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Church Polity - The pursuit of something greater

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I have always believed, since the inception of this church, in expository preaching as the primary means by which God proclaims to His church His agenda for the church. There are many ways by which God pours out His Spirit upon His people in the church, but the preaching of God’s word from the pulpit is the alarm, the soundhorn, the stearing wheel of God’s intention for us.
Countless times, in the past six years, as many of you are witnesses of, God has taken us to the right passage at the right time. And personally, the passage that is before us in Matthew 12:1-8, speaks to an issue that I’ve been observing in the life of many well meaning Christians, especially in the past few months.
Therefore, given this context, I want to cover this passage in two sermons. Today, I want to spend our time going over this issue I mentioned which involves the way Christians handle the law and doctrines, and then next week, I want to spend time teaching on the Sabbath and how it applies to us, again something that this text addresses.
Now, by addressing this issue today, I also want to give you an insight on how we, as a local church, have arrived at many secondary and tertiary doctrinal beliefs, and how our church has been shaped over the past few years.
As many of you are aware, Redemption Hill Church was not planted by another church or a mission organisation. Therefore, when we came together, we began with a foundational statement of faith which addressed primary doctrinal issues, not secondary or tertiary issues.
[the doctrinal triage]
It has been the expository preaching of God’s word that has shaped our convictions and the way our church fuctions on many practical aspects. And the main reasons for this is that we believe that any system that is developed, whether administrative or spiritual, has to be grounded in sound theology.
And this is exactly where I find an issue in the way many Christians and churches create such systems. People fall in love with systems that work well because it works well, and fail to ask the question, “Why this system?” And so, what often follows is an unreasonable belief or a conviction that doing something a certain way is the law. That it is the only way certain things ought to be done, or that it is the only way certain things ought to be believed.
And this, my friends, was always the problem of the Pharisee. Their doctrinal convictions and practical traditions did not flow out of sound theology, but out of a self-righteous and proud spirit. Then and now, people are proud of their traditions, and I want to point out that love for tradition is not necessarily the same as love for Scripture.


As we move into chapter 12, we will see a series of confrontations Jesus has with the Pharisees, as they accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath (vv. 1–14), suggest he is in league with Satan (vv. 22–37), and demand a cosmic sign (vv. 38–42).
And the question I want to bring to bear before you today is this, “how does a law-loving, scripture-clenching, and intentionally pious people such as the Pharisees get it so wrong?”
And my conclusion, from this passage and several others, and my own observations of Christians in similar positions, is that people often love attaching themselves to systems and convictions out of experience, instead of arriving at them from the heart of Scripture.
You cannot allow your experiences to shape and interpret your theology, your theology must interpret your experiences.
Now, this is not to say that all systems, whether traditional or contemporary, are not rooted in scripture. Many of them are. But it still would not help you be a balanced Christian if you are not willing to go to the roots of any conviction.
Matthew 12:1–2 ESV
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”
In this first instance, we find that the Pharisees are concerned about the breaking of the Sabbath law.
I find it interesting that in this setting, Jesus is not addressing a crowd, or delivering a sermon, or performing miracles. He’s walking through the grainfields with his disciples. Even there He was watched and scrutinised.
Therefore, we too who profess to believe in Jesus ought not to think that our lives are only watched on Sunday morning.
That is why we must, as Paul says in
Ephesians 4:1 (ESV)
... walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called,
Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath. Let us read the Sabbath law.
Exodus 20:8–11 ESV
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Nowhere in scripture, are people prohibited from plucking grain on the sabbath in order to satisfy their hunger. As the Reformation Study Bible of which the late R.C Sproul was the General Editor, points out that the Pharisees’ objections are based on an oral tradition that both obscures and counters the law’s true purpose.
Why? Because according to Lev 19:9,10 and Deut 23:24,25 , God’s law required farmers to not glean the edges of their fields so that those in need could be satisfied.
So, here we have a particular law that the Pharisees followed in such a way that they failed to see the other law that they were compromising. In other words, the ones that are actually breaking the law are the Pharisees.
On receiving this oral tradition, they did not examine the heart of Scripture. We repeatedly find that Jesus expects the Pharisees to know better, to know both the content of Scripture and the intent of Scripture. Not just to know what the law says, but what the law purposes. Such distinction can only be arrived at if you are a student of scripture desiring to know God.
Again, in
Matthew 12:9–10 ESV
9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him.
Here again, there is no OT passage that prohibits healing on the Sabbath. Clearly they have not thought this through. They repeatedly claim “Law” where there is no law.
Brother and sisters, the Lord of the Sabbath doesn’t have an issue here! And that is the nature of self-righteousness. For if you allow yourself to be a strong disposition on any matter without due cause and reason that is rooted in the heart of Scripture, then you stand the risk of being self-righteous.
I keep using this phrase ‘heart of Scripture’ because I do believe that knowing the Bible is not merely knowing what it says but also in understanding the intention or the purposes behind what it says.
Matthew 12:14 ESV
14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
When confronted with the truth of the law, they did nor repent, instead they conspired. People without a biblical foundation tend to be this way. They do not know how to disagree, but only to revile and see an enemy in all who question their system.
Matthew 12:22–24 ESV
22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
Now, the Pharisees are involved in the discerning of spirits. This is then how they make sense of Jesus and His power.
Brothers and sisters, they called God, the devil.
Matthew 12:38 ESV
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
They tested him. And Jesus calls them an evil and adulterous generation.
Matthew 12:3–4 ESV
3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
Have you not read
Now here is a rebuke that drives straight through the ego of the Pharisees. To a people harping on about the law, Jesus asks them if they’ve not read the law. He takes them to task at their own game.
Here, the prosecution is taken to task my the law maker Himself.
This is a strange phenomenon that I have found in recent months among many well meaning Christians who believe in a certain doctrine or a certain system and are unable to answer the question, “Have you not read?”
That even today, you and I can be the king of Christian that hold up the Bible in our hands, and claim allegiance to Christ, and yet be like the Pharisees in our convictions.
David and the bread of the Presence
Jesus’ response is two-fold. He first points to what David did in 1 Samuel 21. The bread of the Presence was the ceremonial bread that only Aaron and his sons could eat. And David was not a priest. When he was fleeing Saul, he took that bread and they ate, and in doing so, they broke the ceremonial law. Yet, they were not condemned.
Why? Because the purpose of these laws were to serve God’s people and not for them to serve the law.
Mark 2:27 ESV
27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
More on that next week.
Now, does this mean that law breaking is righteous and all of God’s law are susceptible to change under a particular circumstance? No.
Let me show you why. Take the instance of Uzzah and the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Samuel 6. If we compare David’s disobedience and Uzzah’s disobedience, why is one excused and the other condemned?
God sees the heart
There are greater and lesser laws
Moral, ceremonial and civic laws
Righteousness and the greater good
The truth is, we all make compromises and the question is, are they righteous compromises or unrighteous?
Matthew 12:5 ESV
5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
The ‘work’ of the priests
Jesus second point is a logical one where he applies the logic of the Pharisees on the question of priests whose duties are on the Sabbath. If work is completely prohibited, aren’t the priests the first to break the law?
Yet, they are guiltless. So, clearly there is something more to this law.
Matthew 12:6 ESV
6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Then, Jesus makes a glorious statement. The greatest tragedy of the pharisaical approach is that in trying to keep the law at a surface level, they miss out on the greater.
[Explain - Jesus is greater than David, and the temple. Jesus is the better bread and truly holy one]
The disciples being with Jesus was more holy than the priests offering sacrifices in the temple
The pharisees in their imbalanced strong adherence to law were in word and deed profaning something greater than the temple, greater than the Sabbath. They were profaning God Himself who stood before them.
Matthew 12:7–8 ESV
7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 9:13 ESV
13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
None of this was entirely new theology. Jesus does not excuse the Pharisees for not having the means to have known the heart of God. Instead, He calls them out on their lack of learning. That’s like looking at the most well-read, legalistic, law-byhearting, self-righteous, and knowledgable people to go back and learn properly. Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 - I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. God has expressed His heart’s desire. He desires mercy and not sacrifice. It was not the rituals that pleased God, but a people after His own heart. He expected the Pharisees to care for sinners and bring them to repentance. And then Jesus says, For kI came not to call the righteous, lbut sinners.” These two sentences together shows us how Jesus yet again speaks from His own authority and sets it at part with the Scripture. The ‘I’ from Hosea 6:6, and the ‘I’ from Jesus’s statement that follows that quote, are the same person.


The law was given to show us the heart of God. If pleasing God is the heart of all our pursuit, then the Scripture must be the foundation of all our convictions, not tradition.
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