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 this 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 had 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)

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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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6 Responses to Lord of the Sabbath

  1. dearlorddiary says:

    I’ll try.

    They were anxious to kill Jesus because:

    He outsmarted them.

    He redefined things a bit.

    The man didn’t have to go through them for healing.

    They had no basis for condemning Him via the law.

    Jesus told them exactly what He was going to do for the man when He spoke to them in 12:11-12. Then He did it right before their eyes. However, he freed the event from the grips of the law when he redefined it as “doing good” or “doing well” rather than healing.

    Furthermore, they could not indict Jesus for committing a crime because the man was healed by faith. The law had nothing to do with it.

    I believe that Jesus healed the man when He asked Him to stretch out his shriveled hand in faith. The man was not fine to begin with, but his healing came by faith. It was an unprovable occurrence, which the Pharisees were unable to process in their legalistic minds.

    I imagine that they wanted to kill Jesus mostly because they saw Him as a threat to them and their profitable legalistic system. Just my random thoughts.

  2. On the surface, He outsmarted them but underneath all of it, Jesus threatened their power. I suppose the public insult could have raised their anxiety up a few notches, making them feel that killing Him was the only way to protect the status they loved. A lot of that though is me filling in the blanks with what I know about human nature. I’m not sure that’s the answer you were looking for.

  3. Back to the man’s hand being healed. Years ago this was the verse that made me real Jesus didn’t go around saying dramatically, “Be healllllled” like some modern “faith healer’ do. He just did it, sometimes while conversing with them. In this case, less was more.

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