Pastor David B. Curtis


Holy Hatred

Mark 3:1-6

Delivered 02/05/2006

We have been talking about the Sabbath for two weeks now. The keeping of the Sabbath was one of the most important rituals observed among the Jews. The Sabbath was to be a day in which all men ceased from their labors. However, the Pharisees in the days of Jesus had changed the Sabbath into something it was never meant to be.

The Pharisees were religious separatists who considered themselves holier than everybody else. They were very strict in their observance of the law, at least in their own minds, and after looking into the Old Testament, they came up with 613 commandments, which they codified and elaborated upon. They imposed their own ideas and oral traditions on the Holy Scriptures so much that their traditions became, in their minds, superior to and more authoritative than the Holy Scripture itself.

In their desire to protect and to uphold the law, they built a hedge around the keeping of the Sabbath. They had written up chapter upon chapter concerning what it meant to keep the Sabbath:

They taught that you should not look in a mirror on the Sabbath because you might be tempted to pluck out a grey hair, and that would be reaping.

They said that you could only eat an egg which had been laid on the Sabbath if you killed the chicken for Sabbath-breaking.

A donkey could be led out of the stable on the Sabbath, but the harness and saddle had to be placed on him the day before.

An egg could not be boiled on the Sabbath, either by normal means or by putting it near a hot kettle or by wrapping it in a hot cloth or by putting it in the hot sand outside.

If the lights were on when the Sabbath came (Sabbath began at sundown), you could not blow them out. If they had not been lit in time, you could not light them.

It was unlawful to move furniture on the Sabbath. There was an exception to this in that you were allowed to move a ladder on the Sabbath, but you could only move it four steps.

It was unlawful to wear any jewelry or ornaments on the Sabbath, since this might be construed as carrying a burden.

You were allowed to eat radishes on the Sabbath, but you were warned against dipping them into salt, because you might leave them in the salt too long and pickle them and this was considered to be Sabbath-breaking. The Pharisees actually had discussions as to how long it took to pickle a radish.

If a woman got mud on her dress, she was to wait until it had dried, and then she was permitted to crumple the dress in her hands one time and crush it and then shake it out once. If that did not do the trick, then she had to wear it.

So they had taken God's provision of rest and turned it into a great burden. I said last week that today there are three main views of the Sabbath:

1. The Sabbath still stands and it is still on Saturday.

2. The Sabbath still stands but was changed to Sunday.

J. C. Ryle commented, "The plain truth is that our Lord did not abolish the law of a weekly Sabbath. He only freed it from the incorrect interpretations and purified it from man-made additions. He did not tear out of the Decalogue the 4th commandment, He only stripped off the miserable traditions with which the Pharisees encrusted that day and by which they had made it not a blessing but a burden."

3. The Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ - who is our Sabbath Rest. The Sabbath commandment has been fulfilled, superseded, done away with and nailed to the cross. Christians meet for worship on Sunday, not because it is the Sabbath of the ten Commandments, but because it is convenient.

The Sabbath was a type: The essence of "keeping the Sabbath holy" was refraining from physical work. Doing physical work was the only way you could break the Sabbath in Israel.

As you read all the Sabbath references, you keep hearing, "Cease from your work, trust me." The message is "faith, not works." The Sabbath pushed a man away from works to the rest of faith. The Sabbath preached the gospel of rest - trusting God and not yourself. Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest. He fulfilled the Old Testament type. We, as believers, rest totally and completely in Him.

So to understand Jesus and His teaching and actions on the Sabbath, we must understand what the Sabbath was biblically. We must also understand what the Pharisees had done to the Sabbath. And we must understand our relationship to the Sabbath today.

In the end of Mark 2 Jesus is being questioned by the Pharisees as to why His disciples were doing what the Pharisees felt was unlawful on the Sabbath. Jesus answers them that the "Sabbath was made for man." Now in chapter 3:1-6 we have another Sabbath story. These are not Sabbath events that happened back-to-back; there were probably months in-between them.

In our text for today, Mark 3:1-6, we see the climax of a growing hostility, which you can trace through the questions asked by these Pharisees. The first one is rather mild: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" The second is a little more serious: "Why do John's disciples fast, and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" The third is even more crucial: "Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" The fourth brings before us the statement: "They watched him, ... so that they might accuse him." The hostility is sharpened, the synagogue door is closing to Jesus, and these men have now become His open and avowed enemies.

Mark 3:1 (NASB) And He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there with a withered hand.

In reading Mark we would naturally think the second incident took place on the same day as the first, but Luke 6:6 makes it plain that the two records are being put together only for convenience sake:

Luke 6:6 (NASB) And it came about on another Sabbath, that He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.

We don't know how much time has passed, but it's another Sabbath incident.

The Synagogue - Let's talk for a minute about the synagogue. The synagogue is not the temple; the synagogue is a completely different place. During the 400 silent years , from the end of the book of Malachi to the beginning of the Gospels, is when the whole concept of the Rabbis and the synagogue arose. The Hebrew people in that time period had a new passion for the Hebrew Scriptures, and they wanted to learn what God had to say. They needed a place where the Scriptures could be read and taught, so they developed the synagogue.

The synagogue consists of a large room with a double colonnade down the central aisle. Behind a partition is the place where the women are permitted to assemble and to listen to the services. At the front of the synagogue is a large raised dais on which rests the Bema Seat. Next to it is a lectern- it is from here that the Scriptures are read and taught.

On either side of the Bema Seat and slightly behind it are placed several chairs. These are the "chief seats." Any Rabbis and other Pharisees who were in the synagogue would sit in the "chief seats" (Matthew 23.6; James 2.2-3). There was also a special seat for the most distinguished present called "Moses' Seat" (Matthew 23.2). They thus had a good view of what was happening in the synagogue. From their vantage point, they can see that Jesus has entered their synagogue service, and they can also see something else; there is a man present who has a crippled hand:

Mark 3:1 (NASB) And He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there with a withered hand.

The Greek word used here for "withered" is xeraino, which means: "to make dry, dry up, wither, to waste away." It is used of plants, of the ripening of crops, of fluids, of the members of the body. This was probably caused by some kind of paralysis. He was thus unable to move it, which was why it had withered. But it was not life threatening.

You have to understand, in the first century culture almost all of the ways of making a living involved the use of hands. That was just the nature of the culture then. So to have a withered hand would have meant this man had a hard life. It was probably very difficult providing for himself and his family.

But it's more than that. When they would come to the synagogue, they would pray with their hands lifted about shoulder height, and that withered hand would have been very evident to everyone. Many of the priests believed that a withered hand was symbolic of a hand that had reached out to sin, and the punishment was that it came back withered. I'll show you where that view came from in a little bit. So there was a great stigma with this as well. Week after week, this man with a withered hand would go to the synagogue. You would think these religious leaders would have seen that and would have had a heart of compassion for this man and his suffering.

Mark 3:2 (NASB) And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they might accuse Him.

Notice carefully what this says: "They were watching Him to see if He would heal him." There isn't the slightest question in their minds as to whether or not Jesus can heal this withered hand; that's the interesting part of this. At this point they are not saying: Hey, if Jesus is who He says He is, let's see what He can do with this withered hand, because we think it would be awesome to have this guy's hand healed so that he could go home and provide for his family. As a matter of fact, it's just the opposite. By this time they are convinced that Jesus can heal the withered hand.

Now think about how deluded these people had become - how their religion had so dramatically affected their thinking. If they had seen a man do so many healings and miracles that by this time they had no doubt He could heal this withered hand - wouldn't that cause them to stop and think? Wouldn't it cause you to stop and think about who is this man? They had seen Jesus cast out a demon:

Mark 1:27 (NASB) And they were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."

They had seen Him heal many people:

Mark 1:34 (NASB) And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.

They had seen Him heal a leper, then heal a paralytic man. I don't know about you but seeing those things would get my attention, especially if I knew the prophecies of the Messiah. And yet they had become so confused and so deluded that, by this time, they know it's going to happen. The only thing they're wondering is: Will it happen on the Sabbath? If so, at that point, we've got Him!

Well, Jesus knows what they are thinking. Mark doesn't tell us that, but Luke does:

Luke 6:7-8 (NASB) And the scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely, to see if He healed on the Sabbath, in order that they might find reason to accuse Him. 8 But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, "Rise and come forward!" And he rose and came forward.

The Rabbis had strict rules about healing on the Sabbath. Where there was an emergency case and life was threatened, healing activity was allowed, but where that was not the case, and it could wait another day, healing was not allowed. Thus a woman in childbirth could be helped on the Sabbath. An infection of the throat could be treated for that was seen as possibly life threatening. But a fracture or sprain could not. A cut could be bandaged (it could lead to death if uncovered), but it must not have further treatment until after the Sabbath. These interpretations of the Rabbis were strictly enforced.

That the Jewish religious leaders held this view of healing on the Sabbath is clear form a similar incident that takes place in a synagogue when a woman is healed:

Luke 13:14-17 (NASB) And the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the multitude in response, "There are six days in which work should be done; therefore come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day." 15 But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead him away to water him? 16 "And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?" 17 And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire multitude was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

So these Pharisees were watching Jesus to see if He would heal this man. The phrase "watching Him" is actually a Greek phrase that means they were watching Him for the very purpose of accusing Him.

Mark 3:3 (NASB) And He said^ to the man with the withered hand, "Rise and come forward!"

Earlier in Mark, Jesus tried to keep some of these miracles quiet. But not now. Jesus invites the man with the withered hand up front and center. He's going to make sure everybody sees this.

He could have told the man to come and see Him after sunset, when the Sabbath was over, but that would have been to concede that the Rabbis were right, and in His eyes they had gone too far. And He knew that they were directly challenging His authority. So He called the man to come and stand where everyone could see. And then He asked them a question:

Mark 3:4 (NASB) And He said^ to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?" But they kept silent.

Let me give you a little history that will help you understand this question of Jesus. In the days of the Maccabean Revolt, nearly 200 years earlier, the Jews had dealt with the question of whether it is permissible for a Jewish soldier to fight on the Sabbath. The enemies of the Jews had hit upon a simple strategy. They would wait until the Sabbath, and then they would launch their attack, and the Jews would not defend themselves, because it was the Sabbath. As a result of some terrible massacres, the Rabbis had declared that it was permissible for soldiers to fight to protect themselves and to save lives on the Sabbath.

Jesus is asking a related question: If it is okay to fight to protect yourself on the Sabbath, then isn't it also permissible to cure a man of his disease on the Sabbath? If it is okay to kill a man on the Sabbath, then isn't it okay to cure a man on the Sabbath?

If we look at Matthew's account of this story, we see that he elaborated on this idea of doing good on the Sabbath:

Matthew 12:9-12 (NASB) And departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they questioned Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"-- in order that they might accuse Him. 11 And He said to them, "What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out? 12 "Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

As He did so often, Jesus used an example from normal life to make His point. If a man's sheep fell into a pit on the Sabbath, it surely would last until the next day. But not a man among them would have let the bleating animal suffer. The poor animal would have been given "Sabbath relief!" The Talmud concludes that the avoidance of animal suffering should override regulations (Shabbath 128b).
The point of Christ is striking, "How much more value then is a man than a sheep!" What has more value, the sheep or one made in God's image? Those are good questions I'd like to ask them of PETA.

Mark 3:4 (NASB) And He said^ to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?" But they kept silent.

This isn't a trick question. This isn't even a hard question. This should have been a very easy question to answer: Well, of course, Jesus, we should do good on the Sabbath. We should save life, not kill, on the Sabbath. But Jesus had backed the religious legalists into a corner. And they had no answer; they kept silent. They knew if they said: "Well, Jesus, of course, You should do good on the Sabbath" that they would give Him license to heal. They couldn't have that. And they knew if they said: "You should do harm on the Sabbath" they would be immediately discredited. Their religious defensiveness had become so strong that they could not even bring themselves to say, "You should do good on the Sabbath." This angered Jesus:

Mark 3:5 (NASB) And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said^ to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

This made Jesus angry. What had they become in the name of religion? The verb tenses actually say that Jesus was grieved that their hearts were becoming hardened. Anytime the Bible talks about a hard heart, it is referring to the fact that when God reveals Himself very openly and clearly, we have to respond to that. Either at that moment we fall down and we surrender, and we acknowledge Him as God, or we deny the obvious, and our hearts become hard.

Jesus is saying here that the evidence for who He is was overwhelming. And one more time He was going to make it so abundantly clear they could not miss it. Either at that point they have to say: "You have got to be God!" or they're going to choose to ignore what is so evident, and their hearts would just get harder and harder.

Jesus does not even lay hands on the man, which some might have considered work. Instead, He simply orders the man to stretch forth his hand, an act that was not considered work; God alone performs "work" in this scene.

"And his hand was restored." Before their very eyes they saw that weakened, withered, pitiful arm become whole, a picture of what Jesus could also do for a person's whole being.

Accounts of the healing of withered or paralyzed hands always suggested great power - the power of God:

1 Kings 13:4 (NASB) Now it came about when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, that Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, "Seize him." But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself.
1 Kings 13:6 (NASB) And the king answered and said to the man of God, "Please entreat the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me." So the man of God entreated the LORD, and the king's hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before.

Jeroboam knew that only God had the power to heal his withered hand.

Notice their response to this man being healed: and the Pharisees went out and immediately they began to celebrate and tell everyone about Jesus. That's what it should say, but they we're not real happy about this healing:

Mark 3:6 (NASB) And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

The Pharisees waste no time at all. They went out IMMEDIATELY to plan the downfall of Jesus. If we take this literally, then they did not even wait until the Sabbath was over. And if this is the case, then they demonstrated their own desire to kill on the Sabbath.

The Greek word translated here as "destroy" is apollumi, which means: "to put out of the way entirely, abolish, render useless, to kill, to declare that one must be put to death." The context of the religious leaders' words here is one of destruction and annihilation and is used in Greek of killing the enemy in battle. As such, there is little doubt what the author of Mark is trying to convey as to the Jewish intentions concerning Jesus. It's unlikely, from this moment onwards, that anything that Jesus did was going to ever be interpreted in a positive light.
What a response! This man had suffered for probably years with this withered hand. He had probably come to that synagogue and cried out for God to heal him over and over again. And now in this moment, Jesus heals him and he's probably celebrating with his family. It's a moment of great joy, and the only thing the Pharisees can think is: We must destroy this man.

Most would have agreed that plotting to kill someone who disagrees with you is premeditated murder, which the law forbids under penalty of death (Gen 9:5-6; Num 35:29-34; Deut 21:1-9). Thus these Pharisees are so enraged with Jesus that they resort to a heinous and obvious breach of the very law they purport to uphold.

In the same vein, we could collect numerous examples of religious people today who, defending dogmas true or false, display attitudes toward their opponents that hardly commend their faith in the Bible's law of love.

Mark 3:6 (NASB) And the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

Notice that they conspired with the Herodians. These were made up of the pro-Herod political party. The Pharisees and the Herodians were on the opposite ends of the religious and political spectrum. This would be like Robertson and Falwell planning strategy with the leaders of Gay Rights.

The Herodians were made up of that political party which backed Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and son of Herod the Great. They desired nothing more than to see a return to the good old days when a Herod had sat upon the throne of a united Israel under Rome.

Comparison of Pharisees and Herodians: The Pharisees didn't want to upset the civic authorities, so they went to the officials at Herod's court (those enemies of the Pharisees, whom they saw as ritually unclean and looked on with contempt because of their contacts with Gentiles, and whom they despised for their extravagant living) and laid out their case. And the Herodians, aware of the damage John the Baptizer had done to them and Herod, agreed to help. They did not want another John. So they began to plan Jesus' death together.

Do you remember the quote I gave you two weeks ago from the French philosopher Pascal? He said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

How could it be possible that these people who were experts in the Old Testament Law--these people who were supposedly dedicated to God--had become so deluded, so deceived by their own religion, that when Jesus clearly gave evidence of His power and deity, all they could think of was: This man has got to be destroyed?

Before we are too judgmental toward the Pharisees, let me ask you this: Is it possible that we can become like that? Is it possible that religion can be such a deceiving and deluding influence that it blinds us to the reality of what is so evidently true about Jesus and Christianity?

Are you familiar with the term "blind spot?" We are probably most familiar with this term as it relates to driving. We not only have blind spots in driving, we have them in life. Webster's Dictionary defines "blind spot" as: "a prejudice or ignorance that one has but is often unaware of." The Pharisees had a blind spot - they had an ignorance about God - they thought they were serving Him. How many of you know all the areas in your life where you're not living as you should, or where you are living contrary to what the Bible teaches? If you knew you were living contrary to God's word in an area of your life, would you change? If we're honest, we'd have to say that it depends on the area.

Now, you might be thinking that if a person is really a man or woman of God, they would know about areas of sin in their lives - they wouldn't have blind spots. You're wrong! We all have blind spots.

Now, let me ask you: Was King David a man of God? Yes, clearly David was a man who the Bible says, "fully followed the Lord," a man "after God's own heat," and yet David had blind spots, did he not? Have you ever heard of Bathsheba? Do you think that David knew that what he was doing with Bathsheba was sin? I think he knew, but like so many of us, he might have been rationalizing it in some way or somehow suppressing it. What was it that helped David turn from his sin? It was a little help from a friend. God used Nathan to warn David and help him see his blind spots.

I think that this is the importance of having someone that you are accountable to. It is easy to get off track and keep rolling full speed ahead. I think that these Pharisees thought they were serving God. And yet they were so far off that when God stood right in front of them, they did not recognize Him.

I think it is also good to do a self examination. Something you're doing to please God may look foolish or hurtful, if you take a step back and examine it. We are capable of doing ungodly things in God's name. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves: Why am I doing this? Is this what God really wants human beings to live like? Is this healthy and honoring and sane and wise?

The Apostle Paul put it this way:

2 Corinthians 13:5 (NASB) Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test?

Is the way you're living pleasing to God? Are the things you're thinking and doing pleasing to God. What is it that God really wants of us - how does He want us to live?

Matthew 22:36-40 (NASB) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' 38 "This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 "The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' 40 "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

Much of the stuff that people do in the name of Christianity is not in line with the teaching of the Bible. The Pharisees really got off track - could it happen to us? It could if we start caring more about rules, traditions, and doctrine than we do people.

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