Thoughts from Matthew 12…
We celebrated the Fourth of July recently, complete with picnicking and fireworks. Through all the excitement and the fun, this national tradition helps us to remember the price that was paid for our nation’s freedom.
We also have other traditions which help us to remember what is important. There are many traditions in the church, from major events such as Christmas or Easter, to smaller events such as Sunday worship or the Lord’s Supper.
We all also have family traditions. Our family has a favorite vacation spot to visit every year. Other families have a favorite restaurant or a special way to celebrate accomplishments. The traditions make the events special.
But sometimes, our traditions can get in the way. They are important, but some things are even more important.
Matthew 12 is a crucial turning point in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He has been traveling through Galilee with His disciples, teaching and healing, and proclaiming that the kingdom is at hand (see here). He has offered the kingdom to the Israelite people and this chapter (Mathew 12) is their response.
Starting first with the leaders, then with the people, they all reject Him! Hereafter, Jesus will change His focus from gathering the crowds to teaching His own disciples.
This first part of this chapter shows three scenes of conflict with the religious leaders. They have been following and challenging Him (see here and here), but their conflict now moves to outright hostility. And the cause of their conflict is over one of their most precious of the Ten Commandments — the Sabbath Day!
The Sabbath was one of the most most treasured days by the Jewish people. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, thereby giving us the pattern to keep the seventh (“sabbath”) day holy. This was one of the Ten Commandments, to “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
The Jewish people showed their love for God and His law by faithfully keeping this commandment. The rabbis went further, giving specific rules for how to honor God on His Sabbath. By the first century, these traditions had grown into an elaborate system of rules and regulations governing what could and could not be done on the Sabbath.a
But Jesus was different on the Sabbath day. Because He did not follow their traditions, he must not be honoring their law and their day that they so treasured. They started out by questioning Him, then went to overtly challenging Him, and finally to conspiring to destroy Him.
Yet through all of this, Jesus answered all of their challenges. He never violated the Sabbath commandment, nor did He criticize their traditions. However, He did challenge their understanding of their own laws, their own history, and their inconsistency in trying to uphold the Sabbath. There are some things which are more important than traditions.