He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
(Matthew 12:15-21 ESV)
After being confronted by the Pharisees for breaking their rules in the grain field, Jesus entered their synagogue. It’s interesting that Jesus regularly went to synagogue. Doing so was never commanded by God (to this point). Nor did Jesus have anything to learn there. It seems that He went to set an example to others as well as to interact with the people. Synagogue means “gathering place” and was where people met for various reasons.
Also there was a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees saw this as an opportunity to accuse Jesus by asking Him “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?“. The only medical attention that was allowed to be given on the Sabbath, according to the Pharisees (but not according to God), was to prevent someone from dying. But this man was in no such danger; he could have easily been healed the next day.
Notice that the Pharisees’ question recognizes Jesus as being willing and able to heal. They knew that Jesus would want to heal this man. At least they got some things right.
Jesus saw their question for the trap that it was. Saying “yes” would have invited confrontation. Saying “no” would have been to deny God’s love. Instead, He silences His critics by pointing out their heartlessness and hypocrisy.
Any man, including a Pharisee, would rescue his own sheep on the Sabbath. To be willing to help a sheep but not a human being revealed the callousness of these leaders. They cared about ideology, not people. The leadership in Israel had become too involved with people’s lives, tyrannically watching over every little thing they did.
Jesus sums it all up by saying “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (or any day). Doing good is the goal. God is not about keeping rules. Sure, He gives us a set of rules to live by. But He does this not so He can spy on us and punish us when we break them. God gives us a set of rules to live by because He knows that living that way will result in the most fulfilling life we can have. God’s rules are not a fence to keep us in. They are a guardrail to protect us.
Finally, notice how Jesus heals the man. In previous healings Jesus put His hands on the other person. But if He touched this man the Pharisees could have accused Him of “working” on the Sabbath. So He heals him without touching him.
The man-made law at this time had 613 rules. I’m sure none of them considered the possibility that someone could be healed supernaturally. Jesus achieves His goal of caring for this man without breaking the Pharisees rules.
As a result of being beaten at their own game, the Pharisees begin to conspire against Jesus with the intent of destroying Him. How sad. Rather than admit they were wrong (i.e. repent) they dug in their heels even more.
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