First Mennonite Church
June 4, 2023
Matthew 12:1-21, 38-42
Jesus: Above Everything, yet Humble and Gentle
The people of ancient Israel and the Jewish during Jesus’ time had great respect and admiration for the priests, kings David and Salomon, and the prophets. The Sabbath Day was a holy day for the Jews and the temple in Jerusalem was a sacred space and was God’s throne. In the case of the priests, the Jews considered them as the people whom God had chosen to mediate between him and his people. The priests were representatives of God who accessed and dispensed God’s grace to these people. David was the greatest king Israel ever had of whom God said David was a man after God’s own heart. These persons, places, and holy spaces in time were held dearly in the hearts of the Jews of Jesus’ times. Anyone violating the temple or the Sabbath was subject to God’s judgment. And anyone who would claim superiority over the priest or the great King David would have to be out of his mind or is a charlatan.
In the verses we did not read, Jesus refutes the accusation made against him of casting out demons through the devil’s power. Thus, in verses 38-42, the Jews ask Jesus for a sign, but he tells them he will give them the sign of the prophet Jonah. However, he then tells them, he is greater than Jonah, and that the message of the kingdom of God he proclaims is even more laden with greater consequences if rejected. Therefore, on the day of resurrection, the Ninevites will rise and condemn them because they repented at the preaching of Jonah.
But sandwiched between Jesus’ claim of superiority over the temple, the Sabbath, Solomon, and his claim of superiority over the prophets and their message, is his withdrawal to ease the rising tension. The Pharisees had openly declared their intent to destroy Jesus. It is within this period of withdrawal that Matthew takes advantage to present Jesus as the true messenger of God who humbly and gently cares for the weakest among his own. Despite being superior and greater than the most sacred and venerated people, places, and spaces, Jesus proves to be “gentle and humble in heart” to anyone who is seeking “rest for their souls,” as he claimed to be in chapter 11, verse 29.
Jesus is the fulfillment of whom the prophet announced who will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. 12:20 He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory.
The Humble Messiah will not seek publicity but will serve quietly. He even asked those whom he had healed to refrain from telling others. This gentle King, although having all power and authority, does not discard the smoldering wick nor cut it off. He does not reject the bruised reed, good only for trash or to lit a fire, rather he deals with it gently so that it does not break. This man who is above all, does not reject those that are already rejected, but seeks them; has fellowship with them, and calls them his friends.
My brothers and sisters, this is the Jesus we profess and serve. He is greater than the Temple.
He is greater than the kings and priests of old.
Jesus is greater than the great prophets of God.
He even is the lord of the Sabbath because he is the true resting place for our souls.
Let us bow before the One who is Lord of all, yet he is compassionate to us. He knows there are times when instead of being strong, we are weak as a bruised reed. He knows that there are times when instead of being a light to the world, we are like a smoldering candle.
There is a song by the great poet, singer, and songwriter Leonard Cohen, “Anthem.” The chorus says:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Jesus reaches out to us not even in our imperfections, but because of them. He knows how to handle our fragile state. His tender hands of compassion touch us, bringing healing, new life, and new direction. As Psalm 103 reminded us this morning:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
9 He will not always contend with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our guilty deeds.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who [c]fear Him.
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our wrongdoings from us.
13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who [d]fear Him.
14 For He Himself knows [e]our form;
He is mindful that we are nothing but dust.
When we look at Jesus, we see God. He is greater than anyone in holiness, obedience, love, humility, and glory. Let us bow before him in worship and thanksgiving. Let us give to him ourselves, even if we are like a cracked bell. It is through these cracks that his light of love and healing reaches our hearts. It is in our brokenness, needs, and flaws that we experience the tender mercies of our God. So let us come before him, not because everything in us is fine and not because we are worthy. We can come before him because of his immense mercy and patience.
Let us pray.
 L. Cohen Anthem, lyrics google.com