One man has said that this is a great passage because it tells us how everyone got straightened out on the Sabbath day. We have a lady who literally gets straightened out on the Sabbath. She’s described as having a sort of paralysis in her back, which caused her to be hunched over.
Then there is the ruler of the synagogue. Physically, he was fine. But you could say that there is a sense in which he got bent out of shape. He was all in a tangle over this healing and its taking place on the Sabbath day.
And our passage tells us how Jesus sets them both straight.
In other words, the we are all a little off kilter. We don't think the way we should. Our minds are twisted and the Word of God is given to us in order to straighten us out.
And this passage is here to straighten us out on three things, the first being our understanding of the Sabbath.
I. Let’s straighten out our understanding of the Sabbath.
This whole episode revolves around the issue of the fourth commandment. The first verse tells us that Jesus was in the synagogue on the Sabbath. And the ruler of the synagogue gets all exercised because this healing took place on the Sabbath. So, when you think about this passage, it is important to have something of a framework of what the Sabbath is all about.
And we need to get ourselves straight on this issue too. We’ve sort of gone in the opposite direction in our day. Back in Jesus’ time, the Sabbath day was too strictly applied. Today, we don’t really have any concept of Sabbath. The fourth commandment is virtually non-existent in our day. A lot of the time I think that the evangelical world believes in 9 commandments and not 10.
But this is something that we should really contemplate deeply and seek to make part of our spiritual life. There is great profit in it for those who take this commandment seriously and seek to honor God’s day of rest.
I understand that a lot of people react adversely to the Sabbath principle. They see all these laws and all the restrictions that God places on people and they see the fourth commandment as burdensome. But we really have to understand the nature of the Sabbath. When we do that, we’ll understand why all these laws and regulations are given and we will see the Sabbath in a whole different light.
You see, the Sabbath was instituted—not just for the purpose of rest, but for the purpose of restoration. It was designed to be a day of where you can be rejuvenated. You might say that there is an element of resurrection embedded in it.
On a physical level, it was a day where you could give your body some much needed down time. You were to cease from your labors so that you could recuperate from the rigors that are demanded of your body all week long.
The same applied to your oxen and livestock. You know, those were like the tractors of the ancient world. God didn’t want you running them 7 days a week. If you did, what would happen? It would be a form of abuse. Those animals would be run into the ground. The Lord wanted his people to give them a day off so they could rest and, ultimately, so that they would be useful for a longer range of time.
I think that can still transfer over today. We live in a more technologically advanced age, but I don’t doubt that our electronics still could use some downtime. If you have a computer, it might not be good for it to be running 7 days a week. Those electrodes in there could probably use a little time off.
Certainly, we need the Sabbath principle though. We need the restoration that the Sabbath offers. There are so many today that are so busy with their work and with their play and with their running here and there that they are running themselves ragged. There is no rest.
There are many people who are working, working, working. The grind of labor is all that they know. Or for some people, they just don’t know how to rest. They might not necessarily be on the job, but they are running, running, running. They can’t stop. Sundays are the day for chores around the house. Or, it is just that their tempo of life doesn’t allow for any physical down time.
What we have to understand is that God made us in such a way as to need some physical reprieve.
But, of course, there is more to it than that. The physical element is really just one part. Or maybe we could say that the physical element is supposed to serve the spiritual side of things.
You see, the Sabbath principle, is primarily about the rest we are to find in our Lord. Sunday is to be a time of spiritual rejuvenation.
Why are we to set aside our normal employments? What was the purpose of putting aside our occupations for one day? It was so that we could let our souls be refreshed through communion with the Lord.
The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” And it says that it is the Sabbath, “Unto the Lord your God.” What does it mean to keep it holy and to keep it “unto the Lord your God?” It means that we are to give it over to God.
In other words, we are to take time to enjoy the communion we have with the Lord. We are to spend as much time as we can in his presence and devote ourselves to the rest that we have in the Lord.
You see the benefit of this for us too. It causes us to be rejuvenated spiritually. As we spend time in the worship of the Lord our souls are revitalized and we become invigorated to serve the Lord through another week.
Perhaps you have not really given a lot of thought to the idea of Sunday and how it ought to be observed. But I would encourage you to begin thinking about Sunday as a day of rest. Think about how it is supposed to be a day or restoration and rejuvenation. Because, if you think about it that way, it will take on a whole new meaning. And you will really treat it differently than the other days of the week.
Moreover, when you think about it this way, you’ll understand why there was no reason for this synagogue ruler to be all in a tizzy. Why was it appropriate for this woman to be healed on the Sabbath? It was because it was an act of restoration. Far from being a violation of the fourth commandment, it was a perfect fulfilment of it.
Now, we could go one to talk about how it is appropriate on the Lord’s Day to do what has commonly been called “works of mercy.” That is, to do acts of love and kindness to those who need it.
For instance, when Elizabeth and I were in college, we were part of an “Adopt a Grandparent” program. And every Sunday we would visit an elderly man in a nursing home who rarely had contact with anyone from the outside world.
We could extrapolate such things from this passage. And we could talk more about what the Sabbath requires and forbids. I’m going to hold off on that though. Because this passage doesn’t just straighten out our understanding of the Sabbath. It is also here to straighten out our understanding of Christ and his redeeming grace.
II. Let’s straighten out our understanding of Christ and his grace
You see, this woman’s healing isn’t presented to us in terms of a medical condition. When you listen to this text, you find that this healing is more than just a high end chiropractic adjustment. It is really pointing to the larger idea of Christ’s work as the Savior.
Scholars pretty much all agree that Luke is one of the most dynamic writers of the New Testament. And I would even go so far as to say that his literary skill is perhaps better than his aptitude as a doctor.
For instance, take note of some of the language that is used here. In verse 11 Luke describes the woman’s condition. And it says that she has “a disabling spirit.” (some versions will have something like “A spirit of infirmity”). That language seems to be telling us that this woman has more than just a physical handicap. It kind of sounds like a there is a demonic hold on this woman. And that may be collaborated by what it says in verse 16. Jesus says that it was Satan who had bound this woman for 18 years.
And you will also notice what Jesus says in verse 12. Jesus does not say, “Woman, be healed.” He says, “You are freed.” That’s language of being released from some kind of bondage. Later in the passage, in verse 16, Jesus says that she was “loosed.” It is the kind of language that indicates chains coming undone and falling off. Slaves can be loosed from their captivity. Or, it could be indicative of coming out from under a debt. When you paid off your house you are “freed” or “loosed” from being under the one to whom you were indebted.
Again, Jesus isn’t just doing a quick chiropractic adjustment here. His healing of this woman is speaking to the real essence of Sabbath restoration. He’s indicating something about who he is as the one who breaks the power of sin and Satan.
Even the picture here is significant. Don’t miss the image of this event. We are not seeing it play out on a screen, but think about what it would look like. And remember the context that we just read in the passage before. We just talked about the need for repentance. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.”
And here we have a woman who is bent over. For 18 years she has gone around with her face bowed over to the ground. And the text doesn’t say that she came that day seeking to be healed. It makes it sound like it was a normal thing for her to be there in the synagogue. She was a lady who was bowed before the Lord, and who was always seeking his face.
I believe that this lady was designed to be a picture of what a penitent person.
And she is presented as a picture of God’s redemption too. Because, you’ll notice what Luke says in verse 13, “Immediately she was made straight.” All her crookedness was gone. She was made to stand upright before the Lord. That’s the language of justification.
Isn’t that a beautiful demonstration of what happens when someone repents and trusts Christ? In the Day of Judgment you do not perish. But he causes you to be able to stand before the Lord.
This healing is here not as an entirely separate passage from the one before. It is a continued message. It is here to give you the assurance of the salvation that Christ alone can give. It is here to remind you that through Christ there is restoration. There is an eternal Sabbath to be had. There is rest from your sins through the healing power of Christ.
Jesus wishes to show you here that there is salvation from sin. When you come to him bowed over in repentance, you will be saved. You will not perish on the Day of Judgment, but you will be made to stand upright before his face.
There is one other thing that we must get straight though. This passage is not only here to straighten out our understanding of the Sabbath and the salvation we have through Christ. It also is here to straighten out our understanding of the stubborn nature of apostasy.
III. Let’s straighten out our understanding of rebellion and apostasy
I really believe that it is this that is the main emphasis of the passage. I mentioned a second ago Luke’s aptitude as a writer. He is really quite skilled. In this passage he uses a literary device called chiasm. A chiasm is a device where you put words or ideas in parallel so that the main point is in the middle.
To put it another way, in the ancient world, when you wanted to emphasize something you would put it in the middle. You might say that they would make the main point the core or heart of their argument.
And that’s what we have here. The passage begins and ends by talking about the Sabbath. Then on both sides, it talks about this woman’s predicament. And right in the middle Luke puts the reaction of the synagogue ruler.
And how does he react? His reaction is actually interesting. You’ll notice that he doesn’t even acknowledge Jesus. He is angry with Jesus, but he yells at the people. In verse 14 he says, “There are six days in which work ought to be done, come back an be healed on one of those days.”
He’s talking to the people. He will not even recognize that Jesus is standing right there.
Let me ask you this: Who is the one who is depicted as having the real paralysis in this passage? Or maybe we should say, “Who is the one in this passage who has the stiff neck?”
In the Old Testament the Lord often described his people this way. When they stubbornly refused to turn from their sins he would say that they were a stiff necked people. He would talk about them being a “crooked.” The idea was that they were so twisted up in their rebellion that they were unable to repent.
Now, remember again, Jesus has just talked about the state of Israel. He had told this parable about the vineyard and the fig tree that wouldn’t produce any fruit. He said, “Let me try and give it some special attention. If it blossoms and produces figs, then good. If not, then you can cut it down.”
Now, here Jesus is. He’s calling his people to repent. He is standing right there. By his miracle he is testifying to the fact that he is ready to save them and restore them. But this guy will not even acknowledge his presence. He will not even talk to him.
I can’t help but think that Luke is saying, “Look at these people. Look at how stiff necked they have become. Look at how crooked their hearts are that they will not even acknowledge the saving power of Christ.”
And this is the lesson that we here need to take note of. You must be alert to the fact that you must bend your knee to Christ. If you do not turn from your sins, there is no Sabbath for you to enjoy. A stiff necked and rebellious people will be cut off.
My Friends, The hours of life are quickly slipping through the hourglass. The Lord has appointed for us a certain amount of life and each of us is moving towards that moment when we will draw our last breath.
None of us know when the tides of death will sweep in upon us. But we all know that it is inevitable. As they say, there are only two realities in life: Death and taxes.
But not so with death. You cannot trick it and you cannot be so clever as to out maneuver it. While it might be put off for a good while, at some point it will have you cornered.
The Scripture tells us that it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment. Once our eyes close, we will awaken to a new existence. We will appear before God and we will find what our fate will be for the rest of eternity.
And what we should experience in that new state is dependent upon what we find in this passage this morning. Our text today is one of the most grave of all of Scripture. It is one that I believe is of the utmost importance for our day.
It lays out for us what I would like to call the “lost” doctrine of repentance. Repentance is something that our culture knows virtually nothing about. And unfortunately, there are relatively few in the church today that understand it. To most Christians it is nothing more than a dusty relic that you may read about in some puritan age pieces of literature.
But this doctrine is the key that unlocks the dismal door of death. As Christ speaks here he lays forth for us the need and nature of true repentance. And he reminds us that if we fail to give adequate attention to this doctrine, then we fail to rightly prepare for that last bell that will toll for our lives.
In order to rightly prepare for death, we must understand—and feel with the greatest sensibility—our great need for repentance.
I. The need for repentance
Jesus repeats it twice in this passage so as not to be mistaken, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And in these words he seeks to awaken us to the terrible state we are in.
His original audience, of course were the jews of his day. His audience had enjoyed the favors of God and the many privileges of his covenant love. But because they had not produced any fruits of faith, they were going to face a calamity similar to the ones mentioned here. The slaying of the Galileans and the 18 that died when the tower fell upon them—these were just two events that indicated that God’s anger was roused. They were warnings, you might say—a shot across the bow, that they as a covenant people were under God’s wrath.
Jesus says, “Don’t think that they are any worse sinners than the rest of those in Galilee or Jerusalem.” In other words, all of Israel has apostatized. They are all guilty of self-righteousness and unbelief. And do not think that these events fell upon them because they were any worse sinners than the rest of you who live in Israel! “I tell you,” he says. “Unless all of you repent, you will all likewise perish.” You will all face a sudden calamity.
This, of course, came to its fulfilment in 70 AD when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. Because they persisted in their unbelief and did not give homage to God like they were supposed to, they were cut off.
But these warnings should remind us of our own need for repentance. These threats that are extended to Israel should awaken us and cause us to realize that God does not take sin lightly. He will not tolerate the one who stubbornly refuses to mend his ways to live.
But this is the classic disease for the church in America. There is very little to do with repentance and very little preaching on the need for it.
One time I was invited to speak at a Christian function. It was a basketball program. At the half time they would always have speaker come out and the intent was to share the gospel with the parents in the stands. I chose this passage as my text and I preached the need for repentance. When I was done, I took my seat. And I just happened to sit down next to the director of the program. And she said to me, “That was a great message. Thank you so much. That was just lovely. I don’t think we’ve ever heard anything about repentance before.” Then she turned around and started to watch the game. As she did so she said to herself, “Hm, repentance.”
But it is true, most people don’t preach such a thing. Even fewer understand the necessity of it.
I read somewhere that 80% of people think that when they die they will go to heaven. But most of those people are likely going to be rather surprised when they wake up on the other side! That’s because it takes more than dying to go to heaven. God says that if you do not repent, then you will perish—you will end up spending eternity in a place you had hoped to avoid.
And this problem is endemic within the church, of all places! We have the preaching of grace, grace, grace. But we have twisted it and made grace a license to sin.
But all need to understand that without repentance there is no escaping the wrath and curse of God. Sin is an odious thing in the eyes of God, and we should not think that God will overlook it. It is an offense to him. It violates his honor in a hideous way, and so it rouses his anger.
We have all seen the footage of a tornado on our televisions. We have seen the force of its winds and and how they sweep through a town, ravaging all that are in its way. We know the suddenness in which it can come on and the seeming anger of its nature. Such is the wrath and furry of God over sin. A man who will not repent will find that God will fall upon him with the same fierce might. His judgment will be a terror, swift and strong. One moment there will be the joys of sunny skies. But the next they will find themselves doomed.
The sirens are now being sounded; you must understand the danger of being in a state of unrepentance. All men have sinned against the Lord. All men have grieved him deeply. And the we must understand that those who are not moved to repentance are in a terrible place.
Christ’s words are words of warning, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Once we understand this truth and grasp how necessary repentance is, it then follows that we should consider what true repentance looks like. If repentance is so needed, what is its nature?
II. The nature of repentance
Now there is certainly a lot we can say about repentance. But here are a few observations that we can glean from out text. The word repent is used twice in our passage, in verse 3 and in verse 5. It doesn’t come out in our versions very well, but in the original language it is in a different tense. As such it has a slight nuance that we should take note of.
In verse 5 the repent is in the aroist tense. That indicates that this repentance is a singular event. A one time act. Repentance here is to be understood as an abrupt halt where one ceases from this enamored association with sin. It is to make a definitive break with this lifestyle that is contrary to God.
One commentator says that the form of the word that is found in verse 5 indicates the urgency and the immediacy of the act. It is to be so overcome by the radical evil of the thing and the danger into which it puts you that you act with haste to stop it.
My wife will tell you that she often worries when I go out alone. When I’m driving I sometimes get a little wrapped up in my own thoughts. Or, if I’m talking with her, I will not be concentrating as much as I should on the driving as I am the conversation. And as a result, there will be times when we are going along and we will be talking. We will be having a jolly time enjoying the conversation. Then, all of a sudden, she will yell out, “Watch out!” And I’ll look up and see nothing but bright read lights from the back of the car in front of me as traffic is coming to a stop. As soon as I hear her voice and see the lights, I don’t keep going. I see the danger and I recognize that I have not been doing what I should. So I hit the brakes.
You could say that I make a one time definitive decision to stop the things I have been doing.
Well, that is what this word in verse 5 is saying. Jesus is telling us that we must cease doing what we are doing. We must recognize the evil of our way, we must see that we have not been living the way God wants us to live, and we must determine to never live that way again.
But we must not only make this one time, definite decision to stop living this way. We must understand that repentance is something that is a lifelong thing. It is a continual demonstration of our grief and hatred of sin in that we continually confess it and seek to be rid of it.
That’s what we find in verse 3. In verse 3 the word repent is in the present tense. And the present tense indicates a repetitive action. So we might translate it, “Unless you keep on repenting, you will likewise perish.”
If I might use my car illustration again, we could say this. It is not enough for me to slam on the brakes of my car. Once I make that stop, I must now begin to put it in reverse and move away from the car in front of me. I must not travel again in the same way. I have to show that this indeed was a definitive break with this lifestyle. So much was it so that it now becomes a part of my normal way of life.
Repentance is like that. It needs to be ongoing and must be something of a lifestyle. I like the way Jonathan Edwards puts it in his sermon, “When once the sinner hath thus seen the vileness of it, he takes his leave of [it]—bids it an eternal adieu, desires to have no more to do with it. It was his darling in time past, that he used to take delight in and loved above all things, that he used to hug and embrace; but now he bids it be gone at an infinite distance and never have anything more to do with him.”
This is a truth that many in our day have not considered well.
We have too many people walking around thinking that some prayer they prayed at some campfire is going to get them into heaven. And all the while they are living like heathen people. I will tell you this: God could care less about your campfire prayers! God does not give a lick if you walked the isle at some evangelistic meeting. If you have not repented, you will not be admitted entrance into heaven.
We have many people who shed tears at the alter. There are throngs who have gone to the evangelistic meeting and “made a decision for the Lord.” And perhaps there have even been some who have repented in that they confessed their sins and expressed true sorrow for them.
But this has not become a pa rt of them. They were like the pigs that have gone back to revel in the mud. These poor people think that their souls are safe because they have had this one time experience.
But such is a foolish notion. There is no salvation for such a person. One cannot break with sin and still continue to hold its hand. We must, as Edwards said, bid it that eternal adieu.
This doctrine is one that is incumbent upon us all. If there is one section of the newspaper that will never dry up it is the section having to do with obituaries. Legions of people fall every day and our time may very well be at hand. We are racing towards it at lightening speed.
If you are one who has been stung by the gravity of your sin and you have turned with mourning in your heart to the Lord, then this day you may take heart. God has cast your sins far from him and he showers upon your the favor of his grace. Hell for you is only a distant place that you will only hear about and never see.
But if there would be one who has not repented of his sins, but carelessly continues about his jolly way, you must not be deceived about the state of your soul. Salvation for you is just a dream, a figment of your imagination to which you foolishly cling.
The only way you may avert this disaster is to let your heart be melted today. Be done with your sin and turn to the Lord.
“At 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 29, 2013, in what has been called a “brutal and vicious act,” a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, forcibly removing all four of the family’s children (ages 7-14). The sole grounds for removal were that the parents, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education."
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association article went on to say,
This military grade raid occurred for the high crime of homeschooling.
I believe that this is illustrative of what is contained in our passage this morning. It shows something of the tension that exists between Christ and the rest of the world.
To be sure the authorities have nothing against home education as such. What upsets them is what those kids might learn there. If they are in the schools, the authorities can be sure they are getting a proper humanistic education. At home, who knows! They could be learning crazy things: like Scripture, or what it means to follow Christ.
As I said, this illustrates well the tension that is spoken of in our passage. We have seen that one of the main themes of this gospel is the division that exists between the Christian and the unbelieving. You can’t help but think that this book was written simply for the purpose of preparing the reader for the problems that he would meet with once he decides to follow Christ.
Our passage this morning certainly is one of those texts. Once again Jesus highlights the fault line that exists in this world. Christianity and the unbelieving world are like two tectonic plates. They are as distinct and separate as can be, but they are in constant friction.
Our passage even begins with Jesus admitting that he is the source and center of this tension.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.