By Pastor Glenn Pease
Albrecht Durer was the son of a Hungarian goldsmith who wanted to study art. He could not do so, however, because his father had a large family and had the well known problem of too much month left at the end of the money. Finally, however, his father let him go to try and struggle through on his own. He found an older man who was also trying to become an artist, but was poor like himself. They became friends and lived together, and studied together. It was a discouraging business, and they were getting nowhere. The older friend said to Durer, "One of us should make a living for both of us while the other studies. After a while this process can be reversed."
Durer agreed to the plan and volunteered to be the first to work, but the friend insisted since he had a chance to work in a restaurant he would begin. This older friend washed dishes, scrubbed floors, and spent many hours at menial labor to help Durer. At last Durer sold one of his wood cravings and came home with the money. He told his friend it was his turn. The older man tried to paint, but his muscles were stiff, and his joints were enlarged. He just didn't have the touch. His hands were working hands, and not artist hands.
One day Durer saw his friends hands folded reverently and said, "I will paint your hands as they are now, folded in prayer, so the world will know my appreciation for your noble, unselfish character." Those hands became the famous praying hands so popular as modern symbols. Few people realize, however, that the hands symbolize more than prayer. They stand also for dignified labor and dedicated love.
These hands could very well represent the hands of Jesus, the Head of the church, for no hands have ever more worthily expressed the dignity of labor and the dedication of love. We could look at each of these separately, but it would be an artificial division, for labor and love went hand in hand in the life of Christ. One of the big questions of Bible students has always been, what did Jesus do from age 12 to 30? There are 18 years of silence where nothing is recorded of His life. We have one statement in our text, however, that shatters that silence with a loud revelation, and gives us an answer to the question-
What was He doing all the time?
From boyhood then to early prime?
The answer is, He was working with His hands. He was a carpenter. When Jesus came back to His hometown of Nazareth where He spent those silent years, the people were amazed at His wisdom and power. They could not believe it, and said, "Is not this the carpenter whose whole family is still with us?" In other words, they were saying, here is one of us, a common laborer in the community who has come back. How is it He has all this education and leadership ability when we know He has only been a carpenter? We have here then a clear witness to the fact that Jesus labored with His hands.
It is not surprising since all Jewish boys were taught a trade by their fathers, and though Joseph was not the literal father of Jesus, he was His father in every other way. He taught Jesus all he knew. Tradition says that Joseph died at the age of 111 when Jesus was 18 years old. This meant that Jesus as the oldest boy in the family would have to work to support Mary in raising the other children. Some feel the other children were by a previous marriage of Joseph. Some feel they were only cousins. Others simply accept those children as ones that Mary bore to Joseph after Jesus was born. This last view is the simplest, and can hardly be a bad conclusion, for they are called the brothers and sisters of Christ. If the Biblical writers feared anyone would draw the conclusion that Mary had other children they certainly did not do anything to prevent such a conclusion.
It really doesn't matter, however, for the fact is, Jesus had a family to care for. For all practical purposes Jesus knew what it was to be a father. With Joseph dead He had to be the bread winner. He could not go off preaching until He had fulfilled His responsibility as the oldest son to His family. When the Bible makes it clear that he who does not provide for his own is worse than an infidel, we certainly do not expect the Son of God in human flesh to go off on a spiritual mission and leave his family to starve. Before He could begin the job of building the temple not made with hands, He had a job to do with His hands, and that is what Jesus did during those years of silence.
They are silent, for they were years of just commonplace normal living. Most of His life was like that of the average person, and not filled with crowds, miracles, and perpetual excitement. Jesus did nothing unusual in those years, for here are His home town people saying what has happened? This is our community carpenter. How is it He is so wise and powerful all of the sudden? He had not done anything before this to draw their attention to His uniqueness. That is why they are silent years, for there was nothing unusual to record. Jesus lived the common life of a laboring man. He dignified labor as no one else ever could. The poet wrote,
If Jesus was a carpenter,
On plane and bradowl leaning,
Then workman's tools of every kind
Glitter with heavenly meaning.
Jesus would seek the best way to do a job. He would use tools to make His work more effective. Man's love for tools and gadgets to build and create with are a legitimate aspect of life, for even the Son of God used tools as a carpenter. This aspect of His life colored His ministry of teaching. Jesus spoke often of wise builders. Jesus built houses before He built His church, and He used the principles of one for the other. He said that wise builders choose a good foundation first. He builds on the rock and not on the sand.
Jesus practiced this in building the church. He laid a solid foundation, and then selected men like Peter, the rock, to build on, with himself as the chief cornerstone. Jesus also talked of men who foolishly began to build before counting the cost. They had to stop before they finished and let the project go to ruin. Jesus was a master builder. He made sure of adequate supply to build His church. He paid the price for all sin, that any person of any age in history might become a living stone in His church. None will be left out due to lack of funds, for Jesus paid it all. Every man is a potential stone in the church being built by the Carpenter of Nazareth. As a carpenter Jesus made many doors, but the door He made of Himself is the most marvelous. All of those years He made doors out of wood, and His last big project was also made out of wood, the wood of the cross. Never did any carpenter do with wood what Jesus did upon the cross.
In this project His hands played a major role. They were not shaping the wood, for they were nailed to the wood.
Those heavenly hands that on the tree
Were nail'd, and torn, and bled for me.
Here was His greatest labor of love. He used those hands to work for years to provide for His family, but on the cross in unmeasurable love He sacrificed His hands, and His whole self to provide atonement for the sin of all men. Here He laid the foundation that nothing can destroy. His hands became a primary symbol of this great act of love because they bore the imprint of the nails. It was the nail pierced hands that Jesus showed to doubting Thomas to convince him He was the crucified but risen Christ. He who pounded many a nail had nail scarred hands, not because He was a carpenter, but because He was a Savior.
Many feel that the two men on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus at last because when He broke break they saw His nail pierced hands. The hands of the crucified but risen carpenter are the hands of security. We can have no security in our riches, or in the fact that we have a great and powerful country. These are but tools in the hands of men. Disease and death can easily snatch us from the hands of men, but Jesus said of His own, "Nothing shall pluck them out of my hands."
The hands of Christ seem very frail,
For they were broken by a nail,
But only they reach heaven at last
Whom these frail, broken hands hold fast.
These hands that flung the worlds in space, and fashioned nature's beauty in every place, and formed the whole of the human race, also fulfilled the plan of grace. It was the hands of Christ that reached out to save Peter from sinking into the sea. Only His hands can lift us and keep us from sinking. The hands of Christ symbolize, not only security, but service. Jesus used His hands for the service of others, both in the carpenter shop, and in His ministry. Notice how often Jesus takes a sick person by the hand and lifts them up well. How often Jesus lays His hands on the sick, and with a touch restores them to health. His hands were healing hands. Jesus as the head of the church is now in heaven, but His hands are still on earth, for the church is His body. This means that we as believers are to continue to be the hands of Christ in a world that needs hands of service, and hands with a healing touch.
It has been proven that everyone of us has the power of healing in our hands, but we so seldom use it because we are so seldom conscious that our hands are to be tools in the hands of Christ. Many children have problems because they lack the security that comes with the touch of their father's hands. We need to put our hands on our children's heads, and put our arms around them, and by touch communicate our love. We cannot do it with words alone. Hands play a major role in communicating love. Reuben K. Youngdahl wrote, "In East Africa a group of natives, having made a long journey seeking medical care, walked right past a government hospital to reach a mission hospital. When asked why they had walked the extra distance, when the government hospital had exactly the same medicine, they replied, "The medicine may be the same, but the hands are different."
The hands of Christians should express the touch of Christ. Jesus specialized in the personal touch, and those who would be instruments in His hands will pray as a poet has written,
Give strength to lift the wounded up,
And warm our hearts so much
That through our hands each one may feel
The healing of Thy touch.
When Phillips Brooks died his people hired a sculptor to fashion a memorial. He took his hammer and began to work, but three times he had to start over. He just couldn't get it to come out right. Finally, it came to him what to do. He first fashioned a figure of Jesus, and then made the figure of Brooks with the hand of Jesus on his shoulder. Those who knew Brooks were very satisfied, for they said, "That's how it was. Jesus was always first with Phillips Brooks, and His hand, it seemed, was always on his shoulder."
During the closing months of World War II a group of American soldiers helped rebuild a partially bombed Cathedral in Southern Europe. One GI was assigned the task of repairing a marble statue of Christ. It had been knocked over, and the hands were broken off. He was not able to find the broken pieces in the rubble. He concluded that the statue would have to be discarded, but then he got an idea. He made a plague and hung it on the statue which said, "I have no hands but yours." Jesus wants to lay His hands on us that we might be moved to use our hands to do His will in the world.
Yours are the hands of God.
How did you use them today?
Did they crush or caress?
Did they ruin or bless?
How did you use them today?
Yours are the hands of God.
The hands that He lent you to use.
Did they reach out in greed,
Or to meet someone's need?
Did you use them to heal or abuse?
Yours are the hands of God.
Use them well as you travel life's way.
Turn with love to each task,
For one day God will ask:
What did you do with My hands today?