Read Mark 3:1-6
The religious leaders like the Scribes and Pharisees were not interested in listening to Jesus, or even considering whether or not he may be a great teacher or possibly even more. They come to Jesus for one purpose, to oppose him. Their beliefs and lifestyle made no room for Jesus, so rather than deciding if they should change, they oppose him. Verse 2 says they watched…so they might accuse him. Their customs said that healing was work and except in cases of imminent death or childbirth, medical work needed to wait until the next day. But Jesus takes issue with this. The purpose of the Sabbath is rest and restoration, and denying this man this healing would be truly violating the Sabbath, even though it was considered keeping the Sabbath according to their customs of interpreting this law. He asks in verse 4, if it is lawful to do good or harm, to save life, or kill? They don’t answer him because he didn’t leave them a way out of the dilemma. Verse 5 tells us that Jesus responds to their silence with anger. Who wouldn’t be angry? These smug men sit there and do nothing while this other man suffers with a debilitating disfigurement. So, Jesus shows them how to truly observe the Sabbath and he heals this man’s arm. The point of Jesus doing the things he did on the Sabbath was to show how the Sabbath is kept. It isn’t for earning favor with God. It’s not kept to obtain righteousness. It’s kept to restore, to rest, to worship. The Pharisees didn’t get this. They thought that in keeping the Sabbath, they were God’s accepted and true people. They thought that God would bless them and give them favor for keeping the Sabbath. They didn’t understand that keeping the Sabbath was a blessing from God.
To show that the Pharisees haven’t property applied the Law or understood the purpose of the Sabbath, Jesus shows with his questioning that they would rather do harm than good. And then, to show this to an even greater degree, while Jesus heals on the Sabbath, look what the Pharisees do in verse 6: the Pharisees and Herodians plotted together. These are both political groups who struggled for influence over the populations. The Pharisees were the religious group that fought to preserve Jewish distinctiveness in an increasingly pagan culture. The Herodians were Jews who were loyal to Rome and supported Herod, the Roman puppet king over Israel. One group is intensely religious and the other intensely irreligious. Jesus provoked the religious and the irreligious. This movement Jesus has begun is now viewed as something that is subversive and threatening. There is great irony here because they would not permit Jesus to heal someone on the Sabbath, but they considered it fine to begin to organize Jesus’s death on the Sabbath. Jesus brings Healing on the Sabbath and it violates their customs, but they can plot to bring death and it’s acceptable. This echo’s back to verse 20 when Jesus spoke of the removal of the Bridegroom. He is going to be killed.
The way he teaches the Law and the message he proclaims of God’s Kingdom coming near are too controversial and subversive for these two groups. Typically they would never agree on anything, but their hatred for Jesus and desire to kill him unites them. They had determined to reject Jesus, not to follow him, and their rejection was leading them to murder. They failed to see that this was hardly the way the Law of the Sabbath was supposed to be followed. The Bible instructs us about the Sabbath in these passages because there was massive misunderstanding among the people and the Pharisees. Jesus teaches that the Sabbath should be observed as a blessing from God. God himself rested by looking at his work of creation and being satisfied and calling it good. He invites us to rest. The type of rest Jesus invites us to isn’t merely to make sure we take a day off work, although rest from work is something that should happen. Jesus invites us to rest in his work. Observing the rules and commands isn’t the way we obtain God’s favor, or blessing, or eternal salvation. We obtain God’s blessing and salvation by believing in Jesus and trusting in his faithfulness to God. The commands we are given are a blessing. They lead us into the best way to live our lives. They teach us about what life will be like in the resurrection.
Hebrews 4:9-10 says, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
God gave his Son for us, and it is in Jesus that we have God’s favor. Hebrews teaches us that this is the true Sabbath. God gives rest to weary sinners like me and you because he gives us his Son. Belief in this and repenting in life will unfold into a life of Gospel centered rest for us. How do you need to believe and repent today? Where have you been obeying God technically, but not actually? Are you loving God and people, or merely observing commands?