Jesus Never Beat a Dead Horse

When one of my favorite preachers spoke about Jesus’ interactions with the religious authorities, he reminded his audience that Jesus never beat a dead horse.

If you are not familiar with that expression, the point is that it is pointless to whip or spur a dead horse. You’ll get very tired trying to get a dead horse to move.

With that analogy in mind, remember that Jesus didn’t argue with the religious authorities because he enjoyed it. He knew that they were not “dead horses” and sought to bring them to repentance.

Jesus also knew that the only way to shake them out of their blindness was to confront them in a striking manner.

Lord of the Sabbath

When Jesus claimed to be the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6.5), it was like putting spurs to a very alive horse.

We may not understand the setting in first century Israel, so here is one for 2021 America.

Suppose I preach a very powerful and interesting sermon. Add to the sermon several conversions and a couple of people who are dramatically healed from chronic illnesses.

That’s a pretty good Sunday so far. At the end of the service I invite the crowd to join me on the front lawn of the church and I burn the American flag.

At that moment, everything I said and everything that happened would be lost in the offense at that moment. The flag burning would call into question everything I had done up to that point.

I would never burn the flag, but what Jesus said and did was as offensive to the religious leaders of his day as burning the flag is today.

Why did Jesus say, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6.5)?

First of all, it was true.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus told his followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28.18).

The question of authority speaks about who is in control. The religious authorities didn’t know it, but Jesus was in control of the Sabbath and of every other aspect of life.

His words angered them, but still they were confronted with whether Jesus was right or not. An apathetic person may walk away from Jesus without giving him another thought, but not an angry one.

An angry person will think over and over again about what Jesus said. Apparently, Jesus wanted them to reflect on exactly who he was.

The Confrontation Continues

The confrontation between Jesus and the religious authorities continued week after week.

Luke tells the story this way of another sabbath confrontation.

— Luke 6.6-7 – On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.

The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.

The scribes and Pharisees came to a place of worship with the wrong motives. They were intent on building a case against Jesus.

Unfortunately, these religious leaders weren’t the only people who came to a place of worship with wrong motives.

Segregated churches in America’s past, churches that promote fear and hate toward others, the Inquisition, and more are examples of so-called worshipers who have the wrong motives.

Jesus was not deterred by his detractors.

Luke 6.8-10 Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”

After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored.

Rudy Ross has an interesting reason why Jesus healed this man on a sabbath. I encourage you to view our YouTube video on the Bob Spradling channel.

Rudy connects the healing of the man on the seventh day with the ability to have a new start in life on the eighth. He sees a pattern of 7+1 = 8 throughout the Bible. This pattern is a picture of God’s re-creation.

Rudy explains this better than me and you will be enriched by his thoughts.

One of the common beliefs about why the religious authorities took exception to the man’s healing was the idea that healing was a kind of work that was forbidden on the sabbath.

They would have argued that there are six perfectly acceptable days in the week for healing, but the sabbath was not one of them.

As the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus exerted is authority in this situation and healed the man.

The religious leaders were not able to rejoice that a man was crippled no longer. Instead, “they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus” (Luke 6.11).

How does a person’s heart become so hardened that they are unable to rejoice over a man’s healing?

Present Day Applications

We study the Bible not to as a history lesson, but as a means to deepen our life with the Savior.

The first thing that strikes me in this story is how hard it is for God to break through to people who have already made up their minds.

Some of the best advice I have received is to hold our own opinions with a light grip. To be humble enough to take guidance and correction will save us from being like the “bad guys” in this passage.

The scribes and Pharisees sought to “box” Jesus in with their interpretation of the Law. Instead, they put themselves in a “box” where they were found resisting God’s agenda.

A box or a fence may seem to be a safe place in a troubled world. However, God is bigger than our boxes and fences.

Here is an example of what I mean. I have come in contact with all sorts of churches over the years.

— Some burn incense and have services quite different from my Baptist heritage.

— Others may speak in tongues for 10 or 15 minutes as an act of worship.

— Some are very conservative and others are quite liberal in their beliefs.

I am very comfortable with Baptist traditions, but I have found God to be at work in some of the most unusual (to me) places.

Robert Shuller

Robert Shuller was a TV preacher and pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove California. He was often criticized as preaching “Christianity light,” with an easy self-help belief system.

What many people don’t know about Shuller is that he played a pivotal role in the Jesus Movement of the 1970s.

His church funded the largest Sunday School in Brooklyn New York. Some 50,000 children were touched each week by the Sidewalk Sunday School in the high-rise apartments of Brooklyn.

Shuller’s organization was the major funding source of their work.

Let’s keep this in mind when we are tempted to stay in our “box” or seek protection from a “fence.”

YouTube Video

Rudy Ross and produce a daily YouTube video on the Bob Spradling channel. Rudy adds insights to this passage that come from his Jewish heritage and years of Bible study.

Please email your prayer request to or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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