Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath | Matthew 12:1-21 (Mville)
August 3, 2014 Series: Mission of the King | Matthew Part II
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 12:1–12:21
Good morning everyone! My name is Kevin Swartz and it’s an honor to preach here today. If this is your first time here, welcome! What we do here at Damascus Road is go straight through books of the Bible, verse by verse, line by line, word for word, not skipping over the difficult passages because as Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16 ALL scripture is breathed out by God.
And today we are continuing our series through the book of Matthew and we are now in Chapter 12, so please grab your Bibles, and if you don’t have one we have some available at the info desk up front, and open up with me to Matthew chapter 12.
Refresh on past few sermons…
Today, we are going to look at a few passages that will force us to look deep into our hearts and see what we really worship. And we’ll see what true rest in Christ is all about.
So let’s read, chapter 12 starting at verse 1, going through verse 14 and then we will finish up with verses 15-21 at the end:
12 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.”
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.
This is God’s Word.
So this chapter begins with Jesus and his disciples walking through some fields picking grain for food because they were hungry. There was no problem with them picking the grain and eating it, that was allowed by Jewish law; the problem arose because it was done on the Sabbath.
And keeping the Sabbath day holy back in the 1st century was one of, if not the most important rule in Jewish Law. Now, most of us, when we think about the Sabbath day, we think about the one rule… Thou shalt not work. Right?
And that’s exactly how it should be…taking a day to rest and not working. It was something that God gave the Israelites to benefit them. By giving them some time off of work to create a time to reflect on God’s grace, mercy and also to spend time in community and most importantly, your family.
But unfortunately that’s not how it was being treated. During the 1400 years or so since the inception of the Sabbath Day, the Pharisees began to assign their own set of rules and laws to the Sabbath day. They attached so many restrictions to it that it became something a little bit different than what it was originally intended for. Therefore, it changed and it now became the Pharisees law and not God’s law anymore.
What they did, is they wrote so many rules and instructions that were devoted to the Sabbath that it became an insanely heavy burden on the people, because there was no way to know the thousands upon thousands of commands that they kept coming up with. The Israelites didn’t have Facebook back then to keep them updated of any changes the Pharisees made to the Sabbath day rules.
Not only were there a million rules to remember but some of these rules the people were expected to keep were downright senseless and ridiculous. And if we can get some appreciation for the harsh and absurd guidelines the Pharisees attributed to the Sabbath, maybe we can somewhat understand what Jesus was dealing with.
For example, the Pharisees had to specify between wearing and carrying. Like if a woman was wearing a hair clip that was ok. But if she was carrying it in her hand, then it was considered work because she was carrying something.
But if she was to wear a hair clip, she had to put it on before the Sabbath because putting it on was considered work.
Also, you couldn’t take a bath for fear that water might splash on the floor, which would constitute cleaning the floor, thus it would be work.
These may seem fairly silly to us, and they are, but they could get pretty serious as well. The laws of the Sabbath, as written by the Pharisees, also mention 3 reasons why a woman could die in childbirth, and one of them was failure to observe the Sabbath. That’s completely troublesome, but this is exactly what Jesus was dealing with.
Jesus was up against the religious extremists who wanted to impose their own version of God’s law on the people. They took something that was meant for good and turned it into something that was such a weight on the people that trying to figure out what not to do became more work than actually working.
Like if I did nothing but tell my son what not to do all the time, it would become a total burden on him and he may end up resenting me if that’s all I told him to do. Don’t do this, don’t do that…you can see how that might make a kids head spin. Besides, I would not be a very good dad if that’s all I did.
Same thing was going on here, the Sabbath day has totally lost its meaning now and was not rest anymore because of all the restrictions put on it by the Pharisees. It was a weight on the people. It got to be so bad that some people didn’t even look forward to the Sabbath day anymore.
So Jesus confronts the Pharisees by reminding them that the priests profaned the temple because they actually worked harder than anyone else on the Sabbath. That’s because to lead the people in worship under the Old Covenant, they had to perform animal sacrifices and that was hard work.
They had to first get the animal to the temple, and if it was a bull, that would take a lot of sweat to just get it there. Then they had to perform the ritual, the laying on of hands and then the slaughter. And killing the animal took some hard work to do, it was not easy.
Then after the sacrifice, the priests were to arrange the parts to be sacrificed on the altar and were to be burned up, while other parts were cooked and to be eaten as a meal between the offerer and the priests.
The whole point of this is that it was done on the Sabbath day. So the priests worked very, very hard on the Sabbath but were not guilty of profaning the Sabbath…but yet a woman could not even put on a hair clip on the Sabbath? See why Jesus is calling them on this? If the Sabbath was so important and so crucial to obey, why were the Pharisees exempt from this rule?
So what Jesus is doing, is calling them on their hypocrisy here. He isn’t attacking the Sabbath day itself. That’s not the problem, what Jesus is doing with this conversation between him and the Pharisees is attacking the heart or the center of the issue. And if we were to peel back the layers of the onion and look at what’s at the root of problem, we would see that the Pharisees actually had a huge idolatry issue.
Now, when most people hear the word “idolatry” the first thing that instantly comes to mind would be something like a carved stone or a wooden image, like a golden-calf or some weird monkey-god or something to that effect.
And while that is true, those are indeed idols, idols are not limited only to things made by human hands. Statues are in the minority today in terms of idols…at least in western culture here. But an idol can be anything. Anything that we spend more time devoted to then God is an idol, even good things like the Sabbath day of rest or, in today’s standards, church.
But the definition of an idol, according to St. Augustine, who was an early Christian theologian and philosopher that lived around 400AD, is this: Idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshipped.
Worshipping anything that ought to be used…that’s a great way to put it. This is when we place something that should be used and is good and elevating it to a much higher status than it should be at. We are essentially replacing God with something that came from God.
Because contrary to popular belief, idolatry isn’t always idolizing something bad. Most of the time it’s the good things in life that get most of our attention.
And this is when idolatry is the most destructive. Because we don’t see it as being idol worship. We see it as being such a good thing, and it probably is, that we devote so much more time and energy into doing that good thing that before we know it, we are worshipping that thing instead of letting that good thing help us in our worship of God.
This is much like the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. They took something good that God gave them (the Sabbath) and began to worship that instead of letting the Sabbath assist them in their worship of God.
To illustrate this point a little more, it’s kind of like working in the ministry. This is a very good thing to do that comes from God. But many, although not all, but there are quite a few pastors who pour so much time and energy into their ministry that they lose sight of why they are a pastor to begin with.
*I read a statistic that said over half of all pastors wives said the worst day of their life was when God called their husbands into ministry. Think about it…the worst day of their life. That’s a pretty strong statement! But it goes to show that the reason the wives think that, is more than likely that their husband has pretty much abandoned everything, possibly even their own family, for the sake of ministry.
This is backwards from what ministry should be like. Ministry should be serving, assisting and instructing others in their worship of God, not worshipping the ministry itself. Chris, Nate, Randy and myself are diligent about checking in on each other to make sure we have our priorities straight: that we are a child of God first, husband to our wives second, father to our children next and then pastors or servants to the flock here at the church.
But I realize not all of us can relate to working in the ministry full time. I get that. But don’t we also idolize our work, our career or our job, whether it’s in ministry or not? This is a very common idol.
A lot of people have their identity wrapped up in their career. It’s what we are known for. When you meet someone you normally ask them the 3 big questions: their name, where they’re from and what they do for a living.
And for some people, what they do for a living becomes their identity. The have a lot of pride wrapped up in it. Their career starts to define who they are, they become a slave to it. This is when it becomes and idol.
I know this is a very common idol because that was one of mine before. I used to lay in bed thinking about ways to get better at my job. About how to be the best I could be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get better at your job, don’t get me wrong.
But it becomes a problem when we start to become consumed with it. And it starts to take over and control how we live our lives.
All this is idolatry because it’s placing something good that God gave us, and yes, our jobs are good things from God, and elevating it to a place where only God himself should be.
But idols are not limited only to our jobs or careers or what we do, they can be anything. Anything good that comes from God we can raise up as an idol and place it above God.
It can even be something great like our families, friends or even church. If our lives are becoming controlled by something, then you can bet that thing controlling your life is an idol.
Have you ever asked yourself what you are idolizing? Can you even identify it? Is it your job, or something else?
One way to find out, if you don’t presently know what your idols are, is to find out what is currently consuming your thoughts or your heart? Or look at your checkbook, where does your money go each week? Each month?
This is what an idol is, and we all have them. We all struggle with idols every day, don’t let the enemy fool you into thinking you don’t have any. Be honest with yourself.
This was the Pharisees problem. And they didn’t see it as a problem because the Sabbath was such a good thing. But it consumed them. It preoccupied their hearts so much they didn’t even want to do good things, like healing, on that special day of rest for fear of breaking that rule that meant so much to them.
But, you may ask, didn’t God order the Israelites to observe the Sabbath? Didn’t he strictly forbid working on the day of rest? And the Pharisees were just doing what God ordered them to do? The answer is yes. But these outward acts of obedience have no value when it becomes just the act itself, and there is no heart behind it.
And it wasn’t just the Sabbath alone that was their idol, but their whole legalistic system that they had set up for themselves and the people of Israel. They put following rules and procedures higher than love and mercy. And the Sabbath was the epitome of their legalistic rules.
This is what was consuming them. This is exactly where their heart was at. God was not at the center of their hearts, their legalistic actions were.
This legalistic system they had was so dangerous because what legalism shows is that not only can we work our way into Heaven by doing good things, but instead of focusing on God’s grace for our sin, we focus instead on following rules to somehow save us. Sometimes those rules are not even scriptural but they are rules that we set up for ourselves, much like the Pharisees are doing here.
I know some of you may be thinking that you don’t struggle with legalism, but we do…all of us. And it may not be in the sense that you think at first. We tend to think of legalism as being something weird like saying: Stay away from Star Wars because it is satanic…it’s not. Star Wars is perfectly good!
But we all have a “have to” list don’t we? And by that, I mean we all have things we feel we “have to” do.
We can all write a list out of things we feel obligated to do or even should be doing. And the majority of them we probably need to do.
Like having a specific list of how many chapters a day we need to be reading in our Bibles. That way the number of chapters becomes our intention and not listening to God speak to us through his word. Or having a set amount of time to pray for, and if we forget or run out of things to pray for, then just keep rambling on until that time is met. Those are two of mine by the way…
But we have to ask ourselves why we are doing these things? Is it just to check a box? To prove that we’ve done something good? Or is it that we truly desire to know God more and develop a sense of community with other believers.
Now, this is not the same thing a being disciplined. We need to be more disciplined in our prayer life, in our Bible reading time. That’s very important, but it’s really easy to cross over from the disciplined category and into the “Have to” category, so that we start actually ignoring what God is saying to us because we have things that we have to do.
This is where I struggle the most. All these good things to do…not enough time. I must make time to do all of them. Because acts of service are one of my gifts in life from God. I can be a very work-based Christian if I’m not careful, partly because that’s how I grew up.
Much of the time that I was in church during my younger years, I grew up in the 80’s by the way, I spent most of that learning about things not to do. I heard many, many messages from youth group about the dangers of sexual promiscuity and about total abstinence from alcohol and drugs.
There were traveling preachers that came to our church and gave talks to all the youth about the hazards associated with rock music. We even had a big “crusade” in downtown Everett where we passed out flyers and advertised our church’s motivational speech that was being given on how rock music is the most dangerous form or music out there.
We even had a 3 week teaching “series” in junior high about the dangers of a certain Christian rock band.
We were also told about how some cartoons, like “He-Man,” was pretty much satanic. It got pretty bad. There was so much preached to me about what was bad and what not to do, that no one ever sat me down and told me what I should do.
In fact, when I graduated high school, after spending much of my entire life in church, I couldn’t even tell you how many gospels were in the Bible. I was biblically illiterate and I had no relationship with Christ. And as a result, I ended up leaving the church shortly thereafter.
Now, I’m not blaming it all on the church, I take some of the responsibility myself…I wasn’t exactly a “model teenager,” I wasn’t a “student” of the Bible like I probably should have been.
But I’m telling you this story because it’s an example of what legalism does to a person. It doesn’t teach them Christ. It doesn’t bring them closer to God. It doesn’t help develop a relationship with our creator. In fact, in the process it pushes them farther away like it did to me because we can never be as good as we desire to be.
So we should really make sure that we are teaching everyone, especially our younger kids and teenagers in the church about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and about the things we are supposed to do and all the things we GET to do and enjoy doing. Not just preaching to them the things they shouldn’t do.
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t warn our kids, or adults for that matter, about the real world dangers out there. And about some of the things to stay away from or not to participate in. We should. Because we have the knowledge to be able to pass those life experiences on to them.
But we should also, just as importantly, be teaching them about Jesus Christ and what a devoted life to him should look like and why it is so crucially important, and just how exciting it can be when develop a real bond with Christ.
Because if we don’t make Jesus our foundation in life, then other things will take that place. We will build our lives based on something, if it is not him. We are created to worship. We were meant to worship. And if it’s not God then we will be worshipping something else...make no mistake. We will build our lives based on idols that we make and worship.
So how do we fix this? How do we actually begin to defeat our idols and make sure we are putting Jesus as our cornerstone?
Let’s go back and look at verse 7 for a moment. In response to the Pharisees inquiring of him in regards to the Sabbath, Jesus says a very bold and straightforward statement. He says, in verse 7: 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
What this is in reference to is back a few chapters. Flip over a page or two in your Bibles to Matthew 9:13. This was actually my last sermon back in June, and it just so happens that I get part 2 of this story. But in verse 13, Jesus says to the Pharisees who are questioning him: 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’
The verse that Jesus wanted them to study is from Hosea 6:6. There are actually 3 references in this passage to Jesus telling them to go study scripture. Because this is where the answers are found. If they had known what God was telling them in his word, they would not have condemned those who were actually innocent.
The Pharisees were supposed to be experts in scripture but Jesus is saying that they, in fact, are not because they are misusing God’s word and his law to have it mean something that it was not supposed to.
That verses emphasizes attitude over ritual and motivation is the key here. He wants their hearts and not their religiousness. That he would rather have a personal and intimate relationship with his creation rather than following rules just to follow them.
God didn’t want them to stop sacrificing, he just wanted them to be careful and have the right motive to do so. The sacrificial system was put into place to show the seriousness of sin and God’s willingness to accept those who participated in it. However, sacrifices started to become something of a mockery and it didn’t have that deep personal connection with God like it should have.
So Jesus wasn’t going after the Sabbath day itself, he was going after the root of the problem which was the Pharisees heart in all this because their heart was in the wrong place.
In Matthew 6:21, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is talking about laying up treasures in heaven. In it, he says this: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Whatever you value, whatever you care for, whatever you focus on the most, is where you heart is truly at. Whatever is in our heart is what comes out in the form of our actions. The Sabbath day law was in the Pharisees heart, so their actions reflected that.
Because that’s where everything begins. In our hearts. So we need to make sure we are truly putting Christ at the center of our hearts and our lives, this is what it means to have a relationship with Christ. To put him first, above and beyond all things.
And a relationship with Christ is much more than just reading your Bible and praying every day. Those are important things to do every day and we should do them. Yes. But it’s more than just that. A good earthly relationship, like that of a husband and wife, can be characterized by a few things: having open lines of communication with them and trusting them.
If you are married, you would probably say those are key to a good, healthy relationship. The same is true with a relationship with Christ.
One way to really develop a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus is to actually have open lines of communication. Because we can pray all day long. We can pray 3 or 4 hours a day. We can pray 365 days in a row and not have any kind of lasting relationship with him. That’s because, if you’re anything like me, we can sometimes do all the talking and none of the listening.
But listening to God is one of the most important things we can ever do. Back in the OT, David had a relationship with God. In 1 Chronicles 14, the Philistines heard that David had just been anointed King over all Israel, so they went out to attack them. So what did David do? 1 Chronicles 14:10 gives the answer…
And David inquired of God, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand? And the Lord said to him, “Go up, and I will give them into your hand.” And he went up to Baalperazim, and David struck them down there.”
If David did all the talking and none of the listening, he never would have gotten the answer he needed to fight off the enemy. Who knows what he would have done had he not listened to God. Who knows what the end result would have been.
If you were to continue on to verse 14, after the Philistines decided to attack a 2nd time, it says: “And again, David inquired of God, God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; go around and come against them opposite the balsam trees.” Then in verse 16… “And David did as God commanded him.”
David listened and obeyed. And it served him well. God delivered the Philistines into his hand because he did what God told him to do. He listened to God.
Have you ever had a relationship with someone who did all the talking and never let you say anything, no matter how important it is? We all know how that goes, so imagine Jesus, wanting to talk to you but you’re not letting him. You think what you have to say is super important. And it probably is, but at some point you have to let him do the talking also.
I remember a time a while back, probably 6 years or so, my wife and I were church shopping and we ended up at this little church in a school cafeteria called “Damascus Road.” I wasn’t sure about how I felt about going to church in a school, we weren’t sure if this was indeed the place for us. So we prayed. I prayed a lot about it and felt like God was saying “THIS is where you need to be.” I’m glad I listened to him, because I don’t think I would’ve grown so much spiritually had I gone somewhere else.
You see, relationships are a two way street. We are to pray, we are to talk to him, yes…but maybe we need to be quiet for a moment, and rest, and just listen to God so he can speak to us. This is where trust comes in.
Trusting in Christ means not relying on yourself but on him instead. Proverbs 3:5 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” This means we must wholly and firmly rely on him, and not ourselves, for all our needs. Sometimes we try to do things ourselves, to solve problems ourselves. We get tense, stress out and try our hardest to fix things.
But this is not resting in Christ. When Jesus says in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” it means that we need to give everything to Him and to not try to do everything ourselves.
Because we want to be in control of everything don’t we? And it’s hard to release that control…even if it’s to Jesus. We always want to be the one in charge and the one doing everything because we think we know what’s best. And this is where most of our fear comes from, from trying to do it all ourselves.
If we are worried, tense, anxious, nervous or fearful, then that’s a good sign that we are not resting in him and that we are not trusting him. Those two are identical. Trust and rest in Christ.
Jesus says to cast all your cares on him because he cares for you and he wants you to rest in him.
Because if we desire rest, true rest, then we must trust in him and give over control to Christ. Then, all the anxiety, all the restlessness, all the panic will go away because we have totally let go of everything and placed it into his hands and said: “Jesus, we trust in you with all our heart.”
This is when our idols will start to fall, because he is taking that spot that is normally reserved for our idols. He is replacing our idols with himself.
Let’s look at the last part of this section now, and we’ll close it out with this. Let’s read Chapter 12, verses 15-21.
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.”
This passage is from Isaiah and is a prophecy about Jesus and what he will accomplish with his life.
In verse 20 when Isaiah says: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” seems a little odd, at first. But it is the heart of this whole passage.
Back in the Isaiah’s time, a reed was a small piece of wood used to make a number of things like pens, flutes, measuring rods and such. They were very, very cheap and if you found one with a small imperfection, what you would do is you would break it and throw it away and keep looking until you found the perfect one. Most of them were imperfect.
Same with a smoldering wick. A wick in a candle that is not perfect will smoke and not work properly and is pretty much useless.
We are that bruised reed, that smoldering wick. We are idolaters, legalists, rebels and sinners. We don’t work properly and we are as imperfect as they come. There is no real sense of goodness within us and we are pretty much useless in our own right. But Jesus will not discard us like a bruised reed and he will not put us out like a bad wick in a candle.
Even though our own hearts are full of sin, discontent and displeasure, Jesus will work on us and in the process, there will be healing. Healing of our hearts so that we can accomplish our goal that he put us here for, which spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and bringing glory to God.
He will use us for his will, with all our imperfections. In fact, he is proud to use us imperfect people for his glory. We are saved because he is delighted to use bruised reeds like us.
The best news about all this is that is he will keep us “until he brings justice to victory.” He will continue to redeem those who are lost and save those who have gone astray until he makes all things right in the end.
In his name, the Gentiles will hope. He will continue to look and search for bruised reeds and find those with imperfections and nurture them until he comes back again.
And despite all of our brokenness, all of our sins, all the time we have wondered off from him, he will continue to love us and make us his own and in his name, we will hope.
The cross is where we get our victory. Jesus is our hope.
Jesus said “My burden is light and my yoke is easy” Come to me, all you who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Come to the cross of Christ and in him, you will find rest.
And in coming to the cross…..communion instructions.
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