6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him. 8 But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” And he rose and stood there. 9 And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.Luke 6:6-11, ESV
Watching Them Watching You
Here we go again. The second verse is the same as the first. Luke tells us another Sabbath story. Jesus was in another synagogue teaching, and there was a disabled man in the congregation. The Pharisees were there too, keeping a keen eye on that would-be Messiah taking notes about His commandment breaking exploits. Little did they know that Jesus was keeping a keen eye upon their hearts. He knew their thoughts. He wasn’t simply perceptive of their attitudes. Jesus is the Creator among His own creation. Jesus has always seen “every intention of the thoughts of (man’s) heart. (Gen 6:5)” Even now, in the form of a servant and men’s likeness (Phil 2:7), Jesus’ knowledge of their thoughts is comprehensive.
Before we talk about the actions of Jesus on that Sabbath day, I want to draw our attention to how Jesus did not respond. Remember, He knew their thoughts. As they were in the synagogue listening to the author of Holy Scripture explain and expound the meaning those miserable men were daydreaming about the likelihood of Jesus healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath day. To put this in its proper context, they were hoping to catch Jesus doing something good so that they could accuse Him of doing something evil. Instead of listening to the Son of God teach the Word of God, they hoped to catch Him doing a miracle of healing so they could affirm their own wicked suspicions of His heresy. You might be thinking, “Did we just enter the twilight zone?”
Jesus could have responded with righteous anger. Jesus could have responded with contempt. He would eventually speak to them in harsher tones and label them as “children of the devil” (John 8:44), but he seems to deal gently with these Pharisees for the time being. Notice Jesus recognizes their evil thoughts, but instead of berating them, he prods them along with a simple question. Jesus’ questions are perfect in timing, shape, and persuasive power. Without asserting a thing but asking a question, Jesus can force His opponents into making the stark choice between truth and lies.
Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus knew their evil thoughts and decided to turn the tables on those hypocrites. Luke recorded for us, “he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.” I imagine the Pharisee’s eyes widening as they thought Jesus was playing right into their hands. In reality, the opposite was happening. The disabled man stood in front of the crowd, and I imagine his heart rate is quickening, and his eyes begin to fill with tears of joyful expectation as he begins to anticipate a miracle healing. I think this moment caused the congregation to hold its breath for a moment as they collectively lean in a little closer to see Jesus perform a wonderful miracle for one of their own. You could have cut the anticipation in that room with a knife.
Jesus broke the silence with a simple question, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” Surely the answer is obvious. Who could deny the answer it is lawful to do good? Who would defend the withholding of good on the Sabbath? I imagine the man with a withered hand answers, “it is lawful to do good, Lord.” What would the congregation’s response be? Naturally, they agree it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Even the Pharisees, if they are thinking clearly, must agree that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. However, those hypocrites would deny that man healing on the Sabbath if they thought they could control Jesus and the congregation. After the question, Jesus looks around the room, making eye contact with these dear people. Everyone is joyfully anticipating Jesus’ good work on the Sabbath, but those Pharisees have furrowed brows.
Then the command is given, “Stretch out your hand,” and by grace, through faith, that man was made whole on the Sabbath for all to witness. Isn’t that a picture of what public worship is meant to be? The congregation comes together to hear the Word of the Lord, and by grace through faith, leave the church changed. Not only do we have an example of the positive good that ought to happen in our church, but a warning of what ought not to happen as well. Those Pharisees walked into the congregation as a small sect within the unified group. They self-identified and segregated themselves from the rest. In their view, those congregants weren’t nearly the people they ought to be, but they were the true worshippers. There was always an air of self-righteousness about those Pharisees that the other congregants felt. Brothers and sisters, this ought not to be true of us in our church. May we humble ourselves before we enter into the congregation to love each other well and be the unified people that Jesus prayed for us to become. The Pharisees were unable to see the obvious good in a changed life because they had been far too distracted from the Word of God being taught. They were distracted from the Word through the hardness of their own hearts. Therefore, everyone but them left that synagogue changed.
Christian, we must prepare our hearts before we begin to worship. Jesus is Lord, and His Word is truly life-changing. Come expectant. Come humbly. Come prayerfully. Hear the Word of God without distractions and leave the congregation changed by the grace of God’s Word through as you grasp it by faith. Jesus did not stop working miracles after He ascended. He is healing wounded souls every Lord’s day.