“Justice and Sabbath Laws” Sunday School Lesson Summary and Activities, Matthew 12:1-14

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Sunday School is a vital part of any ministry. In it, one is able to experience a deeper knowledge of God’s Word.  Here at “Word For Life Says,” I want to help you help others. Below you will find resources to help you prepare for your upcoming lessons and my personal summary notes that I use when teaching. May God bless you!

“Justice and Sabbath Laws”

Matthew 12:1-14

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Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2014 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original to wordforlifesays.com unless properly quoted/cited. I am glad you like to read my personal summary notes, musings, and thoughts that I use when teaching, but as always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well.  Blessings!)


The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ,” (Colossians 2:16-17).  And yet, this is exactly what Jesus was facing in light of the Pharisees’ accusations in today’s lesson.  They were judging Him and accusing of Him and His disciples of violating the sanctity of the Sabbath day, charging them with blatant disregard to the commands of God.  Jesus, knowing their thoughts on both occasions, knew the true purpose of the Sabbath has evaded the understanding of the Pharisees and rightly responded to their charges.

God knows what He’s looking for in man: justice and obedience.  But, they don’t fight against one another, they complement one another.  He expressly relayed in Micah 6:8, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God?”  These requirements are to govern our lives as we walk before God in relation with Him, and in how we treat other people.  When one steps out of the realm of those things He prescribed for true righteous living they become prideful toward God, wanting and believing their interpretations are best, and they lose compassion and empathy toward their fellow man.

Like a fisherman casting His rod out to reel them back in, Jesus grabs hold of the attention of the Pharisees in what He teaches and how He demonstrates in person the life God really is looking for.

Due to their interpretation of the Sabbath and the adding of many additional stipulations according to their traditions, a day that was designed to benefit man had become oppressive to the point of being very difficult to follow because they laid so many burdens on the people in how to keep it properly.

Not only were the dos and don’ts many and very specific for every little thing, their interpretation left very little room for mercy and compassion when dealing with others, particularly in their time of need.

Proverbs tells us, “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice,” (21:3).  In Isaiah 1, He relays through the prophet the many things the people do on the outside, but don’t have a proper heart perspective on the inside (read Isaiah 1:11-16).  And, He goes on to tell them, “Learn to do well; seek judgment…”, which could also be rendered as “justice” (Isaiah 1:17).  While one is attempting on the outside to live in the appearance of righteousness, make sure the inward motions are matching up to the outward rituals, and deal with people and situations accordingly.

Thus, Jesus teaches through life, example, and by the Word, what God really wants from them, and us.

Matthew 12:1-2 “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.”

Every day there’s something new to deal with.  Or, at least, Jesus must have felt like that.  I wonder if He ever got the feeling that no matter what He does somebody will always have something to criticize.  Feeling threatened by His ministry the scribes and Pharisees were often filled with wrath at His words and actions (see Luke 4:16-30).

This day was no different.  It almost appears as if they are following Jesus to gain a reason to come against Him.  In this verse, Jesus and His disciples were walking through a grain field.  As per law, they were afforded the privilege on an ordinary day to pluck grain to satisfy hunger as long as they didn’t fill up a container (Deuteronomy 23:25).  The issue present had nothing to do with the plucking of the grain, rather the day in which it was being done, which was the Sabbath.

In the beginning, God sanctified the Sabbath day as a day of rest.  It was in honor of His own resting after the Creation (Genesis 2:2-3).  This mandate was carried over in the Ten Commandants to promote rest and worship (Exodus 20:8-11) and was a sign of the covenant between Him and His people (Exodus 31:13).  By the time we arrive in the New Testament, the Pharisees had issued an almost burdensome charge over the Sabbath day, delineating it from its original intention.  The spirit of what God was looking for was lost in the added rituals of man.  Being more concerned with the strictness of their own traditions rather than human compassion, they stopped at nothing to ensure their way of interpreting the law was preserved rather than the mercy of God (compare Matthew 23:4).

These men were “hungred” to the point of being almost famished and starving.  They weren’t just looking for something to snack on and a reason to deliberately break rules.  They plucked the heads of grain, the “ears of corn to eat” to fulfill a genuine and real need (“corn” in the Bible does not necessarily refer to the corn we are used to seeing on our tables, but rather refers to any kind of grain).

Not caring to take in that real and present need of these men, the Pharisees’ interpretations of what they were doing was considered work (they had many rules covering every specific detail possible there is to cover), and therefore, according to them, what they were doing was “not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.” 

Please Note: Through this whole interaction we must always remember the holiness of Jesus involved.  He is completely sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15).  The fact that He didn’t rebuke His disciples for what they were doing shows that they were not sinning.  Jesus saw it for what it was, a real need being met, and expressed as much to the Pharisees in His rebuttal to their accusations.

Matthew 12:3-4 “But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;  How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?”

The incident to which Jesus is referring here is found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.  David was on the run from Saul.  With his life continually hanging by a thread he fled to the land of Nob where he came to Ahimelech the priest.  David asked for five loaves, but the priest declared that there was no common bread, only hallowed bread.  This bread was specifically “only for the priests” to use after it was done being used as the “shewbread,” (compare Leviticus 24:5-9).  On the Sabbath, the loaves were replaced by new loaves and the ones taken away were eaten by the priests: “Aaron and his sons,” (Leviticus 24:9).

But, Ahimelech gave David this stipulation, if the men have kept themselves from women they could partake.  David reassured them that they had, and Ahimelech gave him the hallowed bread, feeding them that were hungry (using the same word “hungred” as expressed with the disciples above noting their famished state).  Taking care of their need for food and nourishment to preserve life over ceremonial rituals, he made room for mercy.

The Jews revered King David.  Giving him as an example, though He was Lord over him, Jesus showed how genuine human needs coupled with mercy and compassion could be met with the spirit of the Law still intact.

This would not be the last time that Jesus challenged the Pharisees of letting their interpretation of rules and man-made traditions get in the way of love for one another.  In Matthew 23:23 He scolded them and said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier mattes of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

The Sabbath was to be honored to benefit man not man for the Sabbath.  Mark 2:27 says, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  The principle behind this is that man be allowed time to rejuvenate and have his needs met for his physical and spiritual renewal and rest.  Not to become oppressed by a list of dos and don’ts, especially if they go outside of satisfying the needs of true human compassion.

Matthew 12:5-6 “Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?  But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.”

“And, by the way, since we are listing examples here,” Jesus almost seems to say, He notes the work the “priests in the temple” perform on the “Sabbath,” and yet are considered “blameless.” 

Even on the Sabbath, the priests still went about their normal “work” schedule to fulfill obligations necessary for the function of the temple on that day (which was more than the normal) and all it entails from replacing the shewbread (as noted above), incense, offerings, etc., each which required its own amount of work to be fulfilled (compare Numbers 28:9-10).

But, they are viewed as innocent because they were doing what needed to be done.  Well, isn’t the true hunger of one being fulfilled to be considered as “what needed to be done?”

After stating all of that, Jesus lets them know, “But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple,” referring to Himself.  The people revered the temple.  Back in the day, before their ancestors went into captivity, they believed nothing would happen to them because of the temple in their midst.  They could just keep sinning and sinning without repercussions because of that holy place (see Jeremiah 7:4).  They trusted more in the physical building of the temple and the ceremonies within to save them than the God who dwells in its midst.

Now, even in this temple of their day, the days when Jesus was there, the temple is still held in high regard (and it should).  But, as highly as they regard it and the “work” done in it, Jesus is flat out telling them of His superiority over it all.

Jesus was claiming to be “greater than the temple!”  Oh, how this must have sent shock waves through their little pharisaic souls.  On more than one occasion Jesus has ruffled feathers to clarify to the people His true identity.  A lot of times, this didn’t go over so well because people whom they (the Pharisees and others) thought were in the more honored positions were actually subject to Jesus, who is greater than them all (see Matthew 12:41-42; 22:41-46; John 4:12; 8:53; Hebrews 1:4; 3:3).

Before his death, John the Baptist declared to those in attendance where he was baptizing, “He must increase, but I must decrease.  He that cometh from above is above all…” (John 3:30-31a), speaking of Jesus who is “above all.”

And, He is above the temple, too.

Matthew 12:7-8 “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.”

But, if they had known the true meaning behind the spirit of what was written, such as “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” they wouldn’t be so rash in their judgment and “would not have condemned the guiltless.”

In that portion of the verse, Jesus is quoting from Hosea 6:6, and the meaning behind it is just as clear as all the other points and examples Jesus is making against the accusations of the Pharisees.  As a people, they got so caught up in the rule keeping of all the outward compliances that they forgot that God is so much more; they forgot about the heart of God, and the spirit and moral compass of what everything was designed for.

Don’t discount these wonderful characteristics of God.  He is love (1 John 4:8).  God is merciful (Ephesians 2:4).  God is compassionate (Psalm 145:9).  And, He wants His people to operate in the same fashion toward one another.

Does this mean we take God for granted and toss the rules out the window, and say, “Welp, God loves me, so I can do such and such?”  Absolutely not!  Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  Even to the point of becoming our Sabbath rest for us (compare Hebrews 4).

God will always want hearts that are obedient to His Word.  That’s a given.  But, He also wants people who recognize how His heart operates toward the needs of others and make room for that. In the Hosea example, their only concern was following outward ceremonial appearances whilst inside the were living and operating unjustly toward others, without love and disregarding the moral side or God’s intent of it all.  Ceremony doesn’t trump mercy.

Their hearts were not in it for God or for people.  And, neither are the Pharisees’, for if they were, they “would not have condemned the guiltless,” and would have recognized the situation for what it was: just men seeking to fulfill their hunger instead of an occasion to find accusation.

To put another bur in the saddle of the Pharisees so to speak, Jesus, by using this wording identified Himself as “Lord even of the Sabbath,” which in essence is identifying Himself as God.  In that, He is expressing His authority and superiority over the Sabbath.  Jesus was telling them that as the “Son of man” in this position of “Lord even of the Sabbath,” He outranked their opinion and interpretation of their man-made traditions of what it was to truly keep the Sabbath.

Matthew 12: 9-10 “And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.”

It’s a sad day when one can’t come into the sanctuary of God to worship without being watched for faults.  Let me remind you of this, Jesus was completely without sin or fault (see 1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15, as noted earlier).  Anything that the Pharisees are seeking for is not out of pure motivation of God’s law being violated, rather their own rules and regulations.  “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers,” (Matthew 23:4).

While He was in “their synagogue,” there was a man there “which had his hand withered.”  Looking for a set-up opportunity to come against Him, to “accuse him,” the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?”

Surely the compassionate heart of Jesus, as with everyone He met, wanted nothing more than to see this child of God, one of His created, be made whole again.  But, on the other end of the spectrum, the Pharisees cared less about the man’s condition and more about the day of the proposed healing.  They valued the day over the life.  This Jesus had issues with.

Matthew 12:11-13 “And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?  How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.  Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.”

They asked Jesus a question and now He has one for them.

One question is the revealer of the heart.  One question opens up the true motivation of man.  They were one question away from revealing their true nature on the inside rather than the piousness they paraded on the outside.

Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14).  Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  So yes, He knew what they were thinking on the inside though their pious façade said something else.  With thoughts revealed He asked the question that would expose them for their evil intents and to show what He knew was right.

“What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?”  No matter which day it was, no man would rightly leave his struggling animals to die in a situation where it could have been lifted out of.  No man would say to himself, “Well, I hope he lives to tomorrow.  Then, I will save him.”  No!  They, in that very time the “sheep” finds himself in distress and in the place of need, will come to the rescue and by any means necessary do what had to be done to save it.

Jesus then asked, “How much then is a man better than a sheep?”  Are not people to be valued more (compare Matthew 10:29-31)?  How can they have compassion for an animal’s well-being more than their fellow man?

Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, declared, “It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”  It’s good to do good even on the Sabbath.  Their interpretation of what keeping the Sabbath consisted of was trumped by Jesus’ compassion to meet a man’s need to be healed.  The day that was made for man should be used to build man up and not tear him down!

The Pharisees were watching to see how they “might accuse him,” but they and the rest gathered there that day were not His focus.  Jesus saw the need of the man more and this was His focus on this Sabbath day.

In giving them a real-life example to demonstrate all that He was teaching, Jesus spoke to the man and said, “Stretch forth thy hand.”  And when he did, his hand “was restored whole, like as the other.”

Jesus made the man His focus and the man himself focused on what Jesus told him to do and acted in obedience.  His obedience brought him to the place of restoration and wholeness.  Wow!  What a lesson in that alone!

There was another noted miracle Jesus performed on the Sabbath when He made clay to open the eyes of a blind man (John 9:14).  During that time, this statement was made: “If this man were not of God, he could do nothing,” (John 9:33).  Through those healings/miracles, there was divine proof of His identity as Lord of the Sabbath.  Therefore, Jesus had the final say.

Matthew 12:14 “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”

Remember how I said, “One question is the revealer of the heart?”  If the question alone didn’t do the job, then Jesus’ act of compassion truly showed what was on the inside of these men.  So in tuned were they with their own traditions that they let their anger boil up to the point of “madness” (Luke 6:11).  In other words, they were beyond hot!  If they were cartoon characters, we would seek smoke spewing from their ears in a comedic fashion with faces red and aflame.  The lids of their heads may have even exploded in the air spouting more smoke as if it were an overheated volcano.

The picture I present may seem funny, but the situation was not.  These men that represented God had hearts that was far from His.  How could they not look at this man and want to see him made whole as well?  How could they put a day in precedence over a life?  Their hearts were so far from God that they thought evil against His Son and “held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”  They wanted Jesus out of there and done away with.


Even before His death on the cross, Jesus was ushering in grace over laws.  He was showing through His life and ministry that the “weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” were just as important as observant days, rituals and traditions.  Jesus didn’t teach one not to observe the Sabbath in His day, but He showed how to love in the midst of it and to operate with justice.

Standard Print PDF: Justice and Sabbath Laws Sunday School Lesson Summary Standard Print

Large Print PDF: Justice and Sabbath Laws Sunday School Lesson Summary Large Print

Below you will find activities to support this week’s lesson.  Enjoy!

Word Search: Justice and Sabbath Laws Word Search  Answers: Justice and Sabbath Laws Word Search Answers

Crossword: Justice and Sabbath Laws Crossword  Answers: Justice and Sabbath Laws Crossword Answers

Word Scramble: Justice and Sabbath Laws Word Scramble  Answers: Justice and Sabbath Laws Word Scramble Answers

Draw the Scene: Justice and Sabbath Laws Draw the Scene

In the activities below, you can explain to your students that “ears of corn” didn’t always mean as we view corn today, but rather was a reference to all grains.  I used an ear of corn with grain behind it as a representation of this lesson.  

Memory Verse: Justice and Sabbath Laws Memory Verse

Activity Sheet: Using this activity sheet, students can just color the picture with the verse on it.  Or, to turn up the fun, students can use glue tissue paper, construction paper, colored buttons, candy corn, etc. to the ear of corn for a great craft project with the memory verse attached.  I recommend printing on cardstock if you choose to use heavier materials such as candy corn.  Enjoy! PDF: Justice and Sabbath Laws Activity Sheet

Below you will find Activities/Links/Resources to support this week’s lesson.  Enjoy!

“Story pictures and powerpoint to compliment this lesson.”

“Corn Craft Ideas” (Although these ideas are originally for use during the fall, here they can be used in fun ways to bring out today’s lesson.  Simply use as instructed or modify to your specific class needs.  Attach a memory verse from the lesson text, and enjoy!)

“Ear of Corn Craft” (This unique craft allows you to glue popcorn onto the corn template and attach to a craft stick.  Click and scroll down to “Ear of Corn Craft” to view what that would look like.  Enjoy!)

“Jesus Heals a Man’s Hand” (Printable activity sheets and other ideas.  Enjoy!)

“Stretch Out Your Hand Craft Idea”

“Jesus Heals a Crippled Hand” (Coloring and sheets.  Enjoy!)

“Jesus Heals on the Sabbath Activity Sheet”

“Jesus and the Sabbath” (Here you will find plenty of printables and ideas, along with group activities such as “Hand Print Art.”  Enjoy!)

“Jesus Heals the Man with the Shriveled Hand Craft”

“Jesus Heals on the Sabbath Video”

“Jesus Cures the Man with the Withered Hand Video”




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