There’s no way to get anywhere beyond this but I do want to invite you to open with me, to something that I believe will be a stretch for you and its intended to be that. Because I want to talk to you about Jesus speaking to a man, “stretch forth your hand.”
But in the 12th chapter, beginning in verse 9, the bible describes Jesus coming into the synagogue and as He came into that gathering, there were a group of spiritual leaders, at least they were called spiritual leaders, whose purpose was to criticize Jesus at every opportunity because they perceived Him as breaking the law of God, especially when it did anything good on the Sabbath day, because by their definition of God’s Sabbath, which is intended for the fulfillment and benefit of humanity, they had created a list of laws that were so ludicrous that even came to the place and this is no joke, it’s a fact, that you could not cut your fingernails on the Sabbath because that would violate the law of God if you did a work. And if a man were to heal somebody and claim it was God on the Sabbath, they’re lying because it would have to be some other being than God and they of course attributed to Jesus’ satanic works when He healed and they raised the question. And having raised the question, Jesus answered them, “Who of you, who of you would not, if one of your animals on your farm fell in a ditch, go out on the Sabbath and drag it out.” And then Jesus makes the obvious conclusion, he says, “man is more valuable than an animal. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
And He turned to a man who was there, who had a withered hand. And this is what took place. “Turning to the man, He said, stretch out your hand. And he stretched it out and it was restored as whole as the other. And the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.” The incredible that their desire after the phenomenal miracle to heal, to angrily say we want to kill this man tells us the ridiculous ends to which human religious structures out of control, missing the heart of God, can move to the place that they are so blinded as to impose their own regulations at the expense of human well being, when in contrast to this, everything about God and His person that express so gently, so lovingly in Jesus’ action. And its not only in the mercy of the healing, which is beautiful in its own right, its in words that speak something to us timelessly and I’d like for you to hear this morning, wherever you are, whatever you’re facing whether here in the Cathedral, wherever you’re located in any place around this world as you hear this message, that the Lord Jesus Christ wants to address you this morning and say stretch out your hand. I want to talk about the implications of that.
I will never forget the day that he walked into my classroom. I was in the 3rd grade and this young man, this boy at that time and we grew through the years, he never became a close friend because we were in large schools, but he walked in that day and though he was a new student and there’s usually a certain pause and everyone watching to study this person, there was something more than the pause because there was a very obvious disability. One arm was normal. His right arm. His left arm was about ten inches long. And how we went all the way through high school together, it never grew any more than that, is the result of obviously a severe birth defect. He never grew that arm any further, and whenever I read this passage, I think of that man, that boy, that kid I knew in high school. Became a very muscular, very athletic. He ran in track, he was capable in sports. He even played basketball and it was interesting to watch him, he didn’t make the team but he would play, dribble the ball and do so very well, very well built and then the way he could take that ball, slip it under that tiny little arm and then navigate the passing off as maybe the case, the way that he navigated his disability was meaningful to all of us who grew through those years with him. But his arm was still like that.
There are people who learn to navigate life very well with something that is withered in them. Or, there are things that have happened that have withered and life doesn’t seem to be traveling very well at all. And its into this kind of situation that Jesus speaks because He is not only the Lord of healing of a withered hand, but He’s the Lord of calling us to stretch forth beyond whatever it is that would limit or restrict us. If there is anything that’s true of the love of God toward us, it’s that we would be able, by reason of His love, to reach further than we could ever reach before. It’s His heart for you; it’s His desire for us. We heard Kristen’s story. And my how marvelously at the price of the loss of her legs, she’s learned to reach further than she ever could before. And as we gather here this morning, I’m wondering about any of us that are here, who may think to yourself if they only knew what I’ve faced, we could hear a testimony as dramatic as the one we’ve heard. And still somehow feel yes that’s marvelous but will the Lord do that for me?
And I don’t know of anything that fills the heart of anyone who ministers the word of God any more than the desire to help people come to recognize there is not a word in this book that does not speak to you, to me, to say the words of hope, words of promise and the words of power to bring about whatever that promise contains.
And inherent in these words, Jesus spoke to that man that day is His word to each of us that are in this room and each of us turned into this broadcast as He says to you, stretch forth your hand. I’ve often wondered how His voice sounded when He said that. I think we’re inclined to think that it would have been rather thunderous. Stretch forth your hand! Something melodramatic about it. But you know when you come to a person that has lived with something that has withered, they don’t need to hear the thunder, but they need to receive the power. And the power is spoken in tenderness and grace. And is the grace that this text goes on to describe and it quotes from the prophet Isaiah and it speaks first of the Lord Jesus Himself, Messiah, and it describes Him coming as a servant. Oh that God would serve our need. He comes to meet us where we are and to serve us. The God of the universe. I can even imagine Jesus on one knee before the man, saying stretch forth your hand. Reaching toward the withered limb where he may have been seated, not simply speaking from a distance but coming and saying I’m here for you. Stretch forth your hand.
It also says that the power of the Holy Spirit would be upon him and that’s the spirit He has poured forth upon His people. All who will open to Him, it’s by the Holy Spirit He draws us to Himself. Its by the Holy Spirit He’s given us His word. It’s by the Holy Spirit He breathes into our moment and He says stretch forth your hand. Stretch it forth.
And then it describes Him in two graphic descriptions. The first one as He sights the prophet Isaiah, Matthew does in describing the Savior who’d come and was evidenced in this encounter as an every time He encounters human need, that He says He will come and will not crush a broken or bruised plant. Nor will He extinguish a smoking wick of a candle. The picture is describing our human condition in different ways. One: things that crush us, things that press in on us. Near our home the other day, I was on a walk and I saw a garden bed near the sidewalk where accidentally I’m sure a car had backed out of the driveway and gone over some beautiful flowers and they were absolutely crushed beyond any use. They would have had to be replanted, the seeds go in. But I came back two or three days later walking that same way and there were brand new complete flowers in there because a gardener had come and dug out the crushed, thrown it away and put in replacements.
What this text says is that’s not what the Lord does. He comes to us where the broken things are beyond imaginable recovery and by His power, is able because He’s creator. Describing a flower, He will bring it back to fragrance. Describing a plant, He’ll bring it back to fruitfulness because as creator, He does not have to say I’ll throw this away, and start over and take time to grow this, but He has the ability to meet us in a phenomenal moment. With Kristen, that moment was a sudden cry out to God and singing “Amazing Grace,” even in the wake of having discovered the price of the horrible decision she’d made earlier. But in that moment, she was met and we’ve seen the fruit in her testimony. And as we are here together this morning, the Lord is saying this is your moment, stretch forth your hand. And in a few moments, I’m going to ask everyone in this room to just extend your hand in front of you and to in any point it may apply, in your behalf or someone for whom you deeply care, and wonder if its hopeless and your faith withers as to whether there can come recovery for them, the Lord says reach in faith and lay hold of the promise for their answer, not only your own.
The last figure that is given is the smoking wick and all of us have had something smoking; a log in the fireplace that is nearly out, the embers are still encrusted there within the log and the smoke comes out and it’s just aggravating. Or a candle that continues and our way of doing things that have burned solo is to put them out because they annoy. And God is saying no matter how burned out things may be with you, it is not an annoyance to Me. No matter how bound you are and the feeling of your own futility or helplessness or the incapacity to boldly come to God, He says reach to Me.
I’m going to ask you to extend your hand right where you are. Just straight out in front of you. And I’m going to ask you to take the hand that you are handed, left hand or right hand so it’s the immediate representation of something that is so personal to you. I’m going to ask if you if you would just take that hand at whatever point you would say Lord, I will not let faith or hope or expectation wither. Whatever doubt would cause me to draw back in, I choose to stretch forth my hand and I’d like for you now just stretch it up about head high now.
And Father, I pray that You’d reach and take every hand, and what You have begun with this act of faith, take it on to full completion as with the man in the synagogue and be praised this day, even as hands raise with acknowledgement You are able to restore what is beyond repair and to bring what has been burned out with the breath of Your spirit back to glow, through Christ our Lord. And will say a loud Amen to that please. Amen and may we say a hallelujah! Praise Him now with me, if you will. God bless you.