We’ve been working our way through the gospel of Matthew in our Sunday school class, and this week we started in on chapter 12. As Tracey and I read it early Sunday morning at our kitchen table, as we usually do before class time, it became apparent to me how chapter 12 really is a continuation to Jesus’ invitation given at the end of 11. He said, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”
As chapter 12 begins we see Jesus and his disciples getting into trouble with the religious Jews once again, only this time it’s for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees said, “Look, your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” Jesus’ response is a bit of a jab at their pride because he says, “Have you not read…?” Clearly this was to show them, while they may have known the written word, they really didn’t have a clue about the Spirit behind it. Jesus proceeds to give them an example from David’s life, when he and his men ate the consecrated bread from the Temple, which would have been unlawful. He then went on to tell them about how the priests violated the Sabbath all the time. Then he drops this on them,”I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.”
If the Pharisees didn’t have reason to be angry with Jesus before they sure do now. You mean to tell me Jesus is comparing himself to David, the priests and even saying he, himself, is greater than the temple? You see Jesus is our great Priest-King, and now that he has come the focus is shifting from a building to a person. Remember “the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among us’? Jesus’ body, which includes all believers, is now the temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
Jesus invites us to come to him for rest. Could it be that Jesus is, and has always been, our real Sabbath? He tells them “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” You see the religious leaders had taken the Law of God, meant to point toward Christ, and it became more important than even loving each other. They had become deceived into thinking it was better to keep their rules than to feed the hungry or heal someone, especially if it happened to fall on their day of rest.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he told us “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day–things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” In other words now that Christ has come he is where we go to find rest.
How do we enter into this rest in Christ, you might ask? Well, the short answer is simply by faith. You see according to the writer of Hebrews the children of Israel never entered into rest because of unbelief. We all enter the same way and that’s by faith in the promise of God. God had told Israel the land was theirs and all they had to do was enter in and take it, but they didn’t. They sent a few spies in to come back with a report. Of course ten of the twelve didn’t think they could take it; so they never received what was promised. Much later Joshua and Caleb, the only two that believed God, finally did enter but it was only after the rest of them died in the wilderness.
As you read through Hebrews 4 you will read where we are told they were instructed to rest from their “own works.” You see the real rest Jesus is offering us is a rest from our own works, the works of the flesh or self effort. The only requirement God expects of us is to believe in the one he has sent, which of course is Jesus Christ. If we live our lives believing in him, the works of God will be displayed in our lives, and that is much different from our own works which come from the flesh.
In the end we discover Jesus is our King-priest, greater than the temple and the Lord of the Sabbath.Therefore he could do whatever he wanted on the Sabbath, and was justified in whatever he did. He was and is above all rituals and regulations. If you watch closely throughout the gospels you find Jesus being confronted over and over again by the religious leaders because he constantly did things that ran contrary to their understanding of God’s Law. While they kept pointing to the Law, Jesus subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, pointed to himself. While the Pharisees thought the Law was what it was all about in reality it was only there to point us to Jesus Christ, and even now he invites us to come to him, our true Sabbath, for rest.