OK, this is a tough one.
At the very end, we find out that this is not a statement of something that happened, but a parable about this evil generation.
The Pharisees, along with the other people when Jesus was among them, had a great opportunity. Can you even imagine what it must have been like to meet Jesus in person and hear him teach? Watch him heal? Maybe even be healed?
But if the people just enjoy his ministry and essentially use him as a healer, but don’t turn to God, it will be worse in the end than it was before Jesus came.
The scribes and Pharisees follow up, asking for a sign. Not all scribes are Pharisees and most Pharisees are not scribes, but these are probably Pharisees and some of their scribes.
Jesus’ answer is, basically, you have already seen enough. You don’t need any more signs.
But watch out for the biggie sign: it will remind you of Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days.
Then he goes on to talk about two times that gentiles turned to God even without such signs as the Pharisees have seen. First, the Ninevites responded to the message of Jonah even though they didn’t get to see the sign of Jonah and the message was delivered with reluctance.
Second, the Queen of Sheba turned to God because of the wisdom of Solomon.
These gentiles put the Pharisees to shame because they responded with lesser signs and to lesser messengers than Jesus.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe.
When I was a kid, I was scared to death of the unpardonable sin. It seems to me that the preaching was designed to make people scared. I don’t hear much of that kind of preaching anymore, and that’s a good thing. It’s Good News.
The call of Jesus is divisive. It bifurcates the population. You are either for him or against him No neutrality. Those who are with him will aid him in the gathering that he is doing, the harvest.
When it comes to fruit, the quality of the tree is defined by the quality of its fruit. Applied to people, this means that what comes out reflects what is inside. The Pharisees had the appearance of being most holy, but they attributed the work of God himself to Satan. Thus, they gave away what was inside. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same thing a hundred times among church people.
Attributing God’s action to Satan is as bad as it can get. It will be the end of a person of it continues. If you are that evil, how could you possibly turn to God?
And words must match up with actions. If you speak “idle” words, that is, words that are unattached to actions, they are just words and they will be judged. Words and actions must go together.
We move now to the case of a man who has lost two out of five of the normal senses. He can neither see nor hear (and thus speak), and it is blamed on a demon who is oppressing the man.
Jesus, very simply, heals the man and he began to speak and to see. (As we should speak when we see what God is doing. Perhaps there is an object lesson there.)
The Pharisees are quite upset because it looks like the people are ready to accept Jesus as the messiah. But since he hasn’t been so designated by the powers that be, this cannot be.
Their approach is basically to call Jesus as magician, empowered by dark powers.
Jesus refutes their argument in two ways:
- He appeals to the head. How much sense does it make for the powers of darkness to fight against the powers of darkness? And what about the Jewish exorcists? Are they also in league with Satan?
- He appeals to the heart. Look at why Jesus is doing and you will surely have to agree that he is led and empowered by the Spirit of God and not Satan.
Thus, the Kingdom has come and is coming.
The strong man—Satan—is being bound and his house is being plundered. Read Revelation for more on this.
As we shall see, the Pharisees are on dangerous ground when they accuse Jesus in this way.
A short setup and a long quote.
Jesus was aware that the Pharisees were against him and wanted him out of the way, so he got out of town. Crowds followed him, as was often the case, and he continued healing them.
Jesus didn’t use his healing ministry as publicity, like a modern day faith healer does. His healing was pure mercy. But some of the people were more interested in the healing than in the Kingdom; he told them to keep it on the down low.
Matthew uses this occasion to quote from Isaiah, using a passage that was already thought of as messianic even before Jesus. He uses this passage to tell us more about Jesus.
- God has chosen Jesus for this job
- The words and vision at the baptism of Jesus come to mind here
- Some Jews may have thought that the messiah would bring judgment on the Gentiles, but Matthew’s use of the passage is more directed at Jesus bringing a Kingdom wherein there will be true justice for all peoples. Lord, how we need that today. Kingdom come!
- Jesus is not a rabble-rouser and he is not loudly disputing with the Pharisees or anyone else. Neither is he violent.
- But he will indeed bring justice to fruition. Amen.
- The result is hope. Hey, I’m a gentile. I’m allowed to have hope too.
The Pharisees are simply looking for ways to accuse Jesus. They pose a practical question about healing on the Sabbath, hoping he will give the “wrong” answer.
Jesus argues once more from the lesser to the greater: if it’s ok to rescue a mere sheep, how much more ok it is to rescue a man.
The man who is healed is a bit player in this scene, a pawn of the Pharisees. But Jesus heals him and heals him perfectly. The problem was not life-threatening and could have waited for another day, but no matter.
Jesus shows that some forms of work should be permitted on the Sabbath and that the Pharisees were overly strict.
The Pharisees go off to conspire his demise. It isn’t the healing that bothers them, but rather, the teaching. In their system, he is breaking the fourth commandment and teaching his disciples to do so. He must be stopped.
The disciples were hungry and ate grain in the field. The Pharisees, who apparently like to watch for violations, don’t like it because it is the Sabbath.
Sometimes I wish someone I know would have heard a sermon I heard because it applied to them. The Pharisees are good at applying the Law to others.
But Jesus disagreed with the interpretation of the Pharisees. Their interpretation was not official, perhaps not even mainline. Jesus has a different interpretation.
- Jesus is greater than David. The argument from lesser to greater applies. In time of need, Jesus says the need is more important than the law.
- Jesus is greater than the Temple. If Sabbath laws don’t apply to the Temple, then Jesus can also get a pass.
- In general, mercy toward the need is more important.
It’s possible to live under rules without taking them to extremes. Jesus seems to interpret Sabbath laws in such a way. And he is Lord of the Sabbath.
I don’t suppose the Sabbath laws apply to us in any way now, but the example Jesus gives us might help as we interpret other instructions.