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Healing A Withered Hand

Preaching The Miracles
Series III, Cycle B
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."

Again he 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.

Background Material

Jesus and his disciples traveled about on foot. They would naturally take advantage of shortcuts. So this day they walked across some farmland that had been planted with wheat. As they were hungry, they reached out and plucked some of the kernels of wheat to satisfy their hunger. But they were seen doing so by some of Jesus' critics who immediately called him to account. But as they were stout defenders of the law, and of the scriptures, Jesus answered them out of their own religious writings. He showed them how the law of necessity overcomes, at times, the strict observance of the law. He reminded them how the beloved King David was hungry and entered the holy place in the temple where only priests were allowed to go, and ate the holy bread and gave it to his hungry men. He followed this reminder with the famous maxim: "The sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath."

Mark now adds another act of Christ which emphasizes this thought. He tells of Christ entering a synagogue and in the group of worshipers was a man with a withered hand. Jesus saw an opportunity to teach about Sabbath observance, as well as another opportunity to defy the legalistic Pharisees. So he called the man forward. He asked the man to stretch forth his withered hand, and when the man did so the hand was healed. The amazing thing about this miracle, which distinguishes it from other miracles, was that no request for healing had been made. The man did not approach Jesus with a request for healing. But Christ saw him among the worshipers and recognized his infirmity, a useless hand. It is comforting to realize that Jesus notices things. He is aware of what is going on everywhere, including our daily life.

We are told that this man was a stonemason, a work that required the use of both of his hands. Therefore, the fact that something caused his hand to wither, or shrink, meant he had lost the ability to work at his profession or at most other jobs, for that matter. So Jesus called him forward. Then Christ addressed those who were present, asking them a question. "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day, or to do evil? To save a life or to kill it?" Then Christ asked the man to stretch out his hand, and as he did so it was healed. The man obeyed Christ's command. As a result, the miracle took place.

Jesus excused his Sabbath activity by pointing out how practical his hearers were in meeting the requirements of Sabbath observance. They would make an exception, for instance, if one of their cows fell into a pit on the Sabbath; they would rescue the unfortunate animal. So, to do a kind act of any sort on the Sabbath was not to be condemned. The intent of the day was to bless humankind. It was to serve to bring one closer to God as a day of worship, and help one by observing a day of rest. To legalize about it to the point of the Sabbath's becoming a thing of torture instead of peace and joy was wrong. Legalism is wrong because it considers the act to be above the development of the person, above the consideration of the individual.

Jesus was doing a brave thing in healing the man in that place. Seated at the front of the synagogue were members of the Sanhedrin. It was their duty to see that no one who spoke in that place, and especially Jesus, would deceive the people with false doctrine. Jesus knew that they were there in order to catch him in some wrongful act or statement, but he did flinch. He called the man forward. Jesus was fully aware that his action went contrary to the interpretation of Jewish law concerning the Sabbath. He knew that such laws were exceedingly strict. Even use of medical knowledge was against the law unless it was deemed necessary to save a human life. A broken bone could not be set. A cut could not be bandaged. No ointment could be applied, for that would be part of the healing process. A strict Jew, if attacked by another, could not even defend himself on the Sabbath.

Perhaps something more needs to be said about legalism. As demanding a respect for law and order, it is good. But there must be exceptions. If a man commits murder but is judged to be insane and thus unaccountable for his deeds, this condition must be taken into consideration. Surely a child, doing something wrong out of innocence, cannot be judged the same as an adult who knowingly breaks the law. Unfortunately, the Jewish religion is built upon legalism. The law must be obeyed under any and all circumstances. Complete compliance with the law is necessary for salvation. Thus it was believed that one should not work on the Sabbath. But what is work? To some it is the means of earning one's daily bread. It can sometimes include meeting a dire emergency. If the basement is being flooded, even though it is Sunday, cannot there be a removal from the basement of those items which will be harmed by the floodwaters? It was considered wrong to go for a walk on Sunday because walking was judged to be work. But it was evident that some walking was necessary, even if it were only around the house. So what was called a Sabbath day's journey was permitted. It was about the length of a mile. Planting on the Sabbath was forbidden, so if one were tossing grain to his chickens he had to be sure that he tossed only the amount they would eat. Any grain left lying on the ground could take root and it would be considered as planted there. In our text, plucking grain to eat as one passed through a wheat field was considered in the same category as harvesting, and should not be done on the Sabbath.

Jesus said that he came not to condemn the law but to fulfill it. He was talking about a higher interpretation. Thus the law says we are not to commit adultery, but Christ pointed out that even the thought of doing so, or the lusting after a woman without committing the act, was a sin.

No one is perfect, yet the Jews said that by obeying all laws, and by that way alone, one is on the pathway to heaven. In such a case no one would get to heaven since no one is in perfect obedience; no one is perfect. But Christ came to fulfill the law. Being sinless himself, he assumed our sins and paid their penalty on the cross. Now those who link themselves to Christ by placing their faith in him have forgiveness in God's sight, and are heirs of heaven.

Sermon Material

Sunday Observance

The question of Sunday observance is before each one of us today. We do not have a law circumscribing our actions on Sunday. We are free to spend the day as we please. But what do we please? The question really is, "What good do we do on the Lord's day?" To keep the Sabbath holy is to let it produce acts of love on our part. It calls for a positive, not a negative, discipleship. People can attend church and, like the Pharisees, leave the worship of God without having love in their hearts. Hearing of God's love for us, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is to arouse love for all God's people in our own hearts.

The Sabbath Was Made For Humankind

This is not a license to do absolutely anything on the Sabbath, but only what is good for humankind. That includes rest, worship, and acts of love.

Human Need

For most people, their religion seems to be purely selfish. They are interested in their own activities, and their own salvation, but never do anything to bring others to Christ. Their idea of being religious is to be sure that they are doing the right thing: worshiping, reading the Bible, and leading a pure life. They do not comprehend the degree to which the Christian faith emphasizes concern and love for others. But, in fact, the degree to which we care about others is a measurement of the vitality of our faith.

Jesus stressed the fact that Christians should go about doing good and answer the needs of others. He warned that on the judgment day what we have done for others will be one of the criteria by which we shall be judged. He declared that when we feed the hungry, visit those who are sick or in prison, give clothing to those who need it, we are showing our love to him, because he resides in human hearts. What a challenge this is for us. We are actually commanded to be considerate of the needs of others, and to give gladly of our means and of our time. This is the Christian spirit that is responsible for the development of hospitals, homes for the poor, places to care for children without parents, and a host of other charitable organizations. A high priority in the life of a Christian is the claim of human need.

The Hand Of Christ

The scriptures often relate how Jesus used his hands to heal. He placed his hands on people who were sick and they were healed. He touched the dead and they came back to life. He touched the eyes of the blind and restored their sight, touched the ear and restored hearing, touched the tongue and caused the dumb to speak.

Some Good Things To Do On Sunday

Children sometimes complain about not having anything to do. A misinterpretation of Sunday restrictions may even lead adults to think there is nothing left to do. But by giving it a little thought, it is surprising how many things are actually encouraged as a part of Sunday observance. Such a list follows:

1. Go to worship in the house of the Lord

2. Do good to people:

¥ pick them up for church

¥ give them money to purchase a good meal

¥ call on the sick or lonely

¥ write a letter expressing your gratitude for help or influence

3. Teach a Sunday school class

4. Sing in the choir

5. Read your Bible; this is a day when you are sure to have the time

6. Take a walk

7. Reflect on the many blessings that come from God

8. Visit with friends

9. Read a good book

Returning Evil For Good

We should do the opposite. But the Pharisees did not. They did not rejoice that a crippled man was healed. They failed to see God's power being applied by Christ, whose relationship to God was thus made clear. They were so blinded by prejudice that instead of giving thanks and rejoicing they went out of the synagogue to plan how to destroy him.

Two Views Of Religion

In this clash between Jesus and the Sanhedrin we see two contrasting views of religion. There are those who see it as ritual. It means attending a worship service in church and participating in the ritual. Or it can mean, according to this view, engaging in family devotions. That is good unless one substitutes such form for action. The purpose of devotions is not the act itself, but the influence it brings to a participant. The end result is supposed to be a more kind, gracious, sincere, and loving person. How many people think that doing their Christian duty consists of Bible reading, church attendance, and prayer, but overlook the influence this is supposed to have on one's character and personality? Religion is more than ritual; it results in changed lives, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and being stirred to action by the plight of the poor, the homeless, the sick, and those who have been brought low by tragedy. The scriptures declare that true religion consists of "visiting the fatherless and widows, and keeping oneself unspotted by the world." In contrast to ritualistic religion, Jesus went about doing good. He told the timeless story of the Good Samaritan. He showed pity for the blind, the maimed, the sorrowing, He stressed the importance of answering human need.

The Many Uses Of The Hand

If one stops to think of the severity of this man's handicap, we think of the many restrictions his withered hand would place upon him. The hand is a powerful, multi-useful instrument to help us through life. In human relations it is used to shake hands, lift a child, say "stop," say "come," form a fist, offer the sign for peace or victory, wave good-bye. In practical ways it is used to write, dress, wash or wipe dishes, prepare a meal, eat a meal. On a job the hand is used on a pick or shovel, to type, to carve or chisel, to paint. In daily life it is used to drive a car, compete in sports, play a musical instrument, sweep with a broom. All of these things and more would be denied us by the loss of a hand.


Obedience To Christ

Christ called to the man with the withered hand to come forward, and the man did. Christ asked him to stretch forth his hand, and he did. As a result of obeying Christ's commands the man was healed. We should learn from this that it pays to follow the directions of Christ.

Turn signals on cars are meant to be helpful in telling other drivers of our intention to make a turn. But until the action was made illegal they were wrongfully used to tell the car behind when it was safe to go around.

A coach was following a slow truck up a long grade and was grateful when the truck driver flashed a left turn signal, telling the coach he could pass. But the truck driver miscalculated the time it would take the car to pass and another car, appearing over the hill, hit the first car head-on. Several people had to be taken to the hospital.

We are offered much advice in life, some of it good, but some of it not reliable. We need to know how much we can trust the one who is advising us. Christ is all-knowing. To follow his leadership always is to do the right thing and enjoy good results.

Handicaps Other Than A Withered Hand

This miracle has a lesson for those who do not have a withered hand. There are many negative elements that try to hinder our daily activities. If we let them, these are some of the things that can have a harmful effect on us: selfishness, a loss through theft, a love of money and a trust in it, someone's deceitfulness in dealing with us. But these negative elements need not harm us. Remember, Jesus stands ready to overcome these obstacles to abundant life.

"Is It Lawful To Do Good On The Sabbath?"

Here is legalism at its worst. We are reminded of the time Jesus pointed his critics to the fact that if one of their animals fell into a pit on the Sabbath they would surely try to free the animal at once.

There were two neighbors, both widows, who had been on friendly terms. One of the women took pride in the fact that she regularly attended church and Sunday school. The other widow would have preferred to go to church but could not because of a Sunday morning job which prevented it. The first woman became critical and even complained to her pastor about her neighbor's absence from church. She did not know that her neighbor began every day, including Sunday, with private devotions of Bible reading and prayer. Nor did she fully accept the fact that her neighbor was forced to work because of financial needs. Christ said that Sunday was made for humankind and is one's to do with as one pleases. He was freeing religion from legalism. His reply would surely have been, "If you can, go to church; if you cannot, do the best you can to honor God."

Our Withered Hand

How many people might as well have a withered hand because they do not use the ones they have? They sit idly by when they should be using their hands in Christian service.

Some time ago a young woman was attacked by a knife-wielding man. She was at her door, in the darkness of night, in the courtyard of an apartment building. It was a summer night and windows were open in the various apartments. As she fought her attacker she cried out loudly for help. Many heard her anguished appeal but refused to get involved. She lay badly bleeding and in need of help when the attacker returned and resumed his vicious onslaught. She failed to endure the second attack when no one answered her plea for help. Her life could have been spared if a single person had responded to her cries for help. Answering her cries for help could have been as simple as dialing 911. But they did not do so, offering the lame excuse that they did not want to get involved. Because of their refusal to help, is not the blood of the woman who died on their hands? It is common for people to offer their sympathy to people in trouble. But Christian service demands that we take action when it is called for. Is it possible that we have withered hands and do not realize it?

"Come Here"

The man with the withered hand had to respond to Christ's invitation and approach him in order to have his hand restored. Remaining at a distance, refusing to act on the Lord's invitation, would have left him a cripple. Christ, in various ways, is continually calling us with the invitation, "Come here." To receive his inspiration and blessing we need to act on the invitation.

A pastor once said that in calling on some of his members who did not attend church, he was appalled at the variety of their excuses. He marveled at how many different excuses people gave:

1. That's my only morning to sleep.

2. I worship God in the outdoors.

3. The sermons don't give me a lift.

4. The choir sings poorly.

5. I like to get comfortable and read the Sunday morning newspaper.

6. I have to leave before church is out to get to the football game.
He reported that in his counting of different excuses he reached a total of 134. Then he stopped counting.

Far Horizons

The Pharisees criticized Christ because they were confined by their religious zeal to a narrow view of man and of love. Christ called them to view the far horizon: the encircling love of God who wishes no one to suffer and wants all to be made whole. When one is surrounded by skyscrapers in a large city he might be impressed by their height and the important business transactions that take place within them. But, at the same time, he may not realize how much they blot out his view of far-off things. Because of being surrounded by them, he cannot see the far horizon. He is unable to be thrilled by the glory of a sunrise, or of a brilliant sunset when the western sky is bathed in gold. Christ came with the desire to enlarge and widen our horizon. He wanted us to see the wide brotherhood of man, and to be interested in the welfare of others. He even gave us a view of eternity.
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