the ministry of messiah (17)


In our last study, we briefly commented on Luke 6:1 pointing out that “the second sabbath after the first” referred to the sabbaths numbered after the Passover (Lev. 23:15-17), namely the Passover which had just finished, thus bringing us to the second Passover of Christ’s ministry.  We then considered the healing of the impotent man, which occurred just before what we have read in Luke.  This is not found in Luke’s account, but is recorded in John chapter 5.

In this study, I hope to consider Christ’s discourse with the Pharisees in Luke 6:1-5, leading up to the healing of the man with the withered hand.  The discourse concerning the sabbath is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but the fullest account is in Matthew chapter 12, so we shall use this as our basis.  It can be quite useful to write out the parallel accounts side by side so that one can identify items which are included in one account, and excluded in another.  There are two things which we can learn from these things.  They are:

  1. Jesus is showing us that our understanding should go beyond the law to the “knowledge of God” or, God Manifestation—i.e. the manifestation of the character of the Father in our lives.
  2. The importance of having the open hand, i.e. the hand which will help others who are in need, both naturally and spiritually.

The background is that the disciples were “an hungred”.  They had left all to follow Christ, who had no where to lay his head, so the Master and the twelve were completely dependant upon God for their sustenance.  The law about plucking ears of corn is found in Deuteronomy 23:25.  The words, “the second sabbath after the first” are important, and have a bearing on the discourse which follows.  They were not allowed to pluck ears of corn until the first ripe sheaf was offered.  This was offered on the morrow after the first sabbath after the Passover.  We see this from Leviticus 23:10-11, and verse 14.  It was the second sabbath, and the first ripe sheaf had been offered, therefore the disciples could pluck ears of corn.

A key verse on the sabbath is found in Isaiah 58:13 (see also vs 6-7).  Christ and the apostles were working the works of God, and no doubt speaking the words of God.  The opposition of the Pharisees came because they were plucking ears of corn on the sabbath.  Jesus’s opinion of his disciples was that they were blameless (vs 5).

The example of David which Jesus cites was very similar to that of Christ and his disciples.  David was forced to flee for his life from Saul.  He and his men were “an hungred” as we see from verse 3.  He was the Anointed of Yahweh.  David was on the king’s business.  Let us go back to 1 Samuel 21:1-2.  David’s may seem ambiguous, but he was on the king’s business.  He had been on the king’s business ever since he had been anointed.  Where Saul failed to kill Goliath, David carried out this work, and from this time David had been carrying out the work of Yahweh in fighting against the Philistines.  Now he had to flee from Saul, but he was still intent on carrying out the work of Yahweh with the men that accompanied him.  This is why he took the sword of Goliath, for he knew that he could use it in fighting the battles of Yahweh (1 Sam. 21:9).  The shewbread that Ahimelech gave to David and his men was the old one which had been taken away after the new one had been put in it’s place (vs 6).  Some see problems in that the Mark account says that it was “in the days of Abiathar, the hig priest”, yet when we go back to Samuel, Ahimelech is high priest.  Abiathar was his son who succeeded him, and became high priest under David.  It was therefore in the days of Abiathar but not in his office.  Jesus must therefore have regarded David’s action as blameless as eating the shewbread.

Jesus then reminds the Pharisees of another example in Matthew 12:5.  The priests had to work harder on the sabbath than on the other days. (Num. 28:9-10).

But Jesus continues:

“But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.”

Why was Jesus greater than the temple?  Because the tabernacle in the wilderness, and the temple were but shadows which were fulfilled in Christ.  We have only recently been reading of this in Hebrews 9:23-24.

Then Jesus continues in verse 7.  He had already reminded them of these words in Matthew 9:13.  Let us turn to Hosea 6:6 from where these words were quoted.  The word “mercy” means “kindness”.  The Pharisees were not showing kindness to Christ and his disciples who were in need.  They did not have “the knowledge of God”.  Sacrifice and burnt offerings must therefore signify mercy and the knowledge of God.  If we offer our lives up as living sacrifices, we shall seek to know God through His Word, and manifest the character of God in our lives, thus showing mercy.  This is what Jesus and his disciples were doing.  Hence Jesus’ words in John 17:3 (the word ‘know,’ ‘ginosko’ denotes a personal and true relationship between the person knowing and the object known (God), i.e. to be influenced by one’s knowledge of the object, to suffer one’s self to be determined thereby).  If we are close to our Heavenly Father, we shall know God and manifest mercy.

Going back to Matthew 12, Mark, in his account adds the words:

“and he said unto them, the sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:8).

So Jesus concludes in Matthew 12:8.  Those ears of corn therefore were made for Christ and his disciples to sustain them on the sabbath day, of which he is the Lord.

In our last study, Jesus had come from Galilee to Jerusalem, where he cured the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda.  In walking through the cornfields they were possibly moving away from Jerusalem towards Galilee again.  The synagogue which he now came to, described in Matthew as “their synagogue”, and in Luke as “the synagogue”, was possibly in Capernaum, for the Mark account (3:7-9) implies that he was in proximity to the sea of Galilee.  In considering the man with the withered hand, I shall follow the Matthew account, because Matthew adds something which is not found in the others, although the others also add significant details.

The situation in the synagogue was sinister.  The Pharisees were watching Jesus.  This poor man with the withered hand was present, possibly in a prominent position, perhaps hoping that Jesus would help him.  Let us note that Jesus had gone into teach the people.  But the Pharisees had wicked thoughts.  They wanted to use the occasion to have a cause against Christ.  The situation is graphically described in Psalm 38:12:

“They also that seek after my life lay snares for me: and they that seek my hurt speak mischievous things, and imagine deceits all the day long.”

Going back to Matthew 12, we then read:

“they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day, that they might accuse him” (v. 10)

Jesus then asks them a question (Mrk 3:4).  Then Jesus continues in Matthew 12:11.  They could not dispute this because apparently “their own rabbis had laid it down that it was lawful to help a poor dumb animal on the sabbath day if it were in trouble and pain” (SOB vol. 9, no. 1, p. 9).  How much more therefore retorted Jesus was this man better than a sheep.  Luke then adds a further detail in chapter 6, and verse 8:

“But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst.  And he arose, and stood forth”.

By calling him forth in this way, Jesus was showing them that this man was a representative man.  He was representative of those present who in their minds had withered hands.  Their hands were closed, like this man’s, dried up like his, like dried ground (truly Jesus was a “root out of dry ground” (Isa. 53:2)).  They had no power to do good.  Jesus then,

“looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heats, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand.  And he stretched it out and his had was restored whole as the other” (Mrk 3:5).

This was an amazing miracle.  Jesus did not ever touch the man, therefore he did not break their sabbath which they were so concerned about.  He was made whole with the power of Christ’s word.

Let us note verses 14 and 15.  Having condemned Jesus for doing good on the sabbath, they then used the sabbath to take counsel against Jesus to destroy him, whereas Jesus, knowing this “withdrew himself … great multitudes followed him, and he healed them.

I shall conclude with the words of Isaiah 58:6-8, which shows us what true sabbath keeping is:

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke.  Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?  When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?  Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of Yahweh shall be thy rereward.”

May we, brethren and sisters, apply the exhortation to ourselves also, draw nigh to our Heavenly Father as Jesus did, that we might know him and manifest the beauty of his character in our lives as Jesus did, showing mercy and likeness, and having that open hand ready to help one another in our walk to the kingdom.  May every day be a sabbath keeping, resting from the works of sin, and may we dedicate our lives to the service of God.

(to be continued)

Carlo Barberesi