Note to the Reader
This week, we continue our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.
What is the Point of the Miracle?
Miracles are powerful. They grab your attention. They are events that defy the laws of perceived reality. For sake of discussion I will not offer comments one way or the other about wonders, miracles and signs in the modern world, I simply want to look at what Jesus did as recorded in the beginning of Mark chapter three. In fact, I am not really going to talk about the miracle itself, as much as the disposition of the people.
While it is tempting to spend the majority of our time looking at the miracle of healing a man’s withered hand, we really need to spend our time looking at the reason for Jesus doing the miracle. The reason is found in the form of a question asked by Jesus, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill?”1 His question is not happenstance. It is vitally important doctrinally, theologically. While Jesus does the miracle, the miracle is not the issue; what is at issue are the doctrinal theological conclusions of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees had interpreted and developed a very rigorous and strict moral code based on the Law of Moses. Within the Gospels, their moral code is referred to as the “tradition of the elders”2 but at times their moral code superseded the Law itself.3 At their core, the Pharisees seem to have wanted to please God and through their Bible study developed a moral code that was an attempt to find greater righteousness and spirituality in order to please God.
In order for us to better grasp this moment in the synagogue, we must, for a moment, set aside two thousand years of Christian Discipleship. When Jesus was living, the New Testament was not available because it had not yet been written. Because of this, the Law of Moses was the starting point for everything religious; and the Law is very clear, “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, [not one of you is to work].”4 To carefully use a thought, the Pharisees were looking for scriptural authority to do things on Sabbath; they found none. Yet, Jesus is asking them “is it Lawful, is it Scriptural, to do good things?”
The answer may seem obvious to us, but it was not so obvious to them. The Law prohibited work on Sabbath, yet permitted (demanded) some types of work on Sabbath because the Law of Moses teaches to do good, and to save life. Consider this, irrespective of Sabbath, if your neighbor’s animal was loose, the animal was to be found,5 to do so is doing good. Additionally, Jesus argued that performing circumcision on Sabbath was doing good6 and that the priests worked on Sabbath but were blameless.7 The reason should be obvious, God expects rest from laboring for one’s self, but the self should always be looking for opportunity to do good things unto God and others.
Believers’ espouse Jesus to be the fullness of God revealed, which is true. Yet in that truth, Jesus is not overly cautious as to prevent himself from upsetting people by challenging their belief structures. Mark reveals that Jesus “looked on them with anger”8 because they had a hardness of heart, which seems to indicate that they had a collective unwillingness to listen. Jesus judged them and judged them righteously, according to the Law of Moses. The Law permitted the doing of good, even on Sabbath.
The unfortunate situation is that at that moment, Jesus confronted the Pharisees’ spiritual essence, they found no authority and prohibited the people from doing such things on the Sabbath. With this miracle and his question, Jesus made them uncomfortable, challenging their doctrinal and theological positions. Jesus simply was not politically sensitive to the feelings of the Pharisees, Jesus, to use a phrase, “shoved it in their face”. And this is the reason why they conspired with the Herodians to rid themselves of Jesus.9
Jesus was willing to confront presuppositions of doctrinal beliefs. Yes, he cared for the people. He healed people physically, spiritually, emotionally, but also intellectually; so they could more fully understand God’s intended message. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”10 According to Jesus, “God’s word is truth”11 and this must be interpreted as the Old Testament because when Jesus proclaimed the statement nothing of the New Testament existed.
Sometimes it is difficult for us to paint the picture of what was then, and then take that information and apply it to today, but that is exactly what must be done if we are to learn from the Scriptures. While the Gospels reveal Jesus and his being the Messiah, Jesus did not truly live in the New Covenant (the New Testament). By the shedding of his blood at his death he brought in the New Covenant, thus his teachings must first be understood in the light of the Old Testament.
It is always a difficult thing to have God’s truth(s) confront us, whether Old Testament or New Testament. But let us learn from passages like this, that as God’s people we should not have hardness of heart to the truths of God’s Word. In direct application of our text, God works on the Sabbath. He does not stop answering prayers; He does not stop forgiving sins; He does not stop blessing people. He does good things on the Sabbath; so should we. May the LORD bless us as we seek to understand his word.
1. “Jesus’ Question” Mark 3.4.
2. “Tradition of the Elders.” Matthew 15.2, Mark 7.3, 7.5.
3. “Superseded the Law”. Matthew 15.3.
4. “The law instructions about Sabbath.” Exodus 20.8-11.
5. “The animal to be found.” Exodus 23.4-5.
6. “Circumcision on the Sabbath.” John 7.21-24.
7. “Priests do good on Sabbath.” Matthew 12.1-8.
8. “Jesus looked at them with anger.” Mark 3.5.
9. “Conspire with the Herodians.” Mark 3.6.
10. “Truth shall make you free.” John 8.31-32.
11. “God’s word is truth.” John 17.1, 17.