1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 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. 5 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. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
7 Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. 9 And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him, 10 for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” 12 And he strictly ordered them not to make him known. – Mark 3:1-12 ESV
After dropping the bombshell statement, “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28 ESV), Jesus simply walked away. Mark provides no details regarding the response of either the crowd or the religious leaders, but it’s safe to assume that it was a strange mix of awe, confusion, and anger. The people found themselves fascinated with and strangely drawn to Jesus. But the religious leaders were becoming increasingly more concerned with His growing popularity and blatant disregard for their oral laws.
Mark faithfully records the remarks made by Jesus concerning the Sabbath and His relationship to it and then skips to yet another Sabbath encounter. Luke makes it clear that this event took place on a different Sabbath.
On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. – Luke 6:6 ESV
Mark provides a subtle reminder that this was not the first time that Jesus had attended the local synagogue in Capernaum.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. – Mark 3:1 ESV
In chapter one, Mark described Jesus’ first visit and the scene that took place.
And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching.…And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. – Mark 1:21, 23 ESV
On that occasion, Jesus had created quite a stir by casting out the demon and restoring the man to health and wholeness. The people, who had marveled at the authoritative nature of Jesus’ teaching, had been treated to an even more spectacular display of His power.
Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” – Mark 1:27 NLT
Now, on yet another Sabbath, Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand. Was this just a coincidence? Had the man heard what happened the last time Jesus came to town and decided it was his turn? Or was this man a plant, purposefully placed in the synagogue by the religious leaders? This last option should not be considered far-fetched because Mark indicates that these men “watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:2 ESV).
As far as they were concerned, Jesus was already guilty of being a law-breaker. He had cast out a demon, healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and allowed His disciples to “harvest” grain – all on the Sabbath. Now, they were looking for additional evidence to convict Him as a serial violater of their Sabbath laws.
Jesus seems to know that this man was being used. He was nothing more than an innocent victim and an unwitting pawn in the evil schemes of the religious leaders. So, Jesus invited the man forward then addressed His adversaries with an unexpected question.
“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” – Mark 3:4 ESV
Jesus purposely juxtaposed the legal requirements of the law with the moral obligations that were intended to accompany all of God’s commands. The Mosaic law was never meant to be a sterile list of dos and don’ts. The commandments of God were intended to guide God’s people toward behavior that reflected their love for Him and for one another. On a later occasion, Jesus was asked by some scribes, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28 ESV). And Jesus had Jesus responded, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 ESV).
So, when Jesus asked the religious leaders if laws concerning the Sabbath were intended to produce good deeds or bad ones, they knew the right answer, but refused to speak up. Their silence condemned them. They had no compassion for the man with the withered hand. He was just a means to an evil end. Their hearts were wicked and their intentions were anything but good. They greatly desired to see Jesus heal the man, but not so they could rejoice in his miraculous transformation. They were hoping to use his healing as evidence against Jesus.
And Mark reveals that Jesus was fully aware of their evil intentions and angered and grieved by their actions.
…he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart. – Mark 3:5 ESV
But rather than lecture them about their faulty understanding of the law, Jesus simply turned to the man and said, “Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3:5 ESV). And as soon as the man did, his withered hand was miraculously and immediately restored.
Remember what Jesus asked the religious leaders: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?” In other words, Jesus was asking if doing something loving and beneficial for another human being could ever be in violation of God’s commands. By healing the man’s withered hand, Jesus was expressing love for His neighbor. And in doing so, He was loving one made in the image of God. For Jesus to have the capacity to do something about the man’s condition and refuse to do so would have been an act of hatred. And the apostle John lets us know why this kind of loathing of another human being is so dangerous.
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. – 1 John 2:9-11 ESV
And John provides further insight into the danger inherent in our failure to love other.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:20-21 ESV
The religious leaders would have vehemently defended their love for God. And yet, John infers that their lack of love for the man with the withered hand was proof of their hatred for God. They failed to love those things that God loved, including the helpless, hopeless, defenseless, diseased, and disenfranchised. By healing the man’s condition, Jesus was expressing His love for God by loving a child of God.
And just a few verses earlier in his letter, John wrote: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12 ESV). The point John is trying to make is that when we love others, we are actually demonstrating the love of God. We become conduits of that love. The Greek word that is translated as “perfected” is teleioō and it means “to accomplish” or “to carry through.” God’s love for us flows to us and through us to those around us. And He receives glory.
But we get a real glimpse into the darkened hearts of the religious leaders when Mark records that they, “went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 2:6 ESV). Rather than rejoice over the clear display of God’s power as demonstrated in the miraculous restoration of the man’s hand, they stormed from the room and began plotting Jesus’ demise.
But while His adversaries planned and schemed, Jesus continued to express the love of God by ministering selflessly and sacrificiously to the growing number of people who flocked to His side.
…a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. – Mark 3:6-7 ESV
News about Jesus had spread far and wide, and people were coming from all over the land of Palestine to see this miracle worker for themselves. And many of those who had made the arduous journey to see Jesus were suffering from various diseases, disabilities, and even demon-possesion. And Mark indicates that Jesus “healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around him to touch him” (Mark 2:10 ESV). Jesus was literally mobbed by the masses of people, forcing Him to have a boat ready to aid His escape should the situation grow too intense.
Every time Jesus healed someone, He was manifesting His Heavenly Father’s for them. He was living out John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” And But the greatest demonstration of God’s love was yet to come. And as He would later tell His disciples, the ultimate expression of that love would take the form of His own self-sacrifice.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:12-13 ESV
We have all used the expression, “I love you to death!” But for most of us, it is just a form of hyperbole, exaggerated speech intended to drive home a point. Yet for Jesus, those words would become far than a rhetorical statement. He would actually love the world to death. And rather than offering healing from a physical disability, Jesus would offer His life as an expression of love so that the spiritually sick might have life.
And it should not go without notice that every time Jesus cast out a demon, these other-worldy beings testified to His identity: “You are the Son of God” (Mark 2:11 ESV). They recognized His divine nature and the power and authority He wielded. These demonic beings were subject to His power and incapable of experiencing His love. But they were able to confirm His identity as the Son of God and the future Savior of the world.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.