Life or Death? (Mark 3:1-6)

At the end of Mark 2, Jesus presents himself as the Lord of the Sabbath and further announces that the Sabbath Law was given for our benefit.  This pushes the question back into our court. How will we use the time that God has given us? 

Jesus is in the Synagogue on another Sabbath Day. There’s also a man there with a disability, his hand is withered.  Unnamed people are watching Jesus – this might imply the attitude of all in the Synagogue but probably refers to specific opponents, no doubt the Pharisees and Herodians mentioned at the end of the passage. They are watching to see if he will heal.  Why? Because that would be evidence of him working on the day of rest so that they could accuse him of breaking the law.

Jesus brings the man up front, he is not going to be intimidated from acting, nor will this be a secret miracle in the shadows. There will be no fear and no shame.  Then he challenges his opponents.

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

Mark 3:4

This is the crux of the matter. What is the right and proper use of this gift from God? If the Sabbath was made for you, then how will you use it? What will you do with this specific time that God has given you?

They are unable to answer. They are now the ones trapped. If they answer that it is lawful to do good and to save life, then they admit that Jesus is in the right. However, they cannot openly admit to their plot to kill -itself a breach of the Ten Commandments.

Notice that this heart question “Should you do good or harm, save or heal?” Is a central theme of the whole chapter. Later (v22-30), Jesus will again be falsely accused for doing good. This shows how twisted his opponents’ hearts had become. They had everything on its head. They considered evil to be good and good to be evil.

Jesus calls on the man to stretch out his hand and he is able to do so.  He has been healed. Notice the irony here. Jesus does exactly what is lawful, he uses the Sabbath to do good, to save life, to heal. Meanwhile, what are the Pharisees doing? They are plotting.  Here we see an intriguing and disturbing alliance. The Herodians were those who had thrown their lot in with King Herod.  Now, we can say too things about Herod. First, he owed his throne to the Romans.  This was no true Jewish King but someone imposed by their occupiers.  Secondly, we know from the Gospels that he and his family were pretty unpleasant.  The Pharisees who took pride in their identity as God’s people and their legal righteousness were willing to compromise with those who dishonoured God’s law -and for what purpose. Their purpose was to kill and destroy. They were using the Sabbath to plot murder.

The challenge for us is whether we will choose life or death. There is of course, the question about how we use our time, for good or for ill.  Do we use the things God has given us to help or to harm? Do we use our time and our tongues to speak well of others and encourage them or to gossip, slander and tear others down? Are we thinking about how we can help each other and bear one another’s burdens or are we looking for ways to get ahead at the expense of others?

We are reminded here that the call is to choose life and to find it in Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath.

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