Trusting Christ’s heart when you can’t trace His hand
Years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was teaching an adult Sunday School class. The class met in the main sanctuary of the church I was serving at, and because of the number of people who attended, I would teach the class from behind a podium at the front of the room.
I had been doing that every Sunday for a period of years and my routine was rarely interrupted. I knew what to expect and I could usually predict how the class would go, who was most likely to answer questions, and how much material to prepare for the hour-long session. But on that particular Sunday, something noticeably changed that directly impacted my ability to teach. Right as I was preparing to stand at the podium, I lost hearing in my left ear.
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced something like that before, but it certainly isn’t enjoyable. I tapped my ear a little and tried wiggling it to see if I could make it work properly again, but nothing worked. I still felt compelled to teach the class, but I warned them that I might not be able to hear some of their questions or responses unless they spoke up.
When the class ended, I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if there was a way I could solve the problem I was having, but nothing worked, so first thing on Monday morning, I visited our family doctor and asked him to take a look at my ear to see if he could determine what was wrong.
I won’t disturb you with the details, but thankfully it was a problem he was able to solve. He prescribed certain drops that I needed to put in my ear for the next five days, then scheduled a follow up visit that included a small procedure that he believe would restore my hearing. I did what he recommended then visited a few days later. To my great relief, I left his office with my hearing restored.
Admittedly, losing your hearing isn’t a life-threatening concern, but it is uncomfortable, and I can’t fully express just how grateful and relieved I was to receive my hearing back. It caused me to appreciate being able to hear in a brand new way.
Some medical concerns are common enough that a wise doctor can diagnose them and prescribe or perform a remedy. Other medical needs are more complex. Some are so severe or unique that a natural remedy doesn’t exist. Mark 3 speaks of a man who had such a need. His hand was withered and I would assume unusable. There’s no natural remedy for that. In our present day, we might attempt certain forms of surgery to improve his mobility, but for a person in that situation, the real remedy that can bring full restoration is a divinely orchestrated miraculous intervention, and that’s exactly what took place.
“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.” (Mark 3:1-2)
During the days of His public ministry, Jesus would regularly visit local synagogues. Sometimes He would teach. Other times He would heal or cast out demons. In Mark 3, Jesus entered a synagogue on the Sabbath where he encountered the man with a withered hand. Luke’s gospel reveals that it was the man’s right hand (Luke 6:6), which for the majority of people is their naturally dominant hand.
By this time, Jesus had healed many people from some very serious medical issues. His reputation as one who would miraculously heal was firmly established, so people would often watch for Him to perform miraculous acts on others because they knew He had this capacity. That is precisely what took place in this context as well. When Jesus entered the building, people watched to see what He would do. They wondered if He would be inclined to heal the man with the withered right hand.
For some people, the big issue with this healing was the fact it was done on a Sabbath day. The Sabbath was set apart by the Lord as a day of rest. It was a day when the people were supposed to rest from their labors and honor the Lord in worship. But like we’ve done with so many of the good things the Lord has blessed us with, we have a habit of corrupting the concept of a day of rest and turning it into a punitive thing. That’s precisely what the Pharisees chose to do.
Instead of rejoicing over Jesus’ miraculous ability to heal, they equated that blessing with the work of a physician going about his daily tasks of offering medical care. Being hard-hearted opportunists who felt like Jesus was exposing them as religious frauds, the Pharisees were seeking an opportunity to accuse Jesus of being a law-breaker. Knowing the depths of their selfishness and depravity, Jesus asked them a question He knew they wouldn’t be willing to answer.
And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. (Mark 3:3-4)
From 2012-2018, I served as a professor at Cairn University, teaching classes on theology, church leadership, church planting, and biblical counseling. I took a several year break from doing so, but this past year, I became a professor again and in addition to teaching on some of those subjects, I have also started to teach classes on digital media and communications. One of my favorite teaching techniques that I frequently use when facilitating a class is to ask deeper-level discussion questions. I think it’s an interesting way to encourage students to engage in introspective thought.
When you look at the way Jesus would regularly interact with crowds and critics, He frequently asked introspective questions. Doing so would often expose the motives of the people He was interacting with. In certain contexts, like the context we see in Mark 3, it also demonstrated that His critics were duplicitous cowards who didn’t want to stand behind their convictions in the public sphere. Jesus was able to show that they lacked compassion and they weren’t looking out for the benefit of others.
When Jesus asked the Pharisees if it was lawful to do good or do harm on the Sabbath, He knew they wouldn’t respond. When He asked them if it was proper to save life or kill on that day of the week, He knew they would remain silent. He also knew that while He was healing and saving lives, they were going to spend some time that day literally plotting to kill Him. So while He was restoring, they were destroying. The contrast is amazing to contemplate.
And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:5-6)
Like He had done for others, Jesus healed the man’s hand. His hand was restored like it had never been in a damaged state to begin with. Technically speaking, all Jesus had done was speak words, but He was about to be castigated as one who worked in a disrespectful way on the Sabbath.
Deep down, I think the Pharisees knew Jesus hadn’t done something wrong, but that wasn’t really the point of what they were up to. Because He revealed their poor motives and wasn’t afraid to confront them in public, their minds were made up about Him long before He healed the man.
This hardness of heart both angered and grieved Jesus. Anger and grief may seem like different emotions, but in many respects they’re quite complimentary. I think they’re emotions we often feel when we’re dealing with people we genuinely care about. When someone I love like a close friend, a relative, or even one of my children makes a destructive decision, I often feel both anger and grief over their decision at the same exact time. Jesus cared for the Jewish people. He was their long-promised Messiah. He came to rescue them only to be rejected by their religious leaders. Their rejection provoked His anger and grief.
The Scripture goes on to tell us that the Pharisees left that place intent on destroying Jesus. They even went so far as to collaborate with the Herodians who were a Jewish political party that wanted to restore King Herod the Great’s line to the throne. These were people who happily cooperated with the Roman government’s control of Jewish land, and under most circumstances would irritate the Pharisees. But in this moment, the Pharisees were so filled with hatred toward Jesus that they were willing to partner and plot with the Herodians whom they apparently hated a little less.
Looking at a passage of Scripture like this should cause us to do a little thinking about our ambitions and the dominant desires of our hearts.
The Pharisees elevated their will over the compassionate desires of Jesus. Have we ever done the same? One of the greatest struggles we face on this earth is the struggle to submit our will over to the sovereign and holy will of God. Do we see Him as our compassionate Lord? Are we willing to trust His will when it differs from our own?
Jesus openly healed the man even though He knew it would subject Him to attack. The Pharisees hid their motives because they didn’t want to reveal the murderous intent of their hearts. Do our actions display the depth of our convictions or do we spend our lives trying to hide what’s really going on inside of us because we know it isn’t Christlike?
How often do we prejudge people and circumstances because we’ve already made up our minds about something before it even happens? I have made this mistake many times in my life when dealing with other people. I have also made this mistake in my walk with the Lord. Wouldn’t it be better if we walked by faith in Jesus instead and trusted Him to truly work out all circumstances for His glory and our good?
When Christ came to this earth, He desired to see people trust Him. Likewise, it remains God’s desire for you and me that we learn to trust Him during our time on this earth. This is the big lesson He wants us to learn during our earthly lives. Faith pleases Him. Can we trust Him even when we don’t understand what He’s doing?
“God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.” ― Charles Spurgeon
© John Stange, 2023