Many times, I have seen paintings of Jesus that emphasize His hands. Usually, they are reaching out, as if He is inviting people to come to Him. When you think about the hands of the Lord, what do you see?
In Mark 6:30-39, Jesus feeds a large multitude of people with a few pieces of bread and a few fish. Mark doesn’t give us many details, but it is clear He took the food with His hands. He broke the bread with His hands. The bread and fish miraculously multiplied in those hands. The people ate what He gave them.
Much has been written about the significance of this miracle. I think all would agree about at least one thing. It showed that with those hands, Jesus was doing the work of the Father. He was feeding His people Israel. He was their Shepherd in the wilderness.
A few verses later, we see bread in the hands of Jesus’ disciples (7:5). The Pharisees want to know why the disciples of the Lord would eat that bread with unwashed hands. This is really an attack on the Lord Himself. A rabbi’s disciples were a reflection of the rabbi. The Pharisees are attacking Jesus for eating bread with unwashed hands. In their view, such a practice defiled a person. The implication is straight forward: Jesus was not sent from God because He was constantly defiling Himself by eating bread without washing His hands first.
The verb “eat” and the noun “bread” connect the two accounts (6:37; 7:2). The hands of the Lord play a part in each story as well.
In the account of the miraculous feeding, the hands of the Lord are doing the work of the Lord. Only God could do something like that, and it was done through His hands. Immediately afterwards, however, the Pharisees say those hands are doing evil, defiling Himself and causing the disciples to defile themselves.
The Pharisees are not willing to see the contradiction of what they are saying. The people in the wilderness ate bread with unwashed hands. Jesus multiplied the food with unwashed hands. But God was blessing it. If the people were being defiled by the eating of that bread, why did God allow the bread to be multiplied by the hands of Christ? How could those hands now be committing sin by allowing His disciples to defile themselves by the bread they ate?
We are told that the washing of hands before they ate bread was a legalistic practice of the Pharisees. They thought that through such practices, they could make themselves pleasing to God. It involved a complicated process of using the right amount of water and allowing the water to flow in a certain way over the hands and wrists. Only then, could a righteous Jew eat his bread with confidence that he was pleasing God.
The Lord, however, says that such notions were ridiculous. Eating with clean hands did not make one spiritually clean. Eating with dirty hands did not make one unrighteous. The Pharisees looked at the hands of the Lord and didn’t like what they saw. They wanted to see hands that promoted legalism and a system that demanded a long list of works in order to be accepted before God. When they did not see that, they concluded that Jesus’ hands produced evil.
But that couldn’t be the case. Those hands had just accomplished a miraculous work of grace. They had met the needs of His people. Just as God had fed His people in the wilderness under Moses, Jesus had fed them with His hands. They weren’t hands that were occupied with empty legalistic rituals. They were hands that graciously met the needs of His people.
Later, those hands would be nailed to a cross (Mark 15:24). The sacrifice He made on that tree would allow Him to give eternal life to anybody who believed in Him for that gift. That is the ultimate expression of the grace of the Lord. Once again, those hands were doing the work of the Father. Nobody has to follow any set of rules in order to obtain what He offers as a gift by faith because of His grace. In fact, nobody can receive it in any other way.
When you see a picture of Christ with outstretched hands, what do you see? Unfortunately, many think they see what the Pharisees wanted to see. They see a Man who is offering them something in exchange for hard work. If they live righteously, and do what is required of them, maybe they can make it into His kingdom. For the Pharisees, that included washing one’s hand in the proper way. Others today add different requirements.
But that is a misunderstanding of the hands of the Lord. Those hands belong to the One who gives eternal life as a free gift by His grace. Those are not legalistic hands. Those are hands full of grace.