Matthew has taken a lot of trouble to describe and explain the opposition that Jesus faced during his earthly ministry. We have seen that this opposition came both in the form of his own peopleís indifference to him, and the religious leaders animosity towards him.
Here, in chapter 12, Matthew groups together five examples of the opposition that Jesus faced. The overall feeling is one of a gradual increase in opposition and anger towards Jesus.
In this first part of the chapter, Matthew focuses on the conflict over the law and the Sabbath, shown through two incidents: the disciples picking heads of wheat on the Sabbath, and Jesus healing a manís withered hand on the Sabbath.
Sabbath observance was extremely important to the Jews. It was unique to them as a nation, and an important commemoration of the creation. The rules around Sabbath observance had become incredibly complex and restrictive to the point that the original reason for the Sabbath was lost. The Sabbath was intended to provide rest. Nobody could rest when they were constantly worrying about keeping a huge list of detailed rules.
Jesus came to bring rest, not more burdens. His promise is that his yolk is easy and the burden is light. He also came to bring new life, to bring healing, and to bring forgiveness. The Sabbath was created to be a good thing for Godís people, not a burden. Now Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, has come to restore Godís intentions.
When we go out to share the message of the gospel, we should take care that we are sharing a Jesus-focused message of forgiveness, freedom from burdens and new life, and not a Pharisee-focused version of religious rules and observances. There will be opposition to such a message, just as Jesus faced opposition, but to those who receive it, the gospel of Christ will be life itself.