Fulfilling Isaiah (Matthew 12:15-21)

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Matthew writes, “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many  followed him,  and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.”

This is not the first time that Matthew writes about Jesus healing quantities of sick people. In chapter 4 he wrote, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” In chapter 8 he said, “When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” Chapter 9 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” There is a very clear trend here. Jesus’ ministry was not a ministry of preaching and teaching and the occasional wonder. Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of healing. Healing others was a key facet of His ministry throughout His public work.

That is because His ministry of healing had a specific purpose. On two of the above occasions the Word records the phrase, “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah.” This means that healing the sick was a prophetic mandate that Jesus was fulfilling. But it was more than that. Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophesies.  Matthew is making a special point of this one for a reason: It accomplished two things simultaneously. Firstly, it demonstrated that Jesus was the Messiah that Isaiah spoke of. This is a key motif in Matthew’s Gospel – He wrote the Gospel so that the Jewish people could clearly see Jesus as their Messiah and Lord. Nothing demonstrates that so viscerally as healing. Whenever divine healing happens, it demonstrates the presence, power, rule and authority of Christ. This is true to our day. But also, healing was (and is) a means of bringing about justice. 

Sin brought imperfection into the world God created perfectly. So while disease and sickness is a grief to us who commit sin, it is also a gross injustice to God our creator, who sees how the wickedness we perpetrated is staining that which He made to be holy. Surely from His vantage point, setting creation right again is the very essence of justice! 

A healing ministry is therefore not an optional activity for the minister of the Gospel. It is a necessary ministry. It continues and expands the work of Jesus and it continues and expands the justice of His coming Kingdom. 

The godly are […] God’s appointed instruments of restoration. Such is the ministry of healing and reconciliation which God has given to his people—then as well as now.

Willem A. VanGemeren

APPLICATION: Intentionality

To whom have you most recently ministered for healing?

Protest (Matthew 12:16)

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Some 700 years before He was born, the prophet Isaiah had written, “Here  is my  servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” 

Isaiah had a long career, prophesying in Judah up to the Assyrian exile. His lifetime was a time of great injustice. Injustice within the city walls, and war outside them. Violence was a part of everyday life. Isaiah spoke to these conditions. He had much to say about God’s love of justice, and of God’s Messiah, who would finally bring about His justice. 

To the Jewish people of his day, Isaiah’s idea of that coming justice would have meant dramatic change for the better. Welcome news for sure, but such change means upheaval, and significant change would seem to mandate significant upheaval. Kings do not willingly give up their thrones! Yet Isaiah’s prophesy is one of a swing to justice without violence. No shouting (“He will not shout or cry out”), no political marches (“or raise his voice in the streets”), no rioting (“A bruised reed he will not break”) and no harm to others (“a smoldering wick he will not snuff out”). Of course, from our vantage point in history, we can look back on Isaiah’s words and see a picture of Jesus. In fact, He is crystal clear in the lines of Isaiah’s prophesy. But should not the world see Jesus in our actions just as clearly? 

To our day, such an idea is still radical. When a swing away from the present government order is in the air, it is considered inevitable to hear and see shouting and picketing and rioting and unrest. But Isaiah is saying that the one in whom God delights is the one who brings about justice without also bringing about civil unrest.

It is not such an easy task. The fallen-ness of our old nature sees the injustice of our world and wants to fight against it with some form of immediate remedial action. The human tendency to some form of violence is merely a manifestation of that primal urge. Faced with an unjust ruler and government, it is our nature to think of defiance and violence  as measured responses (rioting) or at the least violence to the peace and quiet of our city (shouting and marching in the streets). “Correction!,” we shout, “Change, now!,” we demand. It all seems so righteous to us in the moment, and Isaiah does not specifically say that it is not. What he does say is that such is not how the one God delights in would act. Further, Isaiah says it is not how God purposes to bring about true justice.

The greatest change always begins in small and virtually unnoticeable action. Kindness, grace and blessing are the tools God’s chosen use to bring about change. Willing sacrifice – even very costly sacrifice – is the method of payment for that change. 

Food for thought in our restless days. 

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand

the Apostle Paul, writing in Philippians 4:5

APPLICATION: Intentionality

What is your response to the injustices you face? What is your response to the injustices others face?   

Timing (Matthew 12:15-16)

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Jesus had deliberately provoked the Pharisees. He led His disciples through a grainfield
on the Sabbath when He knew very well that they were famished. Subsequently they picked, de-hulled and ate the grain in full view of the Pharisees. When confronted about it, He refuted their arguments (making the Pharisees look like fools who had not even read the Scripture). Then He went to the temple the same day, where He healed a man with a livable but unhelpful condition – only this time He did so after dialogue with the Pharisees about healing (as work) on Sabbath. Jesus was proving a point, and as the man was restored the point was made rather sharply.

Their pride deeply wounded, the Pharisees left to consult with one another. But Jesus knew they had left not so much for consultation as conspiracy. They were plotting His demise. “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.” Jesus had done a similar thing before. Back in chapter 4 of his Gospel, Matthew recorded, “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.” This is prudence.

To stay in the temple area would be to put Himself and His disciples in imminent danger. After all, they were guilty of desecrating the Sabbath in the Pharisee’s eyes also. Even worse, it would mean the crowd around Him would be left confused and distraught that their teacher and healer was so harshly treated. In withdrawing to another area, Jesus ensures that both the crowd and His disciples are safe. Besides which, He knows the crowd would follow Him. To keep the situation from unraveling, He tells them to keep His identity from their leaders.

Of course, Jesus did not always put safety first, as it were. When He later finds Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane one night (which should be a safer place than the Pharisee’s place of work during the day), He chooses to stay, knowing full well both that He is about to be arrested, and that Peter will be accused of being one of His own.

The difference between the two situations is one of God’s timing and the nature of the crowd. God’s timing is actually the more obvious, even though it is unseen. The visible crowd is another story. While the crowd that gathered around Him in the temple is in awe and desperate for more healing, the later crowd that gathers in the courtyard of the high priest after His arrest is full of discontents.

Jesus models perfect obedience to the Spirit’s leading and simultaneous care for the crowd that belongs to Him. He is modeling the use of spiritual discernment – the very thing that the Pharisees had failed to employ during their dialogue with Him moments ago.

As always, discernment (or lack thereof) has its fruitful result; Jesus finds Himself participating in a multitude of healings, while the Pharisees find themselves in a conversation about how to kill an innocent man.

A recurring phrase in the Bible is “and it came to pass …” Our timing is not the same as God’s timing.

H. Norman Wright

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

God’s timing is as He is; perfect. Let us be thankful that our lives are not arranged as we would have them to be, because if they were, the ultimate outcome would be very much less than what God has planned for the world. 

Worldview (Matthew 12:13-14)

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Matthew reports that Jesus saw a man with a withered hand in the temple.  After a  dialogue with the Pharisees about the appropriateness of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus acts; “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. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”

The reader of Matthew’s Gospel might conclude that the Pharisees have lost their minds. After all, their reaction at witnessing a divine healing appears bizarre. Why not be filled with wonder? Why not be filled with praise? Why not just be curious? Even if Jesus did ‘break the Law’, why not rather be merely upset? But that last sentence is there for a reason, and it isn’t that Matthew is making a dramatic point about how much Pharisees disliked ‘work’ on the Sabbath. For God Himself had said to Moses, “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.”  

All of us filter what we experience through our worldview. Our worldview is how we make sense of reality. It underlies and informs our beliefs, our values and our actions. So when the Pharisees saw the obvious – a healing that is otherwise unexplainable being done by someone who is making a point of doing so on the Sabbath – their worldview mandated that the Law (which was their worldview) be religiously followed. Even if that meant killing the very one who was healing (benefitting) one of their own disciples. After all, if God had told them that, “Anyone who desecrates [the Sabbath] must be put to death,” then surely that is the right course of action. The Law was the Law, and the Law must be followed in order to honor the Holy Name of God and remain who God called them to be as His people. To not follow the Law literally would be to break away from God’s clear and well-understood commands. It was unthinkable – a thought to be dismissed immediately. 

What they failed to realize is that Jesus was challenging that very worldview. A dogmatic obedience to the Word should not trump the reality of the One who spoke the Word. For sure, the Bible is absolutely true and can be absolutely trusted. But the reality of God is greater than the Bible – as the reality of an author is greater than anything they could write. The Pharisees should have had enough discernment to realize that if God’s Law was being violated in God’s Name for the benefit of God’s people in God’s temple, it must be because something new was happening. Even if they could not immediately realize that God was in their midst, at the very least such events called for a fuller dialogue with the one perceived as violating the Law, and/or a careful and prayerful review of Scripture to see what the best course of action would be. 

In this the truth of the matter is found; The Pharisees were so proud and sure of themselves they could not even imagine a challenge to their worldview. In haste they rush off to commit the gravest error humankind could ever make. 

We may think that we are above making the same mistake. If so, we best remember that the Pharisees were those who studied God’s Word day and night. They would not have thought they were foolish either. May the Lord grant us pause before our decisions, so that we do not make the same foolish mistake! 

We feel our way around our world more than we think our way through it.

James K.A. Smith


Keeping a focus on the awesome reality of God helps us avoid the limitations of our fallen worldview. Today, focus on experiencing God’s presence.

Sheep (Matthew 12:10-13)

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Seeing with a man with a withered hand in the temple, Jesus is confronted  by the  Pharisees with a question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Matthew continues the narrative with Jesus’ response; “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? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. 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.” 

A reasonable argument can be made that a sheep that falls into a pit and is clearly still alive is likely not in danger of imminent death. After all, all a person living in Jesus’ day could to help such an animal would be to ensure it has water and food and not require it to move. There were no veterinarian hospitals to bring it to, so if the animal rests at the bottom of the hole or in a stable is more a matter of geography than help. The practical implication is that if one fell in on a Sabbath day the Jews could wait till the day after to pull it out. A day at the bottom of a hole might be a sentence of some significant discomfort for a distressed beast, but it is not an automatic death sentence. 

Yet no one in their right mind would respond that way. If your animal fell down a pit and could not get itself back out, you would feel compassion for the animal and immediately go to its rescue. Even if you didn’t have any love for animals at all – you would still respond on account of your concern over your investment. After all, you had to pay for the animal and have made an investment of your time in raising it to this point. That it could stay in the pit for the day would not really be the point. The point is your concern for the welfare of a being of which you have some sense of compassion (or at least ownership). 

How much more then, does God have compassion on those He made and cared for all their lives? For who can argue that a sheep is more important or valuable then a person? A sheep is livestock – at most a pet that lives a fraction of our lifespan. A person is irreplaceable. And who can argue that God should not have compassion for that which He has a sense of ownership? For He defines Himself as, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” 

It is no wonder Jesus healed the man. God has compassion. God is gracious. God is abounding – overflowing with love and faithfulness! 

The principle here is yet another example of God’s moral law taking precedence over His ceremonial law, which defined the Jewish people. This is a key take-away for all who call themselves disciples of God: Compassionate ministry trumps legalistic obedience. Not because God’s ceremonial laws are unimportant, but because compassion for people is a far greater expression of God’s character than adherence to the cultural rules that define our particular people group. 

Compassion costs. It is easy enough to argue, criticize, and condemn, but redemption is costly, and comfort draws from the deep. Brains can argue, but it takes heart to comfort.

Samuel Chadwick

APPLICATION: Intentionality

We are thankful that God cares so much for us that He acts out His compassion for us. How much more than should we do likewise for those just like us!

Hands (Matthew 12:9-10)

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Matthew the writer wants us to know and grasp Jesus’ viewpoint on the Sabbath. So   having just documented an interaction Jesus had with the Pharisees about it, he immediately records another incident, apparently on the same day. “Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 

Previously, Jesus had been accused by the Pharisees of breaking Sabbatical law by allowing His disciples to quench their hunger by picking grains on the Sabbath – the one day God had specifically told His people not to work. Jesus’ response was that the immediate need of the disciples temporarily displaced the ceremonial observance of Sabbatical principles: A starving man should be fed on Sabbath, even if that means work must be done. Besides which, everyone knew that temple law is not broken when the priest does work at the temple. Jesus’ presence was far superior to the temple, so His disciples’ work is not in violation either. 

In this instance, most every aspect is reversed from the previous story. Where the Pharisees had confronted Jesus at the location His disciples were ‘working’ by picking grain, now Jesus goes to the Pharisee’s place of work (“their temple”) and sees one of their disciples – a man with a withered hand. Further, where Jesus had earlier asked the Pharisees a question, now they ask Him a question. Theirs is a question steeped in dishonesty, for it is not asked that revelation might be given, but that accusation might be made. 

Ironically, this fact itself continues the pattern of reversal. For where Jesus had asked His question to free their myoptic worldview, they ask that they might ensnare toward their own; “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

In the mind of the Pharisee, healing on the Sabbath was forbidden unless it was a life-threatening emergency. The healing they are tempting Jesus to do is to alleviate a pre-existing condition, not solve an immediate crisis like the hunger the twelve had. It was an opportunity to get Jesus to contradict His earlier teaching, and so be able to accuse Him of inconsistency. After all, the man in question could simply look for healing on another day of the week. Jesus simply didn’t need to heal him right then and there. 

What they failed to grasp is that they are looking for the wrong answer by asking the wrong question. God’s Law was never about legalism and minutiae. It was about God. It was about revealing principles that are important to God’s character and ways. The very fact that God cared enough about people to even give them the Law to start with tells us that God cares. How much more the story of the garden, Babel, Noah, Exodus, and the great many instances where God demonstrates His overwhelming love for people through Israel’s history. The very Law the Pharisees prided themselves on knowing dripped with the obvious answer! God cares deeply for those He made in His own image, and that fact must dominate our response to the community around us. 

Sabbath or not, we always need to emulate His character of mercy, compassion and love. Always. Every day and every hour and in every circumstance!

True godliness results not from mere mimicry, but from a deepening relationship with God himself.

Philip A. Bence

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Where does demonstrating God’s love and care for others fit in your personal list of priorities?

Flowers (Matthew 12:8)

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The creation account in the book of Genesis tells us the order in which God   made all things. First was light and the concept of day and night. Then the sky, then land, then vegetation, then stars, then fish and birds, then all manner of land creatures, and finally, man. At that point God gives man sovereignty over the land, fish, birds and land creatures and seed-bearing plants and trees. Then God rests. 

From that order we can know that while man doesn’t create anything, we yet have sovereignty over almost all of creation. Not all of it, because we were not given light, nor water, nor sun or moon, nor stars. Complete mastery of those things is beyond us. But mastery of the land is not beyond us. That we can control. We can shape the land as we desire, and people do. Farmers clear the land of trees and rocks and enslave it to their own uses. Landscapers do, and likewise builders of cities, dams and golf courses. We use the land as we desire, and where we desire, we reshape it to our use. We can even mine the land and burrow through solid rock.

Likewise, we were given rulership over animals. So people use them for clothing, food and pets. We can even enslave them in zoos as we desire, or pen them into ‘wildlife perserves’ that they can only escape under penalty of imminent death. They – and insects, plants and trees – are helpless to rule over us. Such is the impact of God’s spoken word assigning rule as He purposes. 

But God’s order is another matter. While we can rule over creation, we are not creators – merely rulers. We are given rulership of that which came before us so that the world might thrive under us. Creation is made for God’s great glory and therefore is not here merely for our selfish use. In fact, our foolishness about the matter is incurring God’s wrath. To this point one day the prophet foretells, “..Your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great— and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (italics mine) 

Rulership comes with responsibility. Also with the one thing that was made AFTER us, which we can know was made for us, not merely given to us. The Gospel of Mark gives us more detail than Matthew does, reporting of Jesus, “Then he said to [the Pharisees], “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  Matthew only documents Jesus using a single sentence, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” This is sufficient to know that the Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around. 

That doesn’t mean we can ignore the principle for which God made the Sabbath. It does mean that our Lord and King is also Lord and King of that which was made for us. Therefore, what we chose to use the Sabbath for either directly honors Jesus Christ who made us, or it does not. We need to choose wisely!

A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the joyous day of the whole week.

Henry Ward Beecher

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Is God honoured through your use of the hours He gives you? 

Roads (Matthew 12:7)

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Back in chapter 9, Matthew recorded the Pharisees seeing Jesus eating dinner at his   (Matthew’s) house. At the time, Jesus was dinning with many tax collectors and people known to be violators of God’s law. The Pharisees then approached Christ’s disciples and asked why Jesus would do such a thing. Jesus’ advice to the Pharisees in response was, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

That was some time ago. As the Gospel narrative continues, we read of the Pharisees confronting Jesus about His disciples’ behavior. Although this time the parties being called to account are different, Jesus’ advice to the people pointing out the error is along exactly the same lines, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” The behavior of the Pharisees (in pointing out the religious error of others) was all Jesus needed to know that they had not grasped what He had earlier told them; Mercy always triumphs over ritualistic observance. 

You would think they would’ve at least looked into the matter. If they did, they would’ve found that mercy saved Noah, who in merely acting according to what he knew of God’s character found mercy and shelter for his whole family from worldwide catastrophe before any of God’s Law was given. The same with Abram, who had listened to God’s call and found God’s mercy overshadowing his foolish missteps in Egypt – it was only later he built an altar to God and sacrificed. And what of Lot, who was saved by Abraham’s intercession before the ten commandments were given? Even then, it was mercy triumphing over sacrifice when Moses found God’s mercy sufficient for the forgiveness and redemption of his whole nation – well before the tabernacle was built. 

Likewise with Rahab, who appealed to what she knew of God and found salvation for her family long before she could participate in Jewish ritual. Also with David, who cried for mercy after his moral failure and found reinstatement as King before the temple was built. Yet in spite of these (and many more) examples in the scrolls they knew, the Pharisees still sought to put ritualistic obedience ahead of God’s mercy. So though Jesus had told them once before, He tells them again. Last time they but lacked that direct instruction. This time they still ignore it, and they’ve compounded their error by condemning the innocent.

When God gives us a Word He expects us to act on it. We cannot simply dismiss or overlook it and move forward. We cannot jump over a lesson in our discipleship journey. Jesus will just bring us back to the same point again later. 

As Eugene Peterson noted, discipleship is a long steady obedience in the same direction. Although the road of discipleship has many twists and turns, there are no shortcuts, and trying to take one always results in a greater error than just ignorance! 

Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

James, brother of Jesus the Christ (from Jas 1:22–25)

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Is there an instruction that God told you that you have thus far ignored?

Reality (Matthew 12:6-8)

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The Jewish temple in Jesus’ day was a truly impressive building. There were  other  impressive temples, such as the temple of Zeus in Lystra, and the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. All of those were impressive structures. But the temple in Jerusalem was not only impressive from an architectural viewpoint. It was truly glorious on account of God Most High, who was worshipped there. Consequently, Jewish appreciation for the temple was much higher than modern sensibilities typically allow for great city buildings in our day. We might like and value our stadiums, museums and city halls, and we do worship God in our churches (old and new). But while such buildings are highly significant to us, they do not embody our cultural identity like the Jewish temple did for Israel. For us, there is another church to go to, another building to be raised up that might be nicer than the last. For the Jews, there was no other temple. 

This in mind, Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees during His argument with them about proper behavior on the Sabbath is all the more striking. He said, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.”

Jesus had just made two statements about people’s behavior in and around the temple on the Sabbath. He noted that King David had, “…entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread…”, and that, “the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent.” Let’s not miss what He was saying – His point was that the priorities of God place the immediate need of man and the honor of God higher than the ritualistic observance of ceremonial law. 

But if that is so, how much more should we place the wisdom of God above our immature application of His Word? To this point Jesus says, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” And if we did understand His Word rightly – as God having instituted the Sabbath for mankind on account of His own action of resting on the 7th day – then how much higher a priority should His very presence be above even our observance of Sabbath? To that point Jesus adds, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 

In the very presence of the Lord of the Sabbath, the Pharisees are insisting on the priority of their own faulty worldview. They have never even considered that perhaps they didn’t have a lock on God’s thinking. They see with their worldly eyes and immediately judge with their crooked hearts instead of using their heads. Modern missiologists call this error, “ethnocentrism”, the idea that we know best, and therefore we are fit to judge everyone else according to our worldview.

When they did that, the Pharisees missed an opportunity to directly learn from God and what He was doing right in front of them. 

What are we missing when we do likewise?

Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.

Alice Walker


Is God not with you right now? What is your response to Him?

Weekly (Matthew 12:5)

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God had commanded the Israelites to make numerous offerings. There were  burnt  offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and trespass offerings. There were also daily offerings at the temple, and in Numbers 28 God told the Israelites to make additional offerings on the Sabbath: “On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.” 

The fact that there were offerings on the Sabbath (and even extra offerings on that day), meant that the priests at the temple had to work on the one day the rest of society had off. This was in spite of God’s clear mandate to observe the Sabbath, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” 

It was this very point Jesus was making when He rebuked the Pharisees for criticizing His disciples for picking some grain on the Sabbath, “…haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?”

We don’t usually think about such things in our culture anymore. Our secular governments have all but erased the cultural habit of Sabbath. In our day, Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees has been taken as a cart blanche mandate for the erasure of the Sabbath, but both worldviews (ours today and the Pharisees back then) are mistaken. Sabbath is not a principle we can ignore, nor is it a taxing legalistic requirement by which we can judge others. 

After all, it is obvious that the fact the priests technically violated the Sabbath wasn’t a problem for either the priests or for God, or He wouldn’t have commanded it to start with. The implication is likewise obvious. Sabbath is not supposed to be an inflexible religious observance so much as a regular practice that mandates a clear focus on our relationship with God. 

One always has to read what God’s Word says as firstly about God, and therefore how we can emulate Him and His ways. God rested on the 7th day of creation. If God rests, His creation must rest also. If God took time to focus on His relationship (as Father, Son and Spirit), we must do so also. But that God took the 7th day of the week does not mean that Sunday needs to be Sabbath. Our particular Sabbath could be any day of the week, because God’s institution of Sabbath as the seventh day predates the concepts of Sunday or Monday or Friday. Therefore Sabbath is not about following a legal requirement for a particular day of the week. It is about making time with God a priority on a weekly and regular basis.

If you don’t take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.

Eugene Peterson

APPLICATION: Intentionality

In these days, how do you keep a weekly focus on God?