Last week I drove past a man walking on the sidewalk carrying sacks from a purchase he’d evidently just made. He had no hands. His arms were stumps, but he was able to carry his sacks. He was managing.
Jesus entered a synagogue to teach. A man with a withered hand was there. It was widely known that he would heal people on the sabbath.
Then Jesus left that place and entered their synagogue. A man was there who had a withered hand. And they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” so that they could accuse him. He said to them, “Would not any one of you, if he had one sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and it was restored, as healthy as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted against him, as to how they could assassinate him. Matthew 12.9-14.
Why did Jesus go ahead and heal the withered hand? After all, the man wasn’t at risk of dying. He’d probably gotten along so far in life in his present state. Maybe Jesus could have set up with the man to heal on another day. What difference would another day or two make? Why upset the authorities even more? Someone might say, “See!? His actions provoked them to plot a plan to kill him.”
Our Lord’s actions provide his followers with many strong principles.
First, do good when it is in your power to do it.
“Do not withhold good from someone entitled to it when you have in hand the power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go! Return tomorrow and I will give it,” when you have it with you at the time. Proverbs 3.27-28 GGN/NET.
The apostle Paul also reminds us: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith” Galatians 6.10 NET.
Second, don’t let criticism or opposition keep you from doing good. Remember that it will often come from religious people. The joy-bus ministry back in the 1970s got lots of criticism — from people in the church. And when some were doing missions decades ago (not a thing anymore), many churches opted to do something within a days driving distance of their building.
Third, keep your mission to save souls at the forefront. Jesus didn’t go to the synagogue with the purpose of finding someone to heal. He went to teach. And teach he did — generating more opposition. His miracles pointed to his mission and showed the spiritual bankruptcy of the religious authorities and teachers. We ought to get the same important point today from his miracles. He went around doing good and his life culminated in the greatest good of all — salvation for mankind.
Fourth, know the relative value of things. People are more important than animals. This was Jesus’ argument to those who wanted to accuse him. He cited their own law against them. If you could save an animal on the sabbath, certainly you could save a man. An important application of this principle for us? The eternal spirit is more important than the body. The greatest good we can do for others is to teach them the way to salvation. That is why Jesus defined his mission as seeking and saving the lost, as preparing a place in heaven for his followers, as testifying to the redemptive truth. Jesus taught at length about Heaven and eternity. He wanted us to be “welcomed into the eternal homes” Luke 16.9. He, more than anyone, spoke about eternal hell.
Jesus wants to make us completely whole. By his miracles, he did that on earth for people. Only the man with the withered hand — or the man I saw with no hands — could appreciate not having a good hand. By his death, Jesus brought spiritual and eternal wholeness. Every broken heart and life can appreciate what this means. Those who pretend to have it all together, however, have no idea.