When Marla and I lived in Dallas during my seminary days, we would sometimes go out to hear some of the local music groups. One group had a song that would always bring the crowd to life. As I recall, the words went, “You done stomped on my heart and squashed that sucker flat. You just kinda sorta, stomped on my aorta.” I suppose the crowd liked it because so many have been hurt by a romance gone bad that they identified with the words. I liked the song because I thought it was creative to find a word that rhymed with aorta!
There are probably many of us here who have had someone we love stomp on our hearts. But I can say that it’s true of every person here that if you’ve spent any time around Jesus, He has stomped on your heart. Or, to use another expression, Jesus has stepped on your toes. He doesn’t do it accidentally, followed by a polite, “Excuse me, I’m so sorry.” He deliberately aims for your toes, lifts His foot, and comes down hard. He always goes for the jugular: He just kinda sorta stomps on your aorta!
Of course Jesus does not do this because He has a mean streak. He does not enjoy inflicting pain on us. He does it out of love to confront us at our major point of weakness or sin, so that we will face up to it and come to Him for the healing we need. He has to take deliberate aim and stomp hard because we all are so entrenched in our sins that we’re comfortable in them. We excuse them as faults, we shrug them off as trivial, we dodge them as not of any consequence, until—STOMP—Ow! Jesus gets our attention. We can no longer ignore or hide our problem. At this point, we are faced with a crucial choice: How will we respond to Jesus’ confrontation?
In our text, we see two types who got their toes stomped on by Jesus, with two very different responses. The scribes and Pharisees got their toes stomped on and responded with rage, discussing how they could get rid of Jesus. I believe that the man with the withered hand also got his toes stomped on, but he responded with obedient faith and was healed. The lesson for us is:
When Jesus stomps on your toes, don’t resist Him, but respond with obedient faith.
The setting was that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Note again the emphasis on Jesus’ teaching ministry. As Matthew Henry puts it, “Those that would be cured by the grace of Christ must be willing to learn the doctrine of Christ” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Fleming H. Revell], 5:638). In the synagogue was a man with a withered hand. The scribes and Pharisees were watching Jesus closely, to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. There is great irony here, because Jesus’ enemies tacitly admitted that He had the power to heal. This fact alone should have jarred them into recognizing that Jesus was sent by God and that He had God’s approval on His ministry. But instead, they were there to spy on Him. The word translated “watching closely” has the nuance of sinister motives, perhaps from looking sideways out of the corner of their eyes (Alfred Plummer, Luke ICC [Charles Scribner’s Sons], p. 169). They were there to find reason to accuse Jesus.
Luke notes that Jesus knew what they were thinking. He always does, by the way! He knows what you are thinking even now. So Jesus knew that what He was about to do would stomp hard on the toes of the scribes and Pharisees. He also knew that the manner in which He performed this miracle would put the man with the withered hand in the spotlight, which was probably uncomfortable for him. The man’s life was not in danger. He had lived with this problem for many years and certainly could live with it for another day. Jesus could have waited until after sundown that night to avoid a confrontation with the Pharisees. He could have taken the man aside privately to spare him any embarrassment. But instead, Jesus called the man front and center, spoke the word and healed him visibly in front of everyone. We should learn that …
The attitude with which you approach Jesus makes all the difference in the world. These scribes and Pharisees did not go to the synagogue that morning to worship God and learn how to be more pleasing to Him. They went to find fault with God’s messenger, Jesus. Some have suggested that they might even have planted the man in the synagogue to see whether Jesus would heal him in violation of their Sabbath laws. The rabbis taught that you could not heal on the Sabbath unless a life was in danger, a baby was being born, or a circumcision needed to be performed (Darrell Bock, Luke [Baker], 1:528). Anyone else could wait until the next day for treatment. This was not specified in the Hebrew Scriptures, but in the rabbinic laws. But because these Jewish leaders were following their traditions above Scripture, they approached Jesus with a critical spirit, looking for a reason to find fault with Him. And, He obliged them!
Your attitude walking in the door of the church is a major factor in determining whether you will leave with joy and a full heart or with bitterness and an empty heart. If you come in the door grumbling, trying to find fault with the church or with me as God’s messenger, you will find things to criticize. If you come in the door humbly to worship God and receive His resources for your need, you will leave blessed and rejoicing.
Even though Jesus was the best teacher who ever expounded the Scriptures, unfolding their meaning as no mere man could do, the scribes and Pharisees did not benefit at all from His teaching ministry. These were men who diligently studied the Scriptures in the original languages from their youth up. You would think that when a gifted teacher like Jesus opened up God’s Word, they would have drunk it in like thirsty sponges! Yet if you had asked them as they walked out of the synagogue, “What did you get from Jesus’ sermon?” they would have said, “Nothing!”
While every teacher of God’s Word must strive to teach in an interesting, relevant manner, it will avail nothing if the hearers do not come to learn with teachable hearts. Having a teachable heart is one mark of genuine conversion. Before we are saved, we are proud know-it-alls who are not subject to God or His Word. We find fault with the Bible and with anyone who tries to lay its teaching on us. But when God does a work of grace in our hearts, we become teachable.
John Calvin, in the preface to his commentary on the Psalms, gives a rare autobiographical sketch of how God had worked in his life. He was raised as a devout Catholic in France. His father at first determined that John would be a minister, but then changed his mind and sent him to law school. In obedience to his father, young John was pursuing that avenue of training when God, “by the secret guidance of his providence,” gave a different direction to his life. He describes it this way: “And first, since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life” (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker reprint], Psalms, p. xl).
The key thing in his conversion, Calvin says, was when God “subdued and brought [his] mind to a teachable frame.” When God does this work of grace in your heart, you notice several changes. For one thing, you begin to recognize and set aside the false assumptions that previously dominated your thinking. If you begin with wrong assumptions, you can prove anything. The Pharisees began with the false assumption, “Our interpretations of the Sabbath are correct.” So even though Jesus authenticated His teaching by many miracles, the Pharisees resisted Him and had to conclude, “He must be doing miracles by Satan’s power.” Their faulty assumption led to a disastrously faulty conclusion. Before you get saved, you assume, “The Bible is full of errors. Evolution is scientifically established. Morality is relative to one’s culture. Human reason is supreme. Etc.” When you are born again, you have to confront and discard your previous false assumptions.
Another mark of genuine conversion is that your pride is humbled so that you can admit that you do not know it all and that you have been greatly mistaken on a number of things. You begin to submit yourself and your thinking to God’s Word rather than to your own proud, but ludicrous, logic. Jesus confronts the Pharisees with the lunacy of their logic when He asks, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good, or to do harm, to save a life, or to destroy it?” (6:9). The answer was obvious, but it exposed the ridiculous logic (or illogic) of the Pharisees who were saying, “You can’t heal this man on the Sabbath, but it’s okay for us to go plot how to kill You on the Sabbath!” Like so many who are into religion, but whose hearts are not submissive to God, these men were majoring on the minors and neglecting the crucial matters. As Jesus put it on another occasion, they were straining gnats and swallowing camels (Matt. 23:24). They were plotting murder while defending the fine points of their views on Sabbath keeping!
If you have an unteachable spirit, Jesus and His Word will stomp all over your toes! You’ve got to humble yourself under God and His Word and apply it first and foremost to yourself—not to your spouse, not to your children, not to your parents, not to anyone else—but to yourself! Make sure that you apply it to your attitudes and thoughts, not just to external behavior.
Jesus deliberately provoked this confrontation with the Pharisees to expose the hardness of their hearts. They were motivated by selfishness, as seen by the fact that they couldn’t care less about this poor man and his needs. Only Luke the physician notes that it was his right hand that was withered. One of the apocryphal gospels reports that the man was a bricklayer, unable to work and support himself because of his infirmity. We don’t know if this was true, but whatever he did, it would be difficult not to have a functional right hand. But the Pharisees were more concerned about trapping Jesus in some error than they were about this man.
Their selfishness is exposed in their rage against Jesus when He merely speaks the word and heals the man. The Greek word “refers to a blinding, irrational rage that is likened to insanity” (Darrel Bock, Luke [IVP], pp. 116-117). They were not rejoicing that the man had been healed. They were raging because Jesus had violated their petty rules. Both selfishness and pride were behind their irrational anger.
If you struggle with anger, especially irrational, explosive anger that makes you want to harm someone else, Jesus is going to stomp on your toes! If you’ll stop and examine the source of your anger, invariably pride and selfishness will surface. Pride makes me angrily assert that I am right without even listening to the other side: “We don’t need to discuss the matter! I’m right and you’re wrong!” Selfishness means that I didn’t get my way, and I want my way! At the root of all anger is a refusal to submit to the sovereignty of God who is not doing things as I want them done!
Thus Jesus stomped on the toes of the Pharisees because they had a critical spirit, an unteachable spirit, and a selfish spirit. But I believe Jesus also stomped on the toes of the man with the withered hand. From him we learn that …
Put yourself in this man’s place. If you have any sort of physical handicap, the last thing you want is for someone to call attention to it in a public setting. If you have a blemish on your face, you try to camouflage it with make up. Perhaps this man kept his hand pulled up under his robe so that people wouldn’t notice it. Yet Jesus looks directly at the man and says, literally, “Rise and stand in the midst.” In other words, “Front and center where everyone can see your problem.” How embarrassing! Didn’t Jesus know how the man must feel? Think of what this did to his self-esteem! Why couldn’t Jesus have taken him aside privately and not called attention to his problem?
Our pride makes us want to hide our embarrassing problems both from public view and from Jesus’ view: “Withered hand? Why no, I just like to keep it up my sleeve. Nice weather we’ve been having, isn’t it?” But hiding your problems from Jesus and denying that you have them is a sure-fire way not to get them healed. Like this withered hand, it may be something that has hindered your life for years. It has kept you from being all that God wants you to be for His kingdom. Every time anyone gets near to exposing your problem, you quickly withdraw and divert attention from it or get defensive and angry.
But Jesus always goes for the jugular! To the immoral woman at the well, Jesus said, “Go call your husband and come back.” To the rich young ruler, He said, “Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” To the woman with the issue of blood (how embarrassing!), who just wanted quietly to get healed and be on her way, Jesus stopped in the busy crowd and demanded, “Who touched Me?” He made her confess in public what had happened to her. To this man Jesus said, “Stretch out your hand.”
What if the man had stretched out his good left hand? “See, it is perfectly good! No problems with my hand!” I think he would not have been healed. Right there in front of the whole crowd, he had to stretch out that embarrassingly withered right hand for it to be made whole. Even so, you may have an embarrassing sin problem that Jesus wants you to confess in order to be healed.
So Jesus often deliberately stomps on your toes. The question is, “How will you respond?” When Jesus stomps on your toes …
The response of the scribes and Pharisees was quite different than the response of the man with the withered hand. They went away in a rage, determined to do away with Jesus. He went away healed. Let’s learn that …
How do you respond when God’s Word confronts your sin? It may be a sin that you have kept hidden from public view. Perhaps you have convinced yourself that it’s really not a big problem, even though it actually causes you a lot of trouble. People often do this with drug and alcohol abuse. They hide the extent of it from everyone else and then they convince themselves that it’s really not so bad. Besides, they tell themselves that they need it to cope and probably everyone else does it to some extent, too. When the Lord confronts them with the problem through caring family or friends, they get defensive and angry. If they go to a church where the Bible is preached, and the sermons confront their sin, they drop out or find a church that isn’t so threatening. I often hear of people who stop coming here because my preaching stepped on their toes. Well, it steps on my toes, too! But the sad thing is, if you walk away from God’s Word, you won’t get healed.
The man with the withered hand pictures how we should respond when Jesus stomps on our toes. He could have refused to do what Jesus asked because of fear of the Pharisees. They easily could take out their anger on him: “You know what our law states. Why didn’t you wait and come back tomorrow for healing? This upstart Jesus is just undermining our heritage and way of life! You shouldn’t have gone along with Him!” But the man wanted to be healed even if it meant enduring the wrath of the Pharisees.
He could have refused to obey Jesus out of embarrassment, as I’ve already said. When Jesus asked him to stretch out his hand, he could have thought, “Is He mocking me? He knows that my problem is precisely that I cannot stretch out my hand!” He could have thought of a lot of excuses why he couldn’t do what Jesus asked him to do. But instead, recognizing his own impotence and need, he believed and obeyed Jesus. He was instantly healed.
There were several elements in his obedient faith that we must follow. First, he recognized and admitted his need and inability. He didn’t angrily say, “Why are you singling me out? I’m no different than anyone else here.” He didn’t deny or camouflage his problem. He didn’t offer to go fifty-fifty in helping Jesus solve the problem. If you want Jesus to heal your soul, you must admit, “I am a hopeless, helpless sinner. My thoughts, my attitudes, my words, and my deeds have continually violated Your holy Word. I cannot save myself. Lord, I need Your powerful Word to save me.”
Second, he believed in Christ’s ability to heal him. This isn’t stated, but it’s implicitly behind his action. Probably he had heard how Jesus had healed the paralytic. He knew how Jesus had healed everyone who gathered at Peter’s door one evening. He had just heard Jesus teach. Now Jesus was looking directly at him. He knew and believed that Jesus had the power from God to heal him. Even so, we must look at the records of Jesus’ life and ministry and come to the conclusion that He is who He claimed to be. He is God in human flesh, the only Mediator between sinners and a holy God. He is able to save my soul.
Third, he acted in obedience to Christ’s command. Jesus commanded him to do something impossible: “Stretch out your hand!” But with the command, Jesus imparted the power and ability to obey it. The man obeyed and was instantly healed. Jesus commands sinners to do something impossible: Repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15). If you will look to Him and cry out, “Lord, I cannot repent and believe by my ability, but grant me repentance and faith by Your grace,” He will do it and you will be instantly saved.
Although the text does not say so, I agree with G. Campbell Morgan’s insight (The Westminster Pulpit [Baker], 1:294) that Jesus didn’t heal this man so that he could wrap his healed hand in a bandage and protect it, but so that he could use it. By exercising and using it, he would maintain the new strength. Even so, when the Lord has delivered us from our sins, He expects us to use our healed lives in service for His glory.
Morgan also points out that the only man in the synagogue that Jesus sought out was the man with the greatest need. If you have a problem, it does not exclude you from Jesus. Rather, it makes you the target of His gracious call. You may have an embarrassing problem that you would rather not face up to and you certainly don’t want to expose it in public. But Jesus says to you, “Arise and stand in the midst! Admit that you have a sin problem.” He just kinda sorta stomps on your aorta! But if you will respond in obedient faith, He will say, “Stretch out your hand!” He will impart the power of His salvation, and you will be changed in your heart to the praise of the glory of His saving grace. When Jesus stomps on your toes, don’t resist Him. Respond with obedient faith and He will save you and use you for His glory.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1998, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation