Phil Cox

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Religion or people?

13th September 2006

Take a look with me at Matthew 12, verses 1 to 21.

First, we read verses 1-8:

At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some ears of corn and eat them.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
He answered, "Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread — which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

We could draw a lot of lessons from this passage, but for this study, let's just see that:

Some people think religion is more important than people, and some people think that people are more important than religion.

Of course, it depends what you mean by "religion".

What I mean here is that:

  • Jesus and His followers were happy to pick a few grains of corn to eat - because they were peckish.
  • The Pharisees were incensed because someone had broken a religious regulation - not found in the Bible - that said you shouldn't pick grain on the Sabbath.

Which camp are you in?

We then read verses 9-13:

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

Chillingly, we read of the Pharisees' reaction in the next verse:

But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

The Pharisees were plotting against Jesus’s life for the crime of healing the sick on the Sabbath day. For them, religion was far more important than people.

Jesus chose at that time not to confront the Pharisees, but to work amonst the people. There’s a right time for all things.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
...
... a time to be silent and a time to speak

We then read verse 15:

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16 warning them not to tell who he was.

Where Jesus is, people will follow. This is one reason (but not the only one) why some churches are growing while others are shrinking – because people can find Jesus there.

And Jesus healed all their sick! Sometimes, Jesus didn’t heal all the sick people present (see, for example, the healing at the pool in John 5). Sometimes he did. Again, there’s a set time for all things. Jesus did what His Father led Him to do - no more and no less.

But this passage shows that God CAN heal ALL the sick!

And it's interesting that Jesus healed so many people at a time when the Pharisees - the religious people - the rule keepers - were not around.

But he asked the people he healed not to tell anyone. On this occasion, Jesus wanted to heal people, but he wanted to do it quietly. Again, there's a time for all things – a time to shout from the rooftops that Jesus heals the sick, and time to keep it quiet. There's much more divine healing going on than we realise - because most of it is kept quiet.

The passage continues:

verse 17
This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

Jesus always acted in accordance with, and so confirmed, the scriptures. Verses 18 - 21 are a quote from Isaiah 42:1-4.

verse 18
"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

The word translated “Here is” really means "look". A better translation is in the AV, which says “behold”.

And what good advice: actually behold Jesus – actually take the time to look at Him. Meditate on the character and work of Jesus Christ our saviour.

Jesus – God’s chosen one – the Messiah promised from generations ago, God’s beloved only Son, God’s delight. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus who is bringing justice – good government – to the Earth.

verse 19
He will not quarrel or cry out; no-one will hear his voice in the streets.

The word translated "quarrel" is erizo and means “to engage in strife”. The corresponding Herbrew word in Isaiah 42:2 is sa-aq, “to cry out”. A free translation might be "He won't make a fuss". Jesus so often doesn’t make a song and dance about what he’s doing – he works quietly, in the hearts of those he has chosen, he speaks quietly, so no-one else can hear – he whispers in our inner ears. No-knows (usually) that God’s speaking to you.

Remember the story of Elijah:

1 Kings 19v11-13
The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

God spoke in the whisper, not the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. And Jesus said:

Matthew 11:28-30
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Jesus is meek, gentle, and lowly. When you’re God, when you have infinite power and authority over the universe, you don’t need to shout.

And to those of us who are weary or burdened, it’s so refreshing, such a relief, such a joy, to find a saviour who just speaks quietly to us, touches us and heals us without a big fuss.

verse 20
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.

Jesus loves bruised people.

In fact, the most troublesome Christians tend to be the ones who aren’t bruised – they still have their pride, they still think they’re doing God a favour by serving Him, they still look down on other Christians.

But we who are bruised, battered, exhausted, weary, confused, bewildered by the way life still seems to treat us, we’re losing our pride. We realise we’ve got so little to be proud about.

Mark 2:16-17
When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?" On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

And God also loves the smouldering wicks – the ones whose fire is just about burned out. Did you used to be on fire for God? Has the effort, and the scant results, and the cynicism, and the tiredness, and the unfairness of it all, and the lure of worldly pleasures caused you to lose that zeal?

Were you (to change the metaphor) running a good race for Jesus? Have you just got tired of it all and do you feel like you’re in danger of jacking it in altogether?

Jesus loves you.

Jesus won’t ever extinguish you. He wants to fan you back into flame!

Our final verse is:

verse 21
In his name the nations will put their hope."

We can’t hope in our own resources. We bruised reeds, we smouldering wicks, can’t fix our own problems - can't sort out our own lives. We will trust in Jesus Christ!

So, at times of great heatache or difficulty, let's remember verse 18 and “behold my servant”!