Phil Cox

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Stretch out your hand

4th October 2007

Imagine that you're there when this story happens:

Mark 3v1-6
Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there.
Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone."
Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.
He looked round at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Suppose you were a regular worshipper at that synagogue. Maybe it would have been much like your own church. Maybe things had gone on much the same for years; you and your fellow-worshippers would pray, and read the Bible, and listen to a talk, and maybe sing a few songs. Nothing too challenging. Nothing unexpected. Synagogue (or church) was a place you could go and relax, knowing that what happens this week would be very similar to what happened last week.

But, this Sabbath, Jesus was there. How would that affect the meeting? How would you feel? For me, I think both the joy of the Lord and the fear of the Lord would increase significantly. And, somehow, you would feel that Jesus might just do something out of the ordinary.

But Jesus is in the church meeting every week!

Matthew 18v20
...where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

So why don't we expect the extraordinary in our church meetings?

There was a man there with a shrivelled hand. And there were others, looking for an opportunity to accuse Jesus of Sabbath-breaking. Why is it that so many Christians are willing to attack others - as these men were attacking Jesus - for doing good on the Sabbath?

Jesus responded by asking "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?"

Until you think about it, you might be tempted to think that Jesus was overdoing the rhetoric a bit here. You could say that, after all, they weren't advocating doing evil, they weren't suggesting that anybody kill anyone. But there was a sick man there, and to refuse treatment to the sick is evil, and to prevent others from helping the needy is to collude in them staying needy - working towards their death or, at least, their continued state of unwholeness.

We find it uncomfortable to think of Jesus being angry (it is a very scary thought). But those who wanted to protect the old ways of worshipping on the Sabbath were willing to prevent the sick from being healed - and to attack Jesus for healing them. And Verse 5 tells us that this made Jesus angry. And I'm sure it still does! If we're so concerned for our own ease and feeling of security, if we are so determined to ensure that our Sabbath gatherings are predictable and safe, that we would hate to stop in the middle of a Sunday morning meeting to pray for the sick, than I'm sure that still makes Jesus angry.

Verse 5 also says that they had stubborn hearts, and that stubborn hearts make Jesus "deeply distressed". They were stubborn because their sense of what should and should not happen in their Sabbath meeting was more important to them than the healing of the sick. How stubborn are we?

Jesus was never a prisoner of tradition or habit. He turned to the man and said "Stretch out your hand". And the man did as Jesus said. And his hand was healed at that moment! Jesus can do anything. Why should it seem strange to anyone that He wants to actually help people when the church is gathered together? And why would the church - God's chosen people - try to stop Him?

And, whatever part of you is shrivelled, you can stretch it out to Jesus right now, and trust Him to heal it.