A Man with a Withered Hand
The word Sabbath comes with baggage for Western Christians. Seventy years ago in most American towns most businesses would be closed on Sunday. Today almost nothing closes on Sunday. Many Christians applaud Chik Fil A for closing on Sunday, but those same Christians still enjoy going out to eat at other places on Sunday. An old newspaper cartoon summarized the confusion well. A little girl was playing with her hula-hoop out in the street. Her father, anxious about what the neighbors might think, called out to her and said, “You can’t play out front, it’s Sunday. Go play in the garden.” The little girl replied, “Isn’t it also Sunday in the garden?”
There’s much confusion about the Sabbath. Some Christians speak as if Sunday is the New Covenant Sabbath, simply replacing old covenant Saturday. They argue that it is wrong for Christians to do anything on Sunday, imposing similar rules as the Pharisees. But the NT never regulates the Lord’s Day like the OT does the Sabbath. Other Christians act as if the Sabbath language of the OT has no meaning for them at all. Like that was something that OT Israel had to do, but now it’s just gone and there’s no application.
This morning’s text is really part 2 of the sermon Pastor Kevin preached a few weeks ago from the end of Mark chapter 2. This pericope occurred on the same day and deals with the same discussion: the Sabbath. Let’s look at Mark 3.1-6 and see what it has to say about the Sabbath, the Kingdom of Christ, and Christ Community Church!
Verse 1 begins, again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. The synagogue isn’t in the OT. It was a Jewish invention while they were in Exile. They couldn’t make sacrifices because the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. So they would meet to read from the Law, Prophets, and writings. If a rabbi were there he would give exposition of the texts. This is where Jesus, and all Jews, would go every Saturday. And so Jesus is here with his disciples, a man with a withered hand, and of course, the Pharisees.
This is the same synagogue that Jesus taught in in Mark 1.21. But this time instead of a demon-possessed man there’s a man with a withered hand. Though they’re different, they’re both manifestations of sin, both results of the fall. This is a healthy reminder for us that spiritual warfare is real and it occurs in the most ordinary of circumstances.
Verse 2, and they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. These are the same Pharisees that rebuked Jesus in the field. Now they’re watching him to see if he would heal this man on the Sabbath with the sole intention of accusing him. The subjunctive κατηγορέω means to bring legal charges against someone. They don’t want to simply accuse Jesus; they’re trying to build a legal case against him.
Remember when we looked at the end of chapter 2 a few weeks ago Pastor Kevin described the pharisaical understanding of Sabbath regulations. The OT gives one command concerning the Sabbath – remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Yet in order to fence the Sabbath to make sure that no one broke the command, the Jews had created 39 extra biblical rules. One of those rules was that one wasn’t to pick grain.
Here’s the thing, even among their extra biblical arbitrary rules, they didn’t have a rule that said you couldn’t heal. In fact, they did say that if someone was in danger of death or a woman was in labor, then it was their duty to help, even on the Sabbath. Now there’s no doubt that this man’s arm wasn’t life-and-death. It could’ve waited until Sunday, but it didn’t have to! To heal him wasn’t even against their fickle rules.
Jesus, of course, is omniscient God and so he knows exactly what they’re doing. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 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. Jesus turns the table on them. In the field the Pharisees asked why the disciples were acting unlawfully. Now Jesus asks them if it’s lawful to do good or save a life on the Sabbath, or if the law only permits evil and killing? The Pharisees are silent.
And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart. Their apathy creates anger in the Lord Jesus. The Greek word for anger here is ὀργή. The word doesn’t merely mean annoyed, or even righteous indignation. A better translation of the word is fury. Jesus is furious that they care more about man-made religious rules than they do this man. But Jesus is also grieved. He’s sad for them because of their hardness of heart. This is the same phrase used of Pharaoh in the Exodus. The leaders of Israel have become a Pharaoh to their own people. Their hearts are more withered than this man’s arm.
And [Jesus] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. Jesus simply tells the man to stretch his hand; the man obeys and is healed. Notice that even if we were to assume the arbitrary rules of the Pharisees, Jesus didn’t do anything, did he? He didn’t perform any healing spell, didn’t use any kind of medication, he didn’t even touch the guy. He just said, “stretch out your hand.” Was someone not allowed to say those words on the Sabbath?
Beyond the fact that Jesus didn’t break their made-up rules, Jesus is actually doing what the Sabbath was made to do. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath isn’t to arbitrarily abstain from work. The point of the Sabbath was reliance on the Lord and restoration. That is literally what this man is doing through Christ. He’s relying on the Lord Jesus, and Jesus then restores him to health. Jesus’ actions are more sabbatarian than the Pharisees.
Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2.28). Notice Jesus doesn’t say that he’s the Lord over the Sabbath. He’s not saying the Sabbath is a thing I have control over. He’s saying I am Lord of the Sabbath. Namely, I am the Sabbath. The Sabbath began in Genesis 1 when God rested on the seventh day of creation. Did God need to rest? Of course not! He’s omnipotent; God’s resting means that he finished working and enjoyed his creation.
The Sabbath was commanded for the people of God after the Exodus. God redeemed his people from slavery and commanded that they remember the Sabbath. Jesus is the God who created and rested on that first Sabbath (John 1.1-2). Jesus is the God who led his people out of Egypt (Jude 5). To Israel the Sabbath was about creation and redemption and Jesus is saying, “I am the Sabbath.”
Hermeneutics are important for understanding the Sabbath. Sunday is not the New Covenant Sabbath in the same way that Saturday was the old covenant Sabbath. The NT doesn’t regulate the 24-hour period in the same way the OT does. But that doesn’t mean that the OT Sabbath texts have no application for us. The Sabbath command doesn’t govern the church as law, but it does so as Scripture. So how does the OT Sabbath command apply to the church as Scripture? Through the lens of Jesus! Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the true and better Sabbath rest for the people of God. Like all of the other types and shadows in the OT, the Sabbath was created to point to Christ.
As new covenant Christians we don’t have an actual day that is set aside to rest in God. Jesus is our eternal rest in God. Jesus is the final Sabbath rest for the people of God. Because Jesus accomplished the work of righteousness and redemption in our place, he is our rest. There is not merely a day of rest for the people of God in the New Covenant; there is an eternity of rest. The Sabbath doesn’t just inexplicably disappear in the NT. Jesus is the Sabbath. He is our rest.
So what does that mean for Sunday? Sunday is the Lord’s Day. It’s the weekly celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not regulated in a 24 hour way as Saturday was in the OT, but there is a similar principle. Every Sunday Christians gather and begin their week worshipping the risen Christ together. Under the old covenant, God’s people worked all week toward the rest of the Sabbath. Now under the New Covenant we begin our week with rest to prepare ourselves for our week. We rest together when we gather for worship every Sunday morning. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat after church, or go golfing, or even work. But the NT is unapologetically clear that Christians are to gather every week around the Word and the table and to neglect assembling together is sin.
Mark ends the pericope giving us a glimpse into what’s coming. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. The Pharisees were enemies with the Herodians. The Herodians represented the Greek culture –philosophy, sexual ethics, and politics. They were the original Progressives. The Pharisees were the original conservative values voters. They loved tradition, religion, and nationalism. These 2 hated each other. Nothing unifies like common enemy, and they’ve got one sure as hell.
The Pharisees and the Herodians are plotting against the Lord’s anointed one like the nations of Psalm 2.2. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. And these two competing kingdoms are unified in their opposition to the Kingdom of Christ. This is warfare. Notice the word immediately is used again. There is urgency not only on the part of Jesus, but also the Pharisees. But this doesn’t take Jesus by surprise though. Remember a few weeks ago he said that the bridegroom wouldn’t be with them forever. The King is going to the cross. And they will not take his life. He will lay it down. What Kingdom do you identify with? Is your greatest allegiance to religious systems like the Pharisees? Is it to Progressive politics and sexual ethics like the Herodians? Or is it to a King and a Kingdom?
Jesus is our eternal Sabbath rest. On the seventh day God looked at his creation and said, “It is finished,” and he rested. On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished,” and he rested. Now Christ Community Church, we can rest in the finished work of Christ on our behalf. In the old covenant YHWH told Israel remember the Sabbath. In the New Covenant Jesus tells us do this in remembrance of me. Whether you play with the hula-hoop in the garden or out in the street, Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.