Jesus is at it again. Back in Matthew 5 we discussed how Jesus didn’t abolish the Old Testament but he breathed new life into the old laws with his teachings. The most important thing wasn’t following the letter of the law but having the heart of Jesus – adding love. Here in Matthew 12 the Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples picked some heads of grain to eat when they were hungry on the Sabbath. Picking some grains is a lot like harvesting and harvesting is work and work is not allowed on the Sabbath. The Pharisees loved nit-picking the law, making it really hard for anyone to succeed in following the law, thus finding fault in everyone else, which they thought made themselves look better. Their microscopic vision into the smallest detail of the law took the focus off of the big picture – how are you doing at being God’s people. The law had been given by God to create a healthy, righteous people devoted to God and kind to others. But this extreme fascination with catching everyone’s slightest mistake was not healthy, righteous, kind, or pleasing to God. Instead of the law being used to make a holy people for God, it was being used to divide and tear down and pull people further from their love for God. The law was good. Their use of it was not. It wasn’t time to throw away the law. It was time to add love.
The purpose of the Sabbath was to put time (a whole day) aside to stop busyness and focus on rest, worship and loving God. It was given as a gift by a gracious and loving God who knew what people would do if they didn’t take time to rest and refocus. He knew all healthy relationships take time and this was the perfect opportunity to add a date day with God on the calendar – every week. A mini-vacation with God and family every 7th day. It’s a great way to create a spiritually, mentally, physically healthy people for God. But the benefits dwindled when the Pharisees turned it into a legalistic checklist of don’t do this and don’t do that.
Jesus wisely gave the Old-Testament-loving Pharisees two examples from the Scriptures of cases where the Sabbath regulations were broken by Godly people doing Godly things, and God didn’t strike them down dead. In fact, He seemed to approve of the exceptions to the rule. Likewise, Jesus is confident God also approved of him healing, doing good and helping others on the Sabbath.
In calling himself the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus wasn’t saying he was the Lord of something that ought to be thrown out because it had outlived its usefulness. No. He recognized the worth of the Sabbath AND the good that could be done during a day devoted to God. It wasn’t about a checklist and Sabbath day spies making sure you aren’t breaking the law. It is about a day to focus on God, your relationship with Him and the good that He wants you to do for Him. It is a day devoted to loving God and loving others to help us refocus and build our spiritual muscles to take us through the next 6 days doing His will in love.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Does your week generally include a Sabbath day of rest and devotion to God? If so, what does it usually look like? What do you appreciate most about it? Do you do it more for what you gain from it, or to please God? (either answer is legitimate). If you don’t normally include a Sabbath rest on your calendar, do you see value in trying a Sabbath rest? How might it look different from your typical day? What would be challenging about making this change? What benefits might you expect to see?
- Re-read Matthew 12:33-37. This week have you been producing good fruit or bad fruit? How so? What about your words? Why do you think your words are so important – at least one of the things you will be judged by? Do you find it easier to say the right thing or do the right thing? Were there any words you said recently that you wouldn’t want Jesus to repeat to you on judgment day? How can we stop careless words which will get us into trouble?
- Jesus welcomes us as a part of his family, if we do what? (Matthew 12:50) On a scale of 1-10 how are you doing in this area? What could you do today to boost your score? What benefits are there for those who are in Jesus’ family?