Matthewby Mike Raiter
The Gospels not only describe Jesus' life and ministry as He makes His way to the cross, but also the ever-intensifying confrontation between Him and the Jewish leaders who, eventually, out of hatred put Him to death.
Jesus has already said that He has come to fulfil the law (Matthew 5:17-20), and He has just announced that He gives rest to those who are burdened (Matthew 11:28-30). By contrast, the Pharisees had taken God's wonderful gift of a day of rest and corrupted it, making it a yoke (burden) that inhibited love and goodness.
In this passage, Jesus confronts the Pharisees and demonstrates the true meaning and intention of the Sabbath. The Pharisees prohibited picking grain on the Sabbath because this was considered work (″reaping″). Jesus exposes the Pharisees as the real nit-pickers. He gives two Old Testament examples to demonstrate how the Pharisees misunderstood the purpose of the law.
Firstly, David and his friends satisfied their hunger by eating bread reserved for priests (vv. 3-4; 1 Samuel 21:1-6). Secondly, the priests technically had to ″work″ on Sabbath to allow the life-giving temple ministry to continue (vv. 5-6; Numbers 28:9-10). In both instances, concession was given in keeping with the spirit of the law, for it is always lawful to save life (Luke 6:9) and to do good even on Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).
Now the Lord Jesus, who fulfils and explains the true intent of the law, has come. As Lord of the Sabbath, He has authority to teach the true purpose of the Sabbath, and part of that is to meet human needs.
Later that day, knowing the Jews are trying to trap Him, Jesus deliberately heals a man whose life has been made miserable by a shrivelled hand. If any day is a good day to show love, surely it is the Sabbath.
In one action, Jesus shows the purpose of the Sabbath. Like all God's commandments, it was given to enrich life, not ruin it. The murderous response of the Pharisees shows both how little they understand the law they have been appointed to teach, and the true character of their hearts.
Again we see the authority of Jesus. He alone has the right to interpret the law of God, for He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He demonstrates that the real goal of the law is love. However we choose to spend the day of rest, it should be a day filled with worshipful delight in God, and in love and service to those around us.
Why were the Pharisees so angry at Jesus' behaviour on the Sabbath?
Can you think of instances where we might forget that God desires mercy and not sacrifice?