The people of Israel followed Jesus, crowds listening to His words and watching as miracles were performed. The people of Israel marveled at what He could do…and, as we read yesterday, they began to proclaim that God had come to visit His people.
The more He was acclaimed and sought after by the men and women of Judea, the more the Pharisees watched Him. As the attention and honor were given to Him, they began to worry that power over the people was slipping out of their hands…and that it would be given to Jesus.
And this man from Nazareth – this son of Joseph and Mary? He did not follow their rules. He would not say what they wanted to hear. He did not go where they wanted Him to go. He did not fit the picture of the Messiah they wanted to see.
They thought of Jesus as a blasphemer when He forgave the sins of a paralyzed man – and yet they could not deny the power that caused that man to walk again. They watched Him eat with sinners and He was called ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ – yet He did no wrong. They heard how He taught His followers to pray and fast in secret, in ways opposite to their own. He threw merchants out of the temple, zeal for the house of God in His eyes – yet He said if they destroyed it, He could raise it again in three days. They could not explain how a man could bring the dead to life or cast out demons as He did – yet they saw these things happen among the people.
They began trying to discredit and undermine Him, their frustration growing by the day as “news spread about Him all over that region”. They could not figure Him out – and so they attributed His power to the prince of demons. But they could not stop the people – their people, their towns, their nation – from following after Jesus.
So they looked for opportunities to accuse Him of breaking their laws. If they could not stop the people from seeking Him out, perhaps they could stop Him. They could again rest easy in the knowledge that things would go on as before – the Sanhedrin would rule over the people and the precarious peace with Rome would be preserved.
At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”
Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched Him closely to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath.)
And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”
(Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts…)
Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one!
Then the Pharisees called a meeting (…with the Herodians against Him) to plot how to kill Jesus.
Yes, these encounters with Jesus infuriated the Pharisees – while they waited to accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath (their own man-made laws that had been developed over the years), He revealed their inconsistencies and the shortcomings of their traditions. They wanted Jesus to submit to their Sabbath rules, but He declared that He ruled over even the Sabbath.
Jesus was ‘grieved by the hardness of their hearts.’ He – once again – told them that mercy was desirable over sacrifice. He wanted the Pharisees to understand that people were more important than their policies…
…but all they could see was a threat to their way of life.
But Jesus knew what they were planning. So He left that area, and many people followed Him. He healed all the sick among them, but He warned them not to reveal who He was. This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him:
“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.”
It can be easy to cast the Pharisees as the villains in these passages…but I think it is important to remember that they were people, just like us. Their hearts were not surrendered to God and so sin was able to darken their vision. When the enemy is given a place, he comes to steal, kill, and destroy – and there is no doubt that the enemy was on a rampage during those days of Christ alive on this earth. So as we see their anger, their greed for control – let’s remember that their hearts were in need of redemption…and there is not one among us who does not need the grace and redemption of Jesus Christ.
I think it’s important to look at the Pharisees who plotted against Jesus with our eyes wide open – to understand that Jesus was shaking their world – changing things that they did not think needed to be changed, His light revealing their darkness.
Friends, we can learn from their experiences. Because doesn’t Jesus still do this? When we begin to read His Word and talk to Him – doesn’t He begin, by the power of His Holy Spirit, to convict us? Doesn’t He draw us into a life of holiness? Doesn’t He show us how to love like He loves, giving up our own self-interests? Doesn’t He want us to surrender our whole hearts to Him, allowing Him to change us? Doesn’t He ask us to give up our old ways and our own wills in order to follow Him? Doesn’t He ask us to give Him control and for us to trust Him even if we don’t always understand the path He leads us on?
The Pharisees responded to Jesus with defensive stubbornness, self-righteousness convincing them that they had no need of His Words, His touch, His transformative power. They missed out on their chance to know their Messiah, their Savior. They missed their chance to have their hearts changed by the Son of God.
We choose our own response. We can choose to believe Him…we can choose to trust Him…we can choose to let Him shake up our routines and replace the-way-things-have-been with the-way-He-wants…and when we choose to let Him transform us from the inside-out, we can know that His love and grace are changing us for our good and for the Father’s glory (and, as Paul says, we keep letting Him change us as we grow… “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. Phil. 3:12)
May we choose to call Him Lord – not just of the Sabbath, but of our lives – and know that the hope of all the world…this Son of Man and Son of God, He is our hope. In everything, in every way, in every-day…He is our hope for the future, hope of peace no matter what may come, our hope of a home-coming one day will lead us straight into the arms of the Father.
(Today’s passages of Scripture are from Matthew 12:1-21, Matthew 11: 19, and Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6.)