“Emmanuel: Sabbath Lord” – Matthew 12:1-14

September 13th, 2015

Matthew 12:1-14 (see also: Mk; 2:23-3:6; Lk 6:1-11; 14:1-6)

“Emmanuel: Sabbath Lord”


Service Orientation:  Jesus can bring rest to your soul and make your burden light because He is Sabbath Lord.   But you must first make Him your Lord.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. — Matthew 12:8


Background Information:

  • These two stories are both concerned with the keeping of the sabbath, a matter not only of legal debate but of national pride, the sabbath and circumcision being the most obvious distinguishing marks of the Jews as the people of God. This issue was remembered as a recurrent point of conflict between Jesus and the scribes (Lk 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Jn 5:9-18; 7:19-24; 9:14-16), though Matthew (like Mark) treats it only here.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 454)
  • The sabbath and circumcision were the most important and sacred of institutions; they made a Jew a Jew. The sabbath particularly was a distinctive of Judaism.  No other people set apart one day in seven for worship of God, enjoyment of rest, and cultivation of the spiritual side of life.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 225)
  • (v. 1) Reaping grain was forbidden on the Sabbath (Ex 34:21). The disciples, however, were picking grain because they were hungry, not because they wanted to harvest the grain for a profit.  Thus, they were not breaking God’s law.  The Pharisees, however, had established 39 categories of actions forbidden on the Sabbath, based on their own interpretations of God’s law and on Jewish customs.  According to the religious leaders, the disciples were technically “harvesting,” because they were picking wheat and rubbing it in their hands.  The Pharisees were determined to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 231)
  • (v. 1) By plucking the corn they were guilty of reaping; by rubbing it in their hands they were guilty of threshing; by separating the grain and the chaff they were guilty of winnowing; and by the whole process they were guilty of preparing a meal on the Sabbath day, for everything which was to be eaten on the Sabbath had to be prepared the day before. (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 26)
  • Dt 23:24-25
  • 2 Chron 36:20-21
  • We will not understand the attitude of the orthodox Jews unless we understand the amazing seriousness with which they took the Sabbath law. That law forbade all work on the Sabbath day, and so the orthodox Jews would literally die rather than break it.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 32)
  • (v. 2) The apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees (2:31-38) tells of an incident during the time of Judas Maccabaeus when a group of Jews refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath against the Greek army led by Antiochus Epiphanes. As the soldiers of Antiochus attacked, the Jews’ “answered them not, neither cast they a stone at them, nor stopped the places where they lay hid; but said: “Let us die in our innocency:  heaven and earth shall testify for us, that ye put us to death wrongfully.”  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 281)
  • (v. 2) In his Antiquities, the Jewish historian Josephus reports that it was also because Jews would not defend themselves on the Sabbath that the Roman general Pompey was able to capture Jerusalem. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 281)
  • (v. 2) Baths could not be taken for fear some of the water might spill onto the floor and “wash” it. Chairs could not be moved because dragging them might make a furrow in the ground, and a woman was not to look in a mirror lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it out.  You could carry ink enough to draw only two letters of the alphabet, and false teeth could not be worn because they exceeded the weight limit for burdens.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 282)
  • (v. 2) If a person became ill on the Sabbath, only enough treatment could be given to keep him alive. Treatment to make him improve was declared to be work, and therefore forbidden.  To determine just how much food, medicine, or bandaging would be necessary to keep a person alive–and no more–was itself in impossible burden.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 282)
  • The law forbade work. The same logic worked this way.  A man is out walking.  He spits.  Is that work?  Answer:  It depends on what happens to the spit.  If it goes into the dirt and makes a slight furrow, then it is plowing, which is work.  If it hits a rock, no work is done.  Under this system, being a devout Jew seemed to depend in part on where one spit on Saturdays.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 205)
  • (v. 2) Josephus recalls the amazement of the Greek historian Agatharchides at the way in which the Egyptian general Ptolemy Lagos was allowed to capture Jerusalem. Agatharchides wrote:  “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem, and are accustomed to rest on every seventh day; at which time they make no use of their arms, nor meddle with husbandry, nor take care of any of the affairs of life, but spread out their hands in their holy places, and pray till evening time.  Now it came to pass that when Ptolemy the son of Lagos came into this city with his army, these men, in observing this mad custom of theirs, instead of guarding the city, suffered their country to submit itself to a bitter lord; and their Law was openly proved to have commanded a foolish practice.  This accident taught all other men but the Jews to disregard such dreams as these were, and not to follow the like idle suggestions delivered as a Law, when in such uncertainty of human reasoning they are at a loss what they should do” (Josephus, Against Apion, 1:22).  The rigorous Jewish observance of the Sabbath seemed to other nations nothing short of insanity, since it could lead to such amazing national defeats and disasters.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 33-4)
  • (v. 2) The (oral) law quite definitely forbade healing on the Sabbath.  It was true that the law clearly laid it down that “every case when life is in danger supersedes the Sabbath law.”  This was particularly the case in diseases of the ear, the nose, the throat and the eyes.  But even then it was equally clearly laid down that steps could be taken to keep the sick or injured from getting worse, but not to make them better.  So a plain bandage might be put on a wound, but not a medicated bandage, and so on.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 34)
  • ( v. 4) Jesus is asking the Pharisees, “What does Scripture say about this action? Does it say, ‘Shame on David and Ahimelech–they shouldn’t have done that’?  No.  It says nothing.”  It neither condemns nor approves the action.  Does this silence sanction this otherwise condemnable occurrence?  Jesus; gloss on the 1 Samuel text certainly leans that way.  To him, by implication that silence equals evaluative approval.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 315)
  • (v. 5) On the Sabbath the priests were kept very busy (Lv 24:8, 9; Nm 28:9, 10; 1 Chr 9:32; 23:31; 2 Chr 8:12-14; 23:4; 31:2, 3), all this in spite of the Sabbath commandment found in Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15.  What happens in such a case is that a higher law, demanding that everything be done to make possible the worship of God by the people, modifies and restricts the too literal interpretation of the regulation concerning Sabbath rest.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 513)
  • (v. 6) The Jews had an almost idolatrous veneration for the temple. They stoned Stephen for what they considered to be an attack on it (Acts 7:47-51).  They fought with the utmost fanaticism to protect it during the war with Rome in A.D. 70.  To hear Jesus claim to be greater than the temple left them speechless.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 227)
  • (v. 6) To threaten the temple, as Jeremiah had discovered long ago, was to commit unpardonable treason. As the story of Jesus unfolds, his negative attitude to the temple and its activities (21:12-16, 18-22; 23:38; 24:1-2) will become the central symbol of his challenge to the status quo (see 21:23-27) and the issue which above all will unite the people against him.  At his trial it will play a central role (26:60-61), and on the cross it will still be thrown against him (27:40).  But in the discourse of ch. 24 Jesus will explain how the coming destruction of the temple symbolizes the end of the old order, and in 27:51 the tearing of the temple curtain shows that that time has now come.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 460)
  • (v. 6) The shekinah had long since departed from the temple. The Holy Spirit, God’s true shekinah, now abode in and on the Lord.  So He affirmed that He was greater than the sanctuary.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 227)
  • (v. 6) The temple, like the tabernacle before it, represented the presence of God in the midst of His people. It was the center of the Jews’ religious life, the central place of worship and sacrifice.  Jesus, however, said there was One “in this place”–clearly He was speaking of Himself–who was greater than the temple. The Pharisees must have been absolutely stunned when He said this.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 364)
  • (v. 7) To their statement regarding his disciples–“Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath”–Jesus gives three replies. To these “hypercritical formalists” (as Charles Spurgeon calls them), Jesus goes to the Bible.  First, he gives an example from the former prophets (1 Sm 21:1-6) about King David, then from the Law (Nm 28:9, 10) about the priests, and finally he cites the latter prophets (From Hos 6:6, one of his favorite verses).  Jesus brings the OT to his defense.  He brings the sword of the Spirit out to cut off all the ungodly traditions that have attached themselves to God’s holy Law.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 314)
  • (v. 7) The Lord skillfully parried the accusation. “Have ye not read…?”  He asked (12:3).  Jesus asked this question on six different occasions and referred to six different books of the OT and seven different passages: Mt 12:3 (Lv 24:6-9; 1 Sm 21:6); Mt 12:5 (Nm 28:9-10); Mt 19:4 (Gn 1:27); Mt 21:16 (Ps 8:2); Mt 21:42 (Ps 118:22); our Lord’s attitude toward the Word of God.  He believed it, quoted it as authoritative, appealed to it without hesitation, knew it perfectly, and put His divine imprimatur on it in all its parts.  Those who detract from the Word of God are strangers to Christ.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 226)
  • (v. 9) Geographically the synagogue at Capernaum was as much Jesus’ local synagogue as it was “theirs,” but Matthew’s use of the possessive probably begins to hint at the growing rift between Jesus and the synagogue establishment, which vv. 1-8 have just illustrated. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 463)
  • (v. 9) This may have been any synagogue in Galilee although it was most likely in Capernaum. In the synagogue, there was a man with a shriveled hand.  He had been born with this defect or had acquired it by an accident or disease.  The hand was useless.  Luke adds the detail that it was the man’s right hand (Lk 6:6).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 235)
  • (v. 10) Our gospels tell us nothing more about this man; but the Gospel according to the Hebrews, which was one of the early gospels which did not succeed in gaining an entry to the NT, tells us that he came to Jesus with the appeal: “I was a stone mason, seeking my living with my hands.  I pray you, Jesus, to give me back my health, so that I shall not need to beg for food in shame.”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 34-5)
  • (v. 13) He did not touch the man. In fact, not even by means of a single syllable did he order the hand to be cured (contrast Mk 7:34).  He merely told the man to stretch out his hand and it was made well.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 518)
  • The Greek term from which counseled (NIV “ plotted”) is translated includes the idea of carrying out a decision already made. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 290)
  • Because the Lord of the Sabbath had come, the shadow of His Sabbath rest was no longer needed or valid. The NT does not require Sabbath observance, but rather allows freedom as to whether or not any day is honored above others.  The only requirement is that, whatever position is taken, it is taken for the purpose of glorifying the Lord (Rom 14:5-6); and no believer has the right to impose his views in this regard on anyone else (Gal 4:9-10; Col 2:16).

From the days of the early church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2), Christians have set aside Sunday, the first day of the week, as a special day of worship, fellowship, and giving offerings, because that is the day our Lord was raised from the dead.  But the Lord’s Day is not the “Christian Sabbath,” as it was considered to be for many centuries and still is in some groups today.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 287-8)


By the time of Christ, the Fourth Commandment—”Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”—had become the unintended basis for exotic legalisms.  To ensure that no work be performed on the Sabbath, 39 clarifications of work were devised, with each category capable of endless subdivision.  One category forbade the carrying of burdens and hedged it with minute prohibitions for every situation.  Anything equal to, or heavier than, a dried fig was declared a burden.  So it was permissible to carry half a fig on the Sabbath, unless one put it down and picked it up, thus doubling the weight to a full fig and so breaking the Sabbath!

Similarly, if a person was in one place and extended his or her hand, which was holding a piece of fruit, into another place, and the Sabbath began at that moment, the person would have to drop it that instant.  Otherwise he or she would be breaking the Sabbath by transporting a burden from one locality to another.

Happily, one could pick up a child on the Sabbath, provided the child’s hands were first examined to make sure they had nothing in them, for otherwise that would involve lifting a burden.  Less happily, false teeth were not permitted on the Sabbath because they might fall out, and the poor denture-wearer would be tempted to pick them up, thus sinning against the Sabbath.

Another category prohibited travel on the Sabbath.  So the rabbis defined a permissible Sabbath day’s journey as two thousand cubits (1,000 yards).  To walk one inch further was an egregious breach of the Sabbath.  However, if a rope was tied across the end of one’s street creating an eruv, then the legal fiction was that the whole street became a single house, and so one could walk 1,000 yards beyond the rope.  Interestingly, present-day Orthodox Jews have perpetuated the eruv by marking off areas of modern cities with symbolic “gateways” of thin wire stretched between tall, slender poles.  Today there are eruvim in such cities as Los Angeles, Toronto, and Miami.  The eruv that contains the White House dates from 1990.

One of the largest of the 39 categories dealt with guarding one against labor.  Here, women were forbidden to gaze into a mirror on the Sabbath, because they might discover a white hair and be tempted to pluck it, which would be a grievous sin.  While eating, a radish could be dipped in salt, but not left too long, since one would then be performing the labor of pickling the radish.  Spitting was allowed on the Sabbath, provided one spit into his handkerchief or on the rocks.  But it was unlawful to spit on the ground, because one might inadvertently scuff the spittle and the earth with his sandal, thereby plowing and cultivating the earth.  So being a righteous person under this system depended more or less on which way a person spit!  And so went the legalisms and abstruse rules ad infinitum—all to hedge the Sabbath.  ( R. Kent Hughes; Disciplines of Grace, 67-9)


The question to be answered is . . . What is Jesus trying to teach the Pharisees and us about the Sabbath?


Answer:  God instituted the Sabbath to insure that mankind would weekly get his life in order so he could know how to love God and others.  If we do not enjoy regular, periodic rest we can become really screwed up.


The Word for the Day is . . . Rest


You may recall the movie Chariots of Fire, which tells the story of two Olympic runners:  Eric Liddell and Charles Abrams.  Abrams runs because he is driven; he runs in order to prove something.  He is a cheerless man whose whole life is motivated by ought, by duty, by the law.  Liddell runs because he can’t help it.  “When I run,” he says, “I feel God’s pleasure.”  He knows a freedom of heart that Abrams can only watch from a distance.  Abrams uses discipline to subdue and kill his heart.  Liddell is so freed by grace that when he runs, Abrams says, “He runs like a wild animal–he unnerves me.”  “Where,” Liddell asks, “does the power come from to see the race to its end?  It comes from within.”  It comes from desire. (Curtis and Eldredge; The Sacred Romance, 199)


I-  God instituted the Sabbath (thus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath and greater than the temple) to insure that mankind could weekly remain human.  (Mt 12:3-8; see also: Gn 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11; 31:14-15; 34:21; 23:12; 35:2; Dt 5:12-15; Neh 13:15-17; Isa 58:13-14; Jer 17:21-27; Ez 20:12-24; Amos 8:4-5;  Mt 6:26; 9:13; 15:6-9; Mk 2:27-28; Lk 6:5-7)


Now, for most of us Sabbath is first to be achieved in the practice of solitude and silence.  These must be carefully sought, cultivated, and dwelt in.  When they become established in our soul and our body, they can be practiced in company with others.  But the body must be weaned away from its tendencies to always take control, to run the world, to achieve and produce, to attain gratification.  These are its habitual tendencies learned in a fallen world.  Progress in the opposite direction can only be made in solitude and silence, for they “take our hands off our world” as nothing else does.  And that is the meaning of Sabbath.  (Dallas Willard; Renovation of the Heart, 175)


We must keep in mind the distinction between the older understanding of recreation as re-creation and the modern pursuit of recreation.  In broad strokes, today’s idea of recreation is a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.  It’s not re-creative but destructive.

The older, wiser way of re-creating is the way to go.  Forget your regular labors, and re-create with conversation with family and friends.  A common, unrushed meal around a table is so important.  Especially re-creative are picnics, walks, swims, or playing with the kids, wrestling on the floor, shooting baskets with the boys.  Listening to good music is also a marvelous way to re-create.  A great “read” in one of the Christian classics is a time-proven way to restore the soul as well.  (R. Kent Hughes; Disciplines of Grace, 83)


This is the real basis of his hallowing and blessing the day of rest.  He is saying in effect, “Let my highest creature, the one in my image, stop every seven days and commemorate with me the fact that I am the creator who has done all this.  Let him stop working and focus on me, that I am the source of all that he has.  I am the fountain of blessing.  I have made the very hands and mind with which he works.  Let one day out of seven demonstrate that all land and all animals and all raw materials and all breath and strength and thought and emotion and everything come from me.  Let man look to me in leisure one day out of seven for the blessing that is so elusive in the affairs of this world.”  (John Piper; Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy; October 6, 1985; Desiring God Website)


Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment. . .Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller, and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.”  —Leonardo Da Vinci


The story told by the Sabbath is that of creation:  we rest because God rested on the seventh day.  What leads from God to humankind is the notion of imitatio Dei:  the imitation of God. In other words, we rest in order to honor the divine in us, to remind ourselves that there is more to us than just what we do during the week.  (JUDITH SHULEVITZ; Bring Back the Sabbath; Published: March 2, 2003)


So Jesus answers the charge against his disciples by showing from the OT itself that the Sabbath is not fulfilled by the scrupulous observance of the Pharisees but in living out the intent and motive of the Sabbath, which was designed to bring rest.  Increased sacrifice brought greater burden.  As the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus gives the true interpretation of its intent, bringing rest under his easy yoke and light burden of discipleship (cf. 11:28-30).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 442)


Now, if the Pharisees had a chance to interject between verses 5, 6 they could have said, “Okay, Jesus.  True enough.  Temple work trumps Sabbath rest.  Your second use of Scripture is correct.  But what’s your point?:  but then it dawns on them.  “Whoa.  Now what?  Do you think you are equal not just to a king but also to a priest?”  And to that Jesus says, “Oh no, I’m not equal to a priest.  I’m greater than a priest.  I’m greater than the priesthood.  Hold on to your phylacteries?  ‘I tell you, something greater than the temple is here’” (v. 6).  Jesus is not merely greater than the priesthood; he is greater than the place where they “work”!  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 316)


Jesus claims to be the fulfillment and embodiment of the Sabbath day, the sanctuary temple, and even the Scriptural Law, the three realities dearest to the people of God.  And thus salvation comes not through keeping the Sabbath, perfect obedience to the Law, or temple sacrifice, but only through faith in Christ.  Salvation comes (do you remember the last chapter?) Only to those who rest in Jesus, who come to him, weary and heavy laden, for final Sabbath rest (see Hebrews 4).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 316-7)


There are a number of philosophical and spiritual implications of Sabbath recognition, appreciation, and observance, not the least of which has to do with not being enslaved but being free to pursue a godly life.

That is why the Sabbath was given to the Israelites immediately after the Exodus.  To this group of ex-slaves the idea of a day of rest was not only enticing, it spoke to the essence of their being.  For generations, they had toiled under the whips of the Egyptian taskmasters.  Who would not be moved by a day of liberation in which all people could acknowledge the freedom granted by God?  This is our freedom from servitude under human masters, the ultimate freedom of the human soul from oppression, toward its true purpose:  to serve God.  (Dr. Laura Schlessinger, The Ten Commandments The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life, 104)


We spend the week trying to understand the mysteries of the universe through science.  We perform new engineering feats, we open the mysteries of the atom, and we search the heavens and the earth for signs of life.  On the Sabbath we search for the essence of God.  Shabbat is the antidote to the tendency toward self-idolatry.  On this day, we are reminded that God is God.  (Dr. Laura Schlessinger, The Ten Commandments The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life, 124)


Commit yourself to the Lord’s Day in the Lord’s house, and little else outside of the home will be necessary for the cultivation of a thriving spiritual life.  The Puritans referred to the Lord’s Day as “the market day of the soul.”  Six days a week one buys and sells for the sake of one’s body.  Sunday however we are to “trade” in spiritual commodities for the sake of our souls.  All secular affairs are to be set aside.  All Christians, “after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand,” are to “not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employments and recreations,” but also are to be engaged “the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8).  The key to consistent attendance at public worship (of which we have spoken above as the key to your spiritual well-being) is a commitment to observing the Christian Sabbath.  Or to state it negatively, you will never be able to become consistent about attending public worship until you are convinced that Sunday is not just the Lord’s morning, but the Lord’s Day.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 332)


What a travesty to choose the early service because it won’t interfere with the next ten hours of hedonism.  Quick, get home from church, change, stuff the kids in the car, hoist in the cooler, shove in a Beach Boys tape, head for the beach, eat, watch the air show, eat, play a little football until someone gets banged up, eat, return home exhausted, and drift off into a brain-dead stupor, dreading Monday morning.  Praise the Lord!  (R. Kent Hughes; Disciplines of Grace, 81)


First He told them that they had entirely missed the point of the Sabbath.  They had turned God’s wonderful provision for rest and worship into an instrument of slavery for God’s people.  Then He claimed the right to make that assertion by declaring Himself to be the Creator of the Sabbath and therefore the Lord of the Sabbath.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 365)


And what does it mean that he hallows the day? “Hallows” is the same word as “sanctifies.”  It means set the day aside for special focus on what is holy, namely, God and his holy works.

Now consider the two words together.  He blessed the day and he hallowed the day.  How do these fit together?  He made it a source of blessing, and he made it to focus on himself.  Isn’t it obvious that the hallowing is included in the blessing and the blessing is included in the hallowing.  When you hallow God and focus your attention on him, you receive more blessing than if you keep on busying yourself seven days a week with secular affairs, thinking that professional advancement and money are the route to true happiness.  And (the reverse) when you seek your blessing in God rather than in the products of human labor, you hallow him and honor his holiness as the greater wealth.  (John Piper; Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy; October 6, 1985 ; Desiring God Website)


After a week of perplexing problems and heated contest, it does so rest my soul to come into the house of the Lord and worship, and sing, and mean it, “Holy , Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” and to know that He is my Father and takes me up into His life and plans, and to commune personally with Christ.  I am sure I get wisdom not my own, and a superhuman strength for fighting the morals evils I am called to confront.  —Theodore Roosevelt.


The experience of the Sabbath is supposed to influence our beliefs and behaviors when we go back to work.  The Sabbath is a reminder to take ourselves seriously, but not so seriously that we think we are God.  In a world where we judge people for what they have done, we should learn from the Sabbath to judge them for who they are.  (Dr. Laura Schlessinger, The Ten Commandments The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life, 124)


The sixth day of Creation was a busy one.  The first Sabbath was the first full day of life for Adam and Eve.  It marked the first time they went to sleep and woke up with the discovery, unlike the mayfly, which lives but a day, of a tomorrow.  They discovered that life went on!  Every Sabbath, like the first one, we should awaken with a deep appreciation of what it means to wake up and live another day.  (Dr. Laura Schlessinger, The Ten Commandments The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life, 125)


The Sabbath instructed all humankind that there is more to life than work.  ( R. Kent Hughes; Disciplines of Grace, 71)


The Sabbath’s purpose was to grace God’s people—to grace their bodies with rest of the genesis rhythm—to grace their souls with Heaven’s rhythm, providing Israel with respite from their labors so they could focus on God and gratefully commemorate their gracious liberation.  It was, indeed, the Fourth Word of Grace.  ( R. Kent Hughes; Disciplines of Grace, 72)


As the Creator of the Sabbath, God rightly had absolute authority to say how it should be observed.  Therefore, this statement by Jesus was nothing less than another assertion of His deity.  He was saying that He had instituted the Sabbath.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 365)


Now the only reason for keeping the Sabbath was, that the people, by sanctifying themselves to God, might be employed in true and spiritual worship; and next, that, being free from all worldly occupations, they might be more at liberty to attend the holy assemblies.  The lawful observation of it, therefore, must have a reference to this object; for the Law ought to be interpreted according to the design of the Legislator.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 47)


External rites are of no value in themselves, and are demanded by God in so far only as they are directed to their proper object.  Besides, God does not absolutely reject them, but, by a comparison with deeds of kindness, pronounces that they are inferior to the latter in actual value.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 50)


Don’t miss the underlying point here:  Jesus is making clear that as Lord of the Sabbath, He is God.  He is God in the flesh, and as God, He has the authority to determine Sabbath regulations for His disciples.  This authority goes beyond the mere exceptions to the law that gave David the right to eat in the tabernacle or priests the right to work on the Sabbath.  It was absolutely right, then, for Jesus to show mercy to a man on that day.  By claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus was implicitly saying to these legalistic Pharisees that the way to become right before God is not through following certain rules and regulations; the way to become right before God is through faith in Him.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 160)


Jesus’ argument, then, provides an instance from the law itself in which the Sabbath restrictions were superseded by the priests because their cultic responsibilities took precedence; the temple, as it were, was greater than the Sabbath.  But now, Jesus claims, “something” greater than the temple is here.  And that, too, takes precedence over the Sabbath.  This solution is entirely consistent with what we have perceived to be Jesus’ attitude to the law in this Gospel.  The law points to him and finds its fulfillment in him (see on 5:17-48).  Not only, then, have the Pharisees mishandled the law by their Halakah (vv. 3-4), but they have failed to perceive who Jesus is.  The authority of the temple laws shielded the priests from guilt; the authority of Jesus shields his disciples from guilt.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 282)


Like Jesus’ interpretation of the Law and the Prophets in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. 5:17-47), he gives a stunning authoritative pronouncement about the Sabbath that takes us to the heart of God’s intent and motive in giving that commandment.  This passage, therefore, should be read in the light of the preceding chapter, where Jesus condemned the current generation whose religious leaders, especially the Pharisees, had wearied and burdened the people with legal obligations of their traditions.  Jesus has come to bring rest to those who take on his yoke of discipleship (cf. 11:28-30), the kind of true rest to which the Sabbath rest was designed to point.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 438)


It is said of Bernard, that when he came to the church-door, he would say, “stay here all my earthly thoughts.’  So should we say to ourselves, when we are at the door of God’s house, ‘Stay here all my worldly cares and wandering cogitations; I am now going to hear what the Lord will say to me.’  Distraction hinders devotion.  (Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, 107)


In the performance of their duties in the Tabernacle and then the temple, the ministering priests had to light the altar fires, kill the sacrificial animals, and then lift up the carcasses and place them on the altar.  Sacrifices on the Sabbath were, in fact, double sacrifices, requiring twice the work of the normal daily sacrifice (Nm 28:9-10; cf. Lv 24:8-9).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 286)


When Jesus said that he (again, calling himself Son of Man) was Lord of the Sabbath, he was claiming to be greater than the law and above the law.  To the Pharisees, this was heresy.  They did not realize that Jesus, the divine Son of God, had created the Sabbath.  The Creator is always greater than the creation; thus, Jesus had the authority to overrule their traditions and regulations.  Jesus claimed the authority to correctly interpret the meaning of the Sabbath and all the laws pertaining to it.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 234-5)


In effect the Lord had said to them, “You care for that sheep because it is yours and you set a high value on it.”  The King was now claiming to own the afflicted man as well as the sabbath!  That man was His, His sheep.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 229)


There was much hard work done in the temple on the Sabbath–sacrifices to be slain, fires and lamps to be kindled, and so on.  That was not Sabbath desecration.  Why?  Because it was done in the temple, and as a part of divine service.  The sanctity of the place and the consequent sanctity of the service, exempted it from the operation of the law.  The question, no doubt, was springing to the lips of some scowling Pharisee, “And what has that to do with our charge against your disciples?”  When it was answered by the wonderful next words, “In this place”–here among the growing corn, beneath the free heaven, far away from Jerusalem–“Is one greater than the temple.”  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 166)


The Sabbath as a commandment was given by God to the Israelites as a reminder of God’s freeing them from slavery–as a reminder of God and the sanctity of human freedom.  (Dr. Laura Schlessinger, The Ten Commandments The Significance of God’s Laws in Everyday Life, p. 122)


A study by Daniel Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame and Jonathan Gruber of MIT found that when states dropped blue laws (which ban Sunday commerce), church attendance dipped by 15% among those who had been going weekly.  That’s not all:  Church-goers became as likely as non-attendees to use drugs, and the gap between the two groups’ heavy-drinking rates closed sharply.  Hungerman’s take:  “What you do Sunday morning could make a big difference in how you spend Saturday night.” (Reader’s Digest; 12/06, 26)


A man I like very much was recently terminated by his company after twenty-two years of service.  The economy had forced an across-the-board cutback, and his job was considered non-essential to the company’s survival.  He was cut!

My friend was convinced that he would be hired by another company in the same field within a matter of days.  After all, he told me, he had numerous connections, a profit-making record, and long term service.  He was not worried, he said.

But several months passed with no offers.  The “connections” dried up; no one responded to his feelers or to his resumes.  He was reduced to sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.

One day, after those many torturous months, he said to me, “This whole thing has forced me to do a lot of hard thinking.  I’ve given myself to this career of mine for years, and look what it’s gotten me.  What was all this for anyway?  Boy, have I gotten my eyes opened up.”

Opened up to what?  My friend is a fine Christian layman.  But his eyes, by his own admission, had been closed to what his career had come to mean to him.  What his eyes had opened up to was the fact that he had worked for years without asking what it all meant, what it was all for, and what might be the result.  He had never discovered the exercise of reflection in the context of biblical rest. (Gordon MacDonald; Ordering Your Private World, 166)


103 Q.  What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?

  1. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I regularly attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publically, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.

Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath.

(Dt 6:4-9, 20-25; 1 Cor 9:13-14; 2 Tm 2:2; 3:13-17; Ti 1:5; Dt 12:5-12; Ps 40:9-10; 68:26; Acts 2:42-47; Heb 10:23-25; Rom 10:14-17; 1 Cor 14:31-32; 1 Tm 4:13; 1 Cor 11:23-25; Col 3:15; 1 Tm 2:1; Ps 50:14; 1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8 & 9; Isa 66:23; Heb 4:9-11)  (The Heidelberg Catechism, GRC Publications, 1988, 57)


Religious leader David O. McKay taught, “The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul.”  If you win the battles there, if you settle the issues that inwardly conflict, you feel a sense of peace, a sense of knowing what you’re about.  And you’ll find that the public victories–where you tend to think cooperatively, to promote the welfare and good of other people, and to be genuinely happy for other people’s successes–will follow naturally.  (Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 294)


One can understand why the prophets sometimes speak of the abandonment of the whole of OT religion as “profaning the Sabbath” (Ez 20:21; 22:8; 23:38).  There is a subtlety to Sabbath observance.  Because it excludes secular activity, its “holy rest” comes to dominate all of life.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Give Praise to God A Vision for Reforming Worship, 333)


Observing the Sabbath, along with all the consequences of observing sabbatical years and Years of Jubliee, appeared to be a weighty mandate.  For observing the Sabbath was clearly the proof of the pudding.  Would God’s people keep the reins in their own hands, or would they confidently entrust their lives to the Lord?  Someone who wants to keep control of his own affairs would experience the interruption of business on the Sabbath day as a hindrance.  Observing the Sabbath day requires faith.  Where faith is destroyed, the Sabbath is destroyed along with it.  One who violates the Sabbath violates the covenant.  For that reason, it is understandable that Sabbath violation could even be identified as the reason why Israel suffered calamity (Neh 13:18; Ez 20:13).  (J. Douma, The Ten Commandments, Manual for the Christian Life, 117)


II-  To properly observe the Sabbath we must never forget that the Sabbath is for man to know how to love God and others.  Not man for the Sabbath as a self-salvation project.  (Mt 12:1-14; see also: 1 Sm 15:22-23; 21:1-6; Neh 13:15-17; Isa 1:11-20; Isa 58:13-14; Jer 17:21-27; Amos 8:4-5;  Hos 6:6; Micah 6:8; Mt 22:37-40; Mk 2:27; 3:4; Lk 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Jn 7:22-23; ch 9; 1 Cor 13:3; 1 Jn 4:20-21)


The Pharisees placed their laws above human need.  They were so concerned about Jesus breaking one of their rules that they did not care about the man’s shriveled hand.  What is your attitude toward others?  If your convictions don’t allow you to help certain people, those convictions may not be in tune with God’s Word.  Don’t allow rule keeping to blind you to human need.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 236)


Doing good fulfills Sabbath intentions.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 236)


Love for people (no matter what day it is) is love for God.  Even if you bring 10,000 firstborn bulls to the temple to be sacrificed, if you walk over the poor beggar on your way in, don’t think God is pleased with your abundant devotion.  Divine devotion without human sympathy is irreligious.  It’s ungodly.  It’s un-Biblical.  Above all God desires mercy.  The Sabbath is made for man.  The Sabbath is made for man to show mercy to men.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 317)


One is reminded of 1 Jn 4:20, 21.  How can you love God whom you’ve not seen if you can’t love your brother whom you have seen?  Love of one’s neighbor trumps Sabbath law.  No, that’s not right.  Love of one’s neighbor is Sabbath law.  It is lawful to love.  Healing another person on Saturday or Sunday or any day of the week is an act of love.  It’s okay.  It’s worshipful.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 321)


Jesus here reaffirms that the Sabbath was given for God’s glory and for man’s welfare.  It was never intended to restrict the expression of love through deeds of necessity, service to God, or acts of mercy.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 285)


The bread of the Presence was baked weekly, and each Sabbath twelve fresh loaves (representing the twelve tribes) replaced the previous ones, which could be eaten only by the priests.  On that particular occasion, however, an exception was made on behalf of David and his men, who were weak from hunger.  God was not offended by that act, and He did not discipline either Ahimelech or David.  The Lord was willing for a ceremonial regulation to be violated when doing so was necessary to meet the needs of His beloved people.

If God makes allowances for His own law to be broken under certain circumstances for the welfare of His people, Jesus said, He surely permits purposeless and foolish man-made traditions to be broken for that purpose.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 285)


Mark reports that Jesus then asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?”  But they kept silent” (Mk 3:4).  Had they approved doing good and saving a life, they would have contradicted tradition; and, on the other hand, they obviously would not have advocated doing evil or killing.  They were trapped in the illogic of their heartless, unscriptural traditions.  Their only outward recourse was to keep silent; but inwardly they “were filled with rage” (Lk 6:11).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 289)


By introducing this with the words “haven’t you read,” Jesus was not suggesting that the Pharisees had never read the story but that they had not grasped its significance.  If they had understood it, they would have known that their approach to the Sabbath was fundamentally wrong since they were unable to explain such an incident.  If David was right, then his need at that moment superseded the normal rules that would have restricted the use of the consecrated bread for the priests.  The Pharisees should have known that the law was given to help people, not hinder them.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 206)


Legalism is the implacable enemy of grace.  Even the Mosaic law, demanding as it was, was a reflection of God’s grace, a means of guiding men toward Jesus Christ, the one true and only hope of coming to God.  As Paul explains, the law was a “tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).  If God’s own law was only a shadow, how much less spiritual substance does human tradition have?  If even divine law cannot save, of how much less value is human tradition?  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 290)


This statement of our Lord, in further defense of his disciples, is found in Mk 2:27, where it immediately precedes the words, “Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath,” paralleled in Mt 12:8.  The Sabbath was instituted to be a blessing for man:  to keep him healthy, to make him happy, and to render him holy.  Man was not created to be the Sabbath’s slave.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 514-5)


The OT statement “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” means that rituals and obedience to the law are valuable only if carried out with an attitude of love for God.  If a person’s heart is far from God, ritual and law keeping are not more than empty mockery.  God did not want the Israelites’ rituals:  he wanted their hearts.  Jesus challenged the Pharisees to apply the prophets’ words to themselves.  The Pharisees’ rigid guidelines had caused them to be unable to see beyond the letter of the law.  So in condemning Jesus and his disciples, they had condemned the innocent.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 234)


He does not say, “It is lawful to heal,” but, “It is lawful to do well,” thus at once showing the true justification of healing, namely, that it was a beneficent act, and widening the scope of His answer to cover a whole class of cases.  “To do well” here means, not to do right, but to do good, to benefit men.  The principle is a wide one:  the charitable succor of men’s needs, of whatever kind, is congruous with the true design of that day of rest.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 170)


God is a God of people, not rules.  The best time to reach out to someone is when he or she needs help.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 236)


If they had known what the Lord meant when He said, I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice, they would not have condemned the innocent for supposed Sabbath breaking.  That one truth alone–a quotation of but one half of one verse from the book of Hosea (6:6a)–would have been sufficient to teach the Pharisees, and any sincere Jew, what God’s primary desire was for His people.

Sacrifice here represents the entire Mosaic system of ritual and ceremony, which was always of secondary and temporary importance in God’s plan.  Sacrifice was never more than symbolic, a means pointing to God’s gracious and future provision of what no man, and certainly no animal, could provide.

Observing the Sabbath was a kind of sacrifice, a symbolic service to the Lord in obedience to His command.  It was a reminder of God’s completion of creation and a shadow of the perfect rest His redeemed people look forward to in salvation and in heaven.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 286-7)


During the old dispensation the week began with six days of LABOR.  These were followed by one day of REST.  Later, by the labor of his vicarious suffering Christ, the great High priest, procured for “the people of God” “the eternal Sabbath rest” (Heb 4:8, 9, 14).  By faith in him believers even now (in principle!) enter into this REST, which is constantly being followed by their LABOR of love, that is, by their works of gratitude for salvation already obtained for them as a free gift.  The order LABOR–REST is therefore changed to REST–LABOR:  very appropriately the week now begins with the day of REST.  In summary, Jesus asserted his authority over the Sabbath by interpreting it by word and deed as being a day of true freedom, a day of rejoicing, of rendering service of love to each and to all, and, in and through it all, by worshiping God above everything else!  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 515)


Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees (12:3-8) contains four arguments explaining why his disciples’ actions were lawful to do on the Sabbath (12:3):  (1) David’s example (12:3-4), (2) the priests’ example (12:5-6), (3) proof from the prophets (12:7), and (4) proof from who he was (12:8).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 232)


One of the most obvious tragedies of Hinduism is its disregard for human welfare in the name of human welfare.  A beggar is not given food because it would interfere with his karma and prevent him from suffering his way to the next highest level of existence.  A fly is not killed because it is the reincarnation of some unfortunate human being of past ages.  Rats are not killed for the same reason and are allowed to eat and contaminate food supplies without any interference.  Cows are considered sacred and are given what food is available, while human beings are allowed to starve.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 289)


Although the Jewish leaders knew the story well, they had failed to grasp its spiritual lesson, that is, human need must take precedence over ceremonial technicalities.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 112)


The point is that acts of kindness take precedence over religious rites when one must choose in a given situation.  The kingdom of God is of greater importance than the ceremonial legislation that prepared the way for its arrival.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 113)


What God desires far more than ritual sacrifice is kindness, the spirit which knows no law other than that it must answer the call of human need.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 28)


Jesus insisted that the greatest ritual service is the service of human need.  It is an odd thing to think that, with the possible exception of that day in the synagogue at Nazareth, we have no evidence that Jesus ever conducted a “church” service in all his life on earth, but we have abundant evidence that he fed the hungry and comforted the sad and cared for the sick.  Christian service is not the service of any liturgy or ritual; it is the service of human need.  Christian service is not monastic retreat; it is involvement in all the tragedies and problems and demands of the human situation.  J. G. Whittier expressed it perfectly in this hymn:

O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother!

Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;

To worship rightly is to love each other,

Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

For he whom Jesus loved hath truly spoken;

The holier worship which he deigns to bless

Restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken,

And feeds the widow and the fatherless.

Follow with reverent steps the great example

Of Him whose holy work was doing good;

So shall the wide earth seem our Father’s temple.

Each loving life a psalm of gratitude.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 29)


If we consider that what Jesus is pressing is the claims of human need; if we remember that it is not himself but his disciples that he is defending; if we remember that Mark tells us that he said that the Sabbath was made for the sake of men and women and not the other way round; then we may well conclude that what Jesus said here is:  “Human beings are not the slaves of the Sabbath; rather they have control of it, to use it for their own good.”  Jesus may well be rebuking the scribes and Pharisees for enslaving themselves and others with a host of tyrannical regulations; and he may well be here laying down the great principle of Christian freedom, which applies to the Sabbath as it does to all other things in life.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 31)


The Lord’s desire is not to condemn men for sin but to save them from it.  He only condemns those who will not have His mercy (cf. 2 Pt 3:9).  And if righteous, holy God is supremely characterized by love and mercy–even to the extent of graciously setting aside the penalty for breaking some of His own laws for man’s benefit–how much more are His still-sinful children obliged to reflect His compassion?  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 287)


Legalism involves working in our own power (sometimes according to God’s law and other times according to our own rules) in order to earn God’s favor.  We think that if we can do certain things–good things no doubt–we can be righteous before God.  Lest we too quickly disconnect ourselves from the Pharisees, we need to be reminded that we are all born with a legalistic heart, a heart that thinks there is something we can do to merit our way to God.  It’s the foundation of all the religions of the world, whether it’s paying homage to Hindu gods at Sikh temples or bowing to Allah in a Muslim mosque.  At their core all other religions call us to follow religious rules and regulations.  And if we’re not careful, this kind of thinking becomes the foundation for how we live as Christians; we begin to think that if we pray enough, if we study the Bible enough, if we avoid certain sins, if we come to worship, if we help other people, if we go overseas in missions, if we do any number of things, we will become more acceptable to God.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 157-8)


This was exactly the kind of approach to God that Jesus had addressed at the end of Matthew 11 when He said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened” (v. 28).  The weary and burdened were those who had the law heaped upon them, with the idea that their righteousness depended on keeping certain rules and regulations.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 159)


III-  If we do not periodically rest to put our lives in order we can become really screwed up like the Pharisees.  (Mt 12:2, 14; see also: Prv 3:5-6; Isa 58:13-14; Ez 22:26; 23:38; Mt 26:4; 27:1; Mk 3:6; Jn 3:19; 5:16-18; 7:19-23; 8:40; 11:53)


If we don’t come apart and rest, then we’ll just come apart.  —Vance Havner


They had so shut their eyes to God that they were completely incapable of ever seeing his beauty and his truth.  Their prejudiced blindness had launched them on a path from which they were quite incapable of ever turning back.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 22)


There was a defining moment in my spiritual life.  It happened when I realized that if I insisted on becoming consumed by every major sporting event or political race, every move of the stock market, or even every worry of parenting, if I let these things seize my heart, I simply could not enter into a true celebration of the Sabbath or the joy of a baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, or Christmas or Easter, or any other true and significant celebration.  I have learned the necessity of “guarding my heart” (Prv 4:23) because my heart does not have an infinite capacity to rejoice or be alarmed.  By becoming preoccupied with passing things, I exhaust my heart’s ability to care about the things that really do matter.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 110)


The Pharisee is always blind as an owl to the light of God and true goodness; keen-sighted as a hawk for trivial breaches of his cobweb regulations, and cruel as a vulture to tear with beak and claw.  The race is not extinct.  We all carry one inside us, and need God’s help to cast him out.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 171)


Renewal and restoration are not luxuries.  They are essentials.  Being alone and resting for a while is not selfish.  It is Christlike.  Taking your day off each week or rewarding yourself with a relaxing, refreshing vacation is not carnal.  It’s spiritual.  There is absolutely nothing enviable or spiritual about a coronary or nervous breakdown, nor is an ultra busy schedule necessarily the mark of a productive life.  — Charles R. Swindoll


What was Creation’s climactic culmination?  The act of stopping.  Why should God have considered it so important to stop?  Rabbi Elijah of Vilna put it this way:  God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only once we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so.  The implication is clear.  We could let the world wind us up and set us to marching, like mechanical dolls that go and go until they fall over, because they don’t have a mechanism that allows them to pause.  But that would make us less than human.  We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.  (JUDITH SHULEVITZ; Bring Back the Sabbath; Published: March 2, 2003)


Unless the soul is fed and exercised daily, it becomes weak and shriveled.  It remains discontented, confused, restless.  (The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, 302)


During the French Revolution, radicals abolished Sunday, but the found that the health of the nation suffered, and they had to reinstated it.  The Russian Communists, on the theory that they had created a new man, instituted a much-ballyhooed ten-day week.  But despite its super-workers (stakonovites), the new social order miserably failed.  God’s rhythm is best for men and women because God created them. ( R. Kent Hughes; Disciplines of Grace, 71)


As soon as they “began,” the eager Pharisees, who seem to have been at their heels, call Him to “behold” this dreadful crime, which, they think, requires His immediate remonstrance.  If they had had as sharp eyes for men’s necessities as for their faults, they might have given them food which it was “lawful” to eat, and so obviated this frightful iniquity.  But that is not the way of Pharisees.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 164)


Sin or disobedience to what we know to be right distances us from God and forces us to live on our own.  That means it makes soul rest impossible and is very destructive to the soul.  “He who is partner with a thief hates his own soul,” the proverb says (29:24, PAR). (Dallas Willard; Renovation of the Heart, 210)


Our tendencies to imitate our culture are directly related to our unwillingness to stop, cease producing, consuming, moving, accomplishing, buying, planning.  We can be as much 24-7 (even in the name of Jesus) as our secular neighbors.  Yet we cannot live as light and salt, doing righteousness and showing justice, if we fail to practice living out of God’s rest.  It’s a boundary that sets us free.  (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 96)


The Pharisees were outraged.  Jesus had openly confronted their authority and had placed himself above them.  Their curiosity about Jesus turned to hatred because he had challenged and exposed their proud attitudes and dishonorable motives.  In their fury, the only option they saw was to kill Jesus.  Ironically, the Pharisees had accused Jesus of breaking their law about healing on the Sabbath, yet they were planning (on the Sabbath) to kill him.  Their hatred, combined with their zeal for the law, drove them to plot murder–an act that was clearly against the law.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 237)


Why did they hate the Lord Jesus Christ so much?  He was breaking their rules, of course.  They hated that.  But underlying that hatred was the fact that Jesus was holy, and they were not; he was good, and they were not; he was exercising a true authority from God, and they were not.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 208)


First, then, let us learn from this passage to keep our minds pure, and free from every wicked disposition, when we are about to form a decision on any question; for if hatred, or pride, or any thing of that description, reign within us, we will not only do injury to men, but will insult God himself, and turn light into darkness.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 52)


It is the invariable practice of hypocrites to allow themselves liberty in matters of the greatest consequence, and to pay close attention to ceremonial observances.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 46)


Completely unaffected by Jesus’ reminder from Scripture that God desires “compassion, and not a sacrifice” (v. 7).  They questioned Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  Their only purpose in listening to anything Jesus said or in watching anything He did was that they might accuse Him.  They were not looking for the truth but for a way to dispose of this upstart young rabbi who dared to make a sacrilege of their revered traditions and blaspheme God with His claims.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 288)


If we are not rested, on the other hand, the body moves to the center of our focus and makes its presence more strongly felt, and the tendencies of its parts call out more strongly for gratification.  The sensual desires and ego demands will have greater power over us through our desperate body and its parts.  In addition, our awareness of what it is doing–it is very subtle–and what is happening around us will be less sharp and decisive.  Confusion is the enemy of spiritual orientation.  Rest, properly taken, gives clarity to the mind.  Weariness, by contrast, can make us seek gratification and energy from food or drugs, or from various illicit relationships, or from egoistic postures that are, in Paul’s words, “upon the earth.”  They pull us away from reliance upon God and from living in his power.  (Dallas Willard; Renovation of the Heart, 175-6)


Many people in the first century who saw Jesus in the flesh, including most of the religious people, were hardened by their encounter with Him.  Due to the fact that our hearts are naturally sinful, this is how all of us would respond to Jesus apart from the grace of God.  In reality, when anyone sees Christ for who He is, there are really only two options:  (1) we will humble ourselves before Him, or (2) we will harden our hearts toward Him.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 157)


Neither the power of Jesus’ argument nor the power of His miracles moved the Pharisees.  They refused to be convinced.  Jesus had indisputably connected the heart of God with benevolence, kindness, mercy, goodness, and compassion; and He had connected those virtues with Sabbath observance.  But the Pharisees would have none of it, because they “loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19).  Their trust was in tradition and in their own works, and neither God’s Word nor God’s Son would change them.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 290)


True to the nature of their spiritual father, the devil (Jn 8;44), the Pharisees sought to destroy what they could not subvert.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 290)


The same signs that convinced the humble of Jesus’ divinity and messiahship confirmed the proud in their unbelief and rejection.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 288)


The minute and meaningless restrictions the Pharisees imposed on the observance of the Sabbath had made it more of a burden than the joy God intended it to be to His people.  It was Jesus’ purpose to strip away the traditions with which the Sabbath was encrusted, and to restore the true sabbath-rest to the nation.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 67)


The general meaning is, that those persons judge amiss who turn to man’s destruction, the Sabbath which God appointed for his benefit.  The Pharisees saw the disciples of Christ employed in a holy work; they saw them worn out with the fatigue of the journey, and partly with want of good; and yet are offended that, when they are hungry, they take a few grains of corn for the support of their wearied bodies.  Is not this a foolish attempt to overturn the purpose of God, when they demand to the injury of men that observation of the Sabbath which he intended to advantageous?  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 51)


They ought to have considered whether it was a work of God, or of man, to restore a withered hand by a mere touch, or by a single word.  When God appointed the Sabbath, he did not lay down a law for himself, or impose upon himself any restraint from performing operations on the Sabbath, when he saw it to be proper, in the same manner as on other days.  It was excessive folly, therefore, to call this in question, and thus to prescribe rules for God himself, and to restrain the freedom of his operations.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 53)


Evil is not so much a power against the good as it is a perversion of the good, until the good has been altered to serve wrong ends.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 151)


A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.


Have you not read what David did…?  was deep-cutting sarcasm, because the account of David to which Jesus referred was, of course, from Scripture, about which the Pharisees considered themselves the supreme experts and custodians.  They must have winced in anger as Jesus said to them, in effect, “Don’t you teachers of Scripture know what it says?”  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 284)


No particular action of Jesus is recorded; he told the man to move, and with that movement, healing arrived.  Jesus did nothing that could be called “work,” but the Pharisees would not be swayed from their purpose.  Jesus had embarrassed them.  He had overruled their authority (Lk 6:11) and had exposed their evil attitudes in front of the entire crowd in the synagogue, showing that the Pharisees were more loyal to their religious system than to God.  That was enough to cause them to get on with their mission of destruction (see 12:14).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 237)


To us, their reaction seems overstated.  We must remember that the religious leaders, by imposing a bewildering system of Sabbath laws, had in fact made themselves lords of the Sabbath and thus lords over the people.  By claiming the title of Lord of the Sabbath (12:8), Jesus was stating his own divinity, and this claim was an affront to the position of the religious leaders.  His remaking the Sabbath into a day of refreshment, worship, and healing pried open the tight-fisted control the Pharisees held on the people.  No wonder Jesus’ approach to the Sabbath led his enemies to plot his death.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 238)

For hundreds of years it was firmly believed that only a Sabbath enforced through social legislation would keep society from sliding into a kind of unwitting slavery, protecting the vulnerable from the powerful and quashing the punitive obsessive-compulsive who lurks within us all.  One of the bitterest public policy debates in 19th-century America, in fact, was over whether offering postal service and opening public institutions on Sundays would harm our national character and lead directly to barbarism.  (JUDITH SHULEVITZ; Bring Back the Sabbath; Published: March 2, 2003)


The rabbis had made the sabbath a burden instead of a blessing.  They had heartlessly heaped on the longsuffering people, who were almost wholly dependent on them for Biblical teaching, a thousand requirements over and above the law.  Content with the outward form–whether it had to do with the sabbath, the sanctuary, or the sacrifices–the rabbis had conveyed false ideas about God.  Their God was meticulous, a stickler for details.  But the true God–the One who instituted the sabbath, provided the sacrificial system, and once abode in their sanctuary–was merciful.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 227-8)


The Ten Commandments prohibit work on the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11).  That was the “letter” of the law.  But because the purpose of the Sabbath is to rest and to worship God, the priests had to perform sacrifices and conduct worship services–in short, they had to “work.”  Their “Sabbath work” was serving and worshiping God, which God allowed.  Thus, even though they technically break the sabbath, God holds them guiltless.  Jesus always emphasized the intent of the law, the meaning behind the letter.  The Pharisees had lost the spirit of the law and were rigidly demanding that the letter (and their interpretation of it) be obeyed.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 233)


The Pharisees were so concerned about religious rituals that they missed the whole purpose of the temple–to bring people to God.  And because Jesus Christ is even greater than the temple, how much better can he bring people to God.  Our love and worship of God are far more important than the created instruments of worship.  If we become more concerned with the means and methods of worship than with the one we worship, we will miss the true purpose for worship–to glorify God.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 233)


Their judgment would have been like God’s if they had looked at those poor hungry men with merciful eyes and with merciful hearts, rather than with eager scrutiny that delighted to find them tripping in a triviality of outward observance.  What mountains of harsh judgment by Christ’s own followers on each other would have been removed into the sea if the spirit of these great words had played upon them!  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 167)


A Sabbath-breaking nation will soon become a broken nation.


Our business of life is not to get ahead of others, but to get ahead of ourselves.


Worship Point:  God created Sabbath so we could reflect and be reminded of His provision, protection, grace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, patience and love.   When you do that in spirit and in truth you cannot help but worship.  


Gospel Application:  The Sabbath is a weekly reminder that it is not up to you.   It is Christ plus nothing.   Christ is our rest.  (Jn 17:4; 19:30; Heb ch 4 )


Did Christ finish His work?   How dangerous it is to join anything of our own to the righteousness of Christ, in pursuit of justification before God!   Jesus Christ will never endure this; it reflects upon His work dishonorably.  He will be all, or none, in our justification.   If He has finished the work, what need is there of our additions?  And if not, to what purpose are they?  Can we finish that which Christ Himself could not complete?   Did He finish the work, and will he ever divide the glory and praise of it with us?   No, no; Christ is no half Savior.  It is a hard thing to bring proud hearts to rest upon Christ for righteousness.   God humbles the proud by calling sinners wholly from their own righteousness to Christ for their justification.  — John Flavel


Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee, O Lord.  — St. Augustine


There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any other created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus.  — Blaise Pascal


The Jewish sabbath was only a picture; it anticipated a rest based on the finished work of Christ (Jn 17:4; 19:30).  So in the new covenant, our rest, like that of God, is in a person:  Jesus, the Lord of the sabbath.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 228)


When Jesus was with the Pharisees on the Sabbath he said, “I am not just someone who can instruct you to take rest; I am rest itself.”   (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 52)


The point is clear:  If Jesus is at the center, all is well; but if anything else becomes the focus of worship (even keeping biblical laws with rigor and diligence), then something is wrong.

When you’re choosing a church, be sure that the church keeps Jesus at the center.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 234)


When you are pursuing love, running toward Christ, you do not have opportunity to wonder, Am I doing this right? or Did I serve enough this week?  When you are running toward Christ, you are freed up to serve, love, and give thanks without guilt, worry, or fear.  As long as you are running, you are safe.  But running is exhausting—if, that is, we are running from sin or guilt, out of fear.  (Or if we haven’t run in a while.)  However, if we train ourselves to run toward our Refuge, toward Love, we are free—just as we are called to be.  As we begin to focus more on Christ, loving Him and others becomes more natural.  As long as we are pursuing Him, we are satisfied in Him.  It is when we stop actively loving Him that we find ourselves restless and gravitating toward other means of fulfillment.   (Francis Chan, Crazy Love, 104)


Restlessness is a gift of God.  If we are not restless, we would never search for God.


Have you not learned that lesson of despair yet?  Is it necessary for the Holy Spirit to make you despair again?  Why not have one good despair and get it all over?  Why despair every few days?  Only because you are still hunting round for something somewhere, some range of goodness in yourself that you can present to God that will please Him, satisfy Him and answer to His requirements.  You will never find it.  Settle it that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.  Our righteousness, all that trying to be so righteous, the Lord says of it all, “Filthy rags!”  Let us settle this once for all.  If you are looking ahead of what I am saying, you will see what it is leading to.  It is leading to the most glorious position.  It is leading to that glorious issue mentioned by the Lord Jesus in this way, in those days before things became inward:  “Learn of me…and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”  That is the end.  But we shall never find rest unto our souls until we have first of all learned the utter difference between Christ and ourselves, and then the utter impossibility of our ever being like Him by anything that we can find in ourselves, produce or do.  It is not in us, in ourselves, in that way. .  (T. Austin-Sparks; The School of Christ, 14)


We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.  If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “Looking unto Jesus.”  Keep your eye simply on him; let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon your mind; when you wake in the morning look to him; when you lie down at night look to him.  Do not let your hopes or fears come between you and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail you.  (C. H. Spurgeon as quoted by Alister Begg; Pathway to Freedom, 228-9)


The peace of God stands sentinel over heart and mind through Christ Jesus; the citadel is safe.  What Satan is always trying to do is to get into the spirit through the body or soul and to capture the stronghold, the spirit, and bring it into bondage.  But we can remain free inwardly when we are feeling very bad outwardly.  (T. Austin-Sparks; The School of Christ, 26)


Spiritual Challenge:  Take time to observe the Sabbath so you might worship and get your life into proper perspective.  Never approach Sabbath as a means for saving or sustaining yourself.



. . .  the sabbath is a gift of love to meet man’s need, not an oppressive burden to make him miserable or proud. (John Piper; Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy; October 6, 1985 ; Desiring God Website)


In summary, these four points:

  1. Accept the gift of one day’s rest a week. Humble yourself to believe you need it. And be willing to admit that your wealth and your significance and your true advancement in life depend far more on God’s labor than on yours.


  1. Devote one day a week to focus your attention on God in a special way. Keep a holy day and devote yourself to those things that deepen your love for God.


  1. Except where you think obedience to God requires otherwise, let that day of rest and Godward focus be on the first day of the week as a witness to the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of your sabbath and of your life.


  1. For those of you who are free in your conscience to extend your holy exercises forward into Saturday night, let’s dream together of new ways to sanctify Sunday morning. Could it be that the Lord is leading you to new dimensions of prayer, or new hours of personal Bible study, or new deeds of mercy for the poor, or Sunday morning visitation to a shut-in, or perhaps a home evangelistic Bible study for neighbors who would not come to church but might come to your home? Can you think of any better time to reach your neighbors with the gospel than between 10 and 12 on Sunday morning? Who knows—maybe the city will find its way to Bethlehem on Saturday night, or maybe Saturday night will free up the saints to reach the city on Sunday morning? If any of you has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath, will you not reach in and pull it out?  Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good—all kinds of good—on Sunday morning.  (John Piper; Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep It Holy; October 6, 1985 ; Desiring God Website)






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