Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 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. 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. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Understanding And Applying the Text
This passage ought to speak to us. It ought to cause us to pause, reflect, and reconsider all we understand about scripture.
Here were a group of men who had studied scripture. To say they were familiar with scripture, would be an understatement. They knew scripture well. Yet, knowing scripture did not mean they understood it.
The Law was clear. The Sabbath was a day set apart. It was a day where men were not to work. It was a day set aside to worship God. It was the Lord’s day.
Yet the same Law prescribes burnt offering on the Sabbath. “On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering: this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.” (Numbers 28:9)
Trust me. Slaughtering lambs is hard work. The lambs tend not to cooperate. Blood is everywhere. Then you have to hold the lamb upside down to drain the blood. It is messy. It is difficult. It is work.
And therein lies the tension. No one was to work on the Sabbath. Yet, the priest worked when he fulfilled his duties. Today, the preacher works when he delivers a sermon. Though he does not need to work as hard as the priest did in biblical times.
The problem arises in how we resolve the tension. The Pharisees over emphasized parts of the Law. Then they de-emphasized parts of the Law they found problematic.
That is why systematic theology is so important. Systematic theology attempts to understand the whole counsel of God. It starts by assuming God does not contradict Himself. If God does not contradict Himself, then we must understand all Scripture in a consistent way. We must understand it in a systematic way. We must resolve what appear to be contradictions. We must resolve it by holding to both sides of the paradox.
Jesus took this opportunity to teach the teachers. He demanded they examine the whole Law. He was not breaking the Sabbath. He was keeping the Sabbath. The day was set aside to worship God. We serve and worship God by doing good to others.
This is an important issue. If Jesus had broken the Sabbath, He was no longer sinless. If he was not sinless He could not atone for our sins. He could not save us. This issue is a serious one.
Could not Jesus way waited until the next day? Would not the man have a withered hand the next day as well? By waiting a day Jesus could have healed the man and avoided all the conflict.
Yes, He could have. But if He had, He would have broken the Sabbath.
Start by remembering what the commandment says. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8) The commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. It is not a normal day of work. It is a day dedicated to God. How do we serve God? We serve God by serving others. That is what Jesus did. He was not breaking the Sabbath. He was keeping the Sabbath.
But there is more to the answer. Jesus is God. He had already taught He is Lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5) Second, it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:12, Mark 3:4, Luke 6:9) If Jesus has not done good, He would have broken the Sabbath.
As God, Jesus was the Lord of the Law. As a man, Jesus obeyed the law by doing good on the Sabbath. In their attempt to keep the Law the Pharisees violated the Law.
It should sober us when we read. “And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” (v5) Do we anger our Lord by refusing to do good? How many times do we ignore or pass over opportunities to do good?
Jesus could have healed the man the next day. He could have pacified everyone. He could have avoided the conflict with the Pharisees. He could have kept the peace by waiting one more day. What is a day? The man could not have used the hand to do anything on the Sabbath anyway.
Here we learn keeping the peace is not always a good thing. Jesus’ obedience to the Father took precedence. His obedience caused anger. God calls us to obey. He calls us to obey now, not at a more convenient time. Obedience delayed is disobedience.
The Herodians and the Pharisees hated each other. But Christ’s actions united them. Unity is not always a good thing. It all depends on what the unity is over. They united to do evil.