December 5, 2021 A Withered Hand and Bruised Reeds

A Withered Hand and Bruised Reeds

December 5, 2021




Read Matthew 12:9-21.


Jesus enters “their synagogue.” The use of the possessive pronoun indicates the control the Pharisees had over the local assembly of believers. They asked him if it is lawful to heal a person on the Sabbath. They were not interested in knowing the answer. In their minds, it was wrong. They only wanted to find a reason for accusing him of sin. What is amazing is that healing is not even cataloged as one of the 39 categories of work in the Mishnah. Yet, the Pharisees were so set on finding fault with Jesus that they would find any reason at all to accuse him. When Jesus heals he either simply touches someone and, at other times, just speaks a word. How is that work? Although the Pharisees made a show of following God’s law they had rebellious hearts. The rebellion in their own hearts was probably hidden from them. Such is the great deceitfulness of sin. Like the devil himself, it hides itself. Most Christians have a Pharisee in them. It is wise to ask the Lord in prayer to reveal our hidden sins to ourselves. We need wisdom and we need to be in spirit to discern our own condition and to discern how to apply God’s law to our lives and the lives of others. We can apply it in a wrong way, as did the Pharisees, or we can apply it too loosely by ignoring or thinking too lightly of certain facets of the law. Jesus addressed the latter problem in the Sermon on the Mount and will again in Matthew 19:3-9.


We will fail both ways. Do not become discouraged. Keep learning. Keep praying. Keep pressing into the kingdom! Take the kingdom of heaven by violence! Use the divine motivation that is yours by the presence of the Spirit to be an overcomer!


Jesus knew their conspiracy and answers them:


He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?[1]


He answers them by showing them their own actions. A person’s actions speak louder than their words. It reveals what people truly believe rather than what they purport to believe. Even the Pharisees had enough common sense to not leave one of their sheep in a pit just because it was the Sabbath. Why? It may have been that they cared for the sheep. More likely, they did not want to lose an animal, as it would be economically detrimental. In a pit an animal would be easy prey to a predator or may harm itself by trying to get out. But a person is more valuable than an animal. This is a lesson modern liberals still have not learned. They will pass laws against killing endangered species but have no qualms about the murder of babies in the womb.


Jesus says that we can do good on the Sabbath. We can still do good on the Sabbath! The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week (Saturday). Although the actual day of the week no longer need be observed (Col. 2:16; Rom. 14:5), the principal of resting one day per week is still needed. In the New Testament era, Sunday has traditionally[2] become the day of rest. Even among those who are strict in their observance of the first day of the week as a day of rest can and should have no qualms about working in certain fields, like medicine and fire-fighting for example, where “good” is certainly being done! Those who must work on Sunday must set aside another day of the week for rest. Elsewhere (Mark 2:27-28) Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit.


Despite the Pharisees opposition, Jesus heals the man’s withered arm. He healed it by simply telling the man to stretch out his arm. As soon as he put it forward it was restored! What a Savior we have! Then, the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus.


15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known.[3]


Jesus healed everyone. We have already observed that, although he still heals, after his ascension he now heals selectively (2 Cor. 12:7-10; I Tim. 5:23; 2 Tim. 4:20).


He healed miraculously but he ordered those whom he healed, and those who saw the miracles, not to make these healings known. Why did he command this? It has to do with timing. Other times, he told those who were healed to tell others (Mark 5:18-20). Two problems arose when it became known that Jesus worked miracles. One was that the crowds grew too large for him to minister to other effectively. The other is that opposition grew as soon as the religious leaders learned of them. If the opposition grew too great he, likewise, could not minister to others and he might be taken away to die before the right time. Jesus was discerning about the timing of his mission and, especially, when he should go to his time of suffering (John 2:4; 7:6; Luke 9:51).


Matthew then affirms that Jesus fulfilled prophecy again, from Isaiah (42:1-3). Matthew’s translation is a mixture from the Massoretic Text (Hebrew) and the Septuagint (Greek), which differ from one another slightly. Since Matthew was literate in both languages he is well qualified to offer his own translation of Isaiah.


“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,

my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.

             I will put my Spirit upon him,

and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. [4]


Jesus was loved by the Father. Jesus pleases the Father. We saw weeks ago that we can please the Father also (see Notes on Matthew, Part Twelve). Obviously, we cannot please Him in the same way that Jesus pleases Him. Jesus pleases him perfectly, we imperfectly. Nevertheless, we can please the Father! Live in such a way!


Jesus lived as a man when he was here. As a human being, he needed the Spirit to be upon him. We need the Spirit to be upon us if we will carry out our mission to be a light to the world (5:14-16). Without the Spirit we cannot be that light.


The servant of Yahweh would proclaim justice to the Gentiles. “Justice here conveys the wider sense of the working out of God’s good purpose for his people rather than merely the legal sense of giving a right verdict.”[5]


People “would not hear his voice in the streets,” in the sense of quarreling or arguing. Of course, they heard the voice of Jesus in the streets of Jerusalem because he was an open-air preacher.


a bent reed he will not break off,

and a dimly burning wick he will not extinguish,

      until he leads justice to victory; [6]


A reed was used for either measuring or as a straight-edge. But, if it were bruised or bent it was no longer useful. It would be broken and thrown away. A dimly burning (“smoldering;” ESV) wick was no longer useful for giving light, so it would be snuffed out and thrown away. The people that are considered useless by society are brought to victory by the compassionate yet powerful servant of Yahweh. We are bent. We are smoldering. But, we are not forsaken by Jesus. Thank you, Lord!


Have you been bruised? There are a few people where everything seems to go right for them all the time. At least outwardly so. Those people are rather rare, I think. I have only met one person like that in my whole life. Many people get bruised in life.


There are two sources for our bruises. One source is other people, especially those who are close to us. The more we love someone the more bruised we become when we are betrayed by them. Indeed, countless love songs have been written about the emotional turmoil that betrayal brings. And, it is not just betrayal by a paramour that elicits travail. The wounds of those we thought were our friends will also bring much sorrow.


As devastating as the wounds of friends and lovers can be, the worst kind of bruising comes from someone else. That person is oneself! You see, as disheartening as the words and actions of others can be, there is one thing – besides the Lord Himself – that can bring a sense of peace. That is our own integrity. If we know that we have been faithful and true then, even though we have been hurt, the knowledge of our own innocence in a matter helps us to hold our head up.


When we have failed ourselves and failed the Lord because of our foolish decisions and our sinful choices it bends us more. It bruises us more deeply. Often, there are consequences to our sins that make matters worse!


How do others look upon those who have been bent by sinful actions? They are often ignored. They are looked down upon. They are discarded.  The person in the midst of their own moral failures will often discard themselves. They will look down upon themselves.


Simply put, sin destroys our lives and it makes us an enemy of God. When Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah in reference to the Messiah, he is saying that, when the Messiah comes, he will not break a bruised reed. That is, Jesus, in his first coming, will not throw those away who have been bruised!


Have you been bruised? Do your sins weigh upon you? Then, come to Christ and he will heal your bruises. If you come to Christ he will straighten your bentness. He is in the business of fixing what men have destroyed. You may have destroyed yourself, but the Lord can heal your broken spirit. He calls you to repent of your sins. That means to forsake them. In repentance, a person comes to see clearly the vileness of their own sins and resolves to abandon them forever. It is a complete change of thinking. It is an agreement with God about one’s own guilt.


But, repentance alone is insufficient. You must place your faith in Christ. Faith means trusting in the Person of Christ and the work of Christ. You must believe that Jesus dies on the cross for your sins. You must believe that he rose from the dead. And that He lives now to empower you to a new life! A new life right now!


If you are ready to surrender your life to Christ today, then speak with me as soon as we conclude this morning.


Sometimes, those who already belong to the Lord will be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. When a person first comes to the Lord, they are on what can best be described as a “spiritual high.” That is, they are full of joy with the knowledge that their sins have been forgiven and they are happy to live for God instead of solely for themselves. But then, maybe after a few years, they can become entangled in sin. Think of King David. He was already in a covenant relationship with the Lord. He walked with him. He even wrote some of the beautiful Psalms that we enjoy meditating upon so much. But then he fell into grave and serious sin. When the prophet Nathan confronted him, he repented (See Psalms 32 and 51) and received a new beginning from the Lord.


We could consider others in the Bible who, though already in a right relationship with the Lord, make bad decisions, sinful decisions, and were shaken out of their foolishness by God.


Abraham was saved and justified yet he allowed his wife to become the wife of another man. (Thankfully, the Lord preserved her integrity and she was returned to Abraham before the unlawful marriage was consummated.) Abraham repented and was restored.[7]


King Josiah failed the Lord by allowing false gods to be worshipped and by having personal pride. He was already in a covenant relationship with the Lord and even favored by God from the age of eight! The Lord was about to being disaster upon King Josiah and the whole nation but Josiah repented and the Lord relented (2 Kings 22).


Job was the most righteous man in all the earth, but the Lord showed him his sinfulness and he repented (Job 42:6). The Scriptures say that the Lord blessed him more after his repentance than before he lost everything (Job 42:10-17)!


The apostle Peter denied the Lord! He repented (Luke 22:61-62)  and was restored (John 21:15-17).


Matthew himself, the author of this gospel, repented and found new life as a disciple of our Lord.


I recall with sadness a sinful failure of my own. After I had been walking with the Lord for about nine years, I was somewhat subtly deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. I found myself living in such a way as to bring disgrace to the cause of Christ. The Lord had to shake me up in order to awaken me to my own condition. I sought repentance but, at first, it alluded me. I desired it but could not find it within me! I became desperate. I fasted and prayed for four days and the Lord broke through my hard heart. Yes! One who is a disciple of Christ already can experience a hardening of their heart. Repentance is the gateway to freedom from our own sinfulness and our own hardness.


For those who are bruised, your pathway to wholeness and a new beginning is repentance! Like Abraham, David, and Peter, you can receive the favor of God afresh! A bruised reed he will not break. He will not discard you if you will repent!


This is the Lord’s word for some today. Seek after repentance and the Lord will make you straight! Joy will come in the morning after weeping in the night.


This promise in Isaiah is for some today! Believe it and receive it!




[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 12:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Although it is not wholly without NT support (Acts 20:7; I Cor 16:2).

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 12:15–16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 12:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] France, 472.

[6] New American Standard Bible. (Mt. 12:20)

[7] Although, he would fall into the exact same sin later!