Jesus: Boss of the Sabbath
- 12:1 Jesus and his disciples took a walk through grain fields one Sabbath Saturday.1 The disciples were hungry. So as they walked, they snapped off a few heads of grain and ate the kernels.
- 12:2 Pharisees saw it. They confronted Jesus and said, “Would you look at that! Your disciples are breaking the law by doing something that’s not allowed on the Sabbath.”2
- 12:3 Jesus said, “Really? Haven’t you read what David did when he was hungry?
- 12:4 He went right into the sanctuary of God and ate the holy bread that only priests were allowed to eat.3 The people with David ate it, too.
- 12:5 And haven’t you read in the Law that priests break the Sabbath every week? They do it when they work in the Temple. But no one says they’re guilty.
- 12:6 I’m telling you, there’s something here that’s more important than the Temple.
- 12:7 It's too bad you don't have any idea what the Scripture means when it says 'I don't want your sacrifice. I want you to show some mercy.’4 If you knew what that meant, you wouldn’t be bad mouthing innocent people.
- 12:8 The Son of Humans is the boss of the Sabbath.”
Practicing medicine on the Sabbath
- 12:9 Jesus left and went into the local synagogue.
- 12:10 Inside he saw a man with a hand all shriveled up. Pharisees wanted to charge Jesus with the crime of breaking the Sabbath so they asked him, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?”
- 12:11 Jesus answered, “Let’s say you had only one sheep and it fell into a deep hole on the Sabbath. Look around. Do you see anyone here who wouldn’t lift that sheep out?”
- 12:12 Let me tell you, a human is a lot more important than a sheep. So, is it legal to do something good on the Sabbath?”
- 12:13 Jesus told the man, “Stick out your hand.” When the man stretched out his hand, it wasn’t shriveled anymore. It became as healthy as his other hand.
- 12:14 That was all the Pharisees could take. They started talking strategies for executing Jesus.
Jesus, the Gentle Servant
- 12:15 Jesus knew what they were planning, so he left the area. A massive crowd of people followed him, and he healed all of them who were sick.
- 12:16 In a stern warning, Jesus told the people not to spread the word yet about who he was.
- 12:17 He said he needed time to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah:
“Take a good look. This is my Servant, the Messiah.5
I love him and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’m going to give him my Spirit.
He’s going to teach people from many nations about justice.
He’s not going to fight with anyone or walk around screaming at people.
He’s not going to be one of those voices we hear preaching in the streets.
He’s not going to throw away someone who’s hurt and damaged
like he’s snapping off a dying branch.
He’s not going to treat the needy
like he’s snuffing out a fading flame.
He’s going to let them experience
the victory of justice.
Even non-Jews, Gentiles throughout the world, will trust him.”6
Jesus, accused of colluding with Satan
- 12:22 One day someone brought to Jesus a man who was blind, couldn’t speak, and was demon possessed. Jesus healed them. The man could see and speak.
- 12:23 The crowd watching this was astonished. Some of the people started wondering, “Could this possibly be the Son of David?"7
- 12:24 When the Pharisees heard about this, they said, “This guy can drive out demons because he gets his power from the Prince of Demons.”8
- 12:25 Jesus knew what they were thinking and he told them, “A nation split in two won’t survive. The same is true of a city or a household.
- 12:26 So you tell me, if Satan drives demons out of people, how can he possibly keep his kingdom from collapsing?
- 12:27 Oh, and by the way, if the Prince of Demons gives me the power to drive out demons, who gives your people power to do the same thing? Gents, your own people are going to condemn you for what you just said.
- 12:28 But if I drive out demons because I’ve been given power from the Spirit of God, then you can count on this: the Kingdom of God has come to you—and it’s here now.
- 12:29 How can a burglar walk into a strong man’s house and steal whatever he wants unless he ties up that strong man first? He can’t ransack the place until he does that.
An unforgivable sin
- 12:30 You’re either for me or against me. You’re either helping me gather the sheep or you’re scattering them.
- 12:31 So I’m telling you this right now. You can get forgiveness for any sin or any blasphemous badmouthing of God. But if you badmouth9 the Holy Spirit, you’re not going to get forgiven.
- 12:32 You can slander the Son of Humans and still get forgiven. But if you slander the Holy Spirit, you will not get forgiven. Ever. Not in this lifetime or the next.
How to spot a bad person
- 12:33 You can tell a lot about a fruit tree by the fruit it produces. A good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces good-for-nothing fruit.
- 12:34 You sons of dirt-sucking vipers. You’re evil. How can anything good come out of your mouth? What’s in your heart eventually overflows. It pours out of your mouth in the words you speak.
- 12:35 Good folks have a wonderful treasure hidden inside them. We catch a glimpse of it in the good things those people do. Bad folks amass an evil treasure inside. We see some of it in the bad things they do in life.
- 12:36 I’m telling you, come Judgment Day, people are going to have to own every nasty word they spoke.
- 12:37 You can be justified in what you said. If not, you’re going to be condemned for what you said. Your words will do that to you.
Three days in earth’s belly
- 12:38 Some scholars known as scribes along with the Pharisees replied, “Teacher, we would like to see you show us some kind of miraculous sign of God’s power.”
- 12:39 Jesus gave in this answer: “This is an awful generation with zero devotion to God. So there will be zero signs given other than the one from Jonah, the prophet.
- 12:40 Jonah was in the belly of a big fish for three days and three nights. Well, the Son of Humans will spend three days and three nights buried in the earth.
- 12:41 On Judgment Day, the people of Nineveh will stand up and condemn all of you people in this generation. They’ll do it because they had the sense to repent and turn away from their sins after they heard the preaching of Jonah. Now look, something greater than Jonah is standing here in front of you!
- 12:42 The queen of the southern kingdom will stand up on Judgment Day, and she’ll condemn you too. She came a good long way from a distant land to find out for herself if King Solomon was as wise as people claimed.10 Look, people, I’m telling you that something greater than Solomon is here!
- 12:43 When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert looking for a place to rest. It doesn’t find any.
- 12:44 So it says to itself, ‘Evil spirit, let’s go back to where we came from.’ When the demon gets there, it finds the house is cleaned up, everything is nicely organized, and nobody else is living there.
- 12:45 When the demon moves back in, it takes seven other roommates with it. They all settle in and suddenly the human is worse off than before the exorcism.”
Jesus adopts the disciples as his family
- 12:46 Jesus was still talking when his mother and brothers showed up outside. They wanted to talk with him.11
- 12:47 Someone told Jesus, “Look over there. Your mother and brothers are standing outside waiting to talk with you.”
- 12:48 But Jesus said, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
- 12:49 He answered his own question by stretching his hand out toward his disciples. He said, “Look over there. Here are my mother and my brothers.
- 12:50 Anyone who obeys my Father in heaven, that person is my brother and my sister and my mother.”
The Jewish Sabbath Day starts at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. Jews are not supposed to work during those 24 hours.
The laws that Moses gave the Jews says they should not work on the Sabbath, but the law stopped short of defining “work.” So Pharisees defined it. They taught hundreds of laws identifying what they considered work. Picking grain, they said, was harvesting.
1 Samuel 21:6.
Matthew doesn’t use the word “Messiah.” He simply uses the word “Servant,” which became a title for the Messiah that the Jews were praying would come and save them from the Romans.
The people were probably referring to the Messiah they hoped would come and restore the Jewish nation of Israel as an independent and sovereign nation. Many Jewish people seemed to believe that a descendant of king David would return to power and take the throne as the new king of the Jews.
The Greek word describing the Prince of Demons is the title Beelzeboul. But it’s better known as Beelzebub, which is how it shows up in ancient Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. The word is one of Satan’s titles. It literally translates as “lord of flies,” which sounds like a good book title.
The word is more literally “blaspheme.” It’s not clear what Jesus meant by this. Matthew reports that Jesus said this after some Pharisees accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan (12:22-27). Given that context, some scholars say the sin is crediting Satan with a miracle performed by the Holy Spirit. Others suggest it is simply a person’s persistent unwillingness to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, which describes the critics Jesus faced. For people who fear they have committed the unforgivable sin, Bible experts point them to 1 John 1:9, which says that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. Period.
1 Kings 10:1.
Mark and Luke both report this story (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35, Luke 8:19-21). Mark adds a little extra background. He says that when Jesus’s family heard about what kind of ministry Jesus was conducting, which included exorcism, they came to stop him. “They said, ‘He lost his mind.’ They came for an intervention, intending to take him into custody—arrested by the family” (Mark 3:21).
The law of Moses tells Jews not to work on the Sabbath, but it doesn’t define work. It seems the Pharisees were simply trying to help people understand what they were not supposed to do on the Sabbath. That’s pretty much what church manuals do. Pharisees, like church leaders today, tried to apply Bible principles to life. Do you think there was anything wrong with what the Pharisees were trying to do?
When the Pharisees confronted Jesus about his disciples “harvesting” grain on the Sabbath, Jesus sounded a bit harsh in his response (12:7, for example). Why do you think he didn’t approach the answer in a way that showed more respect to the Pharisees?
What do you make of what Jesus told the Pharisees: “The Son of Humans is the boss of the Sabbath” (12:8)? What do you think Jesus meant by that? And how do you think the Pharisees took it?
What point do you think Jesus was trying to make by healing a man on the Sabbath—the man “with a hand all shriveled up” (12:10)?
Jewish leaders saw a miracle. They watched Jesus heal a man’s useless hand. But the only emotion they seemed to feel was anger. “That was all the Pharisees could take” (12:14). They started plotting a way to kill Jesus. What do you think that says about them?
When Jewish scholars in the crowd accused Jesus of using Satan’s power to cast out demons, Jesus said it wouldn’t make sense for Satan to fight against himself (12:25-26). That may not seem like a foolproof argument because it would seem Satan can certainly use that tactic as a trick. If you were going to help defend Jesus against the accusation that he gets his power from the devil, how would you do it?
Matthew quotes more Old Testament Bible passages than any of the other three Gospel writers, Mark, Luke or John. What about Jesus do you think Matthew saw in the Isaiah prophecy (12:18-20).
What do you think Jesus is talking about when he refers to the sign from Jonah (12:39)? And do you think he did for his generation what Jonah did for the people of Nineveh: convince the people that God sent him?
Jesus said the Son of Humans would spend “three days and three nights buried in the earth” (12:40). He spent one full day: Saturday. And he spent two nights: Friday and Saturday. So, Jesus got it wrong. Right?
When Jesus is talking about demon possession he seems to be hinting that demons find a welcome home when the “house is cleaned up, everything is nicely organized, and nobody else is living there” (12:44). Could that be a metaphor? Could “the house cleaned up” refer to someone whose life is neatly packaged, but uninhabited by God?
Oddly, Mark’s version of the story about Jesus’s mother and brother coming to see him adds a little extra to Matthew’s version (12:46-50). Mark says the family of Jesus came to whisk him out of the public eye. Mark’s description makes it sound like part intervention and part citizen’s arrest. He quotes the family as saying Jesus “lost his mind” (Mark 3:21). What do you think is going on here? Have Mary and the kids lost their minds?
LIFE APPLICATION. Given what the Jewish Bible says about worshiping God and resting on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) and what Jesus did by healing people on the Sabbath and by allowing his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath, how do you think we should spend that one day a week that’s devoted to God?
LIFE APPLICATION. Pharisees not only followed what appears to be a lot of man-made rules that were not in the Bible, they expected everyone else to follow them as well. How do you see that played out in today’s world?
LIFE APPLICATION. Pastors say one of the common questions they get during counseling with people who know at least a little about the Bible is that they are afraid they are going to hell because they sinned against the Holy Spirit. Matthew said “If you slander the Holy Spirit, you will not get forgiven. Ever. Not in this lifetime or the next” (12:32).That shocking quote from Jesus also shows up in the Gospels of Mark (3:28-29) and Luke (12:10). It sounds as though we could be in big trouble if we give the Holy Spirit a good cussing out. What’s a pastor to say?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus got really tough on the religion leaders of his day: “You sons of dirt-sucking vipers. You’re evil. How can anything good come out of your mouth? (12:34) In what ways might some religious leaders today deserve similar criticism? Again, categories, not names.