MATTHEW 12:3c-4
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Introduction: Jesus is emphasizing the rest He wants to give His people. This gift is all-inclusive. First, Jesus offers rest from worry about our everlasting condition (11:28). Salvation is based on faith in His finished work at Calvary. If salvation hinges on works, we can never know if we’ve done enough to merit God’s favor.
Second, Jesus offers rest from life’s burdens and cares (11:29). Third, Jesus offers rest from exhausted spirits and bodies. He told us to set aside a weekly day of rest. This was meant to be a blessing, but Israel’s religious leaders had made it a burden. Their wrong thinking is being countermanded by Jesus in our text.

Matt. 12:3c-4 (Holman) “Haven’t you read what David did when he and
those who were with him were hungry–how he entered the house of
God, and they ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for him or for
those with him to eat, but only for the priests?”

To contradict the error of the religious leaders, Jesus told a story from the life of one of Israel’s chief heroes, David, their beloved poet, warrior, and king.

Every Sabbath, in the Tabernacle, 12 fresh loaves of bread replaced 12 stale loaves. This bread symbolized God’s presence in Israel as their Provider, pictured the twelve tribes as thanking Him for their food, acknowledged all sustenance came from Him, and portrayed their constant fellowship with God by dining with Him. This holy bread was forbidden to be eaten by anyone, except the priests.
Fleeing Saul one day, David was desperate to save his own life, and the life of his starving men. David begged food from High Priest Ahimelech and received permission to eat this sacred bread reserved solely for the priests (I Sam. 21:1-6).
Scripture did not condemn David or Ahimelech for breaking ceremonial law. Note, this was not a breech of moral law. The issue was ceremonial law.
Jesus’ message came through loud and clear. If God is okay with His ceremonial law being set aside in an emergency, people should be okay with it.
Rites are not violated if “there is no infringement of godliness” (Calvin). Ceremonial law is not trampled if nothing is taken away from reverence due God.
David and his men’s necessity excused them. They had a real need, hunger, not a frivolous desire to provoke. Hunger is a natural desire. It doesn’t get better on its own. Sacred bread was acceptable to use, for it was the only food available.
Similarly, Jesus and His disciples were within their rights to pick grain and eat on the Sabbath because they were hungry. Necessity compelled them to eat.
Genuine need should always be allowed to supercede religious technicality. The religious leaders would not concede this point, even though they could not find even one Bible verse to enforce their nitpicking laws. The Pharisees deemed rules about ritual and ceremony more important than requirements of compassion.
The same tragic assessment is often repeated today. Many believers think forms of public worship are more important than feeding the hungry. They never miss church, yet always miss opportunities to help the needy. Many who go to church often, remember the poor never. Ceremonial law overrides compassion.
Brave Ahimelech was ahead of many believers today. He refused to let rules about ritual and ceremony cloud out compassion for essentials of human life.
Dear fellow believers, beware the trap of ceremonial obsession. A hyper-emphasis on trappings of religion is often a besetting sin of the religious. It is possible to let ceremonial laws become the sum total of one’s spiritual experience.
Some who offer public prayers carefully are careless about profanity. Too many who are in church every Sunday would never be accused of being a Christian by those who see them at school or work Monday through Saturday.
Pollster George Barna’s research into customs and mores of USA Christians is alarming. In many cases, the only behavior separating believers from non-believers is “religious church-related” activity.
In the USA, Christians are more likely than non-Christians to attend public worship, contribute to churches, read the Bible, and pray. But the two groups are regrettably similar in cheating on tests and taxes, having extramarital affairs, experiencing divorces, lying at work, taking sick days when not sick, etc.
Our mistake today is similar to the Pharisees’ error in Jesus’ day. We easily stumble into overly emphasizing the relative importance of ceremonial laws.
Jesus never indicated ceremonial laws were unimportant. Instead, He used David’s story to illustrate the fact rites and rituals are not all in all. Ceremony is neither the answer to all our problems nor the ultimate expression of spirituality.
Ceremonies which bring us to God are not God, and should not be allowed to replace Him in our hearts and thoughts. Performing rituals pedantically or by rote profits nothing. The purpose of performing ceremony is to experience God, not to perform ceremony. Find Him in the hymn, seek meaning in the method.
Don’t try to turn trappings of public worship into something they’re not. All outward ceremonies are meant to be an outward, public manifestation of a more important inward, private spiritual truth that gives them their life. Rituals have significance only as we find the spiritual impetus giving them their meaning.
Meaning can be expressed without methods; methods cannot be spiritually effective unless performed with meaning. When in church we perform rituals and sing songs about God without sensing our relationship with God, we ignore the God we claim to be loving, and mock the rite and song we claim to be meaningful.
David broke the letter of the law, but not its spirit. What he did caused no diminishing of his love for God. Pharisees, on the other hand, kept the letter of the law, but not the spirit. For instance, they tithed (MT 23:23), but not to express wholehearted surrender to God. They obeyed laws, but not to prove they loved God. They regularly attended public worship to be seen not by God, but by men.
In today’s service, we have been effectively led through the mechanics of public worship. Dr. Joe, choir, and orchestra always lead us masterfully here, but at the same time Dr. Joe often reminds us worship is not limited to this place, but should characterize all of our lives. When Jesus commanded, “You shall love the Lord your God” (MT 19:37), He was talking not only of church attendance, but of every phase of life. Holiness matters most all the time every day in every act.
Do some in this service know their Bible will not be used again till next Sunday? Are these the last hymns we will sing or hum this week? Having sung of our love for Jesus, will we express it again before the sun sets? Our fear is, this worship experience will be the sum total of our worship for this whole week.
Anathema on this possibility. Public worship on Sunday is to be an outward display of private, inward worship that continues unabated all week. We lift our voices today to demonstrate we are lifting our hearts to Jesus every day.
Our praise and thanks in this room must picture lives of consecration and holiness presented daily in the world as an act of devotion unto God. If we are not every day enjoying God and obeying moral law, our presence here is to no avail.
Barna’s research indicates prechristians often understand this truth better than believers do. “It used to be that unchurched people complained that churches spent too much time and effort raising money from congregants. That is no longer the issue today. The new point of irritation is the alleged hypocrisy of the congregants. In practical terms, a church would be better off to ensure that its people live full Christian lives. Its members should be joyful and consistent in their personal lives” (Grow Your Church From the Outside, Regal, pp. 106-107).
I refuse to believe a charade of worship is the intent of almost all of us here today. I’m convinced most of us want to please God in every facet of our lives.
Thus, I challenge us to be as conscientious about what we do away from this building as we are about what we do in it. Do think in terms of ceremonial law. I would not discourage us from doing this. Rather, I ask us to ratchet our thinking up a notch or two above ceremonial law, and on this higher plane put moral law.
Let me remind us of the threefold mantra which guides our lives at Second. Worship. Serve. Go. In these we find where ritual and ceremony should lead us.
Worship. Love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Serve. Love our neighbor; remember the poor. Go. Find inquirers. Ceremonies in here must lead us to prioritize three moral essentials. Worship, Serve, Go, out there.