Colossians 2:20–23 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—[ “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Jesus was not simply another scribe who advocated an independent opinion; he constituted a threat to their perception of true religion and the ancestral tradition. When Jesus failed to submit to the scribal regulation of the Sabbath he broke the tradition, and authority confronted authority. It was inevitable that conflict should ensue, and that the Pharisees should seek to destroy Him.
Jesus calls a man with a withered hand to stand before the crowd. Why a man with a withered hand? Lots of people are there to be healed. The man wants his hand healed, but Jesus is using Him as ammunition against His enemies. Think about that. Jesus is about making trouble and using His followers to do it. Its good trouble. God trouble.
Jesus is taking another shot at the perceived wisdom and learning of the Pharisees by using the typology of the withered hand.
Exodus 4:6–8 Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign.
Exodus 4:29–31 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed…
Healing a withered hand is about God demonstrating the authority of the prophet.
God heard the prayers of His enslaved people in Egypt and sent a mighty man, a wonder worker to deliver them and the sign was a withered hand. This time, the people of God are enslaved by evil men who use the law of Moses as a noose instead of a lifeline. And the sign of the withered hand is rejected violently.
Jesus is the living embodiment of Israel. Their history is a type and shadow of His life.
A similar clue to this is found in 1 Kings 13:3–6 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the LORD has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’” And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. And the king said to the man of God, “Entreat now the favor of the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” And the man of God entreated the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it was before.
The healing of a withered hand is a sign from God that His words and authority are with the one doing the healing. In both OT examples it was God who did the healing on behalf of the prophet. What does it mean that the Prophet is doing the healing Himself?!?
The idolatrous Jeroboam responds with repentance. The King who had established worship at unauthorized shrines had better discernment than those who prided themselves for their alleged devotion to God’s regulations for worship. The rank idolater has better grasp than the keepers of God’s actual temple. Jeroboam goes on to invite the prophet to feast with him. The Pharisees do no such thing.
Israel is worse than idolaters. Mark wants us to think of the synagogue itself as something in the order of jeroboam’s wicked alter. The things of God are not used to Glorify God but are used by the Pharisees as a means to enslave His people and persecute the Lord Himself.
In Jesus’ first salvo against the false teachers of Israel, He asserts Himself as the Son of Man, with the authority to forgive sins and demonstrates it by healing the paralytic. Jesus claims He is greater than the Law and the Sabbath and proves it by healing a man with a withered hand as fulfillment of the sign in the OT.
Jesus is showing forth the blessings and curses Moses placed before the people of Israel as a choice between life and death.
Deuteronomy 30:15–16 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
Solomon presented wisdom as a way of life and foolishness as a way of death.
Proverbs 12:28 In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.
Proverbs 14:27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.
Jesus presents the Pharisees with a rather polarized alternative reflecting the Law of Moses and the wisdom of Solomon. Do the Pharisees wish to help or to harm, to save a or to kill? Are they wise or are they fools? Are they for life or death?
But they keep silent and go out to plan Jesus’ death with the Herodian party. The Herodian party of course, being descendants of the Edomites, the followers of the house of Herod who murdered all the babies back when Jesus’ birth was reported by the wise men. Herod who arrested and beheaded John the Baptist to reward a poll dancer.
The Pharisees are aligned with a political party that seeks its own good, aligned with Rome against the people of Israel. Here in Mark 3 we get a whiff of where the story is going.
The crucifixion already impinges upon Jesus. This was inevitable from the moment he decided to submit to the Father and bear the brunt of the judgment upon the people. But Jesus now feels the sting of that decision with a new reality.
Jesus answered the question of what is permitted on the Sabbath by healing the man with the withered hand. Ironically, the guardians of the Sabbath determine to do harm and to kill.
This conflict points forward to the Passion, but it also contains the seed of self-destruction. The rejection of Jesus entails the rejection of life and redemption and leaves men prey to distress and death. This is the bitter fruit of that hardness of heart which provoked in Jesus both anger and godly sorrow.
Psalm 137:5–7 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!”
The Pharisees problem is that they don’t get which character in the story they are.
Who questioned God’s son in the wilderness about what the word of God says? What does the restoration of a withered hand mean? What are the sabbath regulations for? Life or Death.
We must guard our hearts form misreading this story the way they did.
When we read the story, wagging our heads at the Pharisees, sympathizing with the angry grief-stricken Jesus – we are as self-righteous as they were.
How often have you heard the sermon and thought of someone who needed to hear it? How often have you avoided reading the word of God because you think you already know it so well? How often has your manmade religion prevented you from unburdening and loving people?
Are your own law and regulations a burden to your spouse and children to the point of spiritual death and loss of joy? How often has your “understanding,” of Scripture and self-made religion been the means to judge and ridicule the word and sinners as you bask in your self-righteous pride?
When we read this story we should pray, “O God, do not be angry with me. Do not let me give you cause to be furious with me. Do not let me grieve the you because of my hard heart. Instead, tell me what you want from me. Give me ears toe hear and heart open to embrace everything that you say. To repent. To use my authority to give my loved ones and friends rest and pace. Life and joy.”