WITHER IS THE LORD OF THE SABBATH
Or WITHERING HEIGHTS
Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
23 Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: 26 how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?” 27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
Healing on the Sabbath
3 And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. 3 And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.” 4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Conflict and advancement This is the fourth installment of the fight between Jesus and the religious rulers who are beginning to show increasing hostility toward Jesus. Our passage demonstrates for us Jesus understanding and attitude toward the Law. But the passage actually goes beyond this, as Mark tells us who Jesus is in an entirely new way. So let’s look at: QUESTIONS AND CONSEQUENCES, QUEST AND CONSEQUENCES (SINKING SHIPS of WITHER AND YON), QUALIFYING CONDITIONS: OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION.
1) QUESTIONS AND CONSEQUENCES
The events of this passage revolve around Sabbath restrictions: picking corn, wheat, or any grain is a no-no. The Pharisaic criticism is immediate. Jesus began preaching at a local Synagogue in order to clarify His posture: Jesus is LORD of the Sabbath, And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5) parallel and new wine. It is at this church service where a divine encounter happens: the withered hand extends. His response is incredible: serving and advancing regardless of personal consequences.
As Jesus and the disciples were tip toeing through the tulips, I mean taking a walk in the countryside among the farms on a Sabbath Day. As there were no 7/11’s to buy Sunflower Seeds, Jesus disciples decide to satisfy their munchies by eating some grain. Jewish Law made an allowance for this type of behavior (Deuteronomy 23:25), so they were not stealing from the farmer. As long as you didn’t use what would be defined as modern machinery (a sickle in this case), you were cool to take a little for your hunger.
The Pharisees decided to try to enforce a different passage that prevented you from reaping on a Sabbath, which was forbidden (Exodus 34:21). When they saw what these guys were doing, they made an accurate assumption concerning Jesus. They alleged that Jesus condoned their behavior. They were right. This what led to the question, why, oh why did you let them do what they did, Jesus? How could You?
Jesus answered their questions with a blunt and human understanding of the Law. In the past when people were hungry, the Law gave way to the people, not the other way. Jesus cites David and his band of forest outlaws AKA merry men. There was a time when they entered a Temple dedicated to YHWH and at the sacrificial bread that was in the Sanctuary because there wasn’t any other bread to eat.
The real point is that the Sabbath has been made for man to rejoice in and to enjoy. This is our Father in Heaven’s gift to us, so happy Father’s Day! Our rest time wasn’t meant to strangle into us into submission and docility. But this was and usually is the perspective of the religious, build uncopiable castles that restrict rather than liberate, turning joyous God activities into copious unattainable events. The Pharisees were so bent on mathematical certitude and conviction about their warped justification, they could no longer see what God’s original intent was for the Sabbath Law.
Deuteronomy is very clear about this. People are more than beasts of burden. We are not simply work animals. Even in our sub-human sinfulness, we have the ability to rejoice in our God given freedom. That’s the real meaning of Christmas, I mean Sabbath. When we become enslaved by the law of freedom, we enter into a true irony.
Up to this point it would be easy to conclude that Jesus beat the religious at their own game, out witting them with His more humane interpretation of the Sabbath Law. Mark doesn’t stop there. For Mark, yes Jesus is the wisest of Rabbis, but Mark sees Jesus as more than a wise Guy. Mark show us that Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath, the Son of Man. This is important, as Mark is telling us that Jesus has the authority to actually legislate about the Sabbath.
Today it can be difficult to appreciate the extremely revolutionary statement that is being made about Jesus. The issue isn’t whether or not you pluck grain as you tip toe through the grain fields. On your Sabbath journey. The issue is who Jesus is. Who Jesus is. Who Jesus is.
2) QUEST AND CONSEQUENCES (SINKING SHIPS of WITHER AND YON)
Have you ever been scared of the advice, “Just go to church?” Do you ever think about what the average person experiences when they go to the average church (whatever average might mean)? Jesus discovered early on that going to church could be a very uncomfortable situation. He became upset at the way religion got in the way of God’s business. Religion just became another place where politicking took place. The clothes looked different; the venue was different, but it was the same struggle for personal acceptance as in the assembly (ekklesia) places of Rome.
At this point Jesus was not kicked out. Those that had devised evil just got up and left in a huff. They had some unpleasant business to attend to on the Sabbath. Perhaps our structures and personal expectations have stripped the Lord’s ministry from the very place that we would most expect to find it. Let us see how in Jesus’ day, how church actually attempted to shut out the ministry of God’s love.
Jesus habit was to regularly attend synagogue just like we attend church. Interestingly, we can call church synagogue because it means the same thing and functions in the same way as the synagogue. They both mean ‘an assembling’ or ‘gathering.’ At the synagogue God’s people joined together in worship, education and ministry. Leaders would be chosen and responsible to care for the people.
I find it amazing how ministry can be regulated out of church. We as leaders are responsible to insure this ministry is done. In this case, we find the problem originated not with Sabbath rules or with healing. The teachers were so intent on the preservation of ‘their ministry’ and their respectable positions that they were not at all open to God doing especially good things in their midst. Maybe we should ask, “How many church leaders would want an itinerant young preacher come in and heal one of your member’s withered hand?” How have you responded to challenges that stretch you and make you think outside of the box?
3) QUALIFYING CONDITIONS: OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION (3:1).
The man had a problem: his hand was non-functioning. Physical limitations would have had an impact on this man. He would be limited as a worker: the agrarian/labor culture would be difficult, which led to a state of dependency on others. There was an emotional impact on the man. He undoubtedly had periods of confidence deficiency. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that he lacked assurance and doubted his own abilities. There were probably issues of envy and jealousy concerning those he felt inferior.
• When all else failed, he found solace in his seeking out God
• This is one of the great benefits of great limitations: it allows us to acknowledge our insufficiency
• It’s possible that this condition led him to be in a place of prayer when his encounter happened
• Sometimes there is a blessing that can be found in affliction: as it positions us to recognize our need and the one who is more than our need
Many churches just wouldn’t want Jesus there! They don’t believe in healings. They don’t want some un-ordained youngster causing problems in their well-ordered services. Their ministry is to have well-ordered services rather than heal and help. Others will argue that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. Truly, the keeping of the Sabbath is one of the forgotten commandments today. We should be happy for the leaders and teachers who insist on their members keeping it. When a careful look is taken at both their attitudes and the real teaching of the Sabbath, however, we find that a superficial use of these teachings can be used to keep God out of church more than in the church.
After Jesus had called this man with the withered hand forward to stand in front of everyone, He asked an important question, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” Jesus at once taught the essence of the Sabbath as well as exposed the evil intentions of the teachers.
Listen to the statement Jesus makes: “Stand up” “Stretch out…” A spirit of criticism immediately rose in the midst of the leaders. Amazing, isn’t it? Look at the requirement: the man had to exert faith:
• First by sitting and praying
• Second by standing, stretching his arm and hand out
• Third, by walking in the obedience of action
• Jesus command drew instantaneous response: especially from His enemies, as they became enraged with indignation
“Stretch out your hand” What a commandment. This object of derision and limitation (deformed hand) was requested to be seen in the presence of everyone who observed the happenings:
• Tradition says that the man tried to display his good hand, not the damaged one
• Jesus needed to see the point of shame, which is what He asks of us
• It is never wrong to expose ourselves to Him: He washes away our sin and our infirmities when we let Him
CONCLUSION: COMPARE: WITHERED THEN, AND NOW
Are there areas in your life that you see as withered, damaged, wanting to keep them out of the light? I call you to bring them out of darkness and into the light. The LORD is looking for ways to give us a healed heart. Having a healed heart means we need to stop hiding our points of inferiority by masking them with our strong points.
Today, let’s stretch forth our transgressions and faults before Jesus.
Trust Him to heal you and make you whole as you place your life in His light.