Matthew: Jesus Is Greater Than Religion

Memory Verse: Matthew 12:6-8

12:1-8 Religion Condemns, Jesus Defends

  • 12:1-2 Religion condemns: At that time—around the same time period that Jesus was offering His invitation for others to “come to Him” He went on the sabbath day through the corn and His disciples were plucking it to eat because they were hungry. But when the Pharisees (a sect who hypocritically try to follow the law, making their own rules and regulations thus making their own form of religion—which illustrates the weakness of all religion) saw it, they asked Jesus why His disciples “do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.” The law of the Old Testament allowed them to “pluck the ears with thine hand” from the corn of their neighbors so they weren’t “stealing” the corn, but the Pharisees saw this as “work on the Sabbath” which was forbidden by the law.
    Deuteronomy 23:25; Exodus 20:8-11
  • 12:3-8 Jesus defends: Jesus goes on the defensive and explains the exception to the law under “extenuating circumstances” and why it isn’t contrary to it.
  • First, He proves His point by pointing to two stories in the Old Testament asking the Pharisees, “Have ye not read?” They have misunderstood God’s intention for the Sabbath and made it into something that it was never intended to be. Therefore, Jesus teaches two lessons: (1) A lesson learned from an incident: When David and those that were with Him was hungry—in the same way the disciples were—He entered the house of God and ate the shewbread even though it was not lawful for him or those that were with him to eat it but only for the priests. David was not condemned for this because the hunger or “circumstance” overruled the regulation of who could eat the shewbread in that specific instance. Jesus is greater than David so how much more is it blameless for Him and His disciples to satisfy their hunger on the sabbath. (2) A lesson learned from the law itself: On the sabbath days the priests in the temple were to offer sacrifices, which was work and would profane the sabbath, but this work superseded the limitation of working on the Sabbath and they were blameless.
    1 Samuel 21:1-6; Numbers 28:9-10
  • Second, Jesus argues that if all of these “lesser” things and people were blameless then how much more blameless are these “greater” things and people. He continues saying that: “In this place is one greater than the temple.”—Jesus and what He was doing on Earth, ushering in the Kingdom of God, was greater than all the temple had accomplished.
  • Third, Jesus says that if they knew what the following phrase meant: “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” then they wouldn’t have condemned the guiltless—like they just did with the disciples. It means that the “moral standards” (inward) are more important than the “ceremonial requirements” (outward) of the law. Jesus was calling out the Pharisees hypocrisy. They were focused on sacrifice and burnt offerings more than having mercy and knowing God. Outwardly they were religious but inwardly they weren’t. They weren’t people of compassion but of condemnation.
  • Fourth, He justifies all that He has said by claiming that, “The Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.” Jesus is the Son of Man and He is claiming ultimate authority that is equal with God. Who are the Pharisees to make a judgment of what is right or wrong concerning observing the Sabbath in the presence of the One who is the Master of it?
    Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13

12:9-14 Jesus is Honest, Merciful; Religion is Deceptive, Hypocritical

  • 12:9-10 Religion is deceptive: When Jesus left the place He was at, He went into Pharisees’ synagogue and there was a man that had a withered hand. The Pharisees’ tried to accuse Jesus by asking Him the following question: “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?” Again the question was asked: (1) out of a misunderstanding of what the rules were for observing the sabbath day; (2) out of a deceiving attitude that didn’t want to know the truth but wanted to find a reason to accuse Jesus. Religion often twists the truth or changes rules so that it can always find a way to deceive others and accuse them of doing wrong instead of desiring to showing mercy and doing good.
  • 12:11-12a Jesus is honest: Jesus ask them a rhetorical question in response to the question they asked Him: “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” The answer to this question is obvious, no one would wait until it wasn’t the sabbath day to save his one and only sheep if it fell into a pit on the sabbath. They would do what it took to save it even on the sabbath day. Then Jesus continues with another rhetorical question: “How much then is a man better than a sheep?” Again, the answer if obvious, mankind is infinity more important and valuable than sheep. We were made in the likeness and image of God Himself. Therefore, if we would be willing to exert effort for these “lesser sheep” on the sabbath and were blameless then how much more blameless are we if we exert effort for these “greater people.”
    Genesis 1:26-27
  • 12:12b-13 Jesus is merciful: All of these “from less to greater” arguments point to one conclusion about the sabbath: “It is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” There is no law against doing good on the sabbath. “Good” overrules the “restrictions” of the sabbath. Therefore, Jesus is answering their question in the positive: “Yes, it is lawful to heal on the sabbath days.” Jesus goes on to prove what He says by saying to the man with the withered hand “Stretch forth thine hand” and the man stretched it forth and it was restored whole, just like his other hand. Jesus had mercy on this man and healed him on the sabbath. Maybe you have been living under the condemnation of religion your whole life, but today Jesus is offering you mercy—will you leave your religion for mercy?
  • 12:14 Religion is hypocritical: The Pharisees were offended by Jesus actions of mercy and left the synagogue. Why? Because Jesus called into question their understanding of the law—their whole belief system and authority. They even missed the big picture—Jesus just healed a man—something that He couldn’t have done apart from the power of God, thus God approved of it happening on the sabbath. Then they held a council to conspire against Jesus and how they might destroy Him. Those who were so worried about observing the sabbath lawfully are not plotting a conspiracy to murder Jesus. When religion gets offended by the truth it often responds with hypocrisy and violence.

Review Questions

  • What are Jesus’ four points of defense agains the first accusation?
  • How does Jesus respond to the second accusation?
  • What overrules the “restrictions” of the sabbath?
  • How do the Pharisees parallel religion in general?
  • Who is greater than religion?

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