Behold My Hands
The Hand—A Symbol of the Active Life
The Bible is signally distinguished for this, that with a message from God it reaches the human heart, but not less remarkable is the attention which it directs to the human hands. In our Western speech, with its leaning toward abstraction, we speak of character and its outflow in conduct; but in the Eastern speech, which has always been pictorial, men spoke of the heart and its witness in the hands. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord ….? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off.” “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” And Pilate, wishing to assert his innocence in a manner which the Jews could comprehend, did not cry, “My conduct is reproachless,” but in the presence of them all he washed his hands. That is the symbolism of the hand in Scripture. It is conduct incarnate, the sign of the active life. It is the organ through which is sketched, as on a screen, the thought that is singing or surging in the heart.
Behold My Hands
Now if that be true of every human hand, it will be very specially true of the hands of Christ. He is always saying to us “Behold My heart”: but in the same voice He says, “Behold My hands.” Could any meditation, then, be more appropriate for some quiet evening of communion on a Sabbath? Try to conceive that Christ is in your midst, that Christ on whose body and blood mystical you fed today. Try to conceive that He is standing there and saying to everyone of you, “Behold My hands.” What are these hands? What do they signify? We shall run through the Gospel story that we may see.
Hands of Brotherhood
Behold His hands, then, for they are hands of brotherhood. When Jesus came into Peter’s house, we read, He saw his wife’s mother sick of a fever. And what did He do? He put out His hand and touched her, and she arose and ministered to them. When He was in Bethsaida they brought a blind man to Him, beseeching Him that He would heal him. And what did He do? He took the blind man by the hand, and hand in hand they left the town together. And the world will never forget that scene at Nain, when Jesus met the sad procession to the grave, and moved with compassion He put forth His hand, and touched the bier. In all these cases, and in a hundred others, what men recognized in the touch was brotherhood. Here was no cold pity, no condescension, no distance of heart from heart. Christ came alongside of suffering and sorrow, brought Himself into living and actual touch with it; and the men who were standing by, and who saw it all, said, “Behold His hands, they are the hands of brotherhood.” And always, where the Gospel is at work, it stretches out its hands in the same way. Is not this the glory of the Christian spirit that it pulsates with the sweet sense of brotherhood. The poet Crabee, talking about charity, says:
A common bounty may relieve distress,
But whom the vulgar succor they oppress.
But the Christian never lowers when he helps, for with everything he gives, he gives his hand. It is not the way of the Gospel to isolate itself, and to give cold advice and help as from a distance. It bears men’s burdens, understands their need, calls the poorest, brother, and the fallen, sister. Until men feel that the hands stretched out today are the very hands that touched the bier at Nain, and they know that the hands of Christ are hands of brotherhood.
Hands of Power
Again, behold His hands, for they are hands of power. When Jesus went back the second time to Nazareth, do you remember what the villagers said about Him? What they could not fathom was how this carpenter’s Son was endued with His unquestionable power. “What wisdom is this that is given Him,” they said, “that even such mighty works are wrought by His hands.” They had seen these hands busy at carpentering once, but now there was a power in their touch that baffled them. And then I turn to the Gospel of St. John, where our Savior Himself is speaking of His sheep; and He says, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Behold His hands, then, for they are hands of power; they are powerful to do and powerful to keep. There have never been hands on earth like those of Jesus, so mighty in action and in guardianship.
I read the other day in some book about China a remark that had been made by a young Chinese convert. He belonged to the literary class, and had studied Confucius, and the remark he made was something of this kind. He said, “The difference between Confucius and Christ is not so much a question of morality: for I find the golden rule in the sacred books of the East, and a great deal more that Jesus might have uttered; but the difference is that once I was told what to do, but left quite helpless and powerless to do it; but now with the ideal comes the power.” The hand of Confucius was a cold, dead hand; it had written the maxim—it could not inspire the man. There was no power in its touch to kindle the dark heart, to animate the will, to change the life. But in contact with Jesus it was very different—that was the meaning of this Chinese student—there was healing and there was power in His touch. What is the power that has abolished slavery? What is the power that has given us a free Scotland? What is the power that has changed ten million lives, inspired the missionary, and made the social worker? The power is the power of the touch of Jesus; it is the impress and the impact of His hand. Behold His hands, then, in the advance of Christendom. Behold His hands in the change of countless lives. Behold them in the new ideals of the multitude; in the graces and perseverance of the saint. They are not only hands of brotherhood, for their very touch has been an inspiration. Behold His hands, for they are hands of power.
Hands of Tenderness
Then again, behold His hands, for they are hands of tenderness. Of all the exquisite pictures in the Gospel I think there is none more exquisite than the scene when “the mothers of Salem their children brought to Jesus.” With a mother’s instinct for a Man who was really good, they wished their children to be blessed by Him. And the disciples would have kept the children off: Christ was too busy with great affairs to heed an infant. They had never guessed yet that the kingdom of heaven was mirrored for Jesus in these childish eyes. Then Jesus drew the little children to Him, and blessed them; but He did more than that. It has sunk deep into the memories of the evangelists that in blessing them He laid His hand upon them. Do not spoil the act by making it sacerdotal. Do not imagine that He was communicating grace. It was an act of the sweetest and most natural tenderness, the gentle and caressing touch of love. When He laid His hand upon the infant’s head, He was laying it upon the mother’s heart. Do you think these mothers ever would forget it? Some of them would see that hand again. It would be pierced then, streaming with red blood, and they would say, “Look! that hand was once laid upon my child.” Behold His hands, then, they are hands of power; but the mothers could tell you that they were hands of tenderness.
Is not that one of the wonders of Christ’s touch—the union of power and gentleness that marks it? It is mighty to heal, mighty to raise the dead; but a bruised reed it will not break. Christ is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, so is He named in the Book of Revelation; but when John looked in heaven for the Lion, behold, in the midst of the throne a Lamb as it had been slain. Why is the Gospel so precious when the chair is empty and the grave is full? Can you tell me why in seasons of disappointment, in times of distress, anxiety, and sorrow, men find in the Bible their best and truest Comforter? It is not only because the hand of Jesus is powerful to console and to assuage; it is because when every other touch would pain, the touch of Jesus is exquisitely tender. Why are our Christian homes so full of gentle love, so different from the stern spirit of antiquity? There is only one answer, it is “Behold His hands”: it is the touch of Christ which has achieved it. In the tender and happy grace of Christian womanhood—behold His hands. In the kindness and care that is shown to the dumb creatures—behold His hands. The very dogs, says Dr. Laws of Livingstonia, the very dogs here feel the benefits of Christianity. His touch is mighty, then, mighty to heal and save—there are those who vouch for that. But the hand that was laid so gently on the children has never been withdrawn from humanity.
Hands of Suffering
Once more, behold His hands, for they were once disfigured. Their beauty was torn away from them with wounds. They were pierced with nails, and fastened to the cross, in the hour when Jesus Christ was crucified. I have often thought that the scribes and Pharisees must have had a twice-distilled pleasure when the hands were nailed. They would say “Behold these hands that once wrought such mighty deeds; they will never trouble or vex us anymore. Look at them ragged and torn, pierced through and through.” It was an exquisite morsel of revenge. These hands had played havoc with the priest’s hypocrisies: they had plaited the scourge and used it in the Temple. Look at them now on the cross—what hands in the world so powerless—their little day of authority is dead.
But the strange thing is that it is the hands which were pierced that have been the mightiest power in human history. Not the hands laid upon the blind man’s eyes, not the hands laid upon the children’s heads, have been so mighty in the world’s redemption as the hands that were marred and wounded on the cross. Is not that strange? There was a little maiden whose mother was very beautiful—she was very beautiful excepting her hands, and her hands were shrunken and shriveled and unsightly. For a long time, with the delicate reticence of girlhood, the little girl said nothing on the matter; but at last her curiosity overpowered her. “Mother,” she said, “I love your beautiful face, and I love your beautiful eyes and brow and neck; but I cannot love your hands, they are so ugly.” Then her mother told her the story of her hands. She said, “When you were an infant sleeping in your cradle, one night the cry of fire rang through the house. I rushed upstairs—the nursery was ablaze—but God led me right to the cradle and I saved you; but ever since then my hands have been like this.” The little girl was silent for a moment. Then she said “O mother, I still love your face: but I love your hands now. best of all. “Behold His hands, for they were pierced for us!
Hands of Reassurance
Lastly, behold His hands for they are hands of reassurance. After Jesus was risen from the dead, the disciples gathered together and Thomas was with them. And Jesus appeared standing in their midst, and said to them “Peace be with you.” We all know how Thomas had doubted Him. He had said, “except I see in His hand the print of the nails.” Nothing would satisfy or convince that realist except the print of the nail upon the palm. And Jesus said to him, “Thomas, behold My hand; is not that the hand that was nailed upon the tree?”—which, when hearing and seeing, Thomas falls before Him crying “My Lord and my God.” I ask you ever to remember, then, that the hand of Christ is a reassuring hand. When we are tempted to doubt if He still lives and reigns, to us as to Thomas He says, “Behold My hands.” Much may be dark to us and much may be inexplicable; we may not fathom the mysteries of grace. We know not where Jesus is, nor can we behold Him; but like Thomas we can behold His hands. In a thousand deeds and in a thousand lives there is the unmistakable touch of the Redeemer. Does not that reassure us and kindle our faith again? Does it not inspire our hope and nerve our faint endeavor? It is the risen Savior saying, “Behold My hands”; it is our answering cry “My Lord and My God.”