Matthew 12 tells two back to back stories of encounters between Jesus and religious leaders over the Sabbath…

This is the FIRST time Jesus went from being a popular teacher – to people anting to kill him…

Verse 1 begins…

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

NT scholar Grant Osborne points out that unlike today, roads in the ancient world went right through fields – not around them

 – so Jesus and his disciples are on a trip and were walking along – and all they had to do was reach out and pluck – dates and grain to eat

And so Jesus and his disciples began to eat – on the Sabbath

Which is from Friday night to Saturday night

– and the Pharisees went NUTS because they felt it was wrong!

Jesus shot back…and said there are 2 times in the Bible when people BROKE the sabbath because they were hungry – and God didn’t freak out

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.

Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 

In other words – there are stories – Jesus said – of good Jews – David and the priest – who broke the Sabbath

          …and that didn’t make them bad people

And then Jesus utters – shocking – no, BLAPHEMOUS words…

I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

If you were a Jew – whose grandparents remembered stories told by family members about the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids who forced Jews to abandon their customs – and people died because they wouldn’t fight on the Sabbath - what would you have thought about what Jesus said?

Their family members were willing to die over this issue!

What do you mean you’re LORD of the Sabbath – you are greater than the Sabbath?

Only God is greater than the Sabbath???!!! HE IS THE ONE who gave it to us!

And you’re greater than THE TEMPLE???!!! The place where God lives!!!???

If you were a faithful Jew – and you heard that - what would you be thinking?


Keeping a “sabbath” was one of the ten commandments given by God to Moses

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” - Exodus 20:8-11says

Sabbath – Hebrew – Shabbat – “to stop”

But the real question that people wrestled with after the Maccabean revolt – and before Jesus was born – was –

“What does it mean to “keep the Shabbat holy?”

Yes, it says you not supposed to work

…but what constitutes “work?”

Well about 100 years before Jesus was born – the Hasidim – (ha – see – dem) the pious ones – wrote a few books (which are not included in our Bibles) which tried to answer the question, “What does it mean to keep the sabbath holy?”

The Book of Jubilees writes…

“You shall do no work on the sabbath day: only what you have prepared for yourselves on the sixth day shall you eat and drink…and any man who does any work on the sabbath days, or goes on a journey…the man who does any of these things on the sabbath shall die.”

  • Book of Jubilees 50:9,13

You catch that? On Saturdays – during the Sabbath – you’re not allowed to prepare food – it must be already prepared on Friday morning

Good Jews prepare their food on Friday morning -

And so Jesus and his disciples were breaking religious custom by grabbing food in the fields

And just like the traitors who wouldn’t keep the Sabbath during the revolt – they needed to die for it!

I mean good Jews were fanatical about Sabbath observance

They still are today!

-ex. This past summer I was In Jerusalem

          - And LITERALLY at 4pm on Friday –an air raid siren went off throughout the entire city

          - and I turned to the guide I had hired and asked, “WHAT IS THAT???”

- and she said, “It’s the reminder that SHABBAT is coming at sundown – get ready!”

The next morning – I had to get up and make a payment for my daughter’s college tuition – and the app on my phone wasn’t working

  • So I went to the front desk and asked for the login info to use the computers that were in the lobby
  • “I’m sorry it is not allowed. It’s Shabbat.”
  • I said, “That’s okay. I’m not Jewish.”
  • “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s Shabbat”
  • I said, “Listen, I REALLY need to use that computer. I have a deadline for my daughter’s tuition that I forgot about.”
  • “Sorry, not possible.”
  • Then I said, “I’m using that computer.”

He said, “Listen. I’m not Jewish. I think this whole Shabbat thing is stupid. But if I let you use that computer I’ll get fired.”

  • (and so he snuck me around back – away from the cameras – and let me his computer)


Well in verse 9 Matthew shares another Sabbath story…

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

-ex. My aunt had Schleraderma – shriveled hand – was an amazing person – was salesperson of the year at AT&T

…but in the first century – everyone worked with their hands – so this would have been a cruel situation to live with

And so Jesus tells a story we’ve heard before…

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Hey, if your sheep – your livelihood fell into a pit, wouldn’t you pull it out on the Sabbath?

…Of course you would, Jesus said!

But NOT people who lived through the Maccabean revolt!

There was one group of Jews that lived through the Maccabean revolt – but felt that the reforms that Judah Maccabee made weren’t strict enough

So they left Jerusalem and went to live in caves around the Dead Sea

The religious documents they wrote – we call them the Dead Sea Scrolls

And in one of them it says this…

“No man shall walk abroad to do business on the sabbath. He shall not walk more than one thousand cubits beyond his town. No man shall eat on the sabbath day except that which is already prepared. He shall eat nothing lying in the fields…no father shall carry a child while coming and going on the sabbath…no man shall assist an animal to give birth on the sabbath day. And if it should fall into a cistern or pit, he shall not lift it out on the sabbath.”

  • Damascus Document, 10-11

Jesus said you would surely rescue an animal that fell into a pit

Good Jews – Pharisees - said, “No you won’t. Because that would be work.”

And then Jesus uttered two profound theological words: “That’s stupid.”

12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 

14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus 

And that is the very first time in Matthew’s gospel that we see people talking about killing Jesus 

This is a man who is not only blasphemous

          …but poses a dangerous threat to our way of life!


So what does this mean to use?

let me say 2 things…


Jesus hates it when people go through the religious motions

Some of you come from church backgrounds where you were told to..

Stand up. Sit down. Say this. Memorize this. Repeat that.

And as soon as you finished a class or were baptized you peaced outta there and never looked back

Because it was all about rituals – going through the motions

Jesus is about having a tangible – real – 24/7 – get you through life – I can actually feel you when I’m talking to you – kind of relationship

The Ha-see-dem had measured out – to finite detail –

THE.EXACT.RELIGIOUS.BEHAVIORS that they thought they needed to do

And there’s no heart in it.

What we learn in this first passage – leading to the cross – is that Jesus was eventually killed – because he wanted you to KNOW God – not just KNOW ABOUT God. 

But he also got killed because he threatened religious leaders who just didn’t get it 

Which leads to the second thing I want to say…


Don’t create a rule when God only taught a principle

When God said, “Keep the sabbath holy” – that was a principle

There was a reason God didn’t give a long list of rules - do’s and don’t – about how to keep the Sabbath holy

He was basically saying – “You use your judgement. You decide.”

That’s a principle.

The majority of Jesus’ teachings are principles NOT rules.

YES we are top ABSOLUTELY obey them – he is our LORD – but HOW we go about obeying them is left up to us – not some religious leader who is making up extra rules for us to obey

Some of you came from churches where you were hurt because religious leaders – like the Pharisees – created rules instead of teaching principles

  • There were rules you didn’t keep that put you on the outside
  • You got divorced
  • others 

On behalf of Jesus – I just want to say I’M SORRY. Genuinely…

Listen I want to read a quote from one of my favorite authors, but it has a swear word in it. It’s the S word.

Can I read this quote without you thinking that I am promoting swearing?

I just want you to feel the pain in her words as she speaks for MILLIONS of people who have been hurt by rule-making Christians.

Cheryl Strayed in her book Brave Enough wrote…

This is what Jesus was trying to get across – without using the S word

Christian history is littered with stories of people who - once they became a majority – became oppressors - who created rules to obey instead of principles to follow

And Jesus HATED this because of how rules were used to HURT people

And what eventually got Jesus KILLED - is he stood up and said,

“I am Lord of the Sabbath…
And I want to have a RELATIONSHIP with you.
          NO MORE RULES.”


Let’s pray.


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