When we read this account of the man with the withered hand we have to ask some questions:
First, what is so important about the healing of a hand that the Holy Spirit led the Gospel writers to inscribe it into the pages of Scripture three times? Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record this healing. And why was it so crucial for Jesus to heal a hand? Certainly a broken back or paralysis or cancer seems more debilitating. In answering these questions it’s important to understand the priority that life places on the hand. The Bible mentions the hand over 1400 times. Its importance is so vital that God constructed us with not one, but two. That’s no wonder because it’s 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 27 bones, 46 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 gently to calm a child’s fears. Despite all science has accomplished, the hand is an anatomical wonder that technology hasn’t been able to duplicate!
(Illustration) When you examine your hand you might wonder why God made each finger different lengths. Did God miscalculate when He designed our fingers this way? 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. There are no miscalculations with God. As the Scripture says, “He does all things well”!
(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.
The Greek word for “withered” or “shriveled” in verse 6 reveals that this man’s hand was once healthy but had injured after a time of usefulness. The historian Jerome proposed that this man was a stonemason. If this is correct, there is no way this stonemason could successfully 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, this stonemason couldn’t provide for his family.
It’s interesting that of the three Gospelists who recorded this story, 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. The injury threatened this man’s entire welfare! Jesus knew these things when He called this stonemason to the front of the synagogue. He knew that without a miracle this man would languish forever. That’s why Christ had compassion on him. But what’s amazing is, some people in that synagogue 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, they are delighted to see you wither away!
(Harbinger) But Jesus isn’t like that! The Holy Spirit placed this story in Scripture to show you that Jesus is for you! He wants to reach down into your life and restore that area 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. Especially me! Occasionally, Dad would take me to work with him and let me wander around the shop. Well, not more than thirty minutes after arriving, I found one of those tools: it was a razor sharp wood chisel! I took that chisel and began carving on a wooden toolbox. But before I could carve up that toolbox I had accidentally slashed open my wrist and was 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 touched the nerves inside my wrist that led to each finger. Every time he touched them, one by one, my fingers would flinch in response to his touch, and he would shake his head in disbelief that my hand had been preserved! 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 15:16. I want to read a passage where Jesus commands Christians to be fruitful.
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.” God has ordained you to bear fruit. The word appointed is a unique word. It 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; God made the choice for you and I to live productively from the beginning of time. And this command of fruitfulness is so strong and unalterable that God is saying, “Thou Shall Not Wither”!
(Transition) But despite God’s clear directive for men to be fruitful, some Christians seek to find excuses for their lack of fruitfulness. I want to mention some objections.
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! So 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! Every divine blessing we receive hinges upon God’s mercy and grace.
(Illustration) I remember when, for several weeks, God really drove this truth deeply into my spirit (03-03). During this time He impressed me to attend a minister’s meeting in Gatlinburg, TN. Immediately after checking into the motel the Holy Spirit made an unusual visitation to my room and for about thirty minutes He spoke to me about His mercy and grace being the basis for His blessing upon my life. 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 prophesying 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.” 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 that are called to bear fruit for God!
(Transition) There is another excuse people use to excuse themselves from fruitfulness: Some Christians contend that their liabilities prevent them from fruitfulness.
2. Then some Christians would argue that their liabilities prevent them from fruitfulness. But have you ever reflected on the liabilities of those God used in Scripture?
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. God delights in taking the least likely person and using them to bring Him glory. He knows how to cross over reputations, stigmas, lack of education and social standing, and bless the person people 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—things always go wrong for them.
How many have 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 got in the way of somebody’s agenda and you got zapped!
There is someone in the Bible that lived like this—Joseph. Of Jacob’s twelve children Joseph appears to be 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 became the object of his brother’s envy. And his problems escalated when he announced the dreams 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.
You know, 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; hold on to God’s promises and remember that God always has everything under control. This is called living by faith! It’s easy to believe God in broad daylight, but living by faith believes God in the dark hours!
(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 but he determined he would make a name for himself and become a champion. He found a book that described a discus and from that diagram he 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 when the Olympics rolled around a year later he traveled to England for his competition anyway. And when he arrived at the field of play he couldn’t believe his eyes. He was handed 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. His 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.
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”!
Before I leave this story, I want you to hear Jacob’s final pronouncement of blessing over Joseph. Just before Jacob died he gathered his twelve sons and gave each of them a divine pronouncement of blessing. Here is his word to Joseph in Genesis 49:22:“Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall.” Let me explain 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 of water is not dependent on rain.
That’s what I want! I want the fruitfulness of Joseph that grants blessing to those inside the walls of my life, but then branches out to those far away, who can partake of God’s goodness. 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’re at the mercy of Christ showing up and working a miracle. But when it’s in your power to avoid barrenness, 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 yourself from withering?
The answer to a fruitful life involves staying connected to Christ. Jesus said in John 15:5, “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 is my life-giving Vine, so let Him nourish me. I am but the branch, so keep me from being broken off and tossed aside into the fire; for without You I can do nothing. Let me bear fruit, one hundred, sixty, and thirty fold.” The great ambition of the Christian life is to “abide in” (stay connected to) Christ. When you abide in Christ, you place yourself directly in the path of His blessings.
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! Obey God, keep a right attitude, and God’s grace will keep you from withering!
Here’s what I heard in my spirit while I was writing this message: “Prepare your heart for God’s activity in your life.”
[i]. Talmadge, T.D., 500 Selected Sermons, Volume 14, page 378.
[ii] Curtis and Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, Nelson Publishers, 1997, page 39.
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