Had Jesus preached at the local synagogue that day? Was the invitation he received simply the common courtesy of feeding the visitor speaker? After all, the host that day was a leading Pharisee and that probably meant that he was one of the leaders of the synagogue. Eating together on the Sabbath day was something of a special event in Jewish life with the food having being carefully prepared the day before. The host that day was a well-
Luke doesn’t satisfy our curiosity at this point instead he contents himself with telling us that Jesus had been invited for a meal and the meal took place in a Pharisees home on the Sabbath.
This is actually the third time that Luke tells us of Jesus going to eat in the home of a Pharisee. Luke has also already informed us concerning a lot of things that had happened on previous Sabbaths and now he has some more to tell us about.
Generally speaking the Pharisees had shown themselves hostile towards the preacher from Nazareth and it is perhaps a little surprising to find another invitation being extended to Jesus.
Despite their hostility Jesus continued to accept their invitations and as long as they came. It would seem that despite their opposition Jesus didn’t give up on them.
On this particular Sabbath Luke immediately tells us that Jesus was subjected to close scrutiny. Now this was nothing new for Jesus, he was well used to being carefully observed, and he conducted himself, as always, with a calm wisdom and in a dignified manner. It was a social event but he was still, as always, about his Father’s business taking this as another God-
Jesus began with a robust defence of what it meant to keep the Sabbath properly (vv.1-
This morning we will limit ourselves to the first of these interventions.
As soon as Jesus arrived he was closely watched by those who were already there. Specifically we are told that this group of observers was made up of more Scribes and Pharisees and we immediately sense that they were hostile towards him. Theirs was not the look of interest or curiosity but it was a close scrutiny that hoped to find some fault in the man.
Jesus was used to this – it wasn’t the first time nor would it be the last.
Now Jesus public ministry lasted for some three years and during that time he was closely watched and examined. His friends walked with him closely and found nothing amiss in him. His enemies who longed to be able to find some reason, any reason, for accusing him watched him closely too. They wanted to accuse him and to denigrate him but they found nothing at all. This fact came into the open when they had Jesus arrested: the charges brought against him were trumped up charges which they couldn’t make stick and so they resorted to the testimony of false witnesses in their attempts to condemn him.
All this points to something remarkable in this man. Every other man or woman who has lived on earth has failed in some way or another, or as the Bible puts it: "all we like sheep have gone astray" or again "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" but not Jesus! What a special man he was! Have you ever bothered to stop and think about that?
A Christian must not be surprised if his own experience is similar to that of his Lord. You too, if you are a true disciple of Jesus Christ, must be prepared to be closely watched by others. Sometimes you will be observed to see if there is anything in this business of Christianity: is it real? is it genuine? will be the questions driving those who are watching you. Sometimes however the observation will be more hostile and if you slip up don’t be surprised if you overhear someone say "And he calls himself a Christian".
Why is this the case? Well a Christian by definition is a witness – he may be a good witness or a bad witness but he cannot avoid being a witness of some sort. Now the good witness of a godly life serves as something of a plumb-
But they never ever found such a kink in the godly life of Jesus – so what did they do? You would think they would esteem him but they didn’t, they crucified him!
But let’s come back to this particular occasion.
On that Sabbath Day as Jesus was being observed we are told that right in front of him stood a sick man, a man suffering from dropsy (to use the old name) – he had a problem of water-
What we do know is that it was Jesus who took matters in hand.
Before he actually did anything he directed a question to those who were so carefully watching him and it was a question that they, as experts in the Law, should have had no difficulty in answering. The question he asked them was a question about the law:
v.3 " Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?"
Everyone knew what Jesus’ opinion was on the matter. The gospels record seven specific miracles of healing that Jesus performed on the Sabbath and this was possibly the last of them. On one of the earlier occasions Jesus had asked the religious leaders who were gathered together then in the synagogue a very similar question. On that occasion he asked them what they thought:
Lk.6:9 "I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?"
Then as now no answer was offered by the legal experts. They knew that there was no specific commandment that forbade healing on the Sabbath and yet their own practice was to try to restrict such healing to the minimum on the Sabbath. Failing to properly understand the purpose of the Sabbath laws they preferred to follow the religious traditions that had been built up over the years. They were prepared to tolerate healing but only when delay might prove fatal.
It is highly unlikely that a delay would have proved fatal in the case of this man with dropsy. To deny him healing would, however, have laid the legal experts open to the charge of a lack of compassion – and the Pharisees had to keep up their religion of appearances!
Jesus understood that the law concerning the Sabbath was designed by God for man’s well-
Back in Luke ch.6 Jesus had openly challenged the Pharisees understanding of Sabbath Day law and he did so again in Luke ch.13 when on another visit to a synagogue he had healed a woman who had been crippled by Satan for 18 years. On that second occasion Jesus had effectively countered objections by arguing that the Sabbath was in fact the most appropriate day for the woman to be healed!
Now why am I reminding you of what had already taken place? For this reason: the Pharisees too knew what he had said and done on those occasions!
Jesus caused such a stir during his years of public ministry that news about what he said and what he did circulated very quickly. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist but still news about him spread like wild-
But had they taken this on board? Were they ready to repent? Were they ready to admit that they had been wrong and to change their ways? Or were they simply going to press on regardless?
The same questions address us as well. How will we respond?
You have all heard something about Jesus – what are you doing with what you hear? Have you faced up to his truth and admitted that you’ve been wrong? Have you repented and asked God to forgive you? Or are you merely hearing words and doing nothing at all about them?
Well, Jesus has asked his question and he waited for the Pharisees to answer him:
Lk.6:9 "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?"
Another Healing Takes Place
As I try to imagine the scene I begin to sense the tension: – What’s going to happen? Will they give an answer? What will Jesus do next?
But no answer was forthcoming. They didn’t answer Jesus’ question – they remained silent. They could have given an answer but they wouldn’t.
We don’t know how long Jesus waited for that answer which never came but we do know that it was he who decided to move things along! He reached out and took the man with dropsy in his arms, healed him and sent him on his way.
The sentence is so short and matter of fact:
v.4 "Then he took him and healed him and sent him away."
It all sounds so easy, so straightforward, and in one way it was – Jesus had the power to perform miracles and he exercised that power widely. And yet we also know that such ministry took its toll on him. Jesus was aware of power flowing from him when he healed. We know that he found his ministry so exhausting that he could fall asleep in a boat and sleep on and on even as the wind and waves began to fill the boat with water; we know too that he had to sit exhausted by a well while his disciples, who evidently hadn’t been worn out by the journey, went away to buy food. Yes, it cost Jesus but it didn’t stop him doing good and continuing to be about his Father’s business.
Let me commend this extraordinary man to you once again.
A Challenging Explanation
No sooner was the miracle of healing performed than Jesus was addressing those men who had just refused to answer his question.
Having failed to declare that healing on the Sabbath was against the law they were not in a position to criticise him for what he had just done. But Jesus wanted to try to help them clarify their own spiritual sight and understanding – they had been stubborn up until now but he would persist too in his attempts to help them see things aright.
Isn’t that good to know! A failure to get things right, even repeated failures to get things straight, do not prevent Jesus from reaching out to people. But let us beware lest our own repeated failure to respond to his endeavours to help us harden us to such an extent that he eventually give up on us. There is an opportune moment for us, now is the day of salvation we are told. The exhortation comes telling us to call on the Lord while he may be found and the implication is that it is sadly possible for us to miss our opportunity!
The words that Jesus now spoke to the Pharisees were similar to the ones he had spoken after healing that poor lady who had been crippled for 18 years. They had doubtless heard a report of what he had said and done then so it is unlikely that his words now would strike them as completely new – but had they thought about them in the interim? Had they allowed them to produce any effect or change in their lives? This is what Jesus said:
v.5 "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?"
The logic of the question is easy enough to trace. If you are prepared to set aside your strict and false interpretation of the law when some personal interest is at stake how can they possibly condemn a similar action done disinterestedly.
Now of course Jesus is not by any stretch of the imagination encouraging the Pharisees to leave their son or their ox in that well on a Sabbath. Of course they are right to pull him and it out for that is the right and the proper thing to do. Rather Jesus is inviting the Pharisees to learn how to apply the law consistently and to judge with right judgement.
So the ball was thrown back into the camp of the Pharisees. How would they respond this time?
It isn’t comfortable or easy to have to climb down when your thoughts, ideas and practice have been shown to be out of line but it is better to be challenged rather than to be allowed to go on and on pursuing a wrong path. By giving his explanations and by asking his questions and by making his observations Jesus was in reality inviting his hearers to change. But would they do so?
I wonder whether, as you think more and more about the Lord Jesus Christ and as you hear more of what he taught and see more of what he did, that you have discovered that some of your cherished beliefs are in fact wrong. Perhaps you realise that you really should do something about it.
Well, you can, you know! I want you to know that God is at work; he shows you your errors, your mistakes, yes, your sin, not in order to make you feel bad or to crush you but so that you can turn to him and have your life turned around and sorted out.
Jesus had begun this luncheon appointment in such a kind way. He engaged in conversation on spiritual subjects. He pointed out areas where he knew his hearers were going seriously astray and tried to lead them into a clearer understanding of the truth.
He continued by doing good to a needy man: he healed him.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter: Jesus still wanted to give an opportunity to these men to be directed by the truth. How would they respond? And how will you?
Well I can’t answer for you but sadly I can for the men who were present closely watching Jesus. They saw a thoroughly upright man do thoroughly good and upright things in holy harmony with the law of God and yet they stubbornly refused to allow any of it to penetrate deeply into their lives or reframe their thinking.
They had no answer to give him – they knew that they couldn’t counter his argument and that they had no just alternative to propose – but in spite of all of that they dug their heels in. This time they gave no answer because they had none to give. They couldn’t answer and so they wouldn’t speak.
It was all further evidence that they just did not want this man and they weren’t about to let anything alter their preconceived ideas. My friend, don’t be like that. Let God speak to you. Listen to his voice and respond to it. God is no kill-
Christian, rejoice in the love of God so remarkably displayed in this glorious Saviour.