Sermon: “The ‘SABBATH’ of Matthew 12 … (In Context)”
1. Keeping the Sabbath
Keeping the Sabbath was a binding moral AND ceremonial obligation for Israel, but most Jews had little idea of the original purpose of the Sabbath, or of how God intended it to be honored. Instead of being a day of rest it had become a day of incredible burden. Because of the thousands of man-made restrictions regarding it, the Sabbath was more tiresome than the six days devoted to one’s occupation. It was harder to “rest” than to earn a living.
Jewish tradition had even caused the Sabbath to be dangerous. The apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees (2:31-38) tells of an incident during the time of Judas Maccabaeus when a group of Jews refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath against the Greek army lead by Antiochus Epiphanes. As the soldiers of Antiochus attacked, the Jews “answered them no, neither cast they a stone at them, nor stopped the places where they lay hid; but said: ‘Let us die in our innocency: heaven and earth shall testify for us, that ye put us to death wrongfully.’ So they rose up against them in battle on the Sabbath, and they slew them with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of a thousand people.”
One section alone of the Talmud, the major compilation of Jewish tradition, has twenty-four chapters listing Sabbath laws. One law specified that certain objects could be lifted up and put down on the Sabbath only from, and to, certain places. Other things could be lifted up from a public place and set down in a private one, and vice versa. Still others could be picked up in a wide place and put down in a legally free place – but rabbis could not agree about the meanings of wide and free!
Throwing an object into the air with one hand and catching it with the other was prohibited. If the Sabbath overtook you as you reached for some food, the food was to be dropped before drawing your arm back, lest you be guilty of carrying a burden!
Tailors did not carry a needle with them on the Sabbath for fear they might be tempted to mend a garment and thereby perform work. Nothing could be bought or sold, and clothing could not be dyed or washed. A letter could not be dispatched, even if by the hand of a Gentile. No fire could be lit or extinguished – including fire for a lamp – although a fire already lit could be used within certain limits. For that reason, some orthodox Jews today use automatic timers to turn on lights in their homes well before the Sabbath begins. Otherwise they might forget to turn them on in time and have to spend the night in the dark.
According to those hair-splitting regulations, a Jew could not pull off even a handful of grain to eat on the Sabbath unless he were starving – which, of course, is often a difficult thing to determine and would be cause for considerable differences of opinion. If a person became ill on the Sabbath, only enough treatment could be given to keep him alive. Treatment to make him improve was declared to be work, and therefore forbidden. To determine just how much food, medicine, or bandaging would be necessary to keep a person alive – and no more – was itself an impossible burden.
Among the many other forbidden Sabbath activities were: sewing, plowing, reaping, grinding, baking, threshing, binding sheaves, winnowing, sifting, dying, shearing, spinning, kneading, separating or weaving two threads, tying or untying a knot, and sewing two stitches.
2. William Hendrickson
“By means of their hairsplitting legalism these men were constantly burying God’s law under the heavy load of their traditions, as has become clear from the explanation of 5:21-48. Filled with envy they were always watching Jesus to see whether something he said or did could be used as a charge against him, so as to destroy him. As to the Pharisees, one thing is certain; their intentions were not honorable. There was murder in their hearts. See verse 14. Cf. John 5:18; 7:19; 8:40.
Suddenly they confront Jesus, blaming him for allowing his disciples to profane the Sabbath. Was not work forbidden on the seventh day (Exod. 20:8-11; 34:21; Deut. 5:12-15)? Had not the rabbis drawn up a catalogue of thirty-nine principal works, subdivided into many minor categories, so that, for example, plucking heads of grain was considered reaping, and rubbing out the grain threshing? 497 And here were the disciples engaged in these very activities and even enjoying the fruits of their sins: they were eating this ill-gotten grain! And Jesus was doing nothing about it!
In his answer Jesus, who elsewhere gave the true, spiritual interpretation of the first and second commandments (Exod. 20:1-6; cf. Matt. 22:37, 38, which summarizes the entire first table of the law), of the third commandment and the ninth (Exod. 20:7; Lev 19:12; Num. 30:2; Deut. 23:21; cf. Matt. 5:33-37), the fifth and eighth (Exod. 20:12, 15; cf. Matt. 15:3-6), the sixth (Exod. 20:13; cf. Matt. 5:21-26, 38-42), the seventh (Exod. 20:14; cf. Matt. 5:27-32; 19:3-12), and the tenth (Exod. 20:17; cf. Luke 12:13-21; 16:14, 19-31; see also Matt. 22:39, in which the entire second table is summarized), now reveals the true meaning of the FOURTH commandment (Exod. 20:8-11). Implied in his interpretation, but in this case not stated in so many words, is a condemnation of the false explanation which the rabbis had superimposed upon this commandment … and which in the days of Christ’s sojourn on earth was being widely propagated by scribes and Pharisees.”
3. Charles Spurgeon
Some readers can read a very great deal… because they do not (actually) read anything! The eye glances but the mind never rests! The soul does not light upon the truth and stay there. It flits over the landscape as a bird might do, but it builds no nest therein, and finds no rest for the sole of its foot. Such ‘reading’ is not ‘reading’! Understanding the meaning is the essence of true reading!:
Reading has a kernel to it, and the mere shell is worth very little! In prayer there is such a thing as “praying in prayer a praying” that is the bowels of the prayer! So in praise there is a ‘praising in song’, an inward fire of intense devotion which is the life of the hallelujah! That is also true in fasting: there is a fasting of the soul, which is the soul of fasting. It is even so with the reading’ of Scriptures. There is an interior reading, a kernel of reading, a true and living Word! This is the soul of reading; and, if it be not there, the reading is a mechanical exercise, and “profits nothing”!
Now, beloved, unless we understand what we read we have not read it! The heart of the reading is absent! We commonly condemn the Roman Catholics for keeping the daily service in the Latin tongue! Yet is might as well be in the Latin language as in any other tongue if it be not understood by the people! Some comfort themselves with the idea that they have done a good action when they have read a chapter, into the meaning of which they have not entered at all; but even UN-believers reject this as a mere superstition! If you had turned the book upside down, and spent the same time in looking at the characters in that direction, you would have gained as much good from it as you will in reading it in the regular way without understanding it. If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with an understanding heart. It is not the letter, which saves the soul; the letter killeth in many senses, and never can it give life. If you harp on the letter alone you may be tempted to use it as a weapon against the truth, as the Pharisees did of old, and your knowledge of the letter may breed pride in you … (to your destruction)! It is the spirit, the real inner meaning … (that is sucked into the soul) … by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon’s fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God’s truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it! We must understand it, then … or else we have not read it at all!
4. What are OUR Applications from this passage?
1. MOST IMPORTANTLY: ASK YOURSELF →
o Have I (truly, and personally) experienced Jesus as:
+ GOD? (re. Accepting His Deity).
+ SAVIOR? (re. Coming to Him via Salvation by Grace, through faith, not by works)
+ LORD? (re. Studying my Bible, and DOING what it says).
+ MASTER and OWNER? (re. The use of my time, money, resources and HEART and THOUGHTS)!
+ (And don’t be too quick to superficially answer “yes!” to that! Because remember!: The Pharisees would’ve answered “yes”! [emphatically!] to the question → “Do you love, serve, and obey God”?).
2. Ask yourself: In what area(s) of your life have YOU “nullified the Word of God” (by your man-made/self-made religious “traditions”, and/or “ceremonies”, and/or “rituals”)?
3. Ask yourself: do YOU “read” the Scriptures (and do the OUT-ward behaviors of God’s ordinances – like: attend church, pray, attend prayer meetings, “keep” the Sabbath, etc.) like the PHARISEES did?
o (ie; OUT-wardly ONLY! But in a way where nothing is changing IN-wardly!)?
4. When you come to church are you more concerned with:
1. The type of worship music?
2. The seat you’ll be in?
3. “Appearing” to be holy to others?
4. “Checking off” your “list”: the “duty” of attending church?
5. “Correcting” others shortcomings or doctrine?
6. Complaining, criticizing and/or grumbling? … or …
7. Do you seek out (and then reach out) to those with real needs and problems?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
In leaving the subject, let us beware that we are never tempted to take low views of the sanctity of the Christian Sabbath. Let us take care that we do not make our gracious Lord’s teaching an excuse for Sabbath profanation. Let us not abuse the liberty which He has so clearly marked out for us, and pretend that we do things on the Sabbath from “necessity and mercy”, which in reality we do for our own selfish gratification.
There is great reason for warning people on this point. The mistakes of the Pharisee about the Sabbath were in one direction; the mistakes of the Christian are in entirely another! The Pharisee pretended to add to the holiness of the day; the Christian is too often disposed to take away from that holiness, and to keep the day in an idle, profane, irreverent manner! May we all watch our own conduct on this subject! Preserving true Christianity in the world is closely bound up with preserving Sabbath observance. May we never forget that our great aim should be to “keep the Sabbath holy!” Works of necessity may be done: “It is lawful to do well,” and show mercy; but to give the Sabbath to idleness, pleasure-seeking, or the world, is utterly unlawful. It is contrary to the example of Christ, and a sin against a plain command of God! ─ J. C. Ryle
(Mt 12:1-14); (Jn 20:30, 31); (Mt 11:28-30); (Dt 23:24-25); (Mt 12:2).; (Ex 20:8-11); (Mt 5:17-19); (Lk 6:1); (Mt 15:1-20); (Mt 12:1-4); (1 Sam 21:1-7); (Acts 13:22); (Nu 28:9-10); (Mt 12:5-8); (John 10:33);
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