For an introduction to this series, click here.
Dec. 18, 2006
Matthew 12 marks the beginning of the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. It is the point in time in which Jesus experienced open opposition from the people. The leaders had already rejected Jesus in their hearts, and they began openly opposing Him. Sadly many of the common people followed suit.
The chapter opens with Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for their lack of mercy. He and His disciples were walking through some fields on Saturday, the Sabbath. They plucked up some wheat and were eating the kernels. This was acceptable in those days. Moses' law mandated that farmers allow people to eat things out of their field, and it told passers by not to take more than they needed at that immediate time. The Pharisees were apparently walking with them and accused them of working on the Sabbath. To us this seems like a ridiculous charge. Plucking a few heads of wheat is no one's idea of work. But the Pharisees were quite serious. They were zealous, but they were misguided in their zeal. Instead of encouraging the people in their service for God, they were changing it into a burden.
Jesus responds to them by pointing out that God is more concerned with purity of heart than He is with their nitpicking (literally) rules. Jesus points out that David ate the shewbread in the Tabernacle when he was starving, food that only the priests were supposed to eat. Also, Jesus asked them how the priests could work on the Sabbath, if no one was supposed to do anything on Saturday.
The same day, Jesus entered the synagogue, and met a man with a crippled hand. The Pharisees in the congregation told Him He should not heal people on Saturday. Jesus replied: "Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." (12:11-12)
Then the Pharisees do something much worse than lacking mercy, although that is bad enough. After Jesus cast a demon out of a man, some of them began to say Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan.
Jesus responds with His famous statement, "No city or house divided against itself will stand." (12:25) Then He goes after their statements directly: "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks a word against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." (12:31-32,)
Then some of the Jews tested Jesus by asking Him for a sign, probably some of the same people who accused Him of being empowered by Satan. Jesus will have none of it: "The men of Nineveh shall rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here." (12:41)
Then someone interrupted Jesus, telling Him His mother and brothers were wanting to see Him. Mark gives us more detail at this point, but I want to touch on it here. Jesus responds by saying, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?...Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (12:48,50, ESV)
These are some troubling words, to say the least. Don't be fooled by the skeptics who say that the Gospels paint a rosy, impossibly perfect story of Jesus. This chapter is one of several that deny that argument. Jesus was not afraid of telling people the truth, because part of His mission was to show people what they really were. Sometimes, that means you have to provoke them. No one learns anything if all you ever tell them is how wonderful they are. Jesus blasted the hypocrisy of the people around Him not because He wanted to tell them off, but because He cared about them. Of course some were not going to respond, but those who have a tender heart will realize their pride and arrogance and will repent. I know there is a difference between lovingly proclaiming the truth and beating people down, but far too many preachers and churches don't even try to provoke people to change.