Again he (Jesus) entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The thought for today is that Jesus’ compassion is again the driving force in meeting the needs of sick people around him, he is grieved and angry at the hardness of the Pharisees’ hearts towards what God wants to do, the sabbath we know was meant to be kept holy they are watching him waiting for him to fail. what better way would be to free this man to be able to lift those holy hands in worship and be restored to health.
I began last week talking about Jesus did things differently driven with a compassion for others. Often he was seen associated with people who are not like the religious people, such as eating with sinners, forgiving and healing. here in our story we see Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the sabbath, to the scorn on the religious leaders of the day.
There are three attitudes come out clearly displayed by the characters in this story and I’m looking at those this morning.
The first point from this story I want to look at is the Pharisees attitude.
The condition of the heart is something that Jesus address’ in a parable in the next chapter. It’s the parable of the seed and the soil. The seed is the word of God and the heart (mind) is the soil where the seed takes root.
We have been talking this month about opening up to God, taking 15 min to allow the word of God to take its route, to take time to worship and pray.
The sower scatters the seed to every place going far and wide, to every place that will listen. the seed always remains the same, yet the soil can be hard, shallow, or receptive and thereby fruitful.
The religious folks of the time, the Pharisees, were hard of heart and seemed to care more about obeying the law, and making sure that people obeyed the law, than they cared about truly experiencing God’s love.
Finding hearts that are closed and hard disappoints Jesus but gives him a teaching opportunity to his disciples.
It is important to understand that religion, a system of beliefs that is based on laws, tradition, rituals and structure, does not allow for one to freely have relationship with God.
Some say that the difference between religion and Jesus is that religion is man’s attempt to be acceptable to God, and Jesus is God’s way of saying, “there is nothing you can do in your own right to be acceptable to Me, so I’ll come to you and show you My love for you.”
Fortunately God has the solution the prophet Ezekiel wrote way ahead of this time saying
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
The obedience that the Pharisees strived for, was not wrong in itself, the desire to follow God and see others reap the benefits is a noble and worthy pursuit. However they forgot the love of God behind the law, they forgot that it is a heart of flesh given by God is needed The law is not wrong or bad but those who lack a soft and receptive heart can misread the law or certainly miss read the volume of mercy and grace that it comes with it.
Jesus is this free demonstration of God’s love. It is written in John1:17 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
In the story of the man with the withered hand we see how religion blinded a group of people from seeing the truth. The truth is that God was present in their midst. God came from heaven in the form of His son Jesus to be with the people and to demonstrate the love of the Father.
The focus on the law, robbed the Pharisees of understanding the truth: that God is a loving Father and Jesus is the one and only Son of God. It so bothered the Pharisees that Jesus would heal a man on the Sabbath that they conspired to kill him and missed the entire fact that He performed a miracle before their eyes! Much like the older son in the parable who refused to see his brother receive the grace of God.
My second point is the attitude of the man.
2. The hand of faith
Let’s consider the man with the crippled hand for a moment. He is coming to the church perhaps regularly it doesn’t say, all time hearing the teachings singing the songs. Yet here he is living his life with a crippled hand, as he have been for many years, if not his whole life. And Jesus comes along and tells him to stretch out his hand!
Notice that the Bible does not say that the man looked at Jesus puzzled and said, “but Jesus, I can’t stretch out my hand. It’s withered and crippled, can’t you see that?” No! It is quite the opposite.
Jesus commanded the man to do something completely impossible; something that he most certainly should have thought was crazy! But the man responds to Jesus’ command with immediate obedience by stretching out his hand and as a result he is instantly healed. Not only that, but the entire crowd witnesses the power of God manifest in this man’s body as his withered hand is healed right before their eyes!
Thinking on this and what it means to stretch out your hand towards Jesus, the Psalmist (David) in 143 he says things like
Hear my prayer, O Lord; Do not enter into judgment with your servant,
Therefore my spirit faints within me my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me, Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.
Then he says this
I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Stretching out our hands in faith brings us to the place of restoration which is my final point today
3. Jesus restores the withered hand.
Jesus attitude is focused on the answer, when someone came to him for healing, asking if he was willing, immediately Jesus went into action. The risk of offending others by healing on the sabbath was secondary to his compassion. For too long he wasn’t free to worship, free to express his love for God and for too long he was suffering and nothing else mattered.
For this man it was a hand, for others maybe it’s sometimes emotionally or spiritually that we feel withered.
The withered hand is to be understood the member of the body that has been deprived of its life and consequent use. Spiritual, a withered hand could be understood a faculty or power of the human mind, deprived also of its life and energy for want of a free circulation of vital principles.
The mind we know has power of us emotionally but also physically looking again into the prophets teaching we see Isaiah. Hands knees and hearts linked in this way and the answer Here is your God.
So this is the promise...
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.
What is our attitude, does it resonate with anyone in our story. How is our heart when it comes to the word of God? Jesus was the very word of God in flesh yet they missed it. I don’t want to miss what God is saying cause I have hardened my heart towards other, walking in love and forgiveness help keeps our hearts soft. I don’t want to shallow because filled my life with cares and worries, the deceitfulness of riches and let things in that choke the word of God.
When I hear the word of God calling me to stretch out my hand, I don’t want the past, my failures, my withered weathered weariness to hold me back from stretching out to God in whom I find the answer.
I want to take God at his word by faith and receive my answer. Finally I don’t want my zeal for religion to forget that people need a friend, need someone to pray for them. Need someone to stand by them.