Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:10a (Holman) There He saw a man who had a paralyzed hand.
This man with a shriveled hand went to synagogue to worship, and received more than he expected. He didn’t expect to be healed, but was. When worshiping we all often need unexpected blessings, items not written on the printed program.
The aspects of worship that count most are ones not listed on the flow sheet. Nowhere on the program do we read, John’s sins are forgiven, Jim is convinced of his guilt, Mary’s broken heart is healed, Eve’s hatred is ended, Sue is called to career missions, Pete is called to preach. None of these worship events can be planned or listed in a bulletin. They are totally dependent on us, not a program.
Jesus promised He is always with us individually (MT 28:20b). He also said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them” (MT 18:20). The latter promise to be with us collectively is redundant unless Jesus is saying He is with us in extraordinary ways when we are together, “When you are alone, I am there. When you are gathered, I am really there.”
When believers gather, as we do here in a public worship service, we should expect to experience exceptional, uncommon benefits from God.
God’s ministry to us is enhanced when we assemble together. In a worship service, Eutychus was raised from death, though the sermon was so long, lasting till midnight, that it put him to sleep (AC 20:7). In a worship service, the Holy Spirit shook the building (AC 4:31). In a prayer meeting, believers interceded for Peter in jail. His chains fell off and he walked, as if invisible, past three checkpoints to freedom (AC 12:10). In church at Cape Girardeau MO I surrendered to the Lord’s work.
Public worship blesses us. As we focus our thoughts on church attendance, let’s ask ourselves, why are we here today? What brought us to God’s house?
For most of us, it was habit, the Sunday morning thing to do. It’s a good habit, but a routine we can do without much feeling.
Some came sensing a deep love for God. Good, may the numbers of your tribe increase.
A few came guilt-ridden, craving forgiveness. Amen. May you find it in abundance.
Many came because parents made them, a friend invited them, or the family goes out to eat after church.
Whatever the reason we think we are here for today, let me, based on our text, boldly suggest all of us might be clueless as to why we are here. Whatever the secondary cause, the one we are mindful of, for our being here, the primary reason is, God ordained each of us would be present. We’re here by Divine appointment.
God wants to encounter and deal with us all individually while we worship Him collectively. Why are you and I here? It’s difficult to know specifically, for we have trouble figuring out God, who said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways. . . .For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). He “is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think” (EP 3:20).
The man with a withered hand teaches us the best way to come to church is expectantly. Lean forward. God wants to powerfully impact each of us one by one as He moves among His assembled people. Assume it, expect it, receive it.
Whether we came today out of love or duty, by choice or coercion, maybe God will choose this worship service to grant us an overwhelming evidence of His Spirit, power, and love. This should be our deepest yearning each time we gather.
Maybe revival will come today, maybe a mighty rushing wind will blow through this auditorium, not because we deserve it, nor because we have faith to ask for it, but solely because we are willing to receive whatever God has for us.
Have we come today as a blank page for Him to write on? The man in our text received because he was a yielded worshiper. Being in church is not all that is required. Nothing in him hindered God from doing whatever He desired to do. In us, maybe a sin or preconceived notion keeps us from receiving God’s touch.
Even our prayer requests can degenerate into ways of trying to manipulate God. We may be asking for good things, but are we open to the unexpected from Him, are we willing to admit what we are praying for may not be what He wants for us? He may intend for us tasks we have never considered, or possibly resisted.
What is it we often say the missions revival taught us? The life we always dreamed of lies hidden in the mission we dread. Lean forward. The area where we say “No” or “I don’t know” may be precisely where God is saying “Yes.”
For me, our missions revival began atop a mountain in China. God overwhelmed me with Himself. This week I heard pro golfer, Rob Strane, say when he knelt alone at his bedside to receive Christ, he was so overwhelmed by a presence that He looked around to see who was standing in the room with him.
My China experience was similar. The Lord met me there. I don’t know its location, but if taken to the place I could go to the precious spot where God changed me forever. (In my original handwritten draft of this lesson, I wrote “precise” spot. My secretary mistyped it. I like her rendering better than mine.)
In light of our text, please hear the most amazing fact about that moment. I felt no love for God or the lost, I was scared to death, my faith was a zero, all I wanted to do was come home and never leave the USA again as long as I lived. I was praying not one worthwhile prayer, every thought was me, me, me, me.
Why did God change my heart when I was in a pathetic, hopeless, useless condition? For years it was a mystery. Then I asked one of Southern Baptists’ most revered prayer warriors, Randy Sprinkle, who was in charge of mobilizing prayer for our International Mission Board, to offer his theory on the mystery.
Without a second’s hesitation he said, “Because it was the first time in your life you were forced to depend totally on God.” In other words, for once in my life, it wasn’t about me. God wanted to teach me it is always totally about Him.
God blessed me similarly to how He healed the man with a paralyzed hand. The man was minding his own business, expecting nothing, no pride, no pertinent prayer or faith, no predetermined ideas, just there, and then suddenly, God moved in his life.
The man surrendered. He did not resist or try to dictate to God. He merely made himself available as a true, open, worshiper, and God took care of the rest.
Maybe our greatest need today as a worshiping congregation is to return to being pliable. Is this maybe the forgotten element in our walks before the Lord?
In the beginning days of our missions revival, did we have a clue as to what God wanted to do in us? Had anyone of us ever prayed to be sent on mission to Chicago, Nebraska, Kansas City, Belarus, Nicaragua, Mexico, China, Scotland, Romania, Nepal, Tanzania, India, Senegal?
We had no idea as to what God wanted to do in us. We were open, pliable, mere putty in a Potter’s hands. I urge us to become this again. I’m not asking us to look back, I’m asking us to look up, for there is where the power comes from.
Ponder our text. God moved in church. Lean forward. Plead for God to do in us whatever He desires, to perform in us something not written on the program.
Each of us, under God, will determine the worth of this worship service. Those who receive the most in worship are those willing and wanting to receive the most. If our attitude is superficial, the results received will be superficial.
Jesus came to a synagogue in His day, and has come to our meeting place today, wanting to find people willing to change. In the synagogue He healed a paralyzed hand. May we here today let Him heal our withered, paralyzed hearts.