God’s Word for You
Mark 3:1-6 Another plot
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 15, 2022
Jesus Heals a Man With a Withered Hand
3 Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 They were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal the man on the Sabbath day, so that they could accuse him.
The Gospels present these encounters between Jesus and the Jews who challenged him one after another, but they were probably spread out over time during the first two years of the Lord’s preaching. This time we’re not told the name of the town, but once again there were skeptics waiting to jump on any single slip that Jesus might make. They didn’t care so much about what Jesus was teaching (Luke 6:6), but just cared about catching him in his actions and the details of the Law of Moses. But the law is there to expose sinners and those who do or teach whatever is “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9).
Perhaps they found a ready-made trap with his man and his poor hand, or perhaps they set a trap for Jesus by inviting this man to appear on this day with his withered, shriveled hand. It’s a common reaction in readers of the New Testament (especially those who are not skeptics themselves) to sympathize with this poor man and the troubled life he led. A hand like his must have been the result of some accident or deficiency either from birth or from a very young age, so that the hand did not grow and develop normally. This man had to learn to bathe and dress himself, handle tools and everyday objects with the other hand alone. Doubtless he did so without noticing his deficiency very much anymore. A friend of mine in high school had lost his arm in an accident and used a plastic arm and steel hook so deftly that he could do almost anything anyone else could do and nearly as fast, making amazing adjustments to his prosthetic or simply to the angle of his body when he picked things up. However, the man in our text had a specific reason for this difficulty. He was given it to give glory to Jesus at this very moment. His hand was shriveled precisely so that Jesus could heal him, here and now. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), and so did this man’s hand.
3 He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step forward!” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 Then he looked around at them with anger, deeply grieved at the hardness of their hearts. He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” The man stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees left and immediately began to conspire against Jesus with the Herodians, plotting how they might kill him.
Jesus’ question silenced their plot. Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day? Or would it be better to do evil? Failing to heal the man would not be evil; he could have waited a day. But what they were doing, plotting to catch him in a mistake, was wicked and evil. They wanted to kill him, so he asks: “Is it lawful to save life or to kill?” This didn’t affect the Pharisees at all, except to harden their hearts. They were like a crowd of Pharaohs, angry at Moses and unwilling to be moved by his request to set his people free from their oppression. If Jesus had put it in those terms, they might have flown into a rage and killed him on the spot.
Perhaps I should be careful about how strongly I condemn these Pharisees as they watched Jesus. Not that they were justified or can easily be pardoned for their suspicion and jealousy. But what about my attitude about leaders in my life, in my country? Shouldn’t I watch them and at least notice and remember their transgressions? Should I happily cast my vote for a wicked candidate who is unfaithful in his marriage, who rapes and abuses women and brags about it? Or for another candidate who leads some sort of openly sinful lifestyle? God may choose to allow one or the other into public office, but it is painful to be part of that process. Dare I label one sin as worse than another? Does my shortsightedness lead to long-term problems for our country? It seems so often that addressing one sin today will only make three more to pop up tomorrow. Only God can forgive us such debts, and we ask his forgiveness for our choices, meager and weak as they are. When the Lord gives us more than one good choice, it is not sinful or wrong to pick either one. When the Devil corrupts things so much that there don’t seem to be any good choices at all, then we pray that God will bless our decisions, our choices, and that he will work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and may he give us true Sabbath rest, week by week, and for all eternity. We are forgiven and rescued by his grace alone. May God have mercy on our land.
Pastor Timothy Smith