We’re going to be Mark 3 today.
We’re in our fourth week of following Jesus around the gospel of Mark
to watching what Jesus does and hearing to what Jesus says
and asking ourselves: “what would it look like for us to take this guy seriously?”
Today we’re reaching one of the early turning points in Mark.
Let’s watch and listen, let’s make a couple of reflections
and then we’ll move towards the table:
(3.1-6) Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some 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. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then 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.
He 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. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
We said last week that the gospel of Mark
could pretty easily be divided into two halves.
The first half of Mark’s story—the first eight chapters—
is telling us who Jesus is, what Jesus is like, what Jesus is doing,
and then the second half Mark’s story—the last eight chapters—
is telling us the story of Jesus suffering and death and resurrection.
The first half of Mark plunges us headlong into an action movie.
The gospel of Mark is primarily interested
in us recognizing Jesus as a kind of action hero—
a powerful figure who bursts onto the battlefield of the world
and begins trashing evil and spreading life wherever he goes.
That’s how Mark wants us to see Jesus.
Sure, he does some teaching,
sure, he tells some parables,
sure, he debates some people,
but Mark wants to make sure that we realize
that all of those things are part of something bigger.
Jesus isn’t just randomly casting out evil spirits
or banishing fevers or healing skin diseases.
Jesus isn’t just randomly trashing evil.
He’s not just a bored superhero wandering around Galilee
with the mutant powers of healing and exorcism
Jesus is up to something.
Jesus is announcing something.
Jesus is announcing that the rule and reign of the ancient God of Israel—
the long-awaited hope and dream and prayer of the Jewish people—
the kingdom of God was finally arriving.
That’s the gospel according to Jesus.
The dimension of God is invading our dimension.
The government of God—
the realm where things are as God wants them to be—
was (at long last!) coming close.
That’s why Jesus has been doing everything that’s he’s been doing so far—
casting out evil, banishing sickness, restoring bodies,
opening his table to the wrong sorts of people,
telling people their sins are forgiven.
He’s doing those things,
because that’s what the world looks like
when God is in charge.
That’s the kingdom of God.
And in the first couple of chapters of Mark,
Jesus is dazzling the crowds and soaring in popularity
and it might be easy to think:
This Jesus is taking the world by storm. This guy is heading places.
My goodness, this guy might just wind up doing something great with his life.”
But when we hear the end of today’s passage, and we start to worry a little bit.
(3.6) Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
This is one of the first indications in the story that something is wrong—
that the story may not turn out like we expected.
This is the moment that the most moral of people,
the most biblical of people, the most devout of people,
decide that they’re going to kill Jesus.
—that they’re going to destroy Jesus.
That’s the word that’s used here.
It’s the same word that was used back in chapter one,
when Jesus confronted an evil spirit and the spirit says,
“Have you come to destroy us?”
It was exciting back there—
Jesus is the one who’s arriving to destroy evil.
But now… suddenly we’re feeling a rising threat.
The Pharisees go off to conspire with “the Herodians”—
people who seem to be supporters Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great)
the regional, Rome-approved king.
Why are they doing this?
These are the people who should be siding with Jesus against darkness,
these are the people who should be helping Jesus in announcing the kingdom,
these are the people who should be joining Jesus in destroying evil
but they’ve gone off to conspire how they can destroy Jesus.
What’s going on?
Well, last week we saw the religious leaders get upset with Jesus over two things.
They got upset because they thought Jesus might be the worst kind of heretic—
that Jesus might be a blasphemer—because Jesus was claiming to give
what every good Jew knew that only God could give:
the forgiveness of sins.
And then they got upset because Jesus wasn’t keeping himself holy enough—
he was opening his heart and his table to all the wrong kinds of people.
The Jewish leaders knew that good Jews
were supposed to keep themselves separate from the riffraff around them— sinners and tax collectors and the sexually immoral, sure,
but also especially from other Jews that weren’t living like they should.
After all, God had called his people to be holy—a holy nation—
to be a kingdom of priests in the world.
The ancient history of the Jewish people (the Old Testament)
was filled with all kinds of examples of how they had failed at this,
but a few centuries ago they had gotten another chance.
God restored them to their land,
God had given them clear instruction through a guy named Ezra,
and many people (like the Pharisees) had gotten serious about being a holy nation—
they were going to be separate from the world.
One of the practices that helped make sure you stayed separate
was keeping yourself ritually pure—ceremonially clean—by making sure that
you’re eating the right kinds of food and associating with the right kinds of people.
But there Jesus is eating with the wrongs kinds of people,
eating God knows what with them.
That’s what we saw last week.
A few people with influence and authority were beginning to get upset with Jesus.
We’ve skipped eleven verses at the end of chapter two, but more trouble has been brewing.
The religious leaders have been asking more questions about Jesus and his followers.
As they watch Jesus and his disciples,
a question arises rather quickly:
Why don’t they fast from food regularly?
Why are they always feasting?
Shouldn’t there be a little more fasting—
a little more repentance and solemnness—
in their lifestyle?
To which Jesus replies,
“They’re feasting because that’s what you do at a wedding with the groom.” (cf. 2.19)
Excuse me, what do you mean, Jesus?
“Well, they’re feasting with the groom because that’s what you do at a wedding.
When the groom is taken from them—that’s when they’ll fast.” (cf. 2.20)
That doesn’t quite answer the question directly.
But the way that Mark tells the story it’s like these religious leaders don’t even have time to catch their breath.
Because another huge question begins emerging:
What does Jesus think about the Sabbath?
The Sabbath is another one of the ways that good Jews kept themselves separated and distinct from the world around them.
If you read ancient historians and listen to the way they talk about the Jews, the Jewish people were regularly considered to be a freakish kind of people— a lazy kind of people—because they refused to do any work one day a week.
That was just as strange in the ancient world as it is today.
But practices like the Sabbath certainly did their job—
they succeeded in keeping the Jewish people separate from the rest of the world.
Ancient historians knew about those separate people over there— they’re the people who refuse to eat with us and who mutilate their little boys and who don’t work on Saturdays.
“But this Jesus doesn’t seem that concerned with holiness— with preserving and protecting the things that keep us separate from the world.”
Because they see Jesus and his disciples
(Jesus and his always-eating-always-feasting followers)
walking through a field picking heads of grain
and they’re doing it on Saturday—they’re doing it on the Sabbath!
“What part of ‘no work on the Sabbath’ don’t you guys get?
“You can’t do work on the Sabbath—
you can’t harvest grain on the Sabbath.
“Good grief, you ate enough last night
at the Roman-sympathizer’s house.
“Can’t you guys at least pack yourselves a lunch
or wait until sundown—until the Sabbath is over—
to glean from the corners of the fields?”
“You guys are throwing away our entire cultural identity in the world—
not to mention our long-held understanding of holiness—
for an afternoon snack.”
Everyone is gathered at the synagogue on the Sabbath—
including a man (v1) with something wrong with his hand.
Some kind of atrophy—it’s shriveled.
At this point, the religious leaders are watching Jesus closely (v2) looking for a reason to publicly discredit him—to accuse him.
It’s obvious that Jesus has a big, bleeding heart,
and, sure, it’s a good thing that he heals people.
But there’s got to be order.
He’s got to control himself.
This is the Sabbath.
This Jesus is a popular figure who could lead a lot of people down the wrong path—
who could destroy the nation’s identity and the nation’s holiness.
is Jesus going to practice a day of rest or is Jesus going to keep doing work?
Jesus seems to go out of his way to make things worse.
He knows that the religious leaders are sensitive about the Sabbath.
He knows that the Sabbath is a really big deal.
He could have asked this guy
to come to him at sunset (when the Sabbath ends)
like people did in chapter one.
The guy isn’t in immediate danger.
He’s not on death’s door.
It’s just a shriveled hand—it can wait a few hours.
So what does Jesus do? Verse 3:
Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Well, so much for discretion—
I guess Jesus thinks this is a point worth making.
He asks a question:
“Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
Talk about loading a question.
“What’s the right thing to do on the Sabbath?
Good or evil? Do you want me to save people or to kill people?”
Jesus is bypassing all of the intricate debate
about the hair-splitting legality of what-can-be-done and what-can’t-be-done
and cutting straight to the heart of what it means to be truly honoring God and obeying God.
Is the Sabbath meant to be some kind of weekly rule check off of a list—
a practice to honor God and keep the Jewish people separate from the world even at the expense of this guy remaining broken?
Or is the Sabbath meant to be a force for good in the world—
a practice that is meant to help save life and help goodness to flourish?
In the words of Jesus from just a few verses earlier (near the end of chapter two):
was humanity made to serve the Sabbath
or was the Sabbath made to serve humanity?
That’s really a question about God.
What is God like?
Is God more interested in religion and rules or in relationships?
Did God say to himself,
“You know… I’d really like to create some religion.
Some people observing Sabbath and following Torah and keeping pure—
Religion sounds like a great idea. I think I’ll invent people so they can do all of that.”
Did God invent people so that they could make religion possible?
Or did God intend to make people—
real people that can choose to live and choose to love
and then God chooses to works within what we call “religion”
so he can restore people,
so he can better people,
so he can heal people?
“What is lawful on the Sabbath?”
“What is God like?”
Is God’s highest priority
that all of the religious rules
are clearly and scrupulously followed
or is God’s highest priority
that real people are experiencing healing and flourishing in life?
Jesus is looking around asking,
“What’s the right thing right now?
That your religious rules get followed
or that human life gets saved?”
But everyone just remains silent (v3).
Nobody says anything.
They’re more interested in their principle
than they are in this person.
They’d rather make a point
than see a person made whole.
They want to best Jesus
more than they want the best for this man.
their path to “holiness,” their way of “living rightly”—
is actually hurting people rather than healing people.
I’m so glad that we’re never like this.
Nobody says anything.
“But they remained silent.”
Mark says something about Jesus in verse 5 that is said no where else in the gospels.
(v5a) He looked around at them in anger…
There’s one other place in Mark (in chapter one, actually)
where Mark might be saying that Jesus is angry (depending on how you translate a word)
and there are other places in the other gospels where Jesus seems to be showing anger
(like when he clears the Temple or calls religious leaders “snakes” and “vipers”)
but this is the only place in any of the gospels
where a gospel-writer explicitly, unambiguously says that Jesus is angry.
Nobody says anything because
they care about a principle at the expense of a person.
They remain silent.
And Jesus is angry.
Angry—and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.
Jesus is angry.
This is the place where Jesus gets angry.
Jesus isn’t said to be angry when people are sinning.
He speaks words of healing and forgiveness
to a woman caught in adultery (Jn 8).
Jesus isn’t said to be angry when he disagrees with the government decisions or current events.
He just keeps challenging everyone following him
to keep examining the way that they themselves are living (cf. Lk 13.1-5)
Jesus isn’t even angry when he himself
is being abused or lied about or nailed to a cross.
He’s speaking words of healing and forgiveness even towards those who are killing him.
Jesus is angry here.
There’s a withered hand and nobody cares about.
And what does Jesus do? Verse 5:
[he] said to the man…
“watch me pull out my lightning bolt
and destroy these awful people,
“watch me pull out my smartphone
and destroys their awful point of view on social media.
“watch me pull out all the stops
and destroy these people for the sake of principle.”
That’s not what it says.
He 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.
This is the place where Jesus gets angry—
where his blood pressure is rising where his pulse is pounding in ears where he feels an intense kind of energy wanting to burst out of him—
and what does Jesus do?
Jesus funnels his anger into healing.
He channels his anger into healing for the person in front of him.
That’s what Jesus angry looks like.
Jesus isn’t interested in destroying people.
Jesus uses his that intense kind of energy wanting to burst out him,
and he funnels it into destroy the things that are destroying people.
When Jesus gets angry,
Jesus heals withered hands.
Even when he’s angry,
the Christ is interested in healing people not destroying people.
Even the angry Christ isn’t interested in destroying people.
Destroying people is what other people are interested in.
That’s what plenty of religious leaders are interested in.
And they wind up going out and plotting how to destroy Life Itself.
I’m afraid destroying people is what the Church is often interested in.
I’m afraid destroying people is what I’m interested in.
When I get angry… my default reaction is wanting to destroy someone.
Destroy their arrogance, destroy their reputation, destroy their position, destroy that look on their face.
And that’s because most of the time
in some way I am at the center of my anger.
Brett’s anger arises most often arises
when Brett feels insulted or marginalized
or ignored or slighted or threatened.
But when Jesus gets angry here
he’s got another person at the center of his anger.
Think about that—
Jesus’ anger isn’t Jesus-centered.
Jesus’ anger is withered-hand-centered.
He’s angry because another person is being insulted and marginalized and ignored because other people are being slighted and threatened.
And to make it worse, this is happening in the name of God.
If we follow Jesus and try to take Jesus seriously— if we want to the people who carry the name of the Christ— Jesus is going to ask us what we’re angry about and what we’re doing with our anger.
What is making you angry these days?
What is making you upset?
Is there a person that makes your blood pressure rise,
is there a situation that makes your pulse pound in your ears,
are there current events that fill you with intense and angry energy?
And what’s at the center of that anger?
What’s driving that anger?
Is it you—your opinions, your ego, your religious principles?
If we want to be angry about something
maybe we should be angry about the withered hand.
Maybe we should be angry about the countless ways that people are being destroyed around us every single day.
And what are you doing with your anger?
Is your anger driving you to join in the destruction—
to destroy an argument or a relationship or a reputation?
What would it look like for us take Jesus seriously,
and set our eyes so firmly on healing the world—on healing those around us—
that even anger could be channelled into healing?
That’s what it looks like to follow the Christ.
That’s what it looks like to be a Christian.
It means to confess our self-obsessed anger that wants to destroy others,
and to receive a new kind of life.
To receive the life of the Christ—the life of our king.
To receive the Spirit of Christ
That’s what this table is about.
This table is the place we come each week
as we recognize that God himself is giving his life to us.
This table reminds us that this is the place where the Gospel of Mark is now heading.
Jesus allows us to destroy him in our anger and absolutely refuses to join in the destruction.
This table reminds us that Jesus is always healing—
whether he’s popular Jesus or angry Jesus or broken Jesus…
Jesus heals. Jesus saves. And he’s inviting us to receive that kind of life too.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
In just a minute you’ll be invited to come down this center aisle,
to receive a cracker, to dip it in the juice, and to return to your seats along the sides.
As we come this morning,
may we confess that we are often at the center of our anger
and may we find freedom from that burden,
may we receive the life of God himself— the life that is willing to be destroyed rather than joining in destruction,
and may we learn to practice the true holiness of our king
that is always healing the withered hand.