“Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered” (Luke 6:6).
WHILE INSPIRATION LIMITS many of the details of this occasion, we do know the identity of at least some of those who were present in the assembly.
The scribes and Pharisees were present (Luke 6:7). They had set themselves up as the authorized police of Jesus’ behavior and doctrine.
A man with a withered hand was also present./1 Was this poor fellow essentially planted by the lawyers in order to trap Jesus? There’s no definitive answer to that question, but the evidence forces us to raise a curious eyebrow.
In any case, the religious leaders were obviously anticipating Jesus’ arrival. Their question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” was not due to any desire to witness a miracle, nor to express compassion for the unfortunate man with the shriveled hand. They only wished to ensnare the Lord in His actions and discredit Him before his peers.
Jesus could see through the façade of his antagonists. They had gotten so caught up in the day of the calendar that they overlooked the identity of the Messiah and the fact that the Son of God literally stood in their midst.
He had performed miracles on other occasions, but all they could see was a breach of their man-made traditions.
I find it fascinating that Jesus knew their ungodly motives and went to the synagogue anyway. And he could have healed the man with the withered hand on any other day of the week, but he chose to express mercy on the Sabbath–this Sabbath.
Milquetoast peacekeepers would have no doubt warned Jesus to quietly avoid the controversy all together.
“Lord, don’t upset these guys–just leave them alone and wait to heal this guy tomorrow. You’ve got enough grief and stress without another fuss with these troublemakers.”
But Jesus didn’t back down. He was confrontational and in their faces. He knew the only way to melt their frozen hearts was to expose their duplicity for all to see.
He hated hypocrisy more than all other sins and therefore chose to “work,” at least as they interpreted it, in order to reveal their true spirit and motives.
He told the man to step forward so that all could watch the drama unfold. He then asked the scribes and Pharisees, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
As he had done on other occasions, Jesus turned their own question against them–and then Jesus healed. The handicap was removed, the man was whole, and perhaps most telling of all, his opponents were silenced, yet again.
Yes, the Lord knew the scribes and Pharisees were waiting. He knew the twisted question they were going to ask. He knew they would hate Him–(and ultimately kill Hm) for what he would say and do (cf. John 5:18-47).
However, Jesus went in the synagogue, laid bare their stubborn, blinded hearts, turned their own question against them, and healed the man with the withered hand anyway.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath because rabbinic tradition had turned the God-ordained day of rest into a day of incredible burden. Jesus healed on the Sabbath because those who demanded certain behaviors of others failed to carry out and live them themselves.
Jesus healed on the Sabbath because he despised pharisaical insincerity at its very core.
Just a thought, brethren. When error is deliberately taught and practiced by those who claim to know Jesus today, how should we respond?
- Should we wait and heal on another day?
- Should we wait until the Sabbath is past?
1/ The Greek word for “withered” is xeros and means dry. This appendage, for whatever reason, had been deprived of the normal moisture afforded the rest of his body.
Calvin Miller’s book, “The Empowered Leader” addresses ten keys to what he calls “servant leadership.” In chapter one (pp. 11-12), he addresses our general propensity to select men (i.e., preachers) based upon faulty, yes – even worldly, structures.
I’ve taken the liberty of amending a few paragraphs in his book to help us see how many times congregations in the Lord’s church tend to pick their preacher(s) by superficial first impressions and appearances.
You might not agree with everything he says, but there are a few helpful mustard seeds to be gleaned here. Give Miller’s work a few minutes of your prayerful thought and consideration:
“WE OFTEN ARRIVE at preacher selection by imitating the actions of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 16).
Samuel went to Bethlehem to look for an evangelist. Jesse of Bethlehem presented Samuel an all-star line up of preacher candidates. His applicants appeared to be rugged, minister types.
But in the process of sorting though their appearances, Samuel saw a need to read their resumes more closely.
How unlike Samuel we are when we choose. All too often we “line up” our potential perspective preachers, eyeball their credentials, and vote them in or out on their appearance after a Bible class and a couple of sermons.
The mistake of Jesse is a universal fault. He called Samuel in to begin his search with Abinadab. Jesse’s most impressive preacher candidate seemed the place to begin.
But the Bible holds a vital lesson on preacher selection.
Each time a congregation plays this image roulette, they opt for leadership by relativism. Relativism is the way a congregation and eldership compares resumes to arrive at the most ideal.
Every congregation has its pecking order. But selecting a preacher of God’s Word is not simply a matter of comparing the best virtues of all the assembled contenders.
The old prophet discovered a faulty system. The right candidate was not even present – the contest was not inclusive enough.
God’s chosen man is sometimes not even in the line-up. In this case, David was out tending sheep and serving in another capacity in another location.
It’s often that way.
We’re not altogether sure when leadership is present, but we are always sure when it is absent.
When England needed a king, there was a sword in a stone. Excalibur was the magic sword that belonged to the leader in that day.
We often ballot our choices for preachers, picking and choosing in our relativistic way. But history repeatedly teaches us that running through stack of resumes is often a faulty way to look for a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Only the real king can wrest the sword from the stone.
The holder of the title preacher sometimes comes from the shadows of obscurity.
On such unsuspected persons the mantle falls.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!”–Mike
IT IS A $100 word.
It is difficult to enunciate; it is even more challenging to understand.
The word is a combination of the Greek anothropos, meaning human and morphe, meaning form.
Anthropomorphic language represents God having human form or characteristics.
For instance, the Bible says:
- God has feet. – “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at His footstool…” (Psalm 99:5). If He possesses a footstool, then obviously He has feet, right?
- God has a heart. – “And I will give you shepherds according to My heart…”(Jeremiah 3:5; cf. 1 Samuel 13:14; Genesis 6:6; 8:21).
- God has arms. – “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm…” (Jeremiah 32:17; cf. Exodus 15:16; Deuteronomy 11:2; Psalm 89:10; Isaish 51:9; 62:8).
- God has hands. – “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” (1 Peter 5:6; cf. Exodus 7:5; Psalm 8:6 Jn. 10:28; Acts 4:28, 30).
- God has fingers. – “He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18; cf. Psalm 8:3; Luke 11:20).
- God has a face. – “Their angels do always see the face of My Father…” (Matthew 18:10; cf. Numbers 6:24; Psalm 9:3; 17:2; 27:8; 31:20).
- God has a mouth. – “I speak with him (Moses) face to face…” (Numbers 12:8; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Job 11:5; Psalm 33:6; Matthew 4:4).
- God has a nose. – “And with the blast of Your nostrils the waters were gathered together…” (Exodus 15:8; cf. Job 4:9; Genesis 8:21).
- God has ears. – “His ears are open to their prayers…”(1 Peter 3:12; cf. Psalm 71:2; 10:17; 31:2; 102:1,2).
- God has eyes. – “His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men” (Psalm 11:4; cf. 34:15; 139:12; Proverbs 5:21; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Zechariah 2:8; 1 Peter 3:12).
Do these passages tell us that God possesses physical features? No.
Jesus said, “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), and as such, He is not a partaker of flesh and blood as we are.
Here are two helpful things to remember whenever you come across anthropomorphic language in your study of the Scriptures:
1. Anthropomorphic language typically informs readers of something God has done or is doing.
Bernard Ramm, in his book, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, observes:
“Holy Scripture is the truth of God accommodated to the human mind so that the human mind can assimilate it. Through such accommodation the truth of God can get through to man and be a meaningful revelation. Stated another way, revelation must have an anthropomorphic character.”
Contemporary writer R.B. Thieme says similarly:
“For the sake of clarity…when describing the character and function of infinite God, the Bible often resorts to language of accommodation. In other words, to make certain that His thoughts, policies, decisions, and actions are lucidly explained, God takes into account our inherent limitations and basic ignorance. He graciously describes Himself as having human feelings, human passions, human thoughts, human anatomy-even human sins-in order to communicate things to us for which otherwise we would have no frame of reference.”
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to read the sentence without some incredulity.
John records, “…The chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death…” (John 12:10). Think about that word–“priests.” It’s plural. One spiritual leader didn’t scheme to murder Lazarus; many spiritual leaders schemed to murder Lazarus. And these guys were supposed to be the religious right–the moral elite of ancient Jewish society!
The ESV says, “…The chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well.” “As well…” In truth, they didn’t want to murder just one man, but two. They wanted to kill Jesus (cf. 11:53) and Lazarus.
“Why?” you may ask. Re-read John 12:9-11. A great many Jews believed in Jesus. And why did a great many believe in Jesus? Because Lazarus had been raised from the dead.
Remember that the Sadducees taught that there was no resurrection (cf. Matt. 22:23-28). Unfortunately for them, Lazarus illustrated that their dogma was at obvious variance with the Biblical data. He was a living, breathing entity despite the fact that he had been entombed for four days (11:39).
Lazarus was concrete evidence to the contrary; he was the doctrinal deathblow to their misguided, man-made tradition.
It was impossible for the chief priests to argue with or against him. Any sane, thoughtful, sincere individual wouldn’t even attempt to debate with Lazarus. He was absolute proof that Jesus could perform miracles. He was the undeniable corroboration of the divinity of Christ (cf. John 20:30-31).
And that’s why the chief priests wanted to kill Lazarus and Jesus.
A few thoughts rattle around in my neocortex as I ponder this curious incident:
- If Jesus could resurrect a dead man, why did the chief priests entertain the idea of killing Lazarus in the first place? Couldn’t Jesus resurrect Lazarus again, if he so desired?
What this teaches me is that you can’t expect coherent thinking and behavior from people who insist on upholding their agenda over truth.
- If Jesus could, and obviously did, bring a dead man back to life–as Jesus had also done on previous occasions–e.g., the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-56)–wouldn’t that serve as affirmation of His divine power? Had the chief priests really thought about the futility of trifling with the miracle Man of God?
The chief priests in John’s story remind me of a critical point: unbelief is not due to a lack of evidence; unbelief is due to a lack of conviction. People don’t reject the truth because there are no facts; they reject the truth despite the facts.
Even when there is incontrovertible testimony, some folks simply choose not to believe. If their hearts are hard and their motives are impure, you can expect them to be antagonist towards truth and to engage in sinful, destructive behavior.
On the other hand, if their hearts are soft and their motives are pure, you can expect them to investigate, believe in, and follow the Lord.
- Was the world created in six literal days?
- Is there life beyond this transient walk?
- Is immersion necessary in order to be saved from sin?
- Is it possible to live in adultery?
- Is homosexual behavior sinful?
It depends. It depends on whether or not a person wants the truth and is willing to follow it to its inevitable conclusion. The chief priests weren’t willing to do that. Dear reader, are you (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10)?
God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!”–Mike
DR. PAUL BRAND was an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in treating leprosy in India and Louisiana. Leprosy (or Hansen’s disease) is a disfiguring disease cause by a bacterial infection. Once considered incurable, leprosy can now be cured with antibiotics. One effect of the disease is that it destroys the nerves and causes numbness–a lack of pain sensation–in the limbs.
On one occasion, at a time when the disease was still considered incurable and the antibiotic treatments were still unknown, Dr. Brand was traveling by train in England.As he was getting ready for bed, he removed his shoes and socks and discovered to his horror and dismay that he had no feeling in his heel. He rubbed his heal, and the numbness persisted. He took a pin out of one of the shirts in his suitcase and jabbed into hard into the heel. Blood beaded up from the puncture wound, but still he felt no pain.
His mind awhirl with fear, Dr. Brand spend most of the night lying awake, imagining his new life as a leprosy victim. He would have to live in isolation from his family and suffer the progressive deterioration caused by a then-incurable disease.
In the morning, he sat up in bed and decided to conduct one more test. He took the pin, jabbed it hard into his heel–and cried out in pain! It hurt! Thank God, it hurt!
Then he realized what had caused the numbness the night before. During the long train ride along the English coast, he had hardly gotten up once to stretch his legs. The long period of immobility had numbed the nerve leading to his heel. From then on, Dr. Brand would often speak of what he called “the blessing of pain.”
We tend to think of pain as a curse, not a blessing, and that’s understandable. Pain hurts. Pain brings pressure to bear upon our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits. But God sometimes has a purpose in our pain that we cannot see. And He is always present in our pain even when we can’t sense Him there.
Ray C. Stedman, “The Pressure of Pain,” Let GOD Be GOD–Life-Changing Truths from the Book of Job, 37.
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.” Psa. 119:71
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!”–Mike
I WILL SPEAK for me.
I probably need to spend more time thinking about what I’m actually saying in my private prayers.
“Father in heaven…”
If I am not very careful, the phrase may constitute little more than a thoughtless, repetitive expression.
Strangely enough, I don’t talk to my earthly father that way, but I tend to do so with my heavenly Father.
Does He ever get weary of my redundancy?
What am I really saying when I articulate the words, “Father in heaven…”?
First, “Father” means I am a member of God’s family.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
Just as a suit which I put on envelops me and identifies my appearance, my immersion in water (Romans 6:3-4; cf. 1 Peter 3:20-21) was the culminating act of faith by which God added me to His spiritual household (1 Timothy 3:15) and identified me as His kin.
Second, “Father” means I am a recipient of God’s special provision.
“Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:9-11)?
If I, as an earthly father, endeavor to meet the dietary needs and requests of my child, how much more (cf. Ephesians 3:20) will my heavenly Father accommodate the requirements (cf. Philippians 4:19; James 1:17) of my life (cf. Psalm 37:25)?
Third, “Father” means I am the beneficiary of God’s loving discipline.
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
Because God is my Father in heaven, He, on occasion disciplines me for my long term good (cf. Hebrews 12:9-11). He wields the rod (Psalm 89:32; Proverbs 22:15) of pain and corrects me as an expression of His special relationship (Hebrews 12:8) with me.
“Father in heaven…”
The phrase ought to be more than some rote recital of words. It should be an indelible imprint on my heart–that I have a Father who…
- takes me in as his own
- gives me all that I need
- chastens me to help me mature.
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” –Mike
I HAVE A not-so-private confession.
I don’t know that I’ve ever said a good thing about the Pharisees.
Pharisees have always been easy prey. From my rather one-sided perspective, they–in totality–were the religious bottom-feeders of ancient Jewish sects. They were constantly peering over Jesus’ shoulder trying to find fault with His teachings and practices.
They claimed Jesus ate with the wrong people (Matthew 9:11); that His power could be attributed to demonic forces (9:34;12:24); that His disciples, and He by extension, were guilty of breaking sacred tradition (15:2); that He endorsed withholding income taxes from the Roman IRS (Luke 23:2); that He violated the Sabbath (John 9:16); and that, perhaps worst of all, He was not from God.
Jesus, the most loving man who ever walked the earth, called them “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “white-washed tombs,” and “serpents” (cf. Matthew 23).
If He could denounce them with such bold and unpalatable metaphors, then surely I could do the same in my sermons and Bible classes. And so I admit it, Pharisees have always been my first choice as go-to verbal punching bags.
The problem is–not all Pharisee’s were the wicked men I’ve always portrayed them to be.
Despite my enthusiastic willingness to stereotype all Pharisees as religious charlatans, not all of them could or should be so characterized.
Take the curious example of Nicodemus:
- John 3 records a very respectful home Bible study between our Lord and a notable Pharisee (John 3:1ff). There was no acidic rancor, no deceptive or misleading questions, and no obvious condescension–in fact, quite the opposite. Nicodemus began his lesson with the Lord in a very respectful, honorable fashion. He said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Don’t miss that–Nicodemus admitted, at the very least, that Jesus’ power came from above. Granted, he didn’t fully recognize the Lord’s identity, nor did he initially catch on to what was being said about the new birth, but his questions (John 3:4, 9) didn’t bear the obvious marks of Pharisaic hostility.
- John 7 chronicles how the Pharisees at large sought to arrest Jesus because of His Messianic claims and the fact that many had believed on him (John 7:10ff). On this occasion, Nicodemus not only intervened on the Lord’s behalf, but he pointed out that his peers were about to break the very Law which they claimed to uphold. John writes in John 7:50, “Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, ‘Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?’” While Nicodemus may have displayed a certain caution on this occasion, the fact remains that he did defend Jesus.
- John 19 recounts how two men were involved in preparing Jesus’ dead body for burial (John 19:38ff; cf. Acts 9:37; Mark 15:46; John 20:7). One of those men, not surprisingly, was Nicodemus. Unlike the twelve who ran for their lives when the events of the crucifixion began to unfold (Matthew 26:56), this once seemingly discreet Pharisee came right out into the open and took part in this benevolent endeavor.
It’s a safe interpretation to say that many, perhaps even the majority of Pharisees, were closed-minded about the Lord. But it is not accurate to say that all Pharisees were so inclined. Nicodemus was a precious exception.