Lent – What God Can Do with Open Hands

This message was part of the Mid-week community Lenten series “Open My Life Lord” hosted by the Vernon Community Ministerial Association.

I’m Pastor Matt Angell from the Church of the Nazarene. I’ve titled the following message, “What God Can Do with Open Hands.” Over the next few moments together, we are going to look at and reflect on a few passages of scripture concerning the use of hands. They are remarkable things, hands. I don’t think we fully appreciate what we have, what we can do with them until our use of them is somehow limited or completely restricted. I’ve got my daughters to help me with a little skit to start the message. 

SKIT – CLICK HERE to read the skit.

Earlier in the service, we heard Deuteronomy 15:7-11. This passage is all about instruction on how the Israelites were to treat their fellow Israelites, specifically the needy. 

“Poor among you? Don’t be tightfisted. Be open handed to the poor and needy.”

How difficult is that for you to hear, tonight? 

The people of Israel were to look out for one another. They weren’t to be stingy with the supplies God provided them. They were to make it available freely and without charging interest. There was also this thing called the Year of Jubilee in play. You see every 7th year, property was to be returned to those who sold it, debts canceled. So As a money lender, the closer you were to the Year of Jubilee, the less likely you were to get back what you lent to someone. 

You can empathize with the lender a bit, but if we were the needy person, we would be thankful that God made this clear in Deuteronomy.

“…Be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

Deut 15:11c NIV

So I’ll ask again, how hard is that for you to hear? If you are a Christian, do you have a lot, and perhaps you’re not a fan of sharing it? Not a fan of giving it away? Let’s remember…that’s more stuff…occupying space in your hands. You’re holding on to it. You just might be missing out on something else being able to be put there. Let’s move on to Mark 6:1-5, Jesus is healing.

Healed A Few

“Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”

Mark 6:1-5 NIV

It’s very interesting in this passage. Jesus knows what he’s in for, he knows the hearts and minds of the people. They are resistant to believe in Him. To let go of whatever they are holding on to and lay it at his feet.

“Oh hey, it’s that Jesus guy. Mary’s first born. He’s just a local carpenter. He abandoned his mother to run around the countryside and teach people. What’s he supposed to teach people? How to make a table?”

Ok that’s just where my imagination goes. In this passage, despite the lack of faith of the people…Jesus stretches out his open hands and lays them on a few sick people and heals them. Can you imagine? Touching sick people…with your bare hands?! This of course isn’t the first time or the last time Jesus would stretch out his hands and touch the sick, healing them of their ailments. 

The scripture didn’t say he washed his hands. Didn’t use hand sanitizer. He just reached out his open hand of compassion, sometimes in spite of the negative atmosphere. Those who had no faith in Him probably didn’t believe he brought healing to those sick in his home town. But those who were made well…They knew. They certainly knew.

So we’ve looked at God’s clear directions for the Israelites in Deuteronomy: Don’t take advantage of the poor. Help the poor with hearts full of compassion and hands wide open. We glanced over at what was happening in Mark. Scripture seems to imply Jesus’ neighbors could have had so much more miraculous healing in their lives, but lack of faith brought it to only a few. Now let’s talk about someone who checked all the right boxes. If there was social media, he probably would have changed his profile picture to support whatever was happening in the world. We’re talking about a nice guy. Bible only refers to him as a “ruler.” Sometimes known as the “rich young ruler” or “A certain ruler.” In any case, he’s all about the rules.

Holding Back

Just before the message tonight, we read this passage from Luke 18:18-25 NIV. The man asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life. We might phrase it “Get into heaven” “make it through the pearly gates” “get and stay in God’s good graces.” Either way, Jesus says, 

You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

Essentially, the standard you’ve been taught…you are familiar with it, right? Jesus reminds him and the ruler confesses he has followed all these religious rules pertaining to living at peace with his fellow man. He’s followed them all since he was a boy.

It’s like Jesus is having this conversation with the ruler and as he tells Jesus this, he takes his right hand and opens it up before Jesus. “Look at all the rules I’ve followed!” 

Then Jesus tells this man that he lacks something. This is surprising because as we find out later, he has quite of LOT.

“Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Luke 18:22b NIV

The Ruler is holding out one open hand to Jesus. He’s kept all those rules. He should have treasure in heaven because of them…but he’s still got this other hand. He pulls it out behind his back and it chock-full of all his worldly possessions. He looks up at Jesus, then down to the stuff in his hand. He does it again, considering what Jesus is telling him. He’s weighing it. And then he takes his left hand, clenched full of his possessions and he hold them to his chest. He walks away sad. 

What God Can Do

We’ve talked about closed hands, open hands and a mixture thereof. Preacher, sounds like you want me to believe open hands are a good thing!

-By golly, you figured it out. Open hands are much better than closed ones…but WHY?

Let’s start with Jesus’ open hands. He didn’t have to heal anyone, but he did anyway. He opened his hands, touched people no one might have dared to touch – for fear of catching their illness. Not only did he touch them, but he healed them. He held nothing back from those few that were healed. There were no barriers between Them and Jesus. 

God works his will best through willing participants.

God works his will best through willing participants. Jesus’ open hands, even in the midst of hostility, brought miraculous healing and changed lives.

What of the warning and instruction in Deuteronomy? This truly tries to instill the concept of compassion in the people of God. God says, “I’m compassionate. You be compassionate to your fellow man. Don’t take advantage of them.” Hold on loosely. Loosely to your resources. Money, Home, car, food, time, patients. Hold them so loosely that if someone needed them, they could just snatch it from your hand. 

I’ve heard it said concerning money and stewardship. If you hold you finances, resources, tight in a clenched fist, there’s no more room for additional resources and finances to get into your hand. Hold on loosely.

Hold on loosely.

Lastly, the ruler wanted to inherit eternal life. He was a big rule follower, but when the master called for his possessions to be sold to benefit the poor…that was a direction he just couldn’t get on board with. 

Like our skit earlier, God can do very little with someone who is already SO FULL of stuff. I couldn’t interact with my daughters until I began to lay down the different things in my life. My technology, my entertainment, my work, my stress, my hunger, my worries, my concerns. In the end, I had to lay all of those things down…good, bad or neutral, in order to embrace my kids…to show them I love them.

What can God do with open hands?

God showed the world what he can do with open hands, one dark day…a long time ago. Jesus was marched outside of The city, carrying his own execution device: a cross. Bleeding from being beaten, exhausted from the trek to the Hill of the Skull, He was layed down across the wood beams. His hands were stretched out. He was nailed to that cross, hands stretched out the whole time. He held nothing back. What can God do with open hands? He can save the world.

“16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

John 3:16-17 NIV

He can save the world.

Message originally presented at Viroqua United Methodist Church March 16, 2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s