People Are Worth More Than Our Expectations

We are in Matthew’s section about Jesus’s teaching on the Kingdom of heaven, particularly about the Sabbath rest we find in Christ alone. What do you think people are worth? Is it more important to maintain some sort of standard and make sure people keep all the rules or to love people where they are at? Is it good to emphasize rules or programs at the expense of serving others’ good? These are differences in ways that people do religion or church on this earth. One way is God’s design; the other is entirely contrary to the sincere Christian worldview and faith.

Matthew 12:9-21

Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse Him.

And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.

But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:

“Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”

Setting (v. 9)

Departing from there, He went into their synagogue.

Matthew is careful to change the setting for the readers. Jesus goes into their, the Pharisees’ (v. 2), synagogue. Jesus has, once again, addressed their legalistic religiosity (v. 1-8). It is still the Sabbath day, the Jewish day of rest—Saturday. This detail is important because it clues us in that Jesus is not only being a good Jew but, also, distinguishing Himself from the false, legalistic religiosity of the Pharisees. He is in their synagogue where their teaching is prevalent. Here is where Jesus will make His next point.

Sanctity of life (v. 10-14)

And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse Him.

A man with a withered hand is also at synagogue on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, because they want to accuse Jesus, single him out and ask Jesus if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They use this man to their own ends. Even though this question is a debated question, the Pharisees mean it to accuse Jesus. If Jesus cannot settle their debate, how can He be Messiah? There is neither Mosaic Law nor Talmudic rule that restricts healing on the Sabbath. It is assumed by the Jews that healing meant breaking the Sabbath. This assumption informs what we find in Jewish tradition allowing for the healing of those who are about to die (Mishnah Yoma 8:6) and women giving birth (Mishnah Shabbat 18:3), but not any form of healing that isn’t immediately necessary.

And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Jesus does not quote from Scripture. Instead, He appeals to common sense. If your sheep falls, you will pick it up. Then, He applies the principle of the sanctity of human life to say that people are more valuable than sheep. While the Pharisees used the lame man to their own ends, Jesus talks about his intrinsic value. He was created in God’s image. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Has Jesus gone beyond Scripture, here? In a sense, yes. Scripture does not instruct us as to whether healing on the Sabbath is acceptable or not. Yet, Jesus can confidently say that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. First, it is not contrary to the Law. Second, it is consistent with the Biblical view that all human life is sacred. Third, it fits with the Biblical theme Jesus has already described—God desires compassion, not sacrifice (v. 7). It is not contrary, but consistent with Scripture; so, it is lawful.

By Christ’s example, then, this is how we can think about practicing things that are neither explicitly condemned nor condoned in Scripture. We ask, is contrary to Scripture’s message and is it consistent with the doctrinal principles described explicitly in Scripture? The same principle applies when considering non-explicit doctrine (e.g. paedobaptism, degeneration).  Jesus does this, and His application of Scripture is consistent with His dedication to Scripture alone, neither tainting it nor hiding any of it away (Matthew 5:13-20). Scripture does not explicitly command us concerning every detail of life, every possible decision we contemplate, or every belief we hold. That’s because Scripture is not about what we must do. It’s about what God is doing. We read Scripture primarily to know God, not to learn what is required and restricted. Once again, we see that the Pharisees are asking the wrong questions. Jesus reminds them that being God’s people is not about keeping the full degree of the Law. God cares more about His people than He does about His rules. In fact, we will see in a moment that God gave His rules to benefit His people. In Mark’s Gospel, Christ teaches, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath is about people’s rest from their labors—physical rest from toil and eternal rest from self-righteous legalism.

Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.
But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

Jesus healed the lame man, showing He had authority to say what was good to do on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, being put in their places, conspired as to how they might destroy Jesus. There’s the pride of human-centered religion for you.

Gentile inclusion (v. 15-21)

But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out, Until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope.”

Most Israelites in Galilee have rejected Jesus at this point (11:16-24). Now, instead of instructing His disciples to go share His Gospel like He did in chapter 10, Jesus is instructing Jews not to go tell other Jews who He is. The context here is different from that of Matthew 8:4, where we read about Jesus instructing the former leper not to tell others what He had done. The reason Jesus instructs Jews who believe Him not to go tell others is different than the reason He had in Matthew 8:4. While Matthew 8:4 got at Biblical testimony, this passage quotes from Isaiah 42:1-3 to insist that Jesus is withholding His identity from the Jews for the benefit of Gentile nations. Let’s look at the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-9 together,

“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, “I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison. I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.”

Israel is to be a light to the nations and all nations are to be blessed through her. There is one problem. People are unrighteous and essentially depraved. Israel would fail to carry Christ’s Gospel to the nations because people are altogether insufficient to carry Christ’s message and accomplish Christ’s great commission. As Matthew examines this prophecy, he implies that Christ is using Israel’s obstinance to spread the Gospel. Israel is rejecting the Gospel so that it will go out and be accepted by the Gentiles. This is how God will bless all nations by working together the Jew’s rejection of Christ. We saw that God is, indeed, working together the rejection of His Gospel and that it pleases Him to do so in chapter 11, verses 25-27. In Romans 11:11, Paul  will make the same claim; the Jews rejected Jesus so that the Gospel would go to the Gentiles. In Romans 11:31, Paul will state that God’s mercy upon the Gentiles will lead to mercy also upon the Jews. In Romans 11:32, Paul will explain that God shuts all up in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. God gave His rules to benefit His people. It makes sense that Matthew would go here while explaining Heaven’s kingdom. Matthew’s Gospel is apologetic. If Gentiles are coming to Christ, Jews might be asking, “If Jesus is really the Jewish Messiah, why are more Gentiles accepting Him than Jews?” Matthew’s answer—Isaiah predicted it would be this way; we are a light to the nations.

This applies directly and explicitly to God’s mission. In reality, we fail the Great Commission. Yet, God works together people’s obstinance to be sure the message about salvation by grace through faith spreads. God works together false teaching, unhealthy churches, unfaithfulness, apostasy, and the faithfulness of His true children to spread His message. He has been doing His redemptive work this way from Adam and Eve onward.

Jesus has not only answered the Pharisees’ question about the Sabbath but, also, the question about why the Jews have rejected Him and the Gentiles have accepted Him.

What we’ve seen so far about Heaven’s kingdom:

Kingdom of HeavenKingdom of This World
Kingdom of priestsKingdom of consumers
Kingdom of prestige even for the leastKingdom of comparison and contrast
Kingdom of judgment even for the greatest
Exists throughout time—even before Christ’s incarnation
A people not a physical locationDefined by visible structures and conquests
Kingdom of suffering in the midst of this worldKingdom of force
Able to hear and understand Christ’s teachingUnable to hear and understand Christ’s teaching
Kingdom of wisdomKingdom of faultfinding
Kingdom of repentanceKingdom of pride
Chosen and built by God’s will aloneRejected by God’s will alone
Kingdom of restKingdom of merit
Kingdom of libertyKingdom of restriction
Kingdom of willing purityKingdom of unwilling rule-keeping
Kingdom of healingKingdom of using people
Kingdom whereby all human life is absolutely sacredKingdom whereby rules, programs, and organizations are elevated above  human worth

Questions:

  1. Does Scripture inform us explicitly about all things?
  2. Can we rightly investigate question Scripture does not deal with explicitly, still trusting in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture alone?
  3. If all human life has intrinsic value, how do Christ’s people treat others regardless our expectations or rules?
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