The Man With The Withered Hand

Title: The Man With The Withered Hand

Bible Book: Mark 3 : 1-6

Author: Paul E. Brown

Subject: Healing; Compassion of Christ; Hardships



The story contained in these verses is also recorded by Matthew and Luke. Each of the three accounts supplies additional details not given by the others - so that when you take all three gospel accounts together you get the complete picture of what was said and what happened. I’m going to deal primarily with Mark’s record of the incident, but I will also make reference to Matthew and Luke’s accounts as we move along.

This is not simply an interesting story of something that occurred during the earthly ministry of Jesus; it is that, but it’s more - it’s a story that contains some powerfully important lessons for you and me.

Let’s look first at...

I. The Man's Condition

Verse 1 begins with the statement, “And he [Jesus] entered again into the synagogue....” Jesus, who was God in the flesh, considered regular worship in the Lord’s house, with others, a priority. Being there on the sabbath was his custom - and so should it be ours to be in his house on Sunday, the Christian day of worship.

Verse 1 continues, “...and there was a man there which had a withered hand.” Luke 6:6 tells us that it was his “right hand.” The term “withered” means “dried up.” We aren’t told whether it was a birth defect, or the result of an injury, or some terrible disease - but whatever the case, the man had a problem. If he was right-handed, and depended on doing manual labor for his livelihood, then his problem was extremely serious.

Furthermore, it was a condition that he was powerless to remedy. You and I might never have to deal with that specific handicap. However, in principle we can all relate to the man, because from time to time we all face problems that we are incapable of solving - problems that leave us feeling helpless and vulnerable.

You may be dealing right now with some such difficulty. It may or may not be physical in nature. It may have to do with a relationship, or with an attitude, or with some moral weakness that is robbing you of your self-respect and making you miserable. You may have tried repeatedly to conquer it, but instead it has beaten you - and you don’t see any way out of your dilemma.

Well, hold on; don’t throw in the towel; there is help to be found - but first, as we continue to follow this story, we note...

II. The Unhelpful Cynics

Verse 2 says, “And they watched him....” Luke 6:7 identifies these unhelpful cynics as “the scribes and Pharisees.” The Pharisees were considered the most deeply religious sect of the Jews. The scribes were the men responsible for copying the Old Testament scriptures, and they were generally considered experts in interpreting those sacred writings. These two groups were allied in their opposition to Jesus.

They opposed him because he didn’t fit their expectations as to what the promised Messiah should be like - although he fulfilled perfectly the Old Testament prophecies.

Further, they opposed him because he wouldn’t “knuckle under” to their petty, picayunish rules - especially in regard to sabbath observance.

But “the final straw’ for them was the fact that he claimed to be God. To their spiritually blind minds, Jesus was a blasphemer, and must be destroyed. They hated him, and sought every opportunity to try and discredit him in the eyes of the multitudes.

The man with the withered hand is to be commended for being present in the synagogue. He apparently felt that that was a good place to go in seeking help - and he was right. You and I need to remember, every time we gather for worship, that there are hurting people all around us. Thus, we need do our utmost to make every worship service a good experience for everybody in attendance - an experience that God can use to minister to those who are bruised and battered by the storms of life. We ought to give our best in singing, listening attentively, praying, and showing a loving, friendly attitude toward everyone present.

But, sadly, those scribes and Pharisees weren’t watching in the hope that Jesus would help this poor man with the withered hand. They cared not one whit for him or his unfortunate condition. Their one burning obsession was to catch Jesus doing something unlawful on the sabbath - thus, verse 2 says, “And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.”

What a shame when folks get so wrapped up in their personal agenda that they lose sight of the real purpose of church. We all need to guard against falling into that trap. The number one concern of our Lord was, and is, meeting the needs of hurting people - people with problems - and that should be your number one concern, and mine.

The greatest problem of every person until it is met is their need to be saved - their need to repent of their sins and yield themselves in faith to the Son of God - and those of us who name Christ as Lord and Savior are responsible for sharing the gospel with our lost family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and other acquaintances.

But people also have other problems - and just as Jesus was concerned about the whole person, he expects those of us who are believers to share that concern, and to take aggressive action in helping those around us.

The Bible teaches that on the sabbath day God rested after all his creative activity, and that man is to use the sabbath as a time for rest and worship. Although Sunday, the first day of the week, “the Lord’s day,” is the Christian day of worship, prior to the cross and the resurrection the Old Testament sabbath was still in effect, and was to be faithfully observed. That was well and good. But the scribes and Pharisees had “gone to seed” on the issue. They had appointed themselves judges of whether or not others were observing the sabbath properly, and they had become so obsessed that they had cast aside all reasonableness and common sense.

In their opinion, healing on the sabbath day was wrong, so they were watching “with baited breath” to see if Jesus would heal the man.

Now let’s move along in this story and focus on...

III. The Compassionate Christ

In the case described here in Mark 3, it was God’s will to heal the afflicted man, and Jesus was preparing to do exactly that. Verse 3 says, “And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth” - in other words, “Get ready.”

Matthew explains that the scribes and Pharisees raised the question about healing on the sabbath, to which Jesus responded by using an illustration. In Matthew 12:11-12 we read: “And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.”

Then, according to Mark’s account, Jesus further responded by putting their own question to them in another form. Look at Mark 3:4: “And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?”

Jesus cut right through all of their complex, nitpicking rules about the sabbath and said, in effect, “Let’s get down to basics. Is the sabbath to be used for helping or hurting - for saving life, or destroying life?” Because it was God’s will to heal this man with the withered hand, to have withheld that healing would have amounted to hurting the man. But the scribes and Pharisee were more than willing for the man continue in his affliction - their only concern was to see that their sabbath rules were followed to the letter, and they were ready to pounce on Jesus if he dared heal the man.

Jesus was attempting to persuade them to lay aside their legalistic regulations which had caused them to lose sight of basic principles. He was endeavoring to help them see this whole matter from a proper perspective, but they refused to budge. They had made up their minds and they weren’t about to let facts interfere with their opinions.

Verse 4 continues, “But they held their peace.” As the late Clovis Chappell expressed it, “They were confronted with the blazing light of God’s revelation in Christ, but simply refused to acknowledge it, preferring the darkness instead.”

Verse 5 says, “And when he had looked round about on them with anger....” It must never be forgotten that while our God is a God of compassion, he also has the capacity for anger. Psalm 7:11 says, “God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day.” The old Puritans used to talk about what they called “the stormy north side of Jesus.”

Notice why he got angry; verse 5 goes on to say, “...being grieved for the hardness of their hearts....” He was angry about their sin. Jesus loves people - all people - and that’s why he gets angry at sin - he knows that sin tears down and destroys. You and I need to remember that although Jesus loves us, he still gets angry at sin - including your sin and mine.

But now look with me at...

IV. The Miraculous Cure

Verse 5 continues, “...he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored as the other.”

Notice that while it was, of course, Jesus who provided the cure, before he performed that miracle of healing he first required something of the man - he required him to stretch forth his hand. That was a stretch of faith. By stretching forth his hand, the man was saying, in effect, “Lord, I believe - I believe that you are the promised Messiah, the one who has all power and can heal our infirmities.”

For reasons that are beyond us, God does not always choose to provide healing for our physical infirmities and illnesses. We are thankful when he does see fit to do so - but when he does not, we do well to keep in mind three things:

A. Grace in our Infirmities

First, we may be assured that if we will surrender ourselves totally to him, he will give us grace to bear our infirmities, and to do so with a spirit of victory. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have low moments, or tears, or pain - but it does mean that if we’re surrendered to him, when we do stumble into a pit of depression he will lift us out and keep us going, so that the overall, prevailing tenor of our lives will be positive and victorious.

B. Usefulness in our Infirmities

Second, realize that God can use your infirmities to demonstrate his power. I told some of you of a testimony that I heard recently by way of a video. It was the testimony of a young Australian man, Nick Vujicic. He is 25 years old and was born without arms or legs. Where one of his legs should be, he has a tiny extension which appears to be about 8 or 10 inches long, with a couple of parts that resemble fingers. He jokingly calls it his “chicken leg,” for that’s what it resembles. He can do amazing things with it. He has learned to type 43 words per minute. He uses his computer. He has earned a double degree in accounting and financial planning.

This young man has one of the most radiant smiles I’ve ever seen. He has a special wheel chair, and when he goes to speaking engagements he has to be rolled in a special cart by someone else. Yet, in many ways he is remarkably independent. The video showed him shaving, brushing his teeth, getting water from the faucet, hobbling around his apartment. He does a lot of things with his head, and with that little stub where a leg should be.

He has spoken to well over a million people in 19 nations, and has seen thousands of people come to Christ as a result of his testimony. He says, “The greatest joy of all is having Jesus Christ in my  life and living for him....I stand before you today a miracle of God....Circumstances do not have to change for you to have victory.” Regarding his handicap, he says, “I now see the glory of God in it.” He spoke of “who I’ve become by the power of Jesus Christ.” He says, “My purpose in life is to say to people that if I can trust God with my circumstances, you can trust God with your circumstances.”

Nick says that his message is that God can give you grace, strength, and comfort; he can give you victory, peace, and joy even if circumstances exist in your life that don’t make sense or cause your world to turn upside down.

C. Healing from our Infirmities

Third, realize that even if God doesn’t choose to heal you in this life, if you know Christ as your Savior one day you’ll experience total, perfect healing in heaven, as God miraculously makes your body strong and whole.

But understand that when it comes to moral and spiritual defects, or other needs of the heart, the Lord stands ready to heal in every case, if only we’ll “stretch forth our hand,” so to speak, and meet his conditions.

If your need is for the miracle of salvation, he requires that you reach out in repentance and faith. Acts 16:31 says, “...Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved....” Here, then, in Isaiah 1:18, is the promise you can claim: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall  be as wool.”

If you are already a Christian and your need is for the miracle of being cleansed of your backsliding and making a new start, reach out and claim the promise of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

If your need is for comfort, or courage, or guidance, or strength in the face of temptation, reach out and claim Psalm 37:5, which says: “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” Bring what to pass? Whatever you might ask? No, he will bring to pass whatever is within his will for you - whatever he in his wisdom knows is right and best for you. He will not leave you without help. One way or the other, he will give you victory if you yield unreservedly to him.


Merv Rosell told the story of a majestic organ that was built many years ago in Freiburg, Germany. The assembling of that great instrument was a long, painstaking process, involving great care and expense. It was acknowledged to be the choice instrument of that day and time - there was no organ anywhere that could equal it. It was housed in a chapel, and guarded scrupulously by the custodian.

One day a stranger appeared at the chapel and asked the custodian if he might play that marvelous Freiburg organ. The custodian said, “Oh, no, it is out of the question. Only the most accomplished musicians are allowed to even touch this valuable instrument.” The stranger pled earnestly. He said he had come a great distance to see that wonderful organ, about which he had heard so much, and would be so grateful if he could play it even for just a few moments. Touched by the stranger’s obvious heartfelt sincerity, the custodian reluctantly said, “All right, but only for a few moments - and don’t tell anyone that I allowed you to play it, lest I lose my position.”

He handed the key to the stranger, who unlocked the organ, sat down on the bench, and with a careful, delicate touch began to play. As Merv Rosell described it, “Suddenly the organ sang like a bird released after long confinement.” He said that the stranger’s hands moved with skill and ease up and down those ivory and black manuals, weaving a powerful melody more beautiful than anything the old custodian had ever heard. It was, said Rosell, like musically “painting the sunsets of every season.” The custodian was totally entranced. In all his life, he had never heard such marvelous music.

When the stranger had finished and had returned the organ key to him, the old custodian, deeply moved, asked the stranger, “Who are you?” The stranger said, “My name is Mendelssohn. Felix Mendelssohn.” As Mendelssohn walked away from the chapel, the custodian stood there with tears rolling down his face, and said to himself, “Just think; the master was here, and I almost didn’t give him the key!”

Folks, God wants to produce in your life, and in mine, beautiful moral and spiritual music - but for him to do it, we have to hand him the key. The key is to turn ourselves over to him, lock, stock, and barrel, trusting Jesus as our Lord and Savior and letting him be the Master of our lives. What a tragedy for anyone to withhold that key from him who died for you, loves you, and only wants to save you and bless you.

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