“He told the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Stand before us.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. After looking around at them with anger, he was grieved at the hardness of their hearts and told the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ So he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Why do we have rules? Sound familiar? We started there yesterday too. But here at the beginning of Mark 3, we find Jesus debating the same issue yet again with the Pharisees. Here, though, things are starting to get a bit hotter. The last lesson He taught them was that the rules are first for our good, not simply to be followed because they are there. Here…He teaches the same lesson but in a much more graphic way. Let’s see how.
Mark tells us just before we pick up here that this man with a shriveled hand was there in the synagogue when Jesus arrived for the Sabbath service. That’s all we get. We don’t know if he was a plant by the Pharisees or if they simply knew he would be there, figured Jesus would be Jesus, and were waiting for the opportunity to pounce. That they were waiting to pounce we do know was the case as we can see in v. 2.
Have you ever wandered into a trap? While it may look like that’s what was happening here, it’s not. Jesus didn’t wander into a trap. He stomped right over to it, picked it up, examined it, and then threw it to the side. When He knew all the Pharisees were watching, Jesus told the man to stand up. Then, He asked an incredibly revealing question.
The Pharisees were so concerned with what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath that they couldn’t imagine anything else. If the law didn’t specifically allow something to be done on the Sabbath, then it was not lawful to do. Period. As far as they were concerned, there were not any exceptions to this. Knowing this, Jesus played to their bias for a minute by the question He asked. Is doing good lawful on the Sabbath? How about doing evil? Is that against Sabbath law?
Jesus knew he was going to heal this man. The Pharisees knew He was going to heal this man. Jesus knew the Pharisees knew He was going to heal this man. They knew He knew they knew. Jesus wasn’t trying to justify Himself. He didn’t need to. He wasn’t violating the Sabbath law and He knew it. The only law He was guilty of violating was the set of rules they had invented to help clarify what the real Sabbath law meant.
The problem was, though, this extra set of rules the Pharisees had invented had become more important to them than the Law itself. Whatever the original spirit of the Law had been, they had lost it. If all of this had been limited to just them, it still would not have been good, but the extent of the damage would have been limited. Because of their position and influence on the broader culture, though, they had not simply wandered astray themselves, they were actively leading all of the people astray. And the worst part was they neither could nor would see this.
The reason for Jesus’ question was to reveal their bias. He wanted to reveal their bias, and the potential damage it could cause, in a very public way neither they nor the people could avoid seeing. Again then, He asked: “Is it okay to do good on the Sabbath?“
On the one hand, doing what was good always brought honor to God. On the other hand, in their minds and hearts, if the Law didn’t allow it, it wasn’t good. But wouldn’t healing someone suffering from a physical malady always be good? Again, as far as they were concerned, only if the Law allowed it. And healing on the Sabbath was something the Law didn’t allow. Therefore, it wasn’t good. The Law mattered more than people.
This, however, as we talked about yesterday, was never what the Law was intended to be. There were few things that made Jesus more angry than seeing His Father’s commands used to hurt the people His Father loved.
Here is where we find a vital point of contact for our own lives. When we use the word God gave to hurt the people God loves we have a serious problem with the God we profess to serve. His commands are always for our good. Period. If we interpret or use them in a way that is for someone’s bad, then we are either misinterpreting or misusing them.
Now, this does not mean we will always like the way they actually apply to us. This is especially true when they are keeping us from doing something we want to do. What is good for us, though, is not defined by what we want to do, but rather by what God designed us to do. And what God designed us to do is to worship and bring glory to Him in all things. This means keeping God‘s commands is always our highest good. Insisting on our twisted interpretations of God’s commands, though, is not. The Pharisees were doing this, but wouldn’t admit it, which led to the conflict with Jesus.
So then, how can we make sure we are not doing what the Pharisees did? Perhaps the most important way to do that is to make sure that we are letting the Scriptures be our guide, and not our traditions concerning them.
Consider our own traditions concerning the Sabbath command. American Christians have long called Sunday the Sabbath and insisted that no work be done on it lest we violate the Sabbath command. We have even gone to the extent in some places of passing so-called “Blue Laws“ which have restricted even non-Christians from doing certain things on the Sabbath because we don’t think they should be done. “But,“ we protest, “we are keeping them from doing things on the Sabbath which should not be done!” According to whom or what? Where is the clear justification for that in the Scriptures? The simple truth is that it’s not there. In these kinds of things, we are no different than the Pharisees.
So, what do we do? Again, we make ruthlessly certain that we are being guided by the Scriptures and not our traditions about them. And we remember that the word God gave is always for the good of the people God loves. If we get that right, most of the rest will fall nicely into place.