Matthew writes, “He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, ‘Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” (Matthew 12:9-14)
As Jesus granted people physical healing and spiritual cleansing, his enemies sought grounds to bring him to court. His ministry was getting in their way, and they were hell-bent to end it. However, the threat of lawsuits, poverty, imprisonment, and death had no effect upon this public minister. Jesus consistently obeyed his Father and flenched not in the midst of angry neighbors.
Therefore, from the model of Jesus and his disciples we can see how the Christian pastor or lay-evangelist ought to minister in the contemporary public square. Hatred and opposition are before us. Even from the religious community, antagonism is raining down on those who prefer and preach orthodox interpretations of Scripture and its associated doctrines. And it will only get worse as lawsuits, poverty, imprisonment, and death are around the corner. The question for us is: Will we worship the Father honorably, boldly minister, and suffer after the pattern of Jesus Christ?
However, from this passage of Scripture there is a second lesson to be learned. The Pharisees are concerned that Jesus is breaking their man-made, traditional, and preferred Sabbath Laws by healing on the seventh day. Jesus is not worshiping in a manner in which they approve, and they are worried that he might lead others away from their time-honored but legalistic practices. Therefore, they question Jesus as to his Sabbath-Day intent. Will he, or will he not, heal the man with the withered hand on Saturday? Well, in response to their question, Jesus comments on their daily practice. Jesus knows that every diligent man will rescue his valuable lamb who has fallen in a pit. This ministry of mercy would happen on any day of the week — including the Sabbath. Therefore, Jesus encourages them to value men and women at least as much as they value their livestock. Jesus knows and teaches that it would be unthinkable to forgo loving a lost and suffering man on the Lord’s day of worship. This is so, even if it violates the religious traditions of the Pharisees.
So, the follow-up question is: Will we value our lost and suffering brothers and sisters at least as much as we would value our lost and dying assets? And will we especially do so on the day of the Lord’s worship? Therefore readers, which of our family and friends have fallen and can’t get up? Who in our church family has been absent far too long? Who is swimming in the sea of sin and they are going down for the final time? Who has lost hope? Who is wallowing in shame? When we sing and worship on Sunday, who is alone and crying? And how much longer will we focus only on saving our time-honored and legalistic worship practices while remaining unthinkably aloof over our neighbors with withered souls?
Friends, the call is to minister and prioritize as did Jesus Christ. He was concerned with worshiping the Father in Spirit and in truth. He was diligent to worship God only in the way prescribed in Scripture. He was cautious of keeping God’s Ceremonial Law, and would have been a strong proponent of the Regulative Principle of Worship. He was more concerned with what God desired than what he and his neighbors preferred. And because Jesus thought like the Father, he was more interested in ministering to men than keeping the prescribed, extra-biblical, and legalistic peccadilloes of his day.
Therefore, go ahead and forget seeking to please the world in our worship. As long as God approves, worry not about disapproving rhetoric and actions.
And, go ahead and forget seeking to please the extra-biblical traditionalists in our worship. Leave them be, and do not let our consciences be troubled because we are transgressing something preferred by the Roman Catholics, or the Scots, of the Westminster Divines, or even Mr. Calvin.
Be like Jesus. Worship like Jesus. He preceded all the groups above and worshiped quite well. Go ahead, please the Heavenly Father by worshiping according to his commands, and honor Him by seeking to save and shepherd the hurting sheep and withering souls who are part of your local community.