“And 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.” – Mark 3:4
People of truth have reason for concern over the widespread acceptance of unthinking and unprincipled conduct in order to promote and advance a certain agenda or movement. That kind of blind devotion is darkening our world like a great moral eclipse.
Again, we can look to the Bible for examples of how our Lord responded to that kind of stuff!
Early in His public ministry He made it clear that people were going to be challenged to think and act differently in this “Kingdom of God” that He was introducing. “No one puts new wine into old wineskins,” He said, “ . . . But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:32)
This transition was going to be hard for many to accept. Jesus ministry was clearly to the Jews; a population entrenched in Moses’ law and generations of tradition and strict cultural practice. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t make a break with the law; He just ‘bent’ it now and then. He followed Moses . . . . except when He didn’t!
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” He thundered to the religious critics when His disciples plucked heads of grain from the fields on the Sabbath. Whoops! A new idea about that holy day. It made those strict Sabbath keepers nuts! (Mk 2:22-28)
So, when Jesus made His way to the synagogue, they were ready for Him. “Do something, anything, unlawful on Sabbath, and we’re gonna nail you!” There were usually two or three religious dignitaries present on Sabbath to make sure nothing ‘unorthodox’ took place.
“They watched Him closely” as He made His way toward the man with a withered hand. (He’s still looking for the needs in the house, isn’t He!?) Tradition says this man was a stone mason, bereft of his livelihood by this crippling infirmity. Well, Jesus wouldn’t leave it alone!
“Step out here,” Jesus beckoned to him, and turning to those great defenders of the law He asked for an interpretation of it. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
Well, to any reasonable person the answer is obvious; it’s better to do good anytime than to do evil. But for those buried to their eyebrows in an unassailable point of view, they were stumped! “But they kept silent.” (3:4)
The Bible says the ridiculousness of that moment made Jesus mad. There was no open-heartedness, no compassion for the hurting man, no willingness to consider something better – just a clenched-jaw fight for power over men’s souls, and the rules that spelled it out! “We don’t care who you are; Moses reigns!”
There’s little doubt Jesus intentionally invited this confrontation. “Stretch out your hand!” echoed through the house as Jesus demonstrated the Divine sanction on making men whole on the Sabbath, or any other day. The Kingdom of heaven had drawn near!
The Pharisees immediately began to plot with the Herodians (who they usually despised) to destroy Jesus. Isn’t it remarkable how easy it is to get in agreement with the wrong folks and the wrong spirit, simply because you’re upset about the same thing!?
Beware of ideologies, causes, affiliations, or traditions that keep us from recognizing the obvious. It is entirely possible to be so entrenched in defending a certain point of view that we easily deny the clear realities in front of us, good or bad. Agenda driven people often make terribly mistaken judgements. I fear a multitude of believers have fallen into a similar rabbit-hole.
The Pharisee’s vigorous defense of a revered tradition blinded then to the manifest presence of their Messiah! By feverishly promoting a lesser concern, they missed the One who could have healed all their concerns!
Jesus made it clear His mission wasn’t to change Roman law and culture, or even to affirm Jewish culture and religion. Those things weren’t of Kingdom significance. “Someone greater than Solomon is here!” (Luke 11:31)
Jesus demanded a loyalty to Himself, His words and work, above any other loyalty. Believers’ expectations must be invested in a Person, not in some principle, or perspective, or platform. Can I envision Jesus talking like this, behaving like this, supporting this way of doing things? Jesus’ character and ministry are always the guidebook for who and what we should identify with.
“You pay tithe of mint and cummin and neglect the weightier matters of justice and mercy and faith . . . . you outwardly appear righteous to men but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matt. 23:23, 27) It’s never about what they’re for, but what they are!
We may appreciate the many current efforts to promote prosperity, fairness, equality, health, and security, but our first duty is to align, in principle and practice, with the truth, and with the One who insists on the truth, demonstrates the truth . . . . and Who is the truth. More laws won’t help us; rather, we must ask, ‘what kind of character are we dealing with here?’
That’s how Kingdom people think; when you have the right kind of people you eventually get the right result!
So, Jesus headed for the seaside, the Pharisee’s continued to nurture their hatred, and one grateful guy went back to work. A brief Kingdom moment, helping us see, and live, and perhaps learn. Heaven help us all!