Finding True Rest - Matthew 12:1-14

In 2014, a survey was conducted on the levels of stress people experience. The survey uncovered that 77% of people in the U.S. say they regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.

More than 3 out of 4 people have experienced physical symptoms caused by stress. That’s enormous! The stress, pain, and anxiety that we experience is real.

We cope with our stress by day-dreaming and planning our restful escape. Maybe the most restful place for you is in a chair under an umbrella at the beach. Or maybe it’s just getting to sleep in once till 8am.

Or maybe it’s vegging out on the couch watching TV or relaxing evening with your significant other.


The truth is we expect to find peace and rest in the pleasures of this world but the things of this world inevitably disappoint us. As soon as our restful escape is over our source of stress is waiting for us as soon as we walk in the door.

True rest, the rest that provides the peace that we’re all so desperate to find, is only found in Jesus Christ. He needs to be the Lord of our Sabbath.

God gave us a day to worship Him and rest in Him. He knows what we need better than we do. And we learn from our passage that just as the Pharisees distorted Sabbath rest, we do too.

If we’re going to experience true rest in Christ we need our perspectives shifted, we need to trust the Creator, and we need to be merciful.

Resting in Christ means we need our perspectives shifted.

Our passage begins with a group of hungry disciples picking and eating grain. As soon as they do it, the Pharisees were there to jump all over them.

The Pharisees say at the end of verse 2, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” The Pharisees saw what they were doing and thought, Gotcha! You’re violating the 4th commandment!

Let me read the 4th commandment to you from Exodus 20:8-11:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Pharisees knew the 4th commandment and thought, “We’ve busted them! They’re working!”

Interestingly, the 4th commandment doesn’t define work. It simply says, don’t work on the Sabbath. So the Jewish teachers took it upon themselves to create a narrow definition of work where God’s Word is intentionally broad.

So these Jewish teachers created a catalogue of 39 principal works along with minor categories to the point where picking the heads of grain was considered “reaping” and rubbing out the grain was considered, “threshing.” So according to the definition of work that they had created, picking and eating grain was work.

Here’s the problem with their definition: It was completely unbiblical! And here’s another problem the Pharisees accusation: what Jesus and the disciples were doing was completely biblical! For people who were hungry, God’s word had a provision in Deuteronomy 23 that said: If you go into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor's standing grain.

By creating and enforcing laws that were not biblical the Pharisees were legalists! But God’s Word isn’t nearly as rigid as the Pharisees wanted it to be. The Bible doesn’t encourage legalism. In fact, it encourages mercy and generosity.

And that’s Jesus’s point in verse 3. In OT times, the high priest would put 12 loaves of bread on an altar, which represented the 12 tribes of Israel.

And it represented how God was present and had intimate table fellowship with his people. Obviously, it was ceremonial. The bread was replaced every seven days and only the priests were allowed to eat the bread.

But in 1 Samuel chapter 21, David ate the bread of the presence. You see, Abaithar, the high priest knew that David was God’s anointed one, was on a divine mission, and was hungry. So he let David go into a sacred part of the tabernacle and eat the ceremonial show bread.

Jesus points to David in order to show there are necessities that transcend the Sabbath, like eating. God doesn’t want you to go hungry in order to keep the Sabbath. You see how well Jesus’s example parallels exactly what he and his disciples were doing? They were hungry just like David and his men!

But Jesus’s point is even stronger than that: If necessities like eating when you’re hungry are permissible on the Sabbath according God’s Word, don’t Jesus and his disciples have every right to ignore a man-made, unwarranted regulation?

Then Jesus asks them a question: on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, yet are guiltless? He’s being accused of working on the Sabbath but the priests worked on every Sabbath. It’s like how pastors work on Sunday. Jesus’s point is simply the priests work hard on the Sabbath and it’s entirely acceptable.

The Pharisees view of the Sabbath was totally wrong. They had misinterpreted it. They thought they were Sabbath experts but really they didn’t understand it. Even worse, they didn’t recognize that God was standing right in front of them, Jesus Christ, who is greater than any temple regulation.

There’s a major disconnect between the Pharisees expectations for the Sabbath and God’s expectations for the Sabbath.

The Pharisees mercilessly enforced their man-made Sabbath regulations. They’re so extreme Jesus and his disciples weren’t supposed to eat on the Sabbath.

God has expectations, he desires our worship, but he’s merciful. He doesn’t expect anyone to go hungry in order to keep the Sabbath. He’s gracious.

By creating these laws, the Pharisees completely lost sight of the reason for the Sabbath. They were resting in their ability to abstain from work instead of resting in Jesus Christ.

There’s a scene in the classic movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where he goes over to his friend Cameron’s house and finds his Dad’s prized 1961 Ferrari California Spyder. I know very little about cars but I read that only 100 of them exist.

But if you remember anything about the movie, Cameron’s Father never drove the car. It just sat in the garage. People were only allowed to look at it. So when Ferris and Cameron took it for a joy ride and wrecked it, they knew they were going to be in major trouble.

I’ve never owned a nice car, but I know a lot of folks that enjoy collectible cars do the same thing. They have a car that sits in a garage and it’s rarely, if ever, driven.

It seems to me a shift happens when you own something collectible like a fancy car: you go from enjoying it to protecting it.

Rather than enjoying the smell of the leather seats or the feeling of the steering wheel in your hands you remember you haven’t waxed the car in months or you notice a new crack in the leather seat.

And suddenly, this thing that was meant to bring you great pleasure brings you great stress.

In many ways, we’re just like the Pharisees when we turn God’s goodness into a burden. Often we’ll think we need to get through worship so we can take care of the really important things. Or we need to get through worship the real rest and relaxation can begin.

How quickly we distort Sunday into a mere religious exercise. Our perspective needs to be adjusted. Sunday shouldn’t be a day of rote religious exercise, it should be a day to worship God and strengthen your faith in Christ.

Do you believe that resting in Jesus Christ is enough? Or are you trying, like the Pharisees, to find rest in your own works? It may not be in having strict regulations on the Sabbath, but are you trying to find rest in something other than Jesus Christ? If not, what are you resting in?

Just as our perspectives need to shift, and we need to rest in Christ, we also need to trust the Creator.

Resting in Christ means we need to trust the Creator.

I think it’s helpful to sometimes take a step back and look at the bigger picture. If our passage deals with the Sabbath, shouldn’t we step back and ask, why did God create it?

He doesn’t need to rest. But he knows we do. That’s why he took the seventh day off in the creation account. He did it to give us an example.

In case you were wondering, when God created the Sabbath it was on the last day of the week, Saturday. But since the resurrection of Christ happened on the first day of the week, Sunday, Christians have recognized Sunday as the Sabbath.

After he created the Sabbath, he created the 10 commandments to show us how we can please Him on the Sabbath. Interestingly, most believers don’t take issue with 9 out of the 10 commandments.

They’d agree we shouldn’t steal, murder, or dishonor our parents, but for some reason God’s command concerning the Sabbath no longer applies.

It’s one of the most dismissed commandments nowadays. But shouldn’t we let the Creator of the Sabbath define it for us?

There are several things that are important to take note of in verse 8, when Jesus says, “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

I’ve heard some claim that by stating he’s Lord of the Sabbath he’s abolishing the 4th commandment. Because Jesus said he’s Lord of the Sabbath, the 4th commandment is now null and void.

But notice that Jesus is not abolishing the 4th commandment in this passage. He’s fulfilling it. Fulfilling it and abolishing it are two totally different things.

He fulfilled the law by perfectly obeying all of it, including perfectly keeping the Sabbath. Even in our passage, Jesus doesn’t dispute the Pharisees over the validity of the 4th commandment. He disputes their interpretation and man-made regulations of it.

Also consider this: the Sabbath is a specific day of the week. Isn't it interesting that even though Jesus is Lord over all, he's emphasizing his Lordship over a certain day of the week?

The Pharisees are arguing with the Creator over his creation. Jesus Christ has the power and authority to alter it however he saw fit.

And if he’s the Creator and Lord of the Sabbath, he should be the object of our worship.

You know, if you ever go to a church and they rarely or never mention Jesus Christ, red flags should be waving and sirens should be screaming in your head.

John 1 describes Jesus as the Word. If you go to a church and the Bible isn’t opened or barely used red flags should be waving and sirens should be screaming in your head.

Why? Because Jesus Christ is Lord of the Sabbath and he should be the object of our worship.

Several months ago, I listened to a podcast by author Malcolm Gladwell about the creative process. Sometimes an individual has a vision, develops it and it’s an instant masterpiece.

And then there are others who’s process is defined by trial and error. They may know they’re onto some sort of ingenuity but it takes them a while to get there.

You’re probably familiar with the song “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered by basically every musician under the sun.

Now, I've heard there was a secret chord

That David played, and it pleased the Lord

But you don't really care for music, do you?

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing hallelujah

Interestingly, the author of the song, a guy named Leonard Cohen, wrote it and it took him 5 years to get the lyrics right. Finally he put it on an album presented it to CBS and they told his music was a disaster.

His tune to “Hallelujah” was much different from the one we’re all familiar with. In fact, it was much darker.

But Cohen wasn’t done with it. He kept tinkering with it and eventually he played it in front of a man named John Cale. Cale was the one that finally cracked the code to the song and now it’s this famous song we’re all familiar with.

Sometimes something needs time to be developed and perfected. The Pharisees thought that was their job. They thought the Scriptures needed a little help and so they thought they could improve Sabbath by putting rigid rules in place. What they didn’t realize was the way God created the Sabbath made it already a perfect masterpiece.

God doesn’t need any help. He created the Sabbath for a reason and that reason wasn’t because he needed rest. He created it so that we could have rest.

I think we’re all honest with ourselves, we don’t really like that. We don’t like the way He created it. We like the golden rule. We like statements like, the meek shall inherit the earth. But we take issue with God instructing us to find rest in Him on the Sabbath.

In the previous chapter Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. How would our lives change if we took God at his word and trusted him as Creator?

But Jesus also tells us that there are implications for how we treat others if we are to rest in Him on the Sabbath.

Resting in Christ means we need to be merciful.

God has always cared about our hearts. Look at verse 7 with me. Jesus said, “And if you had known what this means, (speaking of him being greater than the temple) ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

He challenges the Pharisees legalism, hostility, mercilessness, and anger. The Pharisees were more interested in looking pious and holy than following God.

And so Jesus shines the light on their hearts by quoting Hosea 6:6 in order to make this obvious point: God cares more about your heart more than your religious exercises.

The Pharisees looked religious but didn’t love for God. You can tell simply by the way they treated the disciples that they didn’t want to show them mercy even though they were innocent of any wrongdoing.

Jesus takes makes his point of showing mercy on the Sabbath even stronger in verses 9-14, when he heals the man with the withered hand.

The Pharisees wanted to try to entrap Jesus again concerning work on the Sabbath. So they ask him in verse 9, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

In other words, “are you working when you heal someone on the Sabbath?” Implying they thought healing someone was work.

Jesus reminds them that it was common for someone to rescue a sheep on the Sabbath. Saving an animal on the Sabbath was acceptable, but healing a human being wasn’t?

And so, Jesus healed the man with the withered hand.

But he says something profound right before he heals him. He says, “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Everyone is thinking of course it’s permissible to do good! But to the Pharisees this was a trick question.

The Pharisees legalism was so ingrained that they really questioned whether someone should be healed on the Sabbath.

In the minds of the Pharisees you weren’t allowed to do anything because if you did something, it was “work” and thus a violation of the 4th commandment.

But Jesus challenges that conception. Jesus says no, you should do something on the Sabbath, something good and merciful.

Jesus wanted to Sabbath to be a blessing to everyone.

Isn’t it true at Christmas you almost always have more fun giving gifts than receiving them?

You assume for many years that kids like to get stuff but for most they make a transition from being excited to receive gifts to being more excited to give them. It’s always sort of shocking but in the best sort of way.

Jesus sort of lays out an unexpected principle for us: there is rest in showing mercy to others. You see we assume that the most restful thing is to do nothing. We need our time to unwind. We need “me” time.

The Pharisees were so confident in themselves. They were so confident in their ability to perfectly keep the Sabbath. You see, to the Pharisees the Sabbath wasn’t about God - it was about them.

Things change but people don’t. You may not be concerned with perfectly keeping the Sabbath but if we’re not careful Sundays can still be a day that’s all about me and serving my needs. Doing what I want.

We believe our time is our own and frankly we don’t want to be told how to spend it.

But Jesus really challenges those thoughts. What if Sunday became a day where you consider the needs of others? What if you committed the day to showing mercy as Jesus did?

It seems so backward to find rest in giving yourself away, but do we trust God in that? What if all of our preconceived notions about rest were simply wrong and Jesus is looking at each one of us and saying will you find rest in me and try it my way?

The Pharisees thought it was their works that would save them. They really believed that their salvation was in their ability to keep the Sabbath.

For the Christian it’s not our works that save us, but rather who we’re resting in. You can only experience rest if you trust in Jesus Christ for the salvation of your eternal soul. Only he can give you the peace and rest we’re so desperately looking for.

As we approach this table, let us look to him for our rest.

Every Sunday is an opportunity to reorient your life in worship to Christ. We don’t have an infinite number of days on this earth. Will you spend today looking for rest in the things of this world, or will you find rest in Jesus Christ?

Let’s pray.