Matthew 12:1-8 – Why Do We Make Church So Hard? It’s Really Simple!

Posted: December 15, 2015 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 12:1-8
The Disciples Pick Wheat on the Sabbath

The color of the carpet. The style of music. Drinking beverages in the sanctuary. What you wear to church. Whether you have an order of worship published in the bulletin. Responsive readings. Real wine vs. grape juice at communion. Ornate wooden pews with cushions vs. removable chairs. Formal church building designed for that specific purpose vs. meeting in a storefront or a school. Sunday school vs. in-home small groups. The traditions of church vs. the spirit of church. The letter of the law vs. the spirit of it. This is the issue that Jesus brings up in his conversation with the Pharisees. There are certain things that have come to be accepted traditions of church that have no literal basis in Scripture but we can cause great division and even splits in church when we cling to them as if they were scripturally-based. Churches have split over the color of carpet. Churches treat each other with derision if I am traditional hymns with organs, and strings and you are modern music with drums and guitars. Roman Catholic symbolism and traditions and sainthoods and veneration vs. the simplicity of Protestantism. Man the things we focus on in church sometimes baffles the mind. Jesus says as much the same thing in Matthew 12:1-8:

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
We see movies or television shows all the time where there are choices between the actual letter of the law and doing the right thing. There are those moments when you have to choose the spirit of the law over the letter of it and the thing that makes you cry is that tough choice. Here, we see Jesus pointing to us that the Law should never come between us and having a real relationship with God. We should focus our worship on the right things.

When Jesus repeats Hosea 6:6 when He says I desire mercy, not sacrifice what He means that He desires acknowledgement of God not making offering up sacrifices as the point of what we do when the Israelites made sacrifices. The Jews had made the Law into what it was not intended to be. They had created rules and regulations as layers of fences around the Law so that they would not violate the don’ts of the Law. These rules and regulations had become so voluminous that it took scribes and scholars full-time work to interpret what could and could not be done on the Sabbath and what could and could not be done regarding all other aspects of the Law. Jesus is saying that that you are now worshiping the Law itself and not God. God takes no pleasure in becoming so wrapped up in the trappings of the Law that we forget why He provided the Law in the first place. God takes no pleasure when we worship the church instead of Him. What God desires is that we worship Him. What God desires is that we concentrate of Him. What God desires is for us to see that we are incapable of carrying the burden of the Law and that we must have a Savior. God desires us to have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ rather than trying to avoid being bad. We should not desire to be saved so that we can avoid hell but rather we should desire to be saved so that we can have a close personal relationship with God through the Law pointing us toward Jesus Christ’s redeeming grace. God desires the humility given us by the Law and the fact that it points out to us that we cannot do this life thing alone. We need help. We need a Savior.

When we make church about the color of carpet, when we make church about style of music, when we make church about whether someone else was chosen to work in leadership while I was not, when we make church about whether you go dancing on occasion or not, when we make church about whether you have an occasional glass of wine or not, when we make church about anything other than the humble worship of God and humbling serving Him, we have become Pharisees. Jesus desired the Jews to understand the purpose of the Law and where it leads us rather than focusing on the letter of the Law. He refers to Hosea. Hosea was a prophet who railed against the Israelites for having forgotten the purpose of the law. The sacrifices had become meaningless. They were not offering up their best to God in their sacrifices. It had just become a functionary thing rather than a worship thing. In Hosea, the prophet points the Israelites back to the real purpose of the sacrifices which was to give God our best. A comparison in our day would be the level of generosity we show in our contributions to the church. Some of us see it as a burden to give to the church rather than a joy. We give out of compulsion rather than joy. So when I view it as a requirement rather than worship, I give God my leftover $20 bill each week, rather than tithing. We focus on the wrong things. We think giving to the church is an encroachment on what I can do with MY money. We should be seeing our giving as an opportunity to worship God in one of the ways He offers us the opportunity to do so. We should see our giving as a way to participate in God’s ministry rather than Oh I must do this so that I can avoid condemnation for not giving. Hosea called his people back to giving God our best. Hosea called His people to put God first. Hosea called his people to quit going through the motions of worship and actually worship. Jesus calls for us here to not to focus on avoiding condemnation but rather to have a real relationship with God. Jesus calls us to worship God and not the trappings of church. Jesus calls us to worship Him as the Creator and Savior rather than worship churchy stuff. Jesus calls us back to worshiping God first and all other things shall follow out of that overflow of love for God. When we focus on God rather than the color of the carpet, all things are to be in the proper order. When we focus on God rather than a list of do’s and don’t’s then we begin to obey Him out of the overflow of our love for Him rather than carrying a burdensome list. When we focus on God rather than our position at church, we grow to serve in humility. We serve because we are honoring God by doing so regardless of whether we are the leaders of the youth group or whether we come quietly after church to clean up the sanctuary. When we worship God first, we do not care who is watching us; we simply serve. When we worship God first we serve our fellow man regardless of whether our name gets mentioned from the stage or not. When we put other things first, we begin to judge. We begin to make church about my position vs. your position. When we put other things first, we begin to make church about how long I have been a member of a church vs. how long you have been a member of the church. When we put other things first, we are all about how much I do for the church vs. how much you do for the church. How much we have yet to learn in all these years. Hosea called us out. Jesus called us out. Martin Luther called the Catholic Church out. Today, in the 21st century, the modern wave of simple churches are a calling out those very churches that were born out of Martin Luther’s revolution against the Catholic church in the 16th century. Return to the heart of worship. Nothing has changed. Leave church in human hands and we begin to make it about the wrong things. We make it about us rather than about worshiping God. Help to follow Jesus’s cue and return to what is important. The law was intended to point us to Christ and our need to have a Savior. It was to point us to worship God for the grace He shows us. Help us to remember that we are put on this earth to worship God not ourselves. When we make church about anything other than giving God glory then we have made it into the wrong thing.
Lord, bring us back to the heart of the church. It is not about bright lights and loud music vs. traditional hymns. It is not about the color of the carpet. It is about worshiping you. Church is to demonstrate to us how we should be living our lives – giving you glory in everything with a humble heart ready to do so! That is our prayer today. Bring us back to the heart of worship! Amen.

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