Today’s miracle from Mark’s Gospel is not included in the Lectionary used for public worship.

You might think that the reading appears elsewhere from accounts in Matthew and Luke. Unfortunately, it does not. Yet, this is such a beautiful story demonstrating Jesus’s kindness towards those in need of healing.

These Lectionary exclusions comprise my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading comes from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry (17th c.), Charles Haddon Spurgeon (19th c.) and John MacArthur (2009).

Mark 3:1-6

 1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4And 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. 5And 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(I) held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.


St Mark’s Gospel is all about Jesus’s miracles and the opposition to them by the Jewish leaders.

At the end of Mark 2, the Pharisees saw Jesus’s disciples picking grain. The Pharisees criticised them because it was the Sabbath, when no work was allowed. This is still true today in Judaism. Cooking is done before the Sabbath begins and does not resume until sundown on Saturday evening. The same is true for other activities in the Jewish home, including, for some, turning lights on and off. Some households still employ shabbos goys, Gentiles who work Friday evening through Saturday at sundown to take care of turning lights on and off, laying a table and other routine activities.  Martin Scorsese, Colin Powell and Elvis Presley were shabbos goys in their youth.

Back to Mark 2, however. Jesus answers the Pharisees by referring to the Old Testament story of David who, along with his companions, was hungry — in need — on the Sabbath and shared bread with them. Jesus adds that the Sabbath was made for man as a day of rest.  Therefore, unnecessary work is forbidden, but not activity which gives man comfort.

Last week’s posts introducing Mark’s Gospel mentioned that it is one of the Synoptic Gospels, along with Matthew’s and Luke’s. Most of the same events in Jesus’s earthly life are related, with certain additions or omissions.

In this story, Jesus declares Himself as follows in:

Mark 2:28: So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.

Matthew 12:8: For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.

Luke 6:5: And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

John MacArthur analyses what this means (emphases mine):

That is a shocking statement…shocking, beyond comprehension to the Jews. God ordained the Sabbath, Genesis 2 verse 3. God demanded Sabbath observance, Exodus chapter 20 in the Ten Commandments, verses 8 to 11. If He says He’s Lord of the Sabbath, He’s saying He’s God. And He backed it up by miraculous power over disease, demons and death…and even over sin.

By the way, just as a footnote, Jesus is Lord over the Sabbath, and He abolished the Sabbath. After His death and resurrection, there is no more Sabbath. The seventh day of the week disappears from all religious calendars. We now meet on the first day of the week, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Sabbath was a shadow, we have the reality in Christ. Hebrews chapters 3 and 4 says Christ is our rest, we have entered into the rest the Sabbath portrayed, a rest to come. Christ is that rest, we don’t need the shadow, the substance is here. And so Colossians 2 verses 16 and 17 says, “Don’t let anybody hold you to a Sabbath.” The Lord of the Sabbath has nullified the Sabbath, it’s gone.

Well Jesus is attacking it in the text before us. He says the Sabbath was never intended to be restrictive, the Sabbath was made for man, for man’s benefit, verse 27, to be a time of rest and blessing and joy and refreshment. It was not man who was made to conform to some ridiculous restraints on that day. And the Lord of the Sabbath would demonstrate a proper Sabbath observance.

He set Himself deliberately then in opposition to His enemies, and took the very steps that led to His death. Now these two stories are connected together in Matthew, Mark and Luke … They’re very likely two subsequent Sabbath days, we don’t know where, in a synagogue somewhere. But if you go back to chapter 1 verse 39, you remember it was His objective, verse 38, to go preach everywhere and to go to synagogue to synagogue all over Galilee and preach and heal and cast out demons.

Therefore, on one Sabbath the disciples picked grain to ultimately satisfy their hunger. On the following Sabbath Jesus heals a man’s withered hand, the subject of today’s reading. Note the word ‘again’ in Mark 3:1 and the phrasing in Luke 6:6: ‘on another Sabbath’.

The ‘they’ in Mark 3:2 refers to the scribes and Pharisees, who were watching for any sign of ‘work’ on Jesus’s part during the Sabbath. Luke 6:7 specifies them. The Jewish leaders wanted to have an offence with which to charge Jesus.

In verse 3, Jesus beckons the man with the withered hand to come forward. Luke 6:8 relates that as Jesus asked the man to approach Him, He was fully aware of what the Jewish leaders were thinking. Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so He would have been — for better or worse — omniscient, all-knowing.  Can you imagine living with such a nature, knowing others’ hate as a certainty?

Jesus challenges His opponents (verse 4) with a simple question about the nature of activity on the Sabbath. Is helping someone in need ‘work’? Is healing an illness or a debilitating condition ‘work’? Or do we allow someone to die because it’s the Sabbath? The Jews could not respond to this because they would have incriminated themselves by their interpretation of the Law, so they stay silent. Matthew Henry observes:

What fairer question could be put? And yet, because they saw it would turn against them, they held their peace. Note, Those are obstinate indeed in their infidelity, who, when they can say nothing against a truth, will say nothing to it; and, when they cannot resist, yet will not yield.

MacArthur notes that Luke 6:6 mentions that the man’s right hand was withered. As most people are right-handed, it is probable that his condition prevented him from earning a living. He was likely to beg or rely on the mercy of others for food, clothing and other essentials. With regard to the Sabbath:

… He’s a man with a severe need. He’s a man who would have difficulty earning a living, to provide for himself and his family.

However, having said that, it must also be said that it’s not a life-threatening injury. He’s not on the brink of death. It’s not terminal. Jesus could have waited for the first day of the week, right? Could have waited till the second or the third day of the week. This is a postponable healing, doesn’t have to happen on the spot. Why does He do it then? He does it for the purpose of breaching the Sabbath. It is an attack. It is an assault. That’s what it’s intended to be and never did Jesus pull back on assaulting false religious systems.

Well that’s the context, and then there’s one other element in the context, verse 2, “They were watching Him” … This is not casual observance, this is sinister scrutiny. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath …

Now let me just give you a little bit of background about this. There is nothing in the Old Testament about not helping people on the Sabbath…nothing. All it says is don’t work, don’t do your normal work. Does that mean you don’t do anything? Of course not. You prepare food for the family, you go visit relatives, you do whatever you want to do. It’s just different than the diligent, hard work of the rest of the week.

They knew what Scripture said. The Pharisees and the scribes knew what Scripture said. Yet they had developed laws, traditions that said the efforts of a physician, or the efforts of a relative to help a sick person constitute work and cannot be done on Sabbath. Pretty harsh, but that was the way it was. The rabbis decided that helping someone on the Sabbath was work.

They also developed an exception and that was if the person was threatened with imminent death…you could stop the bleeding. Now remember, there are no medical doctors like we know them today. They didn’t even understand the pathology of disease, or weren’t even close to understanding. But there were physicians who did whatever they could based upon the knowledge of the time to help people and there were friends and relatives who came alongside. This was constituted work unless it was to prevent an immediate death…couldn’t be done. Well, they wanted to see Jesus violate their Sabbath …

So Jesus poses the question to them, “Is it right to do good on the Sabbath?” They would have thought of Isaiah chapter 1 which basically says, “I hate your Sabbaths. It’s all hypocrisy. I want you to do good, to seek justice…verse 17…reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Ruthless people need to be reproved. Orphans need to be protected. Widows need to be cared for. That’s what I want. I want you to do good. I hate your hypocritical Sabbaths. That’s all the way back in Isaiah’s day. They knew that.

Jesus displays righteous anger in verse 5. John MacArthur says:

This is the only explicit mention of Jesus being angry in the New Testament. Was He angry at other times? Sure, cleanse the temple at the beginning of His ministry, at the end of His ministry. This is the only time it actually says Jesus was angry. The Old Testament is full of references to God’s anger. There are hundreds. Twenty times it talks about the anger of the Lord. But this is a rare statement, explicitly says “Jesus was angry.”

Jesus is angry not only at their manmade traditions about Sabbath activity but also at their hardness of heart in forbidding others to exercise mercy towards those in need. The Jewish leaders are in a sense causing their people to commit a sin of omission, just as serious as sins which people actively commit. However, it could also be said that the Jewish leaders are actively sinning by forbidding the Jews to help their fellow man on the Sabbath.

Jesus’s righteous anger is the same displayed towards those among us today who display a hardness of heart. Sometimes those are secularists who actively turn against Him and God. Or, more generally, against those who complain about people who require temporary charity or state assistance and the manner in which this is sometimes used. There is yet another group implicated here, sanctimonious Christians who believe themselves to be better than everyone else because of their ‘outer holiness’. These three groups have one thing in common, the notion of ‘I’m all right, Jack. Too bad about you.’ These attitudes can affect our prospects in the afterlife. Henry explains:

How he pitied the sinners; he was grieved for the hardness of their hearts; as God was grieved forty years for the hardness of the hearts of their fathers in the wilderness. Note, It is a great grief to our Lord Jesus, to see sinners bent upon their own ruin, and obstinately set against the methods of their conviction and recovery, for he would not that any should perish. This is a good reason why the hardness of our own hearts and of the hearts of others, should be a grief to us.

The other part of verse 5 demonstrates Jesus’s inherent mercy once again. He kindly asks the man to extend his hand. That’s it. Jesus won’t touch it, not because He doesn’t want to, but if He did, the religious leaders would interpret it as ‘work’ on the Sabbath. In any event, as we discover, Jesus does not need to touch in order to heal:

He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

However, even that drove the leaders into a rage (verse 6). They went away furious, determined to ‘destroy’ Him. It seems incredible that they would want to destroy Jesus, the one and only divine healer — there has never been another before or since.

A note on the Herodians mentioned in verse 6. They were secular Jews who no longer observed Mosaic Law. They were so called because they allied themselves with the Herodian dynasty — the various Herods who ruled the region. This brought them certain social and political advantages and, in case you are wondering from last week’s discourse on tax collectors, some of them were revenue collectors for the state. They did not want their apple cart upset, so they united with the other pillar of the Establishment — the religious leaders — to oppose Jesus.

What follows are the two other Synoptic Gospel accounts of this story. I have highlighted the differences in each:

Luke 6:6-11:

 6On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Matthew 12:9-14:

9He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”— so that they might accuse him. 11He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Some readers might be saying, ‘Well, so what, I’m not handicapped, so this story is an irrelevance.’ However, we might — as stated above — suffer from hardness of heart, which Jesus can also heal. He doesn’t need to be standing in front of us in order to do so. The famous Baptist preacher from England, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, advises:

First, let us renounce for ever the habit of cavilling. These Scribes and Pharisees were great word-spinners, critics, fault-finders. They found fault with the Savior for healing on the Sabbath-day. He had not broken God’s law of the Sabbath, he had only exposed their error upon that point. If the Sabbath had not furnished an opportunity for objection, they would soon have found another; for they meant to object: one way or another, they resolved to contradict. Multitudes of persons in this present day are most effectually hardening their hearts by the habit of cavilling. While others are struck by the beauty of the gospel which they hear, these people only remember a mispronunciation made by the preacher. Having commenced in this line they begin to sit in judgment on the gospel preached, and before long the Scriptures themselves are subjected to their alteration and correction. Reverence is gone, and self-sufficience reigns supreme. They criticize God’s word. Any fool can do that, but only a fool will do it … This old serpent has left his trail on many minds at the present day, and you can see it in the slimy questions and poisonous suggestions of the age. Get away from cavilling: it is of all labors the least remunerative.

Next, let us feel an intense desire to submit ourselves unto the Lord Jesus. If he be in the synagogue, let us ask him to heal us, and to do it in his own way. Let us become his disciples, and follow him whithersoever he goeth. Yield yourselves unto God. Be as melted wax to the seal. Be as the water of the lake, which is moved with every breath of the wind. All he wills is our salvation. Lord Jesus, let thy will be done!

Let us be careful to keep away from all hardening influences, whether of books, or men, or habits, or pleasures. If there be any company which deadens us as to spiritual things, which hinders our prayers, shakes our faith, or damps our zeal, let us get out of it, and keep out of it. If any amusement lessens our hatred of sin, let us never go near it; if any book clouds our view of Jesus, let us never read it. We grow hard soon enough through the needful contact with the world which arises out of work-day life and business pursuits; let us not increase these evils. Shun the idler’s talk, the scorner’s seat, and the way of the ungodly. Shun false doctrine, worldliness, and strife. Keep clear of frivolity and trifling. Be in earnest, and be pure; live near to God, and remove far off from the throne of iniquity.

Lastly, use all softening influences. Ask to have your heart daily rendered sensitive by the indwelling of the quickening Spirit. Go often to hear the word: it is like a fire, and like a hammer breaking the rock in pieces. Dwell at the foot of the cross it is there that tenderness is born into human hearts. Jesus makes all hearts soft, and then stamps his image on them. Entreat the Holy Ghost to give you a very vivid sense of sin, and a very intense dread of it. Pray often

Next time: Mark 3:7-12