The Shriveled Hand of Faith…

I have always been intrigued with the account in Matt 12:9-14 of the man with the shriveled hand. I believe that this whole scenario was a set up by the Pharisees (Luke 6:7, 8). These religious leaders were in the process of garnering evidence so that they might bring charges against Jesus for breaking the Law of Moses. Here, I believe, they positioned this man in the Temple on the Sabbath just to see what Jesus would do. Actually, they knew what he would do—Jesus would heal the man.

It shows how callous these Pharisees had become in their interpretation of the Law. (It was originally passed on to them as oral tradition and ultimately written down in the 3rd century A.D. as the Mishnah, containing 63 tractates on various subjects—800 pages in English. Later, the Jews got to interpreting these interpretations in commentaries called the Talmud—the Jerusalem Talmud had 12 volumes; the Babylonian Talmud has 60 volumes.) Earlier in Matthew 12, the Pharisees had criticized Jesus’ hungry disciples for picking grain to eat from the edges of a field on the Sabbath. Jesus responded to this criticism by cutting through the fog of oral tradition by establishing two important principles based upon the original purpose of the Law: 1) The Sabbath was made for man (for his rest and well-being) and not man for the Sabbath; 2) God desires mercy and not sacrifice  (Hosea 6:6).

These religious leaders used this poor man as a pawn to achieve their own malicious goal of doing away with Jesus. By considering his healing on the Sabbath unlawful according to their oral tradition, the Pharisees treated this man with less mercy than they would show one of their own farm animals. In Deuteronomy 22:4, the Law of Moses made provision to allow the rescue of such an animal if it fell into a ditch on the Sabbath. Yet these super-spiritual, merciless leaders, by their own interpretation of the Law, did not allow the rescue of this man made in the image of God. This made Jesus angry.

And so, Jesus showed the man mercy and established his dignity as an image-bearer of God by healing him. It was how Jesus healed this man that intrigues me and teaches me one more aspect in understanding this word faith. Jesus told the man “stretch out your hand.” Think about that … Jesus did not “un-whither” the guys hand first and then tell him to stretch it out. He told him to stretch out his shriveled hand—the very thing he could not do. The guy could have said, “Lord, why do you think they call me the man with the withered hand? I can’t stretch it out! I need you to heal it first.” Instead, as this man acted upon the word of Christ, he received the ability to do what he could not do and was healed.  

This is a further consideration in our understanding of faith. Faith is acting upon the specific word of Christ and in so doing finding the ability to do what we cannot do in our own strength.  Let me give an example of how this might work. I’m sitting next to someone on an airplane and sense that God wants me to engage my seat-mate in conversation that may lead to sharing the gospel. So I pray that God would give me strength and wisdom to do that. Do I wait for God to give me an anointing of empowerment—change me from Clark Kent into Super Dave, or do I just start engaging my seat-mate and trust that God will work through in the process?  I have found the latter to be the way to proceed. “Stretch out your hand”; start the conversation, give that gift, ask to pray for that needy one, be merciful to your enemy, love the unlovely one, don’t be anxious at bad news—whatever you cannot do in your own strength, trust in the word of Christ and “stretch out your hand.” And watch how the Holy Spirit shows up. 

How can God carry the burden of this world? 

I am at a place in my life where I can hardly pray without my heart being so burdened with the weight of the requests that it really feels like it is breaking. I have a dear friend who just passed away, another who has cancer, another who is in recovery from a broken neck, another who is recovering from back surgery. In addition, prayer for  the suffering places of the world where hunger and deprivation reign and where innocents suffer from the greed of the powerful. Lastly, prayer for the victims of senseless acts of violence wrought by terrorists or those motivated by anger in the workplace or by road rage.

Who can bear the burden of prayer for these things? And yet there is God… He hears my requests and yours as well, and the cries of those who are suffering alone and forgotten– constantly and all at once! He is not limited by the boundaries of a finite nature, a changeable character, or the whims and oddities of emotions.

I have never before thought of the infinitude of God in relation to prayer.  There is no waiting list or pecking order to his attentiveness.  There is no favoritism to his love. His answers don’t always come immediately nor in the shape of our desires or passionate pleas, which any parent can understand, but they will come because he hears them all.

He does not hear us according to our worthiness, but according to his love for us in Christ. Nothing that comes from his hand is meant for evil nor for our punishment, though it may involve suffering and hurt like … There is no one so sinful that God will not hear his cry of repentance.  There is no one so prodigal that she will not have the Father’s embrace.

The only prayer that God rejects (at least that I know of) is the prayer of the self- righteous heart.  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus compares the prayer of the Pharisee who is obsessed with his own virtue with the prayer of the despised tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. Jesus said,”I tell you this man (the tax collector), rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

So my dear sister or brother, why do you hesitate to pray? Are you afraid that you are not worthy enough or that God has more important things to do than listen to you? Do you feel you have prayed and prayed and God has not answered? Do you feel that what you are facing is the punishment for the sins of the past? Do you no longer feel like praying? I have felt all of these deceptive hindrances to prayer and found only one solution; to just pray!  After all this is what faith does; it humbly acts on what it knows to be true even though everything in and around it screams the antithesis.  One Puritan preacher said that when Jesus cried out “my God, my God, what have you forsaken me” faith was evidenced not at the nadir of joy and peace but at the meridian of darkness.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense; but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.

William Cowper, 1774

When Iron Floats…

For those who are familiar (or not) with Charles Haddon Spurgeon devotional “Morning and Evening,” this was the entry for January 13th. Read it carefully. May it bring hope to you if you are facing a seemingly hopeless situation.

Evening, January 13

2 Kings 6:6 (NIV)

The company of the prophets said to Elisha, “Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to meet.”

And he said, “Go.”

Then one of them said, “Won’t you please come with your servants?”

“I will,” Elisha replied. And he went with them.

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. “Oh no, my lord!” he cried out. “It was borrowed!”

The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. “Lift it out,” he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.

 

The axe-head seemed hopelessly lost, and as it was borrowed, the honour of the prophetic band was likely to be imperilled, and so the name of their God to be compromised. Contrary to all expectation, the iron was made to mount from the depth of the stream and to swim; for things impossible with man are possible with God.

I knew a man in Christ but a few years ago who was called to undertake a work far exceeding his strength. It appeared so difficult as to involve absurdity in the bare idea of attempting it. Yet he was called thereto, and his faith rose with the occasion; God honoured his faith, unlooked-for aid was sent, and the iron did swim.

Another of the Lord’s family was in grievous financial straits, he was able to meet all claims, and much more if he could have realized a certain portion of his estate, but he was overtaken with a sudden pressure; he sought for friends in vain, but faith led him to the unfailing Helper, and lo, the trouble was averted, his footsteps were enlarged, and the iron did swim.

A third had a sorrowful case of depravity to deal with. He had taught, reproved, warned, invited, and interceded, but all in vain. Old Adam was too strong for [this] young [man], the stubborn spirit would not relent. Then came an agony of prayer, and before long a blessed answer was sent from heaven. The hard heart was broken, the iron did swim.

Beloved reader, what is thy desperate case? What heavy matter hast thou in hand this evening? Bring it hither. The God of the prophets lives, and lives to help his saints. He will not suffer thee to lack any good thing. Believe thou in the Lord of hosts! Approach him pleading the name of Jesus, and the iron shall swim; thou too shalt see the finger of God working marvels for his people. According to thy faith be it unto thee, and yet again the iron shall swim.

AMEN

 

To the Weak and Broken, Struggling and Withering…

ImageIn Mark 3:1-6 (Luke 6:6-11) we read that Jesus was in the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath and saw a man with a withered hand. Tradition says that the man was not born that way, but had been injured as a stone mason. The religious leaders were watching Jesus carefully- almost like they knew what he was going to do and couldn’t wait so they could add to his rap sheet. We can see from the context in Mark (and Luke) that they already had a beef with Jesus about the Sabbath issue.

Sure enough, Jesus intentionally drew attention to the man by asking him to come to him. Luke’s version says that Jesus knew their thoughts so he asked a question of the Jews which got to the heart of the Sabbath law and the entire system of Jewish oral tradition. “Is the Sabbath a time to do good or evil; to save life or to kill?”  When you put it like that it was a no-brainer. They didn’t know what to say- they were on the horns of a dilemma. The Pharisees knew that the law was for doing good and for preserving life, but if they agreed they would be giving Jesus a justification for healing this man. They were so hardened and blinded by their traditions that they completely missed the spiritual intent of the law; to love God and neighbor.  

Jesus was angry at their willful ignorance—using the very law of God to hide compassion and shun justice. So he healed the man by saying, “Stretch out your hand.” I wonder if the man thought, “But Lord, this is the precise thing I cannot do- that is why I’m the guy with the withered hand.”  However, as the man believed and acted upon the word of Jesus by stretching forth his hand, he was healed.

So then faith applies the ability of God to situations where we do not have the resources; where we feel impotent. The disciples had to learn this lesson at the feeding of the 5,000. “You feed them,” Jesus said. He was asking them to use what they did not have in order to do what they could not do. I think that Peter and John learned this lesson of faith as evidenced by their interaction with the lame man at the gate of the Temple who asked them for money. They said, “Silver and gold we do not have, but what we do have we will give you- in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”

We try so hard to be self-sufficient and proficient in everything we do that we often don’t know how to handle things when we feel withered and weak, broken and inadequate. We usually shut down and wait till we are better. Could it be that we need to learn to minister out of weakness because that is where we can most effectively apply the ability of God to situations in which we feel we have nothing to offer? It will be at that point we will learn the rich truth of 1 Cor. 1:18- that God chooses “the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, the weak things to shame the strong, the things that are low and despised to nullify the things that are highly esteemed- so that our boast would be in the Lord.”

If you are weak, broken, struggling, withering under life’s circumstances and demands so that you think you have nothing to offer. Do not despair. Look to Jesus and believe. He is your Sabbath. Offer to him what you don’t have and trust his ability to work through your weakness and your ordinariness to feed others and to bring healing to your soul. “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I (not might, not could, but) will give you rest.”

 

 

 

 

Only For the Broken and the Weak

Jesus was in the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath and saw a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:16; Luke 6:6-11). Tradition says that the man was not born that way, but had been injured as a stone mason. The religious leaders were watching Jesus carefully. Jewish oral tradition had interpreted the Sabbath law in such a convoluted way to consider healing as unlawful because it entailed work. Sure enough, Jesus intentionally called the man out. Luke’s version says that Jesus knew their thoughts so he asked a question of the Jews which got to the heart of the Sabbath. “Is the Sabbath a time to do good or evil; to save life or to kill?” When you put it like that it was a no-brainer. The religious leaders were on the horns of a dilemma. Continue reading “Only For the Broken and the Weak”