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.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.