Jesus and the Sabbath day (1-14)
In this chapter Jesus addresses the issue of the sabbath. May I just emphasize that these thoughts that I will share with you are my thoughts, they are my understanding of the Sabbath from these and other texts. I am not issuing some kind of mandate, rather I am hoping to help you make sense of these verses and to share with you, what I believe is a great blessing.
If you cast your mind back to Matthew 5:17 and the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, he came to teach others the correct and fullest meaning of God’s moral Law. “Thou shalt not kill…thou shalt not steal…thou shalt not commit adultery…thou shalt not bear false witness etc.” Now most Christians would not have a problem in accepting that such commandments remain in force today. They would even teach such principles to their children. But what about keeping the Sabbath day? It’s commandment number 4…and yet Christians have many different feelings about it. It seems to be a commandment that can be kept, or dispensed with? Why is that, and (perhaps more importantly) what does Jesus have to say about it?
As we looked through the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus corrected the Pharisees and other religious leaders on their incorrect understanding of the Law. He says, “Ye have heard it said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill…but I say unto you…” and then he gives the deeper application. Again, in Matthew 5:27 He says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery…But I say unto you…” and again he gives a deeper application. So we can see from these two examples that the Pharisees had only practiced an outward form of obedience, they hadn’t applied that Law strictly enough. However the problem with their understanding of the Sabbath, is the exact opposite. They had applied it in a far too strict a sense; they had laid an emphasis and a whole burden of rules that were never meant to be part of Sabbath keeping. They had been “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (Mark 7:7)
This is why Jesus confronts them with the Scriptures, (verses 3-4 read)
Now at no point does Jesus suggest that the Sabbath has been repealed, or that he is bringing it to an end; not any more so than he indicates an end to the rest of the Ten Commandments. You will remember that the Apostle Paul also makes it clear that the Ten Commandments are still morally valid in Romans 13: 7 and 9-10 (Read) What Jesus is showing here in Matthew 12 is that they simply don’t understand what keeping the Sabbath means.
I think that part of the confusion for Christians, is that they …
- Assume the Sabbath is one of the Laws of Moses and therefore only applicable to the Jews and only for that limited time. But the Sabbath was instituted long before that. Go to Genesis 2:2-3 (read)
- Secondly, perhaps because they associate the Sabbath with the Jews, they glean what they understand about it, largely from their understanding of Judaism. They object that someone keeping the Sabbath ought not to “drive their car to church, because Jews walk to the Synagogue, they are forbidden to thread needles, to write, or to collect wood…” But Jesus said (verse7) “If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.” Again, it is ironic that those that are objecting to the Sabbath, because they are, quote “not under the law,” are thinking more like a legalistic Pharisee, than like Jesus! It’s not about having a list of dos and don’ts.
- Further objections? Go to Colossians 2:16 (Read) These are references to Jewish feasts and festivals, remember the Jews also celebrated every seventh month, every seventh year; they celebrated sevenths of sevens and so on; that is the context. These festivals find their fulfilment in Christ. What is the point of the Jewish Sabbath, if Christ is not “Lord… of the Sabbath day” if it’s not about Him and is an empty, vain and over-scrupulous tradition?
- Go to Romans 14:5-7 (Read) The context is given in verse 6 “he that eateth…he that eateth not…” It is an example of Jewish feasts and Jewish fasts; New moons and Holy days. God says in Isaiah 1:13 “Incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbath’s, I cannot away with; it is iniquity…your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble to me…” Why, not because God hates the Sabbath, He instituted it, but because the people are living wickedly all the rest of the time!
These verses do not repeal the Sabbath, they explain the basic spirit of the Sabbath; the idea that it is for man’s blessing; for man’s good. John Wesley said, “The Lord not only hallowed the Sabbath day, but he also blessed it, So that you are an enemy to yourself. You throw away your own blessing, if you neglect to keep this day holy. It is a day of special grace…this is the day He hath set apart for the good of your soul, both in this world and that which is to come.” Indeed Hebrews 4:9 says, “There remaineth therefore a rest (a “sabbatismos”) to the people of God.”
Should the Sabbath be a Saturday, or Sunday? The Old Testament Sabbath was on what we would consider Saturday, (they use a different calendar to us, their day being sundown to sundown) but Ignatius of Antioch, the earliest Church Father addresses this question. He says that Christian converts “had given up keeping the Sabbath (on Saturday) and now order their lives by the Lord's Day instead, the day when life first dawned for us, thanks to him [Christ] and his death." Is this a Roman Catholic thing? Well, the date of Ignatius’s statement is AD 107, long before the Roman Catholic Church and about a century and a half before Constantine was born. Some have argued that it was Christ Himself that changed the day, but I have not found any evidence for that.
Is the Sabbath about not driving your car, or threading a needle?
No, it’s about having sometime where you can put into perspective what your whole life is about. It is a time where you and your family can talk about God, meet in fellowship with other Christians; it was to be kept holy. What does that mean? It means that our commitments to this temporal world, all diversions and responsibilities, duties (those things that are necessary, yet not in the strictest sense holy) are laid to one side for that day. Why does God want that? What does he get from that? It is not about what God wants; it’s really about what we need! I’m not trying to enforce the Sabbath on anyone today; I know I’ll be accused of being a Judaizer, and a fundamentalist; I keep it in the spirit, rather than in the exact letter. I drive my family mad; I say to the children, “don’t read non-Christian books on this day… don’t watch non-Christian videos on this day;” That means that we have to really think and plan, how can we devote this day to the things of God and as a weekly reminder of our worship to Him? Now, I’m not imposing this on you. But…(and before you think it, I have no one specifically in mind) are you spiritually weak? Are you spiritually tired? Is your mind taken up with your job, maybe your thoughts are occupied even now with clients you have to speak to; places you have to be. Do you struggle to remember the last time you really went to the Lord in prayer, or in the word? Do you lament at your children’s fascination and absorption with the things of this world? Then maybe the Sabbath day is just what the doctor ordered! Maybe it’s just what the great Physician ordered!
Prophetic Fulfilment (15-21)
Read verse 15-19. Often I am asked, usually by Muslims, why did Jesus not just stand up and say “I am God, worship me!” Well, here is one of the reasons. He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. He’s not going to cry out. He is not going to raise his voice. It is in fact one of the signs that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ.
Spiritual Warfare (22-30)
A lot of what we have been looking at in the ministry of Jesus (and to a certain extent, his disciples) has been to do with the casting out of unclean spirits, or devils. In verse 24 the Pharisees make an accusation. They say, “…This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of devils.” Jesus starts to address these observations with the application of logic (verse 25-26 Read)
He then gives the real reason why the Pharisees reject his ministry and authority (Read 28)
In 1 John 5:19 we read that “the whole world lieth in wickedness.” That is, the whole world is under the sway of the devil, it is his house; he occupies and rules it. Jesus shows in verse29 that he has come in order to bind the devil and plunder his goods. What are his goods, his possessions that Jesus wants to take away from him? You and me!
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (31-32)
Let’s just read 31-32. Wesley says “How much stir has been made about this?” Certainly no little stir is heard in the world over these verses! Even some Atheists, in an attempt to disprove the existence of God, filmed themselves saying “I blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” Without actually blaspheming Him! That truly is exalting shame and folly; you should be ashamed at your lack of knowledge and nobody looks more foolish, than those that want to blaspheme someone that they don’t believe exists!
So what do these verses mean? The Pharisees know in their hearts that Jesus speaks the truth; they know that he has all the qualifications to be the Messiah; they know that he is claiming deity; they know that the power he has is from God; they know and are convinced of the truth; the Holy Spirit has convicted their hearts about this and yet, they ascribe the miracles that Jesus does by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the power of the devil. These are not just empty claims on their part…not a slip of the tongue…not blurting out something they did not mean, or understand. They have thought carefully and deliberately about what they are going to say, therefore, for them there is no way back. As my friend says, the only sin God will not forgive you of, is the one that you refuse to repent of.
Good and Evil (33-45)
Let’s read verse 35 (Read) As William Tyndale used to say, “The heart makes the deed good; the deed does not make the heart good.” Again we can compare this with verse 33 (Read) A god tree produces good fruit. A bad tree (or a corrupt, rotten tree) can only, ever produce bad, corrupt and rotten fruit. Jesus is in effect saying, I am bringing people out of bondage; giving them a deeper zeal and desire for the things of God; making them more compassionate and hungry for holiness. So am I a good and godly tree, or a corrupt evil tree? I wish people would use the same criteria when they choose which teachers and preachers they listen to today!
Jesus gives two examples of Gentiles that were willing to listen to God. The first is the men of Nineveh, who repented at the preaching of Jonah.
The second is the Queen of the South, that is the Queen of Sheba. She came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but now one greater than Solomon is here. Therefore, how greater will be the condemnation of those, be they Jews, or Gentiles, that reject the Son of God.
Let’s look at verses 43-45. I have heard a lot of different interpretations of these verses, but I think that the end of verse 45 is absolutely key. “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” These verses are really a parable: Using the example of casting out unclean spirits, Jesus is talking about that “wicked generation.” Matthew Henry says, “Let this be a warning to all nations and churches, to take heed of leaving their first love, of letting fall a good work of reformation begun among them, and returning to that wickedness which they seemed to have forsaken. For the last state of such will be worse than the first.”
The true family of God (46-50)
Verses 46-50 (Read) A bit of a difficult one for Roman Catholics! Here is a perfect opportunity for Jesus to say, “ladies and gentlemen, please can I have your attention! Here she is, My Mother!” But instead he uses it to preach about another family, the family of Believers.
When you become a Christian, when you are born again by the Spirit of God, not only do you have a new Father, but you also have become part of a new family. You are a brother, or a sister in Christ.
Copyright © Paul Jennings.