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Matthew 12:1-8


        In our last message on compassion, we analyzed the tremendous compassion of Jehovah God, which He demonstrated towards sinners in the ministry of Jesus Christ.  In that message, we covered one of the two places where the Greek word eleos is translated "compassion."  This particular word is translated "compassion" only one other time in the Bible:  in Matthew 12:1-8.  Turn there with me please?  Here we shall see the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus again.  Follow along with me in your Bibles as I read this for us.

(Let's use our narrative format to plumb the depths of this story.  First of all let's consider:)


"At that time" must refer to the time when He was preaching and giving the great invitation of Matthew 11:28.  It is hard to ascertain exactly what time Matthew is referring to, but it is unimportant because the situation is classic.  At whatever time this is, Jesus and His disciples were passing through some grainfields on the Sabbath.  As they were passing through, His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.  The most important thing to know here is that they were picking heads of grain on the Sabbath.

(We now know the circumstances, but we need to know:)


The two main characters of any story are usually the protagonist or hero and the antagonist or villain.

1.      The Protagonist Is Jesus Christ.

He is portrayed through His own words and thoughts.  He defended the actions of the disciples.  He explained their actions in the light of historical, religious, and Biblical precedence.  He stated His own importance, and He rebuked the Pharisees.

(But all of this will have little meaning if you do not understand the antagonists in this story.)

2.      The Antagonists Are The Pharisees.

The Pharisees were a religious party or school among the Jews at the time of Christ.  The word `Pharisee' means `separated'.  The Pharisees believed in being separated from anything that was common or unclean.  They were the legalists.  They multiplied the laws surrounding the Ten Commandments until there were approximately 613 minute laws to deal with.  Who could remember 613 laws, much less obey them.

        The Pharisees were in violent opposition to the ministry and claims of Jesus Christ.  They were trying to discredit Jesus and refute His claim to being the Messiah, The Son of God.  They tried to do this by complaining to Jesus about the behavior of His disciples.  They asserted that what His disciples were doing was unlawful to do on the Sabbath day.  They were saying, in essence, "If you are the Son of God, you should know the Law; and if you know the Law, you should not allow your disciples to break the Law of the Sabbath."

(Can't you feel the suspense rising?  Alright, we know the circumstances and the characters, so we are ready to explore:)


Interest is generated in this story by the suspense surrounding how Jesus will respond to the Pharisees' accusation.  They were accusing the disciples, and hence Jesus, of working by picking heads of grain on the Sabbath day.  The law that they are referring to is found in

Exodus 20:8-10, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you."

But the disciples were not doing anything wrong by picking their neighbor's grain, because this is covered in

Deuteronomy 23:25, "When you enter you neighbor's standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor's standing grain."

Yet the Pharisees, obviously, interpreted the disciples plucking heads with their hands as wielding the sickle on standing grain, or that even plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath Day was forbidden.

(As we did in our last message, we can learn more about the conflict of this narrative by reviewing the various classes of conflict in a narrative.  Before us we see:)

1.      Character Conflict.

Here before us is a classic character conflict.  The conflict is between the disciples of Jesus and the Pharisees.  They were in constant opposition to all that Jesus Christ was and did in His life on earth.

        We will have people like that in our lives, if we engage in worthwhile ministry.

(We also see here:)

2.      Moral/Spiritual Conflict.

The moral/spiritual conflict here is between the law and mercy, it is between sacrifice versus compassion.

        Even though modern Christians often overlook this important element of their lives, we face the same moral/spiritual conflict every day of our lives!  In this case morality and spirituality are equal, because the moral thing to do is likewise the spiritual thing to do.  This is not always the case.  In some cases human morality does not attain to or match up with Biblical spirituality, but it does in this case.  Every day of our lives we face a conflict between law and mercy, sacrifice and compassion.  We shall explore this more in a minute.

(We can also see:)

3.      Choice Or Test Conflict.

Before us is a mental or psychological test.  The Pharisees continually tested Jesus with questions and accusations about the Law of Moses - concerning which they were the supposed experts.  They were looking for some way to trap or discredit Jesus and His ministry.

        Jesus defends the actions of His disciples with three arguments:

Argument #1:      He draws His first argument from the actions of David and his companions when they were hungry and on the run from Saul.  They entered the house of God and ate the shewbread, which only the priests were supposed to eat.  The principle is that extreme need overruled this particular law.  The priests of the house of God understood this and allowed the action.

        When will we understand that extreme need should overrule some legalistic practices?  I know that many of us don't believe in helping other people out.  We believe what Paul said, "If you don't work, you don't eat?"  But the extreme need of people around you should at times overrule your legalism and impress you to be merciful!  This does not mean sinning against the laws of God, but understanding that some laws are outdated and updated by grace!!!  Sometimes we bend church rules, when extreme need is indicated.  Compassion is a greater principle than keeping the law, when extreme need is present.

Argument #2:      A second illustration shows that the law of Sabbath rest was not absolute, for the priests were required by the very same law to work on the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10).  If the priests can be guiltless in working on the Sabbath for the furthering of temple worship, how much more are the disciples guiltless in using the Sabbath for the work of Christ, who is the reality to which the Temple pointed.  (Wycliffe)

        "The observance of the Sabbath is, in great measure, ceremonial, or Jesus would not have drawn an argument from the shewbread.  The Priests were especially bound to maintain the law, yet in this matter are especially excepted or exempted."  (Bengal)  Why?  Because the Sabbath laws gave way to the temple.  What was being done in the temple was greater that what was being done on the Sabbath.  The worship in the temple was greater than the ritual of the Sabbath.  The argument of Jesus is that even as the Sabbath gives way to the temple, the literal temple on earth gives way to the true, spiritual Temple, Jesus Christ.  Something greater than the earthly temple was on earth at the time, and that was Jesus Christ the true, spiritual Temple to which the earthly temple was pointing.  The earthly temple which housed the Presence of God in the Holy of holies, must give way to the real temple or permanent dwelling place of God.  Therefore, the laws of the earthly temple were abrogated, made null and void by the True Temple, Jesus Christ.  The type gives way to the antitype.  The picture gives way to the object.  (Ex.  If your father told you that he was going to buy you a car for your graduation from High School, you would be ecstatic.  What if you told you, "I have already picked it out and want to see if you think you might like it, so look at this picture of it."  You like the car and ask to keep the picture to look at.  You might like the picture, but then the day would come when he would get the car.  What joy!!!  Your father then says to you, "You can stop looking at the picture everyday now.  Here is your car!"  Wouldn't you rather have the car than the picture?  Wouldn't you spend more time driving the car than you would looking at the picture?  As a matter of fact, wouldn't you put the picture away and preoccupy your time dealing with the car?  Well, what Jesus is saying is, "The temple is the picture, but I am the car!!!)

(I believe the Lord's third argument in support of the actions of His disciples is the climax of the story.  So, before we can go on and look at the other elements of this narrative, let's explore:)


Argument #3:      Christ's third argument points to Pharisaic misunderstanding of

Hosea 6:6, "For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice..."

The word "loyalty" is hesed.  Hesed is the steadfast covenant, mercy, grace, kindness and love.  God delights in love instead of ritualistic sacrifice.  God delights in proper hearts far more than externals which have become mere formalities.  If the Pharisees understanding of Christ and His disciples had been spiritual rather than legalistic, it would have prevented them from judging those innocent ones.  (Wycliffe).  Jesus took pleasure in love, not the law!!!  He took pleasure in compassion, not sacrificial compliance to the law.

        This is the second time that this kind statement is made to the Pharisees by Jesus Christ.  Back in Matthew 9:13, Jesus told the Pharisees to go and learn what Hosea 6:6 meant.  Now He tells them that they don't know what it means.  This truth must be very important in the scheme of Jesus' ministry and His encounters with the Pharisees.

        We need this same admonition today.  The Pharisees were very learned in the law.  The Pharisees were the most intellectual of religious groups, but they didn't understand a major lesson concerning the attributes of God.  Today many of us understand a great deal about the Bible, but our course work is not complete until we learn this lesson concerning love versus legalism.

        This is also the second time that this Greek word eleos 1656 is translated "compassion."  25 times this same word is translated mercy.  32 more times eleeo, a derivative of eleos, which means to have pity on, to have mercy on, or to show mercy is used.  If we had time to broaden our study, we could add these two usages and 57 occurrences to our study.  But we are only covering the English translation `compassion' and major illustrations of this word.

        We noted in the last message that mercy is a synonym of compassion, but it has its own nuances.  Compassion is a deep feeling for and understanding of the suffering or misery of anyone, with the accompanying desire to relieve that suffering.  Mercy is compassion extended to victims of misfortune or offenders.  The Pharisees did not understand God's character nor the desires of His character.  The Pharisees did not know what God delighted in or loved.  Hence, they could not effectively serve God.  That is why we are laboring in this long series on compassion.  We cannot effectively serve a God whom we do not know!!!  But praise God, that we know from our study that Jehovah God is a compassionate God. 
Since He is a compassionate God, He desired the love of relationship demonstrated towards Him - not the ritual of sacrifice.  If the Pharisees had understood the compassionate nature of God and the fact that Jesus had come to demonstrate that compassion, they would not have condemned the innocent.  They would not have had a harsh, strict, censorious, legalistic, judgmental, attitude.

condemned 2613 katadikazo

1)      to give judgment against (one), to pronounce guilty; to condemn

This story makes an implied assertion that what really matters in life is compassion, as opposed to the law.  The Pharisees condemned the innocent because they had no compassion.  They were unable to properly administrate the Sabbath laws because of their view of God, which affected their compassion.  Jesus was able to properly administer the Sabbath laws because of His view of God, relationship with God, and His personal compassion.

        The Pharisees, through their actions, were doing the very thing that they were accusing the disciples of doing:  sinning!

        Bengal says that one often sins unknowingly in the act of accusing another of sin through words or thoughts.  Have you ever done that before?  It is not our job to judge or condemn anyone for sin.  We are not God.  We are not the Word of God.  We are not the Holy Spirit.  It is our job to show mercy to those who are offenders of God, His Word, and His Church.

        Paul experienced the same thing with the Judaizers, but answered their objections in

Galatians 5:6, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love."

        The foil, i.e. the thing which sets off or heightens that which is most important in the story, is the Pharisees.  The attitude, actions, and assertions of the Pharisees are in stark contrast to those of Jesus Christ.  Paul states perfectly the impact of this situation in

1 Corinthians 11:19, "For there must be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you."

Another way of saying this is, "The righteous are highlighted by the unrighteous; the compassionate are made visible, by the cruel!"

        Today we are covering a new element with respect to the interpretation of narratives.  There are often changes in fortune or situation; changes in character; or a combination of these that help us classify and understand the particular narrative.  This narrative employs a minor change in situation for the Pharisees.  They go from the action of accusation to defense.  Jesus indicts or accuses the Pharisees.  This is poetic justice.  Turn about is fair play.  They tried to put Jesus on trial, but instead Jesus put them on trial.

        Although the climax of this story begins with the words of Jesus and grows during His arguments, the final crescendo is reached with His last statement in verse eight!  Not only was the Pharisees' inability to apply the law with compassion tied to their view of God, but it was also tied to their view of Jesus.  The Pharisees didn't know who they were dealing with and that impacted their ability to demonstrate His compassion.  He now states plainly,

"For the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath."

The phrase "the Son of Man" is a phrase that Jesus used to denote Himself.  Therefore, it is equivalent to "I."  Hence, Jesus said,

"I am the Lord of the Sabbath."

        Right then and there they should have known who He was.  They were dealing with Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh.  They were dealing with the exact representation of God's character.  He was not only a teacher or rabbi, He was the Lord and Master of the Sabbath.  He was Sovereign over the Sabbath and could treat it any way that He chose.

        He kept trying to tell the world who He was in His "I am" statements.  He said,

I am the Bread of life.

I am the Light of the world.

I am the Door of the sheep.

I am the Good Shepherd.

I am the True Vine.

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I am the Son of God.

        Likewise, we need to know who we are dealing with.  We need to get a heart experience who Jesus is gained through study of the Word of God, plus a personal association with Him by means of the ministry of the Holy Spirit!!!

        Note that the Sovereignty of the Son of Man expresses itself in mercy.  The Lord of the Temple, and of all things, is surely the Lord of the Sabbath.  He means, not I am Lord of the Sabbath law, and therefore may break it; but I am the Lord whose work must be done on the Sabbath, who also can decide is obligations.  For to work the works of God belongs to every place and time, and is the true priestly sanctification of the Sabbath and the Sanctuary.  (Stier).  We are priests of Jesus Christ and we must work His work, which is the work of compassion, every place we go - at all times.

        This is an admiration story.  An admiration story is one in which  a sympathetic hero successfully masters one threat after another.  All that we can do is admire and learn from our hero, Jesus Christ!!!

        As opposed to the Pharisees, Jesus had great compassion for the needs of people; particularly His disciples.  We likewise should have great compassion and mercy for the needs and misery of victims of misfortune.  We should realize and try to comply with the fact that Jesus requires relationship and mercy, not the ceremonial ritual of the Law.

(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, now!)


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