Mark 3: 1-6
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.” 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. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
So that’s what happened. And the Holy Spirit had Mark record it and pass it on to the Church – first the church in Rome, because it seems that who Mark was writing to. But eventually this little episode in the life of Jesus was broadcasted to all the Church in every generation, so that we, even we in Somers CT in 2023, could learn how to do everything Christ commanded. This story is intended to teach us how to follow Jesus Christ.
This story has to do with the Sabbath, so we need to discuss that. The Sabbath was a mandate for Israel. It was central enough to their obedience to be included in the short list of the Ten Commandments: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Going on in Exodus 20: 9ff – Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day [Saturday]. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day [Saturday] and made it holy.
Do no work on Saturday, the Sabbath, and thus follow the creation pattern of God, who left off working on the first Saturday. Imagine a god who works 24/7 and drives his creation to produce, produce in every moment. But that’s not the God who is there. And so, by this ceasing from work, you are being like God, living up to your identity as an image-bearing child of the Creator, the LORD who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them. Lord of life.
Well, 40 years later, Moses writes down another copy of the Ten Commandments. And there comes the Sabbath again, in Deuteronomy 4:12: Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched hand. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
So the same commandment, but now there’s another basis for obeying it – did you catch it? In the Exodus account Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath because the Creator had rested after six days of labor. Here in Deuteronomy, Israel was to observe the Sabbath while remembering they were once slaves in Egypt and God had taken them away from that.
The connection was: in Egypt it was work, work, work all the time because they were slaves of those who worked them to the bone. If an Israelite died of overwork that was ok, because he was inferior to an Egyptian. Unimportant besides the work he could put out. Sub-human.
But God took them out of that and so now, in their day of rest, they’re to remember that God has, in a sense, restored the dignity of their humanity to them. They can return to their calling of properly bearing the image of the Creator, who worked and rested. Get back to reflecting that life is not tied only to the value of production; rest is in the mix too!
We discover later in the Torah that the Sabbath wasn’t simply a day of the week. There was a Sabbath year and a Jubilee, the seventh year at the end of seven sevens of years. In other words, time and space was constructed around the Sabbaths.
Which leads us to one more element we should know about the Sabbath: In the first part of the book of Hebrews, in chapter four, we learn that the day of rest that God took at the creation, and the rest of peaceful settlement that Joshua brought Israel into after the wanderings – – both pointed ahead to a future rest. The ultimate rest. That remains ahead of us, the writer of Hebrews says. That is where all time is going… and where all the Sabbaths were pointing. Every Sabbath was a signpost pointing to an ultimate destination of ultimate Rest.
And so when Israel celebrated the Sabbath, they were:
- Reflecting the Creator by acknowledging His pattern at the creation. Reflecting the truth of who He is: that He is a Creator who works and who rests from His work.
- Remembering that the Creator had taken them out of an existence of wretched slavery in which they were useful only for production; freed them back to reflecting the Creator in a rhythm or work and rest
- In their one day a week celebration, the people of Israel were anticipating that future rest, which will be ultimate and everlasting. If you want to think about it this way: in Israel’s weekly celebration of God and life and freedom, for a day, they were reaching into the future and bringing that ultimate rest into the present.
In the previous passage Jesus had claimed that He’s the Son of Man who is lord even of the Sabbath.
What does that mean? Recall that when Jesus began to announce what He was all about, He began by talking about time: The time is fulfilled. Those Sabbaths that pointed ahead, that were signposts on the way to the ultimate rest…? Jesus says, with my coming that promised future has arrived! That anticipated Rest of the new creation, the Kingdom of God, the victory over evil, has burst onto the world with my arrival! (Though it still awaits a total fulfillment.)
The Sabbath, like other signposts of God, find their fulfillment in my arrival. I am the true son of God, the Man who perfectly bears the image of the Creator God who works and rests. I am the Savior-King who will redeem men from ultimate slavery, restoring them to a true image bearing. In Me is the promised rest of God: Come unto me, all who labor and who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
There were candles lit at every Sabbath. But Jesus, the Sunrise from on high arrives, and now there’s no more need of candles. By His coming Jesus brings the Sabbath to its fulfillment. The Sabbath is another promise that, as Paul says, finds its ‘yes and amen’ in Jesus.
Grieved at their hardness of heart
Now with all that background in mind, let’s zero in on one verse from this scene in the Galilean synagogue. In v. 5 Mark says that [Jesus] looked around at them in anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.
When we use that term “hardness of heart” we mean that someone is cruel, unyielding to pleas for mercy. But the biblical writers use hardheartedness much more broadly to mean something like, the hardhearted person is missing the point of the great purposes of God.
In which way were those in the synagogue missing the point of the great purposes of God?
- They were using the Sabbath – a signpost of the truth about God and freedom and rest – to obstruct, and harm.
- One of the main points of the Sabbath was to reflect the ways of God – remember that’s the explanation for it in Exodus. But by their false Sabbath observance, they were bearing witness to a God who is petty and ready to pounce and interested only in holding on to power. An entrapper.
- Sabbath pointed to life and freedom and being brought back to being fully the human we were made to be. Sabbath pointed to human flourishing – and yet these rulers would keep this man bound to his crippled condition…at least for one more day.
- But it’s just one more day, you say…why couldn’t Jesus not rock the boat and wait just one more day to heal? And that question brings us to their fundamental hardheartedness. We said that Sabbath was pointing ahead to the future, the time when God would usher in ultimate salvation…rest. And so now that the Savior is on the scene, the time is fulfilled, and so there are no more days to be wasted! This is the day of salvation!
- So now we’ve put our finger on the ultimate hardheartedness – the signpost of Sabbath was for 1500 years pointing to this arrival of this One, this Son of Man… and when He arrives the powers that be are seeking to destroy him. Seeking desperately – so much so that the episode concludes with the Pharisees colluding with the Herodians…who were natural born enemies of each other!
- And when that great Son of Man arrived, he comes with authority over the Sabbath. He can alter it, keep it the same, or revoke it as no longer relevant. He is the Lord over the Sabbath, and now over every institution and power on heaven and earth. Yet these hardhearted men missed all that.
Brothers and sisters, this passage convicts us. It’s a tale as old as time. We hardheartedly use good things, good gifts – such as these Israelites with their Sabbath observance – toward evil ends. What was intended for life and freedom and reflecting God and flourishing, we often corrupt.
We are given work and we use it as a way to boast. We are given marriage and we use it to disguise laziness and a vent for complaining. We are given technologies of automobile and we use it to distance ourselves from our community. We are given computers and we look up porn or mindlessly dribble away our attention. We’re given a house and we use it to show off our aesthetic or management skills. At our heart is the great capacity to defile.
More pointedly, this passage shows us that it’s what we do with the good gifts of religion from God that’s so wrong. Religion can easily become a rationale for being cruel or a cover for being a coward or the platform from which we look down upon other people. God help us when our thoughts about God are the spur for our being lazy…or immoral…or silly! Yet this happens all the time. The Gospel of Mark offers several examples of people using religion to further their own ends. Disgusting!
I recall in a church I used to serve among, there was an older fellow who had been a believer for a long time, though his wife wasn’t a Christian. He told me that when he was newly converted, he would bring sermon tapes into the house and play them incessantly and loudly so that his wife and kids would get religion too. She would ask him to turn it off and – for her own good – he kept the sermons going! You see, using religion to badger, nag, bully, manipulate. And that’s just one of the ways we can mishandle our faith.
And as this passage teaches us – it’s not just what we do with the gifts that God gives us…it’s what we leave undone. As I understand Jesus’ question in v.4, to neglect to do what we should adds up to an active wrong.
Yes, this passage convicts us and shows us our sin: not just where we’ve actively transgressed, but where we’ve fallen short in leaving undone what we should have done: in our thanking and acknowledging God, in caring for other’s needs, in stepping in when someone is in trouble: Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter… Yet how often we remain passive before our duties.
Yes, brothers and sisters, here’s another example of when we open the Word, we are often confronted with our sin. Layers upon layers of it; more than we thought possible. But consider: one of the reasons God identifies so much sin is to assure us that this…even this…all this… is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.
We gather at this Table to remember that where our sins piled up high – our mismanagement and perversion of the goods we’ve been given in order to grow up into a true humanity, esp the ways we turn the gifts of religion into just more of the same ol’ lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life – even when we fumble and make a mess of these goods – where our shortcomings piled up, where the things undone rose up higher and higher – – the grace of God in the gift of Jesus Christ rose up even higher!
The only way we can go wrong is to not receive that sky-high grace of God, which we would do by missing the truth of Jesus Christ and its significance. Jesus is the Savior by whom God will fulfill His promises of life and redemption and rest. Jesus is at the center of all this action to bring sinners and the creation they mismanaged back to God. He is the Way…no man comes to the Father except through Him!
The Way is NOT being nice. Not being charitable. Not vague spirituality or religion. Not education. Not policy. Not invention or discovery. The only way forward into God’s rest is through Jesus.
But, this passage avers, you could miss Jesus; miss the point of Jesus. Because He has returned to God the Father, the way you would miss Jesus today isn’t by trying to destroy him or get him in trouble, as they did in our passage today. You could miss the point of Jesus by neglecting His Spirit whom He sent into the world and is in the world today.
The Spirit of Jesus is calling individual men and women to turn away from whatever they’re doing or not doing…and believe in Jesus Christ. Sincerely. Not going through the motions. Not offering up religious words. But saying: Jesus is Lord. Submitting to Jesus in general, and over time learning to yield to His authority in every aspect of their life. No one can reallydo that except by the Spirit.
You confess Jesus is Lord because He is, in fact, Lord. Lord of the Sabbath. Lord of Facebook. Lord of Bank of America. Lord of Ukraine and Guatemala. Lord over the NCAA. Lord over any power or principality in heaven and earth you can name. And God has given him that authority. And He will dispose of everything that’s under him – which is everything – as He wills. And it’ll be only through Him that anything will come into a true, eternal Sabbath rest.
Praise the Lord!
Guidance for Communion
I’d like us to – in our seats and in the quiet moment – take this time to think and pray:
- Ask yourself: are you a Christian? Have you turned and believed in Jesus Christ. Has the Spirit brought you to say, “Jesus is Lord”? If not, in the quietness of your seat, pray to God and receive Jesus as King…your King.
- Take time to confess those sins of squandering and corrupting the gifts of God. Especially those so-called religious sins: self-righteousness, always watching yourself and admiring yourself, looking down on others, etc. Ask yourself, what kind of G/god am I representing by my speech and texts and work habits and family life?
- Offer to the Lord Jesus the control of your marriage, your relationships, your parenting, your employment, your managing your employees, your church participation, your eating and drinking. 2023, as the year before was, is the Year of our Lord.
- Thank God for saving you from your sin. All your sins covered in the blood of Jesus Christ.
As we pray I’ll ask the men to come forward…