The Ancient Faith
THE STRETCH OF FAITH
Billy D. Dickinson
The life of Christ was marked with controversy from the beginning to the end, for unlike preachers today, our Savior never refused to take on a controversial issue when the truth was at stake. This fact can be seen in Mark 3: 1-5, where the controversy on that occasion had to do with what did and what did not constitute a breaking of the Sabbath. On this particular day Jesus had entered into a synagogue and was teaching the people. In the audience there was a man whose right hand was withered (Luke 6:6). In other words, his hand was dried up to where paralysis had settled in and he had lost the use of that hand. Our Lord knew the man was there and the religious leaders who differed with Christ on this issue also knew he was there. Thus, Mark 3:2 sets the stage for the confrontation between Jesus and His adversaries with these words: “And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day, that they might accuse him.”
The would-be accusers of our Lord contended that for Jesus to heal this man on the Sabbath day would constitute a violation of the fourth commandment of the Decalogue. In fact, the Pharisees took such an extreme position that they refused to even set a broken bone or put back a dislocated joint on the Sabbath! According to that kind of reasoning, it was certain that you better not get sick or injure yourself on the Sabbath because you just might die before the next day arrived when you could receive medical attention!
The law of Moses, of course, never said any such Dickinson thing-this is another example of where the Jews attached human tradition to what God had actually said. Hence, Jesus took the issue to them by getting to the real heart of the matter, when He asked in Mark 3:4, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill?” You see, nothing in the law forbade Christ from healing this man; to heal this man on the Sabbath violated neither the letter or the spirit of the law. Furthermore, the Lord pointed to their own inconsistency to prove them wrong. In Matthew 12:11-12, Jesus shows that they had no hesitancy about lifting a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. He then drives the point home by asking them, “How much more then is a man better than a sheep?” Our Saviour’s conclusion is- “Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”
Finally, after meeting the controversy head on, Jesus says to the man in Mark 3:5, “Stretch forth thine hand.” The word stretch means to extend or draw out, as to full length or width. This is what Christ commanded this man to do with his hand, and the Bible says, “He stretched it out; and his hand was restored whole as the other.” I believe this man exercised the “stretch of faith that day, for not only did he stretch forth his withered hand by the command and the power of Christ, but he also stretched forth his faith. Indeed, he extended his faith outward toward Jesus to its full length and width. Sometimes we use the word stretch to mean to strain or to exert to the utmost. That is what this man did-he reached down into his innermost being and he stretched his faith to the utmost. He exerted and strained his faith as far as it could go, believing that Christ could accomplish what was otherwise impossible in his life. I believe we today also need to exercise the stretch of faith in our lives! Regardless of the amount of faith we now possess, surely there is room to stretch and extend our faith a little wider or a little farther. By using this man as our example, let’s see what the stretch of faith is an exercise of.
THE STRETCH OF FAITH IS AN EXERCISE IN TRUST
First, the stretch of faith is an exercise in trusting Christ explicitly. It is to look to Jesus and trust in Him to meet our every need in every area of our life. That is why this man was present that day. Although the Bible doesn’t specifically say so, there can be little doubt that this man was there on that occasion because he was seeking Jesus to meet his need. Certainly, he did not hesitate when the chance came to be healed, but by the faith and trust he had in Christ he disregarded the apparent impossibilities of his situation and he relied upon Christ whole- heartedly for help and deliverance. Likewise, we need to exercise the stretch of faith in our lives to where we trust Christ explicitly to meet all of our needs! We need to have the attitude of the Apostle Paul, as expressed in Phil. 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Paul’s philosophy was not that he could do all things in and of himself, but that he could do all things through Christ. This is where Paul’s hope, power, and strength was to be found- not in self, but in Christ.
Today we need to look to Christ as the source of our strength and do as Peter exhorts in 1 Pet. 5:7, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” When Christians worry about the future and live distressful lives, it shows that their faith needs to be refined. Sometimes we even fear that we’ll be deprived of life’s necessities, but Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:25 to “take no thought” for these things. In fact, Christ said that such a fearful attitude is indicative of “little faith” (Matthew 6:30). Yes, the stretch of faith is an exercise in trusting and relying on Christ.
THE STRETCH OF FAITH IS AN EXERCISE OF OBEDIENCE
Also, the stretch of faith is an exercise in rendering obedience unto the Lord. Jesus commanded this man to stretch forth his hand, and Luke simply says, “And he did so” (Luke 6:lO). The bare command of God is sufficient reason for obedience, for faith leads one to obey when there is a command and a promise of God. Think about the situation that this man found himself in. He can’t stretch his hand out, because it is withered and paralyzed, and yet Jesus commands him to do that very thing! The fact that he needed to stretch it out shows that it was still drawn together and the healing became effectual only as he exercised enough faith to obey the command of Christ. This is the stretch of faith that we need to exercise in our lives. We need to come to the point to where we trust Christ enough to obey Him and follow Him wherever He leadeth. This is how we demonstrate our faith and love for Christ (James 2:18).
Why did Jesus give this man something to do? This was his opportunity to respond to Christ’s grace and to demonstrate his faith and reliance on Jesus. Likewise, we are saved by the grace of God, but we have a part in responding to that grace. Romans 5:2 says that we have access into God’s grace by faith- a faith that moves to obedience (James 2:24). God’s grace is administered to us by means of the gospel, for the gospel is “the word of his grace” that is able to give us a heavenly inheritance (Acts 20:32). But the gospel has commands to be obeyed with promises to be enjoyed 1 Peter 4:17, Mark 16:16 & Acts 2:38. Have you exercised the stretch of faith in your life to where you are willing to comply to any and every command of God?
THE STRETCH OF FAITH IS AN EXERCISE THAT SATISFIES
Lastly, I want to point out that the stretch of faith is an exercise that satisfies. Because this man stretched his faith to the utmost, the transforming power of Christ touched him and gave him a new lease on life. From that day for- ward he was a better and hap- pier man, for the Bible says in Mark 3:5, “And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.” Yes, he is now a whole individual with two hands with which to serve the Lord. This can be true of us spiritually! If we will only exert and strain our faith in Christ as far as it will go, the Lord will bless our lives and use us as His instruments of righteousness. By the transforming power of Christ, as administered to us through His gospel, we can become that complete man spoken of in Col. 4:12, who stands “perfect and complete in all the will of God.” However, in order for Christ to make us a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17), we must be willing to exercise faith and trust in the Lord by rendering obedience to His gospel. Jesus is saying to each of us, “Stretch out your faith toward me!”
(This article was originally published in the October 1, 1992 issue of the OPA)