Matthew 12

Matthew 12 Devotional by Pastor Lawrence

In this chapter Matthew reveals how the people of Israel oppose Jesus’ teachings and his good works on numerous fronts but particularly in regard to the matter of the Sabbath as a sign from God.  In the beginning, in Genesis 2:2 after God had created the world and everything in it within the space of six days, He rested on the seventh day, blessed it and made it holy for all humanity that we might also rest from our ordinary labor in order to revel in God’s marvelous works.

In the first recording of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, the reasoning given to the Israelites for keeping the Sabbath Day is essentially to praise God for this work of creation, and for God’s daily mercies in providing for them and preserving their lives.  And they are commanded not to do any ordinary labor on that day that they might rest, just as God did, in order to enjoy the works of His hands.  But in the second recording of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:12-17, the reasoning given for observing the day is expanded to include God’s wonderful work of redemption in bringing Israel out of Egypt.  Again the Israelites are warned not to do any ordinary labor on that day that they might remember that they were helpless slaves in Egypt and how the Lord God brought them out of the house of bondage with His mighty hand and outstretched arm.

After being worked to death at the hands of cruel taskmasters in Egypt, one would think that the Israelites would be very grateful to have such a day of rest in order that they might reflect upon God’s Word and celebrate His mighty deeds.  But throughout the history of Israel we see time and again how God’s people despised this holy gift from God and chose to do their ordinary work instead.

The problem is so profound that at one point God reasons with them in Isaiah 58:13-14 saying, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

We learn a number of things from this passage.  First, we learn that God calls the Sabbath “my holy day.”  It is not our day to be used for our own purposes, but, rather, it is the Lord’s Day to be used for his purposes.  Second, we are called to honor that day by not doing our own pleasure, but by delighting ourselves not only in the Sabbath day but also in the Lord of the Sabbath himself.  And, third, God promises us that if we delight ourselves in the Lord in this way, He will make us to ride on the heights of the earth.  In other words, we will experience his blessing.  Of course, the opposite is also true; if God’s people do not delight themselves in the Lord, then we will not enjoy His blessings.

The concept of the Sabbath Day is not something that has been abrogated in the New Testament.  It is expanded with the revelation of Christ’s salvific work on the cross.  God’s bringing the Israelites out of the house of bondage in Egypt was a foreshadowing of Christ’s redeeming us out of our bondage to sin and Satan.  And now we rest from our ordinary labor to reflect and revel in God’s wondrous work of salvation in Jesus Christ.

But just as the Israelites forgot the Lord their God after He had brought them out of Egypt, so we too have a tendency to forget Him and to delight ourselves in our own works and recreations rather than reflecting on and reveling in God works.  Even when he gives us such a precious commodity as time to enjoy Him, we find numerous ways to waste that time as if everything else in the world were more important and more delightful to us than God.  And as a result, we miss out on God’s blessing.

In our passage this morning, the Pharisees are not at all concerned with delighting themselves in the Lord.  They are only interested in keeping up appearances that make it seem like they do.  When Jesus allows his disciples to pick heads of grain to eat as they walk through the fields on the Sabbath, and when Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees immediately try to shame him for breaking the Sabbath.  Here, the Pharisees are only concerned about what they can’t do on the Sabbath, rather than on what they can do.  We all have the same tendency, to think that we are keeping God’s laws as long as we don’t break them.  But it is much easier to sin by omission than it is by commission.  In other words, it is much easier not to do what God commands on a regular basis than it is to do continually what God forbids.  Just because we didn’t break a particular command doesn’t mean that we have, in fact, delighted ourselves in the Lord.  And that is the ultimate command, to love the Lord your God with all you heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.

The Sabbath was not made merely to forbid us from doing certain things, but it was made for us that we might ride on the heights of the land, that we might delight ourselves in the Lord and revel in God’s glorious works.  Because Israel refused to do that, eventually, the Lord destroyed the temple in Jerusalem altogether and brought his people into exile in Babylon.  In 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 we are told that God did this that “the land of Israel might enjoy its Sabbaths.  All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.”

I find it interesting that our president keeps emphasizing that this shutdown must be temporary, for our people must get back to work.  I think that most of us feel the same way, and it scares us to think that we might be out of work for quite some time.  But, perhaps what God is showing us through this is that we need to trust in God more, to rest and reflect upon His mighty works more and to delight ourselves in the Lord more.  Perhaps this extra time off of our ordinary work is a blessing and not a curse.  But what would we possibly do with all this extra time, I wonder?