Hypocrisy in action!
General Idea: Jesus cleverly thwarted the attempt of the religious leaders to prove He was a fake by turning it into a testimony of His deity. Yet, they continued to harass Him, not giving up. They followed Jesus, trying to snag Him again. And then the opportunity was there. Jesus once again disobeyed one of their laws. In their eyes, He heinously helped a man in distress. They had their Jewish faith all mixed up and backwards, seeking to protect the Sabbath by adding more regulations to it, as well as showing more concern about traditions than about their fellow man. Because of this prevailing attitude, they refused to minister to or care for a brother in need. A handicapped man was in need, and the love and care he needed was not given. Instead, the medicine of chastisement and condemnation was dispensed. Jesus made it clear that mercy and love are important, and they honor God, not pretentious sacrifice or false, pious attitudes that cloud the Truth. In spite of all that Jesus did to prove who He was, and why He was there, the religious leaders hardened their hearts and refused to listen or even look up to see the wonders at their doorstep! They even accused our Lord of the very evil they were doing (Mark 3:1-6)!
The question that this passage asks in the form of the example from our Lord is, "Do you use people, or do you serve them?" Remember, Jesus was God, who came to this earth to serve!
1. He went into their Synagogue, and performed a "terrible crime" by showing them their true position on the Sabbath, of which they were in denial. There was no prohibition to healing on the Sabbath in the OT, and it was always lawful to do good deeds. Yet, the religious leaders felt otherwise.
a. A synagogue was the central religious institution for the Jews. These houses of worship grew from the period of the exile with the Babylonians. They provided a place where Jews could study the Scriptures and worship God. Prior to the exile, they would take pilgrimages to the Tent Meeting/Temple in Jerusalem, and the Levites would be in their towns, homes, and clans, teaching and ministering.
i. Most of Levites dispersed into the general population and their priestly sect no longer served their function, so elder men took up that role and started schools of apprenticeship to train younger men to serve. This is where the Rabbis, Pharisees, and Sadducees came from.
ii. These synagogues were built in any town where there were at least ten, married Jewish men to form a congregation (Acts 13:15; 14:1; 17:2; 18:4).
b. The leaders of the Synagogues, as church leaders do today, would invite visiting speakers. Jesus was perhaps a visiting speaker in that service when He saw the man in distress. He took that opportunity to serve, as well as to confront their hypocrisy.
c. Synagogues would also host informal dialogues with visiting rabbis; this could be another thing that Jesus was doing.
d. Most Jewish groups in that time did not permit any ministry on the Sabbath. The majority group, the Pharisees, did not even allow praying for the sick. Other Pharisees did. The minority groups were also in accord, as the Essenes had even stricter rules, not allowing even an animal to be rescued. However, the Hillelites did allow for some ministry and prayer. This group grew to be the majority after Jesus' time, and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.
i. Thus, some of the leaders would use Jesus to help persuade people to their views, while others sought to destroy Him.
ii. Synagogues were also the place each of these various leadership sects would go to debate. Asking counter questions was a classic rabbinic way to engage in a debate, and is still the norm today.
2. How much more is another standard rabbinic method of analogy. This was to show inconsistency, pretence, and hypocrisy. They did not interpret the Law with any from of logic or consistency, and Jesus pointed this out to them with their own words and law!
a. Pits were camouflaged holes, meant to capture wolves or other predators that would attack sheep. Livestock would sometimes fall into these pits, and would need immediate rescue.
b. Stretch out your hand implies that there is a connection between our faith and Jesus' healing power. The healing was given, but it also had to be received! The initiative needed to be taken (Eph. 5:14). Just as Grace is given, we still have to act on our faith to receive it.
c. Jesus infuriated the Pharisees and the Herodians so much that they literally planed to kill Him! When your heart is so hard that you block out the Will and desires that God has for you, you start on a path of chaos and distortion that you will not even realize because you will be clouded by your own delusions.
i. They had their religion so mixed up and skewed that they saw an act of kindness as a crime.
ii. Those who had political power used it to put people down. To plot against someone would indicate this group of Pharisees did not have the power to carry out their wishes and had to go behind closed doors. Otherwise, they would have brought Jesus into the courts and charged Him directly.
iii. Jewish courts decreed the death penalty to be applied to a major Sabbath violation (Ex. 31:14; 35:2), but could not enforce it under Roman occupation.
d. It is ironic that the rules of the Pharisees were very precise, and if someone proved a point using Scripture, they had no recourse but to acquiesce to that point. Jesus obviously won the argument, yet they still plotted!
3. Jesus withdrew from the Synagogue, and a great many people followed Him! Since first century Judaism was so diverse, taking a lot of people away probably did not devastate the Synagogue, as others would join in with those who held the same views as they did. This also happens with some churches today.
a. The quote is from Isaiah 42:1-2, and is sometimes called the Servant Song. It referred to the nation of Israel when it was written. There are four Servant Songs (Isa. 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12).
i. Israel was God's servant, yet she failed Him, disobeying by chasing after false gods and immoral practices. God called the people to be restored, while others took the punishment in behalf of the others, so not all would be destroyed (Isa. 44:1-4; 21; 42:18-19; 49:3-7; 52:13-53:12).
ii. Jesus came as the servant replacement. He is our substitute, and takes God's wrath in our place (Rom. 1:18‑3:20; 2 Cor. 5:21). He is the ultimate Servant!
b. Jesus warned them not to make Him known, to dampen misguided people. Because most Jews did not understand the role and purpose of a Messiah, Jesus sought to prevent being overwhelmed by glory- and show-seekers who took time away from His real ministry and teaching (Isa. 42:1-4). He also did not want the political mercenaries to try to use Him to perform their agenda of kicking out the Romans. Jesus did not seek popularity or controversy, only servant-hood!
c. This passage also represents meekness in action as strength under control. The people wanted a warrior Messiah, yet God brought them a Servant. A warrior brings destruction and chaos; a servant comes to build and repair relationships and give hope. One seeks human, sinful motives of revenge, while God seeks restoration.
d. Remember, the Gospel of Matthew was specifically written to Jews, but he asserted that salvation was for Gentiles too, as predicted by Isaiah, and told to Abraham by God (Gen. 12:1-3).
To the Pharisees, Jesus robbed their bank and stole their possessions. To a point He did, as He took away their presumptions and false ideas, and replaced them with the Truth and the true intention God had for them (Hos. 6:6; Micah 6:6-8). They did not want the truth or what God had; they only wanted their postulations and their power to rule. The questions we have to ask ourselves are, "Are we robbing God of the opportunities He tries to give us?" "Do we mix them up with habits, pride and traditions?" "Do we make grandstanding pretences, showing off our faith while we have a heart full of soot?" "Do our passions line up with political agendas, or the precepts of His Word?" Passion is paramount, but it has to be grounded in God's Truth, not the ideas and desires of man. Seek initiative and inspirations from Christ, not from traditions. Do not filter your faith and practice though the filter of traditions or habits. Rather, filter through the clarity of God's Word!
© 2003 R. J. Krejcir Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.com