The Signal

The young man sat alone on the bus and, most of the time, stared out the window.

He was in his mid-twenties, nice looking with a kind face.

His dark blue shirt matched the color of his eyes.

His hair was short and neat.  Occasionally he would look away from the window and the anxiety on his young face touched the grand-motherly woman sitting across the isle.

The bus was just approaching the outskirts of a small town when she was so drawn to the young man that she scooted across the isle and asked permission to sit next to him.

After a few moments of small talk about the warm spring weather, he blurted out,

“I have been in prison for two years.  I just got out this morning and I am going home.”

His words tumbled out as he told her he was raised in a poor, but proud family and how his crime had brought his family shame and heartbreak.

In the whole two years he had not heard from them.

He knew they were too poor to travel the distance to where he had been in prison and his parents probably felt too uneducated to write.

He had stopped writing them when no answers came.

Three weeks before being released, he desperately wrote one more letter to the family.

He told them how sorry he was for disappointing them and asked for their forgiveness.

He went on to explain about being released from prison and that he would take the bus to his hometown—the one that goes right by the front yard of the house where he grew up and where his parents still lived.

In his letter, he said he would understand if they would not forgive him.

He wanted to make it easy for them and so asked them to give him a signal that he could see from the bus.

If they had forgiven him and wanted him to come back home, they could tie a white ribbon on the old tree that stood in the front yard.

If the signal was not there, he would stay on the bus, leave town and be out of their lives forever.

As the bus neared his street, the young man became more and more anxious to the point he was afraid to look out the window because he was so sure there would be no ribbon.

After listening to his story, the woman asked simply,

“Would it help if we traded seats and I will sit near to the window and look for you?”

The bus traveled a few more blocks and then she saw the tree.

She gently touched the young man’s shoulder and choking back tears said,

“Look!  Oh, look!

The whole tree is covered with white ribbons!

An unknown author said,

“We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.”

It is Never Wrong to do Right

 Mark 3:1-6

“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.  2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the Sabbath day; that they might accuse him. 3 And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. 4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. 5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. 6 And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.”

One of the great ironies of religion is that it does not always transform individuals in a positive way.

In the name of God, religious wars are fought.  In the name of God babies are killed, men are butchered, and women are made widows.

It is a great irony that good people can pray and then go forth to slaughter others physically or verbally.

In context, the unrighteousness of religious individuals is made manifest in a dramatic encounter between the Pharisees and Christ.

This is not the first time that a hostile encounter has taken place nor will it be the last for the Pharisees had much favor with the people.

Originally they were very orthodox.  Daily, the Pharisees were determined to keep every one of the 613 provisions of the Mosaic Law.

They also wanted to honor the Mishnah, an authoritative collection of oral laws containing all of the decisions in Jewish jurisprudence that were compiled from the earliest times.

Unfortunately, in their zeal to keep the letter of the Law, the Pharisees forgot the spirit of the same.

They suppressed, ignored, or mocked any spiritual concepts such as mercy, kindness, and goodness.

They had no patience and no tolerance with others who did not understand or agree with their precepts and religious practices.

The Pharisees were argumentative with no softness of the soul.

It is not surprising to find that all of their religious bigotry and biases were soon focused on the person of Jesus Christ.  It was not long after Jesus began to teach and preach that the Pharisees set themselves us against the Lord.

They followed Jesus from place to place.  They watched His every move and they criticized His every word without mercy. Even the disciples of Jesus became the targets of the unkind comments of the Pharisees.

One Sabbath day while traveling, the Disciples of Christ were hungry.

Finding a field with corn, the disciples began to pluck some ears of corn and eat them.  Immediately a religious debate began as the Pharisees criticized the disciples for doing “work” on the Sabbath.

Jesus moved to assert His own sovereignty over the Sabbath and to silence the religious zealots.

But the silence was only temporary for another Sabbath came bringing yet another confrontation.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke recorded the significant events that transpired.

The setting for the confrontation between Christ and the members of the Sanhedrin focused on a man with a shriveled hand.

It was his right hand, according to Dr. Luke, who would naturally have noticed that detail.

According to legend, the man had not been born with a withered hand.  He was a stonemason who had been injured while working. Now in the presence of Jesus, the man knew that here was Someone who could help him.

The mason took advantage of the moment and asked the Lord to heal him so that he might not have to be a beggar all the days of his life (The Gospel According to the Hebrews).

If indeed the man was a mason and did ask Jesus to help him, the Lord was most willing for no one in the Bible ever came to Christ personally and went away unchanged or with a legitimate request denied.

The larger principle is established in this truth regarding salvation: “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9-10).

Nicodemus called upon the name of the Lord one night and was saved.

The woman at the well called upon Jesus and was saved.

The dying thief called upon Christ and was saved.

The highest religious leaders of the land and the lowest outcasts of society called upon Christ and were saved for Christ receiveth all who will come to Him.  He will not cast them out.  He invites them into His fellowship.

Here is the gospel truth.

“Jesus has a table spread

Where the saints of God are fed

He invites His chosen people

“Come and dine;”


With His manna He doth feed

And supplies our every need:

O ‘tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time!


“Come and dine,” the Master calleth,

“Come and dine”

You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time;

He who fed the multitude,

Turned the water into wine,

To the hungry calleth now,

“Come and dine.”

While Christ graciously contemplated healing the man with the withered hand, certain members of the Sanhedrin watched His every move.

To put it bluntly, they did not want the man to be healed on the Sabbath day for if the healing took place it would violate their concept of keeping the Sabbath, which forbid all work.

To effect a cure on the Sabbath was work.  The Jewish law was definite as to what could and could not be done.

Item.  A woman in childbirth might be helped on the Sabbath.

Item.  An infection of the throat might be treated.

Item.  If a wall collapsed on a person, enough debris could be cleared away to see if the person was alive or dead.  If the person was alive, they might be helped out from under the rubble, but if dead, the body had to wait to be removed until the next day.

Item.  A fractured bone could not be attended to.

Item.  Cold water could not be poured on a sprained hand or foot.

Item.  A cut could be bandaged with a plain bandage but not with any ointment.

In summary, an injury could be kept from getting worse; it must not be made better or a cure effected.

That was work.  Jesus was about to perform a work and the members of the Sanhedrin did not want it to happen.  They sincerely believed they had good reason to oppose the actions of the Lord in principle as well as in practice.

Historically, many Jews had literally given their lives to establish the principle that no work was to be done on the Sabbath.  For example, in the second century before Christ, during the wars of the Maccabees, some of the Jewish freedom fighters took refuge in caves.

The Syrian soldiers hunted the warriors down.  Josephus, the Jewish historian tell us that an opportunity was given to surrender but the soldiers would not, so “they fought against them on the Sabbath day, and they burned them as they were in caves, without resistance and without so much as stopping up the entrances of the caves.  They refused to defend themselves on that day because they were not willing to break in upon the honor they owed to the Sabbath, even in such distress; for our law requires that we rest on that day.”

Perhaps it is easier to understand why the members of the Sanhedrian were so upset with Christ.

People had died to establish their religious practices, and now Jesus was openly ready to undermine the principle of working on the Sabbath.

Knowing the hatred that was in their hearts, the Lord had two questions for the scribes and Pharisees.

“Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do evil?”

To ask the question was to answer it.  The Law of Moses never prevented any good being done on the Sabbath.

Work was prohibited but doing a good deed was never forbidden.

The problem with the Pharisees is that their focus was all wrong.

They concentrated on work while the Lord focused on doing good—against which there is no law.

The second question manifested the deity of Christ for He asked, “Is it lawful to save life, or to kill?”

To kill? How did murder suddenly come into the conversation?  Who said anything about murder?

But Jesus knew that murder was in the hearts of some members of the audience and the Lord was right.

Not able to answer the questions Jesus proposed, the religious leaders left the synagogue and immediately went to take “counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy him.” (Mark 3:6)

Traditionally, the Herodians were the sworn social enemies of the Pharisees.

The Herodians were a political party that favored the family of Herod and were found collaborating with the Romans.

But now an unholy alliance was needed in order to destroy the Messiah who would dare to do good at all times even if it meant destroying the wrong principles on which others practiced their religion.

It would take several more months for the coalition to destroy Christ.

While others plotted again His life, Jesus simply continued to operate according to the will of the Father knowing that it is never wrong to do right and to do good to others.

Practical Application

First, Jesus was always about His Father’s business, which means that He was always doing good.

And the good that Christ did was done in the sight of His enemies as well as to His friends.  In this the Lord has “left us an example that we should follow in His steps.”  (1 Pet. 2:21) Let us do good to all men, but especially to those in the household of faith.

Second, His enemies watched Jesus.  We read that “they watched Him, whether He would heal on the Sabbath day, that they might accuse Him.” (Mark 3:2) In like manner, Christians must not be surprised to find themselves being watched by others who want to find fault. The truth of the matter is that if anyone wants to find fault with another they will.

Third, doctrine is not always enough to change the heart. Doctrine is not enough to redirect erroneous beliefs or bad behavior.  The Pharisees had the Law, they had Moses and the Prophets, and they even had the Messiah in their midst and still their hearts remained unchanged. (Mark 3:4)

There is a lesson here for those who stress in an inordinate manner the intellectual side of Christianity.

It is not enough to be orthodox in the faith.  It is not enough to be passionate about the principles and practices of God’s Word.  If one is not careful, there will be a spiritual death of noble emotions as a heavenly way is found to hurt others needlessly.  Doctrine is not enough.

Fourth, there is a legitimate place for righteous anger.  We are told that Jesus, “looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heart.” (Mark 3:5)  These words remind us that Christ as a man like ourselves in all things, except in sin.  We read elsewhere that Jesus “marveled,” that He “rejoiced,” that He “wept”, that He “loved” and here again that He felt “anger.”  The Lord’s anger was a lawful anger in that it was not sinful, from which we observe that there is an anger, which is justifiable and may be properly manifested.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be ye angry and sin not.”

And yet, it must be confessed on a more local and personal level that the subject of anger is not always so legitimate, if the truth were told.  J.C. Ryle comments, “Of all the feelings that man’s heart experiences, there is none perhaps which so soon runs into sin as the feeling of anger.  There is none, which once excited seems less under control.  There is none which lead on to so much evil.”

Most of the anger we express towards others is unnecessary, if the truth were told.In the Old Testament, the story is recorded of a prophet who was given an unpopular task—from his point of view.  He was to go to a great city and preach the gospel.  But Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and preach for he suspected that a great revival would break out, people would repent of their sins, and the nation would be spared the wrath of God.

Of course, in time the reluctant prophet saw all of his suspicions realized.  The gospel was preached, the people repented, in sackcloth and ashes, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.”  (Jonah 3:10-4:1)

We almost have to smile at the picture of this pouting prophet.  He has preached, the people have repented, a great nation is going to be spared from certain destruction, and Jonah is angry at the goodness of God.  But Jonah has no right to be angry as the Lord reminded him. “Jonah, doest thou well to be angry?”

Every Christian should ask themselves that question in a given situation.  “Do I do well to be angry?”

In most cases, the answer will be,

“No, it is not right that I am so angry.”  So why then, do we become incensed so quickly?

Part of the answer is this:

We become angry because we cannot control the behavior of someone else. We want an individual to do this or that and because they will not listen to us or behave in a certain way, we become angry.

And if we are cruel enough, we will say some things to shame or wound them personally, knowing all the time that the chasm of broken fellowship will be made wider and deeper.  But then, we no longer care.  Such is the nature of sinful anger.

Unless we want to be like the Pharisees, sinful anger must be arrested and put away.

This can be done in part by doing good to others.

The spiritual battle between religious good and righteous good is real and it is a battle unto the bitter end.  One side or the other must win.

If we want to hear the applause of heaven, we must not be religiously cruel, but be righteously kind one to another for this is the will of God and the example of Jesus Christ.

The greatest good we can do for others is to share with them the gospel, and the actually live it ourselves.

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