Greater than the Temple


Greater than the Temple
Matthew 12:1–8 “I tell you, something
greater than the temple is here. …For
the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath”
(vv. 6–8).

Christ’s call for the heavy-laden to come to Him for rest
(Matt. 11:28–30)
provides an excellent backdrop for today’s passage on the
Sabbath, the day of
rest prescribed in the Old Testament (Ex. 20:8–11). If Jesus gives rest to His
people, His view of the Sabbath helps us understand
the nature of His respite.

Judah’s failure to keep the Sabbath was one
reason God sent the nation into
exile in 586 B.C. (2 Chron. 36:11–21; Jer.
17:27). After the people returned
to Palestine (2 Chron. 36:22–23), many
religious leaders worked to ensure the
Sabbath would be kept so that they
would not be kicked out of their land
again. They built a “fence” around the
Torah — God’s law through Moses — out
of various oral traditions, reasoning
that the people, in keeping the oral
laws, would also obey the letter of the
Law protected by the fence. So tenuous
was the tie between the oral dos and
don’ts and the Word of God that some said
the traditions were like mountains
hanging by a hair (scant biblical

The disciples’ failure
to keep the oral laws explains the complaint of the
Pharisees in today’s
passage (Matt. 12:1–2). Plucking grain on the Sabbath is
forbidden according
to these traditions. Jesus’ response reveals that the
Pharisees are
misguided. God’s law is not always to be applied woodenly;
someone may seem to break the letter of the Law and yet not be
guilty of
transgression (Matt. 12:3–5). David, on the run from Saul, freely
ate the
bread normally reserved only for the priests (Lev. 24:5–9; 1 Sam.
Without sinning, the priests do the work required for the worship of
God on
the Sabbath (Lev. 24:8; 1 Chron. 23:24–32). In their zeal to obey the
of the Law, the Pharisees have not kept its spirit, which calls for
mercy to
supersede ceremonial regulation when the two seem to be in conflict
to us
(Matt. 12:7). As Matthew Henry comments, “The works of necessity and
are lawful on the Sabbath.”

Ultimately, Christ justifies His disciples’
actions not only with an appeal to
Old Testament principles, He also appeals
to His own authority. If temple
service permits the priests to “break” the
Sabbath, how much more is Christ,
who is greater than the temple (v. 6), able
to ignore the customs of men?

Coram deo: Living before the face of
John Chrysostom wrote: “Did
Christ then attempt to repeal a law so beneficial
as the sabbath law? Far
from it. Rather, he greatly magnified the sabbath. For
with Christ came the
time for everyone to be trained by a higher requirement”
(Homilies on the
Gospel of St. Matthew, 39.3). In Christ we know that mercy
and justice,
biblically defined, must guide how we apply the letter of the
Law. We are as
bad as the Pharisees if we ignore these principles.

For further

Deut. 16:18–20

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