “to cease, desist,” “to come to an end.”
Exodus 20:8 – the fourth of the Ten Commandments – The Sabbath was a holy day to ___from weekly labor
The ancient Rabbis had serious concerns about the Sabbath being broken, but their _______replaced the law
The Mishna and Talmud are the codified teachings of the _______- both have many chapters on the Sabbath
Restrictions on how __________ you could travel (2,000 cubits)
Restrictions on what you could lift – nothing heavier than a ____________________
Restrictions on medical care – prevent injury from getting worse, but nothing to promote ______________
Restrictions on use of __________- which became restrictions on the use of electrical switches
Restrictions on activities of farming, animal husbandry, manufacturing, homemaking and even studying
The actions of the disciples broke __________ Sabbath restrictions by harvesting, threshing and sifting
Pharisaical legalism made lawful activities unlawful by having the word of man _________the word of God
The Law Could Be Breached – Matthew 12:3-4
Jesus rebuked them for their ____________ of the Scriptures
1 Samuel 21 – David and his men ate the showbread which was normally restricted to only the priests
The ceremonial laws could be breached in order to keep God’s ________________ of loving one’s neighbor
The Law Had Exceptions – Matthew 12:5-6
The law allowed priest to ___________ hard in the temple without violating Sabbath restrictions
Jesus was greater than the Temple, so His disciples’ actions did not ____________ Sabbath restrictions
The Law Was Meant for Man – Matthew 12:7
The Law was given for man’s _________- pointing out his need for God’s mercy and grace – Galatians 3:24
The Pharisees did not understand Hosea 6:6 and instead tried to ____righteousness by their legalistic system
They became ________________ and lacked compassion even for those physically suffering
Strong proclamation of the God’s word is good, but it is always to be with ______________
God desires compassion more than He desires _______________
Jesus Ruled over the Sabbath – Matthew 12:8
Only God can legitimately claim to be _______________ than the temple and Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus was the final _________________ over the Sabbath, not the traditions of men
Proving the Point – Matthew 12:9-14
Jesus goes into a synagogue and there is a man with a withered right __________ there
The scribes & Pharisees there challenge Jesus whether it is lawful to ___on the Sabbath violating their rules
Luke 6:7-8 – Jesus knows their thoughts and motives and commands the man to get up and _______forward
Jesus changed the question to a general doing of _______and then gave an example of a good they would do
Matthew 12:13 – Jesus commanded and ___________ the man instantaneously in front of them all
Matthew 12:14 – instead of praising God, they plot with the _________________how they can destroy Jesus
Jesus is the ____________ of the Sabbath because He is the Son of God
Their legalistic system ___________ the purpose of God’s law, the spirit of the people and their morality
Legalists interpret the Scriptures by their own desires and make up their _______standards of righteousness
Legalism is a barrier to ______________ by God’s grace through faith in Jesus because it is works based
Legalism in true Christians becomes a barrier to faithful Christian ____________
We call men to follow _____________ Christ, not religious traditions
Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath because He is the __________ of all
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