One thing that I have grown to love and appreciate about Luke’s gospel, is that he doesn’t ever seem to just add random biographical selections from the life of Christ. But Luke strategically weaves together historical events into a theological commentary that endeavors to teach us important doctrines in a systematic way. And so the key to understanding Luke is to find this thread that ties these incidents and passages together.
I heard Alistair Begg refer to this idea as finding the melody line in a music score. And perhaps that is a good analogy. We need to always remember to keep in mind the underlying melody line as we consider the individual notes in order to understand the intended message of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s passage is no exception. At first glance, it may seem that this is just another miracle of Jesus and a couple of little parables which have no relation either to each other or to the surrounding content. But I would like to encourage you to look closer today to discover what I think is an important message to the church.
But before we go into the story here we should understand the correlation between the modern 21st century church and the synagogue that Jesus visited in this passage on the Sabbath day. I’m afraid that the significance of the synagogue is lost on most modern Christians. The synagogue was a place of assembly. It was something that had evolved in Judaism as a result of the Babylonian exile when the Jews were displaced from their homeland and the first destruction of the temple. The Jews living in Babylon did not have a temple, they had none of their religious and national edifices in the land in which they were exiled, and so the synagogue was a means of bringing the Jewish people together in an assembly where they could worship God. And they did this through prayer and in reading and being taught the word of God, or the Torah.
But I think it’s important to understand that the synagogue was never an organization that was designed by God. This was the Jew’s attempt to bring their community together for social, religious, educational and political purposes and to preserve their traditions. Furthermore, the leaders of the synagogue were not necessarily of the Levitical priesthood as it was in the temple. But where the leadership really got their authority can be traced all the way back to the book of Numbers 11 when Moses established 70 men to be judges over Israel during the exodus. These 70 officials that he established became the foundation for what would be called eventually the Sanhedrin. They were the religious rulers or judges of Israel. They were made up of two opposing political/religious groups known as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. And in the evolutionary process that Judaism went through after the Babylonian exile up until the time of Christ, these religious leaders developed teachings called the Mishna which was a collection of rabbinical instructions which interpreted the scriptures and particularly the law. So by the time of Christ’s and the Apostle’s ministry, the synagogue, the Sanhedrin and the Mishna had basically taken the place of authority in Judaism. The priesthood had become corrupt due to the fact that the High Priest was a politically appointed office that was purchased by bribing the Roman government. This was the status of Judaism in the time of Christ. It had strayed far away from the original intent of God and plan of God given at Mount Sinai. It had a lot of shared characteristics with God’s plan, but it had been subverted and changed to the point of outright apostasy. It’s leadership was not appointed by God but appointed by man. They had their own self interests at heart. God’s primary way of speaking to the people had always been through prophets who were called by God. And the prophets, whether Moses or Jeremiah or Hosea, had always been vilified and rejected by not only the national leadership but most of the people as well.
Now I cannot help but point out the parallels between the synagogue and the Judaism of Jesus day and the modern church and Christianity today. The church was supposed to be the new covenant’s answer to the failures of Judaism. We were supposed to be the stewards of the new covenant, just as Judaism was the steward of the old covenant. But just like our counterparts in the synagogue, the modern church I’m afraid has deviated far from the original plan of God. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have a few people in His church that haven’t bowed their knee to Baal so to speak, but for the most part I’m afraid that the organization known as the church is like rotten fruit, that is swollen in it’s corruption and is ready to burst. We have added so much disinformation to the scriptures that we have basically emasculated the gospel. We have added so many traditions to the church that it has almost completely obscured the gospel message. We have leadership and teachers today in the church which God neither ordained nor did He call them to be His ministers. We see corruption of both a political nature and in every other way, especially morally, in it’s clergy. And we have produced a false gospel that rivals that of the Mishna which teaches a gospel of self fulfillment and false righteousness and robs people of their chance of salvation.
This is the same type of corruption that Jesus faced in His day, and we find history repeating itself in the 21st century. Jesus has been preaching against this hypocrisy ever since chapter 12 vs. 1. Jesus is preaching against the hypocrisy of the synagogue, the hypocrisy of Judaism, and particularly the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He says in His opening sentence of His message in ch.12; “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” In other words, beware of the corruption of the Pharisees, the leaders and teachers of the synagogue. We can say the same thing today, “Beware of the corruption of the leaders of the church.” I believe this is Christ’s message today for the church as we know it. Beware of the hypocrisy that is in the church.
The apostle Paul says the same thing to the church in 1 Cor. 5:6, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The problem in Jesus day was that they had taken the law of God which was given by God to produce repentance, and they had twisted it to produce self righteousness by works. So God made Jesus the scapegoat to take on Himself the penalty of the law that we might be given the gift of righteousness in the new covenant. But the problem with the church today is that we have taken the grace which was supposed to produce repentance, and we have twisted it to produce self righteousness without works. Eph. 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
In spite of the fact that grace has paid the penalty of the law, we still have hypocrisy paramount in the church. Instead of grace producing godliness, we have grace producing licentiousness; lawlessness. We have hypocrisy today running rampant in the church under the name of freedom, but there is no sense of repentance, there is no conviction over sin, there is no abhorrence of evil, and there is very little godly works as the result of grace. What was supposed to be the result of this magnificent gift of grace has been turned once again into an opportunity to indulge the lusts of the flesh. And we have done just like our forefathers the Jews have done, we have had every privilege, and yet have not born fruit in keeping with repentance.
Jesus had just given a parable concerning this situation in vs. 6-9, in which He says the owner of the vineyard came year after year to see if the fig tree had born any fruit and yet it had not. And so the caretaker was going to fertilize and dig around the tree, perhaps prune the tree for one more year to see if it brought forth fruit. But if at that time it still had not brought forth fruit, it would be cut down.
And God did cut down the fig tree that was Israel in 70 AD. The temple was destroyed again. The synagogues were shut down or destroyed. The rulers and religious leaders were put to death. Tens of thousands of Jews were massacred and the remnant scattered to the four corners of the world. And then God took this magnificent gospel, this great gift to mankind, and He gave it to every tribe and every nation of the world that it might go and bear fruit. But 2000 years later I have to ask, if Christ should return today, would He find fruit in the church? Would God be pleased with the stewardship that we have given to the gospel purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ? Would God be pleased with the stewardship of His Word, the Bible? Would God find the church employed in the business of the kingdom of God or would He find a church that has deviated from the gospel of salvation to teaching a gospel of self gratification and self righteousness devoid of fruit?
My opinion is that there is scant difference between the hypocrisy of the synagogue and the hypocrisy of the church. Notice our text again and let’s see what it says in this regard. I think Jesus deliberately picks a fight in this synagogue. I know that is at odds with some people’s theology, but I think that Jesus knows that He has less than a year left to His ministry, and they aren’t getting the message. And so He takes the gloves off so to speak from this point on. He is deliberately confrontational. But the fact is that He doesn’t have to work very hard at it. The gospel is by itself confrontational. All you have to do is speak the truth of the gospel and people will take offense. But Jesus isn’t dodging the issues to avoid confrontation, He is actually spurring it on. He has already said in chapter 12 vs. 49, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!”
So Jesus comes into the synagogue and begins to teach on the Sabbath. This is sort of like walking into enemy territory. He knows that this is hostile territory. But He also knows that this is an opportunity to present the gospel. And by the way, this may have been the last time that He came into a synagogue. But He came because this would have been where the Jews would congregate on the Sabbath. There is thought to have been almost 500 synagogues in Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s population swelled to as many as 600,000 people during festivals according to some estimates. So each synagogue might have served a thousand people or so. Jesus and the apostles after Him saw these assemblies as an opportunity to reach the Jews with the gospel.
Now the details of the story are important, but remember that the healing of this woman is not the central objective of Luke recounting this story. The purpose is to reveal the hypocrisy of Judaism. But nevertheless, let’s look at the particulars. Notice that Jesus summons the woman to Him. Jesus sees this woman bent double and supernaturally recognizes that she is suffering from a demonic spirit. And so He calls her over to Himself and says in vs. 12, ““Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.
Now my purpose today is not to teach a message about healing. But as a point of interest, please note that the woman did not have to have any faith to be healed. She didn’t even ask to be healed. Jesus initiated the whole thing. Listen, the point that needs to be clear is that this woman was seriously deformed. She was bent over double for 18 years. And Jesus healed her instantly. Blind and mute people were healed instantly. Paralyzed people were healed instantly. Dead people were raised instantly. It is criminal the way these fake healers like Oral Roberts or Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn get away with this charlatan hocus pocus in these healing services where no one who has any real visible signs of illness are ever healed, and the poor disfigured, deformed people are turned away and led to believe that they did not have enough faith. If you want to know what that feels like to be one of the seriously handicapped people in wheelchairs that get ushered out the side door after their services, then see me afterwards and I will give you a link to Joni Eareckson Tada’s testimony of her experience with faith healers after becoming paralyzed from her neck down. I don’t deny the possibility that Jesus still may heal someone today, but I want to assure you that Jesus never healed like those guys purport to heal.
But the main point that Luke wants to make in this account is the response of the synagogue official. He says the synagogue official was indignant. Indignant is the typical response of a hypocrite. Here is a woman that comes into the synagogue, probably had been coming there for years bent over double, in pain and suffering, and in a moment she is made well and glorifying God. But the indignant, self righteous official says, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”
Jesus responds to that ridiculous statement by calling the guy a hypocrite. Look at vs. 15, “But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
See, even their own Mishna had provided for the relief of suffering animals on the Sabbath day, and the law of God provided for relief of suffering on the Sabbath, so Jesus says, why shouldn’t this woman be released from suffering on the Sabbath?
Jesus said in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is a picture of God’s provision of rest. Hebrews 4:9 says, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.”
So here is the hypocrisy of this synagogue official. The Sabbath is a picture of the rest we can find in the salvation of God, and yet he is denying the rest that Christ provided for this woman by healing her from this oppression by Satan. This woman then is a picture of the sovereign work of the Lord in salvation, a picture of the enslaved, oppressed sinner under the burden and bondage of Satan, helpless and hopeless, robbed of dignity, bent over under the burden of sin. And she is met by the Lord and He out of His compassion delivers her, straightens her up and brings glory to God. This is the picture of the work of God in salvation.
But it is the hypocrisy of the synagogue official that I think is the main point of this story. He is indignant. He is self righteous. He is trusting in his form of religion. But he shows no true compassion because he has never been repentant. He has never seen himself revealed in the light of the law as depraved, utterly sinful and in need of salvation. He saw himself in the light of the law that he manipulated and believed that he was good enough. And not only is he still in bondage, dead in his sins, but he wants to keep his people dead in bondage as well. He doesn’t want them healed.
I think that a majority of the church today is still in the bondage of sin. Because what is lacking most in the church today is preaching on the utter depravity of man; man’s utter sinfulness, hopelessly lost condition. That we are totally without merit. And concurrently what is missing is teaching of God’s absolute holiness. Absolute pure righteousness. And what the message of the gospel must be first and foremost is that sinful man is an abomination to God’s holiness. The church today doesn’t speak of sin and doesn’t teach what holiness means, but just wants to tell people that they can have a relationship with God. But God cannot have any sort of relationship to man because He is holy and we are so sinful. We do not have a real understanding of our total depravity and God’s total holiness and how far apart those two realities are. That’s why the primary message of the gospel has to be that of repentance. Repentance, absolute remorse over your sinful condition, recognition of your absolute bankruptcy before God, and your need for forgiveness. Repentance is the prerequisite for forgiveness. And the fruit of repentance is a desire to turn away, to forsake our sin and follow after righteousness. To hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Immediately following this healing of the woman, Jesus gives two short parables that illustrate the hypocrisy of the synagogue and the danger of false teaching. But I’m afraid that the true significance of these two parables has been lost in much modern teaching. I’ve often read and heard these two parables interpreted as if they stood alone and that leads to a wrong interpretation. But the first word of vs. 18 should tie these parables to the preceding passage. It is “oun” in the original Greek, and it should be translated, “then, therefore, accordingly, consequently, these things being so.” So vs. 18 should read “So therefore He was saying, “What is the kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and THE BIRDS OF THE AIR NESTED IN ITS BRANCHES.”
Now if you’ve been here faithfully in the past then you know that I have said that the kingdom of God on earth is the church. It is the visible manifestation of the invisible kingdom of God on earth, that is God reigning in the hearts and minds of His people. The church is the body of Christ, and He is the head. So Jesus is saying that the church is like a mustard seed which a man planted in his garden and it grew and became a tree and the birds of the air nested in it’s branches. Now at first we may think that’s just an inscrutable riddle, but on the other hand think that it doesn’t sound too bad. We all remember Jesus saying that we need to have faith like a mustard seed. So the first reaction is that this is something good Jesus is saying about the church or the kingdom of God.
But actually Jesus is saying the exact opposite. Remember, this comes in context with His rebuke of the synagogue official’s hypocrisy. First of all, it’s important to understand that mustard seeds produce bushes, not trees. What Jesus is describing is an abnormal growth of the seed to become a tree that birds nested in it’s branches. And there is an important element to understanding birds in Jesus parables. If you remember in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13, Jesus said the birds that ate the seed were the devil and his angels. And so the picture Jesus is presenting here is that the church grows abnormally large, and the devil and his angels find nesting places in the branches of the church.
Folks, this is such a clear picture of the Christian church today. The church today has become a monstrosity that incorporates every strange foul doctrine that the demons of hell can devise. 1Tim. 4:1, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” Listen, as I keep saying, don’t for a moment think that the devil is not in the church. Don’t think that just because some wacky experience happened in church that it must be of God. And don’t forget that the devil knows more scripture than you do. He has had thousands of years to perfect his schemes and deceit.
Paul told the church in Acts 20 to be on guard, because he said, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” Listen, the greatest enemy the church has today is not the forces of evil outside the church, but within the church itself. And it’s always been that way. This is what Jesus is preaching against. Remember the fig tree. It is a flourishing tree that should bear fruit, but instead it is just become a roosting place for birds, for doctrines of demons, for false teachers. And Jesus said if it doesn’t bear fruit then He will cut it down.
And so Jesus gives one more illustration of the corruption that is in the church. Vs. 20, “And again He said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.” Now once again, this parable is often interpreted incorrectly, as some sort of prophecy of the growth of the future church. But if you remember the context of this message, that it started with Jesus saying “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy,” then that should give you a clue as to how you are to interpret it.
Leaven is always presented in the Bible as a picture of sin. And so this parable is warning that the church is able to be corrupted by sin. The mention of three measures of meal was the standard grain offering that was given to God. So the correlation is clear. This is unconfessed sin in the church that is a corrupting influence. Essentially, Jesus is giving a picture of corrupt worship. Hiding sin within corrupted an offering to God. And I’m afraid that once again this is a picture of the current condition of the church. The call of the church today is to come as you are to worship God. That as long as you offer to God the praise of your lips and maybe raise your hands or something then that is all that God requires of us. And there is no mention whatsoever in the church today by and large about the need for repentance, for confession, for turning away from sin. And I’m afraid that the church is as guilty as the self righteous Jews of the synagogue who refused to repent at the preaching of Jesus. We’re guilty of coming with unconfessed sin to the worship of God in the church.
This is why today’s Christian church is more carnal than that found in Corinth. You can be living with your boyfriend in immorality and be perfectly content in church today. You can divorce your husband at will and be perfectly content in church. You can smoke pot on the weekends and get drunk on Friday nights and be perfectly happy at a church. Because we have no concept of the abhorrence that God has for sin, and furthermore, we have no abhorrence of it ourselves, and rather than just tolerate sin, we embrace it, even celebrate it in the church.
But I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the leaders of the church. That is why Jesus most scathing criticism is not of the prostitute or the person enslaved to sin, but of the synagogue officials, of the Pharisees and rabbis that were teaching a false doctrine that permitted sin to flourish without remedy. And that is my primary concern today. As a shepherd I am tasked with protecting the sheep from the ravaging wolves that rise up among ourselves, from within our own ranks. My job is to expose it for what it is; hypocrisy, the doctrines of demons, designed by the architect of all false religions, Satan himself. We need to cleanse ourselves from the old leaven. 1 Cor. 5:6, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus gives one last message to seven churches. And all but two of those churches had moved away from the truth and towards apostasy. And Jesus gives a similar message to all of them. I believe that the church today is in the last days, and the message Jesus gave to the last church was that of Laodicea, to which Jesus said, “‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”