Read Luke 6:6-11. Toyota ran a commercial a few years ago that showed an SUV driving through town on a Tuesday loaded with ski equipment. An onlooker is dumbfounded that the guy could be heading for the slopes on a workday. Then the last line appears on screen – “Make your own rules.” Don’t want to work on Tuesday? Then, make your own rules!”
Well, that’s just what mankind has been doing ever since Adam and Eve decided they wanted to be like God. We make our own rules. And we have the audacity to think that it can work. There is no stronger indicator of the depravity of mankind than the thought that his own mind can compete with the Creator in deciding what’s best. Man has the audacity to make his own rules, declare 60% to be passing and insisting that God will accept him as good enough. Like playing baseball and calling your own balls and strikes. That’s what Luke deals with today. Who makes the rules? Who’s in charge?
In Luke 6:5, Jesus makes an audacious claim, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” His last word justifying His disciples’ Sabbath eating habits was – I am Lord! Now, on another Sabbath, Luke uses Jesus’ claim as a perfect lead-in to an account where the issue is, who gets to make the rules? Who is in charge? Jesus is about to demonstrate verbally and actively that He is. This was always an issue in His encounters with the Pharisees who were looked up to as the ultimate rule-makers of their day. Those contests often revolved around the Sabbath because their rules were so clear-cut and Jesus violated them so blatantly. 7 times He purposely healed people on the Sabbath to the consternation of these men. He was demonstrating his lordship, which they categorically rejected. Today we see this play out through the healing of this man. Who is in charge? Who makes life’s rules?
I. The Plant
6 On another Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.” We’re not told that the man is a plant. But it is strongly suggested by the word “watched” in v. 7. It means “to spy on out of the corner of one’s eye” and has sinister overtones. These Pharisees were fact-finding in the previous account, but this time, they intend evil. They are looking for an excuse to accuse him of violating the law (their law, that is), and it is likely that they made sure the man with the withered hand was clearly visible – a plant, an entrapment.
They had no interest in the message. They were hoping He would heal someone so they could bring an accusation. Why? Because they couldn’t stand the popularity He was enjoying. He threatened their privileged position in the eyes of the people, and they needed to discredit Him.
Their cold hearts are shown by the fact that they expected to make their case by catching Jesus in the act of healing a disabled man. What kind of religious belief would object to restoring health? The answer is man-made religion. The kind that is about the rules, all the rules and nothing but the rules. People be damned, for them it was about their rules and everyone else could go to hell for all they cared. The rules were all that mattered, and they had some doozies. They were avid early adopters of Toyota’s philosophy – “Make your own rules”. In the process the obliterated the spirit of the law.
Now, as to healing, they allowed you could do whatever was required to save a life on the Sabbath, but absolutely nothing more. Save a child from drowning but ignore a sprain. Pull an ox from a ditch if it were in danger of dying, but God help you if you pulled one out without threat to life.
So that’s the setup. They know of the guy with a withered arm – non-life-threatening. We’re not sure, but tradition says he was a stonemason who was injured and whose muscles had atrophied. They were sure Jesus would take the bait allowing them to accuse Him of Sabbath-violation and discredit Him.
Amazingly they counted on His compassion and power as the attributes by which they hoped to destroy Him. Why would you ever want to destroy someone like that? How about because He doesn’t play by your rules. It all comes down to who makes the rules? Who is in charge? And in their fallen minds, they preferred their cruelty over His compassion. They preferred law over grace. They preferred to be God rather than submit to God.
And so have men from time immemorial sought to bring charges against God, to sit in judgment over Him to avoid accountability to Him. They accuse Him of injustice for all the ills of the world, ignoring the culpability of man’s sinful nature – a nature which is the product of the cherished free will granted by God which allows them to bring the accusation. And they hostilely reject the forgiveness for which He paid with His own life.
You know what is the biggest accusation of all against God? It is that He can do miracles. Just like they proposed to reject Jesus for supernaturally healing man, so they reject God and declare Him a non-person for the fact that He claims to have created it all. It is His claim to the supernatural that makes Him unacceptable. Is that warped or what? The humanists position seems to be “If we can’t do it, nobody can! No miracles!” Listen to this quotation from geneticist Richard Lewontin: “. . . materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. . . . To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.” In other words, God doesn’t play by our rules, so He is out! God has been accused, tried and executed on the basis that He performs miracles. By their rules, that’s not allowed – just like the Pharisees. Do you see where this all leads? This is why salvation means accepting Jesus not just as Savior, but as Lord – as the one in charge, as the one who makes the rules. The Pharisees are desperate to be in charge!
II. The Predicament
The Pharisees have their plant and things at first go according to plan. In fact better than planned. V. 8, “But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come and stand here (literally, arise and stand in the middle – front and center). And he rose and stood there.” It’s working. Jesus has bit. They’re going to win. What they can’t know, of course, is that He knows their thoughts. They’re still new enough at this not to realize that Jesus is always one step ahead. He has a question for them, and it snatches victory right out of their hands – creates a predicament they cannot answer.
It’s a simple question. V. 9, “And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” That’s one they never found in their oral traditions. To them it was cut and dried – to save life, do anything needed. For anything less, wait a day. But this puts the whole thing in a completely different light. Jesus’ question suggests that to fail to help when you can is to do harm, even if nobody dies! In asking, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm,” He is suggesting there is no middle ground. You either help or you harm. And by asking , “Is it lawful” Jesus is taking one more shot at their traditions because He knew and they knew their traditions said you can’ t do good just for the sake of doing good. It can only be for the sake of saving lives. No one had bothered to point out that their law was doing harm by refusing to do good. But Jesus did, and they knew that everyone in that crowd got the message. Jesus answered their accusation before they could ever make it. And in the process, He pointed out that their law’s deficiency. It violates the spirit of God’s law which provided the Sabbath for a time of devotion to God and rest, refreshment and recuperation! In that spirit, failing to help someone by healing them was harmful, not lawful. It took Jesus only one simple question to make that point. And they certainly can’t argue that it’s lawful to do harm on the Sabbath or the whole crowd would run them out of town.
But it goes from bad to worse. In the second part of His question he asks, “Is it lawful to save life or destroy it.” Now He has gotten personal because when He looked into their hearts, what He saw was murder. They wanted to destroy Him! Mark 3:6 tells us that immediately after this miracle, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” Matt 12:14 reports the same thing. Murder was in their hearts. Jesus knew it, and by His questions He is in essence accusing them rather than the other way around. He is saying, “Your law is wrong in protecting harm being done on the Sabbath. Furthermore, you are breaking your own law. It provides for saving life and you are plotting how to destroy life.” Is Jesus great or what? Of course, because He allows it, they eventually will succeed in killing their Messiah -- the ultimate betrayal. But even then they only further God’s plan to pay the penalty for any sin that is confessed, including their own. Did some of these Pharisees turn to Christ in the great revival after Jesus’ resurrection? I hope so. We know that the most Pharisaic of them all did so, a little guy named Saul. Maybe others did too.
Now, we must understand, Jesus in no way violates the Sabbath. He just points out the foolishness, cruelty and inconsistency that occurs when men make their own rules and ignore God’s. Any life lived with self on the throne is doomed. It may seem like we are winning today, succeeding in business and whatever our goals. But if anything in life is more important to us than God, we are nothing more than a Pharisee in disguise, and a day of reckoning is coming. In the end God makes the rules; in the end, there will be only His will. Why do we fight that so hard? Because we’re born to want what we want and want it NOW! And many false prophets will tell you that God owes you the life you want – NOW! cars, homes, rings, coats, exotic travel, instant healing, popularity – in short, every comfort. The truth is the Christ of Scripture promises two things – a cross to die on, and eternal life. But we have to decide who’s in charge. If we’re making our own rules, our death will be crossless but eternal, our future Godless just like our present.
III. The Proof
Now, Jesus has issued His challenge. There is no response. He had, after all, backed them into a corner where they could not win. If they say is lawful to do harm on the Sabbath, the crowd will ride them out of town on a rail. It they say is unlawful to do harm, then they can make no accusation against Jesus. He’s got them either way. But He is not finished. V. 10, “And after looking around at them all he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored.” He heals the man, but look what He does first. He looks around at them all. Luke makes a big point of that look. It contrasts to the surreptitious, out-of-the-corner-of-their-eye look that the Pharisees gave Him in v. 7. His look is not sneaky; it is burning. He turns to the whole crowd, confronts them all eyeball to eyeball, and only then, turns to the man and instructs, “Stretch out your hand.”
What is that all about? What is Jesus doing? He’s making sure the whole crowd understands, He is in control here, not the Pharisees. He makes the rules, not the Pharisees. He is Lord. He is in charge. He is supreme. It is a spine-tingling moment. Are you noticing a lot of those in Jesus’ ministry? The air crackled with anticipation, and then it is as though He says, “Now that I have your undivided attention, let me prove that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath and not harm. Young man, stretch out your arm.” And the man did the impossible. He stretched out his hand. This is just like 5:17-26 where Jesus used a physical healing to demonstrate His power to forgive. Here He uses a physical, demonstrable, verifiable healing that only God could do to give credibility to His violation of the laws of the Pharisees. Do you see? He’s taking charge, because in the end, He is always in charge. And the proof is that all things bend to His will when He says the Word.
It’s like the man who was on trial for biting off the ear of another man. The witness was asked by the defense attorney, “Did you actually see my client bite the ear off?” He replied, “No.” The attorney should have stopped, but he went on, “Well, then, what made you think he did bite his ear off?” The man replied, “Well, it was when he spit his ear out of his mouth.” Pretty conclusive, is it not? And that, Beloved, is what the Bible is all about. The miracles of Christ authenticate the message of Christ. To try to have Christ without the miracles is to end up with nothing, because they authenticate Him. That’s why though many have tried, no one has yet successfully refuted the greatest miracle of all – the resurrection. Many who started to do so as skeptics became some of the most convinced believers of all – Frank Morrison, Lee Strobel, Sir Norman Anderson, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, listed in the 1990 Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most successful lawyer became a believer after thorough investigating the resurrection. Anthony Flew, a world-renowned physicist and convinced atheist renounced his atheism just a few years ago. The proof is there for those who truly search, Beloved. God has not left us without physical, verifiable evidence. By means of the Scriptures He is looking every one of us eyeball-to-eyeball and saying, “I’m real; I’m in charge; I make the rules. Furthermore, I love you and want you to be mine so much that I died for you and rose again. Give me your heart? Just like that man stretched out his arm in faith because he believed the word, so I want you to reach out your hand to me in faith.” Do that and you’ll find that the proof takes root in your heart.
IV. The Plot
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. V. 11, “But they were filled with fury (literally, out of their minds with anger) and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” Religion turns men into sadists. They could care less that a man has been healed of a disabling affliction. They have no heart for Jesus’ message of the gospel. Instead they are filled with rage that He got the better of them. They were blind to the implications of what they had just seen. Sheer logic would have dictated that if He knew what they were thinking before they said it, and if He had the power to predict and then perform a healing like this, God just might be involved in there somewhere. Wouldn’t you think?! But amazingly, all the way through the Gospels, no one ever disputes Jesus’ miracles. They were too pervasive to ignore or deny. And yet some way, somehow, they refused to believe the message. Because He didn’t march to their drum, they rejected Him vehemently enough to kill Him. That’s where being one’s own boss always leads; it leads to figuratively standing at the cross with the blasphemers helping pound in the nails. Is that where you are today?
Luke actually understates their rage if that’s possible. As we’ve seen, Mark 3:6 tells us they immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” Understand, the Herodians, supporters of the hated Roman-backed King Herod, were hated by the Jewish-nationalist Pharisees. These two groups were blood enemies. But against a Jesus who sets the rules, they found common cause. This is the beginning of the end. It takes another 18 months or so, but they eventually get Him on the cross. Why? Because He claimed to be God. And He purposely pressed that claim, so that He could be the ultimate innocent sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
So, I must ask this morning, is He Lord of your life – lock, stock and barrel, or are you part of the crucifixion party – insisting on being your own boss. Insisting that you make up the rules. There’s no middle ground here, Beloved. It’s either Him or you – it can’t be both. He doesn’t share thrones. He has loved you to death – literally. But have you loved Him back? Is your whole life in submission to Him, or are you insisting on autonomy?
Conc – Now, we all face the same question this morning that the Pharisees faced on this occasion. Who makes the rules? Who’s in charge? Me or He? A talented young lady came to see her pastor one day and said, “I realize I’m a sinner, and I’m ready to accept Christ as Savior, but I can’t. I’m afraid. I want to accept Him but I don’t want to do that if He would send me to off somewhere.” Her pastor gave her a wonderful reply. He said, “You know, there are two terms that don’t go together. Peter tried it in Acts 10:14 when he said, ‘Not so, Lord.’ But that’s a contradiction. You can say, ‘Not so’; or you can say, ‘Lord.’ But you can’t put the two together. If He’s Lord, who are you to tell Him what to do and who am I to tell Him what to do?” Then the pastor wrote those two terms down on a piece of paper, “Not so,” and “Lord.” And he said to the young lady, “You must either cross out, ‘Not so’ or you must cross out ‘Lord.’ But you can’t have it both ways.” He left the room. When he came back a few minutes later, the young lady had crossed out “Not so.” She accepted Jesus not just as Savior, but as Lord. How does your paper look today? Have you crossed out “Lord” – or have you crossed out, “Not so”. Please open to His lordship. Do it now. And as believers, it’s our responsibility to live this every day. “Lord” or “not so.” What’s going on? Let’s pray.