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“The Man with the Shrivelled Hand”

Reading: Mark ch.3 v.1 – 6

In order to provide background to this incident in the Synagogue I decided it would be good to re-tell this story but from the view point of the man who was healed by Jesus – “the man with the shrivelled hand” – of course we don’t really know who he was but Jesus does.

Prayer: Please Lord, may this version of the events help us all to understand more clearly the wonder of your grace.

I was known as – “The man with the shrivelled hand” – but I assure you that at 8 days old, when I was circumcised, I was given a name. My disability became my identity; it was – “Oi! you with the shrivelled hand” but those who loved me did know, and use, my name. Obviously, my physical disorder meant that I could never visit the Temple in Jerusalem but I was allowed to go to the Synagogue.

Perhaps I should explain about the Synagogue. It really came into strength during the exile in Babylon. The Temple had been destroyed and everybody had been taken away from our land of Israel so there had to be a way of holding the nation together; thus, the concept of local assembly places came into being. That’s what the Synagogue is, a local assembly place for Jewish people; a centre for our community, the community to which I belong.

During the week it’s mainly a centre for administration, registration, educational classes; even discipline is doled out there, and, of course, I get help there because I’m handicapped and can’t work. Then, on the Sabbath, that’s from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, it becomes the centre for our religious worship.

Another problem that we physically disabled have is that folk think we are lacking in intelligence; – “They are a bit stupid,” – they say. So, we are never invited to participate; I always sit at the back, out of sight and out of mind, but I love to attend; it’s my community, I belong there and I do worship our Sovereign Lord.

It’s a mixed group; there are some lovely and faithful folk who have genuine compassion for the poor like me. There are others, more judgmental and critical, who believe my disfigurement is from God because I (or my parents) have sinned; they reluctantly tolerate my presence. The ruler of our Synagogue is quite patient with me but there is a couple of local Pharisees who can be quite hard in their application of the law and can give the service leaders a rough time; – being locals, we can manage them.

I always felt at home there on the sabbath; I enjoyed the prayers and the psalms and often the teaching was helpful. I know you might get the impression, if you listen to the Pharisees or read the Jerusalem Post, that all Jews are bad but I must assure you that in our northern community there were some really faithful folk who loved God.

Anyway – to my story. – One sabbath I was sitting at the back, as usual, the women were in their place and the men seated correctly, but there was a tension in the air. There were some rough looking visitors there but they seemed ok so I put it down to the presence of some Pharisees who had come up from Jerusalem; they were not very tolerant of our northern culture; always looking for fault.

The tension was building up and I wished the service could get underway; the leader seemed to be waiting for someone. Then that fellow Jesus walked in and I understood. I had never met Jesus but I had heard many wonderful stories; if it had been a week day, I would have been able to ask him for healing but this was the sabbath.

Wow, the tension in the air nearly reached pressure point. I knew there were many there who were just hoping they could catch him out and so remove him; there were others there who really supported him. – Jesus just calmly walked in, took his place and the leader started the service.

At the time of the teaching ministry Jesus stood up and faced the assembly. He looked around the room, staring briefly at each person present; his eyes were like a mirror to my soul and I felt ashamed so I lowered my head. Then I heard him call my name; – he knew me – but how? – He spoke with a quiet authority – “Stand up”, he said, “in front of everyone.” I found myself standing with him at the front; I couldn’t resist his gentle command. Now I could see all their faces.

Then Jesus asked the assembly – “Which is lawful on the sabbath,” – he paused there and let the question sink in. He knew he was throwing down the challenge. The Pharisees were trying to use the letter of the law to condemn him; Jesus was pointing them to the spirit of the law. It was that prophet Amos nearly 800 years ago who said – “You have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness” – The attitude of the religious leaders hadn’t changed since that time but that Sabbath Jesus was challenging them with the spirit of the law.

Jesus continued – “to do good or to do evil?”- He paused again and looked around at the assembly. At first it seemed a funny question. They were all behaving themselves in the synagogue on the sabbath; surely, they were being good. But Jesus knew what was in their hearts – he could see the compassionate and humble ones – he could see the judgmental and critical ones – he could see those proud hearts that wanted to destroy him – he could see the evil. They were sitting there in their robes of self-righteousness but in their hearts, they were busy plotting to destroy Jesus; they were being good but doing evil.

Jesus then continued his question – “to save life or to kill?” My mind works in strange ways and I like phrases to have poetical balance so I thought – “Why didn’t he say – to save life or to take life?” – It was some time later, after Jesus rose from the dead, that I really understood what Jesus was saying. There were folk present that morning who wanted to kill him and eventually they did but they couldn’t take his life.

God gives life and only God can take it away. Yes, death destroys this body but death cannot take the life that God has given to us; we have to stand before him one day. The resurrection of Jesus, God’s son, demonstrated that. Jesus came to save life – they had come to kill him but they couldn’t take his life.

Not a sound – silence. Jesus looked around the assembly again but this time he was angry – he was distressed at their hard, stubborn hearts. The tension in the air was stifling, they were waiting to catch him out. He could have said – “Come and see me tomorrow and I will heal your hand”; that would have eased the tension but no, he turned to me and said – “Stretch out your hand.” – There was the challenge – doing good on the Sabbath or evil – which fulfilled the law?

There, on the sabbath day and in the synagogue, before those who wanted to destroy him, as I stretched my hand out, all the ugly distortion of my hand disappeared; I was healed, all the movement in my hand was fully restored. But, what’s more, Jesus had saved me; yes, of course I was a sinner but I knew I was forgiven and accepted. – Jesus is Lord. There came a day when he would offer up his life so that my life could be saved.

The Pharisees stood up and walked out, they knew they had lost that battle. The Pharisees would never accept Herod as king as he wasn’t a proper Jew and most certainly was not of king David’s line; the Herodians also had the support of the Romans. However, that sabbath day, yet another miracle took place, albeit an evil one; the Pharisees and the Herodians joined forces in their determination to kill Jesus. Jesus came to save life – they joined together to kill him but they could never take his life.

I have become known as the man who was healed by Jesus on the sabbath. I don’t mind for that is my testimony and it lives on. Of course, those who love me call me by my proper name but I became a follower of Jesus the Saviour that day and I will join him in the resurrection when he comes again on the great day.

Let me end this testimony of the man healed in the Synagogue on the Sabbath and look at the question of what does this tell the church today.

Are there points to remember from this story?

For us as individuals:

  • Jesus knows us even before we come to know him.

Even though we might not know him, when we cry out in our loneliness, he hears our prayer; he knows our heart; he knows all, the good and he knows all the bad.

  • Jesus came to save life – he came in love and compassion.

Even while we were yet sinners, he died for us; he offers us the healing work of salvation, of forgiveness and grace.

What if we reject Jesus?

  • Death cannot take our life – we will see him again.

Even death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

One day we will stand before him but then it will be in judgment.

What about the church?

In 2 Cor. 3 v.6 Paul writes – “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit: for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

Jesus did not enter the Synagogue to judge the assembled people but to save them; to offer healing and life. The Pharisees stuck rigidly to the letter of the law but couldn’t grasp the spirit of the law. Biblical law provides a practical framework for living but without the spirit of that law it becomes no more that religious robotics; virtual, programmable Christianity doesn’t exist.

Are we just rigidly being obedient to a set of religious principles or do we truly seek to follow the Lord and live to the Spirit of God?

The spirit of the law includes – justice and mercy – compassion and understanding – forgiveness and grace – humility and love – honesty and truth – faith and hope. The letter of the law kills, the spirit of the law brings life – The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit that we might have life.

Prayer: We thank you Father for the Holy Spirit. Forgive us Lord for those moments of judgmental criticism. Help us Lord to live to the Holy Spirit and so to be enriched by the fruit of the Spirit.

Category: Sermons , The Bridge

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