10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 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.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. – Luke 13:10-17 ESV
In this chapter, Luke has organized a series of the events surrounding Jesus’ life that each supports the overarching theme of repentance and judgment that Jesus had begun to discuss with the crowd. Luke opened chapter 13 with the foreboding words of Jesus:
“…you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” – Luke 13:3 NLT
What Jesus was trying to tell His audience was that death was the inevitable outcome for all people. But not just physical death. As the apostle Paul would later express it: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But Paul had not come up with this idea on his own. It was not the product of Paul’s overactive theological imagination, but rather, it was the succinct summary of the biblical narrative concerning mankind and sin. Paul was borrowing from the Hebrew Scriptures, reaching all the way back to the book of Genesis where God commanded Adam and Eve:
“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV
Disobedience would bring death. But God was describing far more than physical death. Because when the first couple decided to eat fruit from the forbidden tree, they did not experience an immediate loss of life. They continued to live but soon found themselves separated from God, cast out of the garden and from His presence. On the day they ate of the tree, their fellowship with God ended. Sin created an impenetrable barrier between them and the One who had made them. Rather than enjoying intimate communication with God in the garden, they were cast out and cursed to experience life with the constant presence of pain, suffering, disease, and, ultimately, physical death.
Paul also drew from the wisdom of Solomon:
Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,
but he who pursues evil will die. – Proverbs 11:19 ESV
There is life in the path of righteousness, but another path leads to death. – Proverbs 12:28 ESV
In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus alluded to the fruitlessness of Israel. They had not taken the path of righteousness. But instead, had pursued the path that leads to death. As a result, God, the owner of the vineyard had declared, “I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down” (Luke 13:7 ESV). But in the story, Jesus portrayed Himself as the faithful gardener who begs the owner for more time to cultivate and care for the fruitless tree. If at the end of the following season, the tree remained barren, the owner could cut it down.
Jesus was calling all to repent but knew that many would not. There were those who followed Him who would never accept Him as their Messiah. He didn’t fit the bill. He failed to measure up to their preconceived ideas concerning the anointed one of God. Jesus had not shown up on a white horse leading a victorious army in His wake. Yes, He had performed amazing miracles that demonstrated great power with authority, but He had shown no signs that He was capable of defeating the Romans. And, at the end of the day, that is what most people wanted to see Him do. They had been looking for a sign from heaven much like the prophet Zechariah had described.
Then the LORD will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all his holy ones with him. – Zechariah 14:3-5 NLT
But Jesus didn’t show up the way they were expecting. That’s why Paul wrote:
Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT
And one of the primary groups of people that demanded a sign from heaven was the Pharisees. Mark records how they came to Jesus “and started to argue with him. Testing him, they demanded that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (Mark 8:11 NLT). They were looking for a sign that would demonstrate His Messianic power and authority. These men didn’t realize it, but they were the barren fig tree to which Jesus referred in His parable. They were to poster boys of fruitlessness, having long ago replaced loving obedience to God with legalistic adherence to a set of rules and regulations. Jesus had confronted them for their misguided obsession with rules.
“…why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God?” – Matthew 15:3 NLT
And He was far from done.
“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT
These hypocritical rule-keepers and sign-seekers were always lurking in the crowds that followed Jesus. And as Luke reveals in chapter 13, as Jesus entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were not far behind. As Jesus was teaching, “he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight” (Luke 13:11 NLT). This woman suffered from a debilitating disease that both physical and spiritual in nature. Somehow, the demon that possessed her had done physical damage to her body. For 18 long years, she had suffered from a severe disfigurement that was most likely accompanied by severe pain. On top of that, she had to deal with the ever-present reality of the demonic spirit that lived within her.
According to Jewish thought, this woman’s suffering was most likely a result of sin. She must have committed a truly egregious sin to deserve such a horrific punishment from God. Her very presence in the synagogue that day would have offended most of those in the room. In their minds, she was obviously unrepentant and unclean. But Luke records that Jesus saw the woman and called out to her. And what He said would have left the crowd shocked and confused.
“Woman, you are freed from your disability.” – Luke 13:12 ESV
There was no small talk. Jesus didn’t ask for her name or her back story. He simply declared her freedom from her pain and suffering. Then, He reached out and touched her.
…he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. – Luke 13:13 ESV
At the touch of His hand, the woman’s 18-year disability was replaced with full health. She was able to stand up straight, completely free from the demon who had long possessed her. She was whole physically and spiritually. And Luke reports that she glorified God. There was no doubt in her mind that she had seen a sign from heaven and she was more than willing to give God the glory He was due. She may not have immediately understood who Jesus was, but she fully recognized that the Almighty had worked through Him.
But while this grateful woman glorified God, the ruler of the synagogue voiced his shock and indignation. Luke makes it clear that this man’s anger was directed at Jesus, but his words were directed at the crowd within the synagogue. And what he says seems to reveal that there were others in the room who had come to be healed by Jesus.
“There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.” – Luke13:14 NLT
Don’t miss what this man said. He knew he couldn’t refute that a miracle had taken place. But rather than glorify God, he not-so-subtly chastised Jesus for violating the laws concerning the Sabbath. By healing the woman, Jesus has broken their man-made rules concerning the performance of work on the Sabbath. This synagogue leader, like the Pharisees who sat in the room looking on, was steeped in the traditions of Judaism which had taken God’s prohibition against work on the Sabbath and turned it into a lengthy list of legalist, nit-picking rules that made the Sabbath anything but a day of rest.
And Jesus answered the man but directed His ire at the rest of the religious leaders who had been sitting silently in the shadows watching all that had happened.
“You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? – Luke 13:15 NLT
Jesus knew the Pharisees were gloating over what they believed to be His obvious breach of religious protocol. They viewed Him as a law-breaker and someone completely out of touch with the traditions of the elders. But Jesus saw them as those who “teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9 NLT). They were hypocrites because they stacked the deck, creating convenient loopholes for themselves while holding the common people to unattainable standards that left them weary and burdened by guilt.
These men were spiritually barren, completely devoid of the fruit of righteousness. They were completely incapable of rejoicing in this woman’s healing. They were blind to the obvious presence of God in their midst. And rather than glory in the goodness of God, they gloated over their superior spirituality. But Jesus exposed them for what they truly were: Barren trees lacking in fruit. And He confronts them for the lack of mercy, grace, and love.
“This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” – Luke 13:16 NLT
They would rather have seen her remain bound by a demon and crippled by disease than have their precious rules broken. They loved their laws more than they loved God. And if it had been left up to them, their obsession with legalism would have ultimately left this woman bound by Satan.
But more than three years earlier, Jesus had appeared in another synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth. And He had read from the scroll of Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV
And when He had finished, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV). This woman had been a recipient of the Lord’s favor. She had been set free. But the Pharisees remained enslaved to their laws, blinded by their pride and arrogance, and impoverished by their false sense of spiritual superiority. And while they were shame by Jesus’ words, they remained unchanged and unrepentant.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson