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What the Sabbath Is For

Luke 13:14-17

Well, we are back in Luke 13 to finish what we started last week, so I’d invite you to turn there in your Bibles to Luke 13 and verse 10. Last week we covered the section of Jesus healing a woman, and we saw that she had been in a severe state of being crippled for 18 years. We saw that her physical malady had a spiritual source, and in this case, that source was an evil spirit, an evil spirit that had oppress, oppressed her, literally crushing her spine under the weight of spiritual oppression.

And over time that condition became hardened. Her bent-over frame made it difficult to stand and walk and sleep and conduct herself through the world as many of us take for granted, not having the same condition, but very painful what she had to endure, and it led to other problems as well. Spiritual oppression led to the physical affliction, and that had social, relational and financial implications on her life as well. There was a complex web of suffering that left her in a state of pain and sadness and isolation as well.

And all of that changed one day when Jesus came to her, her own synagogue, the place where she attended, and when he saw her, he took notice. Look at the text, Luke 13:10-13: “Now he was teaching in one of their synagogues on the Sabbath, and there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for 18 years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability.’ And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.”

I like what J. C. Ryle said: “She came sorrowing, but went home rejoicing.” Isn’t that true? I feel that every Sunday when I come into the house of the Lord. I, I love to come in, no matter what my condition, my state of my soul is. When I leave here, I am elated, I am joyful. I am filled with gratitude for God and for his work in all of his people. It’s so good to be with you in the house of the Lord, and then to go home just leaves me in a state of joy and gratitude.

And we give glory to God, don’t we, as we leave this place and we see what he’s doing in our midst, and this is, this is this woman. She has attributed her spiritual freedom and her physical healing, she’s rightly attributed that to God. She’s perceived, rightly, that God is at work in Christ. He is the one who declared her freedom. He’s the one who laid his hands on her, and yet she sees through him to the God who gave him power and gave him words of authority, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, as “Jesus came,” Luke 4:18-19, “he came to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That’s certainly what came to her, is the Lord’s favor. And her freedom began immediately as she turned in response to glorify God. And now, having been spiritually liberated and physically restored, her heart is set free. She is filled with gratitude and joy as she glorifies God, and she anticipates a life of serving Christ and serving his people. And that’s where we could hope that this account would end, on that happy note, that high note of glorifying God. That’s where it should end, with her giving glory to God, and all of us rejoicing.

But it doesn’t end there. We’re meant to see something else because there’s someone here who is a little less than thrilled, if you can believe that. Less than thrilled about this liberating power of God working through Jesus Christ to liberate and restore this woman. Apparently, verse 14, this little incident had violated the discipline or the decorum of the Sabbath.

This man was, it says in verse 14, he was “indignant,” indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. So he being the one in charge, there, he throws the flag, he blows the whistle over an apparent technical violation. He says to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed and not on the Sabbath day.”

Who is this guy? I mean, what right does he have to say such things? What right does he have to impose this censure on this crowd of people? Well, he’s the ruler of the synagogue, the archisynagogos. Archi refers to rank, refers to a ranking position. He’s someone in a, an authoritative role. And here this man has charge over this local congregation, this, this local synagogue. So some translations give the word as “leader,” “official,” some even “synagogue president.” So he’s like the president of a, of a society in the community and all the rest.

So he’s the one who’s there to oversee things, to be, the, the buck stops with him. And as far as this local synagogue is concerned, he oversees the order of service, the people who will read the scriptures for that, that, that day’s readings. He oversees the preaching and the preaching schedule, order, discipline, decorum.

In our setting, in a local church, we might refer to this guy as the senior pastor. So this guy’s me. I don’t like seeing myself portrayed in the Scripture like this, but I’ll tell you, it causes me to take notice. He could be called the “elder chairman.” He is someone in charge in the local church who has authority. It would have been his decision, ultimately his decision, to invite Jesus to the synagogue, to bring Jesus to this congregation, to preach to his congregation on this particular Sabbath-day service.

And that’s what Jesus is doing here. Verse 10 says that Jesus is teaching there, that he’s in the conduct, or he’s, he’s practicing what he came to do, what he was invited to do. His teaching would have amazed and astounded people, as it always did because “he taught them as one who had authority and not as one of their scribes.” He’s not just repeating commentary stuff. He’s exhorting them, teaching them like he knows what he’s talking about because, well, he is the living and incarnate Word of God, and he’s preaching the Word of God.

Same thing happened on this occasion, no doubt. It had to get everybody’s attention. Everybody’s thrilled with his teaching, amazed and astounded at the gracious words that are coming out of his mouth, words of salvation, words of joy, words of kingdom authority.

So what evoked the synagogue ruler’s indignation here? What brought forth his censure? According to him, Jesus had violated the law, specifically, the law commanding rest on the Sabbath. Exodus chapter 20, verses 8-11, if I just truncate it a little bit, but it says this, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.” Skipping ahead to verse 11, “For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. Then he rested on the seventh day.”

So who’s right? Is it Jesus who’s right? Or is it this synagogue ruler who’s right? What should the congregation think about this? After all, Jesus they’re just being introduced to. The synagogue ruler? They’ve known him all their lives. He’s a fixture in their community. Which voice should they listen to? Did Jesus violate the Sabbath principle? Some people will say he set aside the strictness of the law in favor of a higher principle, that is, the principle of showing mercy. Is that what he did? Where, as this censure suggests, is Jesus’ supposed violation unjustified since there are, after all, six other days on which works of mercy may be done legitimately? Should that be how we take this?

All those questions come up because this passage is highlighting, as Luke would have us see it, it’s highlighting a fundamental question about authority. Authority. Who’s right and who’s wrong? I can’t count the number of Gospel conversations I’ve gotten into where people say, “Well, that’s your interpretation. I mean, there are thousands of interpretations about the Bible.” When I press them on the “thousands,” they can’t even give me two. But they don’t know what the Bible says, and they’ve, they’ve hidden behind this smokescreen of “That’s your interpretation. There are many interpretations, many ways of viewing the Bible.”

So it’s about competing interpretations of Scripture. After all, they’re dealing with the Sabbath principle. They’re dealing with the law of Moses. They’re dealing with revealed truth. It’s not a small issue.

So which voice are we to listen to? Just to draw that out for you, what Luke says in this narration, notice when he refers to the healing of the woman in verse 12, notice what he calls, how he uses Jesus’ given name. It says, “When Jesus saw her, he called her over.” Remember, the word “Jesus,” the name “Jesus” is the Hebrew name Joshua. “Yahweh is salvation” is literally what it means. And that’s why he was named Jesus, because, Matthew 1:21, “he will save his people from their sins.” That’s why he came. He came to save.

He didn’t come, by the way, this is just a footnote, he didn’t come, by the way, just to purchase a way of salvation, that some people might stumble and fall into the way. No, he came to save his people from their sins. He didn’t come to purchase a way. He came to purchase people. People. He, if you’re a believer here this morning, he had your name in mind when he died on that cross.

He has your name in mind even now, as he intercedes for you according to the will of the Father, at the right side of the throne of the Father. He’s Savior. He is Jesus. He’s referred to as Jesus the Savior twice in this text. But when he refers, when Luke refers us to the, the controversy that results from his action here, and when he refers to the answer Jesus gives to the synagogue ruler’s censure, Luke refers to him differently in verse 15. Look at it there. He refers to him with a title, not a name. “The Lord answered him.” “The Lord.” Not “Jesus,” but “ho kyrios,” “the Lord.”

So Luke wants us to picture this scene for what it really is right off the bat. He wants us to understand that this man has just thrown the flag not just on some local preacher, not just on some wandering, traveling itinerant preacher coming into town. This, he’s made a charge against the sovereign Lord. Can you imagine blowing the whistle on the sovereign Lord?

Luke showed us back in Luke 6:5 that the one we know as Jesus is none other than, not just the Lord, but the Lord of what? The Sabbath. If anybody knows about Sabbath rules, what constitutes a violation or not, it’s got to be the Lord of the Sabbath. We’re prepared ahead of time to understand that the Lord is in the right here, that this charge leveled against the Lord is not correct, and yet maybe we don’t know exactly what is wrong, here.

We’re already predisposed, though, to favor the Lord, to see him as right, to see him as the Lord of the Sabbath of, of knowing what is acceptable on the Sabbath and what is unacceptable. We’re predisposed to see this local ruler as wrong, but that’s not the point of this narrative. That’s easy stuff right there.

What we need to see here is two things. First, we always have to discern between competing voices of authority. We’re always going to be in a position where we have to understand whose voice do we listen to. Who really represents Scripture? Who represents the voice of the Good Shepherd? Who is the authority? Which voice is, commands our conscience and calls for our allegiance and loyalty, and commands our obedience? Which voice? There are competing interpretations. There are a lot of interpretations out there. Not all of them are correct. In fact, most of them are wrong. So that’s the first thing we need to see, and that’s a first point that Luke is drawing our attention to.

A second thing we need to see, that we have a responsibility to do that, to discern between competing voices. We have to consider arguments and take them to the text, and ask the question, “Did this person get that interpretation right or wrong?” All of us, as sheep, we say, “Well, I’m not seminary trained.” Nobody in the synagogue is seminary-trained, either.

Look, seminary training, special training, training in languages and all that stuff, that’s helpful. But we all have eyes and ears, and we all have, graciously by God, we have Bibles written in our own language. We have several translations written in English, so we can compare translation with translation and really get the sense. We all have a responsibility to learn, to discern, to, to test what people say against Scripture itself.

To the first point, just briefly, that we have a responsibility here to discern between competing voices of authority, we’re seeing this going on today, aren’t we? So much. There are conflicts arising between competing voices. Happens a lot, as you know, especially in the larger context of this pandemic of the last year and the social and political responses to the pandemic.

Pastors and churches are being told to love their neighbors and to show mercy to the weak and vulnerable by following all the public health orders to the letter. Many of you know Pastor James Coates, pastor of Grace Life Church up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was jailed recently for doing exactly what we’re doing, which is holding church services that violate the letter of the public health orders and limit, limiting the church on crowd size, setting social distance requirements, measurements, masking requirements.

He was jailed. He’s still in jail. He’s got a trial in May to determine from the crown is he guilty? Will he be ultimately penalized and censured? They said, “You can be released as long as you sign this, sign this agreement that you will not go and pastor that church.” Said, “I can’t do that. I’m called to pastor this church. Should I obey you or should I obey Christ?” So there he sits.

We’re not surprised when the world does stupid stuff like that. Jailing a pastor? Are you kidding me? I mean, they’re filled and driven with fear and panic. We are saddened to see, though, professing Christians criticize and censure godly pastors, godly people, shut down obedient churches who listen to the voice of their Lord.

But sincere Christians, legitimately, they can be confused by these competing voices of authority, perplexed by arguments that people put forward. They could be caught in two minds, especially when there are what have been trustworthy, evangelical voices condemning people like James Coates. Sad to see, but it’s understandable when people are confused.

So that’s what this text is going to help us with today, to help us grow in discernment, to help remind us of our responsibility to interpret Scripture rightly. We know from Proverbs 21:30 that no wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. So we know how this is going to turn out. We know that the Lord, the, the Lord of the Sabbath is in the right, and this man is in the wrong.

But Luke helps us to see why Jesus’ argument truly is superior to the charge that’s made by this local official. And my desire for all of us this morning, what I’ve been praying for, is that we will grow in discernment, that we will, each one of us, take it upon ourselves to develop our critical thinking, develop our critical faculties so that we think biblically about any argument that is brought forward to us to intimidate us and to silence us.

So let’s walk through the text. We’ll, we’ll make some observations, and we’ll see some, draw out some implications,  here. Let me give you a first point just as we walk through the text a little, couple of things to hang your thoughts on. Number one, we see, number one, an inexcusable objection. An inexcusable objection.

As we warm up into the point, let’s read the text, starting back in verse 10, and then we’ll get into verse 14. “And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, and there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for 18 years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you’re freed from your disability.’ He laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.”

That’s what happened. Here’s the censure, verse 14: “But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed and not on the Sabbath day.’” Hmm.

I enjoyed reading Alfred Edersheim’s description of this scene, which portrays quote, “the clumsy zeal of a country archisynagogos,” that is, chief ruler of the synagogue, “a country ruler who is very angry but not very wise. He admits Christ’s healing power and does not dare to attack him directly, but instead rebukes not Christ, not even the woman who had been healed, but the people who had witnessed it.”

Edersheim calls Luke’s characteristic portrait of him such that “we can almost see him, this synagogue ruler, confused, irresolute, perplexed, and very angry, bustling forward and scolding the people who had done nothing, yet not venturing to silence the woman, now no longer infirm, far less to reprove the great rabbi who had just done such a glorious thing, but speaking at him through those who had been the astounded eyewitnesses.” It’s kind of a humorous portrayal, a bumbling, clumsy archisynagogos. We can appreciate the color that Edersheim brings to the scene. It’s almost a cartoonish figure: clumsy, bumbling, peevish, unsophisticated in his attempt to censure.

We just want to be careful not to remove the tone of severity that Luke brings to the narrative. This man may be simple and unsophisticated, but he’s, he’s not off the hook for that, just because he may be, if Edersheim’s portrayal is correct, just a simple country preacher, country pastor, country chairman, country official.

This man has given grave offense to the person and the work of Christ. In fact, in setting the scene, Luke has told us the man’s motive. He’s, he’s unveiled for us what only God can see, which is the heart. He tells us what inspired this public censure and its anger. Indignation is anger. The verb aganakteo, it’s an emotional term. It means “vexed.” He’s annoyed. He’s angry inside. That word originally had described something that literally is bubbling up, something maybe fermenting, bubbling. But it came to picture someone who, who seethes inside with irritation. So there is this boiling, festering anger.

Jesus answers him, you can say Scripture says it’s sinful anger. It’s a seed that bears the fruit of murder, doesn’t it? That’s what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. Anybody who has anger in his heart toward his brother is guilty not just of anger but of murder itself because sinful anger is a seed that bears that fruit.

This man has directed his anger at Jesus. He’s directed his anger at Jesus for what Jesus had done. Had Jesus done anything bad here? No. Theologically, we know right off the bat that this anger directed at the sinless Son of God, or any censorious judgment at all against anything that he has done, categorically, we know this is wrong. It’s evil. It’s wicked. Paul says, Romans 3:4, “Let God be proven true, though everyone else is found to be a liar.”

Listen, we have no right whatsoever to be angry at God. Ever. Period. I don’t know if you’ve ever read this, but there is, there’s, it’s been popular to say, “It’s okay to be angry with God. Just vent your anger at God. He can handle it.” That is not true because we have no right to be angry at God. Are we sometimes angry at God? Yeah, we are. Whenever we are, though, we’re wrong. We know that if there’s ever anger toward God, if there’s ever anger over, look, situations, circumstances, interruptions to our day, you can’t blame anybody else.

So who is ultimately to blame for the good providence that has caused, that brought that interruption into your life? We’re loath to admit it, but it’s God who’s responsible for ordering everything in our life, every single moment, every single interruption, every single sense of frustration, everything that draws out and exposes what’s in our hearts. God’s responsible for doing that. Dare we be angry at him? Sometimes we are. But that sentiment toward God is always unjustified.

“We have no right whatsoever to be angry at God. Ever. Period.”

Travis Allen

It is an attribute of God’s eternal being that he is immutably and perfectly good, and his providence is always immutably and perfectly wise and holy and righteous. We never have a right to be angry with God because God is omnibe, benevolent, and Jesus as the son of God is likewise.

It’s beyond the scope of our text to develop the thought, but it’s just important to state right up front that Luke has really served us well, the readers of his gospel. He’s served us well by telling us what is in this man’s heart, what’s motivating him, what’s, what’s drawing out this verbal, public censure of Jesus.

And before we come to Jesus’ brilliant response, we want to make a few observations, here. We can evaluate this man’s response to Jesus’ healing from two perspectives. There’s internal reasoning that we’re seeing, and there’s also external behavior. There’s his thinking, on the one hand, and his speech, on the other.

First, internally, his thinking, his reasoning, his decision-making. He is unrighteous in his thinking. This man is etern, internally unrighteous. Think about it. He has just observed Jesus healing the woman. He’s observed it. And in thinking about that, in reasoning about that, he became indignant. Why? Because he judged Jesus to be guilty of violating Sabbath by working.

What work did Jesus do here? How would you describe it to somebody? Luke 13:12-13, Jesus saw the woman, spoke to the woman, and then laid hands on the woman. So, speaking, seeing, speaking, and touching. I can assure you that Jesus put forth far more effort in his teaching ministry that day, the very thing that that man had invited him to do. He put forth more effort in teaching. Jesus’ healing of this woman? Effortless. He saw, he spoke, he laid hands. Yeah, it was a work, but it was a work without effort, as all works of almighty power, divine power, are. They’re works, but work without expenditure of effort because they come from an omnipotent hand.

So when this man seethes in anger, boils in anger about Jesus working on the Sabbath, he’s intentionally ignored evidence, here. He’s been completely uncritical about the work he has chosen to allow, namely, Jesus’ teaching ministry, and he’s refused to think carefully about what Jesus’ healing ministry entailed, that is, no effort whatsoever.

Whenever you see that happen, when someone ignores evidence, and when evidence is bat, been brought to them and they ignore it, they set it aside, they dismiss it without any reflection, that was just plain to see, that was just, just the fruit of simple common-sense observation, you know for certain that something else is going on, that there is a hidden agenda at work here.

So in reasoning about this, this man chose to ignore all evidence, and he judged contrary to what is plain fact. Notice also that even though his issue is with Jesus directly, in his reasoning and the decision of his will, he’s refused to take up the issue with Jesus, hasn’t he? Look at verse 14: “The ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, he said,” to whom, not to Jesus, “he said to the people.”

It’s revealing. If this guy had any humility at all, he would have checked his indignation until he could address the question with Jesus personally, privately rather than publicly. He was not a humble man. In his pride, he’s absolutely self-assured he’s got this right. He had no doubt that he was in the right, Jesus is in the wrong. After all, he’s got the law of Moses on his side.

Can’t take out his anger on the woman. That’s never going to play well in public. Can’t take out his anger on Jesus, either privately or publicly. He’s no match. Hearing Jesus’ teaching, seeing Jesus’ power, he knows he’s no match for this great rabbi. So without the courage to confront directly, he takes an indirect, duplicitous route toward suppressing Jesus’ influence.

And I’ll just, I’ll just tell you that’s what I think is going on here. That’s what I think is driving him. Jesus has caught the attention, and in his teaching and his healing, he’s caught the attention of everybody there, as he should. This man doesn’t like it. He feels the need to make a power play. He feels a need to get control back, to wrest authority out of Jesus’ hands and back into his own.

So he speaks out publicly, but not to Jesus. He speaks to the people. What do they do? He speaks to the people, and in speaking to the people, he’s actually speaking to them about Jesus. You get that, right? Total power play by this guy, trying to get the upper hand over Jesus, trying, he’s trying to be subtle about it. But notice, he says, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, not on the Sabbath day.”

It’s got nothing to do with them. He’s insinuating something about these people, about their motives in coming. He’s leaning on their consciences with his unjustified charge. He’s just using them to vent his own anger, correct Jesus. Totally hypocritical. This man has masked his anger against Jesus with this sanctimonious-sounding stuff about Sabbath-day propriety. He acts like he’s trying to, he’s, he’s the gatekeeper, here. He’s the one who really respects the law. He’s just trying to keep people from sin.

Well, that’s just a mask because if he really cared about these people, he would be the first to lead the whole congregation to bow on his knees and worship at Jesus feet, giving thanks and praise for what he has just accomplished in their midst. “Lord, Savior, you’ve graced us with your presence, that you would come and heal this woman who’s been coming here for 18 years. We have no power. Look at you. You have all power, authority. We worship you. Everybody, come on, bow with me. Worship Jesus Christ.”

This man, though, is unrighteous on the inside. His reasoning, it’s poisoned by sin, poisoned by anger. He ignores plain evidence, and he takes this duplicitous, disingenuous approach in dealing with it, as if he really cares about law.

Now as to what he said. Second, not just, not only how he said it, but what he said. He has committed unrighteousness in his speech, in his speaking. And that stands to reason because when the motivation is unrighteous anger, when that’s what’s driving you, when you’re angry and indignant on the inside and you have no righteous justification for it, the only thing that that kind of anger produces is unrighteous fruit, right? That’s what the Scripture says. “The anger of man never achieves the righteousness of God,” James 1:20.

Look at his argument, his speech to the people. “Six days in which one ought to work. Come on those days, be healed, not on the Sabbath day.” That is unlawful use of Scripture. That’s unlawful. It’s unrighteous. Yeah, of course, God created in six days and work ought to be done. Does this mean, then, that people who wanted to be healed by Jesus on the Sabbath, that they shouldn’t come to Jesus on the Sabbath for healing? I mean is it wrong for them to want to be healed? Is it wrong for them to want to hear words of power and truth? Is it wrong for them to come seeking what Jesus has proclaimed about himself and told people to come to him?

I like what John Calvin says here. He says, “Why does this guy not likewise forbid them to enter the synagogue lest they should violate the Sabbath?” I mean, walking is more work than listening. Why does he not order them to refrain from all the exercises of godliness? Oh, but wait, the people were never were the target of this guy’s censure, were they? Jesus is his target.

So how has Jesus been guilty of working on the Sabbath? Was it when he saw the woman? Was it when he spoke to the woman? Was it when he laid hands on the woman? Does God hold men accountable for effortless work on the Sabbath? If not, then this ruler has been unrighteous by censuring the righteous. Proverbs 17:15 says, “The one who condemns the righteous is an abomination to the Lord.” I wish more evangelicals would sign off of their Twitter accounts and quit condemning the righteous, that they would take this verse into account when they think about typing something censorious against someone like a James Coates and other people who are acting in righteousness.

“The one who condemns the righteous is an abomination to the Lord.” Whether the ruler would try to maintain his claim to be speaking to the people, whether he would admit it, that he’s indeed speaking about Jesus, on either count, he’s guilty. This man has slandered the righteous, and worse, he’s used religious concerns as pretense.

The purpose of his objection, here, is to posture. It’s to position himself over and above Jesus. It’s to reestablish his position as over the people. “I’m the one in charge.” His objection here is inexcusable. It’s a thinly varnished demonstration of petty jealousy, petty envy masked by hypocrisy. This is a inexcusable objection. The guy just should have signed off.

Well, Jesus takes the complete opposite approach to this guy. Here’s a second point, number two, an irrefutable correction. An irrefutable correction. The ruler, he was duplicitous in his approach. He masked his heart attitude with a concern about law and propriety. Notice the contrast, though, in Jesus. He actually does care about the law of the Lord. He cares about these people who’ve been listening to a pretentious lie.

So because “open rebuke is better than hidden love,” Proverbs 27:5, the Lord answers him in verse 15. Actually, I, Luke put it this way, “but he,” this is literal, “he answered him,” that is, the Lord, and the infinite difference between this local small-town authority and the sovereign universal authority of Christ the Lord. And remember, Jesus is answering. He’s responding. He’s answering. The synagogue ruler hasn’t actually asked any question, did he? He didn’t openly address himself to Jesus at all, so by Jesus answering him, he is taking the position of calling this guy out. He’s exposing the pretension.

You, you should picture Jesus, here, leaning forward. He’s looking directly into their eyes, and he is pointing his finger as he says in verse 15, “You hypocrites.” It’s in the plural because Jesus is speaking to more than just the synagogue, really. There are quite a few, evidently, who share his opinion. Luke refers that, to them, as “adversaries” in verse 17.

These are friends of the synagogue ruler. We can imagine some of these are scribes and Pharisees who are among them in the synagogue, as well as maybe other esteemed leaders in the community. These are buddies of the synagogue ruler. They’re the guys with places and prominent seats and prominent positions in the synagogue.

Well, the synagogue ruler, here, misrepresenting Scripture in public, and so Jesus answers that. He’s going to confront it. He’s going to correct it because God’s Word has been maligned and misused, and people are bound to be confused by that. So his response to the man in public, he says, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for 18 years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Let’s break that down a little bit. You see the power of Jesus’ argument, here. It’s simple, but it’s brilliant, his argument. He starts out with something very familiar to them. This is a habit that they all had taken, making sure their animals are able to drink water.

The, the literal order of the language in Greek, it’s not too far from the English translation, but just hear the emphasis, here. Literally, Jesus says, he starts out saying, “Each of you on the Sabbath.” So he’s saying, “each of you.” “This is a universal practice, and you do it on the Sabbath, which means it’s a habitual practice. It’s a regular weekly practice, a habit. Each and every family here, every single Sabbath day. Something that has become routine, something that’s become habitual to us, doesn’t even register on our consciences anymore. We’re blind to it, right?”

Jesus makes them think about something that they have come to take for granted, something that has become a matter of course. Listen, whenever Jesus does that, when he starts with something that seems so safe, so innocuous, so plain and obvious, keep watching, because he is, quite intentionally, laying the rhetorical trap. He’s about to spring it.

He says, “Each of you on the Sabbath, does he not loose his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it?” He’s citing things that they all know. Rabbinic law not only allowed this practice, even permitted the owner to draw water for his beasts. Now couldn’t, they couldn’t fill up vessels and carry them to the animals, doing daily farm chores on the Sabbath day. That does violate the Sabbath principle of rest. But making sure animals have water? That’s just basic care. That’s just basic common sense. That’s care for an animal.

So here’s the argument: If there is sufficient basis for untying an ox or donkey and taking it to drink water on a Sabbath day, which all of them did without exception, and Jesus does not deny the legitimacy of that practice, well, then, how much greater reason is there for healing this woman?

Look how he spells it out in verse 16. He draws point-by-point parallels to the previous verse. He says, “Ought not this woman,” that is, not an ox or a donkey, but a woman, a human being. This person is not on the level of a beast, an animal who has no reason, who has no ability to think and to speak. She is a woman. She is created in the image of God. She has the ability to think, to reason, to speak, to feel, to care.

Clear evidence, verse 13, is how she reasoned it’s the power of God at work through Jesus to set her free and restore her body. Those words she spoke after being healed, being, by glorifying God for this miracle, she gave evidence of her reasoning, sound reasoning at that. What’s more, this woman has an even greater honor, and it ought to be acknowledged. She is not just a woman, a human being, but she is a daughter of Abraham.

So hearing this, these Jews may have taken that in the strictest ethnic sense, that she’s a Jewess. If that’s how they’ve taken him, they missed what Jesus plainly saw here. By her reaction immediately after being healed, she’s glorified God. This woman is more than just a Jew by birth; she is a Jew by faith. Paul said, Galatians 3:7, “Know, then, that it’s those who have faith who are the sons of Abraham.” This one’s a true believer. She’s a daughter of Abraham by faith.

That’s what Jesus is trying to draw their attention to. She’s a woman. She’s a true believer, probably a minority in that congregation. She’s immeasurably more important than oxen or donkeys. She’s a citizen of God’s kingdom. She’s daughter to the King himself.

So Jesus says, “Look, this woman, this daughter of the King, this daughter of Abraham, she’s in a desperate condition. This is a woman whom Satan bound for 18 years.” And as I mentioned last week, Jesus draws that number out in the original, not just saying “18,” but a point of emphasis here. We also, in our English translations, miss the exclamatory particle, “behold.” So literally, it’s “this daughter of Abraham,” which is what she is, “whom Satan bound, behold, ten and eight years.”

This is what Jesus is saying: “Look at her, everyone. I mean, just look at her like I did the immediate moment I saw her when I was teaching. A moment is all it took for me to see her desperate need. She’s been coming and going from this synagogue, as all of you know. You’ve seen it for yourselves these ten and eight years. So if you can untie and set loose your oxen and your donkeys on the Sabbath, and you can lead them away every single week to drink life-sustaining water on the Sabbath, how much more shall this woman,” into verse 16, “how much more shall she be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

On the one hand, taking care of animals, daily routine, rather mundane, right? On the other hand, the need to show care and compassion for a human being, a woman, a daughter of Abraham, enslaved to exceptional daily suffering. On the one hand, the work of untying a rope to set an animal loose from their manger, from their feeding trough. On the other hand, driving away a vile demon, setting a woman free from the knot of enslavement to demonic oppression. On the one hand, leading animals from food to water. On the other hand, straightening a fused spine, loosening ligaments, creating tissue where necessary, resetting muscles, restoring a woman she, so she can stand up straight and tall so she can actually earn money for food and water.

There’s no comparison here. There’s just contrast, contrast after contrast, ways these people had failed to notice the need to show compassion, and a major dereliction of duty for this particular synagogue ruler. This is a clear evidence that he was steeped in the cold, heartless religion of the Pharisees, elevating principle and completely ignoring how those principles are meant to care for people. No comparison. There’s no compassion in this place coming from this ruler, this leader. Hearts are so hard.

But what Jesus has done to this point is just to soften up the target for his main argument. Man, the man argued, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days, be healed, not on the Sabbath day.” And Jesus counters with this: “Ought not this woman be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Let me just shorten it: “Ought it not to be done on the Sabbath day?”

He’s aiming his question, here, at the conscience. That’s his target. And it’s not just the conscious of the, the conscience of the synagogue ruler, the sinful ruler. He’s targeting the collective conscience of everybody hearing him, this gathered crowd, the collective conscience of this religious assembly.

But all of that’s exemplified and portrayed in this petty, small-town ruler. This man, if he’s any kind of a leader, he should recognize that he serves the Word of God. He serves first the Word of God and the flock of God. He serves these people by helping them to drink from the life-giving, healing words of God. This man should have been the first to ask Jesus to heal this woman.

Eighteen years he’s watched this crippled woman with her, her bent and broken body as she struggled to move in and out of the synagogue. You would think that after his own heart hurting over this woman’s chronic condition, one that he’s powerless to fix, he would be absolutely thrilled, overjoyed that Jesus, Jesus, remember, his reputation has preceded him. In fact, he has, he has sent, Jesus has sent the Seventy-Two. He sent a pair of ambassadors to their town to proclaim his coming, to announce the kingdom of God, preach the kingdom of God, and to what? Heal.

They know he’s coming. The synagogue ruler knows, that’s, that’s the, that’s what predicated this invitation for him to come and preach. You think he would ask Jesus ahead of time while he’s talking to him about preaching in the synagogue. He say, “Hey, teacher, look, I don’t want to trouble you, but I got this woman, 18 years she’s been coming in and out of the synagogue. Could you spare a moment for her? Could you deliver her? Could you set her free?”

Two contrasts to point out, here, between this small-town pastor and the Lord of the Sabbath. First, the word “ought.” The word “ought,” once in verse 14, once in verse 16, it’s the word dei, and it refers to what is necessary. It’s just translated that way usually: “it is necessary.” Here, it means, it refers to what is necessary by being morally right. It’s what is righteous. It’s necessary because it’s righteous. It’s necessary, it’s describing what should or should not be done, and what Jesus has demonstrated to everybody here and to us as we read this, freeing souls, restoring people is not only permissible on the Sabbath day. That’s not his argument.

He’s declaring that the freeing of souls, restoring of people, that’s necessary on the Sabbath day. That is what rest is. Freeing this woman is righteous. Jesus is not setting aside the principle of law in order to do what’s merciful. He’s saying the law is merciful.

Look, when you see a fellow human being bound by Satan, as this woman was, it’s morally right to set such a person free, do what you can to allieve, alleviate physical suffering, definitely to reinstate someone socially, relationally, bring them close.

This is why we do what we do on Sundays. This is why pastors preach, why ministers minister, why servants serve on Sundays. You know, it is work. It’s sometimes very hard work, sometimes draws out our sweat and our angst, sometimes even our tears. But this is why Christians serve one another with such vigor, at such expense of time and energy. And so much is done throughout the week to serve what happens on the Lord’s Day.

When we say Sundays are a day of rest, that is not to commend laziness and self-indulgence on the Lord’s Day. No. The Lord’s Day is for setting aside normal labors, money-making labors, so we can gather to worship. And when we see spiritual needs, when we see burdens we can lift, or even practical ways to show care and compassion of people, that’s not just work that’s permitted on the Lord’s Day, that’s morally necessary on the Lord’s Day. That’s what we ought to do, is loose bonds on the Sabbath day, the Lord’s Day. It’s righteous to do it.

Second contrast drawn out of these two arguments, the ruler’s argument and the Lord’s response, the ruler sees people, helping people as toil. He puts it on par with normal six days of labor, “by the sweat of your brow you’ll eat your bread” kind of work. He puts it on the same level. Helping people, releasing burdens, bringing Gospel, setting people free, seeing people’s burdens alleviated and lifted, and practical care, on the same level as toil. False shepherds, hirelings, definitely wolves: that’s how they view the ministry. It’s a duty to them, not a joy. They count it a great personal sacrifice, not a privilege, not an honor, not something for which they give thanks.

The Apostle John says, “I have no greater joy than this, than to see that my children are walking in the truth.” That’s how you paid John. He didn’t care about money. He cared about people walking in the truth. He longed to see people obedient to Christ, to worship Christ, to be obedient to him, to be transformed, their minds renewed, their, their lives transformed by his Word. That was the payoff.

That’s a payoff for every true shepherd. Jesus expended a lot of energy in his teaching ministry, no doubt. In fact, sometimes he had to get away and rest. He fell asleep in the back of a boat during a storm. He was so tired because he’d been ministering to people.

When it comes to declaring a woman free from enslavement, when it comes to laying hands on her, to restoring her physically, reinstating her socially, that happened with such ease. It was such joy to him, for him, and this is how we ought to see it. It’s rest. In no sense have we seen any reluctance in Jesus. He hasn’t treated this woman as a burden. He hasn’t performed any ministry to her as “I have to. I really ought to do this. I mean, after all, I am Messiah. Came for, you know, setting captives free and all that jazz. So probably ought to lay hands on her. I got power. So. Man, I really want to watch the football game.”

“The Lord’s Day is for setting aside normal labors, money-making labors, so we can gather to worship.”

Travis Allen

No sense, no sense of that. No doubt that Jesus will bear a very heavy burden for this woman. He’ll do so shortly when he ascends Mount Calvary to bear the burden of her sins on the cross. He’ll do a heavy, heavy work there to carry her sins to the cross and absorb the full measure of God’s holy wrath against her for her sins. That wrath had a crushing, soul-destroying weight to it. Oh, he’s bearing a burden all right. He died the death that she deserved to die. That is the burden that he has borne for all who have believed, right?

But the administration of God’s mercy, a free and eager distribution of God’s grace to the repentant, believing, that is pure joy. That is pure, unmitigated, unmixed joy for him. That is what separates the ministry of Jesus from those who are like this synagogue ruler, who is a heartless, pitiless, petty little man. It’s what separates true Christian ministry from all false religious ministry that’s driven by pride and greed. The ministry of Jesus Christ and all true Christian ministry that follows after Christ, it’s motivated by love. It’s defined by truth, by righteousness. It’s defined by God’s holy goodness.

We’re seeing the line drawn in our culture right now as there’s, there are those who would censure and criticize those who make a decision to keep their churches open. They say, “Christ is the head of the church, I am his servant, I am the servant of his Word, and I am the servant of his people, and these people need truth.”

In a time of fear and anxiety and worry over sickness and death, if death is really lurking at the door, don’t people need to hear life-giving words of truth and Gospel? Where are they going to hear it? Public health officials? They going to go down to the county seat, hear the Gospel proclaimed? It’s got to be churches. It’s got to be faithful churches with faithful preachers and pastors and elders and ministers and Christians, who are going to stand courageous against a, a public censure, against criticism.

Those who would accuse, they would accuse James Coates of being dangerous. “He’s a danger to public health and safety.” That’s going to be the new line. If I go to prison or jail here in Weld County, it’s because I’m a danger to public health and safety. I may be that, but not for preaching the Gospel.

Even in our church, this is something we need to think about, don’t we, as we see the contrast between Jesus and this little, small-minded man. If you watch mature Christians, you notice their ministry is characterized by love. You, you, you watch self-sacrifice. You see them do things at the expense, sometimes even of their health, losing sleep over people.

But they do it with joy. Their hearts are filled with gratitude. They love sharing the grace and goodness of God with people who need it. They love lifting burdens. They love getting into the weeds to help people with sin issues and help them with repentance. It is the mark of immaturity to avoid that, to find an excuse, to do what you prefer, to do what you feel comfortable with, like this small-minded synagogue ruler. He’s using an excuse to avoid ministry. “Oh, it’s the Sabbath. Don’t lift burdens. Turn away from those in need of compassion, in need of Gospel power, Gospel strength.” It’s a sure sign of immaturity to shrink back, to live a self-serving life, to do only what’s comfortable and convenient for you.

There are some, been on the sidelines in churches for far too long, living at the fringes of the church, only marginally engaged in the ministries of the church. And listen, if that has been you, you need to know we’ve all been there. We’ve all sat at the edge as other people are doing work, and we’ve thought, “Hmm. I ought to do something about that.”

Listen, if your conscience is convicted by those things, you could find the grace of forgiveness in the same Gospel that saved you because any reluctance to help people with burdens is a sin. Any excuse-making to stay away from the, the ministry of the church is, is sinful, and so if it’s in the category of sin, we can find grace from God in forgiveness. If Christ took all your sins on the cross, suffered the wrath of God, the holy wrath of God for your sins, if he’s done the greater work, he’ll cleanse you from the lesser evil, too.

Just come to God. In the name of Jesus Christ, confess your sins. Ask his forgiveness, and he will forgive you. There’s a promise about that in his Word, 1 John 1:9, that “If we confess our sins, he’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He’ll do that because of Christ.

Then we come forward. We no longer stand on the sidelines. We get involved, work out repentance, along, join the rest of us. I mean, we’re doing this work, this beautiful Gospel work. We’re doing it in such an imperfect way. We need all members, all, all hands on deck. We need all members coming forward, joining in the rest of us, and devoting ourselves to a pure, unmitigated joy in Gospel ministry.

This ministry, ministry of lifting burdens, whether it’s on the Sabbath or the Christian Sabbath, the Sunday, or any other day of the week, is there any better reason to get out of bed in the morning than to lift somebody’s burden, introduce them to Christ through the Gospel? As I said, Jesus has done all the hard work for us already when he died and rose again. The Spirit does all the real work. He’s the one in there doing the miraculous work of converting the soul, causing people to be born again, renewing minds by his written Word, and transforming their lives by his power.

What do we need to do besides preach it? Teach it. Declare it. Plant and water. Plant and water. Plant and water. And who gives the increase? God does. Pure, unmitigated joy to be involved in that.

One brief point, we’ll wrap this up. Number three: in, inevitable division. There is an inevitable division that occurs, the response to this public controversy. It’s worked itself out in public, no doubt to the chagrin of the synagogue ruler. The response is predictable. It’s inevitable. Verse 17: “As Jesus was saying these things, all his adversaries were put to shame and all the people rejoiced at the glorious things that were done by him.” See two groups of people, there? Got adversaries, all the people.

In every assembly, in every group of people, there will be a division because of the works and the words of Christ. Depending on one’s orientation to him, there will be a division. Many will be put to shame because they’re not rightly aligned with Christ, which means they’re not reconciled to God. Oh, they may be religious people, all right, church-going people. But they’re any, if they’re anything like this petty, small-minded, let’s call him a pastor, ignoring the spiritual, practical needs in his midst and ready to censure the righteous to cover over this unloving, unconverted heart, then they’re sitting in the seat of the scornful.

Whatever they say about themselves, the judgment of history will mark them down as adversaries of Christ, opponents of Jesus. That word “adversaries,” constructed from two smaller words, means “set against.” Opposed to Christ. They’re set against him. They are hostile to Christ. So whatever they say with their mouths, whatever drips out of their mouth, whatever syrupy kind of poison they are spewing out, that’s totally irrelevant. They pretend faithfulness to the law. They pretend faithfulness to the Gospel, but in their works they deny him. There’s no fruit to back it up. And that is a very bad place to be when you’re standing before the bar of God’s justice.

But we’re not like that. We’re not like that. We are those who trust him. We’re those who rejoice in his Gospel. We’re those who humble ourselves before the Lord, the Lord of all creation and the Lord of the Sabbath as well. He is the Lord of our hearts, and so we bow before him in repentant faith. We trust him to save us. We follow him in obedience.

And so we’re rejoicing in all the glorious things that Christ has done for us, like these people, common people. They’re rejoicing in all the glorious things, not just this particular thing, but all the glorious things he was saying. We, too, rejoice in all the glorious things he’s done in us, all the glorious things we want to see him do through us. We long to share all those glorious things with others. We can’t wait.

So folks, as I said from the beginning, we’ve got to grow in discernment. These are the days for that, to have discernment. We have we have to have conviction to act out in faith. And you need to understand, you need to brace for impact because this is going to put us at odds with the world around us, sometimes with our own neighbors, sometimes with our family members. That hurts our hearts, doesn’t it? It’s going to put us at odds at times with prominent voices in our community, sometimes with the religious, supposed authorities in evangelicalism who malign us as dangerous to public health and safety.

We’re going to face more and more challenges. We’re going to be the subject of controversy. We’re going to become the target of false accusations. And so we need to think very critically, biblically about the arguments that are coming our way. We need to answer them not just for ourselves, but for others who haven’t learned to think as critically. We need to help them.

That maligning has happened already whether you know it or not. It’s happened. And yet we see that God continues to do his work. He continues to bless us with grace and care. Christ continues to lead and to shepherd us. This is often the subject of our elder meetings, to just sit back and marvel and see the Lord himself shepherding this church, just like the Lord has done with this woman. He intervened and he put his shepherd staff between her and that synagogue ruler and all those adversaries, and he laid his hands on her and said, “This one is mine. Off limits. You don’t touch.” Put his shepherd staff out there.

He puts that shepherd staff even today between us and our enemies, our adversaries, and his Word routs the enemy and keeps us safe. The Holy Spirit continues to instruct us, illuminate us, guide us, sanctify us, causes us to rejoice and be glad and give thanks. But we’re going to find even more encouragement from this text as we get in the next few verses next time. Let’s pray.

Our Father, we thank you so much for sending a powerful Shepherd, our Savior who is Jesus, our Christ, who is the Lord. We thank you that you have bound our hearts, united our hearts in fear of his name and fear of you. We thank you that the fear of the Lord protects us from all things. What can man do to us? We pray that you would strengthen not only our church, but there are many other faithful churches around this country and in this world who are standing strong and firm, trusting you, speaking out courageously.

Father, you know our frame. You know that we’re just dust, that we’re, we’re feeble, weak. And yet, it’s never been about us. You’ve been pleased to put your treasure in jars of clay so that the power might be com, completely obvious and manifest, that it’s of you and not of us. So we rejoice to see the Lord Jesus Christ have power, have his way in our midst.

If he were to come here, may I be the first to bow before his feet, and may we all join in in worshipping him and praising him, because he is glorious, he is powerful, he is mighty to save. By your grace we count ourselves his servants, his slaves. Please do your good and perfect will through us by your Spirit, by the Word. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, amen.

 prayer. Our father, your Word tells us that we should remember those who are imprisoned for the sake of Christ and for the sake of righteousness, and we want to remember on this day, as we believe it to be so, that Pastor James Coates still is in a jail, his wife and children separated from him and longing for his release and return home, his church longing to see him again.

We thank you for the faithful ministers, though, who have stepped up to the plate and, and stepped into the pulpit, preach your word faithfully. Pray that you would strengthen the resolve of Grace Life Church in Edmonton, Alberta. We pray that you would strengthen the resolve of their pastor, his wife, family. We pray, Father, that this prayer of ours, lifted up with one voice as a congregation before you, would be like a cup of cool water given in your name. We pray that you would cause him to rejoice as you truly are his vision, that he’d be strengthened during his time there, and, and when he’s released that he’d come out with power to preach your Word.

There are many around the world that are also imprisoned for your name’s sake, for the sake of righteousness. They’ve stood strong and firm, and they’re suffering the consequences for it, some even to the point of death, shedding blood. We pray for those, Father. We pray for their vindication as you send your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to return to earth and set this earth to rights.

We thank you that we belong to you, that by your grace, and because of your favor, because of Christ, we’re yours. We’re protected. We’re safe, no matter what happens to our lives here on earth. We count as all, all things lost for the sake of Christ. We know, may know him and the power of his resurrection, and that we may rejoice is, in the fellowship of his sufferings.

We thank you for this beloved church, this gathered assembly. We thank you that this congregation is filled with people who are like-minded, who know your grace. We pray that you would help us to, to run with one accord, walking in the Spirit, striving side-by-side for the sake of the Gospel, with one mind, united in one heart, proclaiming your name. We thank you for the opportunity to do this. We thank you that you have united us together in this fellowship for this time. Please, because of Christ, keep us faithful. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.