The withered Hand

Manuel Seibel

God’s sovereign grace and the responsibility of man are both taught in God’s Word. They are not in contrast to one another, but are two principles in God’s dealings with us as humans.

One of the miracles performed by the Lord Jesus illustrates the co-existence of these principles. It gives us a picture of the fact that man has to believe but that God acts at the same time in the Lord Jesus. In Mark 3:1–6 we read that the Lord Jesus healed a man in a synagogue who had a withered hand. Jesus said to him, ‘Stretch out thy hand’. ‘And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored’ (Mark 3:5).

It would have been pointless for the Lord to ask the man to stretch out his hand if he did not have the responsibility to heed the Lord’s words and carry out this action. He could and should do it. In himself he did not have the ability to do so, but that is not the point. The point is that he was to obey the Lord’s command.

What was necessary for him to be able to obey? Faith! This means that this man had to acknowledge that Jesus could heal him. In addition, he had to believe that the Lord wanted to do it. He had to do exactly what the Lord told him — to stretch out his hand — and he did so. This is one side, the side of human responsibility.

Now, this hand was withered, and it is impossible for a person to stretch out a withered hand. For the man to be able to do this, it was necessary that the hand was healed. Who did the healing? It was the Lord, the Son of God, who accomplished this miracle; it was He who healed this hand. The man himself was not able to do it himself. This is the other side, the side of God’s sovereign work.

Anyone who reads these verses carefully, as well as the parallel accounts in Matthew 12 and Luke 6, will notice that it does not say anywhere that the Lord (or God) made this hand well. Every time it is expressed like this: ‘and his hand was restored’. Was this restoration a consequence of God’s work? Absolutely, for only God can heal in such a miraculous manner. Does this mean that it was not a consequence of the man’s faith? No, it was also a result of his faith because God uses the faith on the part of men to accomplish His will. Both were present in this miracle, and equally so, and are emphasised by the Spirit of God in His Word.

Sometimes God emphasises responsibility in His Word — we have to believe! Sometimes He emphasises His own sovereign work — He has to intervene so that men receive a new nature and eternal life. In some cases, like this one, both sides are presented. However, God’s Word never mixes up the two. Each is true in itself even though we cannot reconcile them because our human minds are limited. In thankfulness, we accept them both as they are.