Matthew 12:9–14: Doing Good on the Sabbath
In the preceding sections, Jesus promised to give “rest” to his people (Matt. 11:28–30). Then, Jesus declared that he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8). Thus, Jesus gave us a promise and a doctrine about God’s Sabbath rest for his people. Now, Jesus continues his teaching on the Sabbath with a word of application. Rather than giving us a complex list of do’s and don’t’s, Jesus simplifies God’s intentions for the Sabbath dramatically: do good on the Sabbath.
1. What might the withered hand of the man in the synagogue symbolize (v. 10)? What does that tell us about the state of the Sabbath in Israel at this time? What are the Pharisees seeking when they ask Jesus whether it is “lawful to heal on the Sabbath” (v. 10)? Why do they put such emphasis on the lawfulness of activities on the Sabbath? How does this question conflict with what Jesus had told them in the preceding section (Matt. 12:1–8)?
2. What does Jesus illustrate by the story about the sheep in a pit? How does this relate to our own thinking about what we should and should not do on the Sabbath? By this illustration, does Jesus change or revoke the Sabbath law itself? If not, which doctrine of the Sabbath is he pushing against? What does Jesus mean when he tells us to “do good on the Sabbath” (v. 12)? How does this principle reshape your own thinking of Sabbath?
3. What do we learn about the Pharisees’ motives when from their reaction to Jesus’ healing (v. 14)? What do we learn about the genuineness and depth of the Pharisees’ spirituality from this reaction? Why do the Pharisees think themselves righteous in spite of the murder in their hearts? How might we convince ourselves of the same foolish lie when we “stickle more about the form than about the substance” (Calvin)?
4. How have you approached the Sabbath in the past? How have you thought about the Sabbath in the past? How does Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath in these last few passages challenge your practices and your thinking? What are you doing now on the Sabbath that is not “good”? What are you omitting from the Sabbath that would be “good” for you to do? How has Jesus been teaching you to make progress in calling the Sabbath a delight (Isa. 58:13)?