Luke 13:10-16 “On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’ The Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
In this incident in the life of our Lord we are meeting the very last occasion on which he spoke in a synagogue. Over two years have passed since he first stood up in his own local synagogue in Nazareth, read from the book of Isaiah the prophet and then sat down and preached to them. Since that time Jesus had preached scores of times in the synagogues of Galilee, but the Pharisees who ran the synagogues were increasingly hostile to him, and this was the final occasion he was allowed to preach to a Sabbath congregation in its meeting place. The mighty miracle performed there threw the Pharisees into such rage and consternation that they determined he would never be allowed to preach the kingdom of God in places they controlled again. There were two key people in the synagogue that day, Jesus Christ and one very sick woman, just as today again there are two people here, Jesus Christ and you.
A SICK WOMAN ATTENDED THE ASSEMBLY ON THIS DAY.
Luke loves to speak of the women helped by the Lord. He has forty-two passages which speak about women, twenty-three of which are unique to his gospel. Here we are told that there was a woman whose ill health marked her out in the community. She was very obviously in bad health. There were others worse off; some were in advance stages of heart disease, but you could not tell from glancing at them that anything was wrong. But you did not need to be a physician to tell that this woman was in a very bad away. That is what distinguished her. When I was a teenager we attended a church in the Rhymni Valley, Tabernacle Hengoed. There were three Mrs. Thomas’s in the church. There was Mrs. Thomas the Station (my mother); Mrs. Thomas the Milk (the milkman’s wife), and Mrs. Thomas Bad Back. That is how this unfortunate woman was known. Thus it was with this woman. Her name may have been the very popular ‘Mary’ but she would have been distinguished as ‘Mary Bent Over.’ There would have been just a few hundred people living in this village and everyone knew this woman, spotting her on a Sabbath morning hobbling to the synagogue. All the children noticed her and had asked their parents artless questions about her strange posture, like a question mark, always looking down to the earth. I’m saying that everyone was aware of the hopeless plight of this lady and pitied her.
i] The woman’s condition. She was crippled. We are told that, “she was bent over and could not straighten up at all” (v.11). It was some type of bone degeneration; maybe her spine had become fused into a mass; she probably also had muscular paralysis. She was stooped over with pain and every aspect of her life was affected. Just imagine how hard it would be to work, and clean, and carry water, and sleep, and just survive in that state. How depressing for her and she had had to get by for almost twenty years in this condition.
ii] The woman’s faith. She was in her place in the synagogue on that Sabbath. She had to overcome a number of obstacles to be there. Just being a woman attending the synagogue she was made aware of her second class position. Men alone counted for a quorum in the services and women had to know their place, and yet she was always there, even with the Sabbath struggle to get there because of her illness. Nevertheless she never stayed away because she was a true believer. We learn that from the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He calls her a ‘daughter of Abraham’ (v.16). He is not merely saying that she was a Jew. Virtually everyone in the synagogues would have been Jews plus the one or two proselytes such as a Roman centurion. The Saviour is using the term in its full spiritual significance; she had faith in Abraham’s God, she was an inheritor of the promise of God that he would bless the descendants of Abraham, that through them all the nations of the earth would be blessed by the coming of the Messiah. Abraham is the father of all who believe, and so she was a real believer too. We are not told anything more about her, what her name was, her age, whether she had been or still was married, but we are told that on the Sabbath she was there in the assembly of God. In spite of suffering and infirmity and being regarded as a ‘mere woman’ she knew her duty and she was there. She could so easily have pleaded her physical handicap and said, “You don’t expect someone like me to be with the Lord’s people on the Sabbath,” but she did not think like that. She was there. She did not plead her illness as a reason for not becoming a daughter of Abraham, saying, “How can I go on believing in God when I have asked him to heal me for almost twenty years but I’m still a cripple.” Many talk like that. We can all find some excuse for not hearing the Word of God, but where two or three were gathered together in the Lord’s name there you’d find this anonymous woman year after year. How many depressed people Sunday after Sunday read the papers, cook a meal, sleep and watch TV all the evening and at the end of the day are in a worse state than when they started? How many others think that attending once on a Sunday is enough and are relieved to be home again? This woman could not look up at the heavens; she could not run; she could not enjoy a day free from pain, but she could walk, and she could go to the meeting place on the Sabbath, and she did those things.
What does J.C.Ryle say? “Now what is the explanation of all this? What is the reason why so few are like the woman of whom we read this day? The answer to these questions is short and simple. Most of them have no heart for God’s service: they have no delight in God’s presence or God’s day. ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God.’ The moment a woman’s heart is converted, these pretended difficulties about attending public worship vanish away. The new heart finds no trouble in keeping the Sabbath holy. Where there is a will there is always a way. Let us never forget that our feelings about Sundays are sure tests of the state of our souls. The woman who can find no pleasure in giving God one day in the week, is manifestly unfit for heaven. Heaven itself is nothing but an eternal Sabbath. If we cannot enjoy a few hours in God’s service once a week in this world, it is plain that we could not enjoy an eternity in his service in the world to come. Happy are they who walk in the steps of her of whom we read to-day! They shall find Christ and a blessing while they live, and Christ and glory when they die” (J.C.Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume 2, p.120).
iii] The woman’s enemy. This poor woman, on top of her physical handicap, had an enemy. Not her landlord, or the few bad boys who shouted out after her as she walked to the well. The enemy of her soul was the devil. We know that firstly because he is the enemy of the lives of each one of us. He is the ruler of the darkness of this world. He uses lies, deception, murder and every kind of destructive activity to cause people to turn away from the gospel and keep them in bondage to unbelief. He will use anything to hinder a Christian’s usefulness – temptation, guilt, doubt, fear, confusion, sickness, envy, pride and slander. He will intervene in any physical malady, in deafness, Parkinson’s, mental illness, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, paralysis and so on, to prevent people living useful Christian lives. Of course I am not saying that if we have any of those illnesses or any others that that sickness is because of the devil. I do not believe that that is so, in fact I deny that that is so, but I am saying that the powers of darkness will take and use such illnesses to rob us of the joy of knowing and serving God cheerfully. I do believe and teach that and have seen it in the lives of some who profess to be Christians. We are told here by Doctor Luke and the Holy Spirit that there was a woman with an orthopaedic condition that was produced by the power of Satan, and I cannot explain this, but I affirm that it was so. Scripture requires it. There are many things that we have not fathomed in life concerning the mystery of suffering and the power of evil.
Professor C.S.Lewis wisely warns us, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. The devils themselves are equally pleased by both extremes, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” C.S. Lewis invented a junior devil whom old Satan teaches and to whom he makes fascinating observations. For example, he says on one occasion, “It’s funny how mortals always picture us devils as ‘putting things into their minds.’ In reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” Certainly the devil’s best policy is concealment. He seeks to be ignored; he encourages the pretence that he does not exist (though it is evident that someone exactly like him is doing his work). However, here in this synagogue on this Sabbath day, when Jesus spotted this woman, he stripped the devil’s cover and he announced to them all that “Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years,” (v.16) this poor lady.
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WAS THE PREACHER ON THIS DAY.
You will see the opening words of our passage, that it begins with the Lord Jesus: “On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues” (v.10). Sometimes you hear the cliché that Jesus did not come to preach but that he came to do something that we’d have something to preach. That observation is clever but not true. He preached everywhere, from a boat, and on a mountain, and in homes, and in the Temple, and in the synagogues of Galilee. He preached constantly to individuals and to groups – to a couple of sisters and a brother in Bethany – and even to thousands of people. Here he was doing what he had been doing day after day for two years. God had sent him into the world with a message for God’s creatures living in his creation. Whoever he spoke to, individuals or congregations, and whenever he spoke he was never boring and never bland. When he finished the sermon people were spellbound at what they had heard. “Where did he learn to speak like that?” they asked one another. His enemies once sent armed guards to arrest him but those tough country boys couldn’t push their way through the crowds of people craning their ears at the edges of the crowd not to miss anything Jesus had to say, refusing to step aside lest they miss-heard what Christ was preaching. So the arresting officers (as today’s phrase puts it) had to stop and listen; they too drank in his words, and finally went away quietly, failing to have arrested him. Asked why they hadn’t taken him they replied. “No one ever spoke as this man speaks.” That’s because no one but Jesus ever spoke as Immanuel, God with us. No one ever lived as Jesus lived amongst men. No one ever died as he died making atonement for our sins and praying that God would show mercy to those who had crucified him. No one ever raised himself from the dead as Christ did, defeating death and offering to us eternal life. Here is the incomparable preacher, Jesus of Nazareth.
Sometimes just hearing a friend – your son, your brother – talking about Jesus is enough to awaken in you a feeling that the Lord Jesus is astonishing. That can be the first step in trusting him and having a relationship with him yourself, but there’s nothing better than getting to know Jesus for yourself. There was a woman who had gone through several failed marriages before she met Jesus, but somehow she was known to Christ already – he was aware of her five marriages and of the man she was living with at that moment – but Jesus spoke to her befriending her and he told her that she could have eternal life in him. The woman was overwhelmed. She hurried off to tell others in her village to come and see Jesus. Her attitude to him and words about him were so striking that to many of the townspeople it sounded as if this man could be the promised Messiah. But would he come to their little place, to Sychar? Did they stop with what the woman had told them? No, they wanted to find out for themselves and they had to meet Jesus and get to know him better, so they walked to the well of Sychar and they asked Jesus to stay there a while and teach them. Many who weren’t convinced before soon became believers, and those who already believed what the woman had said about Jesus now had their faith made more individual and relevant when they listened to him personally. They told the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).
So this was the Jesus present with these people in this synagogue preaching to them all and making the most incredible claims, for example, that the prophecy of Isaiah abut the Messiah coming, was now being fulfilled in their presence. Jesus claimed that before Abraham was he, Jesus, existed. He claimed that one day he was going to judge the world and that every one would receive their destinies from his lips. He claimed equality with God saying, “I and my Father are one.” He claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one could go to the Father but by him. He exhorted them to come to him, all of them, labouring and heavy-laden though they might be, and he would give them all rest. He urged them to turn from their sins in repentance and believe on him.
Now these are either the words of a megalomaniac, or the words of a blasphemous liar, or they are the words of the Son of God. In fact any of you could claim that you are the way to God, and you and God are one. I could say words like that. What makes them so significant in Jesus is his character, as combining such humility with his authority. You do not meet that in any other character in history, this astonishing union of tenderness and toughness. One moment he is cuddling babies and the next moment he is confronting rulers. One moment he is lying exhausted and asleep in a boat that’s being rocked by a storm; the next moment he’s ordering the storm around. One moment he’s weeping at the grave of his dead friend Lazarus; the next he is ordering death itself to release his friend. One moment he is on his knees like a slave, washing other people’s dirty feet; the next he says he’s their Lord and Master. He comes in such humility and yet he makes such mind-blowing claims. Could even the least human being be humbler and more vulnerable? Could even Almighty God be greater and more powerful?
He comes to this humble little synagogue, far smaller than our building, and he speaks to the ordinary people gathered in the congregation. Then as he ends, seeing the crippled woman listening to him, he calls on her to come forward. She comes up to him and he looks at her and says, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God” (vv. 12&13). Everybody had been convicted by his words, and yet everyone was also saying to themselves, “But . . . But . . . But . . . But is this true? Is he pre-existent? Is he one with God? Is he our Judge? If we go to him will we find rest?” They are crucial questions, the most important enquiries people can ask. So what does Jesus do? He notices this poor woman in a corner of the building, and he calls her to him. Slowly she gets up from the back of the synagogue and shuffles towards him, and then, before them all, he touches her and he actually heals her of this wretched complaint. She straightens up before their very eyes. The question mark bent figure becomes the erect letter ‘I’. She is straight and supple, and she whispers, “Praise God!” She gives God the glory.
Now you need to remember that this miracle was not unique. It was not a one-off. It was one of hundreds of miracles that Jesus had done over the past two years. He had made paralyzed people walk. He had made blind men see. He made deaf people hear. He had touched lepers and outcasts with contagious diseases and instead of Jesus getting sick from them, they got well from him. He healed everyone of every disease in however late a stage of development it was in. No failures at all. He even raised the dead. A funeral procession breaks up, it never reaches the graveyard when Jesus stops the cortege and brings the boy in the coffin to life, to the delight of his widowed mother. That is the background to this healing of this well-known local character. Luke finished writing this gospel maybe twenty years after the incident and many of the people healed by Jesus were still alive, certainly most of the 500 who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection had not died and you could talk to them, and you could talk to this crippled woman if she were still alive. I am saying that these miracles showed awesome power and they were signs that confirmed the truth of his claims. Only a man who was one with God could do what Jesus did, constantly speaking such righteous loving words, and living such a consistent life.
But there is another important factor also, that the healing of this woman also showed Jesus’ personality, his sympathy and compassion. Jesus doesn’t just heal, he put his hands on her and he talked to her, “You are free,” he said to her. That curvature of the spine had imprisoned her for almost twenty years. She was a slave to her illness. Now she was liberated. I am saying that Jesus Christ doesn’t just cure problems, he cares about people. He undoes the damage of the fall of man that brought sin and death into the world. That is why he has come.
But there is another important factor also, that in that synagogue a great battle was raging, one that is going on even here and now, and all over the world, between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and Satan. This woman was a slave of Satan, not in any sense of being particularly immoral. She was a righteous person who believed in God, but a slave in the sense that this paralysis of hers was just like the thorn in the flesh was to the apostle Paul, a messenger of Satan tormenting. Jesus removed her thorn; he broke the chains that bound her to this disease. “You are free from your infirmity,” he said to her. She became a truly liberated woman. Those only are members of ‘women’s Lib’ who have been made free by Christ, and their response as hers is joy and praise. He had told people, “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly” (Jn.10:10). What quality of life had she had before Jesus spoke to her and healed her? There had never been a day of greater joy in her life. There had never been a day of blessing in the whole brief history of that synagogue to compare with this day. There had never been a happier gathering as on that Sabbath morning. What a blessed day of rest!
What power Christ has, and he is the same yesterday, and today. The same Jesus who was in that gathering is in our gathering now. With him nothing is impossible. He can soften hearts that seem as hard as granite. He can bend wills that have been like ram-rods refusing to bow to Jesus Christ for 18 years. He can enable people who have simply looked down at the mud for decade after decade to look high and see the stars. He can create, and transform, and renew, and break down, and build, and make alive with his irresistible power. He never changes. Hold fast to this truth! Never let it go! Never despair of anyone’s salvation. Name them before the Lord day and night even if their cases seem desperate. There are no incurable cases with Christ. If he summons them to come to him they will be constrained to come, and when he lays his hands on them they stand before him and glorify God. Job said to God, “I know you can do everything” (Job 42:2).
THERE WERE MURMURS OF DISAPPROVAL ON THIS DAY.
You hear men say that if people rose from the dead today they’d be believers, but people have risen from the dead and still men don’t believe. Here was an extraordinary miracle, a helpless, incurable, deformed woman was healed and given full health again, something she had not known for 18 years. She had not been pretending for that length of time that she was horribly handicapped. She was a pitiful sight and known by everyone in the community. In a moment the Lord Jesus had touched her, spoken to her and healed her completely. There was no one else with him, no apostles helping; he did it all by himself; no one was pretending to be this woman; this was no hoax, no healthy woman masquerading as a cripple. The transformation was so unbelievable that the only explanation was that a mighty miracle had been performed by Jesus of Nazareth.
You would then think that this example of ‘power evangelism’ would result in a mighty revival taking place in this synagogue and spilling over to the whole community so that hundreds of people professed repentance for their sins and faith in the Lord. You would expect that, but that is not what occurred. There were religious men who were angry at what had taken place. They didn’t crowd around the woman and weep with joy at her new life. The head of the elders who ran the synagogue couldn’t rejoice that his building had had a visit of the Messiah. They had heard him preach and he had wrought a mighty sign in this place, a confirmation of who he was as the incarnate Son of God and a taste of what he would do one day for all the world at the end of the age when he dealt with the effects of sin and death in creation. The synagogue ruler got up and publically complained at what had happened. “He said to the people, ‘There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath’” (v. 14). There were in fact 39 rules in the Mishnah of what was not to be done on the Sabbath, but which one of these prohibitions Jesus had broken by touching this woman and healing her is not at all clear.
This complaint is the voice of desperation isn’t it? This shows us how hard are men’s hearts in resisting the claims of Christ to be their God and Judge. They simply will not have this man rule over them, and increasingly every powerful sermon of his was greeted by their antagonism, and every miracle with an explanation that he was working by the power of Beelzebub. What a pompous, callous response were these words of the synagogue ruler to such a display of glory – “Come and be healed on other days of the week but not the Sabbath!” As though there was any other person or any power in that plain building that could work miracles on any old Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday when Jesus had left the area. The ruler said to Christ and the woman, “Divine miracles of deliverance from Satan and sickness may be performed on any day but the Sabbath!”
I am saying that such an incredible response of this religious gentleman in this synagogue at witnessing the extraordinary transformation of this woman proves the truth of a former Pharisee’s words who had become a Christian that the “carnal mind is enmity against God” (Roms 8:7) That means that your heart as someone not yet a Christian always, and at all times, is in a steady state of “hostility” toward God; there is a condition of personal animosity, and dislike, and opposition which is directed against God’s requirement as to how you should live and how you may be saved. How incorrigible the natural man is. Think of it. This synagogue ruler has looked at this bent-over crippled woman for 18 years, and then he has seen her this very day wonderfully delivered, but because the one who has transformed her was the Son of God he rebuked Jesus. This man is evidently anti-Christ. I am saying that that shocking response is an indication of the immense problem of the human heart, that we are enemies of God, and rebels. Let me underline this, the Bible says that your heart while unchanged by the grace of Christ has a bias against God. One proof that this is so is here in this man’s hateful response to Jesus’ miracle, but the greatest proof of all is the fact that they took this Jesus and they nailed him to a cross and they mocked him and taunted him for hours as he died: “enmity against God.”
How did Jesus respond? In two interesting ways, first in denouncing the leaders of the synagogue as hypocrites: “You hypocrites!” (v.15). In other words he didn’t say, “I mustn’t judge you. You are free to hold your opinion and I can hold mine.” Jesus was no supporter of relativism. They were wrong and he condemned them. Indeed they were a bunch of hypocrites to denounce him for breaking the Sabbath. But then you see what he does? He talks to them reasonably about the Sabbath. He doesn’t rubbish the principle of keeping one day in seven as a Sabbath to the Lord, and he talks lucidly to them about the true keeping of this day. He uses the man’s wild criticism of his healing the women as being a desecration of this special day as an opportunity of explaining to the whole congregation what keeping this day means.
Jesus tells the people what was in the law of Moses that works of necessity and mercy must be performed on the Sabbath. You have compassion on your animals; they need to drink water and be fed during those 24 hours. If they fall into a ditch then you rescue them on the Sabbath. You do this for your animals don’t you? All of them did. How much more do you deliver a woman in terrible pain on the Sabbath? Should Satan have victory over her for one more day? Isn’t this a wonderful day and a suitable place – the Sabbath and the assembly of God – to be delivered by the Son of God, the Lord Jesus? You don’t show more compassion to your donkey on this day in this place than to a fellow believer, do you?
Jesus spoke those words with all the authority of heaven behind him, so much more that Luke tells us that synagogue ruler and his cronies were humiliated. They hung their heads in shame, but the people sitting there in the synagogue were delighted. Their dear friend had been healed. They had heard the greatest sermon of their entire lives. It was a wonderful day in the history of their little synagogue and the pompous, proud Pharisees who ran the place had got their come-uppance from heaven itself. What wonderful things Jesus was doing.
You have considered today an event in the life of the unchangeable Lord Jesus when he was confronted with someone who for 18 years had been in the clutches of Satan. The Saviour came to her and freed her from that prison. Satan is busy in our world damaging men and women physically and emotionally, for example, causing dependence on destructive, compulsive substances. There are many living crooked ‘bent over’ lives; they have been brought low by some debilitating situation. The Lord Jesus can deliver them. Through him we can overcome our weakness and limitations. He can lift us up, and ennoble us, empowering our lives. This incident serves you notice from heaven that the Son of God is here, sees your need and is able and willing to transform you. There is hope. There is no need for you to face the future in despair. He who healed this woman is mighty to save today. What did this woman do? What was the price she had to pay? What were the conditions Jesus laid down for her deliverance? “Come unto me!’ That was all. Come to me just as you are, crippled and helpless. Entrust yourself to me. Put yourself in my hands. That was all, and she came to him and he touched her and she was never the same again. “Immediately she straightened up and praised God” (v.13). Do not delay. If you tarry till you’re better you will never come at all. Not the righteous, sinners Jesus came to call.
Deliverance for her came from a willing Saviour. Deliverance for the synagogue ruler comes from the same one. Deliverance from any hostility we have towards Christ comes from Jesus himself. You must stop trusting your own thoughts and feelings and submit yourself to him. Your own thoughts will forever make you a slave of your carnal mind, and will forever keep you in a state of hostile rebellion against God. Therefore, the only way to be delivered from enmity to God is through Jesus Christ, the Saviour. That is what this chapter with all its encouragements and warnings is telling us today.
6th March 2011 GEOFF THOMAS