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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Lord of the Sabbath does good on the Sabbath
Text:Mark 3:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1,2,5,6
Psalm 119:58-60
Psalm 103:1-3
Psalm 103:4-5
Hymn 6

Reading: Malachi 1
Text: Mark 3:1-6
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Imagine a pot of water on the stove. Perhaps you’re preparing to cook some sort of rice or pasta, maybe macaroni. You’ve turned on the stove and now you wait. The element heats up and eventually little bubbles start to form in the water in the pot. Before long, those bubbles are making their way to the surface and not long afterwards, the pot of water is at a full boil. And if you don’t watch it carefully, it’ll boil over.

The book of Mark is like that pot of water on a stove. At the beginning of the book, things were cool. As the book progresses, things get hotter. In the last few passages we’ve looked at, there’s been conflict and animosity between Jesus and the Pharisees. In fact, the passage that we’re looking at today is the fifth in a series that features this sort of conflict. The element is hot and the pot is just about to boil.

In our passage for today, the heat is produced by ongoing controversy about the Sabbath. In the passage previous to this one, Christ gave the correct understanding of the Sabbath. He showed that it is a gift of God to man, a gift so that man can rest and worship. Because it is a gift to man, it also belongs to Christ and is properly called the Lord’s Day. Because he is true man, Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath. It’s his day and because we are in him by faith, it is also our day. Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, is the day we are free to rest and worship.

Mark 3 begins by telling us that the Lord Jesus again came into the synagogue. It could have been the same Sabbath day and it could have been in Capernaum or Galilee. On both counts, we’re not told and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that there was a man there who had a shriveled hand. This most likely refers to some sort of deformation or paralysis which left the man unable to use his hand. How it became like that, we’re not told.

In verse 2, we find that “some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.” Right away, we notice “them.” Verse 2 goes on to say, “so they watched him closely…” There again, notice the word “they.” Mark doesn’t identify who his pronouns are referring to here. We’re left to assume who “them” and “they” are. That’s easy enough to do because of the context. In the verses right before our passage, it was the Pharisees against Jesus. At the end of this passage (verse 6) again we read about the Pharisees. So, we know that here once again the Pharisees are shadowing Christ. They’re the ones watching his every move and his every word. It’s them versus him.

They’re watching to see if he would heal this particular man on the Sabbath. According to the Pharisees, healing was allowed on the Sabbath, but only if it was necessary to save someone’s life. Obviously this man’s life was not in danger, so to heal him would have been a violation of their understanding of what God’s law required. After all, Jesus could have waited until the next day to do this. There was no pressing need to heal this man right now.

The Lord Jesus knows that they’re watching. He speaks directly to the man and tells him to come forward. The image here is of Jesus and the man standing in the middle of the synagogue with everyone else gathered round. At that particular moment, it appears that he’s going to just go ahead and heal him. But he surprises us by instead speaking to the Pharisees. To them.

He takes a page out of the Pharisees’ play-book and asks them a question. Back in chapter 2, when the Pharisees asked why Jesus was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they weren’t asking a genuine question. The same happened when they asked about why his disciples weren’t fasting and why the disciples were plucking grain and doing what was considered unlawful on the Sabbath. Those weren’t real questions. We can compare those questions to those asked in the House of Commons during question period. They’re questions with a point. Now Jesus does the same thing here. It’s not a real question he asks; it’s rhetorical.

He asks them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” When the Pharisees asked their so-called questions, Christ had answers readily at hand. His answers were based on God’s Word and on a correct interpretation of God’s Word. However, here the Pharisees run stuck. Mark says, “But they remained silent.” What could they say? Jesus’ question put them on the horns of a dilemma. They couldn’t say that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath because that would validate Jesus healing the man in front of them. They couldn’t say that it was lawful to do evil on the Sabbath because it was not lawful to do evil on any day, let alone the Sabbath. They were stuck. The question with a point had struck its mark.

Now in what follows we get a rare glimpse into the emotions of our Lord Jesus. He was and is a human being like we are. That means that he had and has emotions like us. In verse 5, we see him getting angry. What does that tell us? For one thing, it tells us that anger in itself is not sinful. Ephesians 4:24, “Be angry but do not sin.” There is a sinful anger and there is also a righteous anger. Anger is righteous when it grows out of love for one’s neighbour. For instance, when we see a child being abused and we get angry because of the injustice and pain being caused – that’s righteous anger and it is not sinful. In fact, one could say that it would be sinful not to be angry about something like that. That’s the sort of anger the Lord Jesus was feeling at this moment. He was a sinless man and he was angry because the Pharisees had added all kinds of burdens to God’s law that ended up hurting people.

He was not only angry, but he was also deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts. Literally it says that he was grieved by the hardness of their hearts. That expression “hardness of heart” is one that we find repeatedly throughout the Bible. As our Bible translation rightly puts it, it refers to a sort of hard-nosed stubbornness. But there’s more to it. Throughout the Scriptures, when people’s hearts are hardened, it is often God who is said to have done the hardening. In his judgment, he gives them completely over to their sins and their willfulness. The best illustration of this in Scripture is with Pharaoh in the opening chapters of Exodus. Initially, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. But eventually we read that God hardened his heart. God did that for his own redemptive purposes, to magnify his glory in delivering the people from Egypt. As Paul says with respect to this in Romans 9:18, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”

It’s the same here. The opposition of the Pharisees was not a surprise to God. In God’s plan, this is the way things fell into place. God hardened their hearts so that they would not listen. God closed their ears so that they would not hear. Just as with Pharaoh, God did it for his own redemptive purposes, to magnify his glory in delivering us from slavery to sin and death eternal. If we can paraphrase Paul in Romans 9, quoting Moses in Exodus 9, God raised up the Pharisees for this very purpose, that he might display his power in them and that his name would be proclaimed in all the earth. Just like the devil is God’s devil, the Pharisees are God’s Pharisees.

Looking all around him with his mingled anger and grief, Jesus finally turns his attention to the man with the withered hand. It’s the moment everyone’s been waiting for. He says to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He does and it is healed – made exactly like the other one.

When the Lord does this, he answers his own question. The lawful thing to do on the Sabbath is good! To save life, to restore life! In Deuteronomy 5, the fourth commandment is connected with the exodus from Egypt – when God showed mercy and compassion to his people. So it totally fits with the character of this day to show compassion and mercy to those who are hurting. The Lord of the Sabbath does good on the Sabbath! Here again we see his perfect obedience to God and his law. The Lord Jesus is the perfect law-keeper. And what he does here was not only good for that man with the withered hand, it’s also good for us. Why? Because his perfect obedience in doing the right thing here is given to us. The righteousness he displayed through his whole life – it’s yours! You see, it was not only his death that made you right with God, it was also his perfect life. His perfect life is also part of the gospel, the good news for us. We have a Saviour who kept the law entirely and his righteousness is imputed to us. We’re sinners and we know it, but because of Christ and all that he did, we’re good with God.

Not only that, but he continues to do good for us. Since the text deals with the Sabbath, let’s briefly consider how he does good for us on Sundays, on the Lord’s Day. What about today in particular? Today, because of his good teaching, we are free to rest and worship. As we come to worship, we hear his good news. We’re encouraged to know that we have a Saviour who has freed us from all the wrath of God that we rightfully deserve. We hear that gospel preached, but on certain Sundays we can also see, smell, feel and taste the gospel with the sacraments. There again, see how Christ is doing good for us, how he is healing, restoring and encouraging us in our weakness and frailty.

Whenever we have a baptism, only the baby feels the water on his or her head – sometimes the baby doesn’t even seem to notice. But we can all see it, young and old alike. And when we see it, we are reminded of God’s grace in our lives. We’re reminded that our sins were washed away with the blood of Christ. We’re reminded that we have risen with Christ to a new life. We see a visual proclamation of the good Christ has done for us.

Whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we can see the bread and the wine. All of us can do that, including the children. When your mom and dad take that bread and wine, look at it. You see it, don’t you? It’s real. What Christ did for you is just as real as what you see in front of your eyes. Perhaps you can also smell the bread and the wine. More likely the wine than the bread, but you can smell it. It’s real, it’s not a mirage. Christ’s work for you is just as real as what you smell in your nose. Now only the communicant members may feel and taste the bread and the wine. You will really taste and see that the Lord is good. That his promises and salvation are real! You see, Jesus Christ is doing good for us!

And how do we respond to that? The last passage in Mark taught us that this day is a gift, a gift to be received with gratitude. When someone gives you a gift, you don’t push it away and treat it with contempt. Especially when that gift comes from someone you love and who loves you, you receive that gift graciously and with thanksgiving. In the nature of the case, we see the Sabbath as a day in which Christ does us good. But also then a day in which we who are in Christ do good for others. Think of how the Catechism captures that when it includes the giving of Christian offerings for the poor as something required by the fourth commandment. But we could go far beyond that – and how you do that, I’ll leave that up to you. The principle is plain – the Sabbath is a day on which we’re free for rest and worship, but also a day in which the time we would otherwise spend on our daily labour, we can use that time for doing good for our neighbour.

Christ is the great restorer. He restored the Sabbath and its meaning and he restored the man’s hand to the way it was created to be. It’s his day and he reorients it here in our text.

However, those who had set this day in the wrong direction did not receive this reorientation very well. In fact, verse 6 tells us that the Pharisees right away went out and joined forces with the Herodians to try and figure out a way to destroy him. Jesus is doing good on the Sabbath, saving and restoring life. But them, they are plotting to destroy a man, to kill him and get him out of the way. With their actions they show that they believe it is lawful to kill or at least plan to kill on the Sabbath. How far they’ve drifted from God! How their hearts are hardened!

We see that most powerfully in the alliance that they make with the Herodians. This is not a detail to be overlooked. The Herodians were influential people who were friendly with the Herodian dynasty. The Herodian family is important here because of their background and lineage. The Herodians were descendants of Esau. Throughout the Old Testament, there was constant friction and enmity between the descendants of Jacob and those of Esau, the Edomites. For instance, when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, the Edomites took part and cheered it on. All of that forms the background to what we read in Malachi 1. God’s choice was Jacob, but he rejected, even hated Esau. They are a people “always under the wrath of Yahweh.” There you can see the divine opposition set up between those two peoples. That opposition carried over into the New Testament when Herod the Great sought to destroy Jesus after his birth.

The Pharisees knew their Bible and they would have known that the Edomites were on the other side of the fence. But now they join them. God’s own covenant people join forces with the enemy to destroy the Messiah. This too is part of the hardening process and the growing opposition to Christ which will culminate in his trial and death.

So at the end of our passage here, the pot is boiling. It’s just a matter of time before the pot boils over and someone gets burned. But keep in mind what it says in Isaiah 53:10, “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” God was not off doing other things while the pot started boiling. He was there and he was in control. Peter said in Acts 2:23, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge…” The sovereign God determined the plot of the drama of our redemption. He continues to be the sovereign God today. Your God who loves you and is guiding the drama to its final act.
Let us pray:

O Sovereign God,

We see your hand in our text guiding the drama of our redemption. We praise you for your sovereign power and your redeeming love. We thank you for a Saviour who does good for us each day, and especially on this day. We’re grateful for his perfect obedience for us, his heartfelt emotions, his compassion. This is the Saviour we want to cling to in life and in death. Help us to fix our eyes on him today and always. O King Eternal, lead us on to the end of the age. Please hear us as we pray in Christ. AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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