January 21 – Chronological Life of Jesus Day 15
Here we are skipping around in Matthew again, this time jumping from Chapter 8 to Chapter 12. As I mentioned on Friday, Matthew’s gospel is built as an argument to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the promised Messiah. So, the order of his gospel is not chronological but rather organized as pieces in his argument. Today’s reading focuses on Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees in his ministry. My chronological guide to the gospels shows that the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7 occurs after Matthew 12:21 where Jesus is doing a lot of healing and before Matthew 12:22-50.
READ: Matthew 12
I just watched an episode of Galavant; the best way I can describe it if you haven’t seen it is a musical Princess Bride. Anyway, watching that then reading Matthew 12 gave me a different view of today’s reading. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Pharisees seem to be following Jesus around just as much as his disciples, except with a focused eye on every movement (vs. 1-2: Shame for shame! That disciple just picked a head of grain and is chewing it on the Sabbath!) and trying to create their own gotcha moments (vs. 9-14: Well, you know you’re not supposed to work on the Sabbath, Jesus. Here’s a crippled man. Whatcha gonna do about it? Vs. 38-45: Show us a miracle right now, Mr. Son of God, and prove it!) , just waiting for him to trip up. Now, I know it’s not supposed to be comical, but these Pharisees were following Jesus around like mosquitoes—really annoying but easily swat-able. Yet also like Satan constantly buzzing in his ear—you aren’t good enough, Jesus; no one will ever believe you; God doesn’t love you. Thankfully, these annoying followers of Jesus did not deter him from his ministry, from running his race. Jesus even used their criticism as teachable moments! Do you let critical people trip you up or deter you from your ministry? How do we become less critical and more encouraging of others in ministry? Verse 34 gives an answer.
Time to get a little more serious. Jesus gets at the center of the Pharisees’ problem in verse 7, and it’s mentioned again in Matthew 9 which we’ll read next week: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” These words come from Hosea 6:6 “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” You see, what God wants from all the rules He gave in the Old Testament is a heart focused on Him. He doesn’t really need all of those dead pigeons (clarification: this was one of the sacrifices the law required). Traditions and customs are just acts that mean nothing unless our hearts are in the right place, striving for the center of God’s will. It’s the same with obeying the Sabbath. The Pharisees’ hearts were so far from God as they enforced the rules that they couldn’t see the Son of God standing in front of them, the “Lord of the Sabbath” (vs. 8).
What religious traditions and customs do you follow? Do you find yourself just going through the motions with it? I’m thinking about communion, prayer, even worship time at church—we have to be careful too. Traditions are awesome to keep us connected to those who’ve gone before us, but in following these traditions, we have to make sure our heart is taking an active role too.
You desire my heart in all things.
I confess to being a rule-follower. You know that I’m struggling with that right now, trying to fast and letting myself get caught up in the rules rather than drawing near to You. And Satan is tempting me in the midst of the frustration. Jesus freed me from the rules! You know that I need this message today. Thank You! I am grateful to be Your daughter and that You care about little things as well as big things in my life. Help me to change my focus off of the rules and onto You, my Sustainer!