The Withered Hand of Faith
As many of you know, I have a disabled brother who was born with cerebral palsy. Joey’s condition has rendered him triplegic, which means that he retains the functional use of only his right hand as his left hand is somewhat contracted and only minimally functional even after corrective surgery. We affectionately call his functional arm “righty” and the disabled arm “lefty.” Because of his condition, he is in a wheelchair and requires a great deal of assistance with activities of daily living. Joey uses his right hand to eat, use a computer, write, and to transfer out of his chair, among other activities. As you might imagine, his right hand is quite essential to the quality of his life. The other day, I attempted an experiment. I asked Joey to stretch out his hand. He immediately reached out with “righty”–the good one. I asked him why he did not reach out with his left hand, to which he replied, “Because the left one doesn’t work.” Now why do I tell you all of this? I tell you this because I have been thinking lately of a man in Scripture who was born with a condition of a shriveled hand—“withered,” as the KJV renders it. This man had an encounter with Jesus which left him forever changed. Three of the gospel writers found the event significant enough to write about, and as we examine the event, I do hope it imparts to your heart a similar blessing as I have enjoyed in considering it. Without further introduction, the passage:
Matthew 12:9-13: “He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other.”
Imagine yourself as this disabled man for a moment. What would your life be like at this period in history? Are you useful to society? Can you fish, mend nets, or farm land? Can you work with wood or metal? Perhaps you could do these things at a nominal level, but any person with 2 good hands would be faster and more productive than you. So finding work and earning money would be challenging at best. Maybe you have given up altogether and rely on the charity of generous members of society. After all, we do find him in the synagogue, and this isn’t the only record in Scripture where we find a disabled person accepting alms at a place of worship (Acts 3). I do not know this man’s story, but it is easy to imagine he spent more time taking than giving.
And then one day, something incredible happens. This One, Jesus, enters the synagogue and is confronted by the Pharisees who, desiring to catch Him in some error, ask Him if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath day. To which Jesus replies, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” He then says to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.” What is the man to do? After all, Jesus didn’t say, “Stretch out your withered hand.” So, the man is faced with a couple choices:
1.) Stretch out with the good hand- Embarrassed by his condition or filled with a sense of pride and independence, the man could have reached out with his good hand expecting to receive some generous donation from Jesus. Don’t we all have that tendency? We try our best to mask our insecurities with confidence and put our best foot forward. We flaunt our strengths and conceal our weaknesses in order to appear that we have it all together. Allow me to assure you right now, dear Reader, every one of us has a withered hand; we are all broken in different ways. Some are just better at hiding it than others. At best the man would receive a generous donation and at worst he wasted his time.
Alternatively, he could:
2.) Stretch out with the withered hand- But what possible good would that do? Onlookers might mock at the feeble attempt of the man to do that which he knew he could not do. For a withered hand will always come short of that for which it reaches. People might laugh, they might feel pity, and in the end it is possible he could be left feeling ashamed of himself.
But maybe something else would happen. Is it possible that this Jesus is Who He says He is? Could it be that this simple act of faith and obedience could result with his being healed? We know the answer. This man believed that he was in the presence of the One Who could heal his infirmity. Pride, independence, entitlement, embarrassment, and shame all melted away in that moment when, in the energy of faith, the man attempted the impossible because he knew he stood before the God who specializes in the impossible. It mattered not what others thought. Bystanders and Pharisees faded from view as this man’s primary focus was the One Who could meet his need. This act of faith was not performed in vain, for in the moment he exposed his weakness and presented before the Savior the feeblest act of obedience in the energy of faith, he was not disappointed but was miraculously healed. His hand was restored whole like the other.
Dear Reader, we are all born with a withered hand. Just as a withered hand will always fall short of that for which it reaches, so you and I have come short of the glory of God because of our sin (Romans 3:23). Try as we may, we simply cannot please God (Romans 8:8). But there is good news! Jesus did not ask the man to reach out his hand like in Michelangelo’s famous depiction of Adam where God and man strain to touch fingers only to come short of each other. The goal was not to take the man to the brink of his ability as though if he tried as hard as he could, Jesus would heal him because he did the “best he could do.” If this was the case, then the “best he could do” was to stretch out with the unaffected arm! No, this test of faith proved several points about our man:
- He knew he was broken.
- He knew that he needed to be healed.
- He believed that Jesus could heal him.
- He believed that Jesus would heal him.
Like the man in our story, you and I are in need of healing from the penalty of sin, and we too have a choice. We can choose to approach God with our good intentions, good works, and try to earn his favor as we stretch out our good hand. Cain tried this approach in the Garden of Eden when he offered to God the work of his hands instead of the required sacrifice, and his offering was not accepted. Or, we can choose to accept the fact that we are broken and in desperate need of a Savior. We can accept that we have a Savior in the risen Lord Jesus Christ who gave up his life at Calvary, Who “stretched out His own hands” for you and for me as He was nailed to the cross, and Who now offers eternal life and forgiveness of sins through the simple act of faith. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” is the genuine offer (Acts 16:31). So what will it be? The Savior is calling, and he beckons you to reach out.
How will YOU respond?