“HERE IS MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN”
Matthew 12:1-21 (K. V.: 12:18)
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”
Happy Belated New Year! Thank God for showing us many possibilities in this 2019, not to mention all the good things He had done in 2018! Some people had an eventful first couple of weeks already. Others are still adjusting to the New Year. But with two New Year messages delivered (where unity and Christ were emphasized) and our Key Verses set, we are off to the great start and it’s time to be back to Matthew’s gospel! In today’s passage, we see Jesus showing true meaning of Sabbath and his gentle leadership. May God help us to refocus on Jesus and experience justice and victory!
1. Lord of the Sabbath (12:1-14)
In verse 1, we inadvertently see how daunting and relentless Jesus’ ministry was. So much so that the disciples couldn’t even have a time to eat. So, while going through the grainfields on the Sabbath, the disciples began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. You may wonder how you can eat raw rice-like grain without steaming or stir-frying it. According to Msn. Anastasia, however, raw grain right from the stalk is milky and is very tasty. And even if it was not that tasty, it would taste like heavenly food to the hungry disciples just like Msn. Gideon said when he ate sour, unripen grape it tasted like juicy heavenly fruit after five mile walking from school to home.
At this joyful, precious meal time, some people interrupted the disciples. They were the Pharisees and they accused them of doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath. I wonder how in the world the Pharisees found out the disciples’ breaking the Sabbath law unless they themselves broke it by an investigative work. And what was actually unlawful on the Sabbath? Was eating grain from someone else’s grainfield unlawful? No, there was nothing wrong about eating it because God had allowed his people to eat some kernels of grain in that situation as can be seen Dt 23:25, which says, “If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.” According to Jewish tradition (in the Mishnah), harvesting (which is what the disciples were technically doing by separating grain from the chaff) was forbidden on the Sabbath (Ex 34:21). So the disciples became serious offenders of the Sabbath law by rubbing some grains in their hands (Lk 6:1).
How did Jesus respond? He defended his disciples by using a question, “Haven’t you read …?” and by giving them two illustrations. The first was about David, who was fleeing for his life from Saul in the book of 1 Samuel (Ch. 21). David and his companions were hungry, having no time to pack food for their journey. They came to the priest Ahimelek for food, but he had only consecrated bread, which was only lawful for priests to eat. However, they ate it without incurring guilt. God took David’s life more precious than consecrated bread. Unique to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus also refers to the priests in the temple in verse 5 who are said to desecrate the Sabbath by working hard, carrying out all the sacrifices required in service to the temple, yet Jesus says that they are innocent.
What can we learn from Jesus who defended his disciples by quoting two illustrations from the Scripture? First, Jesus’ view on his disciples was very high. He considered them as David or the priests while the others looked down on them like a bunch of nobodies. Sometimes, we look at ourselves and are not happy with us because of many shortcomings and lack of spiritual growth or achievements. But when we are in Jesus, he will consider us as if we were a great man of God like David or the royal priests (1Pe 2:9). Second, Jesus honored the word of God more than anything. Jesus could have initiated a debate or argued with the Pharisees saying their claim was wrong. Instead, he turned his own and their attention to God’s word so that the authority of God resolve all the issues debatable.
Once in late 90s’, KyungSung UBF tried to move the Bible center to a closer place near KyungHee University in order to better serve the student ministry. A committee was formed and the members of the committee found a perfect place right in front of the KyungHee University. So, the committee put a huge deposit on purchasing the building. Everything seemed well before another UBF opposed our plan claiming it would hinder their own ministry at the KyungHee University. Since Seoul was relatively small and the universities were huge, many UBF chapters shared the same university in their ministries. At that time, KyungSung UBF focused on serving the students from the medical field (e.g., medical/dental/nursing and pharmacy students) while another UBF served students from all other majors. They thought that it was unfair with our plan. At that moment, Dr. James Suh prayed hard and chose not to purchase that building based on the example of Isaac who yielded his wells in the land of Gerar instead of quarreling. KyungSung UBF lost the deposit but did not lose the relationship with other UBF chapters. When late Dr. Lee heard about this he helped KyungSung UBF.
In verse 6, we see another reason why Jesus quoted two examples. “But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus is greater than the law that David broke, or the temple which the priests served. Jesus is the focal point, and his coming is the expression of God’s mercy and grace.
Look at verse 7. “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” Here we can see the root problem of the Pharisees. They often condemned the innocent, not because they didn’t study the Bible, but because they didn’t understand or learn God’s mercy as a result. So our Bible studies are meant to learn God’s heart not to stack up head knowledge. Verse 8 reads. “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” What does this mean?
First of all, Sabbath means “day of rest.” On the seventh day of creation, God rested and made that day holy, or set apart (Ge 2:2-3). Later he would give Sabbath-keeping as one of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8-11). This was not a burdensome obligation, but a blessing to the Israelites, whom God rescued from being slaves in Egypt (Dt 5:12-15). The early church kept the Sabbath on Saturday (Ac 17:2). Why Sunday now? The first day of the week, Sunday, is the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mt 28:1), and a day that Christians most likely were meeting on (Ac 20:7; 1Cor 16:2). Since the Christians kept meeting on Sunday, in 321 AD, Constantine decreed a day of rest for all of Rome to be held on Sunday.
When we hear Jesus being the Lord of the Sabbath, Sunday being our worship service day, we can fully understand that worshipping Jesus and following him is the true act of keeping Sabbath. Sabbath rest is the experience of the forgiveness of sins through the gospel.
In the next event, we see another aspect of Sabbath rest. Jesus and his disciples went to their synagogue on a Sabbath. There was a man with a shriveled hand there (10a). Perhaps he was a regular. Perhaps he truly wanted to worship God. The condition he had was not life-threatening but in a society where physical labor was so important, this man must have felt his entire life was shriveled. The religious leaders should have seen this man as one in need of God’s mercy. Instead, they used this man in a plot to bring charges against Jesus. So they asked if it were lawful to heal on the Sabbath.
In verses 11, 12, Jesus reasoned with them to help them recognize their own hypocrisy. Surely they would rescue their sheep, a measure of their material wealth, even if it happened on the Sabbath. But they did not care about this man whose entire life fell into a pit with his shriveled hand. Jesus concluded with this: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Jesus then demonstrated this act of service. Look at verse 13. “Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.” What a beautiful expression of mercy and service on the Sabbath!
For the man with a shriveled hand, it required courage and obedience. It was surely not easy to obey Jesus, stretching out his hand like that. He could have shied away, refusing to shown his undesirable body-part. But by faith he obeyed, and experienced the power of Jesus’ words in his life that day. Unlike this man, however, the Pharisees were shriveled in their hearts. They plotted to kill Jesus out of their hatred and jealousy.
2. God’s Chosen Servant (12:15-21)
Aware of the plot against his life, Jesus withdrew, to continue ministering to the crowds that followed him, healing their diseases (15). The religious leaders wanted to kill him because they feared that his influence and control would grow. But Jesus was not interested in that. He warned those he healed not to tell others about him (16). When attacked, Jesus didn’t retaliate. Instead he loved and served. Matthew quoted from Isaiah, clearly identifying Jesus as the promised Suffering Servant mentioned in several passages from this section of Isaiah, emphasizing God would send a Savior to pardon the sin of Israel and lead them back to him for times of blessing.
Verse 18 reads. “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.” Matthew first recorded this in 4:13-17, at Jesus’ baptism, where God spoke from heaven, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” In verse 19, Jesus’ gentle character is very much emphasized. Surely, Jesus did not quarrel or cry out in protest against the religious leaders, but withdrew when they threatened his life. This also shows Jesus is much more than just the Lord of the Sabbath; he is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, our Lord who always does what pleases God.
Verse 20 reads, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” Reeds were used as support for roofs, for writing instruments, and structures of many kinds in Jesus’ day. They have a strength which bends. They are also very low in value, costing pennies for large quantities. But a reed that is bruised is worthless. It cannot be depended on, as it could snap or buckle. Such things are simply discarded and passed over. Many people are like that; weak and wounded. They should be strong and resilient, but instead are sensitive and weak. Wicks are the part of a candle or oil lantern that is ignited to burn the wax or the oil to produce light. A smoldering wick, usually caused by lack of air or fuel, no longer produces light, but instead creates smoke that is annoying and irritating. They should be fully snuffed out and another candle or wick should be used. Many people are like that, weary, harassed and helpless, tired and out of fuel. Many are burnt out. Others have their light snuffed by circumstances of life. They can become bitter and burdensome to deal with. When religious leaders saw such people, who were like bruised reeds and smoldering wicks, they ignored them or mistreated them. But Jesus was different. He was so gentle and humble that even bruised reeds and smoldering wicks were restored. How many different types of people did he take care of? The sick and demon-possessed (4:23-24; 8:32; 9:33), a leper (8:3), a centurion’s servant (8:13), Peter’s mother-in-law (8:15), a paralyzed man (9:6), a tax collector (9:9), a bleeding woman (9:22), a dead little girl (9:25), blind men (9:29-30), a man with a shriveled hand (12:13). Jesus chose bruised-reed-like disciples and bore them until they became the strongest trees. Jesus did this because he valued people not based on pragmatic values but on compassion. He wants to help bring justice through to victory for each person.
In both verse 18 and 20, we see justice (justice to the nations and justice to victory). What is this justice and victory? Healing and restoring the bruised-reed-like people is part of justice and victory. Ultimately, it all points to Jesus’ cross. The victory attained by the cross is the justice and righteousness won for all weak and wounded sinners. A gospel faith will truly bring back many bruised-reeds and smoldering wicks to God’s kingdom. So, in Jesus, God’s chosen servant, the nations will put their hope (21).
In conclusion, we learned that in Jesus we all can be David-like leaders and the royal priests. In Jesus we can have true Sabbath-rest, freely worshiping him and participating in his good work. In Jesus, God’s chosen servant, bruised and wounded people are healed and restored. Jesus’ cross is the ultimate victory and justice. May God help us put our hope in him.