Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The Pharisees of Jesus’ day lived according to an extensive set of rules. This was nowhere more evident than in their keeping of the Sabbath. In his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,” Alfred Edersheim pointed out: “On no other subject is Rabbinic teaching more minute and more manifestly incongruous to its professed object.” There were laws that dealt with how far a person could travel, how much weight a person could lift, and what could and could not be done to deal with a medical need or injury. These smaller traditions worked to cloud the intent of the original commandment and set aside the weightier concerns of the law itself (Matthew 15:3, 6-9; 23:23-24). Jesus perfectly upheld the law (2 Corinthians 5:21), but refused to be bound by their man-made traditions.

After one Sabbath-breaking controversy (Matthew 12:1-8), Jesus entered “their” synagogue and caused another (Matthew 12:9). A man with a “withered hand” was there, along with the people, Jesus’ disciples, and the Pharisees. We are given no history and few details regarding the man, though Luke’s gospel records that it was the man’s right hand (Luke 6:6). It is possible that the Pharisees had deliberately brought the man—to see what Jesus would do. Alfred Edersheim comments regarding the scene: “We can now imagine the scene in the Synagogue. The place is crowded. Christ probably occupies a prominent position as leading the prayers or teaching: a position whence He can see, and be seen by all. Here, eagerly bending forward, are the dark faces of the Pharisees, expressive of curiousity, malice, cunning. They are looking round at a man whose right hand is withered, perhaps putting him forward, drawing attention to him, loudly whispering, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath-day?’ The Lord takes up the challenge.”

Jesus had the man come forward. He asked the Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?’ (Mark 3:4). “But they kept silent.” “And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heard” (Mark 3:5) the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) healed the man on the Sabbath. “Then He said to the man ‘stretch out your hand!’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other” (Matthew 12:13). As with Jesus’ other miracles, this one revealed His divine authority and identity (Cf. John 20:30-31). We are not told of the reaction of the people there, though a future miracle caused the people to ask ‘This man cannot be the Son of David, can He?’ (Matthew 12:23). But the reaction of the Pharisees was both tragic and predictable: “But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11).

They were, after all, nothing but white-washed tombs, filled with dead men’s bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27). A lively love for God that would have responded to the Spirit’s testimony was absent (Matthew 12:31-32). A genuine love for man that would have delighted in the restoration of this man’s health was missing. In its place was a violent disdain for the One who was working to reveal the true nature of their puffed-up religiosity (Matthew 12:34-35). Henceforth they would not rest until the Light was extinguished.

Religious rule-keeping is no substitute for right relationship with God. It is the nature of “self-made religions” to invent “commandments and teachings of men” (Colossians 2:22-23). But the inferiority of anyone’s self-righteousness is readily exposed before the Divine Son of God. And henceforth there are but two choices, hate the light or come to the light (John 3:20-21)--stand with Jesus or against Him (Matthew 12:30). The Sabbath-day healing of the man with the withered hand enraged the Pharisees, but I’m thinking that the man with the withered hand probably had a different response.

Pastor Jerry

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