If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” – Matt. 12:7-8 NIV
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Jesus Christ had commenced his ministry with the sermon on the Mount, according to the records kept by Levi, the tax collector, who was also known as Matthew (Matt. 5:1-12), and after this event, several occasions came up with people genuinely wanting to know more about the message which waa the foundation of his ministry, whilst some like the Pharisees and the Elders, had started expressing their discontent with the contents of his message. In the twelfth chapter of the biblical book of Matthew, he addressed the issue surrounding the acceptable practices of the Sabbath. He had been passing through a grain field on a Sabbath in the company of his disciples, when the disciples being hungry began to pick some heads of grain to eat. The Pharisees, believing that they have a reason to malign his ministry, quickly accused them of breaking the Law of the Sabbath – Matt. 12:1-2.
Jesus Christ, in defense of his disciples cited two cases of similar acts of people in the bible who seemed to have also broken some laws, that could be regarded as a precedence for the actions of his disciples. The first instance was the eating of consecrated bread, meant for the Priests only, by David and his followers (1Sam. 21:1-9), whilst the second was the case of Priests, who were actually proven to have desecrated the Sabbath day, yet they were declared innocent – Matt. 12:3-5. He thus by inference declared his disciples innocent whilst cautioning the Pharisees from seeing them as Law breakers and letting them know that he, Jesus, was not only greater than the temple, where the earlier events he cited occurred, but made them aware in the scripture that is the foundation of today’s Devotional, that the Almighty God desires mercy and not sacrifice – Matt. 12:6-8; Hos. 6:6. It may be true that they had to offer sacrifices to Jehovah on such days, but acts of Mercy done on such days and in such situations, in place of the traditional acts designated for such days were preferable by Him. He concluded his defense of them with the assertion that he was not only greater in status than the temple, but he was also the Lord of the Sabbath, so being associated with him was enough insurance for them to be able to access Mercy.
Despite this assertion, the Pharisees were still not done in their attempts at ridiculing him, using the supposed desecration of the Sabbath day by his disciples, as they still attempted to set another Sabbath day- related trap for him. He had entered the synagogue, nay temple and the same Pharisees, anticipating that he was going to heal a man with a shriveled hand, questioned him on the legality or other wise, of conducting a healing session on a Sabbath day – Matt. 12:9-10. After asking them, if anyone of them will rescue their sheep that had fallen into a ditch on Sabbath day, with none of them responding due to their hypocrisy, he pronounced healing on the man and his hand was instantly restored – Matt. 12:11-14. He concluded that there was no crime in doing good, even on a Sabbath day.
Many Christians today, like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus, have turned themselves into Law monitors, whose main role is to identify people who are contravening the Laws of God, with a view to judging them, forgetting that only the Law-giver has the right to judge anyone – Jms. 4:12. They give the impression of wanting to maintain divine standards by preaching strict adherence to the Laws of God. These group of Christians, no doubt are vast in the knowledge of the Laws of God, but lack sincerity in the course of advocating and enforcing strict adherence to its observance, as they harbour the ulterior motive of destroying another.
Using the series of events in reference, and the reaction of Jesus Christ, the following can be identified as some of the lessons for the Christian to learn;
- It will always be wrong, to preach strict adherence to divine laws, when the ulterior motive is not too noble, sincere and honest – Matt. 12:2. Like the Pharisees, the not too sincere intentions will always nullify whatever good is expected from such an act, not only before men, but also before Jehovah, more so, no man has been so appointed by Jehovah.
- Indeed Jehovah made all those Laws in reference, but he still rates man, whom He has created in His own image, higher than all those laws and this applies even at the point of the implementation of those Laws – Matt. 12:8. People may indeed break those Laws but, He judges their intentions for breaking the Laws, rather than the actual act of breaking of them – 1Cor. 4:5; Prob. 16:2.
- Even when they have broken the Law in what seems like a deliberate act, He is still willing to show mercy as long they are associated with Jesus Christ, in whom Grace is made available to all for forgiveness – 1Jn. 2:1. It is therefore not for any man to judge or condemn anyone for such transgressions, when there are still several channels available for such a person to avoid condemnation by the Law-giver. The case of the thief on the right hand quicky comes to mind.
- The obedience of any law whatsoever, should not be sufficient reason to stop anyone from implementing an act of goodness unless there is divine instruction against such act – 1Sam. 15:1-31; 2Chr. 30:1-5; 18-20. The positive intention of the individual on such occasions, is sufficient to nullify the error associated with breaking the Law, especially that related to the activities around the Sabbath.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that the Laws of God must be strictly obeyed, but all should be conscious that Jehovah does make exemptions in some cases, and no one can question such decisions on his part on those occasions, as that remains His discretion.
Many Christians and their leaders today hide behind the excuse of being the policeman of divine Laws, to intimidate and oppress several followers, only for them to apply double standards when they are in similar situations. Do not hide under the excuse of trying to enforce divine Laws to implement evil, especially when you will find it difficult to implement such Laws, if the tables were turned. The Almighty God will not be deceived and the benefit of doubt should always be given, that Jehovah Himself may still be willing to extend Mercy – Lk. 23:43. When such is the thought pattern, then everyone will exercise caution in trying to judge another. May God continue to purify our thoughts and actions in Jesus name. Amen.