The same point as made in our previous exposition, regarding the lawfulness of works of mercy on the Sabbath day, is driven home by the instance of the man with the withered hand.  This man was presented to our Lord in the synagogue on the Sabbath day.  Jesus’ enemies, searching for some accusation they could level against His character and doctrine, demanded whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath.  They, of course, had already made up their minds that it was not.  Better, these heartless legalists thought, for a man to go on suffering the pains of his severe infirmity that the Sabbath be “violated” by an act of supernatural healing.

But the Lord Jesus confounds them with simple, but powerful logic, demonstrating that works of mercy are not forbidden on the Sabbath.  Of course the devout person does not gad about on the Sabbath looking for some labor to perform, in utter disregard to the commands of God.  But when an immediate need is presented to him, he must remember that God would prefer we show mercy to the afflicted rather than excuse ourselves by a rigid adherence to the letter of the law.  Christ urges this principle upon His enemies, reminding them that they too abode by this principle of mercy trumping the letter of the law.  They themselves, if one of their sheep fell into a pit on the Sabbath, would violate the letter of the law by lifting the sheep out.  Was not this an act of labor?  Surely, more than a woman brushing her hair, which their canons forbade!  The logic of Christ’s argument is simple, and irrefutable.  If it is lawful to pity the affliction of a sheep and assist a dumb animal on the Sabbath, then surely it must be permissible to do as much for a man.  “Wherefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath days.”  Thus, Christ healed the man’s withered hand, acting upon His own principle, and upon the principle His enemies practiced, but did not admit.  They then show the damnable hardness and hypocrisy of their own hearts by going out and conspiring to destroy Him.  I rather fancy this was more because of how He had shamed and humiliated them, rather than because of their high regard for the 4th commandment.

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