Jesus Priorities on the Sabbath
The scene has changed. Jesus is no longer in the open air preaching to the crowds and interacting with them. Luke turns our attention to another incident in Jesus’ life.
Sometimes the gospel writers give us a lot of colourful detail. As we read those portions we’re told the name of the place where a particular event occurred and we’re given the personal names of the principal actors. This is not one of those occasions. However Luke does record plenty of information for us to think about and to reflect upon.
A Special Day and a Special Place
Our Lord is now to be found in a synagogue and he is there on a Sabbath day.
Now the synagogue was a place for local Jewish religious worship: it was a place of prayer and worship; it was a place to study God and his word. This was its primary function and this is what dominated on the Sabbath day. During the rest of the week the local synagogue would also function as a sort of community centre providing a place for social gatherings, it was a place where community needs could be addressed.
In telling us Jesus was in the synagogue on the Sabbath Luke is telling us that Jesus was about God’s business on God’s day in the place that was specially set aside for God’s honour. There was nothing unusual in this for Jesus: it was his long-established custom as Luke has already told us earlier in this gospel:
Lk.4:16 "And (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day..."
We live at a time when many in our society, including, sadly, many folk who claim to be Christian, hold a very low view of the Lord’s Day. It is worth reminding ourselves what our Lord’s own attitude was when he walked on the earth. Is there no lesson for us to learn here? No example for us to follow?
We don’t know how many folk were present but this is what we do know:
Jesus was not alone. In addition to Jesus Luke tells us of a Jewish woman with serious health issues. He mentions the ruler of the synagogue and a wider congregation.
The first thing that Luke wants us consider is that Jesus was involved in his favourite practice of teaching. Reading the gospel narratives we find Jesus again and again involved in teaching – he teaches the crowds, he teaches his disciples, he teaches in public and in private, indoors and in the open air. He is called Teacher by his friends and followers and he is called Teacher by those who remain resolutely opposed to him. No-one can seriously doubt that Jesus was a teacher who loved to teach.
But what did Jesus’ teaching involve?
As we consider this incident we see that there are three strands to his method:
He taught by word
He taught by action – ie. he himself did the right and appropriate thing
He taught by correction – ie. he pointed out where others made a mess of things by making the wrong deductions and drawing inappropriate conclusions
I’m reminded of what the apostle Paul would later write concerning God’s word:
1Tim.3:16 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
Luke doesn’t tell us what subject Jesus was teaching that day in the synagogue. All Luke wants us to know is the straightforward fact that Jesus was teaching.
There then comes a break. As there is no hint of an interruption we can only assume that Jesus has finished what he wanted to say and now moved on to dealing with the pressing need of a poor woman in the congregation. Luke, the doctor, describes her condition with his careful diagnostic eye: her sickness or infirmity has a spiritual origin and she had suffered for 18 long years. It was worth noting that despite her long years of suffering this woman was still present in the synagogue services to worship God – she didn’t excuse herself from God’s house on the grounds of her being in a poor physical state. If she came in a state of sadness because of her physical state she certainly went home again rejoicing!
Jesus called her forward – I wonder how she felt about that. Luke doesn’t tell us but he does tell us she responded.
Jesus did two things, he used two means to make this woman well again. Firstly, he spoke words of power to her and, secondly, as he spoke to her he laid his hands upon her. That combination of his words and his touch proved powerful and effective.
It was a work of deliverance and Jesus had done it on the Sabbath. He hadn’t forgotten what the day was – how could he have done, he was teaching in the synagogue and people were there to listen precisely because it was the Sabbath? No, he knew that in healing in this way on the Sabbath he was not only doing something that was not disallowed on the Sabbath but also he was doing something that was in complete and utter harmony with the requirements of the Sabbath. In healing that woman as he did Jesus was teaching by his very actions that to carry out acts of mercy and compassion was right in line with the spirit of the Sabbath.
Well if Jesus had used two means – his word and his hands – it immediately produced two results and one negative reaction.
This woman who had been bent over for so long can at last straighten up! In a display of spiritual power and warm compassion Jesus reached out to this woman and delivered her from those bonds that had restrained her for so long. From that moment on she had a new life to live freed from that oppressive binding that had had such a debilitating effect upon her.
18 long years of devastating, painful stiffness and it was gone in an instant. My friends Jesus has the power and compassion to deliver. There is no such thing as an incurable case to him! You may have been stubbornly opposed to Jesus for long years but you don’t need to despair of salvation. The question is not what were you like in the past but what are you like now? Are you willing to come to Christ now? If you are then there is hope for Jesus Christ welcomes sinful men and women and gives them the new life they need – he himself said:
Mk.2:17 "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
And in the moment of her restoration our once crippled woman turns and glorifies God. She could do nothing to save herself but now saved by Jesus’ gracious and powerful intervention she does what she can – she can glorify God!
Surely we find the two great goals of the Sabbath being brought together in this one glorious incident:
God is honoured
Humankind is refreshed and restored.
Now this was not the first time that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, nor was it the first time he had healed in a synagogue on the Sabbath. But has his teaching and example made any significant headway amongst the population?
The reaction of the ruler of this particular synagogue seems to suggest "No" it hadn’t.
The Ruler and his Wrongs
Don’t you think it had been a wonderful Sabbath so far? If I were to ask you to list what would make for a wonderful Lord’s Day in the church could you ask for something that didn’t happen that day?
The service had been great. The congregation had heard some wonderful spiritual teaching as the very best of teachers proclaimed what the Father had given him to teach.
Deliverance had been brought to a woman in need as Satan’s grip on her life had been loosened by One more powerful than he.
God had been praised and glorified.
Isn’t that exactly what we would love to see happening amongst us Sunday by Sunday? I hope it is.
But there was at least one person present that day who wasn’t the least bit happy. Oh yes, he was present in the synagogue worship service but he was completely out of sorts. His example illustrates that simply attending a religious meeting is no sure fire proof of being right with God and no sure fire way of being made right with God either!
Do you realise that means it is possible for us to be present in church but to be present in completely the wrong way, with completely the wrong attitude of heart? I hope that is not the case with any of us. I hope that we’ve come with a desire to listen to God, to know his power at work in our lives and to glorify him for his gracious goodness towards us. But it is possible for us to be present with an eye focused somewhere entirely different. We may be here to satisfy a friend or a relative; we may be here to satisfy our own idea of correct behaviour – and neither of those motives have the slightest bit to do with God.
The ruler of the synagogue had missed the point of the Sabbath and didn’t want his views challenged. Jesus had spoken and healed but the ruler wants to by-pass Jesus, he wants to ignore Jesus and speak directly to the congregation:
"Don’t you dare come to Sabbath worship expecting God to heal you then, to deliver you then – the community centre is open six days a week come then, he instructs the congregation."
Instead of being grateful to God for what Jesus has done on behalf of this woman and for promoting the glory of God he would make out that Jesus is a law-breaker for he works when he shouldn’t be working!
This man was the ruler of the synagogue. He was probably considered as a fine upstanding man in the community. But don’t let appearances deceive you – he was out of line and needed to be corrected. And Jesus was just about to correct him!
As Jesus responds to the ruler’s word it quickly becomes clear that the ruler is not the only one to be holding on to a bunch of wrong ideas. Jesus broadens his answer to include others who shared the same misguided ideas.
"Hypocrites" he calls them and the word he uses is in the plural.
But this is no gratuitous insult but a challenge not to condemn in others what they in fact do themselves. What is the charge? The charge is this: they’re willing to do work on the Sabbath when that involves taking proper and due care of their own animals. They will untie their oxen and their donkeys and lead them out to drink the water they need and they’ll do that on the Sabbath without blinking an eyelid. So why do they want to disallow a similar act of charity and compassion expressed not to a donkey but to a daughter of Abraham?
Jesus isn’t accusing them of breaking the Sabbath in caring for their livestock – they were right to be concerned - but he is saying that they ought to be yet more concerned about people like this poor woman. She was one of them and she hadn’t been tied up just overnight but for 18 years. If anything the Sabbath was the most appropriate day for the deliverance of such a one!
I don’t want you to miss what Jesus has to say about this particular woman’s problems. The whole passage makes it clear that her disability was not due to any simple medical or physical cause. The Message gets it all wrong at this point by suggesting she was "twisted and bent over with arthritis". Luke tells us she had a "disabling spirit", "a spirit of infirmity" and Jesus attributes her condition directly to Satan.
The point I want to make is this: Satan’s influence in the life of a person is negative. Sometimes his influence doesn’t appear very great and sometimes, as in this case, it appears in extreme form but always the effect is negative. You sometimes hear people joking about Satan but you don’t find such talk in the Bible. This woman had been bound for 18 long years but she came to Christ and was set free. How long have you gone on being bound by Satan? Will you not come to Christ even today?
Jesus’ words proved unanswerable and all his hearers knew it.
Some were put to shame – their failure to be consistent and their failure to express the appropriate compassion that was called for was clear for all to see. They hadn’t got a word to say in self-defence. I wonder what they did in their shame. I wonder whether they sat down quietly and pleaded with God to forgive them and to help them in the future. Or did they simply resent it all and allow their shame to distil into sullen anger and hatred for the man who had exposed their spiritual blindness and poverty?
The wider congregation, it seems, heard Jesus’ explanations with real joy. They realised that he was doing glorious things and they rejoiced at it all.
Which group do you find yourself fitting in with? Do you rejoice in the truth that Jesus taught and evidenced by his own deeds? Have you responded to him and experienced something of his grace in your life? Are you ready to praise God for the demonstration of saving power in and through the Lord Jesus Christ? Or do you want to defend your old ways? Do you prefer not to be shown your own inconsistencies? Are you perhaps unable to contradict Jesus but still remain resolutely opposed to the idea of changing your ways and trusting him?
The word and the power of Jesus divided people then and it divides people to this day. I can only appeal to you to lay down the weapons of your opposition to Jesus as I commend him to you. The woman’s was transformed that day and Jesus can transform your life today. She had to respond to his call to receive what he offered her and similarly you must respond in a personal manner to Christ.
A Conclusion NOT to be Drawn
Before we close I want to urge you not to take away from this incident a false conclusion concerning the Sabbath, or God’s day, the Lord’s Day.
We are not to imagine that the synagogue ruler’s view of the Sabbath represented the old view of the Sabbath and that Jesus was in the business of bringing in a whole new regime of things. If you take that line you will make a big mistake. Plenty of folk do that and imagine that they can do whatever they might find it in their fancy to do on the Lord’s Day.
The great problem is that we so easily get things mixed up and confuse our will and what we want to do with God’s will for us. And so we hear people talking about their Christian freedom as though that entitles them to do whatever they want to do without any genuine regard for God’s honour and glory.
Jesus was not concerned to rewrite the laws concerning the Sabbath he was concerned to draw out their true meaning. Yes, Jesus sets the captive free and the Christian does indeed have a wonderful freedom but this is chiefly a freedom now to do what is right; it is not an absolute freedom whereby man decides what is right and wrong for himself. Our God remains our Sovereign Lord and Master.
It is not an easy task to work out how to live our lives as Christians. We can go wrong in a variety of ways: if we focus overly much on outward matters such as "going to church" we may forget to make sure that the attitude of the heart is what it ought to be. If we don’t focus enough on the outward we may well neglect the meeting together of the brethren and sideline the "one another" injunctions of Scripture. It is not easy to "love one another", "to encourage one another", "to serve one another" if we hardly ever meet. Jesus did all that for the woman in our story that Sabbath day – he wouldn’t have done any of it had he decided to give the meeting a miss that week!
So pray for our gatherings on the Lord’s Day that they might more and more mirror that Sabbath Day that we’ve been thinking about this morning.
A real encounter with Jesus
Clear and powerful teaching of God’s word
Fruit flowing from Christ as lives are transformed
Our own errors being exposed and corrected
God being glorified
Rejoicing as we see Jesus at work doing glorious things.
And to God be the glory,