And when he was departed there, he went into their synagogue:…
In the last paragraph we learn how Jesus showed that works of necessity are lawful on the sabbath day. In the paragraph before us we see that works of mercy also are lawful. If under the Law the spirit of the sabbath was binding rather than the letter, how much more so under the gospel! The subject teaches us that Christ came amongst men -
I. TO VANQUISH MALIGNITY.
1. Malignity was embodied in the Pharisees.
(1) They sought to accuse the Son of God of profanity. This was to convert the highest virtue into the deepest vice, and to confound all moral order. Note: Matthew says, "And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? that they might accuse him." According to Luke (Luke 6:8), Jesus read the question in their thoughts. Learn that in the Lord's sight speech and thought are one.
(2) They sought to murder the Saviour of the world. This was, as far as in them lay, to destroy God and man at a stroke. This was the expression of their vexation, because the doctrine of Christ mortified their pride, exposed their hypocrisy, and crossed their worldly interests, and their honour was eclipsed by his life and miracles.
(3) Their malignity was deliberate. It was not the sudden ebullition of unthinking passion. They evidently agreed, in the first instance, to tempt him. Then, certainly, they "took counsel against him, how they might destroy him."
(4) This was all done under the mask of religion. The pretext was zeal for the sanctity of the sabbath. The wicked have no objection to the holiness of things; it is the holiness of persons that offends them. If they could convict Jesus of blasphemy in his saying that he was greater than the temple, or of profanity in breaking the sabbath, death would be the penalty (see Exodus 35:2). Note: There is a religion of Satan as well as a religion of God. The religion of Satan is a parody upon the religion of God. As love is the essence of the religion of God, malignity is the spirit of the religion of Satan.
2. Malignity is vanquished by exposure.
(1) The case of the sheep was a home-thrust. The ritualists allowed the exception, not out of mercy to the animal, but from selfishness. "Take tender care of the goods of an Israelite" was with the Jews a cherished canon. Self-interest is a casuist first consulted, decisive in the removal of scruples, and readily obeyed.
(2) Ritualism had no mercy for the withered hand in which the Pharisee had no property. Our Lord invaded a heartless superstition when he established the principle that it is lawful to do good on the sabbath day.
(3) But the question returns, "How much is a man of more value than a sheep?" Yet are there many called Christians who do more for the beast of burden or pleasure than they will for a man. They spend that upon hunters, coursers, spaniels, and hounds of which many followers of Christ are destitute.
(4) The spiritual nature of man - his faculties for knowing, loving, and serving God - invest him with his vast superiority. How much better, then, is the philanthropy which blesses the soul even than that which terminates in the body!
3. Malignity is left to its own punishment.
(1) "The Pharisees went out," viz. from the presence of Christ. Evil shuns the goodness that rebukes it. Falsehood shuns the truth that exposes it.
(2) They went out, not like Peter to weep bitter tears of repentance, but to take evil counsel.
(3) Jesus "withdrew" when they "went out." He "perceived" their purpose by his Divine faculty of reading hearts. He left them in the desperation of their obstinacy. They were abandoned to themselves - murderers to murderers, human and infernal.
(4) The withdrawal of Jesus is the presage of vengeance. So it was when he left the temple and the city of Jerusalem. At his second coming be will send forth judgment unto victory.
II. TO MAGNIFY MERCY.
1. He vindicates the spirit of the Law.
(1) The spirit of the Law is love. The Law was given in love to man. Its end is to foster in him grateful and obedient love to God. The spirit of the Law is another name for the gospel.
(2) Through excessive zeal for the letter, the Jewish ritualists lost sight of this. The Law was in consequence converted into an intolerable burden.
(3) Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfil the Law, which he did by bringing out its spirit. In order to this he assailed the traditions which the ritualists had confounded with the Law.
2. He sets a high value upon man.
(1) "How much is a man better than a sheep?" Under the Law sheep were offered in sacrifice for the sin of man; but they could not take it away. Hence they appeared again and again upon the altar. The utmost they could do was to call sin to remembrance, and point to a more worthy sacrifice.
(2) Jesus himself became that more worthy Sacrifice. "He hath put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." So completely did he effect this "once for all," that there is now "no more remembrance of sin." The price he paid was the precious blood of the Son of God.
(3) He freely dispenses healing power. He "restored whole as the other" the withered hand with a word. He did not even give the pretext of the touch to those who would accuse him of breaking the sabbath law. So did he heal "all" that followed him when he withdrew from the Pharisees.
(4) But he required the faith of the suppliant. "Stretch forth thine hand." The poor man had often tried to do this in his own strength, and failed. The effort to believe is often that faith by which the soul is healed.
3. He shows compassion to the Gentiles.
(1) His question is not, "How much is the Jew better than a sheep?" He took hold of the "seed of Abraham," but in doing so he was "made in the likeness of men," without limitation.
(2) His action in withdrawing from the unbelieving Pharisees was parabolic as well as prudential; for it is noteworthy that in his following now we find many of the Gentiles (see Mark 3:6-8). The portent was that when the nation of the Jews should reject the gospel, then the gospel would leave them and offer its blessings to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:46; Acts 18:6; Acts 28:28).
(3) The justness of this remark appears in the citation from Isaiah in which Messiah is predicted as coming to declare judgment to the Gentiles, and to give them "hope" in his Name (vers. 18, 22). For this prediction is here mentioned as now fulfilled. "He charged" those he healed "that they should not make him known," viz. as their Healer, to the unbelievers, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah.
(4) Considering the Gentiles is in other prophecies likewise made a mark of Messiah (see Genesis 49:10; Psalm 2:8; Zechariah 9:10; Isaiah 2:3).
4. He is gentle with the frail.
(1) Gentleness is natural to him. His voice is not heard in clamour. The Jews looked for a Messiah wielding the sword. Matthew shows how Jesus fulfils the prophecies in his non-resistance to evil and injury.
(2) The timid may hope in his mercy. A bruised reed" is a remarkable emblem of extreme frailty and weakness (see Ezekiel 29:6, 7). One bruised by the weight of sin "he will not break." He will not terrify the penitent by a frown. "A smoking flax shall he not quench." Rather will he cherish the feeblest fire of holy desire.
(3) "Till he send forth judgment unto victory." For "mercy rejoices upon judgment." - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: