Yep, this is one of those types of stories -- A Roman Catholic priest, a Christian pastor and a Jewish rabbi were talking one day about their belief in miracles. The Roman Catholic said that he believed in miracles and illustrated it by telling of a recent incident when he had flown to Durban. As the aircraft began its final approach, a tremendous storm broke, the rain was pouring down, there were loud claps of thunder and the plane was being tossed about. The priest had prayed for a miracle and "for a hundred yards all around the plane there was a great stillness and the plane landed safely." The pastor too said that he believed in miracles. When on a vacation in Cape Town, South Africa, he and his wife had taken the trip out to a nearby island. On their return to Cape Town harbor, however, a great wind suddenly rose and the waves were very soon many yards high. They feared for their lives and the pastor prayed for a miracle, and "for a hundred yards around the boat there was a great stillness and the boat arrived safely in the harbor." The rabbi said that he had come to believe in miracles through an event that had taken place the previous Saturday. During a Sabbath service, a visitor from America had arrived with a suitcase full of ten-dollar notes which he chose to give to the synagogue. According to the traditions, there was a problem concerning how to count all this money on the Sabbath? So, I prayed for a miracle, and “for a hundred yards all around the suitcase it was Wednesday!" (Adapted from Andy Barnard's Sermon "Keep the Sabbath")
As we return to a group of people including Jesus, His disciples and some Pharisees, once again, we see how Jesus deals with the Pharisees concerning how they have interpreted the Sabbath. As we discussed previously, the Sabbath law was given to Israel as a mark of her relationship with God (Exodus 20, 31:13-17, Nehemiah 9:12-15). The Pharisees, who sacrificed to obey their Sabbath laws, thought that they were serving God by adding a number of regulations to what was already sufficient doctrine and practice. When they accuse Jesus and His disciples, they believe that they are defending God. (Good thing folks today are not guilty of such actions). :-)
By declaring Himself, “Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus affirms equality with the Father who gave the Sabbath. In Mark’s account we see that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), so Jesus continues to teach, train. The context and background for all of this information is that the Sabbath was originally designed for man’s good. Jesus comes to this place and time in order to point out that the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees concerning the Sabbath actually run counter to and diminish the principle and law of the Sabbath itself. And so, as Jesus came to fulfill the Law, the legal purpose of the Sabbath…in being a part of the Law…was fulfilled and abolished. Therefore, Christians are no longer under the authority of the Jewish Sabbath. By making the statement recorded in Mark 2, Jesus implicitly challenges the whole Sabbath theology of the post-exile Jews. As indicated in the last message, to require man to deny his own needs in order to keep the Sabbath was to pervert the institution…men were to be free from the burdensome restrictions in keeping the day. Jesus declares man’s freedom from the rabbinic Sabbath with all of its traditions in as much as He is Lord of the Sabbath. All of this allowed Him to have the authority to do healings and perform other ministry on the Sabbath day, as we have seen. So all of this is why the next part of the story makes more sense.
Following the first discussion (Matthew 12:1-8), Jesus now actually goes to their synagogue, the Jews place of worship. This serves to reveal the growing tension between Jesus and Jewish religious establishment. A man is there who has a withered hand, which means that it is dry, lifeless…perhaps paralyzed. The Pharisees quickly seize upon the situation and ask Jesus if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Jesus’ response is not to assert His own authority in any way, nor to quote some example from the Old Testament, but to point out the inconsistency of their own practice. The religious leaders are strict in prohibiting the healing of someone with a malady, but not where their own property is concerned. The irony being that they would make rules to save an animal, but would not waive them in order to save a man…so, I guess we now recognize these folks as the original tree huggers. ;-)
Jesus serves by healing a man with a withered hand, which is almost incidental to the story behind the story. But, the command for the man to stretch out his immovable hand illustrates that the healing is connected to the man’s faith…which is not unlike how Jesus handles some other healings. The Pharisees see the healing as a deliberate challenge to their Sabbath traditions. A single infringement upon the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees would not seem to be sufficient to warrant the reaction that they now display. But, this second “transgression” taking place in such short order appears to be more than they can bear. So, the Pharisees plot together to consider how it is that they can destroy Jesus. The Lord, understanding their hearts and their nefarious plotting, withdraws from there.
Ross Cochrane offers this -- yesterday, I got rid of some thorny weeds growing like trees in the back garden. The thorns were now like razor sharp nails and so it was difficult to get to the roots without punctures, scratches and a bad attitude. I knew that if I didn’t get to the roots, they would just grow again so I used the mattock. A mattock is a hand tool similar to a pickaxe, particularly suited for digging. Unfortunately, I am not! It took forever to dig around the roots and pull out the bulbous, deformed hand of the root system with its disfigured fingers reaching out insidiously in all directions. Hebrews 12:15 (NLT) warns us "...Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many." There were some poisonous, thorny people that Jesus had to deal with that day in Matthew 12. They were razor sharp in their responses to Jesus and just as destructive. The clawed fingers of their law system were distorted, malformed and particularly difficult to uproot. It is not at all surprising that Jesus uses a man with a deformed hand to illustrate what needed to be done if ever they were to be healed of a deformed heart. This verse says something about Jesus. He didn’t back away from weeding God’s garden. He meets me on my turf. He confronts me about my legalism in the place where I am more deformed on the inside than this man’s withered hand, in the synagogue of my own making
We have to guard our hearts. We don’t want to become like the Pharisees, making laws and regulations which bind the hearts and actions of men. Unfortunately, this practice is still all too alive and well today in many places. But, we must understand that Jesus comes to set us free from these matters. Remember the beginning of last week’s message – He does not come to add burdens to our lives and spirits, but to give us rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-30, see also 1 John 5:1-4) This principle of rest should follow times of service, as this is what keeps us fresh, energized and avoiding becoming weary or burned out. We do tend to think that we are invincible, however, and that we can work, work and work some more…but, it can and will catch up to us in physical, mental and emotional distress. There was a very important purpose for the Sabbath from the very beginning, as the Lord planned it. And it was intended to be man’s servant, not his master, as the Pharisees had made it. As I mentioned previously, we need 30 hours in a day to sort everything we have going on, which is all the more reason why we must work at resting. Granted, we do not keep an actual physical “Sabbath” in the literal sense. But, in a very real, spiritual sense, we need to make and take time for ourselves, and with our families, not to mention some time for the Lord.