Gospel of Matthew

Matthew - Lesson 12B

Chapter 12:9-14

Next lesson

  • It’s been a few weeks since we last studied in Matthew, so let’s revisit what’s going on in chapter 12

    • Chapter 12 is the turning point in Matthew’s Gospel, the chapter where that generation of Israel loses the kingdom 

      • By the time we reach the end of this chapter, Jesus will have withdrawn His offer of the Kingdom for their unbelief

      • And He will issue an ultimatum to the nation concerning His return

    • Meanwhile, the nation’s rejection of Jesus altered Jesus’ entire approach to ministry 

      • We’ll study those effects later at the conclusion of this chapter 

      • But first, we need to finish Matthew’s explanation for how and why that rejection moment happened

    • In Chapter 11 Matthew gave us the first major reason, which was the hard hearts of a people committed to pursuing self-righteousness 

      • Now in Chapter 12, Matthew is showing us the second reason – one that involved the opposition of the religious leaders

      • That second reason was the Sabbath

      • Or more specifically, it was Jesus’ refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Pharisees’ endless list of Sabbath day rules

      • For that reason more than any other, the Pharisees conspired to have Jesus killed

  • We might wonder why the Pharisees would be so upset with Jesus over something so minor

    • But in Jesus’ day (and even still today), the Sabbath observance was something special for Jews; it was the law above all the rest

      • The rabbis called the Sabbath day Israel’s “queen”

      • And because the rabbis were so enamored with the Sabbath, they gave it special attention in their rules

      • There were over 1,500 rabbinical rules for Sabbath observance

      • Which turned the day of rest into a complex maze of regulations bringing burden and worry

    • For that reason, Jesus ignored and mocked the religious leaders’ Sabbath rules

      • He did so to make clear that the Pharisees’ rules weren’t God’s rules

      • In fact they weren’t even in keeping with the spirit of God’s law

    • But the Pharisees depended on their system to maintain power over the people

      • So when Jesus openly rejected their Sabbath regulations, he infuriated the Pharisees

      • And ultimately, it became their chief reason to kill Him

    • So with that background, let’s return to Chapter 12 

Matt. 12:9  Departing from there, He went into their synagogue.
Matt. 12:10 And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” — so that they might accuse Him.
Matt. 12:11 And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out?
Matt. 12:12 “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Matt. 12:13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.
Matt. 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
  • When I started this chapter, I mentioned that Matthew has assembled several examples of Sabbaths from among many that happened in the Galilee

    • He wanted to illustrate how absurd the Pharisees’ Sabbath rules were but also how determined Jesus was to ignore them  

      • Our second example takes place in a Galilean synagogue, perhaps the one in Capernaum

      • While in Israel, our group stood in this synagogue…probably in the very place where Jesus spoke these words

    • And on that Saturday, Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand, a deformity he probably possessed since birth

      • This type of infirmity was worse than it sounded 

      • In that day if a man couldn’t perform work with his hands, he was virtually useless and therefore likely destitute

      • And being unable to work in that day meant a life of poverty and insecurity and stigma as he depended on charity for support

    • The man’s presence in the synagogue on this day was not a coincidence

      • Jews often viewed a birth defect as a sign the person was under judgment from God because of his parents’ sin or his own sin

      • Such a person would be looked down upon and even ostracized 

      • So for this man to have secured a prominent seat in the synagogue on the occasion of Jesus’ visit is most unusual

    • Therefore, we must assume he gained entrance by the influence of powerful people

      • In other words, the Pharisees probably planted him in the congregation to entrap Jesus on the Sabbath

      • In fact, Matthew and Luke tell us that the Pharisees were hoping they could catch Jesus violating their rules for the Sabbath

  • In Matthew’s earlier example of Sabbath conflict, the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of violating the Sabbath walking through a grain field

    • But that confrontation didn’t go as they expected, so now they’ve clearly decided to go after Jesus Himself

      • In v.10 Matthew says the Pharisees ask Jesus if healing on the Sabbath was lawful

      • They were asking Jesus to render an opinion concerning one of their Sabbath rules

      • There was a rabbinical rule that prohibited healing on the Sabbath because it was considered work

      • The Pharisees accused Jesus of violating this rule many times across the Gospels 

    • In this moment, we know the leaders didn’t ask their question out of a sincere interest in Jesus’ opinion

      • It’s a trap…they’ve placed a sympathetic figure in front of Jesus and now they’re daring Him to heal the man on the Sabbath

      • When Jesus performed the healing, they could declare Jesus guilty of violating the Sabbath

      • Jesus would be discredited before the people and He could be charged with the death penalty under Jewish law

    • How does their accusation of breaking the Sabbath stand up against Scripture?

      • Simply put, it doesn’t

      • The Pharisees’ oral law forbid healing on the Sabbath, but God’s Law says nothing specifically about healing

      • So there was no specific prohibition against healing in the Law

      • And when the Law is silent on a specific situation, we must fall back to applying general principles found in the Law

    • So that’s exactly what Jesus does here

      • He declines to debate the merits of their rabbinical rule against healing on the Sabbath

      • And instead, in vs.11-12 Jesus uses a very traditional midrashnic technique of answering a question with a question 

      • And by His question, Jesus points the Pharisees’ attention back to a principle found in God’s Law

  • Jesus asks the Pharisees how they would respond if one of their animals was in distress and in need of assistance on the Sabbath

    • Naturally, they would rescue the animal even on the Sabbath as an act of compassion

      • They wouldn’t let the animal suffer even for a day, because the Law commands compassion for the weak and vulnerable

Ex. 23:2 “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice;
Ex. 23:3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute.
Ex. 23:4  “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.
Ex. 23:5 “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.
Ex. 23:6  “You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute.
  • The Law instructs Israel to show compassion for the weak at all times

    • It was always the right thing to do even on the Sabbath, even for the sake of an animal…even your enemy’s animal

    • And so Jesus says, surely if God’s law is concerned about the plight of animals, how much more the plight of people?

  • Yet when the Pharisees turned from the needs of animals to the needs of people, they became less compassionate  

    • The Pharisees taught that healing on the Sabbath was permitted only in life-or-death situations

    • So in less critical situations, as in the case of this crippled man, a healing had to wait for the next day

    • They were more focused on holding people to keeping their rules than on ministering to the needs of people

  • Here again, we see an example of a principle we learned earlier

    • Any time keeping the Sabbath created unreasonable burdens on God’s people, then the Sabbath restriction was set aside 

    • Because the goal of the Sabbath was rest – refreshment – not adding more burdens 

  • Jesus cites this principle of compassion, or “doing good” as He calls it, to defend his healing work on a Sabbath

    • Jesus says in v.12 that since showing compassion for an animal on the Sabbath was good, then showing compassion for a person is better

      • And making that man wait even one more day longer for his healing wouldn’t be compassionate, not if Jesus possessed the means to heal him now

      • That would have meant enduring one more day of burden instead of rest

      • And this man deserved as least as much compassion as an animal

    • So with that, Jesus orders the man to stretch out his hand

      • And as the man does, it’s restored – meaning it’s returned to a healthy state, a miracle healing

      • The room probably erupted in astonishment as the man celebrated his freedom from his curse

      • And all the Pharisees can do at that point is slink out the door

  • Before we move on, I want to draw your attention to the faith of the man Jesus healed

    • Matthew described this man’s hand as withered, using a Greek word that literally translates as “dry”, as in shrunken – a life-long condition

      • No doubt this man must have endured cruel jokes as a child and even as an adult

      • How many times do we imagine this man was taunted by other children who mocked him by telling him to stretch out his hand?

      • Or as an adult, how many times do we suppose this man was cursed or ridiculed by strangers because of his odd appearance?

    • So now imagine what went through this man’s mind as Jesus asked him to stretch out his hand in that very public forum

      • I wonder if his mind went back to all that mocking

      • Did he wonder whether this too was a cruel joke?

    • The answer, of course, is no, because the man does as Jesus asks

      • And what led this man to obey Jesus? He had faith to believe that if he obeyed, the Lord would respond in mercy

      • I’m sure he had heard of Jesus’ healing ministry and knew of Jesus’ power

      • So when Jesus issued that call, the man responded in faith anticipating something good was going to happen

  • The point I’m making is this…the man’s healing required a response of faith to Jesus’ call

    • Ask yourself what would have happened if he had hesitated to extend his hand perhaps out of doubt or fear?

      • What if he had asked for some assurance from Jesus that a healing would take place

      • What if he had waited to see if his hand was healed first before he took the risk of stretching it out

    • I believe the answer is he would have missed the miracle

      • This man’s story gives us a second principle to consider in Scripture

      • The principle is that the Lord call us at times to take a step of faith which requires we trust Him if we are to see where He’s leading us

      • If we answer that call, the Lord delights to reveal Himself to us in new ways, and in the process our walk is strengthened 

      • If we refuse His call, we may never find out what was waiting for us on the other side of faith  

  • We see examples of this principle at work across the Bible

    • For example, God asked Abraham to take a step of faith…

Gen. 12:1  Now the LORD said to Abram, 
“Go forth from your country, 
And from your relatives 
And from your father’s house, 
To the land which I will show you;
  • The Lord asked Abraham to move away from his home so that he might receive a new land as an inheritance

  • Abraham didn’t know where he was going or what he would find  when he arrived

  • And the only way he could know is if he agreed to go as God called him to do 

  • He first had to answer God’s call by faith in order to learn the rest of the story

  • We might ask how did Abraham even know which direction to begin walking? East? West? North? South? 

    • But that question misses the point…the Lord isn’t asking us to determine the path when He calls us to follow Him

    • He only expects us to obey in faith that He’s taking us somewhere we need to go

    • And as we take a step of obedience, He will reveal the rest of the plan

    • Simply put, God can’t steer a stationary object, so I imagine that as Abraham began to walk, then the Lord directed His steps

  • Or consider the examples of Noah, Jacob, Gideon, Daniel or many others who God called to do something that seemed impossible

    • Noah had to build his impossibly large boat before the rain came if he expected to see God’s mercy in the flood

    • Jacob had to leave his family and land before he knew how the Lord would bring him home

    • Gideon had to enter into battle with 300 men against many thousand before he could know how the Lord would grant victory 

    • And Daniel had to make up his mind to defy the orders of the king of Babylon before he knew how the Lord would protect him

  • And each of us will have moments in our walk with Christ when we must take a step of faith before we know how the Lord will complete the rest of the sentence

    • I am convinced that every believer lives every day of their life with a call from the Lord in some area of their life

      • That call remains in our heart and on our mind until we obey it

      • Maybe it’s a call to walk away from some sinful habit or a call to begin a new work of service or a call to support a ministry financially

      • Perhaps the Lord is convicting you to become more involved in studying the Bible or in making prayer a bigger part of your life

      • Maybe the Lord is calling you to walk away from your current life as He did Abraham or Jacob so you can serve Him in a new way

    • But in every case, God issues the call, then He expects us to take a step of faith knowing He will give us the rest of the plan in time

      • If living this kind of life with Jesus sounds strange or impossible, then let me encourage you to consider it

      • Honestly, you’ll never know the miracles you’re missing because you’re unwilling to take that step of faith

      • Missionary in Kenya…

    • So let’s say God is calling you to spend more time in study of His word

      • But you hesitate because you think you don’t have the time in your schedule

      • Maybe the real problem is you don’t have enough faith that God can give you back the time?

      • Bible study example…

    • Or maybe you believe you don’t have the budget to support that missionary in need or you don’t have the skill to get involved in that ministry opportunity…

      • Or maybe God’s telling you to put away some sin in your life yet you can’t find the self-control to make it happen 

      • Be encouraged tonight to put the Lord your God to the test…

    • Take a step of faith, show God you’re serious about obeying Him

      • And then watch what God does next to move you down that path

      • That’s what walking with the Lord means…it’s a step-by-step journey of obedience in response to God’s call 

  • So back to our story, Jesus has won another battle over the Sabbath, but Matthew says the fight with the Pharisees was just beginning

    • In v.14 Matthew says the Pharisees began conspiring against Jesus seeking to destroy Him

      • They convened a meeting in which they discuss how to bring Jesus and His ministry to an end

      • John describes that meeting this way

John 11:47  Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.
John 11:48 “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
  • Notice what concerned the Pharisees about Jesus

    • Were they concerned that Jesus might be a fraud? No

    • Were they concerned that Jesus was teaching false things to the people? No

  • They were concerned that the people might believe Jesus’ claims to be king because Jesus’ claims were compelling

    • And if that happened, Jesus’ rise to power would threaten the Romans’ and lead to an end to the Pharisees’ authority

    • Their response proves what we already knew about these men: they were not interested in the truth but only in preserving power

    • And therefore, they were willing to undertake any action – even murder – to maintain their system of power

  • For that reason the Pharisees are the Bible’s poster children for the sin of self-righteousness, which blinded that entire generation of Israel 

    • Paul describes the problem this way

Rom. 10:1  Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
Rom. 10:2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.
Rom. 10:3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
Rom. 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
  • Paul had a heart to see his countrymen come to faith, but Paul said self-righteousness stood in their way

    • The Jewish people in Jesus’ day pursued God earnestly and many had a sincere desire to please Him…

      • But their zealousness was not accompanied by knowledge, Paul says 

      • The Greek word used here for knowledge means knowledge of the truth, as opposed to an opinion or an assumption

      • The Pharisees were very knowledgeable, but the knowledge accumulated wasn’t of the truth

      • They were experts in their own system of rules

    • Their dedication to that system certainly made them appear pious but that righteous appearance was a facade

      • Paul says they held their beliefs sincerely…but they were sincerely wrong

      • And when you’re running in the wrong direction, running faster won’t make it better

    • But that’s what the Israel of Jesus’ day was doing…running as hard as they could in the wrong direction toward self righteousness

      • They believed that adhering to a rabbinical Judaism system would bring them righteousness

      • And Paul says once Israel’s leaders had fallen in love with that system, they would not subject themselves to God’s righteousness

      • Paul means that when God revealed that Israel could receive His righteousness through faith in Jesus, they turned it down

  • Here we have the third and final principle for tonight… if you are determined to pursue God the wrong way, you don’t get credit for effort

    • Doing things we prefer in place of answering the call of God isn’t obedience…it’s just serving ourselves

      • We may assume God will be impressed with our self-sacrifice, but He sees it for what it is: self-validation, self-satisfaction, self-righteousness

      • We’re like Pharisees, committed to a religious system of our own making rather than to a relationship rooted in God’s word

    • Let’s face it, there’s a seductive quality to systems of self-righteousness

      • Self-righteousness appeals because it places us in the driver’s seat and allows us to feel good when we achieve difficult things

      • And the more difficult we can make our system, the more we believe we are worthy of receiving God’s praise

      • That’s why Pharisaic Judaism was motivated to keep adding rules

      • As they made pursuing self-righteousness increasingly more difficult, they judged themselves that much more worthy of God’s praise

    • So when Jesus showed up condemning the Pharisees’ system rather than congratulating them for it, the Pharisees couldn’t accept it

      • They were convinced the Messiah, when He came for Israel, would have praised the Pharisees for their hard work and pious lifestyle

      • They expected gold stars on their report card, yet Jesus gave them an “F” 

      • So as He rejected them, they rejected Him

  • But true righteousness which comes by faith understands that the Lord has already done the hard work, a work we could never do

    • Jesus offered Himself as a spotless, sinless sacrifice for us and gave us credit for His sinless life lived on Earth

      • So now that Christ has done that work for us, we have nothing left to contribute…as Jesus said, it is finished 

      • That’s why our faith in Christ brings us liberty and freedom from the Law

      • Because Jesus kept the Law, so now we have received full credit for keeping the Law through our faith in Him

      • As Paul said:

2Cor. 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
  • Can you do better than perfection? Can you keep more of the Law than Jesus did on your behalf? Certainly not

    • Can you produce in yourself a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness you received from Christ by faith? Impossible 

Gal. 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
  • So don’t waste time trying

  • Don’t turn your walk with Christ into a pursuit of self-righteousness

  • If you allow your heart be tempted into a pursuit of self-righteousness, you are throwing away the freedom Christ won for you 

Col. 2:20  If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,
Col. 2:21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”
Col. 2:22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?
Col. 2:23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
  • As believers, we need to understand where our righteousness comes from and where it doesn’t

    • From the moment of our confession in Christ, we become perfect in our spirit made so by God’s Spirit 

      • Which is why Paul couldn’t understand how the Galatians thought they could improve their standing by works of flesh 

      • Are you walking with Christ that way?

    • Do you think God is more pleased with you because you take burdens upon yourself?

      • Maybe you try to keep a Sabbath or observe certain other works of the Law given to Israel 

      • Perhaps you observe them for your own edification, which is fine

      • But if you observe them because you think doing so will make you more righteous or pleasing to God, then you are pursuing self-righteousness 

      • And if you look down your nose at other Christians who refuse to share in your convictions, then you’re thinking like a Pharisee

    • We don’t want to rest in our own works of piety, even if those works come straight out of the Bible

      • We want to forever rest in Christ’s work, knowing that we have nothing whatsoever to offer toward our own righteousness

      • That’s what we mean here when we say we want to help believers grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ

    • It means helping people learn how to move away from works of self-righteousness and toward greater reliance on Christ’s work

      • We want to apply these three principles:

        • We seek ways to relieve burdens and increase compassion, not merely enforce rule-keeping

        • We want to encourage steps of faith in answer to God’s call so that we might all experience more of the Lord’s grace in our lives 

        • And we want to put away any pursuit of self-righteousness that may impede our walk of faith

    • That’s what growing in the grace of God looks like, and it always looks radical and even threatening to the world – just as it did in Christ’s day