Matthew 12 – Pharisaical Head Games

Matthew 12 Bible with Tonys Chocolonely Cherry Meringue Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely Cherry Meringue Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageMatthew 12

In today’s chapter, no good deed goes un-disdained, at least where the Pharisees are concerned. They chew Jesus out for letting his disciples snack on grain on the Sabbath, conspire to “destroy” him when he heals on the Sabbath, and accuse him of using the power of Satan to cast out demons. And then some of them even have the audacity to ask for a sign from him. After all that, it’s no wonder that Jesus quickly gets short with them.

In the middle of his various incidents with the Pharisees, Jesus withdraws from their synagogue, and when various lay people follow him, he heals them, but encourages them to keep it on the DL. Matthew, as is his custom, takes this to be a prophetic fulfillment, citing Isaiah:

Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen;
My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased;
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel, nor cry out;
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
A battered reed He will not break off,
And a smoldering wick He will not put out,
Until He leads justice to victory.
And in His name the Gentiles will hope. (Matt. 12:18-21, Isaiah 42:1-4)

Initially, I was taken aback. “He will not quarrel, nor cry out?” What is this whole back-and-forth with the Pharisees, if not a quarrel? It even continues after he attempts to withdraw, and when they accuse him of affiliation with the devil, Jesus fires right back and accuses them of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (31-32)! And while nothing in today’s chapter tells me for certain that any of these scenes occurred in public–in fact, Jesus’ family waiting outside (46) lets us know that at least Jesus’ response to the demand for a sign occurred indoors–there’s no shortage of other passages where Jesus’ and his opponents’ voices were heard in the streets.

But as I continued to reflect on the passage, it hit me: I was doing exactly what the Pharisees did. I looked back at the original verses from Isaiah, which read, “He will not cry out or raise his voice” (Isaiah 42:2). If I really want to get that picky, it may very well be that Jesus conducted his disputes with the Pharisees without raising his voice. And frankly, getting so fastidious about the exact wording and details of a translation when I haven’t even looked at the text in its original language is missing the point, neglecting the spirit of the prophecy. Jesus didn’t go looking for trouble. He did good for the people, and as a result, trouble found him.

It’s one thing to be honest about your doubts and issues and questions, and there’s nothing wrong with asking questions in order to learn. But it’s another thing entirely to ask questions when you’ve already made up your mind as to the answers. Seeing a man with a withered hand in the synagogue, the Pharisees “questioned Jesus, asking, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ so that they might accuse Him” (10). Jesus sees through such disingenuous questioning. Will he forgive you for playing mind games and picking sophistical fights? Sure, if you repent. But he sees where the heart’s at, and he’s not playing games.

Finally, flipping back to that prophecy from Isaiah, I’m struck that it begins and ends with mention of the Gentiles, the nations. As we saw before, Jesus’ commission from the Father and his works in the Spirit aren’t just for one nation, one ethnicity, one family line. He came to earth in the flesh, died, and rose again for all human beings from all cultures and lineages.

And in this chapter, whenever he frees a person from disease or demonic possession, the Pharisees are right there to criticize, stifle, try and fit the magic back in the bottle. But you can’t expect to hoard the blessing all for yourself. You can’t contain the Messiah.

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