Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11
“He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.” – Mark 3:5 NLT
Another Sabbath and yet another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in the village of Capernaum. In the crowd there is a man there with a deformed hand. But there is also a group of Pharisees who are closely watching Jesus’ every move to see if He attempts to “work” on the Sabbath by healing someone, thus breaking the law. In fact, Matthew records the question they posed to Jesus, in hopes that His answer would condemn Him. “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10 NLT).
Jesus knows their hearts and so he brings up the man with the deformed hand and has him stand in front of the crowd, in full view of everyone. Then Jesus confronts His antagonists and asks them a simple question in return: “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” (Mark 3:3 NLT). His enemies are speechless, not knowing how to respond. So Jesus continues, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11 NLT).
This exchange between Jesus and these religious leaders causes Him to be both angry and sad. He is angry at their insensitive hearts and their indifference to the needs of those around them. They are more concerned with their rules and regulations than they are for the people under their care. But who exactly were these men and what were their responsibilities. In essence, the Pharisees were a religious sect or order. Their name seems to mean “separated ones.” But what or whom were they separated from? The general consensus is that they separated from the ‘people of the land,’ the ‘am ha’ares. This was a designation of the illiterate and the unrefined people of the land, the peasants, whose illiteracy impeded any careful fidelity to the religious duties such as concerned tithes and cleanness” (Alan Ross, The Religious World of Jesus). They tended to view the common people as ignorant and cursed (John 7:49). They tended to equate their separateness with holiness. That’s why they were constantly shocked by Jesus’ decision to eat and associate with the common people, including all manner of sinners. These men also prided themselves in their refusal to be tainted by the influence of the Greeks and Romans. They considered themselves the few remaining “pure” Jews, who kept themselves untainted by outside influence. They were prideful, arrogant and brutally condemning of all those who disagreed with them.
Jesus is angered by their attitudes and saddened by their hard hearts. In all their religious fervor, they had become hardened to the real point of having faith in God. They didn’t share God’s heart. They were incapable of seeing the world from God’s perspective. In fact, they had attempted to fit God into their own mold, and force Him to operate according to their standards. To them, God was just another Pharisee or rule-keeper. And yet Jesus, as the Son of God, revealed to them the very heart and nature of God the Father. He was compassionate, caring, empathetic, loving, sensitive and responsive to the needs of men – all men. He had a special place in His heart for the condemned, disenfranchised, broken, helpless, hopeless, sinful and needy. It was God’s love for mankind that motivated Him to send His Son in the first place. It was not that God jettisoned His law and replaced it with love. No, God still had exacting standards and His requirement was still sinless perfection. But He knew that no man, Pharisee or other, could ever meet that standard. He gave His law to reveal to man his insufficiency and need. Then He sent His Son to do what no man had ever done before – keep the law of God perfectly and live His life sinlessly. He became the perfect, sinless sacrifice to pay for the sins of man. That is just how much God loves us.
But the Pharisees represent all self-righteous individuals who still believe that it is the keeping of rules that sets us apart from the rest, that our ability to perform earns us favor with God. But this attitude angers and saddens the Savior. It keeps us from recognizing our need for Him, and it prevents us from seeing ourselves as no better than any other man or woman who walks the face of the earth. We too, are sinners saved by grace. We are in need of the mercy of God every day of our lives. Of all people, we should share Christ’s passion for the lost and a heart for those still suffering from the effects of sin.
Father, give us a heart like Your Son had. Help us to see the world the way He did. Don’t let us live our lives or view ourselves as somehow better than everyone else. We have been transformed because of Your grace and mercy, not because we somehow deserved or earned it. Give us the ability to see others the way You do. Motivate us to extend grace in the same way it has been extended to us. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men