Several years ago, I was watching the movie The Passion of the Christ with one of my boys. Early in the film Jesus crushes the head of a snake with his foot—a symbol of what he was about to do to Satan. My son, who was rather young at the time, said, “Dad, I thought Jesus was nice.” I paused the movie so we could talk about the fact that Jesus was mad at Satan because of what he had done to the world. He was so mad that he was going to put an end to Satan’s venomous ways. But first he would go to the cross and die for our sins so that we could be forgiven rather than crushed. It all made perfect sense to my son. After we restarted the movie I thought to myself, I bet there are a lot of adults in our church who don’t have an accurate picture of Jesus.
Jesus is the most interesting man in the world. He is the God-man. The hero. The one who will restore the world. He is also controversial. The five stories clustered together in Mark 2:1-3:6 show just how much conflict Jesus could stir up.
As the fifth story opens in Mark 3:1, things are tense. Jesus claims to be able to forgive sin (Mark 2:1-12). He eats and drinks with sinners (Mark 2:13-17). He doesn’t observe religious fasts (Mark 2:18-22). He’s out enjoying the Sabbath day when he should be denying himself—or so the religious leaders think (Mark 2:23-28). The new minister in town is making people mad.
Consider This: If you’re honest with yourself, would seeing your minister doing some of these thing upset you?
In keeping with the culture of his people, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath to worship God. On this particular day, a man with a shriveled hand is present. For years this man would have struggled with basics. Imagine him wrestling to put on his clothes in the morning, eating his meals one-handed, or trying to play with his children. His options for work are limited. But on this particular day, the disabled man is in the presence of the God-man, who has the power to say the word and heal his hand.
Notice that the focus of a few other worshippers is elsewhere. “Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal [the man with the shriveled hand] on the Sabbath” (Mark 3:2). The religious leaders are so caught up in their man-made rules that they have lost their compassion for hurting people. They aren’t concerned about the man with the deformed hand; they’re concerned that their religious rules are being violated! Here they are on the day of renewal hoping that Jesus will “break the rules” by bringing renewal to this disabled man.
Jesus knows that the watchers are out to get him. He knows he has stirred up controversy, but he doesn’t try to hide from it. He says to the man, “Stand up in front of everyone” (Mark 3:3). I love that! I love his nerve—his moxie. Then he poses a question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4). Jesus is disturbed by what their religion has become. So he doesn’t just heal the guy; he engages the religious leaders.
Jesus’ question backs the religious leaders into a corner. Their tradition allows for saving a life, even the life of an animal, on the day of rest. If a donkey fell into a ditch, the owner could work to set him free on the Sabbath. What could possibly be wrong with healing a man on that day? Notice the response: They are silent. These men are stubborn, and I imagine that they are seething as well.
Consider This: Jesus could have ignored the religious leaders or attempted to avoid their attention but he didn’t. For what reason(s) does Jesus confront those who seek to undermine his ministry?
Let's Get Mad About Things That Matter!
Anger is not necessarily sinful. Rage—anger that is out of control—is sinful. So is selfish anger: I’m upset because I didn’t get my way. But being angry for the right things in the right way is good. The problem with much of our anger is that it flares for the wrong reasons. I’ve seen people in the church get upset over the dumbest things: Bible translations, music styles, paint colors, bulletin layouts, stage lighting, etc. “He plays cards!” “She drinks wine!” “He goes to movies!” On and on it goes. Meanwhile, 5 billion people in the world are in need of Christ. They could die tomorrow and miss the kingdom. Now that’s something to get upset over!
Let’s get mad about things that matter. And let’s do something about them. There are orphans who need rescue. There are people who have been abused and have lost hope. Right now there are Christians who are in prison because of their faith. Let’s be like Jesus and show compassion to those who are in need. And let’s be upset about those who don’t care.
Jesus looks around the synagogue—he makes eye contact with the men trying to entrap him—and he is angry. Jesus is mad because they knew the Word and yet missed the whole point. And they are too stubborn to change. The religious leaders made keeping the law, rather than serving God, the goal of their lives. In Father Joseph Girzone’s bestselling novel Joshua, he gives these lines to the Christ-figure, Joshua: “[Religious leaders] fall into the same trap that the scribes and Pharisees fell into, making religion a set of measurable religious observances, which is legalistic and superficial…Customs and practices and traditions then replace true service to God…and when even ceremonies and mere customs change they panic, because they have been lead to believer these things were their faith.”
The Bible is not a rulebook to make people more spiritual; it is a divine message. We must remember that the purpose of Scripture is to teach us how to love God and people. When asked which is the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus replies: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Consider This: In what ways might a religious practice (e.g. prayer, fasting, giving, attending church, serving others) done to show love to God and others be different from the same practice performed as a necessity to “follow the rules”?
The verse that closes this series of five stories, Mark 3:6, is filled with irony. The Herodians and Pharisees, upset because Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, conspire to commit murder. People who have religion without relationship not only miss the point of Scripture, they often do some rather bad things in the name of religion.
Here then is my challenge to you: Learn the Scriptures as well as the Pharisees but live those biblical principles with the heart of Jesus—for the purpose of loving God and loving others.
For a fascinating look at the Jesus of the gospels, read Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. This sermon, other sermons from The Gospel series, and past sermon series can be downloaded or heard online at the Calvary Church website.