Sabbath Rules and the Twelve Chosen
Picking on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5)
Luke tells us the precise time of this event: the second Sabbath after the first. Our only problem is that there is some debate in regards to what was the first Sabbath. The most logical answer is that this is a measure from the Passover Feast. The Israelites were to count seven Sabbaths after the end of the Feast of Unleavened Bread to mark when the Feast of Pentecost was to be held (Leviticus 23:15-16). The events recorded took place on second of the seven Sabbaths. Another possibility is if the Sabbath which began the Feast of Unleavened Bread was considered the first Sabbath, then the Sabbath which ended the Feast would be second Sabbath. Finally, some scholars argue that since the Jewish calendar’s civil year started in the autumn with the Feast of Atonement and the religious year started in the spring with the Passover, then both feasts would be the first Sabbath of the year, but to distinguish them the Feast of Atonement was known as the first-first Sabbath and the Passover was known as the second-first Sabbath. The problem with the latter is that there is no record of such designation anywhere in the Bible or secular history.
The Greek word deuteroprotos doesn’t appear in all manuscripts nor is it known exactly how to translate this word since it appears nowhere else. Therefore, some translations, such as the New International Version and the New American Standard, chose to avoid the issue by simply stating the event occurred on a Sabbath.
As Jesus and his disciples were walking past a grainfield, the disciples plucked some of the heads of grain, rubbed them between their palms to remove the outer hulls, and ate the grain. There were some Pharisees with them and they protested that what the disciples did was not lawful to do since it was a Sabbath day. The law did allow people to pluck grain from a field they did not own (Deuteronomy 23:25), but to the Pharisees this constituted work which could not be performed on the Sabbath.
Jesus directs their attention to an event from David’s life, that is recorded in I Samuel 21:1-6. While fleeing from Saul, David and the men with him stopped at the tabernacle to ask for food. The only food available was the day-old bread from the table of showbread which was about to be replaced with fresh loaves. It was only to be eaten by the priests (Leviticus 24:5-9), but the priest was willing to allow David to have the bread if he and his men were clean.
Jesus pointed out that what David did violated Moses’ law, but he implied that the Pharisees did not view it as a sin because he was a hero of their ancestors. It is likely they excused his actions because he and his men were hungry. Yet, when the disciples, who were also hungry, did what was not against the law, the Pharisees sought to condemn them.
As in John’s account that we studied in the last lesson, we see that the Pharisees had lost sight of the concept of mercy in their eagerness to impose rules to keep people from sinning. Their rules prevented good from being done on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was from God and was designed to benefit man, but their traditions had caused it to be opportunities where men were harmed.
Jesus also pointed out that the priests “worked” on the Sabbath day while performing their duties, yet the Pharisees never stopped to consider why this was not a sin. The answer is because they were doing the will of God. It was God who had authorized the sacrifices on the Sabbath, so, therefore, obeying God does not break the Sabbath law against work. The implication is that the disciples were doing as God had allowed. They were not farming but merely satisfying hunger. They did not cook the grain and thus were not violating the Sabbath rules. If they only understood what God said in Micah 6:6, they would not have condemn the guiltless disciples.
His final argument was that he was Lord of the Sabbath. By this Jesus is not claiming the right to rewrite the laws in regards to the Sabbath, but that as author of the Sabbath he of all people would know whether the Sabbath was being broken or not. As the Lord, he would not have permitted his disciples to break his laws. Therefore, the plucking of grain to satisfy hunger was not work in the eyes of the author of the law.
Healing on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11)
Jesus leaves and on another Sabbath enters the local synagogue. Among those attending was a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees saw that this would be an opportunity to rebut the points Jesus had recently made. They watch for Jesus to heal the man and when no move was made, the Pharisees asked if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath day. In their view, healing was the “work” of a prophet and a man could not work on the Sabbath, particularly at his regular occupation. The Pharisees were seeking proof that Jesus was willing to violate their Sabbath rules. Jesus knew their inner thoughts and the reason they asked the question.
After asking the man to stand up, Jesus asked if any of them would refused to free a trapped sheep on the Sabbath, even though it could be claimed to be work and related to the person’s occupation. The answer is obviously that they would free the animal, probably without a second thought. The Sabbath was not an excuse to refuse to do good. Jesus then pointed out that if they were willing to do good for a mere animal, then why not for a man who is more valuable than a sheep? The real question is: can good be done on the Sabbath day?
When they refused to answer, Jesus told the man to stretch out his hand and it became whole. This left the Pharisees in a conundrum. First, neither the command nor the man’s response constituted work as the Pharisees defined it. Second, the power to heal must have came from God. This implies that what Jesus just said about doing good is not forbidden on the Sabbath must be true. It also implies that his arguments from earlier that day also has God’s approval. Any objection they might raise would put them in the position of condemning God.
Instead of admitting they were wrong, the Pharisees left and began to plot with the Herodians how they might destroy Jesus. Luke mentions that they were so angry that they were not thinking clearly. The Herodians were supporters of King Herod. Thus, the opposition against Jesus spread from just the religious leaders to include the secular leaders as well. The reason is simple: without the support of the government, they would not be able to legally put Jesus to death, which was their ultimate goal.
The Selection of the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16)
After spending a night in prayer, Jesus called his disciples to himself and selected twelve of them to be his apostles. The word “apostle” means “an ambassador or a delegate sent on a mission.” Jesus had many disciples, but twelve were selected to be sent out for a special mission – to preach and perform miracles. Matthew also gives a list of the twelve apostles in Matthew 10:2-4, though his list is connected with another event. Another list is also found in Acts 1:13.
The men selected were:
• Simon, whom Jesus had nicknamed Peter, who was Andrew’s brother.
• Andrew, Simon’s brother.
• James, the brother of John and a son of Zebedee. Jesus nicknames him and his brother the sons of thunder (boanerges).
• John, the brother of James and a son of Zebedee. Jesus nicknames him and his brother the sons of thunder (boanerges).
• Matthew, who is also known as Levi.
• James, the son of Alphaeus
• Simon, who was known as the Zealot. Some translations mistakenly render it “Canaanite,” which is a slight variation on the spelling of the actual word kananites.
• Judas, the son of James. He is also known as Lebbaeus and, more commonly, Thaddaeus.
• Judas Iscariot, who eventually betrays Jesus.
Multitudes Healed (Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-12; Luke 6:17-19)
Jesus left Jerusalem and continued to heal people as he wandered. Some were healed by merely touching him. This too is notable. How many so-called faith healers of today are able to heal without any active participation on their part? He drew crowds from Israel, but they were joined by Gentiles from regions surrounding Israel. There were times when he preached from a boat so that the crowds would not press in on him as he spoke.
As he did so, he asked that those healed would not announce Jesus. For some, it was a matter of demons crying out; testimony that Jesus was not interested in receiving. But for others Matthew explains that it was in fulfillment of Isaiah 42:1-5. Jesus was not seeking a confrontation with the Jewish leaders. Though they were seeking his life, Jesus peaceably withdrew and continued his work. Nor was he fulfilling the expectations of the Jews who saw their Messiah as a war leader who would stir up Israel and lead them in battle against the hated Gentile conquerors – Rome.
Instead of crying out against the Gentiles, he brought justice and healing. But Jesus took care not to break the bruised reed or put out the smoldering wick. What may not be readily apparent is that the allusion of a broken and dying people is a reference to Israel and their leaders. They are symbols of a weak and dying faith The Jewish leaders desired to kill Jesus. Jesus could have pushed the issue, but it wasn’t in Israel’s best interest. Pushing would have destroyed what little was left. If Jesus was to win them over to the truth, he had to given them a chance to think about his teachings and time to digest what he had taught them.
In the confrontation, Jesus wounded the Pharisees’ pride because it was the only way to shake them out of their complacency and make them aware of their sins. Rubbing salt into the wound by repeated conflicts would not improve the situation, so he withdrew, not from fear, but to give the Pharisees a chance to turn around.
His treatment of the Pharisees is an illustration of what Paul stated Christians ought to do for the wayward (Galatians 6:1-2; II Timothy 2:24-26). Both Jesus and Paul appeared to be weak and timid in their teachings because of their gentle approach, but they had boldness and strength because of the truth they presented (II Corinthians 10:1). All that can be done is done for the sake of saving a person (I Corinthians 9;22). Not to allow the weak in faith to remain weak, but to encourage them and give them a chance to grow strong (Romans 15:1-7; I Thessalonians 5:14).
It was by this means, the gentle treatment of the hostile Jews, which would win the Gentiles over to God. Jesus would conquer the Gentile world, but not through the means of warfare.