Healing Withered Hands and Withered Hearts (Mark 2:23-3:6)
Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling
October 11, 2020
Healing Withered Hands and Withered Hearts
Several years ago, two psychologists did an interesting study on seminary students.
They told a group of seminary students to prepare a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan—Jesus’ parable about people who passed by a man who was robbed and beaten on the road.
Once the sermons were ready, the researchers told half the students that there were running late and needed to hurry to the chapel to give their message. To the other half, they said, you have some extra time, but you better head over the chapel early to give your message.
The researchers had placed a man who pretended to be hurt on the pathway to the chapel. When the students encountered him—he was hunched over, and he would moan and cough and act distressed.
Here’s what happened: 60% of the students didn’t offer to help the man in any way—as they walked to the chapel to give a sermon on the Good Samaritan. Many of the students literally stepped over him on the path in order to get to the chapel.
The researchers discovered 2 things: 1) The students determined that the instructions of the researchers, “the rule” about going to the chapel now—was more important that giving mercy. 2) The students who left chapel early—and who were therefore not in a hurry—were 6 Xs more likely to stop and help.
Each of us struggles with the hinderances (following the rules and being in and hurry in some way or another. We lose sight of a relationship with God because we are overly focused on the rules and making sure we check the boxes. And we are living our lives at a frantic pace—and not slowing down to rest.
Each of these hindrances is addressed in our passage this morning. There are two stories in this passage. And so my brilliant outline is this: Story #1 and Story #2.
In the first story—in v.23—we are told that it’s the Sabbath. Meaning it was supposed to be a day of rest for Jewish people and NO work was to be done.
Jesus and his disciples walk through a grainfield and pick some grain and eat it.
In v.24 the Pharisees protest. Even through the OT doesn’t forbid picking some grain on the Sabbath, according to their rules—it’s work! And you’re not supposed to work on the Sabbath.
Jesus—because he is a good pastor—answers by making three points. Let me point out his three responses:
1. Jesus Claims to be the Greater David.
In v.25-26 Jesus recounts the story in 1 Samuel in the OT where David and his men are running for their lives from Saul. They come to the tabernacle and ask the priest for something to eat. The only thing on hand is the holy bread (called the showbread). Only priests are allowed to eat it. But the priest gives it to David and his men because they’re hungry. And because David is God’s anointed King.
Why does Jesus tell this story?
He’s comparing himself to David. David was anointed as King, but not yet on the throne. Jesus was anointed in his baptism, and he’s not yet on the throne.
And if David, Israel’s King, could eat unauthorized bread, how much more should Jesus be allowed to eat “unauthorized” grain! Jesus is the True King. The Greater David.
2. Jesus Claims that God is a Generous Giver
Then, in v.27, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
In other words: the Sabbath was created to serve people. People were not created to serve the Sabbath as if they were slaves.
If you go back to the creation story. God creates Adam and Eve on the 6th day. This means that the first day they woke up was on Saturday—the Sabbath. And on that day, they didn’t have to do any work. God loved them before they did anything.
The Sabbath was meant to be a gracious reminder of that reality. We don’t have to work like slaves to be accepted by God. We are loved by grace not by works.
Jesus reminds them that the Sabbath was intended as a gracious gift, and that God is the Generous Giver of that gift.
3. Jesus Claims to be God the Creator
In v.28, Jesus says, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
It’s interesting, if you read skeptics of Christianity. Many of them will claim that the earliest documents in Christianity never actually claim that Jesus is God. Skeptics say, “That’s something that Christians later made up.” Mark is considered the earliest written, Gospel. They say, “If you read Mark, Jesus never comes right out and says I am God. It’s obvious that this idea that Jesus is God was a much later development.”
Yet, here Jesus says, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. I am Lord of the Sabbath.
When Jesus claims that he is Lord of the Sabbath, he is claiming that he created the Sabbath and that he created the Lord.
Jesus is unequivocally claiming to be God. I am Lord of the Sabbath.
Take a step back and notice how Jesus responds to the accusation that he is doing something unlawful on the Sabbath. He could have argued about the actual rules and regulations. He could have said, nowhere in the Bible does it say that you can’t pick a few kernels of grain on the Sabbath. That’s an extra-biblical law. That’s legalism.
Instead, he takes a different approach. Instead, he only talks about who he is.
Laws are important but…
This is significant because, yes Christianity has rules—it has laws: Honor your parents, don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t covet. The rules are there to show you what love should look like. God’s laws are intended to take you out of yourself; to show you how to love God and love others instead of being absorbed with yourself.
But the rules by themselves won’t give your life and purpose and love.
A Christian who only focuses on the rules is like an ill-taught piano student who plays all the right notes but fails to make music. Like an actor who can woodenly recite a memorized script but who doesn’t carry any passion or conviction. Like a dancer who carefully counts the steps but never brings the dance to life. Like a seminary student who steps over a hurting man on his way to give a message.
A relationship can’t be reduced to a checklist of rules. If I were to say to Annmarie, just give me the list of things to do to make you happy—then we’ll be good. She would rightfully say, “I’m not a list. I’m not a checklist. To love someone is to want to be with them, to enjoy them, and to take the time to get to know them.
This is why Jesus, instead of debating the rules—answers by pointing to himself. I am the Great King. I am the Generous God. I am the Lord and Creator. Come and know me. I’m not a checklist.
Story #1 shows us that Christianity is not merely about rules. It’s about a relationship with God.
Story #2 (Mark 3:1-6)
It begins this way in v.1-2: Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled had was there. Some of them [the Pharisees] were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
Interestingly, this story also takes place on the Sabbath. Two stories in a row about events that take place on the Sabbath. That’s a clue that this story is intended to teach us something about what it means to rest. It’s also intended to show us our restlessness apart from grace.
This story shows the meaning of true Sabbath rest by contrasting the Pharisees with the man who has a shriveled hand. Let’s look at each of them.
First, the Pharisees:
The Pharisees are in the synagogue with Jesus. They’re supposed to be there to worship and experience refreshment, rest and restoration. But instead they are waiting to pounce on Jesus. They want to catch him doing something wrong—some unspeakable act of treachery—like healing someone on the Sabbath.
And so, in v.4 Jesus asks them point blank: Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? That’s not meant to be a hard question! But they don’t have an answer. They’re silent.
Their hearts are as withered as the man’s hand.
And when Jesus heals the man with the shriveled hand—in v.6 it says that they go out and plot with the Herodians (those are Israel’s enemies) how they might kill Jesus.
The irony is chilling! The Pharisees are so busy being self-righteous and accusing other people of not resting—that they themselves don’t rest! They are so offended that Jesus practices mercy on the Sabbath—that they go do the work of plotting his murder!
It’s hard work to pretend like you’re perfect. It’s exhausting when we constantly criticize other people.
I recently watched the movie, The Help with my daughter Tessah. The story takes place in the south during Jim Crow and records how a group of wealthy, white women express cruelty to the black women who serve them as maids and cooks.
The worst of the white women is a woman named Hilly. It’s so important to her that she is esteemed in her community and is seen as a leader among her friends.
She’s constantly promoting herself and relentlessly expressing her disgust at the blacks and making life difficult for them.
In the closing scene, Hilly is mad at her friend’s maid, Abilene. Hilly gets revenge by talking her friend into firing Abilene—the black maid.
Hilly tells the maid: Get out of here, I’m calling the police. The black maid, Abilene, walks up to Hilly and says with tears in her eyes: All you do is scare and lie to try and get what you want. You a godless woman. Ain’t you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain’t you tired?” Hilly walks out of the room, alone and weeping. She knows it’s true.
You want to say to the Pharisees in this story: Ain’t you tired?
But more than that, this story asks us: Ain’t you tired of working so hard to get other people to approve of you? Tired of working so hard at cutting others down and criticizing them? Ain’t you tired of never confessing your faults and constantly making excuses and covering them up?
The Pharisees—like many of us—suffer from sleep apnea of the soul. Our hearts that are always busy at self-promoting and tearing others down. We long for a deep, true, Sabbath rest.
This brings us to the man with the shriveled hand.
Think about this man. In the ancient world, pretty much every man derived his income from manual labor. To have a hand that was paralyzed meant that you were probably unable to work.
It’s the Sabbath—and unlike the Pharisees—he is UNABLE to work. He can’t labor. He can do little to commend himself to God or others.
His shriveled hand is empty.
In the Hymn, Rock of Ages, we sing:
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill thy laws demands
Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.
He’s a picture of us.
If only we could see how much we are like him. We might find it easier to come to Jesus for rest.
In v3 it says, Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
The Greek: Rise up!
In the original Greek text, the words, “Stand up” are the same words used to describe Jesus’ resurrection in Mark 16:6. Jesus repeatedly uses these words “rise up” through Mark when he heals people. This man’s healing is a picture of what Jesus promises to do for all those who come to him.
Conclusion: Jesus’ call to faith
Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand. The man responds in faith and finds that his hand is completely restored.
Jesus heals him. Restores him. Resurrects him. Re-creates him.
When we put our faith in our own efforts to be somebody, to prove ourselves, to cover up our sins—it will never be enough. Not only is it exhausting. But it withers our hearts.
But when you put your faith in Christ—Jesus restores you and makes you whole.
Because when you put your faith in Jesus—you’re putting your faith in his work. From the cross Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” The work is done. You can rest.
Matthew 11:28, Jesus says: Come all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.