Session #084 Missing the Point
Scripture Matthew 12:1-8
Summary With increasing popularity comes increasing hostility against Jesus. Matthew 12:1-8 records the Pharisees’ reaction towards Jesus’ open invitation for all to learn from Him, taking issue with His disciples’ violation of the Sabbath. This teaching explores the principle of the Sabbath to explain how the Pharisees missed the point while doing their best to keep the Law. Henson closes the teaching with NT perspectives so that believers of Jesus will not miss the point of the Sabbath.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which 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 that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But 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 even of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1–8
The Sabbath day is all about rest, and here at the beginning of Matthew 12, Jesus addresses the Pharisees and their misguided notions of the Sabbath.
An Overview of the Sabbath: Shabat in Hebrew
Shabat means “to cease” or “to rest”. It was first mentioned in Genesis 2:2-3 where God rested after creation. The principle of the Sabbath is seen in the gathering of Manna in Numbers 16:22-30, and God formalized it in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8–11).
The Sabbath is given to man, for God. The Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between God and Israel (representative of nations; Israel is kingdom representation) in Exodus 31:17 with an added clause in Deuteronomy 5:12–15.
God is reminding Israel to remember her redemption. There is no point in changing masters and jobs, and find yourself still enslaved. If we apply this principle to ourselves, it means not to be a slave to a terrible master anymore. Extending this to others means not to enslave others, pointing to humanitarian concern for people and animals too.
The Sabbath year is defined in Leviticus 25:1-7. For six years Israel could plough, plant, and harvest. But the seventh year was to be different. In the seventh year, you were not to plant your fields. Neither were you supposed to harvest them. Nor could you tend or harvest your vines. The land was not to be worked at all. You could, however, pick and eat what the land produced by itself.
In Deuteronomy 15:1-11, at the end of every seven years is the year of remission. The idea of the remission year is that every creditor shall remit any debt owed by his neighbour and brother when God’s remission year comes around. Debts are cancelled and slaves are set free. Everyone returns home. Property is returned to original owners. Everyone has a chance to start over.
So serious was the keeping of the weekly Sabbath that its violation carried a capital punishment (Exodus 35:2). When we think of how we are working ourselves to death, we understand the heart of what God was trying to prevent, for the good of His people. If you cannot even keep the weekly Sabbath, how are you to do it at year 7, let alone year 50?
Abuses of the Sabbath
Instead of worshipping God and focussing on Him, the people indulged in their pleasures (Isaiah 58:13-14). Instead of delighting in and appreciating the Sabbath, tradesmen could not wait for the Sabbath to be over so they could buy and sell again (Amos 8:5).
‘Forced’ Sabbath for the Land: Exile
Israel had failed to observe the land’s one-year-in-seven sabbath for 490 years, so the term of the Babylonian captivity was set at 70 years to make up the deficit (2 Chronicles 36:21; Jeremiah 25:11).
After 70 years of exile, the returning remnant observed the Sabbath very strictly (Nehemiah). To help the people not to violate the Sabbath, the one command was developed into 39 prohibitions in Mishna (Oral Traditions):
Making Bread (11): Sowing; Plowing; Reaping; Binding sheaves; Threshing; Winnowing; Selecting; Grinding; Sifting; Kneading; Baking
Making Garments (13): Shearing wool; Washing wool; Beating wool; Dyeing wool; Spinning; Weaving; Making two loops; Weaving two threads; Separating two threads; Tying; Untying; Sewing stitches; Tearing
Making Leather (9): Trapping; Slaughtering; Flaying; Tanning; Scraping hide; Marking hides; Cutting hide to shape; Writing two or more letters; Erasing two or more letters
Building a Structure/Building (6): Building; Demolishing; Extinguishing a fire; Kindling a fire; Putting the finishing touch on an object; Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within
Other problems were created as there were different interpretations of what these meant and entailed.
Permitted Activities on Sabbath
Spending Shabbat together with one’s own immediate family;
Temple attendance for prayers;
Visiting family and friends (within walking distance 1km);
Hosting guests (hachnasat orchim, “hospitality”);
Singing zemirot, special songs for the Shabbat.
Reading, studying, discussing Torah & commentary, Mishnah & Talmud, learning some Halakha and Midrash.
Israel was missing the point, Sabbath means rest, redemption, and reset but it became rules, restrictions, and religiosity.
Missing the Point
Who Cares If You Are Hungry? (Matthew 12:1-2)
The disciples were hungry but plucking heads of grain was reaping or harvesting which meant violating Sabbath. The rules and regulations come first before restoration and redemption.
Jesus questioned the Pharisees if they knew the Scriptures as He cited King David in 1 Samuel 21:1-6 who ate the showbread because he and his men were hungry. The priests could have refused and they would have been justified in doing so but mercy was shown, in a time of need such as hunger, as in the case of disciples.
Or have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless (Numbers 28:9–10)? The Law prohibits work on Sabbath, and yet the Law requires work on the Sabbath by the priests. To keep the law, the priests had to ‘break’ the law.
Yet in ‘breaking the law, they were blameless because they kept the law. If you follow only the letter of the Law, you will miss the point of the Law, the Spirit of the Law.
What is the spirit of the Sabbath Law? Rest, redemption, and reset, not rule, restrictions, and religiosity.
If the priests who represented the temple are allowed to violate the law to fulfil the law, how much more the One who is greater than the temple God? In this place, there is One greater than the temple and greater than David – referring to Himself as God. In other words, Jesus knows exactly how to interpret the law in the spirit of the law, because He is the One who gave the law in the first place.
The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 again as He did in Matthew 9:12. The tradition and rituals of Israel had become blockages to true spirituality. The religious institutions became cold, harsh, and judgmental. They perfected the forms and functions but missed the kingdom of God. Jesus used this to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
Sacrifices and burnt offerings were good but love, mercy, and knowledge were more important and critical than just sacrifices and burnt offerings alone. It is more than just sacrifice or the burnt offerings. it is knowing the heartbeat of God which is love and mercy.
Sacrifice is how Man tries to reach God. Mercy is how God reaches out to Man.
Keeping the Sabbath is important, but the Sabbath was given to be a blessing to man, not a burden. Sacrifice is good, but if it remains only as that, then we have missed the point. The Sabbath is not meant to be a barrier to blessing. If Sabbath is a blessing from God, why should blessing be withheld just because it is a Sabbath?
In today’s context, the Lord would say:
“I desire mercy and not Bible study.”
“I desire repentance and not remorse.”
“I desire deep devotion and not nice worship songs.”
“I desire obedience and not altar calls.”
“I desire kingdom assignments and not Christian activities.”
“I desire fruitfulness and not busyness.”
As we will see in Matthew 12:9-14, the Pharisees still did not get it at all or refused to see the point, and they proceeded to challenge Jesus in the synagogue.
What does Sabbath Mean for Us?
When we believe in Jesus, we enter into the rest He promised. We cease from anxious toils and spiritual works, trying to get to God. We celebrate our redemption from the slavery of sin, sanctified for the Master’s use. We extend the release to one another in the kingdom community. In Christ, we always have a reset (Hebrews 4).
Every day in Christ; not just one day of the week. We are not required to keep Jewish Sabbath from sundown on Friday to Saturday. We are free to rest and worship any day (Romans 14:5-6). The principles of the Sabbath are to be practised and lived out every day.
Through practical outworking in our rested and redeemed lives; through faith and obedience. Personally, schedule times to rest and process, remember and worship. Corporately, it is helpful to set aside time to worship together.
Are you obedient or legalistic when keeping the Sabbath (or the Law)? Be obedient in recognizing the place and purpose of Sabbath and you keep it diligently as an expression of faith and obedience. Sabbath was created for men (to serve a purpose); not the other way round (for men to serve the Sabbath).
When keeping the Sabbath is more important than what should result from the keeping of the Sabbath, it becomes legalistic. If knowing the Bible is more important than living the Bible or attending church and serving is more important than what should result from attending church and serving, we have missed the point.
Instead of resting and enjoying God’s redemptive promises, too many are tired out from attending and serving in the church. Running the rat race, serving its purposes with the token Christian attendance and activity. We think we are serving God, but we may be serving an institution and a religious system (like the Pharisees). System and structure are supposed to serve people but today, people end up serving the system to uphold the structure.
Are you Keeping the Letter of the Law and Missing the Spirit of the Law?
Are you usually more judgmental than you are merciful? Do you consider yourself more righteous than others because you can keep the Law and they cannot?
There is nothing wrong with having convictions but if it is always about how right you are, and how wrong others are, then it is unhealthy. There is a time to stand up for our convictions and there is always a place to love and help those who are struggling.
Are You Judgmental or Merciful?
Judgmental people: Why I cannot love or help you, supported by God’s word.
Merciful people: How I can love or help you, guided by God’s word.
Jesus was not advocating breaking or compromising the Law for that would tantamount to lawlessness. Truth and doctrines are non-negotiable. Worship styles, day, and food preferences are non-essentials. Granted that some boundaries are not quite as easily discerned. Hence the need for clear direction and guidance from leaders, without missing the point and the heart of God.
Our part is to invite people to come into the rest, redemption, and reset of Jesus Christ and His kingdom; not to give more rules that restrict and raise more religious people.
This lesson may have been focused on the Sabbath but it applies to every aspect of the Law.
Jesus openly addressed and revealed the Pharisees’ legalistic nature. What about you?
Have you missed the point too? In trying to be obedient to the law, have you swung to the other end and become legalistic instead?
If serving Jesus and being a Christian has become burdensome and tiring, it is time to check your alignment. Who are you learning from?
Jesus says, “Come to Me. Take My yoke. Learn from Me.” Follow Christ. Not the Church Crowd.
Enjoy the gift of the Sabbath, the rested and redeemed life in Christ. Appreciate the resets provided along the way.
Get the point, then help others get it too.