I’ve always found the human hand fascinating. Sure, the whole body of a person is a marvelous creation of God, but the intricacy and abilities of the human hand astound me. We grasp and turn a cup at just the right angle to pour a drink into our thirsting mouths. Men grip baseball bats and footballs with the proper strength and finesse to gain points for their team. Women caress the smooth skin of their infants to lull them to sleep or soften their cries. The hand can demonstrate quiet gentleness and bold strength; it can also reach toward or pull away.
There’s a story in 2 Samuel 6 that involves a man named Uzzah. Earlier in history, the ark of God had been captured by Israel’s enemies. But in this passage Israel had defeated her enemies and was bringing the ark back to Jerusalem. As you remember, the ark represented God’s presence and his absolute holiness. There was a proper way to handle it; specifically, not touching it at all. It belonged in the temple, in a far-off room called the Holy of Holies, behind a thick curtain to prevent people from seeing or touching it. On this trip back to their holy city, Israel was greatly rejoicing and singing because they were pleased with their victory. However, at one point it looked as if the ark was going to fall onto the ground and Uzzah, acting before thinking, held out his hand to steady it. What happened next baffled me for a long time. Because Uzzah touched the ark, God’s anger was kindled and he struck Uzzah dead. What?! Wasn’t his gesture noble and reverent? Why such a (seemingly) unjust response from God?
Several years ago I heard someone teach on just this thing. I’m sure there is more to it than what I learned that day, but it convinced me of one of the greatest truths: God is holier than our minds can even comprehend. Even with the absolute best of intentions, when Uzzah touched that holy ark, he presented a sinful hand to an absolutely perfect God. Wrath is the only response God has to such an affront.
So how on earth can we come to God if even our best efforts and purposes offend him; if everything about and around him says to us, “Do not touch”?
It seems beyond belief, but the truth is that God himself has made a great move towards us. In his Son, God displayed his Holy of holies to sinful man. And unlike the ark, the man Christ Jesus was meant to be seen and touched. He humbled himself for us, taking on human flesh. As an infant he reached his helpless fingers toward his mother for comfort and nourishment. As a child, every work of his hands displayed honor and obedience to his parents.
“Come”, Jesus would say to all around him. “Take of me,” he would encourage all who wanted to become children of God. Tax collectors ran to him and prostitutes wept at his feet. With the purest intention, Jesus would reach out to blind men, bleeding women, and even “untouchable” lepers. And no one would instantly die because they came in contact with him! They would be healed; many would stop what they were doing and immediately follow him. He was calling sinners to God. “Come! Come!”
And in the prime of his life, this Jesus stretched out his welcoming arms; and his hands were nailed to a cross. And to verify his Son’s completed holy work, God tore that heavy temple curtain in two. The way to God is open through Jesus Christ. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
And in glory, our Lord awaits his sanctified bride, those he came to rescue from sin and death, those who are made holy by his perfect work. His hands are eager to receive them at the appointed time. Those tender fingers will wipe away every tear from our eyes as we bow in adoration. Astoundingly, he will raise our chins to look upon him, the Holy of Holies.
When my lifework is ended, and I cross the swelling tide,
When the bright and glorious morning I shall see;
I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
And His smile will be the first to welcome me.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.
(Frances J. Crosby, 1891)