Today in our series on the life of Christ we begin in Matthew 12:1-8, which has to do with the Sabbath. These events are also recorded in Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5. As we continue to study the life of Christ, we will see Jesus do many things on the Sabbath that the Jews thought were unlawful to do. There were a lot of things important to the Pharisees and Scribes, the temple, ceremonial laws, and  their traditions, but out of all of these, the Sabbath and their interpretation of it ranked high on their list.


Let’s take a look at yet another confrontation about the Sabbath.


Matthew 12:1 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.  2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!"


Jesus and His disciples were walking through the grain fields. The King James version says corn, but most scholars say that this was a wheat field. While corn would taste better, you can eat wheat, and it will satisfy your hunger. Of course, the Pharisees did not care what kind of grain it was, they believed that Jesus’ disciples were breaking the Sabbath law. To help you understand their mindset, I want you to notice what Lenski wrote regarding the Jews interpretation of the Sabbath, which he based on Patres Traditionium:


He who reaps on the Sabbath is chargeable and to pluck ears is a species of reaping. And whoever breaks off anything from its stalk is chargeable under the specifications of reaping. The deeds which make a man chargeable are either generic or derivative. Thirty-nine kinds of the generic are enumerated; to plow, to sow, to reap, to bind sheaves, to thresh, to winnow, to grind, to pound, to powder, etc., to shear sheep, to dye wool, etc., and derivatives are of the same class and likeness: furrowing; plowing; cutting up vegetables; grinding; plucking ears; reaping (The Interpretation of Saint Matthew’s Gospel p.461).


Based on their interpretation of the Sabbath, we can see why they sincerely thought that Jesus’ disciples had violated it. Let’s see Jesus’ response to their accusations:


Matthew 12:3 But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him:  4 "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?  5 "Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?  6 "Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  7 "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.  8 "For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."


Now that we have read Jesus’ response, let’s look at what He is saying and what He is not saying. He starts out using David as an example. Let’s look at this story about David from the O.T.


1 Samuel 21:1 Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, "Why are you alone, and no one is with you?"  2 So David said to Ahimelech the priest, "The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, 'Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.' And I have directed my young men to such and such a place.  3 "Now therefore, what have you on hand? Give me five loaves of bread in my hand, or whatever can be found."  4 And the priest answered David and said, "There is no common bread on hand; but there is holy bread, if the young men have at least kept themselves from women."  5 Then David answered the priest, and said to him, "Truly, women have been kept from us about three days since I came out. And the vessels of the young men are holy, and the bread is in effect common, even though it was sanctified in the vessel this day."  6 So the priest gave him holy bread; for there was no bread there but the showbread which had been taken from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place on the day when it was taken away.


David is on the run, and he his hungry. Now this priest was afraid when he saw David alone and he wants to know why he is alone? Why do you think this priest was afraid? Well, we are not told for certain in our text, but based on the question he asked him, I believe he was afraid because he thought something bad was going on when the King’s son-in-law was out and about by himself because it wan not normal for David to be out by himself. David’s face and demeanor may have also made the priest think something was wrong, but whatever the reason, we quickly see David responds with a lie.


He claims the King had sent him on this mission, and he wants food for him and these other men that he would meet up with later. The problem was that the only food available was the holy bread. This priest basically makes the claim that these men could have the holy bread, but only if they have kept themselves from women. I find David’s response somewhat humorous because he basically is saying that the men have not been with women for at least 3 days because they hadn’t been around any women for 3 days. That is kind of like saying a drug attic is clean because he had no access to drugs for 3 days.


Well, the priest believed David’s lie and gives him the Showbread. When some read what Jesus said back in our main text and read the story about David, some have concluded that since David was hungry and he needed food and even though he lied about his situation and he and his men ate this holy bread it was acceptable for them to do so because of their situation. In fact, these same people would say that Jesus was arguing that it was ok for  His disciples to break the law of the Sabbath because they were hungry. This is what is known as situation ethics. In other words, if a situation is dire enough, such as someone starving, it is ok to steal or do something unlawful to feed yourself.


Well, let’s see if the rest of the Bible can give us more information on whether or not it was ok for David to lie and to eat this holy bread or if we can find a valid reason that will make a situation acceptable to break God’s Law.


Proverbs 19:9  A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who speaks lies shall perish.


John 8:44 tells us that the devil is the father of lies. In other words he is the originator of lies. So anytime someone lies, he is being worldly and is following the example of the devil, which is why John teaches us in Rev. 21:8 that all liars will have their part in the lake, which burns forever and ever. When you look at the examples of the faithful Christians and the apostles in the 1st century, you do not find them telling lies to save their lives or to feed their bellies. For example, when Peter and John were arrested, they were told not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. Now if they had wanted to defuse the situation, they could have lied and said “ok, we won’t” but instead, we read:


Acts 4:19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  20 "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."


No matter how hard you look in the Bible, you cannot find a situation that may arise that will justify lying in the sight of God and it be considered not a sin.  Well, what about the Showbread, was that ok? Again, I would have to say no. I believe this priest made a bad judgment call on what he did because David was the King’s son-in-law. Surely, in the back of the priest’s mind, he knew it wasn’t lawful for anyone other than a priest to eat this bread because the law makes this point very clear.


Leviticus 24:9  And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute."


To further show that it was unlawful for David or anyone like him to eat the Showbread Jesus tells us,


Mark 2:25 But He said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him:  26 "how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar (a-by-uh-thar) the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?"


There should be no doubt that Jesus was not condoning what David did because He said it was unlawful for him to eat. Nor was he trying to use David’s example to say that it ok to break the Sabbath. Nothing in these verses or in the Bible teaches this idea of situation ethics.

 I agree We agree with what McGarvey wrote a long time ago:

If Christians may violate the law when its observance would involve hardship or suffering, then there is an end to suffering for the name of Christ, and an end, even, of self-denial.


 I have more to say about this, but I want to look at Jesus’ second point:


 5 "Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?   

In this second point, Jesus is reminding these Pharisees that not all work done on the Sabbath was wrong either because these priests had to make burnt offerings and do works that would be forbidden for others to do, yet they were blameless because they were following God’s commands. Then Jesus says:


6 "Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple.  7 "But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless.  8 "For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."


The Pharisees would not have liked Jesus saying that He is greater than the temple and Lord of the Sabbath because this would mean that He was God, which He is, but they rejected this truth over and over again. What does Jesus mean, when He tells them that they would not condemn these disciples if they understood this quote from Hosea 6:6 “I desire mercy and not sacrifice?”


There are many places in the Old Testament where the prophets tell the people that He is not interested in their many sacrifices. Such as:


Micah 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?


The problem God’s people had was that they had turned animal sacrifices and other parts of the law into mindless activities. They just went through the motions and were not engaging their hearts into what they were doing. This is certainly a problem, we can have today as well because it is easy to go through the motions without really thinking about what you are you doing. Some just copy what others do.


God wanted His people to get back to His Word and understand what it says. He also wanted them to live by His Word with their hearts fully engaged because God’s Word under the Old Testament nor under the New Testament was something that was to be viewed as some checklist of things to do. The actions that we do are meaningless unless we have our hearts engaged in what we are doing.


Jesus is teaching these Pharisees that if they were not just blindly following what they thought they knew  and would actually care enough to search the Scriptures they would discover that they had made the Sabbath into something it was never intended to be. The Sabbath was made for man’s benefit and was never supposed to be turned into something where no good could be done on that day.


Jesus says His disciples are guiltless in this matter and here is the Scripture to back it up:


Deuteronomy 23:25  "When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor's standing grain.


The Law of Moses allowed them to do what they were doing. It was not a work, and it was not unlawful for them to pluck the grain with their hands and eat it. When Jesus says He is Lord of the Sabbath, I like what Lenski says about this as well:


The entire exposition regarding the Sabbath is given by Jesus as the Lord who has instituted the Sabbath, who thus knows what the Sabbath law involves. The emphasis is on “kurios” [the Greek Word for Lord] but this does not imply that as Lord of Sabbath Jesus can disregard the Sabbath, set it aside, do what He may please with it. As Lord of the Sabbath, who instituted it, He upholds it, He will tolerate no Pharisaical interferences with its true purpose. It is thus that Jesus protects His disciples against the charge that they are violating the Sabbath. As Lord of the Sabbath, He would be the first to condemn every violation. As Lord of the Sabbath, He is now condemning the Pharisees’ perversion of the Sabbath. “Lord of the Sabbath” has the same meaning as “something greater than the Temple.” Sabbath and Temple go together, Jesus maintains both and rids both of Jewish perversion (The Interpretation of Saint Matthew’s Gospel p.466).


So, Jesus was not claiming that He could break the Sabbath because He was Lord of it as some claim. No, He was the originator of it and upholds it. Think about it. If Jesus could break and bend the laws just because He was God, then it would be impossible for Him to sin and there would not be any real temptations for Him to deal with because He could just bend the rules and say, “It's ok for me to do this because I am Lord.”


Now that we have examined all these verses, let’s talk about the lesson Jesus is teaching these Pharisees about the Sabbath. First, he points out how David sinned by eating bread that was not meant for him or for those he gave it to. I believe Jesus is using this example to show how distorted their spiritual eyes are because they would claim David as being their hero and a righteous man. They have no problem overlooking this sin that he committed in eating this bread that was only for priest, yet they want to make a big deal about the disciples eating grain.


Second, He points out how the priests have to work on the Sabbath, work that would normally be forbidden, but it was allowed because they are doing what God commanded by making the burnt offerings and other works they had to do. As Jesus shows in other places, good can be done on that day; it was not as restrictive as they were making it out to be. Just as the priests were blameless in the work they were doing on the Sabbath, the disciples were blameless for plucking the grain and eating it.


So, Jesus was not justifying breaking the Sabbath or any other law, but was pointing out to these Pharisees that they lacked the knowledge of what the Scriptures taught about the Sabbath. So, there is no room in these Scriptures or anywhere in the Bible that teaches the idea of situation ethics. Sin is sin no matter what the situation may be.


Our next section of Scripture is found in Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, and Luke 6:6-11. We will start out with Matthew’s account:


Matthew 12:9 Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue.  10 And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" -- that they might accuse Him. 


Luke’s account lets us know that this event happened on another Sabbath. Jesus knew exactly what the Pharisees and Scribes were up to because He knew their thoughts. They thought they might use the man with a withered hand as a way to trap Jesus. Matthew’s account has the men asking Him if you could heal on the Sabbath. We learn from the other accounts that Jesus has this man with the withered hand come forward. Nothing was going to be hidden as that man stood before them all.


Mark’s account has Jesus asking them a question:


Mark 3:4 Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they kept silent.


Jesus had a way of asking questions that the opposing Jews would not answer. Back in Matthew’s account, He asked them another question.


 11 Then He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  12 "Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."


Jesus makes a powerful point because you know there was not a single person there that would not help his sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath and feel like he had broken the Sabbath. Now some of  the PETA people would not like what Jesus said about a man being of more value than a sheep, but it is true. Man is more valuable than an animal. So, if they would do a good deed for an animal on the Sabbath, then there is nothing wrong with doing a good deed for a man such as healing him on the Sabbath. Then Marks account says:


Mark 3:5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.  6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.


A lot of people don’t think that Jesus ever got angry, but our verse said He was, and His look said it all. We also see that He was grieved because they were so hard headed about learning the truth about Him and about what was lawful on the Sabbath.


Jesus tells this poor man who was standing in front of them all to stretch out his hand. When it says his hand was withered, this is the same word used to describe a plant that is withered. When a person cannot use their hand, it shrinks up smaller than the other because it has no muscle mass. Picture it your mind being there when this happened. As this man stretched out his withered hand, it became whole just like the other one. No tricks, no smoke, and no mirrors. The miracles Jesus did were real and undeniable unlike the fake healers of today.


While this awesome miracle should have been a moment that changed the hearts of these opposing Jews it just made them mad and caused them join forces with the Herodians on how they might destroy this man who had the power to work great miracles.


What we can learn from this is that when we go out and we try to teach people about Jesus, we are going to run across hard hearted people just like Jesus did. If you think it is frustrating trying to show people what the Scriptures plainly teach and they refuse to see the truth, think about Jesus who could back up what He said with miracles, yet the people still did not believe. Think about that the next time you feel like a failure when trying to teach someone the truth.


You are certainly not better than Jesus. Since people rejected the truth from Him, they are certainly going to reject the truth from you. No matter how much love you have in your heart for the lost, there are going to be those who become angry and plot together to oppose you. It happens all the time. Like Jesus, you should never give up. Keep teaching the truth because eventually you will most likely find some who are willing to listen to what God’s Word has to say. Next we read:


Matthew 12:15 But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all.  16 Yet He warned them not to make Him known,  17 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:  18 "Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.  19 He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.  20 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory;  21 And in His name Gentiles will trust."


Jesus was in complete control of when and how He would be put to death. Knowing the hearts of the opposing Jews, He knew it was time to go. Everywhere Jesus went, people followed Him because people talked about Him and what He could do. Some of them would be sincere, others just wanted to see who this man was. Notice, it said, “He healed them all.” There was not a disease or deformity that Jesus could not take care of. In fact, death itself could not overcome the power of Jesus. Again, I cannot help but point out how different Jesus was than the supposed modern day miracle worker, who only seems to be able to heal a select few with something internal and never external.


Most of the Jews were expecting the Messiah to come and be this great leader that would restore their physical kingdom they had under David and Solomon, but Jesus was not like this. He did His best to keep a low profile. He was not trying to make a spectacle of Himself, but was simply trying to teach the truth about the coming kingdom, which is the church. This low key approach was the fulfillment of Scripture as foretold by Isaiah in Isaiah 42:1-4. Within this prophecy, we also see how the Gentiles would be involved and would trust in Jesus.


Though Jesus did His best to maintain a low profile, it did not stop the people from spreading the news about Him and what He could do, but who could blame them. It is not every day that the Son of God is in your midst.


In conclusion, we learned that Jesus had a lot of challenging moments in His life as He tried to break through the calloused hearts of the opposing Jews. Though He did great miracles, they still did not believe and wanted to kill Him. We should thank God every day for Jesus because I don’t know of anyone who would have put up with what He did and yet still die for us. I hope that we will allow Jesus’ example to inspired us to never give up teaching others the truth because that is what He would do.