About 7 kilometres from Nazareth where Jesus grew up there used to be a city called Sepphoris, the capital of Herod Antipas. Today you can visit the ruins and ponder over the time when Jesus was here.
When you speak to these ruins, they will tell you that Jesus one Sabbath long ago visited the synagogue as His custom was. Why? He was almost killed by the worshippers at the synagogue of Nazareth and now He repeats this dangerous exercise.
Maybe Paul can tell us why:
Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,
Hebrews 10:25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Why should we worship on the Sabbath? To stir up love and good works.
You will find two classes of worshippers on a Sabbath. One class will encourage you to be more loving and the other class will challenge you to be more forgiving.
Listen to the sermon Jesus preached at Sepphoris and what happened.
Mark 3:1 And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.
3:2 So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.
3:3 And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.”
3:4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent.
Their sullen silence was an admission of defeat. Previous encounters with Jesus had taught them that nothing could be gained by challenging Him publicly, for He always succeeded in turning their own arguments against them in such a way as to reveal truth and to make it evident to the people that the rabbinical position was untenable.
3:5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
It is often said that the only anger without sin is the anger against sin. God hates sin, but He loves the sinner. Erring mortals all too often make the mistake of hating the sinner and loving the sin. Anger against wrong as wrong, without evil wish or design on others, may certainly be considered a commendable trait of character.
Only Mark records the personal feelings of Jesus. He was “grieved” because the Jewish leaders made use of their high offices and positions to misrepresent the character and requirements of God.
No doubt He was also “grieved” because of the results this would have upon these leaders themselves and upon those who followed their misleading ideas. The Greek implies that Jesus’ initial reaction of anger was momentary, but His concern for these benighted children, estranged from their heavenly Father and misconstruing His love for them, continued.
3:6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
The Herodians were a Jewish political party that favoured the house of Herod (see p. 54). Normally the Pharisees hated Herod and all that he stood for (see p. 41). The fact that they now sought the aid of their avowed enemies is evidence that they were beside themselves to find a means of silencing Jesus (see on Matt. 22:16).
Perhaps the stubborn Pharisees hoped that Herod would be willing to imprison Jesus as he had John the Baptist a few months earlier.
Who was the master mind behind the false worship of the Sabbath during the time of Christ?
The message of the Sabbath is about Jesus the Creator and the devil hates this truth.
In the second instance the Sabbath was the sign that God alone could make us holy. Satan wanted to get Jesus out of this equation and put man into that position. He convinced the Jews that they can earn their salvation without the help and grace of God.
Will the Sabbath again be an issue before the second coming of Jesus? Yes it proclaims that God is the Creator. What do the schools and tertiary institutions teach?
The Sabbath teaches that only by faith in the completed salvation work of Christ can the sinner by saved. In most of the religions of the day the self-help theology has replaced the saved by grace theology.
No other institution which was committed to the Jews tended so fully to distinguish them from surrounding nations as did the Sabbath. God designed that its observance should designate them as His worshipers.
It was to be a token of their separation from idolatry, and their connection with the true God. But in order to keep the Sabbath holy, men must themselves be holy.
Through faith they must become partakers of the righteousness of Christ. When the command was given to Israel, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” the Lord said also to them, “Ye shall be holy men unto Me.” Exodus 20:8; 22:31. Only thus could the Sabbath distinguish Israel as the worshipers of God.
As the Jews departed from God and failed to make the righteousness of Christ their own by faith, the Sabbath lost its significance to them. Satan was seeking to exalt himself and to draw men away from Christ, and he worked to pervert the Sabbath, because it is the sign of the power of Christ.
In the days of Christ the Sabbath had become so perverted that its observance reflected the character of selfish and arbitrary men rather than the character of the loving heavenly Father.
The rabbis virtually represented God as giving laws which it was impossible for men to obey. They led the people to look upon God as a tyrant, and to think that the observance of the Sabbath, as He required it, made men hard-hearted and cruel.
It was the work of Christ to clear away these misconceptions. Although the rabbis followed Him with merciless hostility, He did not even appear to conform to their requirements, but went straight forward, keeping the Sabbath according to the law of God.
Christ would teach His disciples and His enemies that the service of God is first of all. The object of God’s work in this world is the redemption of man; therefore that which is necessary to be done on the Sabbath in the accomplishment of this work is in accord with the Sabbath law.
Let’s recap this important event once more:
Upon another Sabbath, as Jesus entered a synagogue, He saw there a man who had a withered hand. The Pharisees watched Him, eager to see what He would do.
The Saviour well knew that in healing on the Sabbath He would be regarded as a transgressor, but He did not hesitate to break down the wall of traditional requirements that barricaded the Sabbath. Jesus bade the afflicted man stand forth, and then asked, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?”
It was a maxim among the Jews that a failure to do good, when one had opportunity, was to do evil; to neglect to save life was to kill. Thus Jesus met the rabbis on their own ground.
When questioned, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days?” Jesus answered, “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.” Matthew 12:10-12.
The spies dared not answer Christ in the presence of the multitude, for fear of involving themselves in difficulty. They knew that He had spoken the truth. Rather than violate their traditions, they would leave a man to suffer, while they would relieve a brute because of the loss to the owner if it were neglected.
Thus greater care was shown for a dumb animal than for man, who is made in the image of God. This illustrates the working of all false religions. They originate in man’s desire to exalt himself above God, but they result in degrading man below the brute.
Every religion that wars against the sovereignty of God defrauds man of the glory which was his at the creation, and which is to be restored to him in Christ. Every false religion teaches its adherents to be careless of human needs, sufferings, and rights.
The gospel places a high value upon humanity as the purchase of the blood of Christ, and it teaches a tender regard for the wants and woes of man. The Lord says, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” Isaiah 13:12.
When Jesus turned upon the Pharisees with the question whether it was lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill, He confronted them with their own wicked purposes.
They were hunting His life with bitter hatred, while He was saving life and bringing happiness to multitudes. Was it better to slay upon the Sabbath, as they were planning to do, than to heal the afflicted, as He had done? Was it more righteous to have murder in the heart upon God’s holy day than love to all men, which finds expression in deeds of mercy?
In the healing of the withered hand, Jesus condemned the custom of the Jews, and left the fourth commandment standing as God had given it. “It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days,” He declared. By sweeping away the senseless restrictions of the Jews, Christ honoured the Sabbath, while those who complained of Him were dishonouring God’s holy day.
The Saviour had not come to set aside what patriarchs and prophets had spoken; for He Himself had spoken through these representative men. All the truths of God’s word came from Him. But these priceless gems had been placed in false settings.
Their precious light had been made to minister to error. God desired them to be removed from their settings of error and replaced in the framework of truth. This work only a divine hand could accomplish.
By its connection with error, the truth had been serving the cause of the enemy of God and man. Christ had come to place it where it would glorify God and work the salvation of humanity.
And of all who keep “the Sabbath from polluting it,” the Lord declares, “Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer.” Isaiah 56:6, 7.
The Sabbath points them to the works of creation as an evidence of His mighty power in redemption. While it calls to mind the lost peace of Eden, it tells of peace restored through the Saviour. And every object in nature repeats His invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.