1 Kings 13:4-6 “4 When the king heard the word that the man of God had cried out against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar and said, “Arrest him!” But the hand he stretched out against him withered, and he could not pull it back to himself. 5 The altar was ripped apart, and the ashes poured from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.
6 Then the king responded to the man of God, “Plead for the favor of the Lord your God and pray for me so that my hand may be restored to me.” So the man of God pleaded for the favor of the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it had been at first.”(HCSB)
It is amazing as to how distant stories—seemingly distant—hit so close to home. King Jeroboam had set up his own temple and worship system to worship God and here we have the confrontation by God’s prophet about that system. We all do this, we all are setting up altars and temples and sacrifices to worship God that are about what our hands have made. It may not be physically built but they exist and are real nonetheless. We all have a sinful desire to be producers for God and not receivers from God, we all want to create a self-made system of worship so that when we participate in that system we get the honor and praise in it all. The sad reality is that when the word of truth comes to us and corrects us for setting up an invented religion about self and what we do, we, like Jeroboam, point the figure back at God (or the messenger) and demand that the voice be silenced and we be vindicated. We say, “No one will say anything bad about who I am and what I do and how I worship.” We love the idols we set up to protect and promote our pride and will immediately take up combat against any dissenting voice.
But look what God does. That hand that we use to accuse God and His truth rots and withers and remains paralyzed. Our altars we have built and the comfort we receive from them fall apart all at once. What your hands have made to please and worship God do nothing at best but wither and destroy all that comes from your hands. Let me encourage you to say that God is at work in these things and loving you in these things. You see when the finger of our wrath and self-righteousness is waved at God that same hand begins to rot, it is God’s way of stopping us. Though we create self-made ways to worship and find peace, God is kind to allow everything which comes from these inventions to whither and rot. God allows our lives to fall apart from the inside out and whither so that we would abandon our systems of religion to promote self and protect self by ourselves.
Look what happens to Jeroboam as his hand withers and rots! He cries out to God and begs for mercy! You see when our systems of self-reliance and self-promotion to please God wither and fall to pieces we begin to see that we need something else or Someone else. We begin to cry out to God in desperation seeing that what we can create and do is good for nothing! We begin to see that we need not create offerings but to receive Christ as our offering. We begin to see that we cannot be righteous for God but God must be righteous for us. God does not cast us out as we set up false systems of worship against Him; no, He remains ready and willing always to restore and heal that rebellious hand we have waved against Him.We begin to see that the best we could create and do on the best day is rotten and foul. We begin to see that we do not need to create more but need to believe in Someone. You see it is when the things we worship which are false and when our systems to worship our false gods fall to pieces and make our lives rot that we begin to actually worship! We will never exult in God’s grace from how full we are but always in how empty we ourselves are! Look what God does in all this! His hand which was rotting because of reliance and trust on self is made entirely new. It was made new when it was rotten and paralyzed not when it was strong and whole and working and creating! God makes us righteous as we are unrighteous, strong when weak, alive when dead! This is how God works this is how we worship, it is from sickness and brokenness and need! God does not cast us out as we set up false systems of worship against Him; no, He remains ready and willing always to restore and heal that rebellious hand we have waved against Him. Strength and wholeness does not come from our healthy hands creating things good enough for God; they come from withered rotting helpless hands begging for mercy in a Christ who by Himself heals the sick by what He has done and what He has made by Himself. Beloved, may we see our lives falling apart and rotting as our Father’s loving way of bringing us to leave behind all of our false Saviors and all of our religious do-gooding and run back in desperation to our true Savior and His once-for-all do-gooding for us.