Matthew 12:1-21: A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

Devotionals > New Testament > Matthew > Matthew 12:1-21: A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

Matthew 12:1-21: A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

February 4, 2021


Exodus 10-12, Psalm 27, Matthew 12:1-21, Acts 17:1-15

Matthew 12:1-21:

Jesus and his disciples are going for a Sunday afternoon stroll. It’s the Sabbath, literally, and the disciples are hungry. They are walking through grain fields, and so the disciples start to pick the heads of the grain and start to chew it—a simple way to get some sustenance, cause no damage, and generally make the most of what is around you. However, the “Pharisees”—those Pharisees—they say that by doing this, the disciples are breaking God’s law: Exodus 20:10 said you should do no work on the Sabbath. And so they interpreted this innocent activity of the disciples as doing “work.” How picky, how precious in a negative sense, now small minded and straining at a gnat to swallow a camel! 

Astonishingly, Jesus actually takes the time to engage with them and attempt to reason with them from Scripture. He provides two counter examples, godly people who ate on the Sabbath and did “work,” but did not break the Sabbath. David (1 Samuel 21), and the priests performing their duties on the Sabbath, “work” in some sense therefore (Numbers 28:9-10). But now there is someone greater than the temple here, namely Jesus himself (see verses 41, 42). In conclusion of this part, Jesus quotes from Hosea 6:6, regarding God desiring mercy not sacrifice. This has confused many people for surely, in some sense, God does require sacrifice—the whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament gives witness to that, and even the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. But the point that Jesus, and Hosea, is making is that such sacrificial system and provision can get twisted into a way of avoiding God rather than loving God. The “mercy” here translates the covenant love “hesed” word, indicating the special relationship of love that God has with his people. In other words, Jesus is saying something like: if you had just understood that what God really wants is to have a relationship with you, well then you wouldn’t be so picky about these rules and misinterpret them in ways that God never intended! 

The drama regarding the Sabbath continues when Jesus enters a synagogue (12:9). There is a man with a withered hand there. Rather than having compassion on that man, they use his disability to try to trap Jesus. To answer their accusations, Jesus brings out the principle of Exodus 23:4,5, that if there is a sheep or donkey in a ditch, then you can rescue it. In other words, in extreme circumstances, then you can do what needs to be done. And Jesus’ point, of course, is that this person is far more valuable than an animal. So Jesus heals him on a Sabbath, and having been beaten in theological debate—which they initiated, and are publicly made to look foolish, again a test that they set up—the Pharisees now decide that enough is enough and Jesus must be gotten rid of permanently (12:14). 

It is worth noting here that the greatest opposition that faithful preachers of the gospel, godly men and women and evangelists, have had down through the ages has not so much been from the irreligious in a secular sense but from the falsely religious. That was the experience of the Reformers, the Evangelical leaders. Pharisees hate the gospel; it exposes their hypocrisy; if they could, they would kill preachers of the gospel. They at least hate those who hold on to the pure mercy of God. Isn’t it ironic that having picked out Jesus and the disciples, wrongly, for breaking minor commands in the law, they now go out and determine to break one of the greatest: “Thou shalt not kill.” 

Jesus, verse 15, fully knows what is going on, so he withdraws; his time has not yet come to be crucified. Many follow him. He heals them all, but he does not do it in such a way as to become a “celebrity” (12:16). This fulfills what Isaiah predicted about his character: “He will not quarrel or cry aloud”; he won’t go looking for conflict just to make a name for himself by controversy, “nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.” He won’t go looking to self-promote at every opportunity; “a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not quench”; he will heal the sick, and the man with the withered hand. 

How beautiful is Jesus. How glorious it is just to watch him go about his business. How different is this true God from all the religions of the Pharisees and their ilk throughout this world. And how grateful we are to be that Jesus is our Lord. 


Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.


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