At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. 2 But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.” 3 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. 5 And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? 6 I tell you, there is One here who is even greater than the Temple! 7 But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ 8 For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
9 Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, 10 where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) 11 And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. 12 And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! 14 Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.
Matthew 12:1-14, NLT
I have a good friend who’s favorite expression is “Unbelievable!” In today’s text I see four UNBELIEVABLE things about the Pharisees who were representative of the Jewish religious culture. I even see a progression as each action is more unbelievable than the previous.
FIRST: THEY ACCUSE JESUS DISCIPLES OF VIOLATING THE SABBATH
Jesus and His disciple are talking a casual walk through a wheat field on a Sabbath. The disciples are hungry so they shuck some grains of wheat and crunch them between their teeth. What they did would be no more filling than you and I eating sunflower seeds. A kernel of wheat may actually be bigger than a sunflower seed. The Pharisees show up out of nowhere and say, “Aha, we caught you, Your disciples are violating the Sabbath.” My first question is: What were the Pharisees doing in a wheat field? They were spying on Jesus. They were dogging His steps. They were persecuting Christ. They were hunting for a mistake. Pharisees were nitpickers. Do you know what a nitpicker is?
Nitpickers are people who are looking for small or unimportant errors or faults, esp. in order to criticize unnecessarily. the word Nitpicking actually comes from the act of removing nits (the eggs of lice, generally head lice) from the host’s hair. As the nits are cemented to individual hairs, they cannot be removed with most lice combs and, before modern chemical methods were invented, the only options were to shave all the host’s hair or to pick them free one by one. It was a slow and laborious process. Imagine Jesus and His disciples walking through a wheat field and the disciples began to shuck some of the grains of wheat and eat them much like we would eat nuts. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, comes a group of Pharisees. This is no coincidence. These guys were following Jesus. Why would they follow Him, they did not want to be His disciples: they were following Him to catch Him in some kind of fault. Moses had some strict Sabbath rules but the Jews had added to them. They had 365 additional laws regarding the Sabbath and they caught Jesus disciples breaking one of those laws.
When I entered the ministry in 1969, I had no idea that Baptist Churches were filled with nitpickers; people who would swallow a camel while trying to strain a gnat. A lady came to me during one of my two seminary pastorates and said, “I sure like you more than our last pastor.” I should have had brains enough to stop her right there but I was too curious so I said, “How is that?” She said, “Because you always say amen and he said ah-men.” I walked away in shock. A pastor friend of mine was giving an invitation and a man came forward: he assumed he was coming to make some kind of decision. When he got to the pastor, he opened the Sunday bulletin and said, “Who proofs this, I found 6 errors.”
SECONDLY: THEY COMPLETELY MISUNDERSTAND AND MISINTERPRET SCRIPTURE
Three times in this passage, Jesus questions their knowledge and understanding of scripture:
- Verse 3: Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
- Verse 5: And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? One greater is here than the Temple!
- Verse 7: But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’
Is this unbelievable or what: these guys knew the O.T. by heart but they had totally misunderstood all the O.T. types, the spirit of the law and the heart of God. These guys were anything but Godly. Jesus give three examples of where the Pharisees has totally misunderstood the scripture.
- They misunderstood the law. God gave us rules for our own welfare and protection. The Sabbath was not to punish but to prosper us. The Sabbath was never intended to make life harder but easier but the Pharisees were legalist, they pressed the letter of the law far beyond God’s intention. Let me give you an example: abortion is not constitutional, it is based on the right to privacy which is not in the constitution. The liberals knew that we could not make a clean jump from the constitution to abortion, so they created the right of privacy and then from there they went to the termination of the baby’s life. I promise you, the original intent of our forefathers was not to legalize killing babies. The Jews had done the same thing with the law of Moses so that it had become harmful to certain segments of the population.
- They misunderstood symbols and types. The Jews were notorious at working the symbol and ignoring the substance. Jesus said, “One greater than the Temple is here.” Israel’s first worship center was a tent made of goat skins. It was simple, plain and I suppose unadorable. It was not one of the wonders of the world. Moses constructed this portable worship center by following God’s detail instructions. God was content with the goat skin tent: He did not want an elaborate edifice because He knew the Israelites would worship the structure rather than Him. You know the history, they were not satisfied with the tent, they wanted a temple, a huge temple with gold plated walls studded with precious gems. And what did they do with this magnificent temple, they worshipped it. Jeremiah the prophet had a sermon on temple worship. Not only did they worship the temple, they worshipped the Sabbath. Let me ask you a couple of questions: what was the purpose and meaning of the Tabernacle? Was it not God’s intention to dwell among His people and thus the sacred tent. John tells us in 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Literally, Jesus pitched His tent among us and we who are believers saw His glory. Unfortunately, the Jewish religious establishment did not recognize the deity of Christ which explains why they persecuted Him.
- They misunderstood the heart of God. God is merciful, the Pharisees were anything but. The LORD prefers kindness to sacrifice. He loves mercy. The Pharisees who claimed to be God lovers did not know God’s heart.
THIRDLY: THEY HAD MORE COMPASSION ON ANIMALS THAN PEOPLE
I told you that it would get more unbelievable as we went. They follow Jesus to the synagogue and there is a man there with a withered hand. Jesus can heal him but it is the Sabbath. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit you to heal on the Sabbath?” What a dumb question. First of all, Jesus created the Sabbath, He is greater than the Sabbath. Secondly, healing the man will be something good. Is it wrong to do good on the Sabbath, to relieve human suffering. The unbelievable thing is the coldness of the Pharisees. Jesus stands the man in front of them, his hand is withered. He cannot use his hand which is a disability. They feel no compassion on the man, none.The man with the withered hand was invisible to them. They were so wrapped up in their own selfish agenda that they didn’t even notice the hurting man and they didn’t care to notice.
Jesus asked them the question, “If you had only one sheep and it got in a ditch or pit, would you rescue it on the Sabbath?” He knew the answer, they were greedy and yes they could pulled their ox out of the ditch but they did not care about this man’s pain. They had no ability to care for people. If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to feel the same way about people that He did, we must love people, more than we do our pets and more than we do our possessions. I don’t believe there is a believer in the building that could not think of at least one lost friend if we tried, the problem is, we don’t care. People are going to hell and we don’t give a damn. The proof is that we are more upset with the word I just used than we are the fact that people without Christ are going to hell. Let’s be honest, we don’t care.
FOURTH: THEY INITIATE A CONSPIRACY TO MURDER JESUS BECAUSE HE HEALED A MAN ON THE SABBATH
Jesus does a good deed, He relieves a man from his suffering and they get angry, so angry that they have a meeting where they discuss a way to get rid of Jesus. How could anyone hate Jesus or want to kill Him, that is unbelievable. How can a act of kindness and love arouse hate? To my knowledge, it was this act of kindness, Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath that initiated the conspiracy that would eventually lead to Jesus death. It all began on this day.
What conclusion can we draw from this story?
- We do not want to be like the Pharisees. [Nitpickers, fault-finders, cold, indifferent, misguided and full of hate for Christ]
- We want to move in the direction of Christ. Where are you spiritually. With the Pharisees being a 0 and Jesus being a 10. Where are you in your love for people: are you where the Pharisees were with no love for people or where Jesus was, a perfect 10, willing to lay down your life for others. How many of us are closer to the Pharisees than we are Jesus.