Scripture reading – Matthew 12

Today’s Scripture reading is Matthew 12, and is filled with exciting events from the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. While I exhort you to read Matthew 12 in its entirety, I limit my devotional commentary to Matthew 12:1-21.

Matthew 12

At this time, Jesus’ public ministry was in its infancy, nevertheless, His enemies feared and plotted against Him. The common Jews followed the LORD throughout His journeys, for they recognized He fulfilled the signs foretold by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6Then shall the lame man leap as an hart [deer], And the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

In spite of the miracles, the religious leaders of Israel [priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees], viewed Jesus as a threat to their position and influence among the people. The Pharisees were Christ’s principal adversaries, and they plotted to discredit and destroy Him. It was their antagonism and hatred for the LORD that was the catalyst of the confrontation we find in Matthew 12.

The Sabbath Day

The fourth commandment of the Law is, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), and the interpretation and observance of that commandment would be a point of conflict with the LORD throughout His earthly ministry. Some of the Jews had been riled when they learned Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath (John 5:5-9). Indeed, it was from that day they determined to “persecute [Him], and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day” (John 5:16).

The observance of the Sabbath was again an issue the Pharisees raised against Jesus in Matthew 12, when they came and accused Him and His disciples of breaking the Law of the Sabbath according to their interpretation (12:1-2).

Enroute to the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were hungry, and as they passed through a farmer’s field, they “began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat” (12:1). The Pharisees, ever looking for an occasion to accuse the LORD of wrong doing, seized upon the opportunity to accuse Him and the disciples of breaking the Sabbath Day commandment based on their oral tradition (12:2).

Rather than bow to his critics, Jesus reminded His critics, the issue was not the fourth commandment, but their rigid interpretation of the Sabbath Day commandment.  Jesus contended the fourth commandment did not prohibit a man from satisfying his physical hunger on the Sabbath, and gave two examples: David had taken bread from the Temple and ate that which was dedicated to God (12:3-4), and the priests ministered on sabbath days as their service to the LORD, (12:5-6; Numbers 28:9-10; Leviticus 24:8-9). Jesus then stated His authority, and declared, Himself “greater than the Temple…For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (12:6-8).

Departing from the Pharisees, Jesus entered the synagogue, and encountered a man whose hand was paralyzed (12:9-10). Rather than show compassion for the man, the Pharisees demanded of Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? That they might accuse him” (12:10b).

Jesus answered their question with a question, and cited a common practice in that rural setting: “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” (12:11) Jesus rightly questioned, would they not save a sheep that had fallen into a pit on the sabbath? Is a man not better than a sheep? (12:11-12) Jesus declared, “it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (12:12b). He then spoke to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thine hand,” and his hand was healed completely (12:13).

On that Sabbath day, Jesus declared He was “LORD even of the Sabbath” (12:8), and defended His authority to heal the man with the paralyzed hand (12:13). How did His enemies respond to His doctrine? “The Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him” (Matthew 12:14; Mark 3:5-6; Luke 6:11). Oh, the hypocrisy!

 Closing thoughts – On one hand the Pharisees demanded their interpretation of the Sabbath Law should usurp the will of God. In the other, they plotted to destroy Jesus and kill Him (a clear violation of the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

How did Jesus respond to the wicked, malicious intent of His enemies? He “withdrew himself” from them, and yet, “great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all” (12:15). I find the decision to withdraw oneself to be a difficult one, especially when an enemy is unrelenting in his plot to “destroy” you. Certainly, the manner of Christ is one we should emulate – after all, the Spirit of God is gentle, not brazen.

Romans 12:18–19 – “18If it be possible [knowing it is not always possible], as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath [God’s anger]: for it is written, Vengeance is mine (Deuteronomy 32:35); I will repay, saith the Lord.”

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