Well, it’s been a while so I thought I’d shake the bushes and see what I could stir up. Insert chuckle here! I hope everyone who has been dealing with frigid temps and mountains of snow is staying safe and warm during this cold winter season. Here in Florida, we recently had our own version of a “cold front” that resulted in an F2 tornado a few miles south of me. I’m always hesitant to say something like “I’m so grateful it missed us”, even though of course I am, because somewhere, someone else has suffered a tremendous loss.

With all that said, my mind is still a bit preoccupied with the message I delivered this past Sunday evening at our church. I entitled it “Sabbath Day Showdown” and took my text from Luke 6:6-11. If you are familiar with it, this is where Jesus went into the synagogue and healed the man who had a withered hand.

And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him. But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? 10 And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 11 And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.

As the story unfolds, the Pharisees and religious folks who were there were only interested in seeing if Jesus would dare to break one of their customs by healing on the Sabbath day. This story has always left me wondering how in the world anyone claiming to be a son of Abraham could be so calloused and hard-hearted as to have no regard for humanity yet be ready to pounce the moment one of their rules were broken.

In preparing for this message, I did a lot of soul searching about the conditions in our churches today, and to be completely honest I don’t think a whole lot has changed with God’s people since Jesus had this encounter with the Pharisees. Meaning, we still struggle to focus on what’s really important.

In reading Mark’s gospel, we see this same encounter being played out with the Pharisees and the man with the withered hand. The only difference is that Mark recalls something Jesus did that Luke either forgot or simply chose to omit it. Here it is:

And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. Mark 3:5 KJV

The Son of God was angry, and His heart was grieved. What could cause such reactions from Jesus? The answer is there in verse five: He was angry that they had allowed their hearts to become so hardened that they cared more about traditions and religious rules than they cared about the well-being of their fellow man.

Call them Pharisees, Legalists, or by some other name. The point is that they cared more about crossing an “I” or dotting a “T” than they did about easing the suffering of the man who had a withered hand. And Jesus called them out on it. He had had enough of their religion; it was time for real ministry to happen. So, he healed the man’s withered hand.

Now, under normal circumstances this healing would have ignited a mini revival of sorts. People would be rejoicing, praising God, and overjoyed at the wonderful miracle this man had experienced. Under normal circumstances, that’s what would have happened. But this wasn’t a normal situation because cold, loveless, dead, and uncaring religion had turned the hearts of this religious crowd to stone.

Their response to this incredible healing was to call an impromptu meeting to decide what to do with this Jesus. This had to stop, they said. We can’t have him doing these things and polluting our Sabbath. It goes against our religious rules.

Here’s the thing though. These traditions and religious rules they clung to so desperately? They were all man-made. They were not from God at all. Examine the Mosaic Law and all its 634+ ordinances, and you will not find one word forbidding the healing of a man on the Sabbath. As I reminded our church, it’s never the wrong day to do the right thing.

The Pharisees had done what Pharisees always do; however, they had taken what God had given to man, considered it insufficient, and added their own traditions and commandments to it. The end result was a “Law” that was based upon man’s ideas of righteousness, not God’s.

When that happens mercy and compassion fly out the window. We can’t be bothered with that when there are rules to administer, traditions to uphold. So, they sat in silence as Jesus asked them “is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil”? To answer would have brought self-condemnation, something their hearts would never permit.

As I said to the congregation the other evening, we must be so careful not to permit our own hearts to become hardened and unfeeling. At all costs we must stay in the Word and upon our knees so that our hearts remain tender before the Lord. Only then can we be the eyes, ears, hands, and feet of Jesus on this earth.

Failing that, we are no use to the kingdom of God.

Have a blessed week everyone!

Ron