Pulpit Today Sermons
Robert D. Pace
When reading this account of the man with the withered hand there are several questions that are important to address:
First, what’s so important about the healing of a hand that it’s inscribed into the pages of Scripture, not once, but three times? Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record this healing.
Why was it so crucial for Jesus to heal a hand—why not a broken back or paralysis or cancer?
In answering these questions it’s important to understand the priority that life places on the hand. The Bible mentions the hand over fourteen hundred times. Its importance is so vital that God constructed us with not one, but two! And it’s no wonder because the hand is exercised more frequently than any limb of the body. Our hands are the primary instruments that enable us to make a living; and that makes them the chief executors of life. Our productivity would be drastically diminished without our hands.
Take a moment to look at your hands. Each hand includes twenty-seven bones, forty-six muscles and hundreds of nerves. God created them with such precision that our fingers cooperate with incredible ease and skill.
Our hands are so versatile doctors use them to perform laser surgery and artists used them to paint masterpieces.
We can use them as weapons to ward off an assailant or we can use them to calm a child’s fears by gently stroking their face.
Despite all science has accomplished, the hand is an anatomical wonder that technology hasn’t been able to duplicate!
When you examine your hand you might wonder why God made each finger different lengths. Did God miscalculate?
(Illustration) Years ago a child asked his father, who was a scientist, why his fingers were different lengths. The father told his child to close his fingers on his palm, and when he did his fingers laid evenly. The dad then told his son to grasp an orange and again, when his son obeyed, even his thumb extended evenly. You see, there are no miscalculations with God! As the Scripture says: “He does all things well.”[i]
(Transition) Perhaps it’s for reasons like these that God wanted this miracle recorded in Scripture. As we look at this story, let’s first consider the injury itself.
I. The Injury to the Hand
The Greek word for “withered” or shriveled” in verse 6 reveals that this man’s hand had atrophied. After a time of health and usefulness, he had injured it and it had become irreparably damaged. The historian Jerome proposed that this man was a stonemason. If this is correct, there is no way this stonemason could have successfully continued his work with one hand. He had suffered a career-ending injury! With only one hand he couldn’t hoist blocks over his shoulders and hand them to his coworkers. He couldn’t mix the mortar, handle the trowel or position the stones. And without this ability he couldn’t provide for his family.
It’s interesting that of the three Gospel writers recording this story that only Dr. Luke specifically isolates the right hand in his diagnosis (6:6). Since most people are right-handed, Luke showed that the primary hand was robbed of its usefulness!
When we understand these things, we discover this injury was much more serious than meets the eye. This injury had threatened his entire welfare! And Jesus knew these things when He called this man to the front of the synagogue. Jesus knew that without a miracle this man would languish forever. That’s why Christ had compassion on him. But what’s amazing is, there were some people in that synagogue that didn’t want this man healed!
It’s really sad, but there are people who actually don’t want you to prosper and succeed! If circumstances ever knocked you down or you encountered a setback, you may have discovered there were those that didn’t want you to make a comeback. They are like the Pharisees that, for whatever smug and airtight reason they have, are pleased to see you wither away.
(Harbinger) Jesus isn’t like that. Scripture records this event to show how Jesus wants to restore that area of your life that was once fruitful, but for some reason has withered and become unproductive. He wants to transform those that are “dying on the vine” into those that bear fruit “a hundred, sixty, and thirty times” over! And there are very few promises in the Bible that more universally apply to Christians than the promise of fruitfulness!
(Illustration) This story is special to me because of what happened when I was ten-years-old. My dad owned a furniture repair and refinishing business and he had more than enough tools lying around that shop to keep any kid in trouble. Occasionally, Dad would take me to work with him. Well, not more than thirty minutes after arriving, I found one of those tools—a razor sharp wood chisel—that I used to start carving on a wooden toolbox. But before I could carve up that toolbox, my youthful inexperience caused me to accidentally slash open my wrist! After being rushed to the hospital the doctor sewed more than a hundred stitches into my arm! And he was utterly amazed that I hadn’t lost the use of my hand! As I lay on the operating table the doctor would repeatedly touch the nerves inside my wrist that led to each finger. Each time he touched them, one-by-one, my fingers would flinch in response, and he would shake his head in disbelief that my hand had been preserved! He would look over at my dad and say, “I can’t believe this!” Moreover, I know God miraculously preserved my hand and kept it from withering and I’m grateful for His protection!
(Transition) Turn in your Bibles to John 15 and let’s see what else Jesus says about Christian fruitfulness.
II. Christ Commands Fruitfulness
Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.” Some versions use the word “ordained” instead of “appointed.” It really doesn’t matter which word the translators employed here because both are perfectly expressive of what God has for you. That is, God has ordained you to bear fruit! He has appointed you to fruitfulness. This word appointed means, “Christ made a choice for you.” And the choice was so important that He made it from the foundation of the world. It was His ordaining choice for you to be fruitful.
In Genesis 1:28 God said to Adam, moments after his creation, “Be (1) fruitful and (2) increase in number; (3) fill the earth and (4) subdue it. (5) Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
There is no ambiguity here! You don’t have to pray about whether God wants you to live a fruitful life. From the beginning of time, God made the choice for people to live productively. And this command of fruitfulness is so strong and unalterable that God is saying, “Thou Shall Not Wither”! And that’s why I like to call it, “The Eleventh Commandment.”
(Transition) But despite God’s directive for fruitfulness, some Christians seek to find excuses for their lack of it. I want to mention some objections.
Objections to Fruitfulness
1. Some Christians claim they aren’t worthy of God’s blessings to prosper.
But who is worthy of God’s blessings? Jesus said in Mark 10:18 that “No one is good-except God alone.” And Paul said in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” According to the Bible, nobody deserves God’s blessing! Since that is true, how do we receive God’s blessings and favor?
Christians today receive God’s favor and fruitfulness the same way people of the Bible received it. Noah, Moses, David, Daniel, the apostles, and the New Testament believers—all unworthy of God’s blessings—were favored and fruitful, solely on the basis of God’s mercy and grace!
(Illustration) I remember when, for several weeks, God really drove this truth deeply into my spirit (03-2003). During this time, I and another pastor traveled to a ministers’ meeting in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Immediately after checking into the motel, the Holy Spirit made an unusual visitation to my room for about thirty minutes. As I listened to his voice, he spoke to me about His mercy and grace being the basis for His blessing upon my life. It was a powerful experience! Then, a couple of hours later, when the evening session began, the conference speaker began preaching. Within twenty minutes, he had drifted from his prepared text and was preaching directly to me! He said: “All that I am. My ministry and all I’m anointed to do as God’s servant, is based on God’s mercy and grace.” Thus, in a moment’s time God’s message to me had been confirmed!
The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:1. He said his entire ministry was directly linked to God’s mercy. And then in 1 Corinthians 15:9 Paul said: “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (10) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.”
Paul, of all people, should have been disqualified from a fruitful life because he tormented and vexed the early church. He even consented to the death of the church’s first martyr—Stephen. But the kingdom of God is filled with undeserving and unlikely people, who are called by mercy and grace, to bear fruit for God!
(Transition) But there is another excuse people use to excuse themselves from fruitfulness: Some Christians contend that their liabilities prevent them from fruitfulness.
2. Some Christians lament that their liabilities prevent them from fruitfulness. But have you ever reflected on the liabilities of those God used in Scripture?
Abraham was 100-years-old when God was using him.
Jacob, the supplanter, had serious character issues.
Gideon was fearful.
Rahab was a harlot.
Naomi was a widow.
Martha was a worrier.
The woman of Samaria had five divorces.
Elijah was temperamental.
Jonah was prejudiced and ran from God.
History says Paul was single, short, bald, and ugly.
Simon Peter and all the apostles forsook Christ the night of his trial.
But God still managed to use these people, not because they were worthy, but because His grace was greater than their liabilities! Aren’t you glad that God delights in taking the least likely person and making them fruitful! He knows how to cross over reputations, stigmas, lack of education and social standing to bless the person that others would least suspect.
(Transition) There’s yet another reason people don’t believe they can be fruitful.
3. Some people claim they can’t be fruitful because they are cursed! They claim things always go wrong for them.
Have you ever felt like you were marked with a big red bull’s eye and everywhere you went people shot at you? And sometimes it seems you’re targeted for no valid reason. You just seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and you got zapped! Did you know there is someone in the Bible that lived like this? It was Joseph. Of Jacob’s twelve children, Joseph was the most respectable and spiritual. And yet, he suffered more than any one else in the family!
Joseph wore that coat of many colors his father gave him and afterward became the object of his brothers’ envy. And his problems escalated when he dared to announce his nighttime visions of his family bowing down to him! Eventually, Joseph’s brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery where he was falsely accused of rape, incarcerated, and forgotten for years.
What do you think Joseph thought about during those years in prison? He thought the same thing you I think when we suffer for Christ. “Why me? What did I do to deserve this punishment?” How am I ever going to prosper here?
Saints of God, when life spins out of control for you, don’t ever assume it’s out of control with God! He always has everything under control. And for some reason, there is something about Joseph that seemed to understand this. He remembered God’s promises. He held firmly to the dreams in which God had spoken to him. And when the testing process ended, Joseph had been refined to where God used him as a mighty prince to deliver two nations—Israel and Egypt—from a famine.
I want everybody to let Joseph teach you something that you should never forget: The adversity you experience can often be God’s perfect will for your life! That’s because God uses adversity to prepare you for the assignment He has ordained for you. When you’re imprisoned or embattled or tested don’t give in or give up! Continue holding on to God’s promises and know that he always has everything under control. This is called living by faith. Remember, it’s easy to believe God when the brightness of the noonday sun pours upon your soul. But the grand virtue of living by faith arises to trust God at the darkest hour!
(Illustration) Awhile back I read an interesting story of a Scottish discus thrower from the 1800’s. The Scotsman had never entered competition or even seen a discus when he determined to make a name for himself and enter the Olympics. As he started his quest, he went to the town library and found a book that diagramed a discus. From that diagram, he went home and constructed his own solid iron discus. For one year, he practiced and struggled to match the world record, but despite all his practice he never came close to the record! You can imagine the disappointment his practice sessions brought. But that didn’t dissuade him. And when the Olympics rolled around a year later he traveled to England for his competition. But upon arriving, something startling happened! When he stepped on the playing turf, he couldn’t believe his eyes! He was approached and given a discus—an official, wooden discus! You see, he had misread the diagram in that Encyclopedia. An Olympic discus was made of wood with only an outer rim of iron! The one he had practiced with for over a year had weighed nearly four times more than those his challengers were using! He promptly stepped into the box and threw that thing like a Frisbee! None of the competitors came close to matching his distance and he went home the champion![ii]
God knows how to take adversity and make it work for your fruitfulness! You see, God doesn’t forget about you when you’re tested. He’s preparing you for your divinely appointed moment to shine. So when you believe God during dark hours, there is no way Satan can prevent your fruitfulness. No setback, betrayal, delay or disappointment can prevent you from flourishing. God knows how to cause “all things to work for good”!
Joseph is a Fruitful Vine
Before I leave this story, I want you to hear God’s wonderful prophetic prouncement of blessing to Joseph. It occurred when Joseph’s father, Jacob, gathered his twelve sons to impart a divinely inspired word of blessing just before his death. Here is Jacob’s word to Joseph in Genesis 49:22: “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.” There is a reason why I love this blessing. What do you think it means for Joseph to be “a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall”?
(Explanation) This means God took Joseph and made him so productive, that his fruitfulness not only provided for those living inside the context of his life, but Joseph’s fruitfulness branched out, scaled the walls, and blessed people outside the context of his life! And note that he was rooted by a spring of water. It didn’t matter if there was a draught; a spring is not dependent on rain. It continues to bubble forth!
That’s what I want! I want the fruitfulness of Joseph that provides blessing to those inside the context of my life and then branches out to those far away. Psalm 92:12 promises that “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; (13) planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. (14) They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.”
(Transition) As I said earlier, many here have a withered area in their life. Occasionally, like the man in our text, we don’t have the power to reverse it or change course. We are at the mercy of Christ showing up and working a miracle. But when it’s in your power to avoid barrenness God has a word for you: Thou Shall Not Wither! God expects you to take action to prevent it. But how do you do that? How do you take action to prevent withering?
III. How to Prevent Your Life from Withering
The answer to a fruitful life relates to the Principle of Connection. Jesus explained this principle in John 15:5 when he said: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
(Illustration) Many mornings when I awake my mind goes to John 15. My first action involves falling to my knees at my bedside and praying this prayer: “Lord, you are my Gardner, so tend me! Jesus, you are my life-giving Vine, so nourish me. I am but the branch, so keep me connected to Christ, for without him I can do nothing. And Lord, cause me to bear fruit, a hundred, sixty, and thirty fold.”
The great ambition of the Christian life should be to “abide in” Christ! That’s because abiding in Christ keeps you connected to the life-source of fruitfulness!
The man with the withered had could have become sour and cynical after his injury. He could have become bitter at God for permitting it. But he didn’t. He made the effort to stay close to God and attend the house of worship. And when he did these things something incredible happened—Jesus showed up!
I’m sure he had no inside information that Jesus would be at that particular synagogue that day. But, there are times when we do the right thing that God’s grace will manifest at the least expected moment and deliver you a blessing!
Do you understand what God has for you? Fruitfulness! That’s what God wants for everyone here! And that’s why the Bible says: THOU SHALT NOT WITHER! [The Pace Unauthorized Translation]
[i]. Talmadge, T.D., 500 Selected Sermons, Volume 14, page 378.
[ii] Curtis and Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, Nelson Publishers, 1997, page 39.