Lord of the Sabbath Day

AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 12:1-8

(Read 1 Samuel 21:1-6)

1 At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn [grainfield]; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. Deut. 23:25

There is a close association to the events of Matthew 11 and the Lord’s teaching on the Sabbath. The Lord has contrasted his “yoke” with that of the Pharisees. The issue of the Sabbath will illustrate the extra lawful burdens the Pharisees place on people. It was lawful for the corn to be eaten, but because they ate it on the Sabbath, the Pharisees objected.

2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.

The Pharisees believed plucking the corn for food on the Sabbath was an act of work, something the Law of Moses did forbid, but did not fully define. The Rabbi found freedom to fully define work, and decided that reaping was work, for it involved “reaping”, “winnowing”, and “threshing” of the corn.  When the disciples took the corn, they were reaping. When they shucked the corn, they were winnowing. When they rubbed the kernels in their hands, they were threshing. They were working!

First Scriptural Justification: The Moral Necessity of Preserving Life

3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 1 Samuel 21:1-6

“Have ye not read?” This was stinging rebuke to the Pharisees, repeated in verse 5, and in verse 7. It is possible to read the Bible without understanding and so to miss read it altogether. Divine learning is better than Rabbinical or Masoretic learning.

4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?

The ceremonial is subordinate to the moral Law of God. The preservation of the life of David was more important, spiritually, than the preservation of the symbolism associated with the decaying shewbread. David was a figure of Christ, who was also rejected, hungry, and sustained by food provided by God.

Second Scriptural Justification: The Normal Duties of Working Priests

5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?

The priest did much work on the Sabbath. Two sacrifices had to be made. A meal offering had to be brought. A drink offering was given. A great truth is established.  The Sabbath Day was not kept when people did not work, but when they did not work in order to keep the Lord as the focus of their hearts and activities. The reality is more important than ritual. The substance is more important than the ceremonial.

The Lord’s Superiority: Over the Scribes and Pharisees

6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.

At least a hundred twenty times Jesus established His authority with the phrase, “I say unto you.”  Jesus had a right to assert His authority because He was greater than the Temple which pointed to Him, with all of its symbolism.

7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

Jesus is not suggesting the sacrifices are not important, or should not be given. He is saying that ministry should be with the heart as well as the head. The guiltless should not be condemned. And the Scriptures must be understood.

“But if ye had known.” To truly read the Bible is to read and understand what is being said. The priests used to light the candlestick before they put the incense on the altar, because there must be illumination before there can be understanding of the ways of God.

“When we come to the Word of God, we come to a book in which the Lord God of the universe sits like a crowned monarch in the pages, and we listen for his voice, and we ponder until we understand” (S. Lewis Johnson).

8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.

As the One who is Greater than the Temple, as the One who is Lord of the Sabbath Day, Jesus has the right to teach that the traditions of men, and their rules and regulations, need not be followed.

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