The Lord of the Sabbath. Matt. 12, 1—13.
The hungry disciples: V. 1. At that time, Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn, and His disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. While Jesus was engaged in the work of His ministry in Galilee, He came into conflict with the Sabbath observance of the Pharisees. His disciples, who accompanied Him on His walk, became hungry. Now they were on a path leading through a field of grain, which was ready for harvest. "These paths are often exceedingly rough. They were never surveyed and never repaired. They were simply devoted to public use by immemorial custom. If a landowner wished to raise grain in a field through which one of these paths ran, he plowed up to the very edge of the narrow path and put in his seed. There were neither fences nor ditches to separate the road from the field. Fields traversed by such roads are still very common in Palestine. It was along such a road that Jesus and the disciples were traveling when they plucked the ears of wheat on the Sabbath." 103) Note: The Law permitted a hungry man to pluck ears from the field of another, in order to still the pangs of his hunger, Deut. 23, 25. But this was on a Sabbath, or, as Luke says, on the second Sabbath after the first, Luke 6, 1, that is, the first Sabbath after the second day of the Passover, when the sheaf of first-fruits was offered, Lev. 23, 10. 11; for in this way, and from this day, did .the Jews reckon the time until the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. Hardly, however, had the disciples begun to pluck ears when fault was found.
The objection of the Pharisees: V. 2. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto Him, Behold, Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day. The malicious faultfinders deliberately made a mountain out of a mole-hill and construed the action with their usual intolerance. The plucking to them became reaping, and the rubbing with the hands to remove the hulls in their eyes became threshing. There was no wrong done even from the standpoint of the strictest interpretation of the Jewish Law. But the Pharisees so construed it and took offense, incidentally accusing Christ as an accomplice for permitting the sacrilege. Christ's answer: V. 3. But He said unto them, Have ye not read what David did when he was an hungred, and they that were with him, v. 4. how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the show-bread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? V. 5. Or have ye not read in the Law how on the Sabbath days the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Jesus had a most disconcerting way of quoting Scripture to His enemies, which usually resulted in their chagrin and shameful rout. He has two examples for them: David, in fleeing before the wrath of Saul, came to the sanctuary of the Lord at Nob, 1 Sam. 21, 1—6, where Ahimelech, the priest, gave him the show-bread, the bread of the countenance of God, from the table in the Holy Place. These consecrated bread-cakes were to be eaten by the priests only, Lev. 24, 8. 9, and yet David, the great model of Jewish piety, ate of this hallowed bread with his men. And again: The priests, in the regular discharge of their duties, in sacrificing the burnt offerings in the morning and evening services of the Sabbath day, were technically transgressing the Sabbath law, with its absolute prohibition of work, thus, if one would argue from the standpoint of the Pharisees, actually profaning the Sabbath.
The application of the argument: V. 6. But I say unto you, That in this place is One greater than the Temple. V. 7. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. V. 8. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath day. Christ's argument itself could not be challenged, but He now brings out the principles involved to reveal the smallness and the uncharitableness of their hearts. In the first place: He is greater than the Jewish Law and the Temple. What was permitted to the priests that served in the Temple must surely be conceded as a right to His disciples. Then also: The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. The greatest law finding its application here is the law of charity, Hos. 6, 6. All the sacrifices made in punctilious observance of the letter of the Law cannot be placed on a level with the mercy, with the love, which is the fulfillment of the Law. A heart that realizes the need of the neighbor and cheerfully helps in obtaining all that is needed, is engaged in a higher form of worship than that which upholds a rigorous legalism. And finally: Christ openly declares that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the founder of the New Covenant. All the Old Testament precepts concerning sacrifices, Sabbath, festivals, were only shadows of things to come. They have lost their force since Christ has now been revealed. The Word of God and the law of love alone rule in the New Testament.
The application of these principles: V. 9. And when He was departed thence, He went into their synagog. V. 10. And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered, and they asked Him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days? that they might accuse Him. V. 11. And He said unto them, What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out? V. 12. How much, then, is a man better than a sheep! Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days. V. 13. Then said He to the man, Stretch forth thine hand; and he stretched it forth, and it was restored whole, like as the other. The hatred of the Pharisees was intensified with each new defeat. They had received a well-deserved rebuke based upon Scriptural grounds, but they were determined to turn the admiration of the people into suspicion and then into opposition. And so they laid their plans for another Sabbath, Mark 3, 2; Luke 6, 6. Jesus, according to His custom, went into the synagog to teach. And there, evidently by design, was a man with a dried-up, shriveled hand. Here was a case which could bear postponement till the morrow. But so eager are the Pharisees to provoke the Lord that they put a question with reference to the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath day. Christ's reply, two counter-questions and an irresistible conclusion. A man with any feelings at all, seeing the misery of a dumb beast, aside from the fact that it is his one possession, will draw the sheep out of the cistern. Their own rabbis, at that time, made provision for such cases. And a man should not receive as much consideration as an animal? Their own canons permitted the doing well on the Sabbath. It is, therefore, right to heal. Christ defied the authority of the Pharisees, and challenged them to bring accusation against Him. And the sick man, in obeying the command of Christ, acknowledged His authority and set aside that of the Jewish leaders. A signal manifestation of faith, on the one hand, an instance of divine power, on the other: the best fulfillment of the Sabbath.
The Enmity of the Pharisees and Christ's Answer. Matt. 12, 14—30.
V. 14. Then the Pharisees went out and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him. Overawed for the moment, and unable to formulate an answer, their envy and malice soon leads them from finding fault to plotting against the Lord's life. They came together and conferred with one another with the express object of finding ways and means to put Him to death. So far can hypocrisy debase a person that the most outrageous uncharitableness and lack of mercy, even deadly hatred and enmity, are covered over with pious customs and a sanctimonious behavior.
Jesus retires: V. 15. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew Himself from thence; and great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all, v. 16. and charged them that they should not make Him known, v. 17. that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, v. 18. 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 show judgment to the Gentiles. V. 19. He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. V. 20. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory. V. 21. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust. The hour of Jesus had not yet come in which He would be delivered into the hands of His enemies, so He left the city in which He had had the encounter with the Pharisees. The spell of His personality and of His words was still upon the people, who followed Him in crowds. And His Savior sympathy went out to them in the same miraculous manifestations, in works of healing. But more than ever He disliked and discouraged publicity, since it was bound to do harm to His work at this stage. He therefore begged them with an almost threatening attitude not to reveal Him. He wanted to perform His ministry, for the present, almost in concealment. And herein was the prophecy Is. 42, 1—4 fulfilled. The servant of Jehovah is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who, according to His human nature, had received the Spirit of God at His baptism, who, at the same time, had been acknowledged as the Son of God, whose Gospel-message was to be the light of the Gentiles till the ends of the earth. His spirit would be neither that of contention nor of blatant self-advertising after the manner of preachers that bring their names to the front, but forget the Gospel they were sent to preach. So gentle, sympathetic, and kind would His spiritual ministry be that those that are weak, whose faith was at the point of extinction, could depend upon His help. The bruised reed is carefully bound up until the contusion is healed; the weak Christian receives strength from above. The lamp of faith which is at the point of expiring will receive fresh oil from the Gospel. By this manner of working in and through the Gospel the Messiah will lead His Gospel to victory over all the forces of Satan and man's pride, and the Gentiles themselves, at present still far from the testimonies of promise, will learn to trust in His name. A short, but comprehensive statement concerning the Messianic work of Christ, the miracles of His prophetic office.
A demoniac healed: V. 22. Then was brought unto Him. one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb; and He healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. This narrative fittingly illustrates the gradual growth of opposition, hatred, enmity, malice, and calumny on the part of the Pharisees. A man was brought to Christ whom the Evil Spirit had deprived of both sight and speech, thus torturing him by the loss of these senses. V. 23. And all the people were amazed and said, Is not this the Son of David? Their minds had not yet been saturated with the poison of enmity toward Christ; they were frankly overwhelmed by this new evidence of divine power, and openly declared their conviction that this man must be the Son of David in the absolute sense, the promised Messiah, in whom the prophets had bid them trust. They still express themselves somewhat doubtfully, however: Can this possibly be He? There can surely no longer be any doubt. The Pharisees, ever present, immediately harbored bitter thoughts: V. 24. But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. This thought was provoked by the frank expression of amazement on the part of the people. Apparently, they did not voice their sentiments outside of their own circle, because they feared the multitude; but, after the manner of their kind, they murmured and grumbled among themselves, accusing Christ of being in league with the devil, as once before, chapter 9, 34. Beelzebub, which means god of flies, and Beelzebul, god of dung, had originally been names of idols, and were by the Jews applied to the devil. It was an insult without parallel which they thus heaped upon the Lord.
Christ takes them to task: V. 25. And Jesus knew their thoughts and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: v. 26. and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how, then, shall his kingdom stand? V. 27. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. V. 28. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Christ not only knew of the efforts of the Pharisees to discredit Him, but as He that searches hearts and minds He knew their very words, and therefore immediately shows the foolishness of such talk, the absurdity of the accusation and its implication. Just as it is proverbially true that lack of unity and harmony disrupts a nation, and that the same condition in a household or in a community will sever the relations which make for growth and prosperity, so it is true of the kingdom of Satan. There seems to be a lurking implication in the expression of Christ: Such follies are sometimes committed by communities, civil wars being by no means unknown, although history shows the fatal consequences in scores of cases. But Satan, wicked as he is, is not such a fool. The thought that Satan would try to evict Satan or any of the devils is the height of absurdity. Give him credit for greater sharpness of wit. And Jesus strengthens His argument by showing how their accusation against Him condemns themselves. The Pharisees had children, or disciples, whom they trained to be exorcists, Acts 9, 13. 14, who made a practice to journey through the country and attempt to drive out demons from those possessed. They used certain medicines, but depended mainly upon magical formulas, in which the name of Jehovah was freely used. The reference to these performances effectually blocked the Pharisees. To answer now meant to condemn themselves and their own practices. They were silenced, judged, and condemned by their own criticism. Jesus, however, in His extraordinary success in expelling demons, demonstrated beyond doubt that the Spirit of God was on His side, the same Spirit who, in and through Him, had brought the kingdom of God to them and sought to work faith in their hearts.
Another illustration: V. 29. Or else, how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. V. 30. He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad. In case they were not yet convinced, He will attempt to establish His position by another parabolic saying. Every demoniac is a captive of Satan, bound, body and soul, in his power, to do his will. But Christ has come to destroy the works of the devil, 1 John 3, 8. He wants to take the stronghold of the enemy and wrest his prey from him. This Jesus did, not only in the individual cases when He cured demoniacs, but by His entire life, suffering, and death, by His active and passive obedience in behalf of all men. He has gained a complete deliverance from the bondage of the devil. On His side, in His strength is victory, and there alone. This fact gives emphasis to the warning statement as to the alternative: either for or against Christ. There is no middle ground in this decision, there is no neutrality in this fight. This referred not only to the Pharisees, whose enmity was growing more evident every day, but especially to those among the people that were still undecided. The so-called neutral people that do not wish to oppose Christ outright, but also do not wish to antagonize the children of the world, the wise blasphemers, are, in the last analysis, enemies of the work of Christ and hinder the coming of the Kingdom. Instead of gathering with the Lord of the harvest, their hesitancy, their vacillating policy, harms His cause.
The Sin against the Holy Ghost. Matt. 12, 31—37.
A solemn warning: V. 31. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. V. 32. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. The Jews were having their day of grace with manifestations of God's mercy such as had never been granted to any nation before. The Spirit was making a most gracious effort to reach their hearts and minds through the Word as preached by Christ and His disciples. But their leaders and many of the common people were deliberately hardening their hearts against the influence of Christ's work and message. As long as the opposition and even the blasphemy would flow mainly from ignorance and be directed chiefly against the person of Christ, there would be opportunity and probability of repentance. Just as soon, however, as there is blaspheming against the Holy Ghost, then all this is changed. For this implies that a person has, indeed, conceded and acknowledged Jesus as the Redeemer of the world, that he has had the conviction of faith, that he was unable to deny the evidence; but in the face of evidence and conviction he deliberately, blasphemously rejects the work of the Holy Ghost for his salvation. The phrase: Neither in this world nor in the world to come, emphatically declares that the peculiar nature of this sin precludes all forgiveness; there is absolutely no hope.
Kindred warnings: V. 33. Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt and his fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by his fruit. V. 34. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. V. 35. A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things. V. 36. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment. V. 37. For by thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. These words no longer describe the sin against the Holy Ghost, but they characterize the conduct of such as may be in danger of hardening their hearts against the benign influences of Christ and His Gospel-message. It is the nature of a good tree to yield good fruit; it is the nature of a putrid, rotten tree to have rotten, bad fruit. All depends upon the relation to Christ, whether a person does good or evil works. As for those that followed the Pharisees in their hatred and its consequences: generation of vipers He calls them. The malice, the hypocrisy, the deceit of serpents is their outstanding trait, Matt. 3, 7; Ps. 140, 3. John the Baptist and Christ agree in their judgment of them. Satanic evil is all that one may expect from a morally hopeless brood. The poison of their nature must come out in the filthiness, in the malevolence, in the enmity of their tongue. A significant fact: In the midst of His scathing denunciation Jesus uses a proverb that has a good interpretation as well as an evil. The heart, filled to the brim with certain thoughts, naturally overflows in the words expressing the condition of the heart. If the heart be a treasure-house of good, edifying thoughts and desires, they strive to come out in kind, edifying speech. But if sinful desires have taken possession of the heart, there will be passionate outbursts in words directed against all the commandments. Matt. 15, 19; Mark 7, 21. And this is no small matter: Every idle, vain, empty, superfluous word, spoken without need or the purpose of edifying, is a matter of record before God, and must be answered for at the final Judgment. For the word, as the ancient Greeks were wont to say, is the revelation of the soul. Words are the index of a good or a bad heart, of a heart firm in the faith in Christ and full of love toward Him, or of a heart that has never taken thought of the will of the Lord, and is bad out of pure inertness toward that which Christ has declared to be good — the poorest species of unbelief.
The Sign from Heaven and a Warning. Matt. 12, 38—45.
A request: V. 38. Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. The emphatic manner of speaking which Christ had been employing may not have been without influence upon some of His hearers. Some of those that were not yet open blasphemers may have been sincere enough in asking for some proof of Messianic authority in making such statements. On the other hand, the connection will hardly permit such a charitable interpretation. No, those that had just cast the suspicion of Satanic influence upon Christ resented the fact that He was assuming royal and judicial authority before them. They rejected His claims. Probably in open derision they ask for a sign from heaven to substantiate the claims which they believed absurd.
The refusal: V. 39. But He answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonas. V. 40. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. An evil brood and adulterous He calls them. He saw into their hearts and judged them accordingly. He knew what their purpose in asking a miracle was, since they were not earnest seekers after truth. In a spiritual sense they were adulterers, Is. 23, 17; they were idolaters, since they rejected Him, the Messiah of the world. They would join with the heathens in the act of His condemnation and crucifixion. One sign, one great miracle, indeed, would be given to them and to the world: His resurrection, typified in the history of the prophet Jonas. The belief in His resurrection will for this generation and for all the generations to come be the touchstone by which the followers of Christ will be distinguished from His enemies. Jesus refers to the time between His burial and resurrection according to the Jewish manner of reckoning time, any part of a day being counted as a full day.
A warning call: V. 41. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. V. 42. The queen of the South shall rise up in the Judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The mention of Jonas brings on the further thought. The Ninevites heard and heeded the call to repentance as it was made by Jonas, Jonah 3, 10. He was only a prophet called by God to bring this message, whereas here was the Author of the message Himself in the midst of the Jews, and both His person and His message were unheeded. On the Day of Judgment, therefore, these heathen people will rise in accusation against the Jewish nation and their leaders. They will bring a formal charge and complaint, and show them to be guilty in their rejection of Christ. In the same way the great queen that came to see Solomon and hear his wisdom, 1 Kings 10, will appear before the tribunal of God on the last day and add her testimony to that of the Ninevites for the condemnation of the Jews. From a far country, from Arabia Felix, she came to hear the wisdom of a mere man. But here the eternal Wisdom from on high was expounding the counsel of God from eternity, and yet that generation rejected Man and message.
A comparison: V. 43. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest, and findeth none. V. 44. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. V. 45. Then goeth he and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. The last words give the key to the entire passage. The people of that generation were like demoniacs, from whom the evil spirits have been driven. They had their opportunity now to be rid of the Evil One's influence forever. If they would continue to despise His message, their experience would be like that of the man whom He describes. The deserts were represented as the habitation of the devils, Job 30, 3; Rev. 28, 2; Lev. 16, 21, Banished into the wilderness of desolation, but continually moving in search of a resting-place, and failing to find relief from the tediousness and monotony, the evil spirit resolves to return to his former habitation. The recital is dramatic: Coming, he finds it empty, swept, and garnished; no good spirit has been permitted to make his home there; all love, meekness, and every good impulse has been thrust out, and vain, showy trifles of fashion and folly are decorating the heart. With so much encouragement the result is easily seen. Seven associates the evil spirit chooses, all of them morally even lower than himself; and all of the devils together make such a person their lasting home. Such is the damnable self-surrender of such as deliberately harden their heart in rejection of Christ and in voluntary unbelief. Theirs is the sin of sins. The fate here pictured by Christ is the one which will overtake all that despise the merciful visitation of Christ in and through His Gospel, that have heard His message of love, but have forgotten and despised His gifts. They are children of destruction in a twofold sense, by nature and by choice. And their end is damnation.
Christ's Relatives. Matt. 12, 46—50.
V. 46. While He yet talked to the people, behold, His mother and His brethren stood without, desiring to speak with Him. V. 47. Then one said unto Him, Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee. V. 48. But He answered, and said unto him that told Him, "Who is My mother? and who are My brethren? V. 49. And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! V. 50. For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother. This interruption is not to be explained as vanity or a desire to interfere with the Lord's work. Mary had not learned her lesson in vain, Luke 2, 49; John 2, 4. And His other relatives, whether they were His cousins, or stepbrothers, or true brothers, were guided by Mary. It was rather tender solicitude on the part of Mary. It may have happened more than once that the friends of Jesus were afraid He might become distraught on account of too constant application to preaching and healing, Mark 3, 21. Jesus makes use of the opportunity to give a lesson to at least a part of the assembled multitude. Natural affection and relationship cannot interfere with the sovereign claims of duty. It may be necessary, under circumstances, for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom, to deny all human ties, as Christ did here. With an eloquent, sweeping gesture, which included His disciples standing near Him, He gave His definition. They whose hearts are bound up in Christ's, they whose faith in Christ causes them to acknowledge the true Fatherhood of God, and makes them eager to live a life of service in doing His will, are knit together with Him in the closest possible union. To them Christ is in deed and truth their brother, and they are, in the fullest sense of the word, brothers, and sisters, and mothers of Christ. This spiritual relationship is the most wonderful and the most valuable in the world, it is often the one thing which upholds the Christian in the midst of the opposition and the trials of these last days, since the full acknowledgment will be made in heaven.
Summary. Christ proclaims Himself Lord of the Sabbath, performs a miracle in support of this principle, defends Himself against the accusation of being in league with the devil, warns against the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost and hardening of the heart, refers to the final sign of His resurrection, and teaches. what relationship with Him implies.