Summary: When it comes to living life which rules you, law or love? Jesus brought this into sharp focus when it came to healing on the Sabbath and it brings us to confront just who is actually Lord of our lives.
Jesus, our Ultimate Action Hero is waging a battle against enemies who are keeping us captive and away from a relationship with God. He is in the middle of battling the Pharisees, members of the religious establishment of the day who desired power and control. They were oh so good looking on the outside but corrupt and evil on the inside. Jesus first demonstrates who He is, and the takeover that is coming, by forgiving a paralytic man his sins in a dramatic scene as the man’s friends lower him through the roof. It may have been meant as a demonstration for how Judaism of its day, led by the Pharisees and Sadducees, was keeping humans from experiencing God—and that it took faith, not who you know, to get to God and that the real thing keeping us away was our need of forgiveness. Jesus was telling the Pharisees in no uncertain terms that He was the Messiah, even though He didn’t use those terms. Then to show that this condition of sin separating us from God and that He was the answer, Jesus called a filthy tax collector and then went to a party at his house filled with other “sinners.” As a doctor making a house call, Jesus has come to planet Earth to heal us from the disease of sin.
Now we see scenes three, four, and five—as Jesus demonstrates that the old system of man-made rules is contrary to the character of God and cannot hold His new paradigm.
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The Old Testament set aside one day a year for fasting for all Jews: The Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29). Luke tells us that the Pharisees fasted on Mondays and Thursdays. The tense seems to indicate that Matthew’s feast was on one of the days the Pharisees set aside for fasting. John’s disciples erroneously sided with the Pharisees in also fasting on these days, so the question arises: if John’s disciples fast, why are Jesus’ disciples feasting?
The Pharisees fasted as a show of piety. John’s disciples did it as a sign of mourning for sin and to prepare them for the coming Messiah. But the Messiah was here so no fasting was needed! The crucifixion was coming, and at that time His disciples would mourn, but not for long!
So Jesus next introduces the idea that the old way of rule keeping was not a part of what the Messiah was about:
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The idea here is simple and yet profound in its implications. Just as no one would sew unshrunken cloth to patch an old garment, you can’t just sew Jesus onto the current system of Judaism—it would literally tear away from it. Jesus represents approaching God personally, through our High Priest Jesus, not through animal sacrifices. The new system stretches the old too much.
Wineskins were made of water-tight goatskins. As the grapes fermented they stretched the skin. Once stretched it could not be used for fresh wine anymore because it had no more room in it to grow. Judaism could not contain the new thing the Messiah was about. Judaism was about the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law and brought about God’s love and grace, which the Law could not stretch to do. The Law itself looked to the Messiah, but the men who ran Judaism were too rigid to expand to include the grace of God through Jesus Christ. So the Messiah brings a new covenant with God, a new wineskin.
So next Jesus challenges a sacred cow of the Jewish system: the Sabbath
23 – 26
Jesus demonstrates how the old wineskin of Judaism won’t fit the new paradigm by eating, then healing on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a really big deal to the Jews. The religious leaders had created entire encyclopedias about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath. It got so bad that they, the religious leaders, became Lords of the Sabbath.
The Pharisees had declared 39 categories of actions that were forbidden on the Sabbath. It was originally created as a day of rest (Exodus 20:10). The Sabbath was a day to rejuvenate, to set the dials back to zero. It was a day to worship God and reflect on Him. The Pharisees were so good at building fences to make sure no one violated the Sabbath that they fenced God out and fenced man in to slavish adherence of what became a silly bunch of contradictory rules.
Jesus and His disciples were having a leisurely stroll on the Sabbath. When they got hungry they snacked on some grain from a farmer’s field. On a normal day this would have been acceptable according to the Law (Deut 23:25) but on the Sabbath the Pharisees had decreed that you could not walk any distance or do any work of any kind, including “harvesting.” The idea of the Sabbath was to not do any regular work. Jesus and His men were not farmers “harvesting” a crop; they were simply people “gleaning” some grain to eat because they were hungry.