The people of faith in the Bible had one common thing: they saw something greater than what the world perceived. Abraham saw something greater, to the point that he was able to lay Isaac on the altar at Moriah. Isaac saw something greater, that he was able to lay down in obedience on the altar. Jacob saw something greater and, as a result, was able to give up his riches and possessions to Esau. Joseph saw something greater and was able to forgive his brothers. Joshua and Caleb saw something greater when they spied out the land of Canaan. Apostle Paul saw something greater and was able to give up all that he had in order to preach the Gospel. In Matthew 12, Jesus compares something greater with what the Pharisees saw.
Life is Greater (Matthew 12:1-7)
The Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of eating on the Sabbath. They plucked the grain and ate with their hands, which was considered work. In response, Jesus quoted the incident of David and his men eating the consecrated bread of the presence in the temple. David and his men were so hungry that they broke the rule and ate, which showed that life is greater. Why did God let David do this without repercussion? David was doing God’s work of fighting in the battle. Likewise with the priests who worked on the Sabbath, whose tasks ensured the proper observance of the Sabbath day. Jesus and His disciples worked on the Sabbath because, like the priests, they were doing God’s work of giving eternal life: the work of the true Sabbath. Jesus is saying here that the purpose of the Sabbath is to give life. Life is greater.
Compassion is Greater (Matthew 12:7-8)
Jesus then quotes Hosea 6:6 in saying, “For I desire compassion, not sacrifice.” He says that compassion is greater than sacrifice, the latter of which finds its equivalent in a worship service. It’s not that God does not desire sacrifice or worship, but that it is less important than compassion. Jesus is teaching us that worship service does not delight God if our focus is on the formality and not on God (Malachi 1:8). God is saying that He wants a relationship with us. The loyalty, the love, the hesed between God and us is greater than the formality of service and sacrifice.
Good is greater (Matthew 12:9-14)
Jesus did good on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees tried to corner him by saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Jesus responded by saying that He was doing the work of life on the Sabbath. Jesus said that His healing work was good. The word “good” peppers the creation story in Genesis, when God says the Word, and it happens. That is good. Sabbath is the day when God’s Word is actualized and fulfilled. In particular, it is God’s redemption work, the work of re-creation that is according to God’s Word. This good is greater than what you think is the proper thing to do.
Proclamation of the Word is greater (Matthew 12:15-21)
The purpose of proclaiming God’s Word is to testify that Jesus the Messiah is here. Jesus is now saying here in this passage that the Pharisees’ purpose is to leverage the people for their own glory. However, Jesus’ purpose is to proclaim the Word. What about us? Why do we proclaim the Word? We know that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s Word. Jesus testified about the Father, and through the Word, we can tell the whole world that Jesus is the Messiah. It’s not just about miracles and healing; they are for proclaiming the Word and pointing to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. People who experience the healing come to know who Jesus is.
God’s will is greater (Matthew 12:46-50)
Jesus is not here ignoring family values. God established the family values of honouring one’s parents in the Ten Commandments. However, God’s will is the foundation of all the family values and unity. Jesus is saying that we must not disregard God’s will for our family, but we need to establish our family on the will of God and obedience toward it.
Jesus says in Matt. 12:6-8 that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus emphasizes the signs which point to the coming Messiah, to Jesus Christ Himself. So now Jesus asks the Pharisees about why they were holding on to the signs even though the Messiah Himself was in their midst. What about us? Are we dependent on the signs and miracles, or even the rules and procedures of worship service? God is Spirit. We need to seek God’s presence above everything else. Neither is God’s time measured with our physical time and signs. We need to open our eyes to the reality that Jesus Christ has already come, and that something greater is here.
Jesus also says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven (Matthew 12:31-32). Who is greater? Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit is greater because even His birth and later resurrection happened through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who births new life in us, who allows us to understand the Word of God, who lets us know God’s will, and who allows us to walk with God (John 16:13; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians. 2:10-13; 12:3). All that Jesus did was according to the Spirit. We need to follow the leading of the Spirit; to disregard the Spirit’s lead is to blaspheme against the Spirit. Through the Spirit, we can see that something, someone, greater is here, and that person is Jesus Christ.