AN EXPOSITION OF MATTHEW 12:9-14
(Read Mark 3:1-5 and Luke 6:6-11)
9 And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:
A Question of Entrapment
10 And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered [paralyzed]. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.
It is possible the man with the paralyzed hand was placed there to tempt Christ. That would not be unheard of, for there are people who go to the Synagogue, they go to Church, not to worship the Lord, but to see a spectacle. Some go to criticize. Some, like Jesus and the Disciples, go to worship God.
The man with the paralyzed hand is unnamed, for he represents all of the sons of Adam who have been afflicted by sin. Every person has some form of spiritual paralyses, and therefore every person needs the Great Physician.
The man with the paralyzed hand has attention drawn to him by the Holy Spirit. Normally, we tend to overlook a person with some form of deformity. We feel uncomfortable in the presence of such a person. The Lord does not. It is a different perspective. The needy are singled out by God.
Luke points out that it was his right hand that was paralyzed, the hand of power, the hand needed for work. The spiritual significance is important. No man can work their way to salvation. No man has the power to work. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8).
A Counter-Question of Escape
11 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?
According to Mark’s account, Jesus looked on the Pharisees with anger. Religious legalism produces anger in God. Law without mercy brings forth His wrath.
The Lord is grieved when the heart of a person grows cold, callous, and is hardened with no room in it for human compassion.
By stressing the one sheep in His question of inquiry, Jesus pictures the particular love of God for His own sheep, of whom none shall be lost.
As Jesus has a particular love, He has a particular people, which no man can number. The elect of God, collectively, shall number as the sand on the seashore, and as the stars in heaven.
12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.
Human Inability and Divine Enablement
13 Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.
The man had not asked to be healed. No-one on his behalf had asked Jesus to heal the man. This divine act of healing was done on the basis of the Lord’s sovereign grace and selective love. That was the basis for the man’s physical healing, and that is the basis for ever person’s spiritual healing as well. The Lord will choose whom He will heal, when, and where. It will happen according to Divine deign, and at His good pleasure.
Speaking to the paralyzed man, Jesus commands him to stretch forth his hand. That is exactly what the man could not do according to the flesh. He was too weak to obey in and of himself, and yet the command comes.
Spiritually every sinner is commanded to look to Christ and live. Every lost soul is commanded to choose Christ. Every unregenerated person, paralyzed by sin is commanded to do what the flesh is incapable of doing in their own power.
Reflecting upon such obligations, theologians have come to different conclusions.
Pelagius (c. AD 354 – 418), the British monk, concluded that if God laid an obligation upon us, we are able to comply, for God would never command men to do what they could not obey. Man must have the ability to perform.
In contrast, Augustine (13 November 354 – 28 August 430). concluded that God often lays obligations on men which He knows we cannot comply with in order to demonstrate His own mighty power, mercy, and grace. It is man’s very helplessness that drives the soul to God.
The supreme example is the Law. Though man is commanded to keep the Law perfectly, we know that ultimately the Law was given to be a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ by showing our helplessness to obey, and thus fall under the condemnation of the Law’s judgment.
Said St. Augustine of Hippo, “Oh God, grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.”
The Lord desired to heal the man with the withered hand, despite the man’s own inability to obey the simplest command, and that brings forth the Doctrine of Inability.
“Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield was one of the great theologians of the 20th century. He stated, ‘We point out that the doctrine of inability does not affirm that we cannot believe, but only that we cannot believe in our own strength.’ We do not say, when a man is unable to do the will of God, when we say that he is guilty of inability or that when he is afflicted with inability, we do not
say thereby, that he cannot believe. We say that he cannot believe in his own strength” (S. Lewis Johnson).
The miracle of the man with the withered hand is not just the physical healing he enjoyed, but the spiritual divine enablement that was instilled in his soul so that at the point of gospel hearing he stretched forth his paralyzed hand, and it was restored whole, like as the other. God granted what He commanded. God commanded what He desired to be done according to His own divine decree.
The man did not stretch forth his hand of his own strength. That is the critical point to understand. No sinner is saved by his own strength. “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9).
14 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. Ps 21:2; Mark 3:6
This was a critical moment in the life of Christ, and in the lives of the Pharisees, because from this moment forward, they were determined to kill Jesus. They would not continue to challenge the Lord and argue with Him, but in their hearts, they began to officially plot how they could kill him.
The fact that the religious leaders took council, indicates their collective commitment to carry out their terrible deed. They would need encouragement from one another, in order to destroy Jesus, as well as collective wisdom.
The decision of the Pharisees reminds us that there is a critical moment in our lives when our own eternal destiny is decided. That moment is reached when there is a conscious decision to choose sin over the Savior, and enslavement over freedom, while suppressing the voice of conviction and conscience.
Because the Pharisees had been shamed before the people, they hated Jesus all the more. There was tension in the air that day, not because Jesus had done good, and performed a miracle, but because prideful men had been humbled in public. Therefore, they sought to kill Jesus.