“Again He [Jesus] entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees, went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy Him.” Mark 3:1-6

Did we just read the last verse right? Jesus heals a man with a withered hand out of compassion and love for the disabled man and the religious leaders want to kill him for it! Is it possible their hearts were as withered as the man’s hand? It seems that is the case.

Jesus heals the man’s hand and the Pharisees want to destroy Him for breaking the Sabbath. Think about the absurdity of their thinking. Their elevation of a day, 24 hours, took precedent over the work of God Himself. These religious leaders were so busy conforming to the scores of rules that they had to obey in order not to break the Sabbath and thus displease God that they missed God when He stood ten feet in front of them.

Now here is the interesting twist to the story. The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of breaking their rules concerning proper Sabbath etiquette so as not to offend God and all it accomplished was to make Jesus [God] angry and grieved. Mark says Jesus was grieved by the hardness of their hearts. It is possible to spend all our time being “religious” but still grieve God because we value man made rules over compassion and love for the broken of this world.

In his book Jesus the King, Timothy Keller writes concerning these verses in Mark 3, “Why does Jesus become angry with the religious leaders? Because the Sabbath is about restoring the diminished. It’s about replenishing the drained. It’s about repairing the broken. To heal the man’s shriveled hand is to do exactly what the Sabbath is all about. Yet because the leaders are so concerned that Sabbath regulations be observed, they don’t want Jesus to heal the man—an incredible example of missing the forest for the trees. They’re insecure and anxious about the regulations. They’re tribal, judgmental, and self-obsessed instead of caring about the man. Why? Religion.” p. 40, 41

Here are two different approaches towards a man with a shriveled hand. The religious leaders look beyond the man and stumble over the fact that the healing takes place on the Sabbath. They thus worship the Sabbath and elevate it over loving their fellow man as themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, elevates the individual’s wellbeing over the ritual of Sabbath observance as practiced by the Pharisees.

Religionists are concerned foremost with detail. They want to make sure that nothing they do will offend God or cause Him to turn His back on them. The saddest part of being a religionist is that their entire worship is self-centered. It revolves around making sure that they get into heaven. They study the Bible, not to share it with others or expand the Kingdom of God, but in order to find the keys to their own salvation. Fellowship, relationships and outreach are all secondary to them as they are consumed with making sure that they are close to God.

A follower of Jesus puts people first, and the ironic thing about that is by putting people first we enter into relationship with God. “It shows you the life of love that you want to live before the God who has done so much for you. God’s law takes you out of yourself; it shows you how to serve God and others instead of being absorbed with yourself. You study and obey the law of God in order to discover the kind of life you should live in order to please and resemble the one who created and redeemed you, delivering you from the consequences of sin. And you don’t violate it or whittle it down to manageable proportions by adding man-made details to it.” Jesus the King, p. 44

The difference between followers of Christ and religionists isn’t the law. Everyone agrees the law is good and is there to point out sin and lead us to Christ. The difference is that the follower of Christ understands that having a relationship with Christ based on grace leads to a life that is in harmony with God’s love. The religionist believes that the law is a condition of salvation. They see keeping the letter of the law as essential to their relationship with God. Therefore, things like keeping Sabbath rules and regulations end up taking precedent over love for the broken and discouraged of the world. The fear of doing something wrong on the Sabbath that might hurt their relationship with God becomes the whole focus of their attention to the exclusion of men and women with withered hands.

Take a hold of Jesus hand and walk in the newness of the Spirit, bathing in the wonder of His grace and mercy. Let God transform your heart and fill you with joy and happiness that comes from accepting the grace of God poured out at Calvary. You are loved unconditionally.  Love others unconditionally. We have been called to greater things than worrying about whether or not we have kept all the rules. We have been called to be sons and daughters of the King, and that is by grace alone.

* There are more updates concerning the persecuted Christians at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ so be sure to check it out – please join us at the nine-o’clock club as we pray for our brothers and sisters who stand strong, unwavering in their faith for Christ even unto death