Who Repents? Matthew 12

In Summary:

Matthew 12 opens with an incident in a field. Jesus and the disciples are passing through a field and, in line with Deuteronomy 23:24-25, the disciples pluck a few heads of grain, roll them in their hands, and eat. It was not stealing, and it was not wrong. Except they did this on the Sabbath.

Which leads into a discussion about the Sabbath laws and how God designed the Sabbath for a purpose. Excessive legalism, Jesus points out, was not that purpose. The following events show Jesus healing on the Sabbath, which is another violation of the technical rules the Pharisees had added to the Fourth Commandment (see Exodus 20:8-11.) The first question here is whether or not Jesus knows what the Ten Commandments (and the rest of the Law) meant. The Pharisees have their doubts about that. Jesus was around when the Law was written, though, so I’d side with His understanding.

We then see Jesus heal a demon-possessed man, which would be cause for celebration for any reasonable people. We’re dealing with Pharisees here, though, so reasonable is something to be hoped for rather than a certainty. The Pharisees here (and we can hope they are not representative of all the Pharisees ever) find that Jesus must be up to something with the demons rather than being against the demons. Jesus highlights the nonsense of that statement. This pairs with His declaration that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit cannot be tolerated—here we see Jesus show where His true allegiance is. He is part of the unbreakable reality that is the Triune God.

In Focus:

Let us take a close look at Matthew 12:38-39 today. First, see what the scribes and the Pharisees want. They want a sign. Essentially, they want to see Jesus perform a miracle to show that He’s legitimate. This comes after the Pharisees have condemned not one but two miracles in recent events.

Jesus turns the tables on them and points out that others have repented and believed with far fewer signs. He selects the city of Nineveh as one example—the capital of Assyria had, after all, repented at the simple preaching of Jonah. Jesus then points His accusers to the Queen of the South (the Queen of Sheba from 1 Kings 10) and highlights how she responded to Solomon’s wisdom. In both cases, the thought is finished with the statement that something greater than what those heathens had available is now here. This is also in 12:6 in reference to the Temple—some “thing” greater is here, and that “thing” is the Lamb of God.

The Israelites should have responded. They had the background information which neither Assyria nor Sheba had, the background relationship with God, and then they have God Himself present. Instead, they demand more signs. Jesus states unequivocally they will get one sign, and it is His resurrection.

In Practice:

It behooves us to pull a few practical points from this chapter. First and foremost: are we really any different in our asking God for signs about Jesus? Really? Very often we still want a sign. God, I’ll believe if…even in churches. We’ll believe we’re obeying if we see success. We’ll believe that someone is saved if they shape up and look like a traditional Baptist. We’ll think this…

But the sign we should depend on is the one we already have: He is risen!

Then, let us consider how we evaluate what God has done. We have one criterion to use, and it’s this: does it match with what God has said? Not whether it fits our likes and dislikes, but whether or not it conforms to God’s revealed word. If it does, then that should be all we need.

Let us stop being particular about the traditions of man, like not healing on the Sabbath, and focus on the Greater One who is here, now.

In Nerdiness: 

For all the nerds out there: take Matthew 12:36 to heart and think about useless and careless words. We tend to use them, and we ought not.

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