January 24, 2016
So let’s review exactly what was getting Jesus into trouble. So far in our study of Mark, He came preaching good news, the gospel of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is actually here and available – repent and believe in the gospel. The good news that would culminate in His death and resurrection for sinners. Bad people can actually know the joy of a restored, right relationship with God – and know the peace of sins forgiven. Is that something to oppose? Why would people have a problem with that?
Well, He then actually began to deliver people – relieve people of their brokenness. He started, at least in Mark’s Gospel, by delivering a demon-possessed man. Sure, it was the Sabbath, but the demon started it. Knowing who Jesus was, he began publicly opposing Him – so Jesus drove the demon out. What’s the problem with that?
That very evening, He began healing many people of various kinds of sickness and driving out demons. People were coming to Him from all over the city of Capernaum and finding healing and deliverance they’d not known for years – in some cases, ever. All who came to Him left restored. Is that a problem?
He began a Galilee-wide preaching, healing and deliverance tour. Good news – the Kingdom of God is among you – it’s available to all who repent, turn from their sin, and believe. And as proof the kingdom is here – He cast out demons. This seems to be a theme through the first chapter of Mark – the evil kingdom of Satan was under siege. Isn’t that a good thing? At the end of chapter 1, Jesus actually healed a man of the most dreaded of all diseases – leprosy. Sure, in mercy He reached out and touched the man – and instead of Jesus becoming unclean, the leper became clean. Who would have a problem with that?
But then we got to chapter 2. And Mark began five stories in a row where we see Jesus continue to teach with authority and heal…and we see rising opposition. Now, to be sure, Mark was proving Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. He does so by telling stories of what Jesus did. Because you see, Jesus was proving by His authority in His teaching, His authority over the demonic realm, sickness, sin, the Sabbath, and ultimately death – Jesus is proving He is the Son of God. And He does so in ways that raise the ire of people you would never expect – the religious establishment. Why would religious people oppose healing and exorcisms and forgiveness – why would they oppose the Son of God? Because He messed their system.
It’s the same reason we have world religions today. Many don’t like the way God offers reconciliation – so we’ll come up with our own way. And in the process, we’ll oppose this Jesus as the exclusive way to God. We’ll oppose His Person, we’ll oppose His teaching, we’ll oppose His followers. Christianity is under siege – in the Middle East, it costing followers their lives. In our country, it’s beginning to cost you – and I believe will continue to do so in ever increasing measure. After all, Jesus said, if they opposed Me, they’ll you, too.
Back to Jesus – they did oppose Him. In chapter two, these five stories begin. In the first one, Jesus, as the Son of God, has the authority to forgive sins, healed a paralytic, forgave the man his sins. The guy stood up right in front of them – walked out – clean, inside and out. Who would oppose that? The religious establishment – they thought Him blaspheming.
Story number two – Jesus called a tax collector named Matthew to follow Him. Matthew couldn’t leave his collector’s booth soon enough – Luke tells us he left everything. Jesus then attended a party at Matthew’s house – with Matthew’s friends. Who is friends with a tax collector? Other tax collectors and sinners. It seems they were eating and drinking – celebrating the good news of the gospel – sins forgiven. Who would have problem with that? The religious establishment. You see, for them, sinners weren’t welcome. And Jesus reminded them of this truth – He came not to call the righteous, but sinners into His kingdom.
And suddenly, we realize, wait a minute. Look at the people Jesus is calling into His kingdom. He’s not calling the self-righteous – those who don’t think they need a Savior – those who think they’re just fine without divine forgiveness. Those who think they’re okay and they’ll make it on their own – or their way. No, Jesus is calling the broken, those who bring nothing – those who realize Jesus is their only hope. So far, we’ve seen Him calling formerly demon-possessed people, the sick, the lepers, the paralytics, the marginalized, those the religious people would never allow in their club. Jesus came to call sinners – this should be good news, since we’re all sinners. And so we’re beginning to realize – the way to God is not through our self-efforts – our supposed acts of righteous – our systems, our made up world religions. The way to God is simply through the Son of God. That’s glorious – who would oppose that?
But the self-righteous, the religious aren’t so quick to give up their efforts – those systems they’ve created to make themselves acceptable to God. Opposition story number three. The disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees – please note, two religious groups – came to Jesus and asked Him why He and His disciples didn’t fast. Don’t you know, spiritual people fast. If you want to be acceptable to God, then you’ve got to do what we do. And Jesus told them – the way to God will never be found in the old system – especially the one you’ve created. I’ve come to bring new wine, the truth of the New Covenant.
But certainly there are things we’re doing, thought the Jews, that are acceptable to God. Look, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, none was more important than the Sabbath, right? It’s the longest of the Ten Commandments. God set the example by Himself resting on the very first seventh day. And so they spent centuries writing about all the things that spiritual people didn’t do on the Sabbath. Opposition story number four. Jesus and His disciples were walking somewhere on the Sabbath – that’s Saturday, by the way – and the disciples began picking grain along the way. They weren’t stealing – Deuteronomy 23 provided for that. But, the system said, you can’t pick grain on the Sabbath – that’s reaping, that’s working. Never mind that you’re hungry – you don’t work on the Sabbath.
And Jesus blew up their categories. He reminded them of another OT story where their forefather David went into the Tabernacle when he and his men were hungry – and ate the consecrated bread. But, that bread was reserved for the priests. And yet neither David nor the priest were condemned. What do you do with that? Listen, Jesus said, man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man. In your system, you’ve switched the it around – and made the day of rest and incredible burden. And you missed the point of Sabbath altogether. I am the Lord of the Sabbath. Not only was that a clear self-declaration of deity – but Jesus was implying, He was the fulfillment of the Sabbath – His followers would find their rest in Him. You see, the Sabbath always pointed to Jesus and the ultimate rest He would bring.
But the religious were not interested in that. Don’t mess with my system. Don’t mess with my religion. Don’t tell me my efforts at self-righteousness are unacceptable to God. I’ll do it my way. Opposition story number five, and our text today – read it with me – Mark 3:1-6.
The religious don’t want you to mess with their system. So don’t be surprised it was the religious that ultimately conspired to have Jesus put to death. And don’t be surprised when the religious conspire to oppose Christianity. Don’t be surprised when the religious, in the name of their religion, behead Christians. And if you’re first response to being opposed of your faith, if your first response to radical Islam is Amendment 2 – let those Muslims come here and we’ll greet them with my Glock – then maybe you don’t quite understand the way of life for followers of Jesus. But…you bluster…the US Constitution and law give me the right to defend myself. Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t? We’ll come back to that at the end.
This is an incredibly intriguing story – I hope I can convey the nuances and truths found within it. The outline goes like this:
- The Sabbath Setting (1-2)
- The Confrontation (3-5) – and you might be surprised at who instigates the conflict.
- The Conspiracy (6)
It’s pretty simple – but follow along as we make our way through these great verses. Starting with the Sabbath Setting. Now, in these five stories, I’ve suggested the first two had to do with forgiving sinners, the third had to do with religious observance – that of fasting, and the last two had to do with the Sabbath – because after all, the Sabbath was the pinnacle of their religion. It was unique to Judaism. More had been written about the Sabbath than any of the Ten Commandments. Remember, there are 24 chapters in the Talmud regulating the Sabbath – namely, what you couldn’t do. I won’t review all we talked about last week, but we found the Sabbath, instead of being a day of rest, had become an onerous day of ritualistic observance. You were exhausted focusing on all you couldn’t do instead of resting in God.
So Jesus takes them to task. He entered the synagogue – it actually reads the synagogue which means it was likely the synagogue in Capernaum. Now remember, there had already been some fireworks there. He had already wowed them – unlike the scribes, He taught them with authority. And it was in this synagogue the demon confronted Him. So, no doubt, the crowd that day was on the edge of their seats – what’s He going to do today. Mark adds there was a man there with a withered hand. The word speaks of a dried up, shriveled or stiff hand – basically useless – and the wording is such that it wasn’t new – he’d probably had it for a long time – maybe even born with it.
But this man wasn’t the only one there that day. Ominously, they were watching Jesus. Who is they? Mark doesn’t say, but the antecedent likely points to the Pharisees. And in verse 6 we read the Pharisees went out of the synagogue. So it was the religious righteous who were watching Him. And why were they watching? So hear more of His authoritative teaching? To learn from Him? To see another incredible miracle? Had they become His followers? Hardly. They watched to see if He would heal him – the man with the withered hand – on the Sabbath. Some even suggested they set Jesus up – that they were the ones who brought the man, to see if Jesus would heal – He just can’t seem to help Himself.
But then, why did they want to see if He would heal the man? Because they cared about the man? They had compassion for him? Because the wanted to see a miracle, further proving the identity of this Jesus? Hardly. They were looking for some way to accuse Him. There is some irony here – they were watching because they expected Jesus to perform a miracle – they were acknowledging Jesus was doing the miraculous – but they’d miss the miracle because of their system.
Which brings us to the confrontation in verses 3-5. Now right away I want you to notice some things. Did the man seek Jesus out? Did he cry out for relief – fall at Jesus’ feet and beg for mercy? Did he even ask to be healed? No. This is the only miracle is Mark that Jesus initiates without being approached or asked. Jesus singled him out and ordered him to come forward. Meaning, it was Jesus who instigated this conflict – Jesus was confronting the self-righteous Pharisees who wouldn’t lift a finger to help a broken man. While they were seeking to accuse Him, He accused them in front of everybody.
Not only that, think about the man. He didn’t ask for this. Again, it’s possible the Pharisees brought him. And here he was, being ordered to stand in front of everyone – to put his brokenness on display for all to see. It was probably the last thing he wanted to do – he’d tried to hide, to compensate for his brokenness for a long time – perhaps his entire life. What is it in your life – what brokenness to do you have that you desperately try to keep hidden? God knows, and stands ready to restore you. That’s His specialty.
So the man came forward, perhaps haltingly, and Jesus asks – not him – but the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?” Stop right there. Simple question – is it okay to do good on the Sabbath? Or have you erected so many rules around the Sabbath that you can’t even do good. And notice – Jesus is implying that healing that man would be good – and not a violation of the Sabbath. And further, doing nothing – not healing him – would be doing harm. In other words, for Jesus not to do good, to in fact withhold good would be doing evil. In order to be the righteous Son of God, He must heal the man.
Now, remember all those chapters in Talmud, and the Mishnah, about Sabbath regulations? We talked about it last week. You could care for someone on the Sabbath if it was an emergency – if it was life or death. Additionally, if you were a midwife, you could work on the Sabbath – I suppose because babies don’t wait. Interestingly, circumcision was allowed since it was considered a sacred act that must be performed on the eighth day. But if you’re not delivering a baby, doing a circumcision, if it’s not a medical emergency – don’t do it. A doctor couldn’t even set a broken bone on the Sabbath – that can wait till tomorrow.
So, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath? They knew what their traditions, what their system said. So they kept silent. They weren’t interested in doing good. They weren’t interested in truth – they were only interested in their religious system. But Jesus went further, “Is it lawful to save a life or to kill on the Sabbath?” What, wait – that’s confusing. This man wasn’t in danger of losing his life. It was a withered hand that he’d likely had forever. What did Jesus mean? He wasn’t talking about what He was about to do – He was talking about what they were about to do in verse 6. Is lawful, on the Sabbath, to conspire to take a life – to kill? You’re so upset about me healing a man’s hand, but you’ll make plans on this holy day, to kill Me.
They remain silent. “And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” – Jesus was angry at their sin and their system – their sin which caused their hardness of heart, and their hardness of heart that produced a system that lacked mercy. Don’t miss that Jesus was angry. And yet we understand that Jesus never sinned. Paul tells us God made His Son, who knew no sin, to be sin for us. Hebrews tells us while He was tempted in every way as we are, He was totally apart from sin. My point? Jesus never sinned, but here, He was angry. Which means there is an anger that is not sinful. It’s called righteous indignation. It is being angry when God or His causes are offended. It’s why God can be God of wrath and anger, and still be a God of perfect love and righteousness. Jesus was angry at their sinful, self-righteousness that kept them from doing good – showing mercy – on the Sabbath.
So, turning His attention from them back to the man, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” Don’t miss that – stretch out your brokenness – let everyone see it. Stretch out that deformity that has plagued you, kept from being whole, perhaps your entire life. This is what Jesus invites you to do – to give Him your brokenness and allow Him to restore you – forgive you – make you whole. The man had a choice to make – to hide is brokenness or allow it to be seen, and healed. You have the same choice. Do I allow my brokenness to be seen, do I acknowledge it and allow God to forgive it, heal it. Or do I keep it hidden, and therefore keep it.
Notice, the man stretched it out – that’s an act of faith. One of my commentaries said this, “Faith is not a private wager but a public risk that Jesus is worthy of trust when no other hope can be trusted.” You see, I believe if he’d said no – won’t do that – I won’t offer you my brokenness – I don’t believe you can do anything about it – I believe his hand would have remained deformed. As it was, with this small act of faith, his hand was fully restored right there in front of everyone. Remember – this was a largely static society – it wasn’t mobile. The crowd in that synagogue had known this man, perhaps his entire life. They knew he was broken – deformed – withered. And so they knew he was now fully restored. Who would have a problem with that?
That brings us to our third point and our conclusion – the conspiracy of the Pharisees in verse 6. When Jesus healed the man from of a non-life-threatening physical condition, they were irate, convinced He had broken the Law. As I said last week – He hadn’t – Jesus never sinned – He kept the Law perfectly. It is right to do good on the Sabbath. He didn’t do work and violate the Sabbath. He had, quite intentionally, violated their system. He was confronting them.
So they went out immediately – Mark’s favorite word, but in this case, immediately. You can see them gathering up their flowing robes signifying their righteousness and began conspiring with the Herodians. Who are the Herodians? They’re only mentioned three times in the NT – twice in Mark and once in Matthew – and they are not found outside the NT. And they are always shown as opposing Jesus. We’re not exactly sure who they were, but most agree they were likely a political group who supported the Herodian dynasty ruling Palestine. If that’s true, and it likely was, then these two – Pharisees and Herodians make strange bedfellows. One vehemently opposed to Roman rule, the other supporting it. But, the old saying is true – the enemy of my enemy is my friend. So they came together when typically they never would – to conspire to destroy Jesus. Which means, Jesus conducts the rest of His ministry in the shadow of the cross.
You see, Jesus was opposing the tradition of the elders – thus exposing the Pharisees and their spiritual rule. Not only that, it was widely thought the Messiah would be a military ruler who would overthrow Rome, so the Herodians would oppose Jesus if He was going to upset their political power given them by Rome. So, they conspire together to destroy, to kill Jesus. Can you believe that as early Mark 3, the self-righteous religious leaders and a political party were out to get Him. Because, those steeped in false systems of religion, those in darkness, will always oppose the light. So it should come as no surprise to us when they oppose us.
By the way – notice the irony here. They were upset with Jesus for healing on the Sabbath – for restoring a withered hand. But they seemed to have no problem conspiring on the Sabbath to kill. Talk about hypocrisy. So later, when Jesus calls them hypocrites, white-washed tombs, pretty on the outside with their flowing robes and demonstrations of self-righteousness – they were in fact full of dead men’s bones on the inside – hypocrites.
I have several thoughts as we close this morning. First, with whom do you identify? Are you like the Pharisees, so steeped in actions of self-righteousness that you while you are quick to see the unrighteousness of others, you would never see it in yourself. Can I tell you today – Jesus came to call sinners – not the righteous into His kingdom. If you think yourself okay, He didn’t come to call you. But when you realize you have nothing to offer – no self-righteousness that would be acceptable to God – then and only then, you’re in a place to enter His kingdom.
Which leads to the second thing – what brokenness do you have – maybe a brokenness that you desperately try to hide from people – that Jesus can restore? I do believe Jesus heals physically today – and maybe He wants to heal you in that way. But more than that – what brokenness in the sinfulness of life do you have that Jesus wants to forgive and restore? He stands ready to do that, if you’ll stretch yourself out and ask Him ask Him to do so.
Finally, as I recognize most of you are believers – followers of Jesus – I would say this. They opposed Jesus for His words of truth and acts of mercy and righteousness. They will do the same to us – so we should not be surprised. He promised they would. And knowing that – and the fleshly desire we would have to fight back, Peter says this in I Peter 2:
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH;
23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
Can I suggest that is how we respond when threatened and reviled for our faith. We cling to the cross and suffering of our Savior.