Jesus did what the Pharisees would not, harvesting a little grain to eat on the Sabbath. He did not have a lower standard than them, but rather, a better understanding of what was actually His own law. I’m so glad for this story, because it reminds us that God has reasons for His commandments, and He is motivated by love. Religious people generally don’t understand that, and thus they are susceptible to misinterpret what God requires, piling burdens on people that God never intended them to carry.
Matthew obviously highlighted this flaw of the Pharisees by stringing two stories together, as Jesus both worked and healed on the Sabbath while under their critical watch. They found fault with God, just as they did with so many others who transgressed their twisted versions of God’s commandments, “condemning the innocent” to borrow Jesus’ words (12:7). This they would not have done, according to Jesus, if they had just understood one verse from Hosea, “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). Like so many modern professing Christians, they were fixated on secondary things and ignoring what was really important, listed by Jesus as “compassion” and “the knowledge of God.” I am reminded of God’s words spoken through Jeremiah: “Your father…pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?” (Jer. 22:15-16)Jesus’ two Sabbath deeds met human needs—for food and health.
Be encouraged today if you need healing. We read in 12:15, “Many followed Him, and He healed them all.” If you would have been there, you would have been healed. That can’t be intelligently argued against. So why would Jesus have healed you then, but not now? Believe it!
Today we read one simple, short analogy from Jesus’ lips—meant to help the Pharisees understand that He was casting out demons by a power greater than Satan’s—that has spawned a modern practice that has no real scriptural basis. How frequently we hear of people “doing spiritual warfare” by “binding the strong man,” a phrase which allegedly incapacitates evil spirits in the atmosphere. This is a practice that is never once mentioned or even remotely endorsed in the book of Acts or any of the epistles, yet it is promoted around the world today as an essential spiritual exercise. One wonders why some of Jesus’ other analogies in Matthew 12 haven’t become regular practices as well. Why don’t we hear anyone saying, “I lift up those sheep from the pit on the Sabbath in Jesus’ name!” or “I divide the city so it will not stand in Jesus’ name!”? These declarations would make just as much sense (and do just as much good) as saying, “I bind the strong man over Cincinnati!”
What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Considering the context, it would seem logical to conclude that those who witness a miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit and call it Satan’s work are guilty of this unforgivable sin. There is no grace available to those whose hearts have become that hard. Incidentally, the idea of an unforgivable sin exposes the fallacy of those who believe that eventually everyone, no matter how evil they might be, will be redeemed. This is known theologically as universalism.
What are we to expect when we stand before Jesus? Today’s reading gives us some idea. Because our words reveal our character, we will give an account for every careless word we’ve spoken (12:36). This reminds us once more that, although we are saved through faith (Eph. 2:8), saving faith changes our behavior. More specifically, there is a marked difference between the speech of unbelievers and believers, so much so that one’s speech can rightfully be the criteria whereby God judges us as being worthy of heaven or hell. That is a sobering truth, but it only underscores the fact that Jesus’ true family are those who do the will of His heavenly Father (12:50). He couldn’t have made it more clear.