Our reading today begins with Christ teaching about the Sabbath. As we saw yesterday, the physical Sabbath rest points us to the spiritual rest we find in Christ, which He just taught about in 11:25-30. What happens next is an object lesson to reinforce that idea. The Pharisees condemn the disciples for breaking the physical rules of the Sabbath (12:2). They are demanding adherence to the letter of the Law (see Ex 20:9-11). So Christ (like He did with Satan) uses Scripture to refute misunderstandings of Scripture. He points them to David who ate the holy bread while on the run from Saul (vv. 3-4). Why was that allowed? Because David was anointed by God as the true king. And why? Because Saul did not understand the Law (see 1 Sam 15:22-23). So God chose a man “after His own heart” (1 Sam 13:14) who was truly obedient. Faith, not works. Heart obedience, not mere outward obedience.
Jesus then points out how certain laws that apply to the people do not apply to the priests who serve God in the Temple (12:5). And Jesus is greater than the Temple (v. 6). And all of His disciples are His priests (see 1 Pet 2:9). He then quotes Hosea 6:6, which is very similar to what Samuel prophesied when Saul was rejected for his disobedience. In other words, the Pharisees are as disobedient as Saul was. Jesus ends by claiming not only that He is Lord of the Sabbath, but that He is the Son of Man, a claim to deity (v. 8).
Jesus then expands upon this by healing a man in a synagogue on the Sabbath (vv. 9-13). Jesus points to the hypocrisy of the people by pointing out their glaring inconsistency in their application of the Sabbath law. Their actions reveal that they believe it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (v. 12). And note, this is the first time we see that the Pharisees begin planning to destroy Jesus. It wasn’t after His claim to deity. It wasn’t after He claimed to forgive sins. It wasn’t even when He broke the Sabbath law. It was when Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and failure to understand the Law. Blasphemy would be the official charge against Jesus at His “trial”, but the real reason they wanted Him gone was He exposed their failure and unbelief.
So knowing the opposition is growing, Jesus withdraws (v. 15) and tells His followers to keep His whereabouts a secret (v. 16). There was work yet to be done before He died. And this continuing work of teaching and healing fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 42:1-3 (and note that chapter ends speaking of Israel’s failure to believe).
Matthew then records the exorcism of the blind and mute man (vv. 22-32). The Pharisees say it is Satan’s power, not God’s power, that performed the work (v. 24). It is so human! They were exposed by Jesus as liars and hypocrites (vv. 1-14), so the Pharisees counter not by proving their own righteousness, but by attacking Christ’s. So Jesus explains that the powers of darkness do not work against each other (vv. 25-26). And, besides, if Jesus performs exorcism in the power of Satan, what about the Pharisees who perform exorcisms (v. 27). Jesus then tells them, if they are wrong, and He is working in the power of the Holy Spirit, then He is Who He says He is (v. 28). And then Jesus tells them: He is here to bind Satan and take what’s his (v. 29)!1 The issue isn’t Who Christ is. The issue is: who is with Him (v. 30)?
Jesus then condemns blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And while there is much speculation about what this blasphemy is, it is clear in context that this blasphemy is faithlessly calling the work of the Spirit, the works of the powers of darkness. Christ then refers back to His teaching about false prophets, those wolves in sheep’s clothing, by taking about the tree and it’s fruit (vv. 33 – see 7:15-19). Christ is calling for the people to judge the Pharisees according to their fruit. He is condemning the Pharisees for the heart behind their actions and their words (vv. 34-37).
In verse 38, the religious leaders ask for a sign. They had already seen multiple signs. In fact, they just saw an exorcism and accused Jesus of working in the power of Satan. They were seeking a reason to accuse Jesus. But Jesus knows their hearts (as He just said in verses 34-35), and He promises them no sign but the sign of the prophet Jonah (vv. 39-40), pointing to His resurrection from the dead. And furthermore, Jesus condemns these leaders for their unbelief, and contrasts them with Gentiles who have believed and will believe God’s words, while they do not believe when the living Word – God Himself – is standing right in front of them (vv. 41-42). Jesus then segues back into the discussion about the powers of darkness by telling the scribes and Pharisees that it is they that are under the influence of those powers (vv. 43-45 – note the “this generation” refers to those who do not believe, as in vv. 41-42).
Chapter 13 records a series of parables that Christ tells. Matthew is showing that Jesus fulfills what was predicted in Psalm 78:2 (Matt 13:34-35). We have already considered this Psalm (go back four days). It tells the history of Israel, but ends with the rejection of the physical people. This is what we concluded from Psalm 78:
This is not just recording the history of a nation, this is the history of redemption. God rejected Israel and chose Judah – He rejected any ideas of a physical right to be included in the covenant, because inclusion was always spiritual, and always by faith in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Greater Son of David, the True and Living Temple: Jesus Christ (see Gal 3:7-29). No one has ever been part of God’s redemption apart from faith!
The parables that Jesus tells in this chapter all center on that theme. Jesus even explains that the parables will only be understood by faith, and that Israel lacks that faith (13:10-17). In verses 14-15, He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 which speak of Israel’s rejection of God’s truth. They do not have ears to hear, or eyes to see.
So the Parable of the Sower is about faith. Those who hear and do not understand (v. 19) are those from the Isaiah prophecy. They are those whose hearts have rejected the truth (12:34-35) because of the deceit of Satan (12:43-45). This is the Pharisees and unbelieving Israel. Real faith endures the trials and temptations of this world (vv. 20-22 – see 6:19-34, 8:18-22, 10:16-42). True faith brings forth good fruit (v. 23 – see 7:15-20, 12:33-37).
The Parable of the Weeds is about this same faith. The good trees produce good fruit (wheat). Those deceived by Satan will produce evil fruit (weeds). Satan will deceive many (v. 25, 39), and they will be among the true believers (v. 26 – see 7:15, 12:33-34). But everyone will be judged for their fruit (works) because it reveals the tree/heart (wheat or weeds) (vv. 39b-43 – see 7:19-23, 12:39-37, 41-42).
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven are about faith. The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl is about salvation through faith alone. The Parable of the net is about the salvation of the faithful (good trees/wheat) and the judgment of the faithless (evil trees/weeds). In verses 51-52, Jesus is talking about those who understand the Old Testament Law (what is old) and see it’s purpose in leading God’s people to Jesus by faith (what is new). This is not “new” as in a new idea, but it speaks of the New versus the Old Covenant. The New is the fulfillment of the Old and built upon the Old. We need to understand both.
The chapter ends with Jesus’ rejection in His hometown. These people knew Jesus and His family in earthly terms. They cannot accept the truth. They cannot grasp (do not have ears to hear – see vv. 14-15, 19) the “new treasure” (vv. 51-52). These are typical of those who do not understand the parables (those who lack faith).
After hearing about the death of His cousin, John the Baptist (14:1-12), Jesus seeks solitude (v. 13a), but His fame is too great for Him to find it (v. 13b). The compassion that Jesus has on the crowd (v. 14) is the compassion we saw in 9:36. There we saw that the miracles of Jesus pointed to the words of Jesus, and His compassion for the people was because of their spiritual need. Here, in the feeding of the 5,000, the physical miracle points to the spiritual reality. The multiplication of bread (like the growth of the mustard tree or the leavened dough – 13:31-33) is about the multiplication of saving faith through the laborers He sends, equipped with nothing but faith (v. 16 – see 9:37-38, 10:7-10). I don’t think it is an accident that there are 12 baskets of leftovers; one for each Apostle to recognize the sufficiency of the faith God supplies.
After all the parables and this great miracle, the Apostles finally seem to be learning. The Apostles’ physical struggle against the wind and the waves (v. 24) is set in contrast to Jesus’s spiritual offensive (v. 23). When He comes to them on the water, Peter is ready to exercise the faith Christ called Him to. However, the wind and the waves (the earthly) caught Peter’s attention (see Matt 6:19-33) and he wavers. But Jesus saves Him (v. 31), calms the earthly troubles (v. 32), and the Apostles worship (v. 33). The last time He calmed the sea, they wondered what sort of man He was (8:27). Faith has opened their eyes to Who He is, the Son of God.
The chapter ends back in Gentile lands, where those who touched even the fringe of His garment were made well. This is meant to remind us of the woman with the issue of blood (9:20-22). Indeed, faith is spreading like a mustard tree’s branches, leaven in a lump of dough, or a few loaves turning into more than thousands could eat. And it is the Gentiles who are receiving this faith, because of Israel’s rejection (see 10:17-18, 11:21-24, 12:41-42).
1 The binding/judgment/defeat of Satan is used in the Bible to speak of Christ’s finished work on the cross (John 12:31, 16:11, Rev 20:2).