Introduction: As a lawyer, I believe in rules. Having the right rules
provides the maximum amount of freedom, including religious freedom.
God believes in the rule of law, otherwise Jesus would not have come
to fulfill the requirements of the law on our behalf. What keeps
lawyers in business is conflicts between rules and different views
about the same rule. Our lesson this week is about sorting out God’s
rules. Let’s plunge into our study of Matthew and see what we can
learn about the nature of God’s rules!
- The Yoke Rule
- Read Matthew 11:28-30. Last week we looked at these
verses. Let’s consider one additional aspect. Jesus offers
us a “yoke.” Is that a good or bad thing?
- Isn’t a yoke like a rule, it constrains us?(The yoke
is a constraint, but the good thing is that Jesus is
the other person in the yoke. This means that in
every task, every challenge, every problem, Jesus is
pulling for you. This is a constraint that helps. It
- Read Matthew 12:1-2. Why is it unlawful to pick heads of
grain? (The problem was not stealing grain (Deuteronomy
23:25), the charge was working on Sabbath ( Exodus 20:8-11).)
- Read Matthew 12:3-4. What do you think of Jesus’ answer?
Isn’t that the answer your children give you – other
people do it? “He’s doing it, she’s doing it!”
- What answer would you think might be better than
“others do the same thing?” (I would answer that this
was not work.)
- Read 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Is David telling the truth about
being on a mission for King Saul? (No. If you read the
prior chapter you will see that Jonathan warned David that
King Saul wants to kill him. David is running away from
- What is similar between David’s situation and the
situation of Jesus’ disciples? (They are hungry.)
- Is that the lesson we should learn about the Sabbath
– it is okay to break the rules if you are hungry?
- If that is not the lesson, what is Jesus’
- Helping others is more important than the
- What if helping others is the main rule?
- Is that a standard? Is that a rule?
- Read Matthew 12:5-8. What does Jesus mean when He says
that He is “Lord of the Sabbath?” (He gets to decide what
is appropriate to do on the Sabbath.)
- What does Jesus mean when He says, “I desire mercy,
not sacrifice?” ( Hosea 6:6) (If Jesus’ disciples and
David had refrained from eating that would have been
a sacrifice. Thus, Jesus is saying that for the
Sabbath command (and others, apparently), the goal is
to show mercy.)
- Is that a rule? (I think it is. Consider your view of
the second half of the Ten Commandments and every
other similar rule in the Bible. Are they there to
trip us up, to catch us in sin? Or, are they there
because Jesus loves us and wants us to live a life
free from unnecessary problems? I think the rules
exist to show us mercy – and that is the point Jesus
is making. His “yoke” is a mercy to us.)
- Notice that the Sabbath commandment is not in the
“second half” of the Ten Commandments. Is it about
worshiping God or is it about having a better life?
(The Fourth Commandment is a transition from the
commands concerning God and those concerning fellow
humans. Read Mark 2:27-28. The Sabbath is a day of
rest for humans, but it is also a special time for
recalling what God has done for us.)
- Shriveled Hand Rule
- Read Matthew 12:9-10. How would you answer this if you
understood that mercy is the goal behind God’s rules? (The
answer is an obvious, “yes.”)
- Read Matthew 12:11-13. How does this story reinforce the
previous stories about picking grain and David eating the
sanctuary bread? (This shows that mercy is the overriding
- Let’s circle back to David’s story about the temple
bread. What was the purpose of the temple and the
temple ceremonies? (To point to Jesus coming and
dying on our behalf.)
- Was that showing mercy to us? (Yes! Preferring
the rules about the temple bread over David’s
needs would ignore the entire point of the
temple ceremony – that God was coming to show
- Do you think God has a hierarchy of rules? Are some rules
more important than others?
- In American law, there is a rule of statutory
construction that says one rule supercedes another
only if there is a direct conflict. In the stories we
have looked at so far (picking grain and healing on
Sabbath/David eating sanctuary bread), was there a
direct conflict between the rule of mercy and Sabbath
or sanctuary rules? ( Leviticus 24:8-9 directly
conflicts with David eating the bread. Plus, Jesus
admits there is a conflict ( Matthew 12:4). Although I
don’t see the conflict with picking grain, Jesus
refrained from arguing His disciples were not
working. I think Jesus’ point is that there is a
hierarchy of rules.)
- Is there an alternative to the hierarchy of rules
explanation? (That all the rules have a common core –
- Read Matthew 12:14. What are the religious leaders
showing? (Not mercy. They are showing hatred. This is a
clear violation of the rules.)
- The Mercy Rule
- Read Matthew 12:15-16. After Jesus learns of the plot to
kill Him, He withdraws. Was it dangerous for Him to heal?
(Yes, it would further provoke the religious leaders to
- Why does Jesus do this anyway? (Mercy!)
- Read Matthew 12:17-21. What are we told Jesus will do? (In
the power of the Holy Spirit He will proclaim justice, and
He will lead “justice to victory.” He will create hope.)
- What will Jesus not do? (He will not quarrel or cry
out. He will not raise His voice. He will not further
injure those who are already injured.)
- Re-read Matthew 12:20. A “smoldering wick” has lost its
flame. A “bruised reed” is in danger of breaking because
it already has an injury. What kind of people do these
describe? People who are ill? Discouraged? Losing the
flame of faith?
- Would people who promote sinful lifestyles, and are
hostile to religion, also qualify as bruised reeds
and smoldering wicks?
- Danger Rule
- Read Matthew 12:22-23. What do the people seem to think?
(They suggest that Jesus is the Messiah.)
- Read Matthew 12:24. What do the religious leaders assert?
(That Jesus is powered by Satan.)
- In Matthew 12:25-29 Jesus makes a series of logical
arguments as to why He is not using the power of Satan.
Read Matthew 12:30-32. Why is Jesus talking about speaking
“against the Holy Spirit” and saying that is the sin that
cannot be forgiven? (Attributing to Satan the work of the
Holy Spirit is the sin that cannot be forgiven.)
- This very morning I exchanged notes with a fellow who
argued that syncopated contemporary praise music was
demonic. I believe that contemporary praise music
involves, in part, the Holy Spirit bringing my mind
directly to God. See 1 Corinthians 14:14-17.
However, the issue I want you to consider is not
music, but the charge of demonic power. What is the
danger? (The danger is the unpardonable sin!
Christians who accuse other Christians of using the
power of Satan are on very dangerous ground. They
need to be certain of these charges or not make
- Has the fellow who disagreed with me committed the
unpardonable sin? (This is not like tripping a wire.
The problem is that the Holy Spirit convicts us of
sin. John 16:8-9. When we begin to resist the power
of the Holy Spirit by claiming it is demonic, we push
away its convicting power in our life. It is a
process, not a single charge.)
- Friend, are you convicted that mercy is behind God’s rules
for life? Will you decide, today, to show God’s mercy to
others? To rest in God’s mercy to you?
- Next week: Lord of Jews and Gentiles.