January 17

Bible Reading: Matthew 12

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day lived according to an extensive set of rules.  This was nowhere more evident than in their religious efforts associated with keeping of the Sabbath, as Alfred Edersheim explained in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,”: “On no other subject is Rabbinic teaching more minute and more manifestly incongruous to its professed object.”  There were laws that dealt with how far a person could travel, how much weight a person could lift, and what could and could not be done to deal with a medical need or injury.  These smaller traditions worked to cloud the original intent of the setting aside of the Sabbath—weightier concerns of the Law were lost in the minutia of petty rules (Matthew 15:3, 6-9; 23:23-24).  Jesus perfectly upheld the law (2 Corinthians 5:21), but He refused to be bound by the man-made traditions of the Pharisees.

After one Sabbath-breaking controversy (Matthew 12:1-8), Jesus entered “their” synagogue and caused another (Matthew 12:9).  A man with a “withered hand” was there, along with the people, Jesus’ disciples, and the Pharisees.  We are given no history and few details regarding the man, though Luke’s gospel records that it was the man’s right hand (Luke 6:6).  It is possible that the Pharisees had deliberately brought the man—to see what Jesus would do.  Alfred Edersheim comments regarding the scene:

“We can now imagine the scene in the Synagogue.  The place is crowded.  Christ probably occupies a prominent position as leading the prayers or teaching: a position whence He can see and be seen by all.  Here, eagerly bending forward, are the dark faces of the Pharisees, expressive of curiosity, malice, cunning.  They are looking round at a man whose right hand is withered, perhaps putting him forward, drawing attention to him, loudly whispering, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath-day?’  The Lord takes up the challenge.”

Alfred Edersheim

Jesus had the man come forward.  He asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill (Mark 3:4)?”  “But they kept silent.”  “And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5), the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), healed the man on the Sabbath.  “Then He said to the man ‘stretch out your hand!’  And he stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other” (Matthew 12:13).  As with Jesus’ other miracles, this one revealed His Divine authority and identity (John 20:30-31).  We are not told of the reaction of the people, though a future miracle caused the people to ask, ‘This man cannot be the Son of David, can He?’  (Matthew 12:23).  The reaction of the Pharisees was both sad and predictable: “But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11).

They were, after all, nothing but white-washed tombs, filled with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27).  A lively faith and love for God that would have responded to the Spirit’s clear testimony regarding Jesus was absent (Matthew 12:31-32).  A genuine love for man that would have delighted in the restoration of this man’s health was missing.  In its place was a violent disdain for the One who was working to reveal the true nature of their puffed-up religiosity (Matthew 12:34-35).  Henceforth, they would not rest until the Light was extinguished.

Religious rule-keeping is no substitute for right relationship with God.  It is the nature of “self-made religions” to invent “commandments and teachings of men” (Colossians 2:22-23).  But the inferiority of anyone’s self-righteousness is readily exposed in the presence of the Light.  In response to Jesus there are but two choices, hate the light or come to it (John 3:20-21) —stand with Jesus or against Him (Matthew 12:30).  The Sabbath-day healing of the man with the withered hand enraged the Pharisees, but I’m thinking that the man with the withered hand probably had a different opinion.

Religious rule-keeping is no substitute for a right relationship with Jesus.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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