The Lord and His Sabbath | Mark 3:1–6
The Lord and His Sabbath | Mark 3:1–6
Shaun Marksbury | Morning Service | 9 April, 2017
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Last time, we saw the Lord face down the traditionalism of the scribes and Pharisees. They had confused their external convictions with God’s Word. They had weighed the Sabbath command with so many requirements that it became a heavy burden to God’s people. Yet, here comes the supposed Messiah, and He’s not supporting the traditions of men. So, they begin accusing Jesus for not following all their rules, trying to put their load of extrabiblical requirements on His shoulders.
We saw that Jesus did not argue the point as He could have. He could have called them out for their leaven in that moment, but He didn’t. Instead, He points back to a true violation of the Mosaic Law committed by King David while on the run—a moment when God allowed the violation. If King David would be allowed such a space, then how much more would He grant it for the Son of David?
Jesus highlights an important distinction in the Law. The Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. God doesn’t need our good works; we’ll see that God wants us to rest in the finished work of Christ, in faith. Moreover, when it comes to our neighbors, God would want good done to man on the Sabbath, not harm.
The key is what Jesus said in v. 28—“So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” He does not need to bow to regulations. He doesn’t need to be instructed on how to worship on the Sabbath. He is the Lord of the Sabbath. He commanded Sabbath worship in the OT. If anything, the Pharisees needed to learn from Him.
Today, we will see how the Lord of the Sabbath operates. Now, we should see that every day is a day of worship, and Sunday is not the “Christian Sabbath.” Some Christians go astray when they start creating equivalency between portions of the Law with New Covenant ordinances. The Sabbath was specifically part of the ceremonial observance for those born under the Old Covenant.
Even so, the church certainly reflects the Sabbath observance in Scripture. It is still one day in seven, and we remember the resurrected Lord by having services on Sundays. The Lord Jesus built the church and has directed it, and we call Sunday “the Lord's Day.” So, as we think about the Lord of the Sabbath in this passage, we are thinking about how He leads, heals, and reveals on His day of worship.
II. First, the Lord leads on His day (vv. 1–3)
1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”
The text says that He enters “again” into the synagogue, presumably in Capernaum. In Luke 6:6, we read that this takes place “on another Sabbath,” meaning that this is a different day than when they were walking through the grain fields. Mark and Luke follows the Lord’s declaration that He is the “Lord of the Sabbath” with this account because it demonstrates that fact.
We read here that the man had a some kind of deformity, and Luke the physician adds that it was his right hand (Lk 6:6). Based on the state of the verb in the Greek, a perfect passive participle, it seems that the man started having this condition at some point. This means that the deformity wasn’t congenital, and probably the result of an accident or disease.
The Pharisees are there, keeping a close watch on Jesus. They’re spying Him out, waiting to pounce on any mistake. Perhaps they had even brought this man to the synagogue, setting up a trap for the Lord. They don’t speak to the Lord now, perhaps because He has demonstrated an ability in the Law. Even so, they silently await whatever error He may make.
Make no mistake, they are seeking to accuse Him. One commentary says, “The distinctive word for “accuse” katēgoreō (κατηγορεω) means ‘to accuse formally and before a tribunal, to bring a charge publicly.’ The prefixed preposition kata (κατα) suggests animosity.” Luke 6:7 is even more specific, “so that they might find a reason to accuse him.” They were looking how they might bring an accusation against Him, and the Sabbath seemed opportune. Those who violated the Sabbath command of the Lord would be put to death in the Old Covenant (Ex 31:14–15; 35:2; Nm 15:32–36), and the Messiah could not break the Law of Moses. Their previous attempt failed because He had not actually violated the Sabbath, but here, they could make the argument that He was a Sabbath-breaker.
Here, we see how our Lord leads. He knew the Pharisees would be there that day, and that they grew in their hatred of Him. A very human temptation would have been to sit out of the synagogue service. However, the Lord of the Sabbath has work to do, and He is not going to allow others to keep Him from His work. We see His courage as He entered the synagogue, looked those Pharisees in the eye, and still did what was right in front of the people. May He grant us to be so bold that, in times of discomfort and persecution, we would follow His way!
Jesus turns to the man and commands him to stand up in the midst of everyone. Everyone needed to see this man. He would become a teaching illustration as all would see the degeneration reverse. The Pharisees have no need to spy on our Lord, for He does nothing in a corner. He takes the lead by doing what is right, which we’ll see in the following verses.
He leads on His day. It’s sinful that the Pharisees don’t follow.
III. Second, the Lord heals on His day (vv. 4–5)
4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Jesus uses this as a teaching opportunity. He would later teach that love of God and of one’s neighbor is the filter through which we should interpret the Law (12:29–34). Here, He starts with a more basic question—should good be done on the Sabbath or evil, salvation or murder? The answer should be obvious to a child, but the unteachable Pharisees remain silent. (Let’s test this.)
These nouns—good, evil—describe how your actions have moral consequences. If, for instance, there is a good deed that should be done, doing that deed is an act of good. On the other hand, not doing that deed when it was in your power would be an act of evil. We don’t always think in terms like this, but Jesus’s question implies that there are moral implications to Jesus not helping this man when it is within His ability.
That is an important layer to Christian ethics. Of course, the Lord does not always choose to heal people, even though it is within His ability, meaning there’s an unknown, greater good served by His denying healing in those moments. From our humanly perspective, however, God calls us to do good as always a moral requirement. James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” We can debate what is the “most good” in certain circumstances, but Christian duty is always to do good.
That the Pharisees don’t recognize this speaks of the hardness of their hearts. They were quick to challenge Him on technicalities on the previous Sabbath day, but now, He brings the challenge to them. However, they “kept on being silent.” It’s not because they knew they were wrong and were ashamed. No—they just didn’t care what He had to say. They didn’t care about questions concerning ethics and morality—they only sought to protect their traditions.
This surely is part of what Christ meant when He said to become like a child to receive the kingdom, for children, while still sinners, have no agendas or reputations to protect. So, before we are quick to condemn the Pharisees without checking for a moot in our own eyes, ask yourself if there is anything in your life you would seek to protect from the Lord. He wants us to come with empty hands.
Indeed, consider this man’s condition as he stands in the midst of the people. Like a child, he finds himself the centerpiece of a discussion bigger than he imagined in the moment, and he has nothing to add to Jesus. In fact, having a withered hand meant that he would have lacked the ability to obey Jesus and stretch out his hand. To look at this another way, without Christ, this would be as foolish a command as asking a child to pen a full systematic theology. Yet, with Christ directing him, he found that, as he tried to open his hand, he was able. The Lord supernaturally restored the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the time it takes to open a fist.
How true is this of us! Spiritually speaking, He gives us the same supernatural strength when He commands us to repent and believe in the gospel. You may be born with spiritual paralysis, and a life of sin may have further crippled you spiritually. We bring nothing to Him except a need, but He gives the strength you need to reach out your hand to Him. If He says repent and you turn from your sin to Him, take comfort in the fact that the Lord has given you the spiritual healing you need for life.
Well, the Lord takes the lead. He faces down the Pharisees and does what is right. He heals this man. But that is not all that He does on this Sabbath.
IV. Third, the Lord exposes on His day (v. 5–6)
5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
He exposes their hardened and sinful hearts. Verse 5 is the only spot in the NT where we specifically read that Jesus became angry. We know He did at other times, such as when He cleansed the temple of sin. He called the Pharisees white-washed tombs when their hypocrisy becomes clear. We don’t read that He ever reacted in anger at the tax-collectors and sinners He encountered; it was reserved for those playing church.
Anger is an emotion that God experiences and created within us. It is not sinful in itself, though we, as sinners, too often express it sinfully (cf. Eph 4:26). Even so, Jesus could experience righteous anger at the willful ignorance of the Pharisees. He could also be righteously angry at the murder in their hearts.
We see that His anger moves to deep pity that their hearts are so hardened to the truth. Indeed, the state of the verb indicates a deeper, more abiding sorrow. The anger is a momentary look crossing His countenance, but the present participle communicates that the Man of Sorrows has an ongoing grief at the state of their hearts.
A similar term is used in Ephesians 4:30 in the command, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Their hearts have grown dull. They’ve grown callous. Whatever excitement they had for the things of God exists outside their hearts. A hard heart indicates a rebellion against the Lord (Ps. 95:8; Heb. 3:8, 15). Jesus knew when they were questioning in their hearts (2:6–8), and now He sees that their hearts are hardened to the truth. Hearts hardened like stone, like the calcification of bones.
Note that Jesus did not touch the man. He did not spit in the dirt, make mud, and smear it on the withered flesh. He didn’t even say the words, “Be healed!” He told the man to stretch out his hand, which is not a violation of the Sabbath. Jesus clearly heals the man, but does so with no apparent violation of the Sabbath day. And the Pharisees are incensed.
Interestingly, in v. 4, Jesus doesn’t stop with asking whether it’s better to do good or harm on the Sabbath. He asks if it is better to save life or to kill. One strains to imagine how leaving the man with a withered hand one more day might literally kill him. As such, some commentaries point out that Jesus actually speaks of what the Pharisees have planned for Jesus. He’s going to do good on the Sabbath, and they’re going to leave in v. 6 and plan to murder Him.
The Herodians were a political party in Israel that supported the Roman-appointed King Herod. As such, the Herodians were Hellenist Jews, those who embraced the Greek and Roman world around them, not practicing separation like the Pharisees. The Pharisees would typically not engage in work with these compromisers, so animosity against Jesus makes strange bedfellows.
V. Final Thoughts
A. Consider the process of sin in the people.
We should ask ourselves why we fail to do what is right. We should note that it wasn’t just the Pharisees present this day. No one in the synagogue had the courage to answer Christ such a basic question. Could it have been fear of man—that they didn’t dare speak up when the Pharisees were present? Could it have been apathy? Did they not care whether good was done to this man? Why do you often fail to do what is right?
For the Pharisees, it was because they were committed to their traditionalism. They would not answer because it meant giving up false beliefs and practices. They would not answer because it meant giving up influence. The bigger answer is sin, though. I wonder what you would be unwilling to give up for the Lord.
That sin led the Pharisees to betray Jesus, even getting in bed with their enemies to do it. They completely compromise on their principles to stop the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you continue to reject the Lord’s teaching in your life, you will find yourself crossing lines you never thought you’d cross to get away from what the Lord demands of you.
B. Consider the process of our Lord in His people
The same kind of holy anger He demonstrates against the Pharisees will be present on a different day, the Day of the Lord. He will judge the world with a pure anger that is unstained by sin. He hates sin so much that He will burn both heavens and earth to rid creation of its stench. And He turns that anger on those who choose to remain in their sin.
He also demonstrates grief in doing this. He recognizes hardness of heart, the spiritual callousness that produces so much sin in our lives. He takes no delight in the destruction of the wicked as a result.
He also chooses to heal as a result. The bad news is that Jesus is going to judge this old world and everyone in it. Even so, He came into the world to set us free from our spiritual deformities. He is not willing that any of His people should perish, so the Lord grants us the repentance and faith that we need. So, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Heb 3:15).
If the Lord has saved you, then walk in the light. If you love Him, keep His commandments. He Who began a good work will give you the strength to persevere in it until that great day.