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Rules Of The Wild

Matthew 12:1-14

by Murvi Babalola

November 27, 2022

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Good morning, everybody. How's it going? My name is Murvi. I'm excited to be speaking to you this morning. I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving. Did we all have a good Thanksgiving? And we got to share a little bit about that today. Full stomachs, being with family, all these great things that come with the Thanksgiving season. And I don't know, my personal conviction is that when you eat too much on Thanksgiving Day, it does not count as debauchery. Right? The Bible says that we shouldn't do anything to excess, but there's one particular day that we're allowed. We have the freedom to fill our stomachs. Amen?

It's a great time. For me, I got to spend most of my Thanksgiving watching the World Cup because that's the most relevant thing going on in the world right now. It has been thrilling and exciting, and it's been so fun watching the World Cup. And for me, it's been a little bit of an obsession, if I'm being perfectly honest. This is me. This is me at my rehearsal. We're doing a rehearsal for the December 11 Christmas service. And down there on the floor, yes, is the Mexico-Argentina game that was going on. And as I'm singing at the microphone, I have the game down on the floor, and I'm keeping up with what's going on. That's kind of where I'm at in the world right now. That's where my heart is. I'm a little bit obsessed with what's going on in the World Cup.


And this year, as a region, we've been studying through the Book of Matthew. It's been a series called Your Kingdom Come. It's been all about how from the beginning of time, it was prophesied through the Old Testament, this kingdom that was going to come. And we see from the beginning of Matthew okay, no laugh. We're going to go right here. So we see right from the beginning of Matthew, what we see is John the Baptist comes onto the scene and he starts proclaiming the way, starts proclaiming, preparing the way for Jesus to come on the scene to usher in this new kingdom. And then Jesus comes in and he brings this what we called a disruptive gospel. That's the series that we kind of went into, a disruptive gospel where we saw through the sermon on the mountain, Jesus teaching and preaching through what his kingdom was going to be like. It was going to be an upside down kingdom, a completely different kingdom. And if we were going to live in it, which he invites us to do, if we're going to live in his kingdom, we need to be willing to be disrupted and to live upside down lives as well.

And then he goes on. And after he's done teaching on the side of the mountain, he goes out into the wild. He brings this message to interact with the people. And you see this collision. You see Jesus's kingdom colliding with the kingdoms of the world and it gets a little messy at times. It's all over the place.

And it's interesting because that is kind of where we live. We live in the wild. We are creatures of the wild. And as we see this interaction, we are supposed to be on the front lines of that very same intersection today. So there's so many lessons to learn, so many things to glean from this section of the book of Matthew.

Rules of the Wild

And today we're going to be in Matthew twelve. And my title is Rules of the Wild. Rules of the wild. You know, every society, every community has a set of rules. When you obey these rules, you're accepted. When you don't obey these rules, you're rejected, right? That's the way it works. And these rules aren't always the law, right? It's not necessarily the law of the land. This is a social law. It's a different kind of law.

Let's take for example, like traffic rules, right? On the highway there are signs up there saying that you're supposed to drive less than 65 mph, right? That's what the signs say. But if you're really going 65 on the highway and somebody's behind you, they're not happy. You're rejected by society in that moment. That is not a time that you're accepted in our society, especially here in Massachusetts, if you're driving on 93 or something, right? That's not the way it works. Or let's take Jaywalking. Technically there are certain places and times that you are allowed to cross the street. Come on. You know, like are you really going to wait for a walk light where there's no cars coming? Or when they're like far enough that you can run across very quickly? Why would you do that? And if you do that, you're like, you're a bit of a rule-follower, you're a little bit... It's not necessarily accepted by society.

We have a social law that's separate from the actual law. Rules of the wild. That's what these are. They're the rules of the wild. And in Matthew twelve, Jesus, he has this interaction with the Pharisees. And the Pharisees are a group that he frequently butts heads with because their religious, social law often came into conflict with his law often came into conflict with the way that he was doing things. And I actually think that the Pharisees are a group that many of us can really identify with, if we're being honest. It's interesting, this passage comes off the heels of the end of Matthew eleven where Jesus invites people, he says, come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. He invites people into his rest. And here we have a confrontation and a conflict on that very same topic of rest.

Jesus's Relates Differently to the Rules

Let's take a look in Matthew twelve, starting verse one. It says:

"At that time, Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this they said to him, look, your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."

What's happening here is you see this confrontation, you see this conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees because the Sabbath was a day of rest and the law was that on the Sabbath, on this day of rest, you were not allowed to do any work. And we see the disciples of Jesus here as are walking through the grain fields, they're picking grain which at least in the eyes of the Pharisees was considered to be work.

Now I think we can relate to what the disciples were doing in this moment. Thanksgiving just went by and there is a, there is a long, I have long agonized over the perfect science of when exactly you eat on the Thanksgiving Day. You know, it's a little bit complicated because you're going to have a big meal and that meal is going to be a kind of an awkward time of the day. So it's like do you eat breakfast? Do you not eat breakfast? What time do you eat breakfast? Do you starve yourself so you have more space for the Thanksgiving feast? How exactly do you navigate that? And we often find ourselves because I'm the guy who's like, I want to go hard, so I'm going to starve myself. I'm going to fast food for most of the day and then I'm going to go hard at the meal, right? Who's with me? That's the way we do it, right?

But you often find yourself through that day maybe wandering through the kitchen and maybe picking a thing or two and it's like, it's a little bit hard to wait, it's a little bit hard to wait for that very meal. So we end up picking and people get annoyed with us, right? If you're one of the ones cooking in the kitchen, maybe you're not super happy about people walking through the fields and picking grain as you're doing that. But that's kind of what the disciples are doing, right? They're walking through and they're picking and they're eating. And the Pharisees have an issue with that. And the challenge that's kind of being posed to Jesus here is when, if ever, is it even okay to break the rules? According to the Pharisees, that's how it is. That's what you're supposed to do and that's what you have to do. They laid down this hard law and they said you have to live by it.

They said, yeah, rest, but there's a way that we do that. There's a right way to do it. So let's see how Jesus responds to what the Pharisees say. Continuing in verse three, let's get into our Bibles here it says:

"He answered, haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the law that the priests on the Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent, for the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Wow. Jesus gives a brilliant, well thought through response, but also, huh? Like, what exactly is he saying here? He says a number of different things. His response is a little bit confusing. What is the point that he's actually trying to make? What is Jesus trying to say here? What do you think Jesus means? There are a number of different options. First of all, he talks about this idea that, okay, so David broke bread, or sorry, broke the law in a time of need. David broke the law in a time of need. So it's fine for you to do that as well if it's in a dire circumstance. That's one potential option of what he's talking about. That's one of the points that he makes.

Or what about this? Certain people, like the priests, were exempt from having to uphold this law. So maybe the disciples were also exempt as part of this new royal priesthood that Jesus was establishing. The church is the new temple. We are the royal priesthood. So maybe as part of this new covenant, his disciples were exempt from following this law.

Here's another option. Hosea 6:6 is a scripture that's referenced in there when he talks about I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Maybe there's something in there. Maybe Hosea 6:6 makes them innocent of breaking Sabbath law.

Here's another option, Jesus says he's Lord of the Sabbath, so he's not bound by its rules then, right? Those who are in him, therefore, as his disciples were, maybe they also were not bound by this law. Maybe they are also free from this law.

What does Jesus mean? Here are four different options. I want you to raise your hand for the one that maybe you think is the right one. I'm not here to necessarily give the right answer, but what do you think? What do you think? If you think it's number one, let's see some hands for number one. Okay, nobody? No love for number one? I tried, guys. Okay, got two. Okay, how about number two? Who thinks it's number two? Who thinks that's probably the explanation. There some ish you got some in the back. Okay, what about number three? Anyone for number three? Okay, there's a double dip in there a little bit. You're allowed to double dip. Hey, there's no rules here. What about number four? Okay, that's a popular one. Okay, interesting. Very interesting. Yeah.

Okay, so there are a bunch of different options. We're going to keep going here. Let's continue on going on from that place we're back in verse nine now.

"Going on from that place. He went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? He said to them, if any of us has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Then he said to the man, Stretch out your hand. So he stretched it out and was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus."

Yikes. There is so much fun, nerdy stuff that I want to go into here, but I won't. I will spare you. But Jesus does offer another option here. Let's look at another one. He says, you know, if you have a greater obligation to fulfill something that's more right, as it were, then maybe you should do that instead, right? Fulfill the obligation to do what's right rather than worry about the rule that you're breaking is the fifth option that's offered here. So let's look at these five options. Does anybody like option five better than the other four? Or where are we at? A little bit? Some love for five, some some head shakes on number five, too. Okay, so so Jesus offers these five different possible responses to this one situation, to this one question, and it's a little bit confusing. So which one is it? What does Jesus mean?

Well, I think maybe it's sort of all of them, honestly. And what's clear, though, what's really clear, I know, is that a cop out? What's clear is that Jesus interacted with God's law, with God's rules very differently than the Pharisees did. There's something deeper that's going on in the way that Jesus interacts with the rules, in the way that Jesus interacts with the law. And there was something wrong with the way that the Pharisees were interacting with the rules. There was something wrong with the way that they were interacting with the law. And, guys, maybe there's something wrong at times with the way that we do as well.

There are two types of people in the world. There are rule followers, and there are rule breakers. Right? Who's a rule follower in the house? Okay. Some eager yep. Me, you know? Yes, we know those rule followers. What about the rule breakers? Yeah. Betsy over there is like, yep. Real follower rule breakers in the house. Yep. Okay. Got some rule breakers. They're cool kicking back, nodding their heads. And I'm curious, let's guess, what do we think I am? If you think I'm a real follower, I want to hear you I'm a follower who thinks I'm a rule breaker in the house, okay? Some evenly split, maybe a little bit more for the followers. I'll be honest with you. I love rules, guys. I like the rules. I'm a rule follower. I really am. When we're playing games, I read the manual. I read it all the way through. I want to know every single rule, every single nuance to the rules. I want to know every way you can spin it, flip it, and reverse it, whatever. I like rules. I want to clarify them. I want to establish them. I have my preferred rules. I have my rules that I don't like. If you're playing Uno with me, we sit down for a few minutes. This is the most important part of the game. You sit down for a few minutes, and you establish your house rules for Uno, okay? You can't play Uno without doing this. Okay? You got to get the stacking in there. Here's my special one, right? If you play a draw four and you pick the color, if somebody has a draw two in that color, they can stack it on. That's a good rule. That's a good rule. Yeah, that's a great rule.

We love to debate rules as well, right? Like in sports, right? The World Cup is going on. The football season's going on. There's a bunch of stuff going on. We love to debate the rules. You know, I think about even just this past weekend, I caught a little bit of the Patriots game I caught right at the end of the Patriots game, and that, for anybody who watched it, is probably a little bit of a sore spot, right? There were some controversial calls at the end there. There was a touchdown. Maybe it was a touchdown. Was it a touchdown? Was it not a touchdown? Who knows? You know, there's a video on the Internet right now where another play on another team, travis Kelsey does something that looks just very much like, what Henry, our tight end did, and they ruled it a touchdown, and people are really upset about that. And then there was another bad call. There was a holding call that the referee didn't catch, and it's like, oh, people get really upset. We get riled up when they get the rules wrong, right?

Think about even with the World Cup, right? With soccer, and not even from this World Cup. I remember going all the way back to 2010. All the way back to 2010. I was living in Ghana, and Ghana for, I think, the second time ever had qualified for the World Cup, and we were doing great. Ghana was doing incredibly and had made it to the quarterfinals. And in this game, right at the last minute, when Ghana was about to score the winning goal and make it to the semifinals, and the quarterfinals were the furthest that any African team had ever been. Ghana was about to progress beyond that point. And good old Suarez, right on the line, decides to use his hand, which in soccer is illegal, right, to stop the ball from going into the net. He is not the goalkeeper, by the way. He's not allowed to do that.

Now, what was controversial about it was he got appropriately punished. He got a red card, got sent off in the game, and that is the just punishment for committing that crime. But the player that was taking the penalty immediately after that missed his penalty. And it was this heartbreaking moment. We were like, okay, but it was a guaranteed goal. We had scored if he hadn't broken that. And it's this tension of like, oh, technically, he didn't break the rules. What he did, but he was punished for it appropriately. So I don't know if it counts. And from that point on, like in Ghana, if you call somebody a Suarez, that is an insult at this point, okay?

The Heart of the Rules

That is how much we care about these things. That is the way that we interact with rules. And rules, they're great. Rules are great, but if you focus too much on them, you can lose the heart of the rules. I think very often, much like sports, when the rules work in our favor, thumbs up, we're happy about it. But when they don't, we don't know how we feel about them. If you focus too much on the rules, it's easy to lose the heart. I think that's what happened with the Pharisees. They had lost the heart of a relationship with God because they were too fixated on getting the rules right. And to their credit, they were obsessed with righteousness.

There are worse things to be obsessed with. They were obsessed with righteousness. They wanted to do the right thing. That was what they were focused on. But I think the thing that they missed is the fact that righteousness requires relationship. Righteousness requires relationship. Righteousness is being in right relationship. So you need the relationship to have the righteousness. In Isaiah 29, verse 13 says:

the Lord says, "These people come near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules that they have been taught."

This is something that Jesus quotes later on in the Book of Matthew, Hosea 6:6. This is the verse he quoted in the passage that we read. It says:

"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, an acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings."

I think what he's saying here, and if you really look at it, it seems like he's more saying, I desire mercy more than sacrifice. Not that I don't want the sacrifice, not that I reject all that, but he's saying, no, what's more important is the relational aspects. Are you being merciful with people or are you just being sacrificial? Are you acknowledging God or are you just following the rules and giving the burnt offerings and going through the motions? What's really going on on the inside? Is your righteousness relational, or is it just rigid?

Rules are about Relationship

In Mark two, verse 27, this is Mark's account of the same story that we looked at. It says:

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

Jesus flips it. The place of the rules in our lives. He flips it, and he makes it more about the relationship.

So we all know the rules of how to be a good Christian, right? Maybe shout them out at me. What are some of the rules of how to be a great Christian? Go to church, read your Bible, pray, love others, serve, all these things. We know these things.

We know the things that we're supposed to do.

  • But, guys, how is your relationship with God?

  • How is your relationship with God right now?

  • Are you a good listener?

  • Are you a good listener with God?

  • Like, when you read your Bible, do you just read it going through the motions, checking it off? Okay, I did the duty. I read my Bible. I learned something today. Or are you really sitting in the Word?

  • Are you really listening to God, trying to figure out what is God trying to tell me in my life right now? Because there's something he's trying to tell you at all times. He's trying to reach you. He's trying to communicate with you.

  • Do you sit in the Word?

  • Are you a good listener?

  • How's your communication? Right?

  • Every good relationship requires healthy and effective communication. How's your communication with God?

  • You know, when you pray, do you pray in a prescribed kind of way, or do you really pour out your heart to God in prayer?

  • What about this?

  • Are you faithful? Y

You got to be faithful in relationships. They fall apart if you're not. Are you faithful in your relationship with God and not just in action, but even in thought? And not just in thought, but even in your heart? Are you longing for something else, or are you content with God? Are you obedient? Because he is our Father, after all, right?

Like, yes, God is bae and whatever, but he's not one of your little friends at the same time, right? Like God is still our father. There's a reverence. There's a reverence that we have to have. There's an appropriate reverence and respect that we have to have in our relationship with God.

Are you obedient? Do you trust in your relationship with God? And no, there isn't a formula for that. There's no box to check on trusting God. But do you have trust in your relationship with God?

I think sometimes we allow things that are supposed to be resources to become restrictions in our relationship with God. And we do that when we kind of go through the motions and follow the things that you're supposed to do and kind of check off all the boxes. You know, for example, we know that we're called to go and share our faith, right? We're called to spread the gospel and all of these things, but sometimes it's like, man, only at the times when we prepared and planned out, like, okay, I'm going to plan out this time to go out with a friend and go sharing. But God is leading you every single day to people who need to hear the gospel. Are you opening your mouth in those moments as well?

What about this? What about times of service? We're called to serve biblically. That is part of the gospel message. We're supposed to serve the poor and the needy take care of needs that we see around us. Do you wait for hope Worldwide, our benevolent group in the church or the benevolent leaders in the region, do you wait for that? Do you wait for there to be a program or a service opportunity? There are service opportunities all around you every day.

Are we allowing the resources to become restrictions in our relationship with God? You know, we all want relationships, right? Everybody like, as humans, we are built for relationship. People say the most important thing in their lives is family, right? Or it's their friends. It's the people who are in their lives. That's what people value. That's what people cherish.

And even romance, people love romance. The other thing I've been watching over this Thanksgiving break is there's been a lot of hype about season three of Love is Blind. I don't know if you guys are familiar with this show, but I decided I had watched season one, and I was like, I'm done with this stuff. This is absolute garbage. But there's been so much hype that I decided, you know what, I'm going to go back and I'm going to get back into it. So I started watching season two of Love is Blind. If you don't know the show, it's basically this show where they take 15 single men and 15 single women, and they put them separately in these pods, and you enter the pod and you're not allowed to see the other person. But for ten days, you go on a series of dates with a number of those 15 people. You kind of get to know all of them, and you date for ten days, and you're supposed to propose and get engaged within ten days, sight unseen. You have not seen this person. You date them in the pods, and after ten days, the only way that you progress in the show is if you get engaged, and then it's four weeks until your wedding. Four weeks. And what's crazy about the show is that it's literally 50/50 on the wedding day. It's a dramatic speech, and maybe there's an I do, maybe there's an I don't. You don't know what's going to come. It's insane. But these are the things that people do for love. That's how desperate our society is for relationships, that they would sign up for something like that. It's crazy, it really is.

How We Treat God

We're built for relationship, but sometimes we fail to extend that same connection to God. Instead of treating Him as if we're in a relationship with Him, sometimes we treat Him like he's a tyrant. We treat Him like he's somebody to be appeased, like, okay, if I do this right, will you have mercy on me? That's the way that we can interact with God. Or sometimes we treat Him like he's a genie, right? To be instructed, hey Lord, this is what I want, fulfill my request. We have our wishes, we have our hopes, we have our dreams, we put them before God and we expect that he's going to come through on those things. Or we treat Him like a puzzle. You got to kind of crack the code and figure out, okay, if I raise my hands and worship, we try to crack the code on how exactly can I get God to do what I want Him to do?

Does that sound like the foundation of a healthy relationship? If you were to treat another person in that way, would that relationship thrive or would that relationship die? Relationships don't work that way.

The Role of Rules in Relationship

But don't be mistaken. Just because righteousness is relational does not mean that there aren't also rules, because righteousness also requires rules. Sometimes we think that if it's rules, it's not relationship. The two cannot coexist. And yes, rules without relationship is empty, but a relationship without rules, that's a guaranteed train wreck.

We talk about wanting to be purely motivated. I want to be there in my heart. I want to feel it. I want to be all the way there and to feel like I'm doing the right thing before I take a step. But what we're really saying is that we only want to be righteous when we feel like it. Who is really Lord of your life? Is it your feelings? Is it your desires?

I think about my household. I live in a household with five men, OK? And for a while there, it was a train wreck. We had never established quite like, OK, how are we going to do this? How are we going to live together? How are we going to function as a household? And it wasn't working. And you know what saved us? A chore rotation. Like, it's magical. You put some rules in there, you put a little bit of order, put a little bit of a way that things should go, and all of a sudden you have something to go off of and you can build on a healthy foundation and you can thrive and be happy. Like my spirituality and my sanity was saved by a chore rotation. That's incredible, you know?

The Real Way to Follow the Rules

Turn with me to Matthew five as we head to our conclusion. Because before he teaches about much of anything, this is what Jesus says. In Matthew five, verse 17. He says:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly, I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished. Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands, these rules will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus says, I'm not here to abandon the rules. I'm here to show you the real way to follow them. And as a church, I think a lot of us have a strained relationship with rules. We have a strained relationship sometimes with church culture because we have mixed experiences with some of these things. Maybe you saw the rules favor some and hurt others. Maybe you felt controlled. Maybe you felt beaten into submission by some of the rules or the way that they were enforced. Maybe you felt like the rules weren't producing a Jesus like outcome in the way that you wanted to see. And maybe you're right. Maybe in some of these situations you're totally right. And there are many things that I want to say in response to all that. But I'm just going to say this. I'm humbled by the fact that Jesus had to teach the teachers of the law the law. He had to teach the law to the experts of the law. That's pretty crazy to me. We should all be humbled by that. These people spent their entire lives memorizing, studying, knowing, getting deep into, reflecting on and teaching the law, and yet they had to be taught the law.

And I'm also faced with the reality that when Jesus showed what it really meant to live by his rules, people wanted him dead and people deserted him. Crowds were like, okay, that is not what I signed up for. That is not what I want to hear. So Jesus's rules are not always what resonate with us. They're not always what we feel should be right, because we are creatures of the wild. We are attuned to the rules of the wild. Our hearts speak the rules of society.

Who Sets Your Rules?

So don't abandon the rules of Jesus for the rules of the wild. Jesus invites us instead to live in the tension, to live in what I might call a rule-ationship. It's rules, it's relationship, it's all the above. Bring them together, live in the tension. Because ultimately, it's not about the rules. It's about who rules. And as we close out, I want to leave you with this thought. I want to ask you who sets the rules that you live by? Not the ones that you say you live by, the ones that you actually live by. Are you setting those rules? Is society setting those rules? Are you letting God set the rules that you live by? Don't submit to the rules of the wild. Let God rule in your hearts and let God rule in your life to his glory. Amen.

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