Mark / chapter 3 (read the chapter)
In this chapter, Mark recounts the story of a miracle that is also found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke—with one notable exception. In the other two accounts, the authors say nothing of Jesus’ emotional frame of mind during the course of this miracle. Only Mark records the feelings of Jesus. And it’s an important detail.
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled
hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus,
so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do
evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn
hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his
hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot
with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. (vs 1-6)
According to the Mishnah, the rabbis used one question to determine whether an action which constituted “work” was permissible on the Sabbath: Which choice preserves life? Of course, that’s what Jesus was alluding to when He asked which was lawful on the Sabbath—to save life or to kill.
The Pharisees were livid that Jesus restored health and life to a man on the Sabbath, yet they went out straightaway and began plotting how they would kill Him. Which choice preserves life? It might be comical if it wasn’t so sad.
And it was so sad that Jesus Himself experienced a visceral emotional reaction to the whole situation. Knowing their thoughts, and knowing what their reaction would be to what He was about to do, He became angry. But that soon gave way to a feeling of deep distress and sorrow.
All the people in the synagogue that day were standing in the presence of the Master Healer. They were standing in the very presence of God. One man with a shriveled hand was about to have his physical life restored to him, while a number of men with shriveled hearts were about to further cripple their spiritual lives.
No wonder Jesus experienced anger and then great sorrow. But notice for whom and what He experienced those emotions. He wasn’t angry about the man who had the shriveled hand. He wasn’t angry that sin had marred and twisted His beautiful creation in the life of that man. And why? Because He could do something about it. He was one hundred percent able to restore that hand to what it should have been.
But He was powerless when it came to the shriveled hearts of the Pharisees. Unless they were willing to open the door to Him, He was totally incapable of restoring their hearts to what they should have been. That’s what made Him angry. That’s what caused Him deep distress and great sorrow.
When you think about it, God grieves in the same way we do, although not for the same things we do. We also get angry and deeply distressed about the things we are powerless over. Think about it. We don’t grieve for broken arms. We don’t feel deeply distressed over gallstones or blurred vision. And why? Because we can do something about those things. We can fix those things.
But, like God, we grieve over the things we can’t fix. Things like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and AIDS. We weep and gnash our teeth over those things because we are totally incapable of fixing them.
But God is not incapable of fixing them, and that’s why I don’t think He grieves over cancer or AIDS or shriveled hands. Of course, I don’t want to make it sound like God is insensitive to our feelings. Whenever we hurt for any reason, He is deeply affected. But He doesn’t grieve over those things like we do, because He has complete control over them. He can cure cancer just as quickly as He can restore a shriveled hand. He can reverse Alzheimer’s just as fast as He can restore sight.
God grieves over the things He can’t fix. Or maybe I should say, God grieves over the thing He can’t fix, because there is truly only one thing God can’t fix—the persistently-stubborn heart of a rebel. If we are determined to shut ourselves away from Him, then we have the power to do that. And, ultimately, there’s nothing He can do to remedy it.
For that, God grieves.