LINK: Matthew 12
Matthew 12:1-8 -- Mark 2:23-28 -- Luke 6:1-5
Matthew 12:9-14 -- Mark 3:1-6 -- Luke 6:6-11
Matthew 12:15-21 -- Mark 3:7-12
Matthew 12:22-37 -- Mark 3:20-30
Matthew 12:46-50 -- Mark 3:31-35 -- Luke 8:19-21
My intention here is not to replace your reading of the scripture, but to summarize the content and flow of the chapter. It's a long chapter, and that makes it easy to lose the context.
Matthew 12 is mostly a confrontation between the Pharisees and Jesus. First they accused Jesus and his disciples of two counts of Sabbath-breaking -- picking grain and healing. Jesus defended both his disciples and himself and demonstrated to them that he was not breaking the Sabbath. He was not really breaking any law that God had given about the Sabbath. However, the Pharisees had added to that law and were accusing Jesus of breaking their traditional interpretation of the Sabbath law.
So, Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, despite the protests of the Pharisees. This, of course, angered the Pharisees, and they left to hold a little conference among themselves to plot against Jesus. While they held their meeting, Jesus withdrew to another area and healed many more people. The Pharisees found where Jesus was after their conference and accused him of working miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus refuted this accusation as well and told them that they were walking on very thin ice by attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.
Jesus very directly pointed out to the Pharisees that their hearts were evil, not good. They needed a total heart makeover. He expanded the application to say that everyone's words and actions are the fruit of the heart.
Then the Pharisees had the audacity to ask Jesus for a sign. In essence they were saying, "Who do you think you are?" They had already seen him do plenty of miracles, but they wanted him to "prove" his authority to them. Jesus refused to do a sign just for them, and the only sign he gave them was the sign of Jonah -- a prophecy of his death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus went on to tell the Pharisees that those they think are condemned will come out ahead of them on the judgment day. The Pharisees will not fare well because they have refuse to repent of their sin. Whereas many "sinners" will be cleared because they repented.
One final point Jesus made in this chapter is that anyone who obeys God is his relative. In other words, the spiritual relationship supersedes the relationships of bloodlines. This was probably disturbing to many who thought they were "in" with God simply because they were born Jews.
Let's look at the fruit principle that Jesus told the Pharisees in verses 33-35. What we do and say is a result of what is in our hearts, whether it be good or evil. The source of our outward behavior is our hearts. So often, when we don't like our own (or someone else's) behavior, we attempt to change it from the outside. We address the foul language or harsh words, the cruelty or violence, etc. What we really must address is the heart. As humans, our hearts are evil with sin and can not produce good. Only if our hearts are changed by God can we speak and do what is good.
Think about your own life - your attitudes, behavior, words. What areas of outward sin do you struggle with? Now consider the heart behind those things. Take your heart to the Lord and ask him to make it new. As long as we persist in addressing only the outward behavior, we will make little or no progress toward real change. Caution: I am not suggesting that you evaluate anyone but yourself. :-) I am also not suggesting that you are condemned before God. But in those areas of life where you tend to sin, it will help you if you examine your heart and deal with the "heart of the matter" rather than just the surface problem.
For me, personally, I have observed that when I sin, it almost always goes back to the issues of pride or selfishness. My prayer is that God will continue to work in my heart to weed out the pride and selfishness that dwells there. I used to make attempts only to change my outward behavior, but that resulted only in immense frustration. Once I learned to examine the source of my sin - my heart - and to take it before God, I began to see progress. I'm not "there," by any means, but I'm on board with God in the process of changing my heart. And the fruit is increasingly good fruit.
Father, only you can change our hearts. We can't do it ourselves! Thank you for beginning with cleansing us completely through the blood of Jesus. As we go through our day to day lives, though, we get dirty with sin and need continual cleansing for it. Help us to examine our own lives and see the source of sin in our hearts. May we allow you to prune our hearts in order to change us from the inside out. In the name of Jesus, amen.