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JESUS & THE PHARISEES – Matthew 12



Jesus & the Pharisees

Jesus had already had run-ins with  Jews from Jerusalem who came to Galilee to check Him out. In Matthew 9, we were not told these were Pharisees – but their actions were  like the Pharisees.

Those wondered why He dared to forgive sins when none but God could do that. To show He had power on earth to forgive sins, He healed the paralytic. They asked His disciples why He ate with the tax-collectors and sinners. He said it is sick people who need a doctor, not those who are well. Along with John’s disciples, they asked why His disciples did not fast. He said they could not fast while the bridegroom was with them. They were like dogs nipping at His heels because He did not follow their traditions.

This heated up in chapter 12, first in a couple of events involving Sabbath observance by Jesus and His disciples and then in two additional head-to-head conflicts.

The Sabbath

Jesus and company walked through grainfields on the Sabbath. The disciples plucked heads of grain and ate them. Under the Law, this was o.k. In Deuteronomy 23:25 we read:

If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.

The problem was not with what they did, but with doing it on the Sabbath. The Pharisees said this was unlawful. Jesus said His disciples were innocent – and pointed to three Old Testament events and teachings that justified what they did.

  1. David ate consecrated bread, reserved for priests to eat.
  2. The priests desecrate the Sabbath by offering sacrifices.
  3. God desires mercy, not sacrifice.

Taken together, Jesus said man’s needs, worship, and God’s heart for mercy were strong enough to override the petty demands of a ritual obedience to the letter of the Sabbath Law. He capped it off by saying, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

When they entered the synagogue, they saw a man with a withered hand. Wanting to accuse Jesus of wrong-doing, the Pharisees asked , “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?

Again, Jesus showed their inconsistencies. He said any of them would pull his sheep from a pit on the Sabbath – and isn’t a man of more value than a sheep? He then told the man with the withered hand to stretch it out. When he did, it was whole.

This infuriated the Pharisees, who went out and plotted how to kill Jesus. This is the first time, since Herod tried to kill Him as a toddler, people actively began to think about killing Him.

But what had He done? He went to the synagogue and talked. He talked to the Pharisees who had asked Him a question. Did that violate the Sabbath? He talked to the man with the withered hand. Did that violate the Sabbath? The man stretched out his hand. Did that violate the Sabbath?

Yes, He performed a miracle, but shouldn’t that have shown them Jesus was someone special? That maybe He was from God? Yet obsession with the Sabbath made them overlook what Jesus had not done – that is, any visible work – to insist He had violated the Sabbath. Actually, He made them look like fools. That is why they wanted to kill Him.

When Jesus left there, many people followed Him – and He healed all of their sick as well. Matthew writes:

This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, The one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on Him, And He will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out, ‘Till He leads justice to victory. In His name the nations will put their hope.”

By Beelzebub or the Spirit?

Next, Jesus healed a blind mute who had a demon. The people who saw the miracle asked, “Could this be the Son of David?” The Pharisees heard this and said,

It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.

Jesus showed the illogic of this:

Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?

He also pointed to the Jewish exorcists of the day and asked,

And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.

And He pointed to the inevitable conclusion – which the Pharisees wanted so much to avoid:

But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

He continued by showing that only by binding Satan could He rob Satan of his possessions. Then He warned them of their danger in speaking against (blaspheming) the Holy Spirit – plus pointing out that their hearts were evil through and through, so much so that nothing good could come from their lips.

We Want A Sign

After all this, some of the Pharisees said, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

What had He been doing all through this chapter? He healed the withered hand, He healed all the sick folks brought to Him, He cast the demon from the blind mute. What were  these? Chopped liver? Weren’t these miracles enough?

Do you wonder that He refused? However, He did give them one sign: the sign of Jonah. This was the sign that He Himself would be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.

He closed with a parable of judgment on the Pharisees, whom He had called “A wicked and adulterous generation” that asked for a sign. When a demon is cast from a man, he wanders in arid places, not finding rest – until he returns from the house from which he was cast. Then, finding it empty, the demon finds other demons more wicked than himself to go live there.

Jesus said, “That is how it will be with this wicked generation” – the “wicked and adulterous generation” that had asked for signs while refusing the signs that Jesus gave them.

QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

  1. How does God’s desire for mercy, not sacrifice, apply to the Jews who criticized the disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath? Does this give license to disregard the law of God on a whim? When might this principle apply to our actions?
  2. When is it unlawful to do good? How did Jesus apply the principle of James 4:17 in the case of the man with the withered hand? How would this apply, say, to the “issue” of church support for orphan homes?
  3. Many take to the streets demanding “justice.” How does Jesus, as God’s chosen servant, bring us justice? How does this differ from the modern “activists” who demand justice?
  4. How has the kingdom of God come upon us if Jesus drove out demons by the Spirit of God?
  5. How does Jesus’ story of the demon who returned apply to the Pharisees?

NEXT: Parables of Jesus

PREVIOUS: Confused Expectations

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