It is much too easy to make religion about us instead of about God. It is much too easy to be overwhelmed with our issues instead of God's issues. It is much too easy to focus on our priorities instead of God's priorities. It is much too easy to superimpose our priorities on God's priorities and thereby consider our priorities to be God's priorities.

Read with me Matthew 12:9-14.
Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, "What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand!" He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

  1. Long before Jesus was born one of the raging religious debates in Israel concerned what you could do and could not do on the Sabbath (Saturday).
    1. This debate had its roots in one of the ten commandments:
      Exodus 20:8-10 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
      1. God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath holy by not working on that day.
        1. Worship on this day was not the means of consecrating the day to God.
        2. Not working on this day was the means of consecrating the day to God.
      2. To make that command doable one thing is essential: what is and is not work must be defined.
        1. That was the foundation of this debate in Israel: what is the proper definition of work?
        2. One of the major disagreements the Pharisees had with Jesus was his understanding of how you keep the Sabbath day holy.
        3. We can clearly see this argument in Matthew 12:1-14 in the argument between the Pharisees and Jesus about what it was appropriate to do on a Sabbath day.
          1. The Pharisees were incensed that Jesus' disciples were picking ripened grain growing along the path.
          2. Jesus' response: "If you knew the meaning of this statement from scripture, you would not condemn the innocent: I (God) desire compassion, not sacrifice."
          3. The Pharisees were incensed that Jesus healed a wither hand on the Sabbath day.
          4. Jesus' response: "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
    2. The incident we read about occurred in a synagogue.
      1. Jews went to synagogues to pray and to study scripture.
      2. Jews did not go to synagogues expecting medical treatment.
      3. Jesus attended this synagogue, and in this synagogue were some Pharisees who resented Jesus, and a man who had a useless (withered) hand.
        1. The Pharisees saw what they regarded to be an excellent opportunity to make their point and accuse Jesus of misrepresenting God's law.
        2. We must remember that the purpose of their question was not a desire for insightful understanding, but the intent of finding an accusation that would discredit Jesus as a teacher.
        3. Their question seems innocent and insignificant to us, but it was potent because it dealt with a very sensitive, emotional matter.
        4. The question: is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
    3. To appreciate how explosive this question was, we need some background.
      1. The Mishnah is a Jewish writing that has a section entitled Shabbath which deals with what was and was not work on a Sabbath day.
        1. The Mishnah is composed third and fourth century writings.
        2. But many of the positions reflected are considered to express views held in the first century.
      2. In Shabbath 7.2 main classes of work are divided into 39 categories.
      3. Much of Shabbath considered when certain acts were and were not permitted on the Sabbath, and procedures to doing things "lawfully" on the Sabbath.
      4. To give you some insight into the nature of the discussions, consider these:
        1. A tailor cannot carry a needle on the Sabbath, a person who wrote for a living could not carry a pen; you could not search your clothes for fleas; you could not read by lamplight; children could read but a teacher could not read (Shabbath 1.3)
        2. You could not dye an article on the Sabbath (Shabbath 1.5)
        3. You could not sell something to a person who was not a Jew unless that person could reach his home before the Sabbath began (Shabbath 1:7).
        4. You could not cook a food unless the cooking was completed before the Sabbath began (Shabbath 1.10).
        5. How you lighted the Sabbath lamp, what kinds of oil you could use, and restrictions about making a lamp burn longer were decreed (Shabbath 2).
        6. You could not put a Sabbath lamp out unless you had reason to be afraid in specific situations or you were trying to help a sick person sleep (Shabbath 2.5).
        7. There were arguments about how to cook an egg on the Sabbath and about heating water (Shabbath 3.3-6).
        8. There were rules about how to cover hot food (Shabbath 4).
        9. There were rules about what your animals could carry (Shabbath 5.1); what you could wear (Shabbath 6.2); wearing a false leg (Shabbath 6:8); what kind of knots you could tie (Shabbath 15.1,2); how much food and clothing you could save from a burning house (Shabbath 16.2 and 4).
      5. In the context of all those discussions, can a person heal someone on the Sabbath?
        1. This was the basic rule: if a person's life was in danger, you could act to save his life.
        2. Ladies, you will be relieved to know that if a woman started giving birth, a midwife could come from anywhere, and you could tie the umbilical cord of the newborn.
    4. Jesus answered their question by asking questions.
      1. If you had a sheep and it fell in a pit on the Sabbath, are you not permitted to lift it out? [That was permitted.]
      2. Is not a person more valuable than a sheep?
      3. Doing good on the Sabbath does not violate God's law!
      4. To emphasize his point, Jesus restored the man's withered hand to complete health.
    5. Clearly understand the Pharisees' objection.
      1. The objection was not that Jesus helped a man who benefitted from his help.
      2. The objection was this: the man's life was not in danger; he had his withered hand for a while; Jesus could have and should have waited until the next day to heal his hand.
      3. The objection was not based on the fact Jesus healed the man, but on when Jesus healed the man.
    6. What Jesus did really irritated his enemies: Jesus healed the man's hand.
      1. Please remember that their question was not a sincere inquiry.
      2. Please remember before they asked their question it was calculated to discredit Jesus.
      3. Jesus in his statements and actions drew a clear contrast between their understanding of God's law and his understanding of God' law: his correct understanding of God's law resulted in compassion for suffering people that resulted in doing good.
      4. Note Jesus' actions did not improve the Pharisees understanding of God's law--instead they were more determined to destroy Jesus.

  2. I want to make a very simple point: a correct understanding of God's priorities results in compassionately doing good for people.
    1. The man or woman who belongs to God recognizes God's great concern for suffering people.
      1. God's top priority for His people is their humble compassion.
      2. If God in humble compassion could give His son to humanity through crucifixion, people who belong to God can in humble compassion can help each other.
    2. This evening I want to challenge you to be a Christian.
      1. I want to challenge you to represent God well.
      2. I want to challenge you to do this, not because you are sinlessly perfect [none of us is!] but because you are compassionate.
    3. I am no prophet and I am not trying to play prophet--do not "read into" this statement things I do not say.
      1. My personal conviction is this: we will have opportunity to show compassion in ways we cannot even imagine.
      2. Represent our kind God well!
      3. Even in the hardest circumstances, be prepared to do good because you believe in God.

Each day as you live your life, because of your love of God and compassion for people, do good. Use your abilities to do good. Represent God well. Help people see God's kindness through your kindness. Do not waste time and opportunity thinking about what you cannot do. Just do what you can. Always remember: it never violates God's priorities to do good.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 17 November 2002

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