Following His Footsteps: “The Rock of Offense” – Matthew 12-13

Nicholas 1One of the men that has an infectious testimony presenting Jesus to crowds over the last few years has been a man named Nicholas Vujicic (pronounced VOO-yee-cheech). Born in Melbourne, Australia without any arms or legs on his body, Nicholas refused (even as a young man) to allow his physical condition to limit his lifestyle. Take a moment and imagine his world… living life without hands or feet you would need help with the most basic needs of life, and you would have no ability to ever tenderly embrace your loved ones… it is a sobering thought. It wouldn’t be easy. In fact, according to his testimony, this young man tells a story that was ANYTHING but easy. He struggled through his early life both lonely and depressed. He didn’t WANT to be different from other children… he just WAS – and there was nothing he could do about the difference, but learn to live with it. One day, Nicholas said, he met someone who changed his entire perspective of life, gave him purpose, and promised never to leave him alone… no matter how other people saw him. Nicholas met his Savior Jesus, and saw Him as both Savior and Loving Creator. Since Jesus made him with purpose, he knows now that he lives with purpose. “If only one more person comes to Jesus because of me, my life will be worth it!”

Who can deny that Nicholas found in Jesus a winning perspective on life? How did he do it? He placed Jesus where He belongs – at the center of the answers to our life’s most important questions. He recognized Jesus as both loving and powerful, and didn’t place Jesus at his own feet to explain things in a way that satisfied his temporal longings… so Jesus has worked powerfully through his life – and thousands have had their eternal destiny changed through his message. Limitations that could have driven Nicholas into seclusion and self-hatred, put him on a platform drawing others to Jesus.

Key Principle: When we don’t give Jesus His proper place in our lives, He withdraws His mightiest works, and we can easily end up offended at Him instead of being in awe of Him.

Since the “Fall of man” many of us somehow got the idea that God was made to serve us, and we were made to judge Him and the “job” He was doing running the world – but we have it completely backwards. Somewhere along the line we joined the “league of Job’s friends” and felt ourselves capable to both understand and even grade God’s work in our lives, as if the Almighty sits aloft in Heaven waiting for our approval. Even some believers today have bought into the notion that God must be fair according to whatever sense of fairness our current culture dictates – with little regard to our serious limitations in understanding absolute truth and walking in unstained righteousness. This isn’t a new problem, and in two chapters drawn from the middle of Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus, we can see this illustrated powerfully.

There are five stories that weave together this important lesson – people who “get” Who Jesus is are changed – and people who don’t, if they carefully consider His claims, just get offended by Him:

First, Jesus’ followers picked barley and ate it walking through a field one Sabbath (12:1-8). After some explanation, Jesus simply concluded: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His position offended the religious leaders of His day.

A second encounter is presented at the synagogue only a short time later (12:9-21), when a man with a withered hand is healed by Jesus. The leaders were so offended at the healing, they gathered in secret to kill the Savior, causing Him to withdraw from them.

As if in the same setting, Matthew recorded a story of some who brought a demon-possessed man before Jesus, and the Savior healed him (12:22-37). The blind and mute man became the seeing and singing friend! Religious leaders accused Him of having such power in league with the demonic world – but Jesus offered a compelling demonstration of their flawed logic.

A fourth encounter pitted Jesus squarely against those manipulative leaders – as they demanded a sign from the Master (Matthew 12:38-45), but Jesus offered only a coming sign that they themselves would help bring about. Jesus doesn’t “jump through hoops” of demanding and arrogant men.

The final story of the text laps into the next chapter, and offered a quiet reminder of those in the life of Jesus who should have understood Him the best, but were both weak in belief and under pressure to bring Jesus back to the fold. (12:46-13:52). This tiny episode is posed as the backdrop of the seven part “parable of success” (13:1-52) which ended with the tragic words: “A prophet is not without honor EXCEPT in his own town” together with the note that “He didn’t do many works there because of their unbelief.”

Let’s go back and look at the way the stories weave the point together…

The Case of the Hungry Disciples

First, drop into the scene as Jesus’ followers walk along through a field with stomachs growling one Sabbath (12:1-8).

Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads [of grain] and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw [this], they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”

This passage always intrigued me. First, I am wondering why the boys didn’t have any bread in their satchel for a moment of hunger. Second, I am trying to figure out why a group of Pharisees are field watching on a Sabbath afternoon, watching what Jesus’ disciples are doing. Aren’t you curious?

The answer to the first question seems simple enough… even lovers of Jesus get the munchies. It may not be a meal time, but disciplines are hard to come by when walking by edibles with a growling stomach. I guess I can let that question go without any trouble.

The answer to the second question came with time around religious people. At first, the whole “watching the fields for violations” thing didn’t make sense to me – but now it is so very simple. Religious people are all about two things: rules and control. They seek to take a standard ostensibly made by God, and apply it distinctly and precisely to the lives of those around them, so as to control their behaviors. Religionists are focused on defending the purity of God by controlling access to God. Followers of Jesus are focused on pointing people to purity by allowing God to transform them – and they claim no control over the process. To an outsider the processes may look the same, but they are altogether different. The “law” referred to in 12:2 is not in the Torah – but in the rabbinic application of the Torah. Everyone sitting at a table in Sabbath had the opportunity to pick apart food and chew it – that didn’t violate any standard. The Torah prohibition against picking grain was to keep people from productive labor – not stop them from chewing on grain as they took a walk on a Sabbath afternoon discussing things with God – which is what the disciples were doing.

Drop your eyes to Jesus’ answer in verse three: 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 “But if you had known what this means, I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus made three claims:

• First, a careful reading of the Word would easily show that these men revered people like King David, but overlooked that he violated important principles they held dear.

• Second, in the Torah a priest performs functions that would be a ready violation of the teachings of these rabbis.

• Third, and here is the real heart of the matter, they are in no position to judge what Jesus did or allowed. As God in human skin, He simply didn’t require (nor seek) their approval for an understanding of what He meant by what He commanded. He already understood His Sovereignty – even if they didn’t.

After some explanation, Jesus simply concluded: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” The fact of His position may well have offended the religious leaders of His day, just as it does in ours, but that wasn’t relevant then – and it isn’t now.

Here is the point of the passage: When Jesus is held in His rightful place – He is Lord over all. Our wants, our desires, our plans and our understanding are all subject to what He says about life. We don’t demand that He follow our rules – we humbly follow His rules… that is why we call Him LORD.

The Case of the Withered Hand

A short time later in the synagogue a man with a withered hand encountered Jesus (12:9-21).

Matthew 12:9 Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 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.

Call me crotchety, but does it bother anyone else that the man with the withered hand doesn’t seem to be anything but “window dressing” to the men who are attempting to entrap the Savior? I have read the account repeatedly, and I cannot grasp even a slight hint of compassion on the part of the leaders for the man in the midst of his emotional and perhaps physical pain.

Contrast that to the imagery Jesus uses to describe what He is going to do…

Matthew 12:11 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? 12 “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

Jesus immediately phrased the man’s situation as one who was “stuck”, entrapped by a problem for which he needed rescue. He cited a well-known rabbinic exception to the Sabbath prohibitions: “If an animal is in need of emergency rescue” and makes the point that the man had more value than the sheep. That would seem obvious, but in that room on that day – it was anything but obvious. The man was being used by leaders to test Jesus – and none of them were voting for the man to be made whole. If I were the man with the withered hand, I would change my friends, and move to a different synagogue if at all possible…

Jesus continued: Matthew 12:13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, [as to] how they might destroy Him. 15 But Jesus, aware of [this], withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, 16 and warned them not to tell who He was. 17 [This was] to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet….”

Can you imagine the scene? The men set up a test with no thought of a man with a withered hand, only to plot to destroy the healthy man that healed him…What a prized group of humanitarians! The leaders were so offended at the audacity of rescuing a hurting man on the day of the week they declared unavailable for that purpose – simply because it violated their amending of God’s law! They concluded that killing this blasphemous and thoroughly uncontrollable prophet was the obvious best course of action. After all, they couldn’t have people just walking around healing people with God’s power with no respect for when and where they were instructed to do it! Matthew concluded that Isaiah’s promise was being made real. Can you hear the prophet calling from the grave, “Oh vey!” Like so many people in life, when these men recognized they couldn’t control Jesus, they were ready to kick Him to the curb. People want a Savior, just as long as He is more like a genie in a lamp and less like a God on a throne.

The Case of the Demon Possessed Man

Perhaps in the same setting, Matthew continued with some who brought a demon-possessed man before Jesus (12:22-37).

Matthew 12:22 “Then a demon-possessed man [who was] blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard [this], they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.

Jesus was in “healing mode” and some friends brought in a demoniac that was blind and mute and placed him before the Master. Jesus delivered the man and gained a new friend who could see and share praises. The crowd was mixed with rejoicers and murmurers, people wondering who the One was in front of them. Fortunately, they had “paid staff” on board, a regular board of “experts” to consult with on Jesus identity. Unfortunately, the “experts” were completely wrong… So Jesus uncovered their flawed thinking and made the situation clear:

First, it is ridiculous that He could be using Satan against himself; that just doesn’t make sense.

Matthew 12:25 “And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 “If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast [them] out? For this reason they will be your judges.

Second, if it wasn’t from Satan, but rather from God… something very significant was happening right in front of them! If He was moving demons out, He must have power over Satan himself – or the demons wouldn’t budge!

Matthew 12:28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong [man]? And then he will plunder his house.

Third, lines are being drawn – for Jesus and against Jesus– and the choice has consequences.

Matthew 12:30 “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

In the end, people must decide that the work being done is truly by God to acknowledge God’s presence among them. If they ascribe the work as that of Satan, they will reject the payment Jesus will make on the Cross – and that has devastating consequences.

Fourth, if people sided against Jesus that day, they still had time to change their mind… until they died – then it would be too late.

Matthew 12:32 “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the [age] to come.

Finally, Jesus told them to choose to follow those whose fruits of life are good and wholesome. Listen to their words – if they are poison it is an indicator of “heart troubles”. If the words are sweet and the fruits wholesome – the heart flows with good treasures. Listen to every word, because what they are saying is a good indication of what is inside…

Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 “The good man brings out of [his] good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of [his] evil treasure what is evil. 36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In the end, religious leaders accused Jesus of having powers in league with the demonic world – but Jesus offered a compelling demonstration of their flawed logic and helped people listen to their words to examine more of their heart.

The Case of the Demanding Leaders

Nowhere is the wrestling for control more obvious than in the fourth encounter of the passage, where Jesus squarely answered manipulative leaders who demanded a sign from the Master (Matthew 12:38-45). The problem was they wanted to command Jesus to give them a special sign, so that He would show them what they wanted “on cue”. Jesus refused, but offered them a sign of His own choosing:

Matthew 12:38 “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and [yet] no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Obviously, Jesus was unhappy with the behavior and hearts of these leaders, and offered three prophetic words concerning the generation of leaders that stood before Him. Note that all three words were ABOUT THAT GENERATION, as is noted in each verse. Don’t neglect that, or you will draw strange ideas from these words! Jesus said:

First, even the wicked Gentile men of Nineveh that repented will be able to condemn that generation, for in their darkness, yet they fell to their knees and pleaded for God’s mercy.

Matthew 12:41 “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Second, a Gentile Ethiopian Queen will be able to stand in judgment over them for she sought truth from God – and these men denied God’s own word given directly to them!

Matthew 12:42 “[The] Queen of [the] South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Finally, this generation, by denying the Master before them and remaining unrepentant, was setting itself up for a terrible future. They may have their theology well organized, and may even have some of their former sinfulness set aside, but they were about to be swallowed up by even worse evil than they had ever known.

Matthew 12:43 “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find [it]. 44 “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came; and when it comes, it finds [it] unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.

Jesus stood before a generation of Jewish leaders that would answer before God for the rejection they were making – and their future generations would be wounded by their choice. Jesus wept over it, warned about it, and offered them something different – but religion is about control. In the absence of a real relationship with the Father, they could only attempt to organize their belief system, and clean up their disciplines. Little did they know the future would sweep in with such force that their efforts would mean little.

The Case of the Waiting Family

Finally, the last story of the text laps into the next chapter, offering a quiet reminder of those in the life of Jesus who should have understood Him the best, but were both weak in belief and under pressure to bring Jesus back to the fold. (12:46-13:52).

Here is the episode as it is recorded: Matthew 12:46 “While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. 47 Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” 48 But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

There it is, Jesus was under pressure from his family, because they were being pressured to shut Him down. Leaders were not happy with Jesus’ seeming defiance. Mark 4 suggests the crowds were less than happy with that they were getting from the messages of Jesus. In that context, Jesus offered a seven step parable concerning the “meaning of success” as He related it to the “Kingdom” He preached in Matthew 13:

1. It is like a sower and seed (v.3-23). After careful analysis of the elements of the story, the truth is, though the sower is good and the seed is good, there is some soil is that bad and some that is good. Not all the seed will produce fruit, because not all the soil is good. The problem is not the messenger (Jesus), nor the message (the Kingdom’s arrival) – the problem in the hearer.

2. It is like a field with wheat and tares (24-30; 36-43). Some of the plants are good, some are bad, because the enemy mixed in bad produce that looks like the good for a season. Both good and bad plants will be dealt with at harvest, but for now the Kingdom will contain both. There will come a time when the house will be cleaned, but that time was not then and the cleaners were not them.

3. It is like a farmer who plants a mustard weed (31-32). Who would take valuable garden space and plant a weed? Only the farmer that cares about a home for birds! His seed will seem foolish, but it will care for a surprise! God’s plan is to care for some that no one was thinking about!

4. It is like a little leaven that changes the whole mix (33). Think of it! Every Jew used leaven regularly in the making of bread. They put the leaven starter dough into the mix and the effect was slow, but irreversible. Such was the word of the King.

5. It is like a “treasure buried in a field” (44). This one, on first glance appears to part with the others. After all, who ever thought of a treasure in a negative light? Jesus did! Look at the other times He talks of treasure (Mt. 12:35) and it becomes clear that it can be either good or evil – some treasure is good, some is bad. Here it appears as something good – one who is committed to the Kingdom will sell all for the mysterious treasure of God! SOME will get the value now!

6. It is like a merchant who finds a special pearl (45-46). Wow, that is beautiful. What could be negative about a pearl? To a Jew, it is beautiful, but the product of an unclean origin – an oyster. What a great image for one like us! Even that from the unclean thing will be bought and brought into the Kingdom when one recognizes its unmatched worth!

7. It is like the dragnet (47-50) that pulls both the kosher and non-kosher into its net, and then casts off that part that is unclean at a later judgment. Good and bad are with us until the judgment – disciples should expect both this side of the judgment day.

Jesus shared that THESE THINGS HAD BEEN A SECRET (13:34-35)! “It is not clear to those who study the Tenach, and have not been clearly revealed before My message. Those who understand the Kingdom will realize it will include that which has been revealed earlier, and that which is new, both of which are treasures” (13:52).

The whole episode was posed as the backdrop which ended with the tragic words: “A prophet is not without honor EXCEPT in his own town” together with the note that “He didn’t do many works there because of their unbelief.”

Remember Nicholas – the armless and legless Australian? When he pushed ahead against God – nothing happened. When he submitted to God… his Creator began to use even his limitations for great purposes!

Pastor Jerry Shirley shared a story that I pass to you, because I think it helps pull these five scenes together into our lesson:

A very wealthy old man had an elaborate collection of Van Gogh and Monet paintings. His only son shared his father’s interest in the rare paintings. They traveled around the world buying these painting wherever they could find them. The son enlisted in the army and was placed in the medical corps. In a severe battle, while carrying a wounded soldier to safety, the son was seriously wounded himself and died. The mother was dead already and the news of the tragedy devastated the old father. He grieved in loneliness for months. One day a knock came at his door and when he responded he found a young man with a package. The young man explained that he was one of the several soldiers that the son had carried to safety. Knowing of his interest in paintings he had painted a picture of the son and presented it to the father. The painting was not rare but was very precious to the old man because it was a good resemblance of his son. The man moved a very valuable painting from the mantle and placed the picture of his son in its place. Hour after hour he sat in a rocker and gazed up at the image of his beloved son. When death came the art collection was put up for sale by auction. Hundreds of collectors came to bid. The auctioneer announced that the will stated that the picture of his son was to be auctioned first. A moan of disappointment could be heard from the crowd. “Let’s get on with the real paintings,” one was heard to say. The son’s picture was held up and the auctioneer cried, “Who will give $100.00, $50.00, $25.00. There was no response. A kind old gentleman in the back asked, “Will you take $10.00.” “Sold,” said the auctioneer. “Good”, cried the crowd. “Now we can get on with the auction.” “Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the auction,” announced the auctioneer. The crowd was puzzled and upset. Then the statement was given. The will declared that the son’s picture was to be sold and the person who took it would get all the rest. The old man who paid $10.00 for the picture of the son was suddenly amazed at the fact that he now owned all the valuable paintings. When a person takes the Son of God, everything God has is included.

Remember, when we don’t give Jesus His proper place in our lives. When we do, He becomes our Savior and our Master.