Do our traditions and observances keep us from doing the right thing? Do we trap ourselves in our own restrictions when we know in our hearts we should act? Or are we so caught up in our traditions and observances that we cannot see what is right? That is what is at the heart of the miracle we’ll look at today.
He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!”
And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
– Mark 3:1-6, NASB
The first thing to notice about this miracle is that Jesus initiated the whole scene. We don’t have any indication that the man with the withered hand came up to Jesus. What we do see is that Jesus knew He was surrounded by enemies. He was surrounded by people who clung so tightly to their own traditions and interpretations that they could not see the truth of Jesus’ words. This would be a recurring theme in the rest of Jesus’ ministry and it is a recurring issue in our churches today. Jesus asks a simple question which basically amounts to, “Can you do something good to help someone on the Sabbath?” His question goes beyond trivial matters and cuts to something really important: a person’s life. He’s trying to get them to wake up and think. But they are only caught up in one thing: is Jesus going to heal on the Sabbath? Let’s take this apart, shall we?
The Sabbath was established by God. Healing would have to come from God. Therefore, if Jesus were able to heal on the Sabbath, that meant God allowed it. God permitted it. In other words, it was not in conflict with God’s establishment of the Sabbath. Seems pretty cut and dry, right? Not with these guys. They expected Jesus to heal on the Sabbath. They were waiting on Him. And when He did, they were going to start planning to get Him. After all, He was violating the rules they had established on the Sabbath. He was challenging their authority. The fact that He was acting under God’s authority was irrelevant to these guys. Whoa. Stop right there. When did our authority ever become greater than God’s? And that’s the point Jesus was driving home.
But they didn’t get it. In fact, after He challenged their authority, and angrily at that, they decided to plot with the Herodians for Jesus’ death. We don’t know much of anything about this group of people, but we can gather from the name they were friendly with Herod or favorably disposed towards Herod’s rule. In other words, the Pharisees began conspiring with folks who should have been their enemies in order to have Jesus killed. Think about how far they’ve gone down the road of disobedience. Not only are they openly opposing Christ on the matter of the Sabbath, disregarding the clear sign of God at work, but they are even now conspiring to kill the one chosen by God. How then could they have ever considered themselves holy in God’s sight? Yet they did.
It’s easy to point fingers at the Pharisees and say, “Look at how horrible they were!” But the fact of the matter is that we can be just as blind. We can miss what God is doing because we’re caught up in our own trappings. This is true whether we’re talking about the Church, about an individual church, or about an individual. The key here is to to really think about what God is saying through His Word. Just about every gifted Bible teacher I’ve ever read has pointed out that it takes more than just sitting and hearing the Word preached on Sunday mornings, or even reading through the Bible. It takes sitting down and really chewing on the Word. We don’t like that word meditation because of the images it brings about, but they say that it takes meditating on the Word in the traditional sense. In other words, reading over Scripture, carefully considering it, weighing it against our own lives, and seeing how we measure up. This is something that as the Church we’ve lost sight of for the most part, and it’s telling. If we’re not doing this, we’re making the same mistake these Pharisees did.
Here’s the good news we can take away from this miracle. No matter what obstacles Man puts in the way of God, our Lord will accomplish His will. And we know that means He will continue to provide guidance, He will continue to meet our needs, He will continue to help us deal with tough situations, and He will continue to be there right beside us, every step of the way. Nothing and no one can stop God. Just because we can be hard-headed and fools, that doesn’t mean that God stops looking at what’s the best thing for us. In other words, God continues to overcome our faults not because we deserve it, but because He chooses to extend grace and love for those whom He has called. We serve an awesome and mighty Savior, one who takes care of us in spite of our sometimes misguided efforts that get in His way.