"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." --The Gospels refer to
the Sabbath often, usually pertaining to something Jesus was doing.
Here is another slice of that Sabbath pie. 



Jesus entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had
a withered hand. They watched Him closely, whether He would heal
him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. Jesus said to
the man who had the withered hand, "Step forward."

Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to
do evil, to save life or to kill? But they kept silent. [{Matt. 12:11-12}
Jesus said to them, "What man is there among you who has one
sheep and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it
and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?
Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."]

When He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by
the hardness of their hearts, Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out
your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole
as the other.

Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the
Herodians against Jesus, how they might destroy Him.

                                                               Mark 3:1-6 NKJV, condensed



             Another Sabbath; Another Controversy

Restrictions?  Freedom?  Duty?  Celebration?  R&R?  What is the
Sabbath all about? Another Sabbath, another controversy! What to do on
our day of worship? Who needs to do it? When do we make exceptions?
All the choices and options available to us. The many "why" questions
of our children. Clearly, the Lord's Day can create conflicts and tensions.

But, as Jesus is about to show us, attendance at a house of worship on
our Sabbath day does not guarantee that we will recognize the difference
between good and evil or that we will be the kind of person Jesus taught
us to be! Interestingly, I am working on this page on a Sabbath morning
and will not be at my place of worship today. If your initial inclination is to
think ill of me for that revelation, then please read on because Jesus has
something to tell us.

In the verses above, three forces converged in the synagogue that day:
1) A man with an obvious need; he had a hand that no longer functioned
as a normal hand. 2) Next there was Jesus, the non-conforming healer,
the re-interpreter of the Law and of life. 3) Lastly the Pharisees were in
their usual seats, religiously guarding their laws and traditions.

Although the man with the useless hand might appear to be the subject
of this story, the real subject is, "What does it mean to keep the Sabbath
day holy?" The rightful observance of the Sabbath was a matter Jesus
took on everywhere he went. "What better day to do good," he would
say, "than the Sabbath!"

Jesus initiated the controversy this day, and welcomed the battle. His
critics welcomed it too. The Pharisees loved to condemn Jesus. They
hoped he would break the Sabbath law and do the healing, because
they were ready to pounce. The Law clearly forbids work on the
Sabbath. They wanted to accuse Jesus, to bring Jesus down at the
height of his popularity and destroy the way he was misrepresenting
the statutes contained in their holy Scriptures.

Jesus knew all this and the battle was on. Everyone watched Jesus
closely! So, the man had a useless hand. Surely this miracle could wait
until the Sabbath has ended. Jesus looked at them closely, too, and in
anger! His anger is further identified as deep distress directed toward
their stubborn hearts, hearts that would not change. He was grieved
at their hard hearts, their lack of compassion, their inability to see joy
and express love to their fellowman.  

Jesus said to the man, "Step forward." Then he addressed the onlookers.
Jesus  worded his questions in such a way as to imply that to do nothing
is to do evil. His critics thought to do nothing on the Sabbath is to do
good, and to heal on the Sabbath is the wrong thing to do. 

Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out that useless hand of yours." The
man did and it was restored as good as, probably better than, his other
hand. To the Pharisees, Jesus' act of healing seemed like a defiant,
in-your-face rebellious act. They rejected Jesus totally, and did not want
anyone else to have anything to do with him either. They went out and
began their plot to destroy him. It would be murder in the name of
preserving their faith!

Healings are a time of extreme joy, an opportunity for everyone to rejoice
and give thanks. Is there something wrong with people who would be
critical at such a time? Yet when we consider the questions we face in
our modern society about medical ethics, and what treatments,
procedures and research we should support, it helps us understand
this story and the reaction of people taking opposing positions. When
is it right, or not right, to save life? These are difficult and controversial
issues.

The final mood of this Sabbath story is not joy. Instead it is grief, anger,
and evil intent--which is a clear signal that something is very wrong here.
Jesus raised some red flags. The warning signs are a critical spirit,
self-righteousness, stubbornness, and a cold, hard heart. Some honest
soul-searching is necessary. We who consider ourselves the people of
God, do we follow the Pharisees or are we following Jesus?

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker: What traditions did your parents and grandparents have
                   which guided their behavior on Sunday/the Sabbath Day?


Look up the 4th commandment in Exodus 20:8-11.
            What do you think it means to keep the Sabbath day holy?
            Why would God want his people to rest every seventh day?
            What does rest mean to you?
Do you ever struggle with the meaning of the Sabbath?
            If so, what have you learned?


Why is it important to gather together with other people for worship
on a regular basis?
            What benefits do you receive from attending your house of worship?
            How do you feel about people who do good things on Sunday
                        morning instead of going to Church?

Why do you think people differ so much on their interpretation of what's right
or wrong behavior on the Sabbath?
            What makes a day sacred or holy?


Did you ever feel that religious people are self-righteous?
Maybe more judgmental than other people?
            If so, why do you think this is?
            Is it ever right to be critical of others?   If so, when?
            Who did Jesus praise?   Who did Jesus criticize?


How do you feel about the Pharisees in the Gospels?
            What was right about them?
            Where did they go wrong?
            Why were Pharisees so hard for Jesus to win over?
Is there anything which goes on in our houses of worship today which
reminds you of the Pharisees?


What does it mean to have a hard heart?
Jesus wants to transform our hard, cold hearts and give us new hearts instead.
            Describe the heart Jesus wants you to have?

 

The way we observe the Sabbath (or Sunday) is usually visible to others.
            What message are you conveying by the way you live your Sabbath?

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