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11. Healing the Man with the Withered Hand

Withered Hands and Hardened Hearts


A. Passage Selected: Luke 6:6-11

Also in Matt 12:9-13 and Mark 3:1-5

B. Progression Stated: Biographical and Logical

C. Presentation Summarized:

1. Context: Sabbath controversies

In Luke 4:19 Jesus read from Isaiah 61 which says that the Messiah would preach the gospel to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, heal the blind, set free those who are downtrodden and proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. After Jesus read this, he sat down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In some ways this passage is a purpose or mission statement for Jesus. In the following chapters of Luke we see him focused on preaching the gospel (Luke 4:43) setting free the captives (those demon possessed are liberated) bringing relief to the downtrodden through several miracles and we see Him working on the Sabbath on several occasions. The Sabbath controversies are important and often overlooked. When Jesus reads the statement “to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,” and then in the next moment says that this is fulfilled, I think He is stating that He is the Sabbath rest. The Favorable Year of the Lord was the year of Jubilee which was the 50th year. It was the Sabbath of Sabbaths. Jesus is stating that He is the fulfillment of the Sabbath and ultimate rest is found in Him. So He goes around violating the rules of the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath to show that He is the Lord of the Sabbath and that the Sabbath, as they know it, is over. But notice that it is always in a context where Jesus is providing for someone’s needs – whether hunger or disease, etc. He is bringing relief and rest to the people.

He has just healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. Then he is picking grain on the Sabbath on the way through a field. According to the OT, it was OK to pick some grain as you passed through someone’s field. What the Pharisees were concerned with was that He was doing it on the Sabbath. Jesus defended what the disciples were doing was not sinful with examples from OT.

  • David ate the shewbread in the temple, and that was OK, because the rule not to eat the shewbread was not more important than the starvation of humans.
  • Priests work hardest on Sabbath. (Matt 12:5)
  • In Matt 12:7, the parallel passage, Hos 6:6 is quoted. God does not want ritual service without the heart. And the Sabbath was made for the benefit of man and not vice-versa. The Pharisees made the Sabbath more important than humanity. Humans were serving the Sabbath. It was a burden to them. The Sabbath was supposed to serve mankind and be a benefit to them.
  • He tells them in Luke 6:5 that the son of man has authority over the Sabbath. He is making another claim to deity. Since He is God and He is the one who made the Sabbath, He can override their traditions and use the Sabbath as He originally intended.
    2. Content
    a. The introduction 6:6-7a

    “. . . another Sabbath” connects to the previous Sabbath controversies.

    Check out Deffinbaugh’s lesson 18 in the Luke series for details on the Sabbath observances. (On Eating Drinking and Being Merry (Luke 5:27-39))

    b. The inquisition of the leaders 6:7b-9

    (1) Their purpose: to test him

    Some raise the question as to whether or not it was permissible for a disabled man to be in the synagogue. We know that he could not go to the temple, we are not sure about synagogue tradition. Perhaps this man was a plant by the leaders to trap Jesus. It says they were watching to see if Jesus was going to heal “him.” They are trying to find something with which they can accuse Him. This shows us two things:

  • This demonstrates the Pharisees lack of concern for the sick man. They knew Jesus could heal people but they were more concerned with getting rid of Jesus than they were concerned for the welfare of the sick man.
  • It also shows us that they were not at the synagogue to worship God.

    We’ve already discussed the preceding context where Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 to them, saying that God desired compassion more than sacrifice or ritual. The point of Hosea is God wan’t us to worship Him and love people. The Pharisees did neither.

    (2) His purpose: to silence them

    In the Matthew passage (Matt 12:11) He gives an illustration about a sheep in a pit to show that doing good on the Sabbath is OK. Doing what is right is OK. That is the issue. It also shows us that it is wrong to do nothing when you have the ability to do something.

    What does Jesus’ argument assume? It assumes that people are more important than animals. Jesus indicts them on the issue of the value of people over animals. God prescribed animal sacrifice as the substitute for men. By the time of the NT, there was such a perversion of human value, animals were more valuable than people. Is that not true in our society? We save spotted owl eggs but abort millions of babies a year. We stop our cars and carry a turtle across the road and then go kill someone for a car stereo or a pair of tennis shoes. It is obvious from the Bible which is more valuable, but since our society no longer considers the Bible the authority, everything is relative and we have no argument with the animal rights activists.

    In Matt 6:26 and 10:31 Matthew also deals with this issue of the superior value of humans over animals.

    c. The impasse of the leaders 6:9

    Jesus asks them if it is lawful to save life or destroy life on the Sabbath. What is the irony with the statement?

    He is trying to save life and they are trying to destroy life (His to be precise.) Perhaps that is why they remain silent (cf. Mark 3:4). He is setting them up because after this they are furious and go out to plan his death.

    d. The instructions to the leaders 6:9-10

    (1) His answer to them

    It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. They won’t answer Him, so He takes the initiative. He states that it is OK to do good (cf. Matt 12:12).

    (2) His anguish over them

    He was disappointed, righteously angry, etc. (cf. Mark account) over their hard hearts. Although I’m sure He had compassion on the man with the withered hand, this miracle is partly motivated by anger against the Pharisees.

    e. The illustration to the leaders 6:10-11

    (1) His action

    He cures him. Ironically all he does is speak. He is not really working on the Sabbath. Can’t He just talk? The main point is that his word is powerful and sufficient.

    (2) Their antagonism

    Although He does not lift a hand to work and does not break the Sabbath, the leaders are enraged anyway and get together with the Herodians (the enemy) cf Mark 3:6 … on the Sabbath … to plot a murder … of someone who just performed a good deed. The obviously didn’t learn anything from Jesus’ question as to whether it was legal to save life or destroy it. This shows the absolute irrationality and insidiousness of sin and its blindness.


    (1) The occurrence of the miracle on the Sabbath is important. We learn :

  • That Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. If He is Lord over the Sabbath, then He is Lord over the whole law because the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant.
  • From the context we learn that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath and that we find rest in Him.
  • We learn what the Sabbath is for. It is for people. It is for them to find rest. It is not there to make life difficult for people.

    (2) Jesus is throwing down the gauntlet challenging the Pharisees. He is confronting them and exposing their misunderstanding of the law. They misunderstood the sign of the law and in reality, they misunderstood the whole law. The Sermon on the mount exposed them in detail. The leaders don’t have a clue and He silences them.

    (3) Missing the purpose of the law caused them to miss the Lord.


  • Heart righteousness is to be preferred over hand ritual. Hosea 6:6
  • Humans are more valuable than animals. It is amazing that we have to point this out in our day and age. But it is not a new phenomenon. Animals were put into the law as a substitute for men, but they were at the point where animals were more important than humans.
  • Personal bias can keep someone from understanding the word. Again we see the emphasis on the fact that tradition blinded men to the truth. We need to be sure we are not guilty of the same.
  • What makes God angry? Hard heart, lack of compassion for others... Do I make God angry?
  • No day is too holy to do right for God.
  • Jesus’ freedom in observing the Sabbath illustrates our freedom in Christ. Our tendency is towards legalism—to set up rules like don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t go to movies, etc., but we are free to make good decisions about when and how we do all those things.
  • Related Topics: Miracles

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