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.

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.

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.

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.

MI 3: Crosses and Crowns – Matthew 10:34-11:1

In Matthew chapter 10, the apostle compiles and summarizes Jesus’ teaching from various discourses on missions. After initially outlining the source, staff and specifics of the mission of the twelve apostles, Matthew goes on to outline the peculiar dangers that they, and subsequent generations of disciples, would suffer as a result of preaching Christ (what we call evangelism). The church is sent by Christ into a hostile world as vulnerable sheep among wolves, where we carry on our mission of evangelism in the midst of hatred, confrontation, mockery and persecution. Jesus explains that the source of persecution is found in the world’s hatred of Him first. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (10:25). There is a link between the manner in which Jesus is treated and the treatment of His church. In the final section of the chapter (10:40-42), once again Jesus teaches of the tie between the treatment of Himself and that of His followers, only now stated positively: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (Mt 10:40)

The chapter concludes with a declaration of the rewards that would be distributed to those involved in various capacities in the mission. Just as the entire discourse moves from the twelve apostles to all believers at large, so does its conclusion. Jesus moves from describing the rewards for “prophets,” to “righteous persons,” to the “little ones” (10:41-42). It is not His  intention to present these three groups as mutually exclusive classes, but rather to show that all kinds of people are necessary and vital in support of the mission. Those who actually go and preach the Gospel, those who pray for those who go, and even those who support the mission in the smallest of ways (whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water) are all going to be appropriately rewarded.

While not mentioned in Mathew, Luke 9:10 and Mark 6:30 speak of the return of the twelve apostles to tell Jesus all that they had done in their mission. Unquestionably one of the rewards we have in this life, is to hear the testimonies of how other disciples came to follow Christ through the witness of His people. Next Sunday, in addition to addressing the text in Matthew 10, we will rejoice together as we hear the testimonies of our brothers and sisters, particularly how God used them to share the good news with others. It will be an opportunity for us to rejoice in the various roles that we have together in our common mission.

MI 2: Trust during Trouble – Matthew 10:16-39

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Mt 10:16

Jesus’ teaching and miraculous works summarized in the first 9 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel point to a greater mission for God’s people. The mission which every Christian must accept, is to proclaim the good news that Jesus has come into the world to save us from the consequences and power of sin through His atoning death and triumphant resurrection. In chapter 10, Matthew seems to have systematically collected the teachings of Jesus related to mission. We have seen in the first 15 verses of chapter 10, the source, staff, and specifics of the first mission given to the twelve apostles of Jesus. Next week we will pick up with verses 16-39 which reveal the peculiar danger of the mission as it is carried out by the apostles and subsequent generations of the church in a hostile world.

Trouble is the habitat of Christian mission. It seems that Jesus purposefully sendsHis people into a hostile world as “sheep among wolves.” Rather than an unfortunate side-effect of our mission, it seems Jesus intends for His disciples to carry on His mission through suffering. The cross is not the exception, but is the rule of a disciple’s life; we will lose many battles in our effort to carry our our mission. Though we are sent out as vulnerable sheep, we are not “stupidly vulnerable;” we are also called to be “wise as a serpent,” even while being “innocent as doves.”Christian disciples are not fighters; hatred and retaliation are not options for us; we are not revolutionaries; we are likened to sheep and doves – the gentlest of animals. And we carry out our mission in the midst of arrests, beatings, confrontations, hatred, mockery, and persecution, even at the hands of those closest to us. These were the experiences of our Lord, and we cannot expect to be exempt from them ourselves. However …

Trust is the habit of Christian mission. As “sheep among wolves,” we have no hope, save One. On judgement day God will vindicate us and our message. We do not need to fear “those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” So go boldly on your mission, knowing that you have a Heavenly Father who cares and is sovereign over everything that happens to you on this impossible mission. In fact, He ordains even your trouble. So fear God, and do not fear anything or anyone else. Though He makes no promise that you will be delivered from trouble on earth, He promises something much greater – to be rescued from eternal death and judgment.

Mission Impossible – Matthew 9:35-10:15

“The harvest is great, but the laborers are few …”

Jesus’ authoritative teaching (Matthew chapters 5-7) and demonstration of power (chapters 8 & 9) were not meant merely to astonish crowds (7:28-29, 10:33). But Jesus’ words and works pointed to a greater purpose – a mission. We often refer to this mission as “evangelism,” from the Greek euangelion meaning “good message.” Evangelism is the mission of the church. It is the proclamation of the good news that Jesus has come into the world to save us from our sins; that by trusting in His substitutionary death and conquering resurrection, we have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God and eternal life. Over the next 3 sermons, we will consider chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel under the banner of “Mission Impossible.” First we will examine the incentives, staff and mission itself (9:34-10:15); then in part 2, the peculiar danger of the mission (10:16-39); and finally in part 3, the mission’s reward (10:40-42). In part 1 on Sunday, we will see how at the beginning of the mission, Jesus chose 12 men to herald the gospel message and gave them specific instructions as to how to carry out their impossible mission in the midst of a hostile world.

In the introductory paragraph (9:35-38) we learn of the source and incentive of the church’s missionary power: (1) the heart of Jesus and (2) prayer for workers. Motivated by compassion for a plentiful, but harassed and helpless harvest field of souls, Jesus calls us to pray for laborers and to labor ourselves in this mission. As Mr. Phelps in the old “Mission Impossible” TV series would begin each program by selecting a staff that was appropriate for the specific mission, in Matthew 10:1-4, Jesus goes beyond merely choosing, but He equips His mission team with power – twelve men who we call “apostles,” literally meaning “one sent forth.” After choosing the men, finally Jesus gives them specific instructions as to how the carry out the mission (10:5-15).

Through our ordination as “salt” and “light” in chapter 5, to the grand warning to those who reject our message (10:15), and on through the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we discover that we are on the most important mission in the world, doing the world’s most impactful work. Do not allow the impossibility of the mission keep you from deciding to accept it.