Honoring the Sabbath Day: Matthew 12:1-21

Read the Transcript

As we continue moving through Matthew’s gospel, we come to a set of events where Jesus challenges the religious leaders while defending those who followed Him and those who needed healing. In the context of Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders disagreed with Jesus the most on one, single point: which was the Sabbath. As we will see while reading our passage, the religious leaders’ biggest issue over Jesus and His followers actions related to what they did and did not do on the day of worship.

Let’s read what happened and discover what we can learn about what Jesus believed from this set of events. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

At that time Jesus was walking through some fields of grain on a Sabbath day. His followers were hungry, so they began to pick the grain and eat it. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Jesus, “Look! Your followers are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath day.”

Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and the people with him were hungry? He went into God’s house, and he and those with him ate the holy bread, which was lawful only for priests to eat. And have you not read in the law of Moses that on every Sabbath day the priests in the Temple break this law about the Sabbath day? But the priests are not wrong for doing that. I tell you that there is something here that is greater than the Temple. The Scripture says, ‘I want kindness more than I want animal sacrifices.’ You don’t really know what those words mean. If you understood them, you would not judge those who have done nothing wrong.

“So the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath day.”

Jesus left there and went into their synagogue, 10 where there was a man with a crippled hand. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they asked him, “Is it right to heal on the Sabbath day?”

11 Jesus answered, “If any of you has a sheep, and it falls into a ditch on the Sabbath day, you will help it out of the ditch. 12 Surely a human being is more important than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good things on the Sabbath day.”

13 Then Jesus said to the man with the crippled hand, “Hold out your hand.” The man held out his hand, and it became well again, like the other hand. 14 But the Pharisees left and made plans to kill Jesus.

Let’s pause reading here to draw our attention onto two big things we can learn from these two events. In the first event, Jesus defends His disciples’ actions by contrasting what they did with even worse actions from the great king David in Israel’s history. And, Jesus contrasts His disciples’ actions against what the priests and religious leaders who serve in the temple did every Sabbath. In both scenarios, what the disciples did is easily excusable because God had excused much more significant things.

In a single phrase, Jesus challenges the legalism of the Pharisees by quoting the Old Testament to them that God is more interested in kindness than in receiving animal sacrifices. In the culture leading up to that time period, a greater and greater focus was being placed on obeying the details of the law that the big themes of the law that focused on being kind and loving towards others were being pushed aside.

Also, it is interesting to note that what the disciples did was step over a self-imposed barrier that the Pharisees had set up to protect the people from coming close to breaking the actual law. What the disciples did is easily understood to not fall under the category of work, but in the legalistic minds of the Pharisees, they had placed the definition of work so low that almost nothing would be allowed. While there were many reasons they chose to do this, the religious leaders lost the love of the law when they focused so heavily on the letter of the law.

It’s interesting that when we move into the second event, it is as though these Pharisees set the trap for Jesus regarding work. When they ask Jesus if it was right to heal on the Sabbath, they viewed Jesus as simply an above-average doctor and healing would be His “job”.

However, Jesus answers their challenge by raising the value of humanity and by telling them that helping a fellow human is just as permissible on the Sabbath as helping one’s own animal. Jesus challenges them on their understanding of the Sabbath by saying, “it is lawful to do good things on the Sabbath day”.

For the religious leaders, the Sabbath was a day of avoiding work and avoiding anything that could even remotely resemble work. The Sabbath had descended into a list of activities to avoid. The Sabbath was not a blessing away from work; it had become a curse and a burden regarding avoiding work or work-like activities.

It is interesting to note that Jesus does not answer any challenge regarding the significance of the Sabbath day. Jesus did not ignore the intent of the Sabbath, or the reason this day of rest and worship was given. Instead, Jesus honored the Sabbath day the way God wanted His people to honor it. Jesus wanted the Sabbath to be filled with worshiping God and helping others. The Sabbath was intended to be a reminder that God supplies our needs while also giving us the rest we need to be more productive during the rest of our week. Jesus did not come to replace the Sabbath; He came to restore it.

However, the Pharisees were stuck in their legalism and hostility towards anyone who challenged their picture of God’s demands for the Sabbath, and this leads them to begin plotting Jesus’ death.

After this event, it is interesting in my mind to read a quotation Matthew includes from the prophet Isaiah. Continuing in verse 15, we learn that:

15 Jesus knew what the Pharisees were doing, so he left that place. Many people followed him, and he healed all who were sick. 16 But Jesus warned the people not to tell who he was. 17 He did these things to bring about what Isaiah the prophet had said:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen.
    I love him, and I am pleased with him.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will tell of my justice to all people.
19 He will not argue or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a crushed blade of grass
    or put out even a weak flame
until he makes justice win the victory.
21 In him will the non-Jewish people find hope.”

The very last phrase of Isaiah’s prophecy is amazing in my mind. In Jesus, all the non-Jewish people find hope! This means that Jesus is the Messiah for the world, not just for a certain race or nationality. Jesus came for everyone, and He longs to save anyone and everyone from the curse of sin.

Jesus’ death on the cross opens the way for you and me to experience forgiveness for our sins and the hope of an eternal life with God. Even in the Old Testament we discover Jesus’ mission was to everyone regardless of race, nationality, or any other dividing line. Jesus came for everyone!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, be sure to intentionally seek God first each and every day of your life and to place your focus on Him. Choose to place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus and live your life as a thank You to Jesus.

Also, be sure to do good on the Sabbath like Jesus showed us. While we might not do miracles or heal people on God’s day of rest and worship, we can be helpful, kind, and loving to others. This is God’s ideal for His special day!

If you have any doubts about what Jesus felt about the Sabbath, take your concerns to God in prayer and Bible study. Pray and study the Bible for yourself to discover the truth about this truth for yourself. Listen to a variety of different opinions on the Sabbath and test these different views with what the Bible teaches. Like many other beliefs, there is a wide range of views on the Sabbath, and we can best learn through listening to many people and filtering everything they say through what the Bible teaches. Don’t hesitate to ask others about the Bible’s teaching on this subject, but be sure to take what they say and filter it through what you see written in the Bible.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 21: In two similar events, Jesus is challenged over what are lawful and not lawful activities for the Sabbath day. You may be surprised with what we learn from Jesus’ response.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Share Your Response

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.