1Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” 4Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (Mark 3:1-6)
Why are the Pharisees already plotting with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus?
The Herodians were a political party. And they were joining forces with the Pharisees to plot the death of Jesus. In Mark 2, we are also introduced to teachers of the law who were critical of Jesus. And the teachers of the law and Pharisees appear again and again throughout the gospels and they are always butting heads with Jesus. What is going on? Why is their criticism escalating so early on in Jesus ministry to the point that they are already beginning to plot the death of Jesus.
The teachers of the law or the scribes were professional theologians. They are professionally trained and probably most analagous today to seminary professors. Their goal was to train and equip leaders.
The second group are the Pharisees. These are the lay leaders. They are blue collar workers who propagated the ideas of their teacher.
Teachers of the law could only open up a school and take in Pharisees to train at the age of 40. And of course, some teachers of the law were more famous than others. There were some rock star teachers of the law who had book tours and gave lectures throughout the region and every young religious Jew wanted to become a Pharisee in that teacher’s school.
And because there were limited slots in each school, there was a long application process. The application just to get into a school and be taught be a teacher of the law was anywhere from a month to a year. It was like an exclusive prep school.
It was a big deal because getting into the right school under the right teacher meant instant respect in the community and financial security. And of course if you were one of the parents of a soon-to-be Pharisee and you really wanted your son to get into a certain school, there would be bribery and stroking of egos of the teachers. So the teachers ended up becoming soft, spoiled religious leaders and everyone was always telling them how great they were.
Parents of the Pharisees would gather together for dinner and of course there were others of similar socio-economic class. The more reputable the name of the teacher, the more elite these parents were. And the Pharisees could marry daughters of these respectable families and the blood lines could be kept pure. So it was more than an exclusive prep school, it was an exclusive country club of elites mingling with other elites for many generations.
And on some special occasions, at these dinner parties among the families of Pharisees part of the same school, you might get the privilege to dine with the teacher. Wow, the teacher deems us worthy to grace us with his presence. These teachers were second only to God. To the Pharisees, these teachers were more important than even their own parents. That is how much influence they exerted.
You can imagine the pride that went along with this entire system. My teacher is better than your teacher.
When I was a kid and I got into a fight with another kid, I was too wimpy to get into a physical fight. So I would wage a war of words. And when I hit a wall and I didn’t know what else to say, I would say, well, my dad is smarter than your dad. Because I honestly believed that my dad was the smartest person in the world. So I said it with deep conviction.
It was that sort of thing going on. My school is better than your school, my tribe is better than your tribe. My teacher has direct access to God so what he says trumps whatever your teacher has to say.
So think of the teachers of the law as the Queen Bee. They call the shots. And the Pharisees are like the swarm. The listen to instructions from the Queen Bee and then they swarm. They swarm to this group, this church, they swarm to this church meeting, and they are there to sting you to death in defense of the theological position taught to them by their teacher.
In Mark 2, you see the swarm in action. Jesus and the disciples are in the grain fields. And they just kind of pop out of nowhere, these Pharisees are like the paparazzi, following Jesus around, watching his every move. And as soon as Jesus breaks one of their laws, they seem to jump out from hiding in the wheat field and they swarm. They get right in Jesus’ face and they are ready to sting.
Religious people are bold. They get right up in Jesus’ face. And they are not ready to listen. They are ready to duke it out. They are ready to sting. They already have their minds made up. Have you met people like this? They are so confident about their theological position, or their understanding of Scripture, or how we are supposed to live the Christian life that they get into people’s face and they are ready to shoot them down. There is no humility. No posture of learning and listening. Because they have it all figured out. This is how religious people think and operate.
You would think if you are a religious person and you are standing before Jesus, the Son of God, they should be ready to listen. But instead, they are ready to bowl Jesus with their religious arguments.
What issue do these religious people, the Pharisees, raise to Jesus?
Jesus is breaking the Sabbath because he is doing work by showing compassion and healing a man with a shriveled hand.
In addition to being bold, religious people always think Scripture is insufficient so they feel a need to constantly add onto Scripture. For example, in this case of the Sabbath law, we are left with the command in Scripture to keep the Sabbath holy and that’s why we are all here. We are setting aside our normal work schedule to worship God. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need detailed explanation of how to keep the Sabbath. Set aside time in your weekly schedule to worship God, to be refueled by being in God’s presence and in fellowship with other believers. It’s time to recharge and connect with your family and friends. I don’t need a detailed manual about how I should spend my Sabbath.
But the teachers of the law determined that the Scripture regarding the Sabbath was insufficient in explaining what we were supposed to do and what we were forbidden to do. So they wrote an addendum which included 39 extra stipulations. It’s unbiblical. We should never have to add things to the Bible, yet many churches do. Many denominations do. To get with our crowd, you have to act a certain way, do things are certain way. You have to wear a tie. You have to tuck in your shirts. You have to be presentable.
I want to point out that one of those 39 stipulations allowed the breaking of Sabbath for the purpose of doing good and in the case of medical emergencies. But perhaps these Pharisees came from an ultra-conservative, fundamentalist school where the teachers said that absolutely no work could be performed on the Sabbath. Even work done for the good of others. Or, they might have concluded that this man with a shriveled hand was not in the danger of dying so it wasn’t a medical emergency. In other words, Jesus could have waited until tomorrow to heal this guy and because he didn’t, he broke the Sabbath law.
It’s absurd. Jesus is not doing anything wrong. In fact, he is healing someone else. But religious people are loveless. They were not interested in others. They were not even interested in pleasing God. Instead, the favor of the teacher is what all Pharisees were after. And it was more important for them to feel good about keeping their laws than to help someone in need.
Ironically, they are critical of Jesus for breaking the Sabbath for doing work to help someone, and they are plotting Jesus’ death. They are doing more work getting angry with Jesus and plotting his death than Jesus who healed the man in an instant.
Religious people are bold, they are unbiblical, and they are unloving.