The nature of the gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the character and nature of Jesus. Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature. Hebrews 1:3 says, “[Jesus] is the radiance of His glory (speaking of God) and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”
The good news then, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that He has manifested God’s nature to us, and being God in the flesh, has become our propitiation through His sacrifice, in order to reconcile us to God.
Now we could spend a month of Sunday’s talking about the nature of God and showing from scripture all the various aspects of His character. But what I would like to do today is just use this passage before us to examine certain aspects of God’s nature which Jesus manifests through this event. It is probably a more traditional approach of theologians and preachers to expound on the hypocrisy of the Pharisees or to show the various aspects of the law of the Sabbath. But I think that most of you are familiar enough with those themes. We all know that the scribes and Pharisees were scoundrels of the worst sort. Most of us know we are no longer under the ceremonial law but under grace. And perhaps it’s helpful from time to time to review those things. But I think today instead I would like to focus on Jesus. And we can never get enough review of considering Jesus. We should never get enough of Christ. We can never spend enough time contemplating God’s nature.
It’s important though that in this pursuit of learning about God, we go to the right source. There was a hit song I used to hear occasionally a few years ago which had the phrase that has stuck with me over the years. It said “tell me all your thoughts on God cause I’d really like to meet her.” Well, the songwriter’s going to get his chance someday. And the first thing that he’s going to learn is that God is not a she. But beyond that, it is important that our theology is not framed by our prejudices. As if God is a compendium of our thoughts and ideas derived from man’s intelligence or a figment of his imagination. No, God must be, and is self declaring. Otherwise, we could not know God. And He has declared Himself in His word, and in the manifestation of Christ Jesus.
So let’s look at this passage in it’s context, and notice not only the historical events recorded here, and learn the spiritual significance of these events, but let’s also learn about God by examining the nature of Jesus Christ.
In context, it’s important to notice that the opening scene of chapter 3 is tied back to the closing scene of chapter 2. In that scene, the disciples are walking through the grainfields and eating the grain off the stalks as they walk. it was a practice called gleaning, which the law provided for in order to feed the hungry and impoverished. A farmer was to leave a certain remnant of his crop in the field so that poor people could eat. There were no government charity programs in those days to help people in need. So God, as the Sovereign of Israel, provided for the poor through gleaning.
But if you will recall, the Pharisees questioned Jesus why the disciples were breaking the law of the Sabbath. And Jesus gives them an illustration of David eating the showbread, which was reserved for the priests only, in order to sustain him and his men in their extreme hunger. But the illustration was explained when He gave this doctrine, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Now that is a tremendous principle that teaches us a lot about the law, but also a lot about the nature of the Lord God.
And then Jesus added another even more explosive statement, saying, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” In other words, He is saying, someone greater than David is here. “I made the Sabbath, and so I have authority over the Sabbath to use it for My purposes or even to change it as I see fit.”
Now as chapter 3 opens, we come to another Sabbath, and another incident involving the Pharisees, and yet another illustration of Christ’s sovereignty over the Sabbath. But even more significantly, we see the Lord put an even greater emphasis on the purpose of the Sabbath.
So the first thing we notice is that though Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and has the authority over it to do as He wills, yet on the morning of the Sabbath He is doing what all good Jews were doing; He is at church. There was no law that said you had to go to synagogue on the Sabbath. The law was that you were not to work. Sabbath in Hebrew means to cease, to desist. It was to be a day of rest. And furthermore, Exodus 20 says that it should be kept as holy. Holy means set apart, consecrated to the Lord. So in that respect, there is no better place to make that day holy than to be in the midst of His congregation worshipping God and learning of God.
And Jesus, though He is Lord of the Sabbath does not excuse Himself from keeping that requirement because as God He rested on the Sabbath and established it as a day of rest. Though He was God the Son, He loved God the Father and wanted to fellowship with Him and with His people. And I believe He wanted to bring them into that rest that the Sabbath promised was to come.
Now in the new covenant, we are free from the law of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was on Saturday, and we observe Sunday as a celebration of the Lord’s Day, or the resurrection. But Hebrews 4: 9 says “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” Though it is not the Saturday Sabbath under the Law, there is a Sabbath rest for the people of God in the new covenant.
That rest is found in Jesus Christ. Listen to Hebrews 4 again, in vs.3, “For we who have believed enter that rest.” Then in vs 6 the author says those Israelites failed to enter into that rest because of disobedience. But in vs 7, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before,“TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” And in vs 10, “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” So we enter into the Sabbath rest of God through faith in Christ, and not through our works.
So what can we learn about the nature of God from Jesus attending church on the Sabbath? First, God has not made His law to be a burden to us, or to give Him some sort of pleasure at our fawning over Him. Rather, God has made the Sabbath for man. When you honor God on the Sabbath, who got the benefit? Man got the benefit. Man was blessed. Man was rested. Man had fellowship with the Lord. And that benefit to man is woven throughout the law, throughout the scripture. God wants what is best for us, and His laws are not burdensome. Someone said that the law is not a fence to restrict us, but guardrails to keep us safe.
I read a quote by the atheist Richard Dawkins the other day, who said, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” He then proceeded to back up that assertion by calling God all kinds of unpleasant names. But for all of Dawkins purported intelligence, he is ignorant about God. God is not vindictive. God does not want to make life difficult or unbearable. But rather God loves us and wants to bless us. However that love of God must be without compromising the other aspects of His nature. And He does that through Jesus Christ. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die in our place, so that whosoever believes in Him should have eternal life. Jesus was punished for our iniquity, that we might go free, and might even become the sons of God and share in His glory.
The problem with Dawkins and others like him, is the same the problem of the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus day, which is that they don’t want what they want called sin. They want to be like god and declare what is good and what isn’t. But they do so out of ignorance, unable to discern what is ultimately good or evil.
So true to God’s nature, on a Sabbath morning Jesus is at church. Luke indicates that He was teaching at the synagogue. But Mark tells us that the scene is set for the Pharisees to try to trap Jesus and find something with which to accuse Him. Now this is purely conjecture on my part, but I think there is a possibility that this man with the withered hand was set up by the Pharisees, knowing that Jesus would be there, in order to get Him to heal on the Sabbath and be able to find fault with Him. We know the Pharisees were not above such things, as another time they brought a woman caught in adultery before Christ to try to entrap Him. Furthermore, the way the texts say that the Pharisees were watching closely to see if He would heal him, indicates a prior scheme on their part to set up an incident whereby they might trap Him.
But regardless how or why the man with the withered hand is there, the fact is that he was there, and Jesus knew he was there. I find in this another principle about God’s nature. He knows our needs. Jesus said God knows our needs before we even ask Him. He knows the numbers of the hairs on our head. Jesus said He knows when the birds of the air fall, so how much more does the Father concern Himself with us?
Psalms 139:17-18 says “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.” God is concerned with our needs. And so we see that Jesus knew this man with the withered hand was there. He knew his need to be healed. He knew that this man would have been unable to work, to provide for his family. So Jesus speaks to the man and says “Get up and come forward.”
You know, Jesus could have put off this man’s healing until the next day. Actually, He could have told him to come back after sundown and healed him then without fear of reprisal by the Pharisees. But Jesus doesn’t back down from conflict. He wants to use this incident to teach a life giving principle, even if it means that He has to take the heat for it.
And I like that attribute of God’s nature as well. That He is willing to sacrifice Himself for our sakes. That’s our definition of a hero, isn’t it? Someone on a battlefield, or responding to an emergency, that risks his life to save another. That’s the kind of nature of our God. Jesus is willing to put Himself at risk so that this man might be made free from his sickness, and by that we might know the love of God for us.
In vs.4, after the man came forward, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. This question is so simple that even a child could answer it. Of course it is always lawful to do good, and never lawful to do evil. Regardless of what day it is. Much more if the Sabbath is to bring rest, to be holy, then you should do good. But anyone could have known that is always wrong to do evil. But the Pharisees don’t care about distinguishing between good or evil. They already have planned evil in their hearts. So they keep silent, hoping that He does something so that they can accuse Him of sin. They have purposed to do evil, but Jesus has purposed to do good.
We see much here of the nature of God, who desires to benefit man, who desires to heal, who desires restoration of man, but now we see the nature of the Pharisees. They have hardened their heart so much towards God that they hate Jesus and all He stands for. They don’t want to see one of their sacred cows done away with. And not only do they hate Jesus, but by their silence and their scheming to trap Jesus they show their lack of sympathy for the handicapped man.
There is a principle found in Romans 12:21 which says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This principle is founded on the nature of God. His response to evil is to overcome it with good. Man’s wisdom says to retaliate, to take vengeance. But that is not God’s approach. He causes it to rain on the just and the unjust. We are to follow Christ’s example, of overcoming evil with good. Leave vengeance and retribution to the provenance of God.
We see another attribute of God’s nature in Jesus’s response. In vs. 5, “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” The word Mark uses for angry there literally means wrath. There are a lot of people that don’t find the Old Testament God appealing, because they seem Him as a God of wrath. But they think Jesus is not wrathful, but rather loving. Here though we see the wrath of God displayed in Jesus. There are other times we see this anger or wrath displayed. For instance, when Jesus cleansed the temple, kicking over the tables of the money changers, and driving out the merchants with a whip. That was the wrath of God displayed.
But I want to point out the focus of that anger. It was at sin. It was at the hateful sin on the part of the Pharisees that hated Him so much they were willing to do anything, even use a person’s handicap for their advantage. Their utter disregard for the pain and suffering of someone else was a just cause for God’s anger. God is justifiably angry at those that mistreat, those that take advantage, those that hurt the weak and helpless. Listen, we want a just God when He deals with others, don’t we? We just don’t like His justice when it is directed at us. But when catastrophes or natural disasters happen, don’t we hear people cry out “Why did God allow this to happen?” When it suits our sense of rightness we want God to be just. But when His justice demands something from us, then we call foul.
The fact is though, that James 2:13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God may have wrath towards sin, but He has mercy towards the sinner. Psalm 30:5, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” The wrath of God towards sin is mitigated by His mercy towards man.
And we see a sense of that in Mark’s report here in vs 5, “After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…” Though He had wrath at their hardness of heart, yet He was grieved by their sin. Seeing the hardness of their hearts, the intractability of their sin caused Him grief. It caused Him pain. Here is the nature of God, though their sins be as horrible and cruel as man can imagine, yet God is willing to forgive them if they would only repent. 2Peter 3:9 says “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” When their hardness of hearts nailed Him to the cross, Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, saying that they know not what they do. Jesus grieves at the hardness of their heart.
You know, one of the most dangerous things you can do is misinterpret the patience of God for the permissiveness of God. God is long suffering, He is patient. Romans 2:4 “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” But there came a day when God’s patience ran out on the Pharisees. In one generation, 35 years, their entire way of life, the Judaic system, the temple, the ceremonies, Jerusalem, everything Jewish was destroyed. God was patient, yet they hardened their heart. God is grieved today with the hardness of our hearts, that persist in rebellion, that stiffens the resolve to continue in sin in the face of God’s conviction, knowing that you are heaping coals of fire upon your head. God wants to forgive you, if you will only turn to Him in repentance.
Well, the Pharisees showed their rebellion against God, but the withered man showed his obedience. It was impossible for a withered hand to be stretched out. This man had a withered hand. We don’t know why. But we know that it means his muscles had atrophied, perhaps due to paralysis or an accident, and his hand had shriveled up and drawn up. But Jesus demands that he stretch it out. And by the strength of God, he obeys and he is able to do it.
This illustrates another attribute of God’s nature, and that is His provision. There is a little saying that you see from time to time that says, “where God guides He provides.” It’s not in the Bible, by the way. But it is an attempt to say that if God asks us to do something, He will provide the resources to do it. We see that illustrated here in a command of Christ to stretch forth his hand. It was impossible for this man to do that. His weakness prohibited him from stretching it out. But by his willingness to obey, God gave him the ability to stretch it out and he was healed. We saw the same illustration in the paralyzed man in the last chapter. He is paralyzed, and yet Jesus says to stand up and walk. Impossible for him, and yet by believing in Christ and being willing to obey, God gives Him the strength to obey.
God provides all that we need for salvation and a life of sanctification when we believe in Him. He gives us new desires, a new heart, and then a willing spirit. In Ezekiel 36: 26 we read the about this purpose and provision of God; “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” This passage teaches the great doctrine of God’s provision for our salvation, by changing our hearts so that we have new desires, and then giving us His Spirit to be our strength, so that we might do His commandments. So many people have the wrong view of the Holy Spirit’s purpose. He is the source of our strength to do the things that God has called us to do. The provision of God gives us the desire and capability to be what God wants us to be.
Well, the Lord gave this man the ability to obey, the ability to stretch out this withered, atrophied hand. Let me add something else about that. Our nature is to be a reflection of God’s nature, is it not? If we have the Spirit of God in us, then we are to mirror Christ, so that we are a reflection of Jesus to the world. But we need to understand that when we see someone caught up in the snare of the world, their lives destroyed or atrophied because of sin, their spirit is withered from despair, it is heartless on our part to ask them to do something that they are incapable of doing. We need to realize that they need a spiritual rebirth, they need to have their eyes opened, for the lame to be made able to walk, for the withered to be able to stretch out, and that has to be a supernatural act of God to heal them. It does no good to tell a sinner caught up in some destructive sin to get right, or get sober, or go straight, if they have not had the infilling of the Holy Spirit to give them the strength to do so.
So as the ambassadors of the gospel, as representatives of Christ, when we call someone to obedience in Christ, we should also do what we can to provide what is necessary for them to respond with the same sense of provision that God has for us. As James 2:15-16 says, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” God uses His people to provide His provision.
And let me add that it is the prerogative of God to judge, not us. Now when the Bible says do not judge, it doesn’t mean we are not to judge between right and wrong, or deduce that a person is being destroyed by sin, or that a person needs to get right with God. There are plenty of places that tell us to judge with a righteous judgment in scripture, to rebuke, reprove, exhort with all long suffering and patience those that are caught up in sin. We judge such things according to righteous judgment. But when the Bible tells us not to judge it’s saying not to cast judgment as in a penalty. I see Christians routinely call for some sort of judgment upon a person as if to wish that they endure some punishment in order for them to “hit rock bottom” or something like that. Their motives may be that they want to see the person get right, but our job is not to condemn. Our job is never to be vindictive. We are never to cast the first stone.
God is the one who condemns and judges and punishes. Our job is to forgive, to implore, to compel them to come back to the Lord. To execute the verse we quoted earlier, “the kindness of God leads us to repentance.” As David said, if the Lord counted our iniquities against us, then who could stand? If God shut off our oxygen supply every time we lost our temper, some of us would have suffocated a long time ago. If God shut down our heart every time we lusted after something or someone, most of us would be in cardiac arrest. God gives us life and breath and health and money and mercy again and again, knowing that as soon as He does, we will forget about Him again and run off to serve ourselves. He is long suffering towards us, He is patient towards us, how much then should we be patient and long suffering towards those that are down and out.
Well we need to draw this curtain to a close. We see that Jesus exhibited wrath, but it was a righteous wrath, the wrath of God towards sin that leads to destruction. But now we see the Pharisees in wrath that is sinful. Ephesians 4:26-27 says “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” We see here the Pharisees going against that doctrine. Their anger is sinful because it is out of jealousy and hate for Jesus. It is doubly sinful because it continues for days as they plot how to destroy Jesus. You better watch out for hate, folks. Hate is a cancer that matastacises in you. It will lead to death. In fact, in the sermon on the mount Jesus equated hate with murder and said it’s the same thing. Hate will destroy you first and foremost. God forgives our most heinous crimes against Him. So must we forgive others for their trespasses against us.
So the Pharisees and the Herodians begin to plot together how to destroy Jesus. They have given the devil an opportunity, and that hatred towards God’s Son will end up destroying all that these people held dear. Both of these groups were political in nature, in that they had power and prestige from their party. And that is kind of what they were; one a religious party, the Pharisees, and the Herodians a political party. But like the old adage which says “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” these two former enemies make an alliance against Christ.
But they offer us a contrast to the character and nature of God that we can learn from. Where the Pharisees and Herodians were conniving for the Lord’s destruction, Christ is planning on HIs atonement for their sins. Whereas the Pharisees were willing to burden men with laws in order to further their own benefit, Christ came to free men from the law in order to benefit us. Whereas the Pharisees were hateful towards Christ, the Lord was loving and gracious to those in need. Whereas the Pharisees were enslaved to the Sabbath, the Lord made the Sabbath that we might have rest.
Today in closing, I hope that if anyone here has not entered that rest, they would simply believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He has paid the penalty for your sin, and for those who believe in Him He has provided new life and a new spirit that we might be able to walk in that newness of life. That we might have abundant life. Listen, the Pharisees thought they weren’t sick and so they weren’t healed. But the man with the withered hand knew that he was sick, and so Jesus healed him. If you know that you are a sinner today, then that’s a good place to be. Jesus came to save sinners. Simply believe on Him today and receive forgiveness and a new life in Christ. And for those that have believed in Him, and have received the new life in Christ, let us also put on the mind of Christ, reflecting the same nature and attributes as He reflected of the Father.
Phil. 2:3-5, 15 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, … so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”