Matthew: Day 11

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath


Today's Text: Matthew 12:1-50, Leviticus 19:9-10, Isaiah 42:1-4

Scripture Reading: Matthew 12:1-50, Leviticus 19:9-10, Isaiah 42:1-4

Recently, at a dinner with friends, I noticed the person sitting next to me skip the pork tenderloin and serve himself an extra spoonful of brussels sprouts. This made no sense to me.

“Are you a vegetarian?” I asked, hoping to avoid a pitch to join the fold. (I love meat.)

“Oh no,” he said. “I’m just taking a break. We went paleo for a long time and I kind of went overboard.”

I laughed. Sure enough, a few years ago my husband and I decided to go Paleo too. This was before the “Whole 30” eating plan was a thing. We were simply trying to do something different with our diet, and quickly learned how easy it was to make a meal out of veggies and protein. But it was also easy to use the “Paleo” rules to fill our plates with nothing but pork, bacon, and ground beef.

It’s easy to follow the rules but ignore the spirit and intent behind them.

That’s the heart of Matthew 12. At this time in history, Pharisees were a group of devout Jewish men who had tried to keep every letter of the law. Scribes, mentioned later in the passage, were essentially lawyers—men who copied and interpreted the law of Moses for the people. Both groups knew the rules inside and out. And sure enough, they were right about the rules.

In the book of Leviticus, the Lord instructs His people not to strip the farmland bare, but to leave the final portion to the poor and to immigrants. In fact, in the book of Ruth, we see Ruth, a poor, barren immigrant woman, benefitting from that compassionate law, as she gathers grain from Boaz’s field. But intent on proving Jesus to be a hypocrite, the Pharisees point out that He was breaking two laws: the harvesting laws and the laws prohibiting work on the Sabbath.

I can almost see their self-satisfied smiles as they imagine Jesus stuttering to respond. But He doesn’t miss a beat. He says He is Lord of the Sabbath because He created it (vv. 6-8). He defined rest.

And yet, the Pharisees continue to press. Entering the temple, they point to a crippled man and ask Jesus a theoretical question, as if they can stump Him with a bit of moral philosophy. In order to accuse Him, they asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (v. 9).

Are you kidding me? How prideful! How arrogant! As if they wanted to go around healing crippled people, but the Sabbath was all that was stopping them? If I were Jesus, I would have yelled, “You Pharisees couldn’t heal whether it was on the Sabbath or not! Shut your traps!”

But thankfully, Jesus is not me.

He doesn’t answer them while screaming and shouting like I would have. Instead, He exposes their hearts with a simple story that even a child could understand, making the truth abundantly clear: There is no prohibition against mercy. Only He can heal, and only He determines when to do it.

Scribes and Pharisees dole out burdens and rules and loopholes and philosophical arguments. Jesus delivers hope. May we put our trust in His name alone.


Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.

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  • Lindsey Bailey

    Mercy over sacrifice has been a difficult concept for me to grasp. My default is to measure and analyze the outward rules and sacrifices. Yet, God’s design is to transcend the surface to the sacred – the unseen heart. The heart that transcends empty sacrifices and brings real healing resulting in heart change. Mercy is the deep encounters with Christ’s heart and sacrifice is only something we can do out of our human ability of self-control. Jesus, shift my shallow sacrifices to your deeper mercies where your heart is found.

  • “There is no prohibition against mercy” Praise the Lord. Let me show mercy to others as He has shown me and shows me every day.

  • “But thankfully, Jesus is not me.” So much truth in that statement. I’m petty, small and my mouth frequently gets the better of me. I am thankful today that Jesus is not me but that I can be made so much more through Him.

  • Jennifer Vaughn-Estrada

    Great story to illustrate Jesus’ point. Thanks.

  • “…I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken” – Build My Life

    Amen! ♡

  • I highly recommend everyone checks out Annie F Downs podcast called That Sounds Fun. Today’s episode was about sabbath and it was excellent! Thought you all would like it too!

    • Kari

      Thanks for this recommendation Michelle!! The podcast was a perfect extension to this devotional….really brought it all in for me! Thank you again :)

    • Heather Joy

      I also checked out her podcast. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Louise Fisher

    Any time, but instead he continued explaining to them why they were wrong. Their hearts were hard, but Jesus still explained things to them which just shows even more of His grace.

  • Louise Fisher

    Jesus could have struck down the Pharisees at

  • Erika Corson

    It’s so hard to wrap my head around Jesus being God and timeless and all things! I know we aren’t supposed to be able to figure out all who God is but this verse really hits home that he created the laws!!

  • Is it just me or are the scripture links not there anymore?

    • Kara-Anne C.

      It is working for me! x

    • Bessie

      No, I don’t get the links anymore either. Not sure why. They were so convenient

      • Nea

        They have been missing for several weeks for me too. They show up on my laptop but not my phone. I even tried different browsers on my phone and nothing.

  • Churchmouse

    The National Football League here in the USA has some troubles. The officials make the calls to enforce the rules. But sometimes instant replay reveals their initial call to be wrong. One set of fans is upset. But not to worry, sooner or later the other set of fans will have their turn to be upset. Those in charge of enforcing the rules don’t always get it right. The result can affect the loss or win of a game. A game of entertainment. The Pharisees and the scribes had a far greater outcome to consider. The following of the Law affected an individual’s salvation. It affected their standing with God. It affected the future of the nation. No small thing. The Pharisees and scribes did not take their job lightly. So whereas we see them as arrogant and unbending, they were really just being zealous and protective. They were narrow minded in that they were intent in trying to force the result. But Jesus upended everything. He reminded them that there was an Authority above the Law and that was God Himself. And He was more merciful than they realized. The Law had a purpose – to show them they could not keep it. The Law showed them they needed a Savior. Their eyes were so fixated on the Law, they forgot to look for the Savior. The Law pointed to Him but they were too busy looking at every jot and tittle on the papyrus to see the loving face of the Messiah. What about me? I can miss Him too when I get wrapped up in trying to please Him with my actions rather than just being with Him. Abiding in Him. Enjoying Him. The actions will follow. Let me keep my eyes on Jesus. Not overly on myself and certainly not on others. He’s my Savior and He is merciful.

    • Debbie Lanier

      ” I can miss Him too when I get wrapped up in trying to please Him with my actions rather than just being with Him. Abiding in Him. Enjoying Him. The actions will follow. Let me keep my eyes on Jesus.” This really struck my heart, Churchmouse! Let me sit, be still, enjoy His Presence, and keep my eyes on Jesus.

    • Melissa

      this is just what I needed to hear – thank you for sharing!

    • Shelby

      Thank you for writing this! I love how you added something that is so relevant to today! You added a great reminder to me to just sit and be still. To just enjoy the presence of our creator, which is something that I have been struggling with recently. Thank you!

    • Rhonda J

      I love the way you explain things Churchmouse, very helpful. (I am a newbie on SRT!)

    • Ebun Oshikoya

      Thank you so much for your comment. Your example and explanation of the Pharisees’ inner mind workings was so helpful. We’re often quick to judge and denounce their actions and not think about why they’re the way the are. Jesus knew this which is why He never stopped trying to speak with them. His grace is indeed sufficient. Thank You LORD!

    • Jen K.

      Thank you. This perspective really caused some self-reflection on ‘what would I have done?’ As a lawyer, my trade is to interpret the law and give advice. Of course I know there is the strict constructionist view of “this is what the law says,” and the “spirit of the law” view looking at intent. I am deeply humbled, and fearful, by the self-reflection that it is possible I may have fallen in the Pharisee camp. As Churchmouse says, “they did not take their job lightly” and “were really just being zealous and protective.” In my early career days, I was very conservative in my advice to my business clients (“You can’t do that. This is what the law says, what the law prohibits.”). However, with experience comes perspective. Now I first ask, “What are your business goals? What outcome do you hope to achieve?” Then I try to find the right answer by balancing legal risks with the business goals in mind. Sometimes, it is necessary to bend the rules. Not always risk-free, but necessary. While Jesus tells us, “There is no prohibition against mercy,” and we know he is above the law, I still fear that if I were present at that time, that my “strict constructionist” views may have taken over and I too may have questioned this man who did not seem to be “following the rules.” How fearfully humbly.

  • Whenever Jesus is questioned, he speaks truth while remaining peaceful and without fault. He speaks with patience yet withpower. I pray I will lean on Gods voice to speak through me- to be a patient as Christ yet to speak truth with wisdom from the Lord. I love “out of the abundance of the heart a man speaks.” Lord help me to live a Zoe life filled with abundance- overflowing from being connected to you and that it will spill over into my words and actions for your GLORY

  • Cynthia Johnston

    Mercy trumps justice!

  • I noticed reading these passages that Jesus doesn’t care what the Pharisees do to plot against Him. He doesn’t worry that whatever they do to His reputation will bring less people to hear His teachings. He didn’t try to spare anyone’s feelings, in fact He seems pretty sassy at times. It made me realize that I don’t have to spare anyone’s feelings when it comes to the Gospel. Obviously tell the truth in love but in no way do I have to keep silent and nod when I or the Gospel or the Word or the Church or Jesus himself are insulted or incorrectly perceived.

  • I noticed in this passage of Matthew that this is the second time in this book that Jesus references the passage in Hosea expressing, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” The first time, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means” (Matthew 9:13). As I read this morning, I couldn’t help but ponder why Jesus repeatedly emphasized this to the Pharisees.

    Given my “chronic soul amnesia” (to borrow a term from author Anne Voskamp), I have a tendency to forget this and fall back in to my Pharisee-like behavior to look for rules and rituals, to pridefully evaluate the ability of others to follow them, and to let that interfere with letting the mercy and joy I find in my life with Christ overflow into my moment-by-moment interactions with others. I find myself daily having to “Go and learn what this means.”

    Thanks be to God that He has abundant grace for my many failures.

    • Jenn

      Just wanted to share that I just posted an Ann Voskamp quote yesterday. Not this exact one, but what are the odds God keeps pointing her out to me? I love when He speaks to me through others and reiterates things to me. Thank you for sharing

  • Diane Huntsman

    I would have said shut your traps too! Hahahaha!!!!

  • Natalie Palumbo

    Jesus was constantly being tested during his time on Earth in an attempt for skeptics to discredit his authority (as seen in this Scripture with the healing of the crippled man’s hand on the Sabbath). Time and again, He remained steadfast in His work of spreading the good news of His Holy Father. This is a wonderful message for me to remember when my own faith gets tested during tumultuous times in my life. Jesus is our one and true role model for living a perfect life in Chrst.

  • This has me going to Luke 15 this morning. I keep thinking of the eldest son in the story of the Prodigal son. He was miffed because of all that his father did for his younger brother upon his return home. His heart reflected in his words, … “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” He was about “rules” and deservedness, about the fine line and obedience. He didn’t comprehend the love and relief that his father was operating from, which enraged him. And much like the Pharisees here, he wanted standards followed, he wanted boxes checked off and rules applied. While the Pharisees weren’t concerned with healing, the brother wasn’t concerned with redemption or forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t at all concerned with pleasing others, with red tape or rule following, He wanted to see people saved and with each healing He performed, a celebration took place in Heaven because He was bringing the lost home. I can imagine the debt of gratitude those folks had for Christ because I know the debt I feel over the things Christ has done in my life and the realization that He celebrated and rejoiced over me too. It is humbling that the Father rejoiced in my return, in the return of ALL lost sheep. I am so incredibly grateful that Jesus isn’t concerned with fitting in boxes or etiquette. He could care less about guidelines or regulations … He will go to great lengths to bring us home and He will stop at nothing to do it AND He will celebrate in our return!

    Matthew 12:11-12, He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Luke 15:24, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

  • Lynn Michelle

    This verse really stood out to me:

    30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

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