Sorry there was a break between postings. My laptop power cord was fried in a thunderstorm and we were without a computer for a few days. Fortunately it was just the power supply and not the whole laptop. Praise God! As a reminder, last time we found the disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Those pesky Pharisees were there to give them a hard time about “working” on the Sabbath and Jesus promptly rebukes them. This time we will learn about another healing on the Sabbath. I have to tell you that I knew Jesus did this stuff on the Sabbath but I didn’t realize how often he did it before this study. I think almost every time we read about Jesus healing, he is doing so on the Sabbath. Think maybe he is trying to drive home a point with the Pharisees? Too bad they never get it! This time we find Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath. Matthew makes it sound like it is later the same day as they were in the grain fields while Mark and Luke both say it occurred on a different day. To me it’s one of those details that don’t really matter if they all agree or not; it’s the story that follows that is important. Let’s read:
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:9-14)
Last time we saw the focus was on the disciples breaking the law. This time we see Jesus as the “law-breaker”. They are in the synagogue and there is a man there with a bad hand. If you read the Gospel of Hebrews, an apocryphal book, the man is described as being a mason and it being his right hand that was injured. Whether that is true or not is up in the air although the way the original language is written it implies that the man’s hand was not an injury from birth. Being a mason it is quite possible that he hurt himself on the job.
Regardless, the guy had a bum hand. And the Pharisees saw this as a perfect trap for Jesus. They ask him a loaded question intended to trip up Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Their laws said that healing was only allowed in life or death situations, otherwise the patient needed to wait until Sunday for help (Jewish Sabbath was Saturday). Instead of answering their question. Jesus asks his own question about their own laws, “If any of you has a sheep that falls in a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” His question is just as loaded as the Pharisees. Even though the sheep was in no danger in the pit, just stuck, they all would have rescued the sheep. Jesus’ point is this: If God would overlook you breaking the Sabbath to save a sheep, how much more so is would he accept healing a person, a child of God, on the Sabbath? Jesus uses their own laws against them.
I’m not sure if we’ve covered this before or not so I’ll take a minute to explain something here. You may be wondering what was the big deal about the Sabbath? Exodus 31:13-17 says,
“Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy.
“‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
Anyone who doesn’t keep the Sabbath was worthy of death. The big problem is what does “keeping the Sabbath holy” mean. God clearly says not to do any work on the Sabbath but he doesn’t make stipulations as to what that includes. The Pharisees had comprised an oral tradition called The Talmud that had a bunch of things that they considered work. Things like healing on the Sabbath except under life or death situations was against the law. The Pharisees considered that breaking the Sabbath law, but God never said that. He just says not to do work. Right before our Matthew passage from today we see Jesus quoting Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” This clearly captures the heart of God. Yes, he wants the Sabbath kept holy but if there is a chance for a man to be restored to health then, for the love of mercy, heal him!
So for the love of mercy, Jesus heals him. He tells the man to stretch out his hand and when he did it was completely restored. This was pretty much the last straw for the Pharisees. If you notice it says they went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. From now on Jesus is a marked man.
Legalism is more than just keeping the law, although that is a big part of it. Legalism occurs when the keeping of the law causes an attitude of self-righteousness. If you think that keeping God’s laws or even just being a good person is enough to get you into heaven you are going to be in for a rude awakening at judgement day. It’s not that law keeping is bad. It’s actually a good thing but when you depend on that as a means of salvation then you are missing the boat! Salvation comes through faith alone. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” There is no other way to God than through faith in Jesus Christ. We keep the laws because we love him, not because it is a requirement for salvation.