Lord of the Sabbath – Matthew 12:1-21

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. … For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”  (Matt 12:6, 8)

As chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel concluded with Jesus’ promise of ‘rest’ for the weary laborer, it should not surprise us that next on the author’s mind is ‘the Sabbath.’ For the Jewish person, rest was embodied in a Day – the seventh day of the week, instituted in Exodus 34:21; “six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” In chapter 12, as the Gospel writer continues to deal with the increasing hostility against Jesus, Matthew deals with one of the main sources of contention between Jesus and Judaism – the Sabbath. Perhaps more than any other matter, the manner in which Jesus understood and kept the Sabbath proposed a severe threat to Judaism’s traditional point of view.

While the Law of Moses was not very specific as to what may or may not constitute work that was prohibited on the Sabbath, over time, Jewish tradition and oral law developed a precise code specifically prohibiting 39 different kinds of activity on the Sabbath. From the perspective of the religious leaders, as Jesus’ disciples plucked grain and ate it, they were violating rabbinical laws against reaping, winnowing, and threshing, and thus “working” on God’s Holy Day. Consider the rabbi’s point of view for a moment: The most exalted part of God’s breathed holy Word – the Ten Commandments – clearly commands, “on the Sabbath day, you shall not to any work.” And here are these Jewish folks following a self-styled “rabbi,” doing on the Sabbath what other laborers do six days a week. As guardians of the Law, who else could put a stop to this most damning practice? You can see how the activity of Jesus’ disciples in the grain fields that Saturday would raise a genuine concern on the part of those who were anxious to protect God’s truth.

In response, Jesus drives his dissenters back to Bible: “Have you not read what David did …” (vs. 3); “have you not read in the Law …” (vs. 5)  “And if you had known what this [verse] means …” (vs. 7). Drawing from the entire Tanakh (the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets), Jesus audaciously argues from Scripture, ultimately exalting Himself above the three most beloved entities of Judaism – the Sabbath, the Temple and the Law! Indeed, as Jesus would say later, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  And it was fulfilled in He who was greater than David, greater than the Temple and Lord of the Sabbath.

Abide in the Truth You Know – 1 John 2:18-29

I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. (1 John 1:21 ESV)

We bemoan the decay of truth in our society, and we should. What is worse than the world redefining and denying the existence of any absolute truth, however, is when truth is denied in the church. We are well aware of the manifold heresies that plague the professing church today. None of this is new, however.

In the first century, deceivers and false brethren plotted to steal the sheep away from the Shepherd. These were antichrists, whom John’s audience heard “is coming” and “now many antichrists have come” (v18). In fact, the very existence of these men proved that it was “the last hour” (v18). The antichrists were denying the Father by denying the Son (v22-23) and trying to deceive believers (v26). Add to those charges the tragedy that they came not from without, but from within the very fold they were trying to deceive (v19), and we can relate to the fears and anxieties of first century Christians.

But John, by the inspiration of the Spirit, is not aiming to leave his readers in despondency. In fact, even as he warns of antichrists, John’s disposition is not one of doom and gloom but of hope and encouragement. He refers to his recipients as “children”, writing from a pastor’s heart. He writes of a sharp contrast between those antichrists and the true believers: they have denied the faith, but you know the truth. He encourages them by reminding them of who they are and what they have in Christ: “you have been anointed by the Holy One” (v20), “you have all knowledge” (v20), “you know [the truth]” (v21), you have the “promise that he made to us – eternal life”, and the anointing “abides in you” and “teaches you about everything” and “is true” (27).

What, then, shall we do when it seems truth is crumbling all around us? Abide. Remain. Stay the course. “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” (v24) It’s not the coming of the antichrist that should grab our attention, but the coming of the Son of God. He is the one we aim to please, looking for him with joyful expectation and confidence. How do we have this confidence? Abide. Remain. Stay the course. “Abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (v28)

 

Messiah’s Mother – Matthew 12:46-50

whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Mt 12:50)

In chapter 12 of his gospel, Matthew presents the rising opposition to Jesus’ teaching and ministry as demonstrated by two Sabbath controversies (vss. 1-21) and His exorcistic activity (vss. 22-45). Like the chapter before it, which presented the imprisonment of John and proclamation of woe to a spiritually privileged but unrepentant people, chapter 12 is likewise, filled with controversy. But also like chapter 11, which concluded with a precious promise of rest to the burdened, chapter 12 likewise ends with a promise to disciples who Jesus Christ counts as his personal brothers, sisters and mother.

Next Sunday is celebrated as “Mother’s Day” in our country. While we do not feel pressured to bend to the traditions of men, on this occasion, due to the proximity of this text in chapter 12, we will intentionally go a bit out of order in our exposition of Matthew and consider these 5 encouraging verses concerning Jesus’ true family. But instead of a sentimental message about the importance and value of earthly mothers and family (as important as they are), this text will challenge our thinking as to who we ought to give priority to in our lives. We all love our family; we are most comfortable communicating and serving and visiting with our physical mother, brothers and sisters; however, this text challenges us with a very different definition of who, in fact, is family. Clearly Jesus defines His family by pointing to His disciples, (“whoever does the will of my Father.”) It is in the same vain in Mark 10:29-30, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands … This is fulfilled in Christ’s church, or at least it is supposed to be.

So while there is nothing wrong with celebrating the sacrifice and love of your own mother; while there is nothing wrong with having a close spot in your heart for your physical family; this kind of love is only to serve as an example of how we are to love our brothers, sisters, and mother of Christ in your church. Next Sunday, look around the gathered assembly of God’s people, and behold your brother, your sister, and your mother.

The Lord is my Banner – Exodus 17:8-16

While the Israelites are still at Rephidim in the wilderness, they face another trial of a different kind. This time they are attacked by the Amalekites. This was the first time they encountered a military force to fight against in battle. The Amalekites were most likely descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau. This will not the last time that Israel will battle these desert-dwelling people. In our text we are introduced to Joshua and Hur the son of Caleb. Joshua’s appearance in this battle foreshadows his role in taking the Promised Land. The description of the battle is brief, but amazing – Moses said to Joshua “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. (Ex 17:9-13)

Joshua and his men are told to physically fight the battle while Moses, Aaron and Hur go up to the hill with the staff of God in Moses’ hand. This was the same staff of God used to turn the waters in the Nile to blood and other plagues upon Egypt; the same staff of God used when Moses stretched out his hand to part the Red Sea. Now the staff is lifted upwards to intercede for the battle below. Through Moses and this staff the Lord is working to win the battle and defeat the Amalekites. We see this by what follows: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”  And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner,  saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex 17:14-16). It is the Lord who will defeat the Amalekites! Moses built a memorial stone and called it “The Lord is my banner,”  because he attributed the victory unto Yahweh!

 

Messiah: Judge and Savior – Matthew 11:20-30

All things have been handed over to me by my Father … (Mt 11:27)

In the Old Testament, the LORD, YHWH is described in terms of both Judge and Savior. Psalm 75:7 states, “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another;” and in Isaiah 2:4, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples.” In the Old Testament, God commonly pronounces, “woe” upon both the nations and His people (Numbers 21:29, Isaiah 3:9-11, Jeremiah 13:27, Ezekiel 24:6-9) as an exclamation of doom and pity for the great suffering that the people bring upon themselves in judgment. John 5:22-27 tells us that the authority to execute judgment has been entrusted to the Son of man. Taking the role of Judge, in verses 20-24 of Matthew chapter 11, Jesus employs “woes” against the general rejection of His Messiahship within cities and towns where He has demonstrated much grace and mercy. Because the people of Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum received and rejected a clear, dramatic and personal revelation of Jesus Christ, there will be a greater accountability and stricter judgment looming on them, than even the worst and most sinful of pagan cities. The principle of Luke 12:47-48, that “to whom much is given, much is required,” is true; the people of God are held to a higher standard than the world, as 1 Peter 4:17 states, “Judgment begins in the house of the Lord.”

The LORD, YHWH is not only described as a Judge, but as a Savior. In Isaiah 43:11, God proclaims, “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.” Likewise in Hosea 13:4, “you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior.” Like the role of Judge was given to Christ, so is the role of Savior given to Him. Among the masses of people who reject Christ, there are some, chosen by Jesus, who sense their need of Him; it is these who, weary and burdened by their sin, come to Jesus and do not find “woe” but salvation and rest.

As we have seen before and will see again in this Gospel, Matthew reveals Jesus as both Judge and Savior – often side by side. Faithful expository preaching will not neglect either role of the Messiah. Ultimately we preach Christ as Savior, but salvation means little outside of the context of the judgment we all deserve. Faithful exposition of Matthew reveals Christ as Judge of the smug and Savior of the penitent.

You Crucified . . . God Raised – Acts 2:14-41

Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:23-24 ESV)

 The greatest crime in world history was the murder of the Son of God. The only perfect Person to walk the earth was rejected, accused of sins he did not commit, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a wooden cross. Jesus’ crucifixion was the response of human hearts that could not stand the fact that God himself had entered their domain to bring truth and light.

This heinous act was no surprise to the sovereign Lord. In fact, Isaiah foretold that “it pleased the Lord to bruise him” and Jesus himself said that “God gave his only son” for the world. God, knowing the motives of man, sent his beloved Son into a world hostile to his purpose and message, knowing that they would resist and kill him.

How do followers of the Crucified One declare the truth of the gospel to a world so set against God that they murdered his Son? Pointedly, with conviction and hope. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost demonstrates as much. Facing Jews from around the world, Peter stood upon the foundation of the Word of God and boldly proclaimed to the people that they themselves were responsible for killing the Miracle Worker in their midst (Acts 2:22-23). He did not excuse them from culpability, a culpability borne by all sinners, for it was for sinners that Christ died.

The world’s hatred for all things godly is so overwhelming that when God himself came on the scene, he was killed. This is a grim picture. It may even seem hopeless. As we walk through this life we feel the opposition from the same world. They hated Christ. Christ said they will hate his followers. They are still trying to stamp out his image wherever they find it. We should not be surprised when the world tries to ignore, shout down, redefine, or punish the truth. After all, they nailed the Truth to a cross.

If Christ remained dead, then the world, and ultimately Satan, won. No anticipation for a new, better world. No point in praying. No hope for lost loved ones. Addiction is unbreakable, ignorance is inescapable, sin is unstoppable. If this world can destroy Christ our Hope, then all hope is lost. If Christ remained dead.

But, Peter exclaims, “God raised him up.”

And that changes everything.

John the Great – Matthew 11:2-19, 14:3-12

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. (Mt 11:11)

So far in the Gospel of Matthew we have seen but a few hints of hostility directed toward Jesus (9:34). This will change now in chapters 11 and 12, as the increase in opposition becomes more explicit. In the same manner that John the Baptist was introduced in chapter 3 as the forerunner of the coming Messiah, so now John is the forerunner of the hostility and antagonism that would soon come upon Jesus.

Our text begins with John as a prisoner of Herod, held in the fortress at Machaerus near the Dead Sea (Josephus Ant. 18.116-119). The details of John’s arrest and martyrdom are recorded in Matthew 14:3-12. This John in prison appears different from the one we met earlier, fearlessly heralding the coming One (3:11-12). From prison, John appears more tentative, as he sends two disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (11:3). How did this man who so confidently preached Jesus as the Messiah and trusted so fully in His character (3:14), now come to question his identity? Most likely it was John’s lengthy languishing in prison that had broken him down. How could the One who promised to ‘set the prisoners free,’ not free him from Herod’s jail? We can say that John was a ‘bruised reed’ and his faith was like a ‘smoldering wick.’ As we might expect, the Messiah’s answer to John, and by extension to all people whose faith might waver in the midst of suffering, does not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Instead in beatitude form (11:6), Jesus encourages John, and us, to remain faithful no matter what the circumstances.

In verses 7-15 of chapter 11 Jesus bears testimony of the character and work of John. John was not just any prophet, he was the final prophet who prepared the way, bringing the old covenant to its grand finale; he was the climax of pre-Christian revelation. Of all those who lived prior to the advent of the new covenant, John was the greatest. Yet, he who is least in this new kingdom that was soon to be inaugurated with a New Covenant, surpasses the greatest of the old. John was a great prophet, but once Christ’s blood was shed, the benefits that the least of us enjoys, in partaking of the kingdom of heaven, are greater yet.