There’s a new version of Sherlock Holmes on TV at the moment, and I’m really enjoying it. Sherlock takes all these pieces of the puzzle, puts them all together logically. Then comes to a consistent conclusion about the overall picture.
He sees a man walking down the street. He’s wearing an expensive suit with an Italian silk tie. He has mud on his shoes, he’s carrying a copy of The Times, and he’s wearing his digital watch on his right hand. Sherlock Holmes notices it all, removes all the insignificant details. And concludes that he’s recently stolen artwork to settle a gambling debt, that he’s fenced the goods to a dealer in Wales, and he’s on his way to his bookie right now. It’s amazing!
And in Matthew ch 12, the clues for who Jesus is are all over the chapter, but it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work it out. In fact, the SMARTEST people don’t get it at all. The leaders and the religious experts should be FIRST IN LINE to put the pieces together. But they’ve decided he’s bad news, and needs to wiped out.
Can YOU put the pieces of the puzzles together? Can you work out what SORT of king Jesus is? And can you RESPOND to him in the right way?
The Sabbath King
First piece of the puzzle. Jesus is the SABBATH King. Jesus and his disciples are wandering through the fields, and they pick a few heads of grain, rub the chaff off, and munch on them. Fast food Palestinian-style. Problem is it’s the Sabbath, and it’s against God’s law to WORK on the Sabbath. And the Pharisees interpreted that to include doing ANYTHING to do with harvesting food, or preparing it.
But Jesus says it’s not quite as obvious as they think. Because there’s some BIBLICAL PRECEDENTS for what his disciples are doing. V3 – He reminds the Pharisees about the time David and his soldiers were on the run from King Saul. They were starving, and they ate some of the bread kept reserved for the priests. And it seemed like God was HAPPY with that.
Because the needs of PEOPLE are more important than keeping the letter of the law. And if it’s good enough for DAVID, then it’s good enough for JESUS.
Or here’s ANOTHER case, says Jesus, v5. Speaking of THE SABBATH. What about the priests themselves? They actually break the Sabbath every week. Working to keep the temple operating. Because the needs of PEOPLE are more important than keeping the letter of the law.
And if it’s good enough for THE TEMPLE, then it’s good enough for JESUS, the one who’s GREATER than the temple. The one who came to REPLACE it. To be the place where God met his people.
Enough SAID. Jesus has got something else to SHOW them. An object lesson to make the same point. V9. A man with a shrivelled hand. Jesus asks, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? According to the Pharisees, that counts as WORK, so their answer was NO. But Jesus heals him anyway, v13. As good as new. Because everyone listening wouldn’t think TWICE about rescuing a stuck SHEEP on the Sabbath. And PEOPLE are worth much more than SHEEP. So, it’s a no-brainer. Because the needs of PEOPLE are more important than keeping the letter of the law.
Clue number one, Jesus the Sabbath King. The king with the authority to reinterprets and fulfil the Old Testament law. Because it all pointed to him. He’s what gives it meaning.
But the Pharisees are more interested in the letter of the law. In the external regulations. Than they are in responding to the one the law POINTS to. In getting the ATTITUDE right. It’s OUTSIDES more than INSIDES – and Jesus wants it the other way around.
The Servant King
SECOND clue about Jesus’ identity. He’s the SERVANT king, from v15. The Pharisees are plotting to kill him So Jesus heads off somewhere else. He’s not interested in starting a fight. Instead, he HEALS all the sick who come to him. And then he warns them not to make a big deal about it. Because he’s no WARRIOR, no REBEL GUERRILLA. He’s the SERVANT king. The one Isaiah prophesied about. The gentle, suffering, quiet one.
He WOULD end up victorious. But it would be a different SORT of rule. V18
18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 19 He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. 20 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.
Powerful people are often BULLIES. Throwing their weight around. But not Jesus. Bruised reeds and smoldering wicks are his favourite. Broken and crushed. Burned out and worn down.
He’s GENTLE with tired, run-down, battered, helpless and hapless people. At the end of the last chapter he had THIS to say (Matt 11:28-30)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Which sounds pretty good to me, especially THIS time of year!
The Strong King
And notice that LAST bit of the Isaiah quote? 21 In his name THE NATIONS will put their hope.” Not just a kingdom around ISRAEL, but one FOR ALL NATIONS. Just because he’s a SERVANT, doesn’t mean he won’t build AN IMPRESSIVE KINGDOM.
In other words, he might be a SERVANT king, but that doesn’t mean he’s a WIMP. He’s also a STRONG king. That’s the NEXT clue. From v22. The people lead a demon-possessed man up to Jesus. Satan’s really done a number on this guy. He’s blind and mute. Which probably means deaf as well as dumb. But Jesus heals him immediately. He’s restored to wholeness.
And the crowd put the clues together, v23. “Could this be the Son of David?” They were expecting the Messiah, who’d have power to defeat evil. And Jesus certainly did THAT.
But the Pharisees aren’t interested in making the right identification, v24. They reckon that if demons are listening to him, it must be because he’s taking his orders from the PRINCE of demons. Like soldiers in an army, recognising a superior officer.
Problem is, says Jesus from v25, if that’s the case, they’re taking orders to destroy their own defences. Satan doesn’t have long to last if THAT’S what’s happening.
And then in v28 Jesus drops one of the biggest clues in the whole of Matthew. What’s the purpose of his whole ministry?
28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God (that’s the clue), then the kingdom of God has come upon you (that’s the correct deduction).
GOD’S KINGDOM is wherever God rules. Wherever he rules in places, in people, in countries, in hearts, in minds, in marriages, in churches. And in Jesus’ ministry that reign of God has arrived. THE SPIRIT OF GOD HIMSELF is driving back the spirits of Satan. And that means his kingdom is advancing. STILL is!
In v29 Jesus gives a picture. If the police are going to raid the local drug-dealer’s house, first they break in, arrest and handcuff him, and then proceed to take everything away into evidence.
To DO that, the police have to be STRONGER than the drug-dealer. Same thing with Jesus – he’s the STRONGER man, who’s breaking into Satan’s house, who’s the STRONG man, tying him up, and carrying off his possessions. He’s reclaiming people back to God. That’s what God’s kingdom is all about. Advancing against Satan’s. Whether Jesus is teaching, or preaching, or healing, or casting out demons, or forgiving sins. It’s all about raiding Satan’s house. Building the Kingdom of God, pushing back its borders.
The Sign-Giving King
That’s the THIRD clue about Jesus. He’s the STRONG king. FOURTH clue: He’s the SIGN-GIVING king. Jump down to v38. The Pharisees and teachers want Jesus to perform a sign. Apparently healing the demon-possessed man doesn’t count. They want something to convince them that’s clearly from God.
But Jesus won’t play their game. Mark and Luke’s Gospel both say they asked for a sign to TEST him, rather than to believe. The point is they’ve seen plenty already, and they STILL don’t believe.
V41 When Jonah went to the wicked Assyrian city of Ninevah, even THEY repented when Jonah warned them. Or v42. When Solomon spoke, the Queen of Sheba travelled ALL THE WAY TO JERUSALEM to hear him.
And now, Jesus has come, a king greater than Solomon, a prophet greater than Jonah. And the people REFUSE to notice the clues.
V39, Jesus calls them a WICKED and ADULTEROUS generation. Instead of faithfully serving God, and recognising Jesus, they want God to conform to THEIR preconceptions. When they say JUMP, they want God to say HOW HIGH?
For people like THAT, the only sign Jesus will perform will be the sign of Jonah (there at the end of v39). Just like Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so Jesus will be three days in the belly of the earth.
The ULTIMATE sign. Jesus’ death, and just as important, what FOLLOWED – his RESURRECTION. THAT’S the sign for the people to notice. The CLUE. That this king was something extraordinary. A Sabbath king, a servant king and a strong king. But ultimately, a king greater than Solomon, a king who could deal with DEATH. That’s a sign worth recognising, a clue worth noticing.
Putting the Clues Together
They’re the four clues. All laid out for us. Now it’s time to do some Sherlock Holmes detective work. To put the clues together. What do we DO with them all? How do we RESPOND?
A Heart Problem (33-37)
And the FIRST point is that it’s got to begin with the HEART. We need to make sure we don’t have a heart problem. Because getting our HEART RIGHT is the key to responding the Jesus the right way. Jump back up to v33. Jesus says the sort of FRUIT a tree produces depends on what the TREE is like. If the tree’s BAD, the FRUIT’S bad. Jesus says it’s the same with PEOPLE. v34.
34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
The key is to get your heart right. And THEN you can respond to Jesus with the good things he requires.
But how can we DO that? Because the problem is we’ve all got evil hearts. Our basic human nature is to do things OUR way rather than God’s. Our natural instinct is to build a world where WE’RE king, not Jesus.
What we need is Jesus to CHANGE our heart. To give us a NEW one. A new orientation. A new direction. A new purpose and power and desire.
And only Jesus can do it. Just like only Jesus can heal a shrivelled hand, or a demon-possessed man. It’s got to begin with him. The sign he’ll give is to die and rise three days later. The king with the power to defeat DEATH has the power to change your heart. To make you clean on the inside, clean that lasts.
Because if it DOESN’T begin with Jesus, it’s nothing more than a half-hearted spring clean. Which, in the end, is worse than if NOTHING had changed. It’s fiddling with a few good deeds around the edges when THE WHOLE LIFE is headed in the wrong direction. It’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. Jump down v43. Jesus is talking about a life that’s been tidied up. Some evil has been removed, but it’s not actually been CONQUERED. It’s someone who’s made some new year’s resolutions, joined an accountability group, set some goals. But there’s been no core HEART TRANSPLANT.
Or maybe Jesus is thinking about the WHOLE JEWISH SOCIETY of the day. So focussed on rule-keeping, and respectability. Everything LOOKS tidy and decent. (That was the clash over the Sabbath work rules).
But there’s no HEART CHANGE behind it. It was all EXTERNAL, and not INTERNAL. No repentance and true cleansing. And so, the change won’t last. And the end result will be worse. Greater wickedness and greater judgment.
That’s how NOT to respond to the king. What hints do we get about the RIGHT way to put the clues together?
Jump back up to v7. The Pharisees are more focussed on the external rule-keeping on the Sabbath, than they are in showing MERCY to PEOPLE. And Jesus says.
7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
Jesus is quoting God’s words to the Prophet Hosea. And God’s always been interested in genuine mercy for others that flows from a changed heart. Rule-keeping that ticks off to do lists isn’t the life God notices. Cold, calculating, self-serving religious-ness is meaningless. Worse than that – God HATES it. It’s IDOLATRY.
God desires MERCY, not sacrifice. Treating people with compassion and patience. Giving them your time and your attention. Loving them because GOD loves them. That’s the sort of behaviour that shows you’re serving the SERVANT king. The king who doesn’t bruise reeds or snuff out smouldering wicks.
Both Dave and Sallie introduced me to people at the Movie Night who’ve been squashed by life recently. Who are fragile and broken. They’d bent Dave and Sallie’s ear for AGES. And they felt LISTENED TO. It’s mercy like THAT God desires, rather than sacrifice.
Are we following our Servant King, like THAT?
And if God focuses on internals more than externals, that’s what WE need to do as well. What MOTIVATES you? Is it appearances? What others think of you? Are you driven by being SEEN to do the right thing? Or is it the ATTITUDE? Is it the desire to please GOD that motivates you?
Are you disappointed when people don’t NOTICE your contribution? Are you resentful and hurt? Or are you grateful to God for his mercy, and you RESPOND to that, knowing HE sees what you do, and how you feel, even if no one ELSE does?
Mercy, not sacrifice. Internals before externals. That’s God’s priority. Make it YOURS.
Or jump right up to the OTHER end of the chapter. Jesus’ mother and brothers drop in to visit. And when the message gets to Jesus, he says (v48).
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For WHOEVER DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER IN HEAVEN IS MY BROTHER AND SISTER AND MOTHER.”
Jesus is our KING. But, when we live with God’s priorities FIRST. When we do things HIS way, and not OURS, Jesus’ promise is that we’re his brothers and sisters. The king who is also a BROTHER! That’s the SERVANT king. The humble, gentle BROTHER king.
My favourite scene in the movie Fellowship of the Ring, involves the death of Boromir, played by Sean Bean. At first, he refuses to recognise the right of Aragorn to rule him as king. He’s tempted to turn away from the quest, and seek his own power. In the end, he turns back, he defends the ring and dies a hero. His final words to the rightful king, Aragorn, “I would have followed you, my brother, my captain, my king!”
That’s what the Christian life is. Repentance. Then following Jesus as our brother and captain and king. Our SERVANT king, who doesn’t break bruised reeds. Who doesn’t snuff out smouldering wicks. And who calls us to deal gently with people like that in the same way.
He’s our STRONG king, who’s pushing back the boundaries of Satan’s kingdom. Who’s bringing in God’s kingdom.
And church can be a place where God’s kingdom GROWS. Where other people can SEE what God’s kingdom looks like in the way we treat each other. In the way we treat THEM. And in the way we follow Jesus. And they can be ATTRACTED to that sort of lifestyle. And so God’s kingdom begins to grow IN THEM.
That’s what we’re called to. That’s how we respond to the king we meet in these verses. Is that your declaration? “I’ll follow you my brother, my captain, my king!