Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 12, as we continue our study of this great gospel of Matthew. As we completed our study of Matthew chapter 11, we noted that the focus of that whole passage was on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the theme of that entire chapter was the majesty of Jesus Christ. And then as we studies Matthew chapter 12 and the first 14 verses, we noted that there were connections, there were links, between chapter 11 and chapter 12. First of all, in verse one of Matthew chapter 12, we saw the phrase, “at this time,” indicating that the events of Matthew 12 and the events of Matthew 11 were close in proximity. And we also saw a theme of a content unity. We noted that at the end of Matthew chapter 11, the Lord Jesus had invited those to come to Him who were weary and heavy laden because His yoke was light; indicating, that the fellowship with God to which He was calling people was not burdensome, like the man-made legalism of the Pharisees. And here in the first 14 verses of Matthew, chapter 12, we see an illustration of that principle as He sets aside the man-made ritual teaching of the Pharisees, and He expounds the true meaning of the Lord's day. And so the Lord Jesus Christ shows His divine authority in Matthew, chapter 12, verses 1 through 14 as He said that it is His day, and calls this day “His day. “He calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. Let us look, then, at Matthew chapter 12, beginning in verse 14.
“But the Pharisees went out, and counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed Him and He healed them all, and warned them not to make Him known, in order that what was spoken through Isaiah, the prophet, might be fulfilled, saying: 'Behold, My servant whom I have chosen. My beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased. I will put My spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope.'”
Thus ends this reading of God's holy and inspired word. May He add His blessing to it. Let's look to Him again in prayer.
Our Father, we acknowledge this to be Your word. It is inspired. it is God-breathed. It comes to us from the pen of Matthew, but it is just as surely your word, O Lord, as his. We acknowledge it to be Your infallible word, unfailingly true in all it teaches and affirms. It is Your inerrant word, O Lord, without error, without defect and so we bow before its authority. We ask, O Lord, that You would by the Spirit help us to understand the truth of this word, tat you would teach it to us; that You would work it into our hearts, that we would accept it, submit to it, be encouraged by it, strengthened by it, and even comforted by it, and we ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
In this passage Jesus' character comes through clearly. Matthew is relating to us something of Jesus' heart here. He really began that in Matthew chapter 12, verse one, when He told you the story of the meeting between the Pharisees and the Lord Jesus. He's showing you what Jesus is like. He's revealing Jesus' character to you and He's providing, for contrast, the religious leaders of Jesus' day. Now remember, the Pharisees have had a bad name for about 2000 years amongst Christians, but these were very well-respected religious leaders. These were lay people, part of a movement designed to revitalize religion in Israel. They were highly exalted in the eyes of the people, and yet Matthew contrasts their hearts and their desire to destroy the Lord Jesus Christ to the Lord Jesus' compassion for the sick, for the downcast, for the marginal, and so we see Christ's character in stark contrast to the Pharisees. Matthew Henry says, “As in the midst of Christ's greatest humiliations, there were proofs of His dignity. So in the midst of His greatest honors, He gave proofs of His humility.” And so even as He does these works – these miracles – and speaks words of grace, He had opportunity here in this passage to show His humility.
And that's precisely what Matthew points us to.
In calling attention to Jesus' character, Matthew is not simply wanting us to stand back and admire Him; Matthew wants us to believe Him. Matthew is calling us to commitment to Christ. He is calling us to trust in Him, to love Him, to believe Him, to worship Him, to follow Him.
I. Jesus' actions reveal His character.
I'd like to point you to two things that Matthew teaches us in this passage; but first you'll see in verses 14 through 16, there Matthew shows us Jesus' character. He reveals Jesus' heart to us in His action. Jesus' character, His heart, is revealed to us in His actions, in His ministry.
We see a picture there, first of all, of the Pharisees' unwavering opposition to Jesus Christ and, on the other hand, Jesus' unwavering ministry. The Pharisees are opposed to Jesus' ministry. They're willing to do anything they can to thwart it, but Jesus continues to minister. He continues to show mercy. He continues to do the work that the Lord has given Him. Look at these words: “The Pharisees went out and conspired against Him as to how they might destroy Him, but Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, and warned them not to tell who He was.”
In verse 14, Matthew tells us very candidly that the Pharisees' designs with regard to the Lord Jesus was not simply to marginalize His ministry, but to kill Him. They desired to kill Him. However, the Roman government and the crowds' support of Jesus provided an obstacle. They couldn't carry out their designs, and so they had to conspire; they had to counsel together. But we note that from this time on, they began to conspire for His downfall. You see, the message that Jesus was preaching and the claims that He was making, both were a rebuke to the Pharisees. Those claims, that message, stood in direct opposition to the Pharisees' pride and to their hypocrisy, and to their worldliness. Jesus knew what the Pharisees were up to and so, we're told in verse 15,that He withdrew from them. He knew that it was not yet His time to die, it was not yet the time the Father had appointed for Him to be delivered up. And so, He withdrew in light of His knowledge of their designs and in His knowledge of His mission; the Lord Jesus withdrew.
I want you to understand that Jesus' withdrawal was not an act of cowardice. He was not fearing danger. Jesus' withdrawal was very deliberate. It was an act of prudence. Jesus was trying to keep from forcing the hand of the Pharisees. If He had continued right in their presence, He would have perhaps provoked an untimely culmination of their attacks on Him. And so He did as much as was possible not to provoke offense.
His withdrawal was also an act of judgment, though, because by withdrawing from the Pharisees, He was removing from them His life-giving preaching of the word of truth, and He was removing from them the testimony to the truth of His claims and of His message that was being given in the miracles that He was doing. And so by withdrawing from them, He was actually bringing a famine of the word into the lives of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees should have known about that. That happened in the days of the prophets when Israel's heart was hardened. God withdrew the prophets from Israel so that there would be a famine of the word in the land and that there would be no message of grace to be heard. And this was precisely what was happening with the Pharisees as Jesus withdrew from them.
Notice also that His withdrawal, itself, was an act of humility, of self-denial. He had been somewhat in the limelight. He had been drawing great attention and even the religious leaders of the day had been gathering around. Now He was going to go off to the periphery. Now He's going to minister in less obvious places. Christ's humility is seen here in stark contrast to the Pharisees who desired to draw attention to their ministry, who desired to stand on the street corners and pray so that people would say, “Oh, how spiritual they are.” Jesus, happily, moved aside and worked in the periphery because His goal, He tells us, is “to do the will of Him who sent Him.” And if that means not drawing attention to himself – not drawing attention to His ministry – that is fine with the Lord Jesus Christ, because He simply desires to do the will of the one who sent Him.
Perhaps you're in a similar situation as the Lord Jesus Christ in your job, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your community; maybe even in your ministry. Perhaps there is some opposition to the work that God has called you to do. Perhaps you feel marginalized by that opposition. The Lord Jesus Christ continues His ministry despite the attempts of the enemies of God to marginalize that work. I want you to notice that He did not withdraw to retirement. He did not withdraw to inactivity. He continued to serve the Lord faithfully even as He withdrew.
And in verses 15 and 16 we're told that three things ensued when Jesus withdrew. First of all, the crowds continued to follow Him. Even though the Pharisees were plotting His downfall, the crowds continued to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. And though His course of ministry was altered, it was not stopped. The Pharisees may have thought that they aborted the Lord Jesus Christ, but they just provided Him with another field of service, and He continued to serve and do the will of His Father.
Notice that He continued to minister. By withdrawing, He did not stop ministering, and that's the second thing that we see. Many, who would not have benefited from His ministry, benefited from His miracles because of the Pharisee's opposition. He withdrew and went and served elsewhere and we're told that all were healed. Glorious words there in verse 15. He healed them all.
Thirdly, notice that He warned these people who are following Him not to tell who He is. Now that's a very strange thing, it would seem, for the Lord Jesus to tell those who are following not to reveal His identity. But He did this for three reasons. First of all, Matthew is going to explain to us in verse 17 that He did that because that was in fulfillment of prophecy. Understand that the Lord Jesus told the crowds not to reveal His identity because the prophets had made it clear that when Messiah came, He would not unduly call attention to Himself, and Matthew is going to explain that to us in the passage that He quotes from Isaiah.
Secondly, He told them not to reveal who He was because He was gradually revealing Himself. You remember He was only gradually explaining who He was, and what His mission was, to the disciples. They were having a hard time taking it in anyway, and so He very carefully revealed more and more about himself and about His ministry, and ultimately about the death that He was going to die as He went along training the disciples. And so He instructs the crowds, “Don't be precipitous. Don't disclose before the Father 's time.”
Finally, Christ only wanted those who had accepted His lordship to testify to His name. Remember, Jesus knew that these very crowds who followed Him would desert Him in the last days of His ministry. When He would begin to preach that which was then unpopular, the very crowd that followed Him would desert Him, and He did not want them to be the prime testifiers to who He was. He wants those who accept His lordship to be the ones who testify to His name; and by the way, there's a lesson in that for us, too, isn't there? The Lord Jesus doesn't desire mere lip testimony. Prior to the testimony of our lips, He wants transformed lives. He wants people who have been changed by the Holy Spirit, and who are walking in the way of holiness, to be His prime witnesses in this life. Otherwise, people will say, “Well, look at them. They're no different from the world. They claim to be Christians but they're no different from the world.”
Godliness is not simply something that's important for our own spiritual welfare. It's not only something that's pleasing to God; it's absolutely necessary to our witness, and I suspect that in the church in America today, the single greatest obstacle to our evangelistic work is the lack of godliness in the people, in the congregation. And until we care seriously about sanctification, until we care seriously about the way grace changes our lives and we live differently than the world around us and we have different desires and hopes and dreams than the world around us, our word witness will be ineffective, because people will see through that testimony and they'll see that our lives are not changed. And so godliness is not only important for our own spiritual welfare and God's glory, its important for our witness. We can't witness to Christ effectively until people can see that He is our Lord, that we have not merely accepted Him as Lord by lip, but we have accepted Him as Lord in our hearts.
Notice that Jesus on occasion had demons that wanted to testify to the fact that He was the Messiah, and He would stifle those demons, and elsewhere He would have other crowds who would want to testify to the fact that He was Messiah, and He would stifle their witness because He wanted true disciples to be the ones who are witnesses to His name.
There are many truths that we learn in this passage before us but even as we contemplate Jesus’ character revealed by His actions, we are taught the truth that actions reveal the heart. You can see the hearts of the Pharisees by the way they act in this passage. Their desire is not to see the saints built up. Their desire is to see the Messiah torn down. The heart, the meanness, the wickedness, the evil of the Pharisees is seen in their action. You can't see through to their hearts, but you can see what they're doing. So, also, you can see the heart of Jesus by His compassion. When He is obstructed by the Pharisees, He continues ministering to those in need. His heart of love, His heart of kindness, His heart of sympathy, is so apparent. And Matthew provides bold relief, stark contrast, between the heart of the hearts of the Pharisees and the heart of Jesus.
And as Jesus' action reveal His heart, so also our actions reveal our hearts. What do our actions tell us? Do our actions say that we seek first the kingdom and His righteousness, and we'll leave all the other things to Him? Or do our actions tell us that we serve mammon rather than God? This passage is calling us to live in accordance with our profession, and its reminding us that our hearts will be reflected in what we love and in what we do.
By the way, we also see a contrast between the Pharisees and Jesus in this passage with regard to the law. The Pharisees claim to be the great lovers of the law. But, who is shown by their actions to be lovers of the law in this passage? Jesus is shown to be the true lover of God's law in this passage, not the Pharisees. And, who is shown to be truly godly in this passage? The Pharisees were those who had the reputation of being truly pious and holy, and yet their heart is shown by their action. Jesus is shown to be the only one with perfect holiness in this passage.
II. Jesus’ character is revealed in Old Testament prophecy.
And then we learn in verses 17 through 21 that Jesus' character is not only revealed through His actions, but His character is revealed in the prophecy of the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets prophesied of the suffering servant of the Lord who would come and they predicted Jesus’ character. In verses 17 through 21, Matthew takes us to Isaiah the prophet. He takes us to Isaiah 42”1-4, which is the first of 4 passages in which Isaiah tells us about the servant of the Lord who will come to deliver Israel. In that passage Matthew directly appeals to Isaiah's words and applies them to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 42 can only be properly understood as fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and Matthew uses this quote from Isaiah to draw a sharp contrast between the heart of the Pharisees and the heart of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees, the ministers, are only bent on destroying Jesus. They don't care about people's souls, they don't care about people's lives, they don't care about people's needs, they don't care about those who are fragile and weak, and Jesus, on the other hand, cares about those who are fragile and weak; He draws them in and He builds them up in spiritual life. And so we see in verses 18, 19 and 20 and 21, in the words of Isaiah, a description of the character of Jesus Christ. A description of God's promises to Him.
I'd like you to look first of all at verse 18. See these words: “Behold My servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul is well pleased. I will put My spirit upon Him and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles.” In that verse, we are told of the pleasure of the heavenly Father in Jesus Christ. The pleasure of the heavenly Father in the servant of the Lord is described and we see four things said about the Father 's pleasure in the Lord Jesus there.
First of all, we're told that the Lord Jesus was God's choice servant in the work of redemption. Notice that Jesus took upon Himself the role of the servant. Though He was God's equal, equal in power and glory and eternity with God the Father and God the spirit, yet He is God's choice servant in our redemption. He serves us by saving us. He serves the Lord in the covenant of redemption, on our behalf. The Lord takes the role of the servant. Paul speaks about that, that “although He was equal with God, yet He set aside His prerogative and He serves us, taking upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh.” Here we learn that Jesus serves His people. He is willingly a servant. If you are in Britain, you will see a coat of arms for the Prince of Wales just about everywhere. And there are various mottos that go along with the title of 'Prince of Wales,' but one of them which must date from the time of the house of Hanover, one that you'll see on the crest are the German words, Ich Mein, “I serve.” That sort of surprising. You wouldn't think that was the motto of the Prince of Wales from current events, but in any event, that's a wonderful motto of a prince, and that is, in fact, the Lord Jesus' motto, “I serve. I serve God the Father and I serve His people.”
But we're also told in verse 18 that Jesus Christ was God's chosen instrument in the work of redemption. He was God's elect man for the work of redemption. The Lord Jesus Christ, in the council of eternity, in times past when God the Father and God the Son came together to establish the work of redemption in view of the fall of man, the Lord Jesus Christ was the chosen instrument by which God would redeem His people. Both of these things, both Jesus' servanthood and the fact that He's the chosen instrument of God, relate to God's decree and we're told that the Father takes pleasure in Him because of these things.
In verse 18 that we're told that Jesus Christ is the eternally beloved Son of God, the servant beloved of God, “in whom My soul is well pleased.” We're here told that the Father delights in the Son, and the fact that we are in the Son, the fact that we are in Christ, assures that the Father delights in us, and the reason that the Father delights in us is that He delights in the Son.
Notice also that we're told in verse 18 that Jesus Christ is the one in whom the Father is well pleased. The Father takes pleasure in the work of the Son, in the character of the Son. And as we are accepted in God, so also He takes pleasure in us. Our acceptance with God is based on the fact that He is pleased with His Son and because we have believed on His Son and because we have accepted His Son as the Savior of sinners and the Son of God, He accepts us; the Father accepts us and He becomes well pleased with us. Christ dies on our behalf that we might be accepted by God. And all of this is celebrated in verse 18.
And then in verse 19, the promises of the heavenly Father to the servant of the Lord are listed. The promises of the heavenly Father to Jesus Christ the Mediator are listed. Notice three things there. First of all we are told that the servant will be qualified, or equipped, for His ministry. He will be equipped for His undertaking. God never calls us to something that He doesn't equip us for and He didn't call His Son for something that He didn't equip Him for. And though the Son was equal to Him in power and in glory, yet as Mediator the Father equipped the Son by giving Him, as Hebrews says, “the spirit above measure.” He was equipped by the Spirit above measure and so the Son was fitted for His task in redemption.
Notice also in verse 18 and also in verse 20 that the Son will prosper in His labors. He will be successful in the ministry that He does for the Lord. He will proclaim justice until justice leads way to victory. He will be successful. The Lord will prosper His ministry.
And finally, we're told in verse 21 that God the Father will give the Gentiles to Him. It's not enough that the Son be the Savior of Israel – He will be the Savior of the world. And so all those promises are listed in verses 18 and 20, and 21.
But the focus of this passage and the reason that Matthew quotes it in the main you find in verses 19 and 20. There, the character of the Messiah is given. And Matthew wants to contrast the character of the Messiah with the character of these people who claim to be followers of God. And so He quotes for us verses 19 and 20. Look at those words: “He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory.”
First of all, we're told that the Messiah will not be found shouting in the streets. Certainly the Lord will not be out there drawing attention to Himself in the streets. The shouting spoken of is not religious shouting, by the way, it’s quarreling; almost like you would hear after a team has lost a game and the fans are out in the streets arguing and haranguing about that particular matter. And we're told by Matthew in verse 19 that the servant of the Lord will carry out His work without ostentation, without drawing attention to Himself, with humility, with self-denial, with unpretentiousness. This is how the servant of the Lord will be and Matthew is saying, “Look, that's exactly like Jesus is. He's humble. He's unpretentious. He's not simply trying to draw attention to Himself. He is doing the will of the heavenly Father and He's looking out for your best spiritual interests. He's not wondering what He can get out of you. He's wanting to give you something that the heavenly Father has sent Him to give.
Notice also in verse 20, that Jesus' ministry and the Pharisees' ministry are contrasted: “A battered reed He will not break off, a smoldering wick He will not put out,” as opposed to the Pharisees, who were quick to censure, who were quick to dismiss and judge. The Lord Jesus Christ is patient. The Pharisees are cruel. They are plotting His destruction. They are vain. They pretend to be righteous but they're actually empty. They are interested in displaying righteousness. They pray on the street corners. Jesus, by contrast is kind, He is reserved, He is meek. The servant of the Lord will carry out His work, Isaiah says, without severity or rigor. He will be tender with those who are weak and as opposed to censoring and judging them will gently build up the spiritual life in them, and stoke it into a flame, caring for them, showing compassion.
Matthew's main point is that Jesus will treat with profound sympathy and tender concern the very people that the Pharisees despised. Jesus will show tender concern for those who are weak and will ask Him for help. He will help the sick. He does in verse 15. He heals them. He will show kindness and compassion to tax collectors and sinners. Matthew has already told us that, in chapter 9. He will comfort mourners. He will help those who are fearful. He will aid those who are doubting, those who are famished. He will be tender and compassionate. The Lord Jesus' tenderness and compassion is designed to draw sick sinners to Himself. They fear that they will be judged by God because they know that they ought to be judged by God, and yet they are met with the visit of the Savior who is tender and compassionate and will hold them and build them up.
Matthew tells us that for many reasons. For one thing, Christian, Matthew wants us to be like our Savior. Matthew wants us to have the same heart for those who are out there, for those who are outcast, for those who may not be like us, who are not socially acceptable, not of our 'class' and not of our 'kind.' He wants us to have that same type of tender compassion and concern that the Lord Jesus manifests.
And for those who don't know Christ, Matthew wants sinners to come to His Savior, because this Savior will treat gently, you in your condition, you in you wretchedness, you in hopelessness, and in your weakness, because He is compassionate and full of sympathy. Matthew is calling us to commit to this Savior. He is saying, 'Look, the God of heaven and earth is like the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not like the Pharisees. He is like Jesus. So why are you afraid to come to Him? Come to Him and He will give you rest.” Let's look to Him in prayer.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for the sympathy of Christ. We pray that You will give us the grace to come to Him today, because He will bind up our broken hearts and He will renovate us, delivering us from bondage to sin, and He will care for us in our infirmities. We praise You for it and we ask this prayer in His name, amen.