Lord of the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-14

Matthew continues his narrative in this section which highlights the growing opposition to Jesus in certain Jewish circles. Notice as you read the verses that the disciples of Jesus are right in the middle of the controversy; didn’t they go out on a mission of harvest?  You may recall that chapter 10 was all about Jesus preparing to send them out, then they aren’t mentioned in chapter 11 and here they are in chapter 12. Are they back now? Did they ever go out? Was Jesus’ preparations and instructions intended only for the future after Pentecost?

Matthew doesn’t make this issue clear, and I’ll let you ponder it on your own…

They are walking through a grain field on the Sabbath, and the disciples pick a few heads of grain to eat, and the Pharisees jump in: Holy heart attack! They are harvesting on the Sabbath! (12:1-2)

Jesus refutes their allegations with examples from the Scriptures (12:3-7) and then concludes with an amazing statement in verse 8: “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”

Matthew continues the narrative:

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (12:9-10)

When Jesus entered the synagogue, what was He thinking; was it His intention to heal the man with the injured hand? The text doesn’t say, it doesn’t even tell us if Jesus knew about the man being there, and the Pharisees would have had no way to know what was in His mind at that moment, so leaving nothing to chance, they set Him up, paragons of virtue that they were. It would be my guess that His answer wasn’t exactly what they expected:

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (12:11-12)

Look very carefully at His answer, and then re-read the question. Did you notice that Jesus answered a question they didn’t ask? Notice that they asked if it was legal to heal someone on the Sabbath, and that the answer was that is legal to do good on the Sabbath. To heal someone on the Sabbath is a specific action that they wanted to use in bringing an indictment against Him, but to do good is a vague generality that most people would have difficulty in objecting to; it isn’t a specific action that is “actionable” in the legal sense, or in plain English: it really isn’t anything with a legal basis for dispute.

Now, look carefully and see what Jesus actually did:

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 (12:13).

Jesus asked the man to stretch out his hand, and lo and behold, the hand was perfectly fine. I guess there wasn’t anyone there who needed healing after all!

Now dear readers, those of you who are amateur lawyers and sleuths, what did Jesus do? Did He heal the man, or was the man already fine? If you think He healed the man, then when exactly did He do it? What is your evidence? Did you see Him heal the man?

Do you recall the advice that Jesus gave the disciples in 10:16, that they should be as “shrewd as snakes and harmless as a dove”? Here is one of the best examples of that in all of Scripture.

The Pharisees, realizing that He had outsmarted and outflanked them, were somewhat less than pleased at this:

But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus (12:14).

I’m sure that you noticed the change in their attitude; they wanted a basis to file charges against Jesus, now they just want to kill Him.

The question for us to ponder is this: Why were they so anxious to kill Him?

Before you shoot off a reply, really think about it, for the typical Sunday school answer might not work for this one. (And I’ve already told you the answer, but most will have missed it)

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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5 Responses to Lord of the Sabbath

  1. Steve B says:

    Jesus was draining the swamp :))

  2. The situation seems to be that Jesus was expected to be at the synagogue that day, because he was known to be in the area and his custom of attending was also well known. The religious leaders also knew that there was a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. (They might even have encouraged him to be present.) They wanted an occasion to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. Mark’s text tells us that Jesus was well aware of their plots even though they remained silent. He calls the afflicted man into the centre of the room and asks if it is permitted to do good or evil on the Sabbath, giving the example of rescuing a distressed animal as a good thing. He hit the mark, as the religious leaders knew what they would do in such situations. They did at least care about their animals. Jesus was grieved at their hardness of hard toward the man and himself. He tells the man to stretch out his hand and it was healed. Instead of concealing his act of healing, he made it obvious the he is God, acting with the authority of the God who speaks and things happen as a result. Here he shows that he is LORD of the Sabbath, because he is Jehovah in the flesh. This is why the religious leaders wanted him dead. They were much more attentive to Jesus’ words than his disciples were. They knew that he is the Son and they wanted to take his inheritance for themselves (that parable is given later in Matthew). The religious leaders were happy to do evil on the Sabbath.

  3. Pingback: Gods vergeten Woord 18 De Wet van Christus 4 De sabbatdag | Broeders in Christus

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