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Mar 6, 2016

“Getting the Sheep Out of the Pit” 3-6-16

Matthew 12:9-21
March 6, 2016

As we proceed a little further into Matthew chapter 12 this morning, we see that the general subject matter is the same as it was in the first 8 verses.  These are what we might call “controversy” passages, were we see Jesus in an argument or disagreement with others.
And, as in verses 1-8, the controversy involved interpretations of what was allowed on the Sabbath.  As I said two weeks ago, the 4th commandment of the 10 commandments states that the people of God are to observe the Sabbath, and part of that observation involves the cessation of all work.  But in many cases, the definition of Work was left up to the Jewish leaders, rabbis, prophets, priests and scribes.
The Pharisees were known for maintaining extremely rigid and limiting views about what could not be done on the Sabbath.  They included healing as work.  Now they did make allowances in cases which were life threatening.  In other words, if a person were dying, you could act to save his life.  But if a person were suffering from a crippling disease, they could not receive healing on the Sabbath.
So, while in Galilee, Jesus went to a synagogue to worship on the Sabbath.  Also worshiping there was a man who had a crippled hand.  The Pharisees who were present asked Jesus if he thought it was lawful to cure such a man on the Sabbath.  In fact, according to the most common interpretation of the law in those days, it was not.  But Jesus replied by referring to another common interpretation of the law involving sheep and other domesticated animals.  It was considered OK to work to bring an animal out of a pit or other unfortunate situation on the Sabbath.  So, after referring to that allowance in their interpretation of the law, Jesus declared that since a man is more valuable than a sheep, it was allowed to do good and helpful things on the Sabbath, and he healed the man’s hand.
This made the Philistines angry and they conspired to destroy him.  Jesus’ response to their plotting against him was to leave their town and continue to teach and heal the crowds who continued to follow him.  Because there were now people who wanted to kill him because he healed on the Sabbath, he told those whom he healed to keep quiet about their healings.  Matthew comments on Jesus handling of this situation as being a fulfillment of Isa. 42, which he quotes in verses 18-21 of this 12th chapter of Matthew. 
The Isaiah passage presents the Servant of God AKA the messiah as mostly non-confrontational. He would not win hearts and minds with forceful arguments or physical force.  He would quietly perform discreet acts, gently helping the sinful, the weak and the infirm.  He would not take advantage of the weak, but he would attempt to build them up. 
In our current political cycle, we are seeing candidates verbally attacking and insulting each other.  Here we see Jesus quietly making a point and then leaving those who confronted him.  You see, Jesus was not running for office, he was not depending on a popular movement to defend him.  He did not have to be elected.  He already had the title of ruler and defender of God’s kingdom; He already had the appointment from God to be the great savior.  And he knew that the real enemy he came to overcome was not the people who opposed him.  The real enemies were the sins of all people and the eternal damnation that those sins brought to all people. 
Now I want to go back to what Jesus said about a sheep and that man.  He said that if it was OK to help a sheep on the Sabbath, it was OK to help a man on the Sabbath.
This month we will be celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  According to the chronology of Holy week Jesus spent a Sabbath day dead, in the tomb.  He died on Friday, remained in the tomb all day Saturday, or the Sabbath, and then rose from the dead on Sunday.
He did go down into the pit, the habitation of the dead, to save us on a Sabbath. 
Jesus did not forcefully confront the people or the forces of evil. He lovingly and humbly healed and forgave and lifted up those who were suffering. 
Had he not come, we would have been among those who were condemned to eternal suffering, but he died to forgive our sins.  Or as he put it in the words he spoke to them on Holy Thursday, “This is my blood, which is poured out for the forgiveness of your sins.”
In this sacrament we remember that we were the sheep who fell into a pit, and the son of God came down from Glory, from Heaven, from the Father, and died to atone for our sins.  He died to lift us out of the pit into eternal life.  May Glory and praise and honor be given to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever, Amen.

Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906