Flashback Episode — Honoring the Sabbath Day: Matthew 12:1-21

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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!

Flashback Episode: 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 on the original episode's page: Click Here.

A Relationship We Want: Matthew 6:14-18

Focus Passage: Matthew 6:14-18 (NIrV)

14 Forgive other people when they sin against you. If you do, your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive the sins of other people, your Father will not forgive your sins.

16 “When you go without eating, do not look gloomy like those who only pretend to be holy. They make their faces look very sad. They want to show people they are fasting. What I’m about to tell you is true. They have received their complete reward. 17 But when you go without eating, put olive oil on your head. Wash your face. 18 Then others will not know that you are fasting. Only your Father, who can’t be seen, will know it. Your Father will reward you, because he sees what you do secretly.

Read Matthew 6:14-18 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

The majority of the passage we are looking at deals with the topic of fasting. But while fasting is just one of several spiritual disciplines, it may be that Jesus wants to point us towards how we should look at the whole group of spiritual disciplines. Alongside fasting, some other common spiritual disciplines include things like reading the Bible, praying, and resting to name a few. All these spiritual disciplines carry an interesting similarity: They can be done alone or with a group of people.

In this passage, Jesus concludes by saying, “Your Father will reward you, because he sees what you do secretly.” (v. 18b)

Why would Jesus or God want us to do things secretly when they could be done with others? Wouldn’t doing an activity with someone else make it more enjoyable?  

Jesus’ statement in the middle of verse 16 gives us our answer: “They want to show people they are fasting.” These people are fasting not because they want to grow closer to God, and they don’t fast because God has called them to do so. Instead, they are simply fasting to look important or special to other people. Their motives seek to impress other people instead of humbling their hearts to God.

Jesus finishes verse 16 by saying, “What I’m about to tell you is true. They have received their complete reward.” The people who put on a show for others will only be praised temporarily by other people. God is not impressed by these people or their actions, and He doesn’t reward people whose whole spiritual lives are based on impressing others.

Choosing any spiritual discipline, whether it is fasting, prayer, or reading the Bible because of how it makes you look to others is being prideful. The individual’s motive is not on moving towards God, but instead it is simply impressing others.

However, the other side of this is equally true: Things we do in secret to grow closer to God are rewarded. God might reward us immediately, or He may reward us with interest in the future. But whenever the reward comes, we can trust that God knows the best timing.

Jesus shares this passage because He wants us to realize the big truth that God wants a relationship with us that we want to have, not one that is based on what is popular at a particular moment in time.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Helping Those in Need: Luke 10:25-37

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As we continue our journey through Jesus’ life as told through Luke’s gospel, we come to an event that includes one of Jesus’ most famous illustrations. However, if this event didn’t include a follow-up question to the one Jesus answered, Jesus may never have shared the amazing example of what it means to be a neighbor that we will soon read.

While it seems strange to think, this entire discussion hinges around a very legalistic view of the law.

Let’s read our passage for this episode and discover what we can learn from this event. Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 10, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 25, Luke tells us that:

25 An expert in the Law of Moses stood up and asked Jesus a question to see what he would say. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to have eternal life?”

26 Jesus answered, “What is written in the Scriptures? How do you understand them?”

27 The man replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ They also say, ‘Love your neighbors as much as you love yourself.’”

28 Jesus said, “You have given the right answer. If you do this, you will have eternal life.”

29 But the man wanted to show that he knew what he was talking about. So he asked Jesus, “Who are my neighbors?”

Pausing here before reading Jesus’ response, it is worth drawing our attention to the detail that this whole discussion is centered around a legalistic angle of observing the law. This expert in Moses’ law knew exactly the right answers, and he correctly summarized the essence of the Old Testament law as loving God wholeheartedly and loving our neighbors.

It is worth drawing attention onto Jesus’ first response, where He says the expert gave the right answer. Jesus tells Him and us that if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and we love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, we will have eternal life.

However, because this expert wanted to push his own agenda, perhaps even trying to trap Jesus sharing an idea that was contrary to God’s character in the Old Testament, he asked a follow-up question wanting Jesus’ definition of neighbor. From the way Jews treated those who were not Jews in that culture, it was very clear that the Jews viewed the concept of neighbor as being exclusive to nationality, and perhaps even more exclusive than that.

In response to the question asking for a definition of a neighbor, instead of sharing a simple response, Jesus shares a story to illustrate this truth. Continuing in verse 30:

30 Jesus replied:

As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead.

Pausing briefly again, it is worth pointing out that we have no context for who this man is. The man who was attacked could have been Jewish or not, he could have been wealthy or not, and this might have been a premeditated attack on a specific person or an example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I believe this ambiguity is intentional because if we knew anything more about this individual, we might begin to rationalize the responses others have to seeing him that Jesus is about ready to share. For the purposes of the rest of the parable, feel free to imagine this man was exactly like the people who pass by, exactly opposite, or that each person who passed by could not tell whether this man was like them or not. It is actually an interesting exercise thinking about this parable from all three angles.

With this unknown man lying half-dead on the side of the road, Jesus continues His story in verse 31 saying:

31 A priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. 32 Later a temple helper came to the same place. But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side.

33 A man from Samaria then came traveling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him 34 and went over to him. He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, “Please take care of the man. If you spend more than this on him, I will pay you when I return.”

36 Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbor to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”

37 The teacher answered, “The one who showed pity.”

Jesus said, “Go and do the same!”

In this illustration Jesus shares, three distinctly different people pass by this half-dead man. The first two people we would consider high social status individuals. Both the priest and the temple helper had strict rules and regulations on their lives making them fit verses unfit to serve in the temple. From the context of this story, we don’t know if these men were traveling to Jerusalem to serve in the temple, or if they had finished their service and were returning home. If we decide to legalistically look at the details in this event, then knowing the direction these men were traveling matters.

The brilliant way Jesus shares this illustration, and the context that Jesus shares, tells us a huge truth: Love God with all our hearts, minds, lives, and everything we are, and when we see someone in need, we should help them in whatever way we can – regardless of what others think or how it impacts our serving God. If the priest and temple helper were traveling to Jerusalem to serve in the temple, they likely wouldn’t have been able to begin right away if they stopped to help this man and they might have had to do a cleansing ceremony to become “clean” again to serve. Helping this almost dead man would have challenged their serving God.

However, the truth Jesus shares in this place as well as in other places is that when we help others, we are really helping God. I believe in this illustration and others, God is more than willing to forgive our sins when we happen to technically sin while helping someone else. God is more interested in us modeling His character of love than He is in us legalistically following His rules without love in our hearts.

The Samaritan man, the one described by the religious expert as the one who showed pity, demonstrated what it means to be a neighbor. The Samaritan helped because he could, he helped because there was a clear need, and he helped because that is what he would want someone to do for him if the roles were reversed. This Samaritan didn’t ask or think about what reasons he should not help. He simply saw an opportunity to help and then took advantage of this opportunity!

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, intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to model His love towards others when you see a need in your life. When deciding the best way to help when help is needed, don’t worry about if you are crossing the line into sin because the line you are really aiming for is the line of serving and service. Helping someone in need is more important than legalistically following the rules!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Don’t accept an idea or thought simply because a pastor, speaker, author, podcaster, or anyone says it – including me. Instead, take the ideas you hear, see, and read and test them against the truth you discover in God’s Word the Bible to determine if they have any validity. The Bible is the best guide we have to determining God’s truth; it is the only guide that teaches how to ultimately gain eternal life through Jesus and His sacrifice.

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 talk yourself out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 20: In one of Jesus’ most famous illustrations, discover how a very legalistic question gets answered in a very unlegalistic way, and how this illustration is just as applicable for us living today as it was for those living in the first century!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Saving Humanity: Luke 23:32-43

Focus Passage: Luke 23:32-43 (NIV)

 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”

 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Read Luke 23:32-43 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During the last hours before Jesus’ death, Luke’s gospel shares with us an amazing, powerful, and profound idea. Every time I read Luke’s account, I am amazed at where Jesus placed His focus during His last dying breaths. After being mocked by everyone, one of the thieves being crucified “stands up” for Jesus. This thief then asks Jesus to remember Him when His kingdom comes.

This thief understands something that the chief priests, the Pharisees, and even the disciples all miss: Jesus has a future beyond the cross.

This thief realizes Jesus is different and he resolves to place his faith and trust in Jesus with his dying breaths. This by itself is pretty amazing, but it gets even better.

In Jesus’ response and in His promise, we see where Jesus has placed His focus: On saving others — both you and me, who are represented by this thief.

The biggest reason Jesus did not come off the cross and call off the entire crucifixion was for you and me — to give us the freedom to choose salvation.

In Jesus’ last moments, His mind was on saving humanity.

This is evident because one of the few select words Jesus speaks from the cross is a promise to a thief who has placed his trust in Him. Another of Jesus’ few select words is asking the only disciple who came to the foot of the cross to look after His mother (John 19:26-27).

In Jesus’ final hours before His death, His mind was not on saving Himself, but on saving you and me from our sin.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus “Reflective Bible Study” package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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