A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And 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. 5 And 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 held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
One of the positive things about the last few months of home confinement is that it has helped us be more consistent about ending our day with family devotions. To their credit, our girls normally do a pretty good job of staying engaged during Bible time, but, as you can probably imagine, when it comes to prayer time it is a bit more challenging to keep everybody’s attention. One of the things that we have done in an attempt to maintain our focus has been to have the girls write some different things we should be praying for on little slips of paper and place them in a box that sits on our living room coffee table. Before we begin someone pulls a paper from the box and that will be something that we each pray for in turn. Even with this, on more than one occasion the praying child has stopped mid-stream to say to one of her other sisters, “Hey, your eyes aren’t closed! You have to close your eyes when you pray!” Along with being an opportunity for us to talk about how the Bible doesn’t actually tell us that we need to have our eyes closed in prayer, it has also served as a teachable moment to address the fact that in order to catch someone else with their eyes open during prayer, you have to have your eyes open during prayer. In their haste to tell on their sister, they are telling on themselves as well.
All three of what we call the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, record the next episode of Jesus’ life. As had become His custom, once again Jesus was back preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In this particular synagogue there was a man with a withered hand. It is unclear if his problem was caused by a congenital condition or marred by injury, but either way it was immediately noticeable to everyone in the room. Once again looking for an opportunity to accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath law, the Pharisees and their scribes watched Jesus like a hawk. In their strict interpretation of the law, the only type of physical labor permissible on the Sabbath was emergency action necessary to save an endangered life; everything else was to wait until sundown. Seeing the bitterness and jealousy in their hearts and knowing they were driven by hatred, Jesus called the man to Himself and put the question to them directly: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” It was not at all a complicated question, but seeing that their only choices were to either declare that the holy day of worship was really a day of calamity or justify the actions of Jesus, they said nothing at all.
Of course, not only was doing good on the Sabbath not unlawful, but it didn’t require years of advanced Biblical training to know that an act of mercy, such as perhaps a physical healing, was exactly the type of activity which should be done on the Sabbath. In Isaiah 58, the Lord deals with questions from His people who want to know why He is not honoring their fasting and worship by explaining that while they may be outwardly observing the fourth commandment, their hearts are still far from Him. The Lord responds in verses 6-7 by saying: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” The Sabbath fast was not a fast from any and all labor, but a fast from self-beneficial labor.What better way to love, serve and worship the Lord on His day than by caring for the needs of others in His name?
Jesus wasn’t just angry with the Pharisees’ refusal to answer, He was actually driven to the point of grief and sorrow. The religious rulers of Israel, charged with leading God’s people into proper worship, cared more about undermining Jesus than they did for the welfare of one of their own. The ones who believed themselves to be the closest to God had hearts that were calloused and hardened like a clenched fist, and not even witnessing a miraculous sign from heaven could soften them. To ensure that they couldn’t even misconstrue His healing touch for an act of labor, Jesus simply spoke and at once the mangled hand was restored completely.
As soon as the Pharisees saw what happened, they raced out and began to plot the destruction of Jesus with the Herodians. The Herods were the Roman-approved ruling family of Israel that cared little for the law of God and were notorious for their lavish and pagan lifestyle. By conspiring with the Herodians, the Pharisees were knowingly aligning themselves with flagrant lawbreakers and revealing their true hypocritical nature.
What does the Lord desire for us? What sort of expectations do we unfairly or perhaps even unknowingly place upon others or on Him? The Pharisees were so preoccupied by making sure everyone else fell in line with their ideal Sabbath observance that they completely missed out on worship altogether. The god they worshipped was just like them, a cruel taskmaster who cared more about law and order than the plight of the people. When Jesus began to challenge their preconceived notions of the true nature and character of God, He was written off as another fool to be ignored and enemy to be defeated. What about us? Have we been shaped and formed by God, or have we formed and fashioned a deity in our own likeness? The only way to ensure that we are the ones conforming to the Lord is to remain in His Word where He has revealed Himself to us as He is. May we continue to be renewed by it day by day, allowing our hypocritical hearts to be exposed to the light of the Son and reformed in the image of our Savior.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, You alone are God. Forgive us for the times we have placed unnecessary barriers to others who are in need of Your healing hand of mercy. While we were yet sinners, at just the right time You come into our lives to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all our iniquities. Although we can never earn your love, You lavish it upon us. We ask that You would give us new hearts that love You and Your creation and through You we would find abundant and everlasting life. We humbly ask this in Your merciful name, Amen.