Mark 3:1-6 Sabbath Rest – The Good Life.
In yet another example of behaviour on the Sabbath, the religious leadership were looking for an opportunity to accuse Jesus of breaking the fourth commandment (vv. 1-2 Cf. Lk. 6:6-11). However, in the previous example Jesus made the point that, as God – the Son of Man, he was also Lord of the Sabbath (2:28 Cf. Mt. 12:8). He made the point that he had the authority to alter the administration of this law, which he did in the previous case (2:23-28). The word ‘accuse’ is of great significance. Jesus was ultimately crucified for declaring, in various ways, that he was God. The religious leadership demanded his execution for such a claim, which they regarded as blasphemous (14:53-65). In the present context, they were not seeking his execution for what they regarded as a violation of the Sabbath, they were making the accusation because Jesus was justifying his altering of the administration of the fourth commandment based on his claim to Deity.
Ultimately the religious leadership wanted to show that if he were God then they would show otherwise by crucifying him (15:29-32). Why were they angry with Jesus anyway? He was not threatening to take away their jobs. The fact is, they recognized that Jesus was preaching a different message. They, like many, made keeping the Sabbath a work of earning their salvation, and Jesus comes and says that we will only find our true rest in him and his finished work. He took away any basis they might have for their heretical teaching and practices by defending a greater principle – “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (v. 27). Here Jesus expands on this principle, one which is ultimately based on the good news of salvation by grace through faith – our true rest in him. It is lawful to do good and save life on the Sabbath. We must bear in mind that this man’s life was not in jeopardy, but rather his quality of life (vv. 3-4 Cf. Lk. 13:10-17; 14:1-6).
Jesus came to give us life, not as a reward for works, but like our physical birth, this life is a gift. In him our life is meant to be abundant (Jn. 10:10). It was the hardness of heart in these men that angered Jesus (Cf. Zech. 7:12). They completely missed the point of the fourth commandment, based on a creation ordinance – it is a very good thing for human beings, and indeed the whole of creation, to find rest and abundant life in the Creator and Redeemer. Jesus was preaching a different message, this is ultimately what angered the apostates. Jesus was unmasking their sinful pride in thinking their works earned them any obligation on God’s part. They preferred to see people suffer than to accept that they were sinners in need of the gift of life (v. 5). This is why they plotted with their enemies, to have Jesus destroyed (v. 6).* Jesus’ anger was righteous, showing that there is a place for this. The apostates’ rage was sinful, and would ultimately lead to murder.
* “Herodians. A non-religious, political group supporting the dynasty of the Herods. They supported and depended upon the alliance with Rome. In collaborating with the Herodians, the Pharisees had moved far from the Old Testament ideal for the people of God (cf. Deut. 17:15).” (NGSB. 1565)