Life of Christ 55
On His way to the synagogue on the Sabbath Jesus and His disciples walk through a wheat field, pluck some grain, eat it, and get ambushed by the Pharisees about it (Matthew 12.1-8). Today's story (Matthew 12.9-14) revolves around what happens when He was finally able to get to that synagogue a little while later.
It was a common point of discussion amongst the rabbis just how much medical care could be given on the Sabbath without violating the commandment to keep it holy by not working. Obviously, the Pharisees believed that Jesus' miracles, being a kind of medical care, so to speak, crossed that line. In fact, the text implies that they planted a man with a withered hand in the synagogue specifically in order to cause a confrontation with Christ (Matthew 12.10).
Jesus, of course, had just tangled with some Pharisees in a wheat field a few steps away, and in that conversation He gave them several justifications for plucking wheat on the Sabbath. For instance, He told them that David ate the shewbread, thus implying that great need over ruled minute lawyerly observances. He told them that the priests worked on the Sabbath in the Temple and weren't faulted for it, and then told them that He Himself was greater than the Temple that hallowed the working priests. Then, to top it all off, He informed them that He was Lord of the Sabbath itself, and the Lord who made the very rules they followed certainly knew how to apply them.
Now, in this immediately next confrontation about the man with the withered hand, Jesus gives them an additional and very rational reason for not abiding by their absurdly minute sabbath regulations. He simply pointed out that even their ridiculously strict interpretation of the Torah allowed for the work necessary to help an animal that had gotten hurt on the Sabbath, and then followed it up with this obvious point, 'How much better then is a man than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days' (Matthew 12.12).
At this point Jesus gets both mad and sad at the same time (Mark 3.5). He is angry at their stubborn refusal to yield to Him, and saddened by their stubborn refusal to yield to Him. And knowing full well that the Pharisees were simply trying to trap Him into doing the 'work' of a miracle on the Sabbath He looked at the man in great need and said, 'stretch forth thine hand.' The man did, and immediately strength flowed into it, and with great ease he found it limbered up and as useful as his good hand.
The reaction of the Pharisees to this blatant, in-your-face miracle, in their synagogue, on the Sabbath, after they had already confronted Him about His egregious errors, was huge. They got insanely angry with Him (Luke 6.11), started the process of plotting His death (Matthew 12.14), and actually were willing to go so far as to enter into an alliance with the Herodians, their implacable enemies, in an effort to accomplish this (Mark 3.6).
The inconsistency and stubborn rebellion of the Pharisees is illustrated perfectly here. Jesus had given them logical reasons why the Torah permitted His actions. He had given them logical reasons why even their own ridiculous rules permitted His actions. If it didn't, He had explained to them that need over ruled such minute rules. He had explained to them that, as Lord of the Sabbath, He knew the rules better than they did. Then He pointedly did yet another miraculous sign in their direct view. Sadly and madly, instead of softening them, they chose to ignore all of this, and to go against their own deeply held principal of 'keep the Jews Jewish' in order to embrace the Herodians out of their deep hatred for Jesus.
You see, with the Pharisees, as much as they talked about keeping the Torah, it wasn't actually about keeping the Torah in their heart of hearts. It was all, completely, about rebelliously and sinfully refusing to yield to Jesus Christ. This is exactly the same reaction that a different group of Pharisees had in a very similar situation that we looked at in our last post: 'And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life' (John 5.40).
In these three similar stories and interactions with the Pharisees, closely related in time together, over Jesus' actions on the Sabbath day I see illustrated a practical, if sad, truth. Beloved, people do not reject Christ logically; they reject Him rebelliously.
This was brought home to me again just four days ago as I sat in a restaurant in a neighboring state having breakfast with someone whom I love very much. She sat across from me, her breakfast untouched, tears in her eyes, as she recounted all that she had been through in the last 20 years since walking away from God. After listening for a while I asked her two questions. The first question was why. Her answer was, and I quote, 'I've always been a stubborn person.' She chose to go her own way, trampling over the love, affection, and teaching that had been poured into her for two and a half decades because she wanted what she wanted and refused to take 'no' for an answer. She had informed me that independent Baptists were all the same, too judgmental by far, and 'they kept trying to put me in a box', in other words, they expected her to conform to a certain standard of behavior with which she didn't want to conform. So I asked her the second question. If she couldn't attend an independent Baptist church was she willing to try a contemporary church of the kind that is known for not being so judgmental. She said, and I quote, 'No, they just want to put me in a box too.' A bigger box, in my view, but still a box in her view.
Her problem was and is summed up with one word – rebellion. She wanted what she wanted, no matter the cost, and though the price has been steep she still refuses to yield to the commands and love of a holy God. She is just rebellious. She was 15 years ago, and she is now. No one would ever look at her life and call her a Pharisee. That is a term much more likely to be hurled at me. But the Pharisees did not reject Christ logically; they rejected Him rebelliously, and this is exactly what she has done. It isn't a head problem. It is a heart problem.
In John 5, when the Pharisees were mad at Him for healing the palsied man on the Sabbath, He gave them four logically compelling reasons to believe on Him, and they flat out refused. In Matthew 12, when they were mad at Him for plucking wheat and healing on the Sabbath, He gave them five totally different yet equally compelling reasons to accept His actions, and thus Him, and they flat out refused. It isn't a lack of compelling and logical evidence that keeps men lost; it is pure cussedness, an ornery rebelliousness that refuses to humble itself. Are there some people who haven't accepted Christ because they don't know about Him? Sure. But the only reason those who do know of Him do not accept Him is because they won't. It is a matter of will, of rebellious sinfulness.
The problem wasn't that He did miracles on the Sabbath, for He soundly dealt with their objections, and gave them clear and compelling evidence why it was appropriate. The problem was rebellion. It was a heart problem.
If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 27, 'Stretch Forth Thine Hand'.