“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” It was certainly true of the Pharisees in this story (Matthew 12.1-21). Mark says they were silenced (3.4). Yes, but not convinced. In fact, the situation grew worse. Rather than being merely unconvinced, they were determined to kill Jesus. 12.14).
How terrible this was! Here were men who were being punctilious in the observance of their interpretation of God’s law. They were as religious as religious people get. But because Jesus was not conforming to their Sabbath regulations, they began to hatch a plot to kill him. We should learn from this how horrible it is to have a religion of rules and ceremonies when the heart is actually far from God. Isn’t it true that there is no evil so great that it has not been practiced by someone at some time in the name of religion? And is it not also true that there is nothing as tragic as the tendency of the human heart to seize upon some outward, useless, hypocritical ceremony and follow it to the letter without in any way actually turning to God for salvation?
Why did they hate the Lord Jesus Christ so much? He was breaking their rules, of course. They hated that. But underlying that hatred was the fact that Jesus was holy, and they were not; he was good, and they were not; he was exercising a true authority from God, and they were not.
Mark records an interesting detail at this point. He says that the Pharisees took council with the Herodians to plot how they might kill Jesus. The Herodians were a political party; their unifying policy was support of the Herodian dynasty. But what this detail shows is that at this point the religious and secular authorities were joining forces to get rid of this troublesome rabbi. It has often been that way: John Hus and Martin Luther are two of the most prominent examples.
Church and state will always combine to get rid of anyone who is truly righteous and therefore truly influential. It is because such people are too disruptive, too effective in exposing human injustices and sin.
In spite of the boldness He showed in healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath and doing it in the very teeth of His enemies, Jesus was not courting the leaders’ opposition at this time. So now He did what each of the Gospels reports He did on several occasions. First, Jesus withdrew quietly in order to work elsewhere. Matthew says, “Jesus withdrew from that place.” Second, He warned those He healed “not to tell who He was,” in order not to stir up mistaken expectations. Jesus was not a fanatic, nor was He courting either fame or opposition. He had come to make atonement for the sin of His people. He would do it at the proper time, but at this point His hour had not yet come.
This was a watershed moment in Christ’s ministry. So Matthew pauses here to sum up who Jesus was and to indicate the nature of His ministry by quoting a well-known messianic passage from Isaiah (Is.42.1-4; Mt.12.18-21).
Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.
This is the longest quotation from the Old Testament in Matthew, but it is not a word-for-word quotation. It is, “Isaiah 42.1-4 as interpreted by Christ’s fully inspired apostle Matthew.”
These verses contain four great predictions: first, the Messiah will bring justice to the earth, next He will go about His work quietly and humbly. Thirdly, the Messiah will not trample on the weak or those who are poor in spirit. Finally, He will bring salvation to the Gentiles
What an amazing set of predictions. Yet Jesus did precisely these things. His actions, however, did not fulfill the expectations of His day. The Jews of Christ’s day wanted a Messiah who would drive out the Romans and establish a revived Jewish state. The disciples themselves had such thoughts even after the resurrection. Jesus went about His work quietly, teaching and at last dying for His people. The benefits of His atonement were offered to the Gentiles. As far as justice is concerned, this is something that is being proclaimed now through the Church and will be realized perfectly in power when Jesus comes again.
“What is pictured is a ministry so gentle and compassionate that the weak are not trampled on and crushed till justice, the full righteousness of God, triumphs,” as it certainly will in the end.
If you are a Gentile, you have benefited from that prophesied messianic ministry. If you have been buffeted by life (“a bruised reed”) or if you are weak in faith (“a smoldering wick”), you are in a position to benefit also. Have you been buffeted? Is your faith weak? If so, be encouraged. Jesus did not come to snuff out anything that is weak but instead to fan the smoldering wick into a flame and to straighten and strengthen the bent rod. Aren’t you glad He did not come to execute justice at this time? That will happen in time. Justice will be done. Judgment is inevitable in a universe ruled by a just and holy God. But today is the day of God’s grace, and we live because Jesus is the Savior. He alone saves, strengthens, and keeps all who will repent and turn to Him.