Matthew 12:1–8: The Lord of the Sabbath
In the previous passage, Jesus promised rest to the souls of those who follow him. In part, Jesus was restoring the promise of Sabbath rest that God had given to his people in the Old Testament—a promise that had been twisted from a plowshare into a sword that the Pharisees turned against God’s people. More than restoring what God’s people had lost from its original purity, Jesus was revealing himself as the true fulfillment of the Sabbath rest that God’s people had never attained in its fullness. Here, we see Jesus wresting the Sabbath from its perversion in the hands of the Pharisees in order to usher his people into the rest for which their hearts longed. Here, our Savior declares that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.
1. How does this passage connect to the previous section (Matt. 11:28–30)? What significance does the theme of “rest” have for Jesus’ disciples and for us today? Why do so many conversations about the Sabbath obsess over the prohibitions of the Sabbath, related to “rest“ from work? How does this focus on the prohibitions of the Sabbath lead us astray from the ultimate purposes of the Sabbath?
2. How does the story of how David and his men eat the bread of the Presence relate to the Sabbath? What does that story illustrate about God’s purposes of mercy for the Sabbath day? What does Jesus’ illustration about the work of the Levitical priests on the Sabbath illustrate about God’s purposes of worship for the Sabbath day? Does this mean that Jesus declared all work permissible on the Sabbath day? Why or why not?
3. What does Jesus mean when he declares that “something greater than the temple is here” (v. 6)? In v. 7, does Jesus mean that God cared nothing about sacrifice? If so, why did God command sacrifice in the Old Testament? If not, what exactly does Jesus mean by saying that God desires mercy, rather than sacrifice? What does it mean for Jesus to declare himself “lord of the Sabbath?
4. What is your own background regarding the Sabbath? Was your experience of Sabbath characterized by fear and harshness, as you sought to avoid breaking its prohibitions? Or, was your experience of Sabbath characterized by laxity and looseness, as you disregarded what God commanded in the Sabbath? How does Jesus confront both of those misunderstandings of the Sabbath? How might you make progress in calling the Sabbath a delight (Isa. 58:13)?