A Good Deed

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. 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.

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. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
Mark 3:1-6 (NIV)

I love the way Jesus responds to these accusers. Fully aware of the opposition’s thoughts and intents in searching for ways to accuse Him, Jesus here openly gives them what they are looking for–a front and center healing on the Sabbath. But as our Lord confronts these religious leaders’ authority, their vengeance against Him is fanned into a roaring flame.

No healing permitted on the Lord’s Day unless it was a life threatening circumstance–this was the rule for these pious Pharisees. I suppose they also made the decisions as to what constituted a life threatening circumstance. If the problem could wait a day or so, it should wait a day or so–at least according to their interpretation of the law.

“Pride not only withdraws the heart from God, but lifts it up against God.”
-Thomas Manton
If Jesus healed the man with the shriveled hand, He would certainly be worthy of death in their eyes because He would have violated their Sabbath rules. Never mind that our Lord’s actions promoted this invalid’s welfare. Never mind that our Lord’s actions were inherently good and virtuous. Jesus’ character stood in stark contrast to the Pharisees’ tyrannical rule. What they considered breaking the Sabbath law, God considered doing good. They took the commandment in Exodus and added to it–tweaking it to suit their fancy:

“‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.'”
(Exodus 31:14-17)

Never deterred from His mission by the threats of the religious elite, Jesus told the man to stretch out his stand in front of everyone. There would be no hiding of the good deed performed–the light would be on the miraculous. The Sabbath was made for restoration and restoration about to occur at the hands of the Master. The glory would go to God. I am reminded of the words in Jeremiah’s prayer:

You performed miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours. (Jeremiah 32:20)

Our Lord sets up the healing by asking the Pharisees two rhetorical questions: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” They were speechless! Deeply distressed over their hardened and stubborn hearts, Jesus heals the man.

Take It to Heart

Jesus came to refresh the weary and satisfy the faint-hearted. He came to do good. He came to heal. He came to bring hope. Sadly for these Pharisees, they would have none of it. It is a great grief indeed for our Lord to see people bent on their own destruction and ruin. Like our Master, we must never deny ourselves the satisfaction of serving God and doing good, even though offense may be wrongly and unjustly taken by our actions.

“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:10)