Lawfully Good

“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 12:9-21

“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:

“BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN;
MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL is WELLPLEASED;
WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM,
AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THEGENTILES.

“HE WILL NOT QUARRELNOR CRY OUT;
NOR WILL ANYONE HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS.

“A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF,
AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT,
UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY.

“AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE.”

We are in the same act–different scene in the portrayal of Jesus as the true Israel. Notice the context; “Departing from there, He went into their synagogue.” Jesus left the grainfields and entered the synagogue. Question, what is a synagogue? The etymology of the word may surprise you. The synagogue was a local place for the local Jewish community to gather and perform their religious activities, such as, reading the sacred scriptures, singing songs of salvation, and most likely, listening to announcements of upcoming events, such as, “We will assemble the caravan to depart for Jerusalem to celebrate the first fruits promptly at 8 Wednesday morning or we may not make it before the Sabbath. Don’t be late or you will be left behind. And bring a dish to share with others, it’s a long walk.” Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it. However, the word synagogue derives from the Greek, συναγωγή, which itself derives from the two Greek words, συν and αγωγή, literally; “bring together.” The interesting thing about synagogues is we find no place in the Bible where the Lord decrees the establishment of synagogues. Yet we also see in Luke and Matthew that Jesus conforms to their customs and cultures. In Luke 4, Jesus stands up to read the scroll of Isaiah and then sits down to teach, which is customary to do in the synagogue. But here in Matthew, Jesus is tested in the synagogue system, and on the Sabbath.

“He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse Him.” Jesus was respectful of the synagogue and is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus was not their to be rebellious, on the contrary, it was the Pharisees who were looking to accuse Jesus because they had already seen his disciples “work” on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had an audience in the synagogue on the Sabbath–they set a trap for Jesus–or so they thought.

“And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other.” Again, Jesus responded with a question. He evokes some simple situations of which people would do. Saving someone’s sheep on the Sabbath seems simple, of course they would and probably have done similar things. Then Jesus pointed out how much more valuable than sheep are men. He proclaimed that doing good on the Sabbath is lawful. I believe that to be a gross understatement. By saying that doing good is lawful, Jesus appears to be greatly encouraging doing good on the Sabbath. I believe this to be confirmed by the healing itself. Jesus could have avoided all controversy by waiting to heal the man until sundown but instead, he heals him knowing that the Pharisees will accuse him. The fact that he didn’t wait proves that Jesus was showing the people that not only was it lawful, it was very good. Think about it, he healed the withered hand of a man, certainly that is a very good thing. Lawful is a gross understatement.

“But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” The Pharisees are off to plan a homicide, or in this case, a theocide.

“But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:

“BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN;
MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL is WELL-PLEASED;
I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM,
AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES.

“HE WILL NOT QUARREL, NOR CRY OUT;
NOR WILL ANYONE HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS.

“A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF,
AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT,
UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY.

“AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE.”

The Pharisees are off plotting Christ’s death, Jesus is gaining ground between himself and the Pharisees and the hurting, sick and infirmed are following after Jesus–and he’s healing them all. All the while Jesus just keeps fulfilling prophecies. As we have seen, Jesus is respectful of the customs and the Pharisees. Jesus could easily have quarreled with the Pharisees but he continuously responds with questions used to get them to think. He also heals and is kind and many people followed him. It’s hard to believe that the Pharisees pursued him to death for healing on the Sabbath but they did and we pursued him to death for much less. We didn’t even know him yet maybe that is a better defense. The Pharisees were looking for him, and him exactly but they did not recognize him. That’s in Isaiah too, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.”

As I often say, it’s good to be on this side of the Bible. We have the completed scriptures in our own language-personally I have 3 English translations and one Spanish translation on my phone, plus several more English translations and a Greek translation in old-fashioned print. Several websites exist where we can access numerous translations for free. It’s a great time to be alive, so why are many local churches dying?

Could it be because many churches cater to the Pharisees who insist on their rigid rules? Could it be because of the watered down version of the gospel presented by these mega-church pastors? “If you prayed that prayer, we believe that you got born again.” It sounds good, and I’m probably going to insult you, but it isn’t in the least bit Biblical! Show me were it says that, John 3 says something entirely different. Could it be that millennials are brainwashed by social media into being anti-church? They are, but what does that say about us and our social media habits? You can blame social media, the public schools, the government, the weather, cellphone service, what ever, but the truth is the blame is on us, we’ve become tribal; we’ve become like dogs, peeing on each other’s shoes, marking our territory. We have become like the Pharisees who believe that miracles are labor and that making a man whole on the Sabbath is unlawful. “We don’t do that here.” And even within the walls of our synagogues, we form cliques and tribes.

I can’t believe that I am writing this but here I am–it is not like anyone reads these missives anyway. When I was actively involved in my former church as a member, trustee and youth director, one of my duties was to write an annual report concerning the youth group. I would write about the events, meetings and status of the youth group, which took up a paragraph. But I would also write that while I went to college for youth ministries and that the youth are the future of the church and I was their director, I find no Biblical justification for youth groups. We needed to be, and were, open to people of all ages. I explained that while we focus on youth, everyone is welcome, we are not tribal. During this time there were many families with very young children and I was also a spy, like Caleb and Joshua out in the community–self-appointed of course. And I saw that the community as well, had experienced a baby boom. A suggestion was made that the church join a nationwide program for mothers with preschoolers and I wholeheartedly agreed. That was until I saw what it was and how it functioned.  Thank the Lord that the leadership saw some of the things that I saw and decided to leave the nationwide program. But it didn’t change the tribalism. In fact, after I had left the church so that I could no longer speak my piece, they named the new program, Tribe. I will be honest, I think part of it is that they knew that they would not be mothers with preschoolers much longer but they wanted to keep their clique–they wanted to keep their tribe. If I had remained there, I would have asked, why the name Tribe, do you want to seem exclusive? Perhaps I would have suggested the name, Focused, For Our Children, Using Scripture, Everyone Desired. That is the focus is on mother’s and small children but no one is discouraged from coming. You see, you’ll get the same people but at least it is not presumed as tribal.

I can remember a story about my fairly “progressive” grandparents. So progressive in fact that my grandmother and her sister founded a local church many, many years ago and my grandmother’s sister pastored the church until an abled bodied man could be found (I don’t suffer a woman to teach). My grandparents were traveling in the south, many, many years ago, and asked a local person directions to a particular church. He asked them, “why would you want to go there, it’s a black church?” My grandmother couldn’t believe it. It is not about black or white or age or gender, it’s about believers worshiping Christ together. Putting everyone else before yourself is the at the heart of christianity.

Which brings us back to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus wasn’t welcomed there. Well, he was welcomed by the sick, but not by the religious Pharisees. The ironic thing to me is that the unbiblicle synagogue is literally called, “bring together,” which seems to me to be the opposite of divided. Churches are also called something similar, “called out assembly,” which is ecclesia, not kurios, or church. We must not be like them, we must not be tribal. Because when we are, we eventually exclude the Lord, as they did.

 

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