The Gospel of Mark is like an action movie. It records the events of Jesus’ ministry in scene after scene using words like “immediately” or “at once, without delay.” It can be a challenge to keep up with all that is happening. For example, in this chapter, we have five scenes involving Jesus interacting with hundreds (or thousands) of people. We see a man, a group of religious leaders, a large crowd, the twelve, another large crowd, and Jesus’ own family.
In this blog, I want to focus on one scene in particular: the healing of the man with the withered hand. This short scene seems to be a continuation of thought started in chapter two. The religious law-keepers hassled Jesus because he did what they considered unlawful on the Sabbath. In reality, Jesus gave them the proper interpretation of the law concerning the Sabbath.
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath is a gift from God to mankind, for our benefit. We should adjust our thoughts to see it this way. We should practice Sabbath rest. There are lots of ideas about the Sabbath floating around in our day, just as in Jesus’ day. Many of them are wrong. Mine and yours might be.
There are two general ways Christians approach the Sabbath. Some disregard it altogether, thinking it is an Old Testament law that no longer applies. Others legalistically observe it on a certain day, in a certain way, exchanging the life of the Sabbath for law and bondage.
But Sabbath is much more than a law. In fact, it pre-dates the law, with God Himself being the first to observe it in the second chapter of the Bible! Ultimately, it is a type of Jesus, who is our spiritual rest, but that doesn’t mean we are not to live out the principle of Sabbath in our lives today. In fact, we suffer much because we do not practice Sabbath.
The simple way to understand a Biblical Sabbath is to see it as a twenty-four-hour period where we stop our normal work and rest and enjoy God. If we are to be healthy (in body, soul, and spirit), we need to do this every week.
But we do not need to do it as a law. We are not a slave to the Sabbath. Rather, Sabbath serves us by giving our bodies rest and our minds and spirits refreshment and revelation about God. Like all of the Spiritual Disciplines, it is a place for the grace of God to intersect our lives.
Religious people ruined the Sabbath by turning it into a regulation that had to be monitored. That is exactly what the Pharisees were doing in this chapter. They were inspecting their expectations, which were not in line with God’s. It is unfathomable to me that this is the very issue that started the religious leaders on the trajectory of crucifying Jesus. “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 3:6).
What was meant for man’s good had become a monster, a pretense for death. Isn’t it just like us, humans, to take a thing of life and beauty and turn it into bondage and death? Jesus had a different take on the Sabbath. He saw it as essential, but not bondage. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus doing good and necessary things on the Sabbath, but we also see him living out the Sabbath principle by stealing away often for times of solitude and rest with his Father and his disciples.
So, I challenge you to look at your weekly schedule and change what needs to be changed in order to begin to keep the Biblical Sabbath. Stop for an entire day, rest, enjoy God and your family. But let it be life, not legalism. Let it be devotion, not duty.