Friday, January 12, 2018

The Spirit, Not The Letter

Later the same day the Jews complained about Jesus’ disciples picking the grain to eat on the Sabbath, Jesus went into the local synagogue of Jewish church, according to Matthew 12:9-10.  And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.” 

The leaders were looking for a way to discredit Jesus, and they knew he healed many people, including some on the Sabbath.  There was a man there who had an injured hand that was atrophied from lack of use.  When Jesus saw the man the Synagogue leaders essentially dared him to heal the man since the Law forbid doing any work on the Sabbath.   If he did not heal the person they could imply he didn’t really care, but if he did, they could accuse him of breaking the Sabbath and ignoring the law. 

“And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?  How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” (Matthew 12:11-12)

Instead of arguing with them, Jesus pointed out that they would be very upset if one of the sheep fell onto a pit on the Sabbath they would consider it wrong to leave it suffering until the following day.  In fact, Deuteronomy 22:1-4 commanded, “Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.  And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.  In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.  Thou shalt not see thy brother's ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt surely help him to lift them up again.”

 They were forbidden to ignore straying cattle or those who were in pain or danger.  As a result, they would rescue the animals with no concern whether it was the Sabbath day or not.  A human being is far more important than a sheep, and it would be even worse to refuse to help him on the Sabbath.  The Law was about showing love toward God and to others, and there are times when following the Law to the letter defeats that purpose.  When we insist on following our standards to the letter, we overlook God’s mercy and love as Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 12:7.  “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.”    Our insistence on following our standards becomes sin in such a case.  Romans 7:6 reminds us, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”  God is more concerned with the attitude or spirit that prompted the action than he is in the action itself. 

The Pharisees were left with nothing to use against Jesus, because clearly the both the Law and their customs supported his claims.  Jesus then turned and told the man to stretch out his arm, in Matthew 12:13-14.  “Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.  Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”  There was no special actions or ritual, the man just straightened out his arm and the muscles grew back just like the other arm.  Though they could not challenge Jesus’ position, like the Anti-Trump forces today, the Pharisees refused to admit he was right.  They got together and discussed how they could find something to accuse him of and destroy his credibility.   They were more concerned with keeping their prestige than with pleasing God.  


  1. Romans 8:3-5: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, having sent his own Son, in likeness of flesh of sin, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit.