Mark 3:1 “Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.”
If you know anything about the Pharisees, you probably see the issue for them here already. Healing people is doctor’s work. The Sabbath law forbids people to work. From their point of view, it was better to let this man live another day with a crippled hand. That would be the obedient thing to do. That (they thought) would make God happy. It was better to do nothing, to let this man continue to suffer, than to do medical work on the Sabbath.
Jesus frames the question another way. “Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent.” Have you ever heard of a sin of omission? It’s a sin in which we “do nothing.” We fail to show love to our neighbor who needs it. Sometimes, even doing nothing is doing something. It is sinning against my neighbor, who needs me to reach out and love him. It is an evil work for which God may judge me.
If God were going to set aside a certain day a week for focusing on his grace, a day for nurturing our relationship with him, what kind of behavior do you suppose he would be expecting? What would he want his people to do? To use Jesus’ words, would he want us “to do good, or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” Would he want us to help our neighbor or neglect him? No one answered Jesus’ question, but there is only one way to answer it. The Lord of the Sabbath wants his day, and every day, to be a day for doing good, not for doing nothing.
So Jesus healed the man. “He looked around at them in anger, and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.”
The Sabbath laws don’t apply to us in quite the same way they did in Jesus’ day. We usually worship on a Sunday, not a Saturday, to honor Jesus’ resurrection. It is a matter of New Testament freedom. We are free to choose our day of worship, though not free to neglect worship altogether. Here are a few take-aways from Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath.
One, God’s laws are never arbitrary rules. They never hurt us. They always bless us and benefit us in some way. If they ever involve pain, that is due to our sin-sickness, not to God’s law. What God said about “honor your father and mother” could apply to all his commands, “…that it may go well with you and you may enjoy a long life on the earth.” Any application of God’s laws that gets in the way of our genuine, spiritual well-being and love for our neighbor must have problems with it somewhere.
Two, we will always make applications of the Bible to our current lives, but we need to be careful not to lift our applications so high that we put them on the same level as God’s own commands. There are many ways to love your children, your spouse, or your neighbor, but they won’t be the same for everyone. Whatever we do, the important thing is that we love God and our neighbor.
Three, thinking God is pleased with us because we are so skilled at keeping his law always gets us into spiritual trouble. It turns us into legalists. It makes us more concerned about external correctness than love for others. It substitutes personal performance for trust and love as the heart of our relationship with God. It is the reason the Pharisees could obsess about living the right way and completely neglect people who needed their help or sympathy. An honest comparison of our lives with God’s law always exposes our sinful shortcomings. An honest comparison of our lives with God’s law always leads us to see that we need Jesus.
Four, Jesus is the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the God who established a day of rest. But more than that, he is the God who invites us to come to him and find our rest. He has carried our sin-burden, taken responsibility for our guilt, as though he was the one who committed our sins. He has paid the penalty for our sins and set us free from the debt we owed. There is nothing more for us to do for God to love and forgive us. In Jesus, we find rest for our souls.
Rest for our souls: more than anything, that is what the Lord of the Sabbath wants.