Sermon: Jesus’ Authority Over the Sabbath Matthew 12:1–14

Truth Taught- Jesus is Lord of everything including the Sabbath 

Introduction

We finished Matthew Chapter 11 last time and we were reminded about the Sovereignty and Authority of Jesus Christ.  He is in charge of salvation and He issues the universal call to come to Him…
Matthew 11:28–30 (ESV) 

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

It’s not random that Matthew places our text today immediately following last weeks text where Jesus offers His free call of grace to all to come to Him to find rest.  Jesus is the real rest and is what the shadow, the Sabbath points to.   

Today we are going to see two forms of rest.  True rest that Jesus offers and the false or counterfeit rest works-religion offers.  

Matthew 12:1–14 (ESV) 

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” 

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. 

1.  The Disciples Are Accused of Breaking the Sabbath

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” 

Exodus 20:8–11 (ESV) 

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 

So, the Jewish worshipper was to rest on the seventh day after he/she had worked six days following the pattern God set up in creation.  The emphasis in the original is rest not that work is forbidden.  This will become a snare to those who work for righteousness.  If you work for righteousness a Sabbath is blasphemy to your religion.  The Sabbath rest is a shadow of the rest we receive in Christ.

Since you are to rest on the Sabbath Day, the Pharisees had formulated an extensive list of everything that constituted work.  Their list was their works answer to a day of non-work or rest.  In other words, they made the Sabbath a day of work.  It was work to keep the Sabbath.  

The 39 Melachot …39 forms of work are thirty-nine categories of activity which Jewish law identifies as being prohibited by biblical law on Shabbat , the Jewish Sabbath.

Within the 39 articles of forbidden work were included reaping and threshing.  

            A.  Have you not read about David?

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

The Pharisees viewed plucking some heads of grain as the disciples walked along as reaping or harvesting which was strictly forbidden to do on the Sabbath.  They viewed rubbing the grain in your hands to separate the seed from the husk as threshing which was also forbidden.  

False religion focuses on rules and laws over people.  The Sabbath was intended to be a blessing for God’s people to rest.  It was never meant to be a strict lack of work for any reason.  Under normal circumstances the Jew was to rest on the Sabbath and not engage in their everyday work.  
Jesus is not saying that rules don’t mean anything and that they are made to be broken but that caring for others is more important than observing strict regulations.

David and his fighting men are hungry.  David asks the priest for something to eat and all the priest has is the bread he just changed out and so he gave it to David.

1 Samuel 21:6 (ESV) 

So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away. 

On the Sabbath the old bread was taken out of the temple and replaced with new bread.  The old bread was to be for the priests to eat.  Here, because David and his men are hungry, he asks for this bread and the priest gives it to him.  Under normal conditions this bread was for the priests but here, David was hungry and needed food so the priest gave it to him, technically, for the Pharisee this would mean breaking God’s Law.  Notice, Jesus does not condemn this event instead; He uses it to prove that He is Lord of the Sabbath.  Jesus is greater than the Sabbath and His rest, far superior.

            B.  Have you not read about the Priests?

Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

Our Lord’s point here is that the priests work hard on the Sabbath, harder in fact than they do the rest of the week.  They are not condemned for profaning the Sabbath by doing the work they do to prepare for worship.  
Our Lord’s examples show that the Sabbath is important but He is Lord of the Sabbath; He determines what is proper on the Sabbath.  The Temple is important but He is superior to the Temple because He is manifesting His authority over the Temple.  Jesus is the final reality of both the Sabbath and the Temple.  He is the true Sabbath or rest for God’s people and He is the true place where God meets with us.  

            C.  Do you not understand?

And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” 

Do you see the authority Jesus is laying out for us?  He is greater than the Sabbath calling Himself, Lord of the Sabbath.  He also has told us that He is greater than the Temple.  Jesus has just blown away the Pharisee’s system of works salvation.  Their temple is inferior to Jesus and their beloved Sabbath Day with all its manmade rules has been reduced to rubble.  When Christ appears the gaze of His people leaves the temple and Sabbath to focus on Him.  The shadows fade away as the reality appears.  
Jesus gives them a third, have you not read example.  This time His phraseology is And if you had known what this means,  
Here, He refers to an event that takes place in Hosea 6.

Hosea 6:6 (ESV) 

   For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, 

the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. 

By quoting this passage, Jesus opens up to us how it is He viewed the Sabbath and the Temple sacrifices and how it is He’s superior to them.
God set in place the sacrificial system that Hosea wrote about.  It was a very good thing.  But simply making sacrifices was not what God had in mind.  He wanted those worshippers to truly love Him first and then offer their sacrifice.  All they were doing was slaughtering and burning dead animals with no love shown to God. 

God was not saying I don’t desire sacrifices but I want your love first.  

Do you love God?  Do you love His Son?

So, the same thing was to be seen with the Sabbath and the Temple.  Both were good, God ordained things but they were not to be a substitute for true heart worship and love for others.  The Pharisees had so profaned both that they were not at all acceptable to God.  They had fabricated a system of rigorous rules so that they could be superior and cared nothing for the people.

They had so perverted the Sabbath rest of God that Jesus says, Come to Me for Sabbath rest.  They had so perverted the Temple that Jesus says, I’m the true Temple.  So, the Temple (Place where God meets with His people) is fulfilled in Jesus.  The Sabbath rest is also fulfilled in Jesus.  Both were shadows of the true reality, which is Jesus Christ.  He is the where we meet with God and He is our rest.

2.  Jesus is Accused of Breaking the Sabbath

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. 

This event probably took place the same day as the previous text and involved the same Pharisees.  

This was the synagogue in Capernaum.  This was Jesus’ synagogue but Matthew, by way of separation calls it their synagogue.  They had formalized it to the point that it really wasn’t a place of worship any longer but simply a place where rules were kept and a trap could be set.

Notice how hardhearted these Pharisees are.  They use this man with a withered hand not as someone to help and care for but a test case for religious rule keeping. 

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him.

Also notice, how Matthew gives us a parenthetical explanation.  It’s bad to use this man as a test case rather than helping him.  Things even get worse because they are now using him as theological bait to trap Jesus.  They don’t care about this man at all.  He is just handy to use for their evil purposes.  Was it lawful to heal someone on the Sabbath?  Healing is not mentioned in the 39 articles of forbidden work but it does appear in another Jewish rulebook called the Mishnah.  Here, all healing is forbidden except for life threatening cases and to aiding in childbirth.  Other than that, healing was forbidden on the Sabbath.  Remember, this was not God’s commands but man’s additions.  Beloved, we are bound to obey all God commands but we must not obey man’s additions.  Do you see how when one works for salvation, such as the Pharisees, even the day of rest must be a day of rule keeping not rest because in their thinking, there is no salvation in rest.

Look with me at Jesus’ common sense response…
11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!

Since it is lawful to work to get an animal out of a ditch on the Sabbath then it is also lawful to heal.
13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 

We should see here that Jesus did no actual work anyway.  His command to stretch out your hand in no way constituted work.  So, what was all the fuss about?  Jesus was challenging the authority of the Jewish leadership. He was setting Himself at odds with them.  He was making preparations for the cross.
14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. 

Previously, the synagogue was called their synagogue referring to the Pharisees.  Through this miracle they had in many respects lost their synagogue.  They had lost their foothold as Jesus was overriding their authority with true authority.  He is Lord of the Sabbath.  
In verse 14 we see that they went out.  This means that they were almost forced out.  They had lost all that they had over the people.  No more could they lord over the people with manmade rules.  Jesus had exposed them for the evil tyrants they were.  The bottom line here is that it’s always lawful on any day to do good.

Let’s look together at their evil twist.  They are arguing that it’s not lawful to heal on the Sabbath.  This man could be healed tomorrow.  His condition is not life threatening so wait until tomorrow.  Jesus is not going to let this man suffer for another day just so some manmade rule can be observed.  He heals him right then in an instant with a word.
Now evil really shows itself.  In their thinking it was sinful to heal on the Sabbath but they are going out to plot Jesus’ murder.  You can’t heal on the Sabbath but you can scheme a murder on the Sabbath.  Do you see how corrupt their minds are?    

Conclusion

What about us?  We don’t observe the Jewish Sabbath on the last day of the week, Saturday.  Considering this, what difference did the coming of Jesus make to the Sabbath day? In Christ crucified and risen, we find eternal rest (Matt. 11:28-30), and we are restored to communion with God (Matt. 11:25-30). The lost treasures of the Sabbath, that were lost in Adam and Eve’s sin and following curses, are restored. We rest in Christ from our labor of self-sufficiency, and we have access to the Father not through our efforts but through Jesus’ completed work (Eph. 2:18). As we meet with Him, He shows us Himself, His ways, His world, His purposes, His glory. And whatever was temporary about the Mosaic Sabbath must be left behind as the reality of the intimate communion of the Adamic Sabbath is again experienced in our worship of the risen Savior on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day.

But we have not yet reached the goal. We still struggle to rest from our labors; we still must “strive to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11). Consequently the weekly nature of the Sabbath continues as a reminder that we are not yet home with the Father. And since this rest is ours only through union with Christ in His death and resurrection, our struggles to refuse the old life and enjoy the new continue.

*Resources Used:

Matthew by D A Carson in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

A Theology of Matthew by Charles Quarles

A Gospel of Matthew by France

Matthew by Craig Bloomberg

Matthew by Doriani

Matthew by Charles Price

Matthew by Leon Morris

Blue Letter Bible

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