Scripture Reading: Matthew 12:1-12
Take some time to read Matthew 12:1-12 and make a note of what stands out to you. What does the reading tell you about God the Father, Son and Spirit? What does it tell you about people and/or yourself?
When it comes to considering Jesus and the Sabbath, Matthew 12:1-12 is a common go-to passage. In this passage it is the Sabbath day and we find Jesus and His disciples picking grain before Jesus then heals a man with a withered hand. The Jewish leaders challenge this behaviour, arguing that it is unlawful to do such things on the Sabbath as they are classified as ‘work’.
So, is Jesus disobeying the laws of the Sabbath? No. And Jesus responds to the criticism by challenging the legalism and restrictive regulations that the religious leaders of the day have attached to the Sabbath.
Interestingly, Numbers 28:9-10 shows that the priests in the temple are actually commanded to work by preparing sacrifices on the Sabbath. To use a Jewish ‘how much more’ argument, if it is acceptable for the guardians of the temple to work on the Sabbath, then how much more acceptable is it for one who is greater than the temple to work on the Sabbath? And we know from John 2 that Jesus is not only greater than the temple – He is the one temple.
While such an argument might have justified Jesus’s behaviour on the Sabbath to the Jewish leaders, many of them would have considered His claim to be the ‘one temple’ as presumptuous and preposterous. Instead Jesus uses a slightly different ‘how much more’ argument and suggests that some things (feeding the hungry, healing the sick) must take precedence over a restrictive and burdensome Sabbath observance (see verses 11-12).
Ultimately, Jesus reclaims the Sabbath as a time of rest and blessing. He shows us that the Sabbath is a time for showing mercy and doing good, not a time to be governed by narrow definitions or arguments about what is and what is not considered to be ‘work’. It is a time we set aside to focus on the Lord and His blessings of creation and salvation, and such a time should not be burdensome to those who love and honour Him.
Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). And by fulfilling the law, His sacrifice on the cross brought us the blessing of forgiveness and reconciliation with God the Father. We may now enter into the eternal rest that is found in His love, grace and mercy.
Are there any rules or conventions that we follow that restrict us from embracing the gift of the Sabbath? Do we self-sabotage when it comes to rest, and build barriers or excuses or habits that don’t allow us to rest and enter into the presence of God?
Pray that Jesus will help you to claim (or reclaim) the Sabbath as a time of rest and blessing.