Continuing in our study of the gospel of Matthew, we pick up in chapter 12 after Jesus has spent time teaching and preaching throughout the cities of Galilee in chapter 11.
(If you are just now joining us in this study of Matthew, you are welcome to start from the beginning with Getting to Know Jesus: Matthew 1.)
Now in verses 1-8 we see Jesus and His disciples experience tension with the religious elite, the Pharisees.
Jesus and His disciples are walking through the grainfields – and it’s the Sabbath. The Pharisees are keenly watching them looking to catch Jesus in something they can accuse Him for, as Jesus’ popularity is increasing and the Pharisees’ disapproval flaring.
“Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath” says the Pharisees in verse 2.
First off, why are the Pharisees in the grainfields?
I would assume if it’s the Sabbath and they study the Law and do religious things that they would be in the temple or synagogue. Or praying. Or reading. But verse 2 says the Pharisees “saw it” when Jesus’ disciples picked the grain, so it makes me wonder why the Pharisees always show up everywhere Jesus is. It’s like they’re on a mission to find Jesus. Watching him like a hawk. Surrounding Him like the paparazzi. It sounds flattering actually. Yet the Pharisees are only looking for Jesus because they want to catch him in sin, which is not good.
The Pharisees want to catch Jesus doing something wrong and they never seem to be able to.
So they’ve become manic.
As we read along, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Have you not read…?” in verse 3 & 5.
SO much irony here.
And this simple question will be a repetitive phrase in several other passages as we keep reading.
The irony in this question is that the Pharisees are known as being well versed in the scriptures and extremely knowledgeable of the Law. Yet Jesus highlights their lack of internalization of what they think they know.
The Pharisees know the Law but they have no spiritual discernment to recognize it, apply it, or understand God’s intention within it.
Thus, there lies tension between the ones who supposedly know the Law (Pharisees) and the one who wrote the Law (Jesus, God).
The Pharisees do not know the Law as well as they think they do.
Because if they really had internalized what the scriptures say, they would remember how David ate the Sabbath bread because he was hungry and they would have made that connection with Jesus and the disciples like Jesus points out in verses 3-4.
But they don’t make the connection.
They read but they don’t read. They see but they don’t see. They are spiritually blind.
They cannot see what God is doing and they quench the Spirit who is the only One able to make them see the connection here. Thus, they are without the Spirit. And if they are without the Spirit, they are not really following God. They don’t really know what they think they know.
Jesus makes this clear in verse 7 when He tells them: “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (emphasis mine).
In verses 9-14 Jesus and His disciples make their way from the grainfields to the synagogue and, again, experiences conflict with the religious leaders concerning healing.
This is personally one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible!
As we continue on, I will explain why. : )
Inside the synagogue rests a man who needs healing.
There’s no indication how long this man has been inside the temple, but we do know that the ones inside (most likely other Pharisees, priests, scribes or other religious elite) are there with him and have made no effort to help this man or attempt to heal Him by asking God. We know this because they ask Jesus about healing this man in verse 10 ONLY to “accuse Him”. Again, they are trying to catch Jesus doing or saying something wrong. So to me, it seems they don’t even care about this man who has a withered hand. All they care about is trying to condemn Jesus. That’s pretty wicked…to see someone who has a need and you don’t even take time to help or comfort them, because you’re so obsessed with hating someone else. It just makes me so mad! How they ignore this man. But thankfully, Jesus is there and He makes everything right!
Jesus answers the Pharisees with an analogy of a sheep falling into a pit and needing rescue. He says that nobody would stop from helping a poor sheep to get out of the pit. Anyone would rescue the sheep immediately!
“Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!” declares Jesus in verse 12 to the religious bullies. That’s what they are. Bullies.
“It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” says in Jesus in verse 12.
Why yes, yes it is. It is lawful to do good. That makes sense. Common sense. Why didn’t the Pharisees see it that way? Did they not have common sense? Apparently not. This reveals how powerful animosity is. Animosity ruins a person, causing them to lose all common sense.
Sometimes I wonder why Jesus didn’t just scorn them and yell at them for how wicked they are!
But Jesus is so calm.
He doesn’t waste any more time. Instead, He heals the man with the withered hand…
“Stretch out your hand” asks Jesus to the man in verse 13.
Why did Jesus not touch the hand?
Why did He ask the man to stretch out his hand?
It’s withered, Jesus, he can’t stretch it out.
But Jesus asks Him to!
Usually Jesus touches people when he heals them. But this time, He didn’t.
I think Jesus asks the man to stretch out his hand because He wanted to 1) see the man’s faith in Him, and 2) affirm the man’s faith in Him for all the others to see.
I love this passage because that man with the withered hand had been so faithful to be in the synagogue and enjoy the presence of the Lord… knowing that nobody was going to heal Him… waiting in the synagogue…resting in the house of the Lord…humbly sitting in God’s presence…seeing people shuffle in and out…seeing the religious elite around him not coming to him…and then BOOM in walks Jesus, the almighty Son of God…and he finally gets healed…God saw him…God loved him enough to send Jesus his way…God didn’t forget him…he wasn’t invisible. My heart just overflows reading this passage and I want to cry. It’s so moving.
This is why I love this passage so much and I’m so glad Matthew includes it in His gospel.
As we move along in verses 15-21, Jesus leaves the synagogue and continues to heal everyone following Him.
Jesus, however, does not any attention from all the healings He is performing, nor does He want anyone spreading the word.
At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is already experiencing a lot of pushback and conflict from the Pharisees and He knows that His time is running short before they will crucify Him. He wants to meet the needs of the people and keep teaching until that time comes.
The prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-4 is fulfilled in this, as Matthew records this scripture reference within the actual passage for the reader to read.
Again, remember that Matthew is targeting a Jewish audience who he seeks to show that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah they have been waiting for.
So he includes Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, passages for his Jewish reader to see and recognize that Jesus really is the Messiah, the one that the scriptures have prophesied about.
Even for those who don’t believe, Matthew forces the reader to read these prophecies and recognize the connection. His reader won’t be able to get past all these prophecies about Jesus that came true. The reader has to think about it. Very smart literarily on behalf of Matthew.
In verses 22-32, Jesus encounters another man who needs healing in tandem with more conflict and rebuttal from the Pharisees.
In verse 22, Jesus heals the man immediately.
I love that Jesus heals immediately.
I want you to think about something…
Think about what you have to do when you go to a doctor’s office visit… You have to check in, give them your insurance card and ID, fill out a bunch of forms, wait, go up and answer other questions they forgot to ask you, wait, wait some more, finally go back to the office and get your blood pressure taken, weight and height measured, wait, see the nurse, wait, finally see the doctor and they ask you a bunch of questions, then they leave to do whatever goes on in the hidden corridors of the doctor’s office, wait, wait some more, doctor comes back and they tell you what they think might probably possibly be the problem but they can’t be sure and they want to run some more tests, they give you a prescription and tell you to come back in a few weeks to do all of it all over again. And hopefully you will feel better.
Thank God Jesus doesn’t heal you like a doctor’s office!
Jesus heals immediately.
No need for waiting…He heals you instantaneously.
After this, the people are amazed!
They ask, “Can this be the Son of David?” in verse 23 (emphasis mine).
This epithet is used to name Jesus 10 times in Matthew’s gospel. We saw it in chapter 1 when Matthew was listing out Jesus’ genealogy. We also saw it in chapter 9 when two blind men were hoping Jesus would heal them. It’s a name that indicates Jesus’ divinity and royal blood line as the one who was promised to be the Son of David to redeem Israel. Any Jewish reader would immediately pick up on this. Thus, it’s another indicator that Jesus is the Messiah to the reader.
Jesus’ identity slowly unfolds throughout Matthew’s gospel.
It’s anticipatory subtlety.
Literary brilliance in my opinion.
By now in chapter 12, we see that the people still don’t fully grasp who Jesus is; thus, the question: “Can this be the Son of David?” It’s not yet a declarative statement, just an interrogative. But as we progress, we will see this come to fruition as a declarative statement: the people who believe in Him will eventually see that He really is the Son of David promised to Israel. We will read this in chapter 21 specifically as the people cry “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
After Jesus heals the demon-possessed, blind and mute man in verse 22, the Pharisees are all the sudden right there to criticize Jesus again.
“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that this man casts out demons!” snort the Pharisees in verse 24.
Jesus already knows what they are saying.
In fact, Jesus knows their thoughts before they even say anything, verse 25 tells us. Yet, instead of being offended by the Pharisees, Jesus just uses logic and rationality to dismantle their accusations. Jesus tells them that anything divided against itself cannot stand. In other words, it would not make sense whatsoever if Jesus declares to do miracles by God’s power and then goes and does miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus either does the miracles from God or from Satan…it can’t be both.
“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” declares Jesus in verse 28.
Jesus goes on to proclaim that anyone not with Him is against Him in verse 30. Jesus will forgive people every sin and blasphemy if they repent, but He will not forgive any kind of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (verses 31-32). That’s interesting.
I wonder why Jesus will forgive anything against His own self but He won’t forgive any blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
Jesus defends the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps because the Holy Spirit had not come yet and Jesus knew that once the Holy Spirit did come, He would be disrespected and fought over for centuries and centuries as He is today. If you don’t think it’s true, just look at the division in the church over the beliefs about the Holy Spirit. It seems Jesus is making a bold statement that the Holy Spirit is to be respected and He will not tolerate any blasphemy. Perhaps also because the Holy Spirit is necessary in the life of a follower of Christ. Without the Holy Spirit you don’t have God at all. The Holy Spirit connects us to God and therefore He cannot be blasphemed and a person be saved at the same time. It’s not possible.
Jesus continues speaking in verses 33-37, revealing the connection between the inner and outer man in relation to one’s authenticity.
Jesus’ words here expand upon what He already said about one’s power being either from God or from Satan.
This brings us back to the two opposing forces we discussed more extensively in chapters 2 and 3: those on God’s side and those who are not.
“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” Jesus explains in verse 33.
If bad things are coming out in one’s actions and words, then that is a result of what is growing within a person is what Jesus communicates here.
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” as He tells them in verse 34.
This supports what He already said regarding His power being from God to do miracles and that one cannot be of God and do things with power from Satan.
But the Pharisees won’t leave Jesus alone.
In verses 38-42, the Pharisees ask to see Jesus perform a miracle for them to test Him.
Why do the Pharisees all the sudden want to see a miracle?
They just saw Jesus heal that demon-possessed man.
Why do they ask Him to do another one?
Well, I think this time they ask Him because they want Jesus to show them something: “We wish to see a sign from You” is what they ask in verse 38. Thus, they are hoping 1) that Jesus will do something that benefits them in some way or 2) that they will trap Him if He doesn’t do one. Selfishness is at root of their desire for Jesus to do a miracle here.
Jesus doesn’t perform a miracle for them.
Jesus immediately heals people who are sick. He immediately performs wonders for people who need His help. But when asked by the Pharisees to perform a miracle, He won’t do it because that is not His purpose for performing miracles.
Jesus is not a circus clown.
He’s a Savior.
Jesus performs miracles with and only for a purpose.
“And evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” Jesus tells them in verse 39.
In other words, He lets the scripture be their sign. They all know what Jonah’s story and what it says in the scriptures. So Jesus uses this to support what He’s about to prophesy about Himself: that he will be in the ground for 3 days just like Jonah was in the fish for 3 days.
Dang that’s impressive argumentation!
Jesus just nailed that! I know that’s not His goal to “nail it” but to me I just think He nailed it. : )
Because Jesus used the scriptures to give them a sign.
Jesus doesn’t perform some miracle that could serve as an analogy for Him being in the ground for 3 days. If He wanted to, He could do that. He could create some mirage of His being nailed to the cross and in the tomb for 3 days if He wanted to…He could create a little lamb to be killed and buried right there in the ground and a vision for all to see showing it in there for 3 days. Jesus could do whatever the heck He wanted to. But He doesn’t do that. He never does any mirages actually because that’s not what He is there to do. Jesus doesn’t need to perform a miracle to give them a sign. No.
Jesus used the scriptures to give them a sign.
He used what they are supposed to know to tell them what they need to know is coming. Prophecy based upon their expertise. At least supposed expertise. Dang it’s just so smart and effective. I just like it.
Jesus goes on to speak about this generation in verses 43-45, connecting them to an unclean spirit searching for rest.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none” Jesus teaches in verse 43.
He goes on to explain how this evil spirit will go and find an empty dwelling places and bring even more unclean spirits with it to all dwell there.
Evil attracts evil.
Evil breeds more evil.
Evil destroys what it inhabits.
Jesus is trying to warn them.
And He pretty much curses them as He says that “So will it be with this evil generation” in verse 45.
Jesus is still speaking to the people when He is interrupted by his mother and brothers attempting to get a word with Him in verses 46-50.
Jesus keeps talking to the people saying that the ones in front of Him are his bother and brothers. His followers.
Why is Jesus calling random people His mother and brothers?
Although Jesus possessed a biological family on the earth, He doesn’t see them as more important than anyone else.
Jesus sees all people as His family…
“For whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother” He says in verse 50.
Wow, I just love this.
I love how Jesus speaks to His disciples, who likely at this moment are feeling a little separated from this miracle-working, life speaking Messiah.
They probably feel a little beneath Him. A little unworthy to be around Him. A little scared that He might think less of them. At least I would be feeling that way if I were one of the disciples following around this amazing Jesus preach and heal. When is he going to realize I’m not that great and stop wanting me around? I’d be thinking as a disciple.
But Jesus eases His disciples.
Jesus takes advantage of this opportunity to tell them straightforward that they are just as close to Him and meaningful to Him as His own family, thus calling anyone who follows Him His own “brother and sister and mother.” And likely, this eases all the other ones listening to Him and following Him as well.
As Jesus speaks to His disciples right here, He does something which I think is very significant and highlighted on purpose by Matthew.
Verse 49 illustrates a literary repetition of the phrase “stretching out his hand” in this chapter.
It’s mentioned twice.
We saw it before when Jesus asked the man with the withered hand to stretch out his hand in verse 13. Now, in contrast, Jesus stretches out His hand to the disciples in verse 49.
“And stretching out His hand toward his disciples, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!” (emphasis mine).
What stunning literary contrast.
In the 1st scene, the man with the withered hand stretched out His hand to Jesus → the man proved to Jesus that He needed Him.
In the 2nd scene, Jesus stretches His hand out to His disciples → Jesus proves to His disciples that He needs them.
Both stretches of the hand demonstrate faith and honor.
The man had faith in Jesus to heal.
He stretches out his hand honoring Jesus’ request.
Jesus has faith in His disciples to accomplish His ministry.
He stretches out His hand to them in honor as His followers and as His family.
Beautiful literary subtlety. This is why I love Matthew’s gospel so much. : ) Every single word and verse of his gospel he writes remains purposeful and Spirit filled, and is saturated with symbolism and little spiritual nuggets of insight.
Jesus healed many in this chapter. He also incurred a plethora of criticism from the religious elite. However, Jesus will press onward with His ministry with the help of His 12 disciples. And the people who believe in Him will continue to follow Him and see more of more of His divinity.
As we close this chapter and move towards the next, Jesus will shift from healings and tension with the Pharisees to teachings of many parables in chapter 13.
We will read about that next time.
Until then I pray that you would ponder the life of Christ as articulated through the words of Matthew in chapter 12 and fall more in love with this man Jesus. This man who the people in this gospel are starting to see as The Son of David. This man who is something more than human. This man who has come to give life, hope and salvation to all. Praise God for sending Him to us.
Summary of Matthew 12
Jesus and His disciples walk through the grainfields and pick grain to eat on a day that’s the Sabbath; Jesus incurs criticism from the Pharisees; Jesus and His disciples enter a synagogue and Jesus heals a man with a withered hand; Jesus and His disciples leaves the synagogue; Matthew articulates Jesus fulfilling the prophecy found in Isaiah 42:1-4; Jesus is brought a demon-possessed man who is also bind and mute and He heals him; Jesus incurs more criticism from the Pharisees; Jesus teaches extensively on good and evil and the substance within a person; the Pharisees test Jesus; Jesus speaks more about unclean spirits and this evil generation; Jesus’ mother and brothers want to see Him and Jesus tells his followers that they are truly His mother an brothers, (His family).
Jesus in Matthew 12
Jesus walks through grainfields on the Sabbath (v. 1)
Jesus is with His disciples (v. 1)
Jesus’ disciples are hungry (v. 1)
Jesus’ disciples pick the grain
Jesus’ disciples eat the grain (v. 1)
Jesus is scorned by the Pharisees (v. 2)
Jesus deals with the issue (v. 3)
Jesus answers the Pharisees (v. 3)
Jesus asks them if they have read the scriptures (v. 3)
Jesus reminds the Pharisees that David himself ate the bread in the temple because he was hungry (v. 3-4)
Jesus reminds them that the priests in the temple on the Sabbath do things that profane it but are still guiltless (v. 5)
Jesus makes his case that they did nothing wrong (v. 4-5)
Jesus declares that something greater than the temple is here (v. 6)
Jesus is greater than the temple (v. 6)
Jesus reveals they do not understand mercy (v. 7)
Jesus rebukes them for condemning the guiltless (v. 7)
Jesus declares that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (v. 8)
Jesus is the Son of Man (v. 8)
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (v. 8)
Jesus is in charge (v. 8)
Jesus possesses authority over humans (v. 8)
Jesus leaves (v. 9)
Jesus enters the synagogue (v. 9)
Jesus is questioned by the leaders in the synagogue about healing (v. 10)
Jesus is always being trapped by the religious leaders (v. 10)
Jesus answers them via analogy about a sheep falling into a pit (v. 11)
Jesus shows them that anyone would save a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath (v. 11)
Jesus illuminates their hypocrisy (v. 11)
Jesus points out that a man is much more valuable than a sheep (v. 12)
Jesus argues via logic (v. 11-12)
Jesus declares it is always right to do what is good on the Sabbath (v. 12)
Jesus doesn’t waste any more time – He heals the man who has a withered hand (v. 13)
Jesus asks the man to stretch out His hand and it does (v. 13)
Jesus wants to see the man’s faith (v. 13)
Jesus heals him immediately (v. 13)
Jesus silences the Pharisees (v. 14)
Jesus is secretly conspired against by the Pharisees (v. 14)
Jesus knows that they are conspiring (v. 15)
Jesus leaves that town (v. 15)
Jesus attracts many followers (v. 15)
Jesus is desirable (v. 15)
Jesus heals all who follow Him (v. 15)
Jesus wants to heal (v. 15)
Jesus is willing to heal (v. 15)
Jesus tells these followers not to publicize him (v. 16)
Jesus fulfills a prophecy found in Isaiah 42:1-4 (v. 17-21)
Jesus was prophesied to be the Father’s chosen servant (v. 18)
Jesus was prophesied to be the Father’s beloved (v. 18)
Jesus was prophesied to please the Father (v. 18)
Jesus was prophesied to receive the Spirit (v. 18)
Jesus was prophesied to proclaim justice to the Gentiles (v. 18)
Jesus was prophesied to not quarrel or be loud (v. 19)
Jesus was prophesied to not break a bruised reed (v. 20)
Jesus was prophesied to not quench a smoldering candle wick (v. 20)
Jesus was prophesied to bring justice to victory (v. 20)
Jesus was prophesied as the name in whom the Gentiles will hope (v. 21)
Jesus is brought a blind and mute demon-possessed man (v. 22)
Jesus attracts the sick and lowly (v. 22)
Jesus is known as the one whom people go to for healing (v. 22)
Jesus heals him immediately (v. 22)
Jesus heals the man so he sees and speaks right then (v. 22)
Jesus amazes the people (v. 23)
Jesus causes the people to wonder “Is this the Son of David?” (v. 23)
Jesus is starting to be recognized as something more (v. 23)
Jesus is still, however, not fully recognized for who He is yet (v. 23)
Jesus is hated by the Pharisees (v. 24)
Jesus is gossiped about by the Pharisees (v. 24)
Jesus is slandered by the Pharisees (v. 24)
Jesus knows that they are thinking bad things about Him (v. 25)
Jesus refutes their gossip and slander using logic and truth (v. 25-27 & 29)
Jesus shows that anything divided against itself cannot stand (v. 25-27)
Jesus shows that the one who gives power to do miracles reveals where the power indeed comes from (v. 27-28)
Jesus performs miracles by the Spirit of God (v. 28)
Jesus declares that the kingdom of God has come upon them (v. 28)
Jesus declares that those who are not with Him are against Him (v. 30)
Jesus is polarizing (v. 30)
Jesus does not make anyone follow Him (v. 30)
Jesus will forgive every sin and blasphemy except for blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (v. 31)
Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man” (v. 32)
Jesus will forgive those who speak against Him but not the ones who speak against the Holy Spirit (v. 32)
Jesus defends the Holy Spirit (v. 32)
Jesus makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is to be respected at all times (v. 32)
Jesus never loses an argument (v. 26-32)
Jesus teaches about being authentic via analogy of a good or bad tree and its fruit (v. 33)
Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers (v. 34)
Jesus asks them how they can even speak anything good if they are evil (v. 34)
Jesus disapproves of the Pharisees (v. 34)
Jesus says one speaks based on what is in the heart (v. 34)
Jesus reveals that a good person produces good (v. 35)
Jesus reveals that an evil person produces evil (v. 35)
Jesus declares that a person’s words justifies him (v. 36-37)
Jesus tells the Pharisees He will not do a miracle for them (v. 38-39)
Jesus doesn’t perform miracles for show (v. 38-39)
Jesus is not a circus clown (v. 38-39)
Jesus knows they only want to see a sign because they don’t actually believe in Him (v. 39)
Jesus tells them evil generations look for signs (v. 39)
Jesus gives them no sign except for a reminder of the prophet Jonah (v. 39)
Jesus has no tolerance for evil people (v. 39)
Jesus unpacks the sign of Jonah (v. 40)
Jesus declares that He will be in the ground 3 days just like Jonah in the fish 3 days (v. 40)
Jesus gives them a sign from the scriptures (v. 40)
Jesus prophecies his death and resurrection (v. 40)
Jesus declares that something greater than Jonah is here (v. 41)
Jesus is greater (v. 41)
Jesus says that the men of Nineveh repented then and will thus condemn this generation at judgment for not believing in Jesus (v. 41)
Jesus says the queen of the South will condemn this generation at judgment also for not believing in Him (v. 42)
Jesus declares something greater than Solomon is here (v. 42)
Jesus is greater (v. 42)
Jesus warns of unclean spirits (v. 43-45)
Jesus has biological brothers (v. 46)
Jesus’ mother and brothers wait outside to speak with Him (v. 46)
Jesus calls His followers His mother and brothers (v. 48-49)
Jesus deems all who do His Father’s will His brother, sister and mother (v. 50)
Jesus does not see anybody as more special than anyone else (v. 50)
Jesus does not show partiality (v. 50)
Jesus sees everyone as His family (v. 50)
Questions for Today:
- What do the people think about Jesus at this point?
- What is significant about them asking if Jesus is the Son of David?
- What is significant about the 2 scenes of “stretching out the hand”?
- Why is Jesus always experiencing criticism from the Pharisees and other religious elite? How does Jesus handle this criticism?
- Why does Jesus call His disciples His “sister and brother and mother”?
- What stood out to me about Jesus in this passage?
“Mercy” by Amanda Cook