Church of Christ
Locks Cross Roads
1) Jesus faces charges of Sabbath breaking - Matthew 12:1-14
The time is sometime in the spring of 27 A.D., after the second Passover of Jesus' ministry (John 5). In the warmer
parts of Palestine the barley ripens about the middle of April and is reaped in April or the beginning of May; the
wheat ripens two or three weeks later.
Apparently Jesus used none of His miraculous power to provide necessary daily food either for Himself or his men
(Matthew 21:18-19, Mark 11:12-13). The arrogance of the Pharisees to make such a charge (Matthew 12:2)
becomes the more painfully apparent when it is remembered that the Sabbath was not observed by the Hebrews,
even the Pharisees, with rigorous austerity. They even turned the day into one of feasting and entertainment of
guests (Luke 14:1-6).
Jesus' men had to settle for what they could find to fill their empty stomachs. Moses' Law expressly permits this
action on any day of the week (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). And all the Gospel writers make it clear that what the
disciples did, was done while they were on the move, going through the fields of standing grain.
It was a perfectly simple and natural action of the disciples, and reveals very clearly their estimate of their Lord's
heart. They did not for a moment imagine that He would rebuke them. They knew, as members of the Hebrew
nation, that they were doing things that the Pharisees would object to, but they were with Him, and a consciousness
of His attitude towards the Sabbath, set them free to pluck the ears. It is a revelation of the relationship existing
between the Christ and his disciples. There was no hesitation, no appeal, and no fear.
"Why do your disciples do (it)?" This question provided what seemed to be the perfect trap. Either the Jesus must
accept the Pharisees' premise that the disciples' actions truly violated the Sabbath and, therefore, He must
condemn His own followers, thereby alienating them. He would be shown as knowing little.
Or He must publicly repudiate the Pharisees' premise that the disciples' actions violated the Sabbath, in which case
He would expose both Himself and His followers as transgressors of the Law. By defending their transgression, He
becomes in spirit Himself a transgressor.
Not lawful on the Sabbath. What the disciples were doing was clearly a breach of rabbinic traditions, but not of the
Biblical law, so the charge of the Pharisees is false. The original commandment given by God forbade work (Exodus
20:8-11, Exodus 23:12, Exodus 31:12-17, Exodus 34:21, Exodus 35:2-3, Leviticus 23:3, Numbers 15:32-36,
Human need rises above strict, legal procedure (Matthew 12:3-4).
There are times when it is proper to ignore the opposition, to let it die frustrated by its own weakness, fall of its own
weight. But the Lord sees that this is not the time. This is the moment when He must do battle or surrender his
Matthew 12:3 - have you not read? Mark's rendering (Mark 2:25) is brusquer: Have you never read? However,
Jesus expected a positive answer, as demonstrated by the form in which He framed the question. Of course, they
had cited Scripture many times, but had been blinded to its significance.
If this is a mere argument based upon the fact that the Pharisees excused David for eating the holy bread, then His
argument goes no further, since it would be valid only against those who mistakenly justified such a violation of the
law of which David becomes guilty.
Yet when he did so, the high priest and David were not punished by God for so doing, as was Uzzah (2nd Samuel
6:6-7) and Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2) who also departed from strict legal procedure. The obvious
difference between the apostasy of these latter and the actions of David and Ahimelek lies in their recognition that
even the letter of God's holy law may be superseded and set aside by higher considerations. In this case, human
need takes precedence over any ritual, custom or practice.
Jewish tradition vindicated his conduct on the plea that danger to life superseded the Sabbath-law, and hence, all
laws connected with it. If David's hunger could set aside a divine regulation, could not the hunger of Jesus' men
waive the interpretation of the Sabbath no-work law?
Matthew 12:5 - or have ye not read in the law? Feel the construction and striking contrasts that Jesus combines in
this sentence! 1) in the Law! 2) on the Sabbath Day! 3) The Priests! 4) in the Temple! 5) PROFANE THE
SABBATH! 6) Yet, are guiltless.
But the main point Jesus makes is that, if the priests did NOT carry out their obviously laborious tasks on the
Sabbath, they would certainly be profaners of the seventh day. Yet who would seriously argue that they were, in
any sense, violating the Sabbath? And yet, by the Pharisees' own definitions of work, contradicts itself by making
those governed by it to violate its precepts by keeping other of its requirements!
The only reason the Law required the hard labor of the priests on the Sabbath in the Temple was the spiritual need
of the people, for it was this, and not with a mere outward regulation or form, that God was concerned.
If the Pharisees should reply that the work referred to was in the service of the temple, and therefore permitted, "But
I say unto you, that in this place is One greater than the temple."
You did not understand Hosea 6:6 and so you transgressed the spirit of real religion because of your ignorance.
God's mercy - I desire that you learn what My mercy really means, not merely how better to sacrifice; I intend that
you learn to know ME, not solely the liturgies and sacrifices.