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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Where Rules Abound, Grace is Prohibited

Please read Luke 13:10-17 in your Bible.

Image by James Best, (C) 2020,

In previous years, “Religious Liberty Sunday” would be a time of affirming the American Church’s historic commitment to freedom of religion. We would remind one another of the prominent role Baptists have played in the separation of church and state which has previously benefited both institutions.

However, this year has seen serious threats to religious liberty in America. The worst has been the coronavirus. We’ve all observed public officials abusing their authority to shut down houses of worship. Their hypocrisy has been evident in deeming some businesses “essential” allowing them to remain open under the season of “stay at home” orders. Be wary when politicians call something a “crisis” and then use it to expand their power.

This year’s Supreme Court is hearing cases that threaten free expression of one’s religious convictions when they contradict the “rights” of homosexuals, the “right” to abortion-on-demand. In so doing, their agenda is revealed to have little to do with equality; it is about power.

These are a couple of the current political threats to religious liberty, but the most serious threats come from churched people in the form of legalism. We will take a look at one example in Luke 13:10-17. Here, in an exercise of His spiritual authority, acting in freedom, Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath, right in the middle of a worship service. He was condemned on the basis that His actions constituted a violation of God’s law. This healing is found only in the gospel of Luke.

Jesus demonstrated religious liberty when He healed people on the Sabbath.

CONTEXT: Chapter 12 is Luke’s version of Matthew 24; a long look at the events associated with Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of this age. In 13:1-9, that teaching culminated with a call to repent before Jesus’ prophecies came to pass and it was too late. After this, Luke has a couple parables explaining salvation.

1. Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath (10-13).

The setting: Jesus was teaching in a synagogue one Saturday (10). As the synagogue ruler was present at the time of this incident, we might assume this was their regular Saturday worship time, not some other time on Saturday.

Though there are other passages that have Jesus teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, this was not His preferred venue. Perhaps Jesus preferred outdoor and more public places to avoid these kinds of confrontations

Unlike other occasions when afflicted individuals sought him out, Jesus initiated this healing encounter; this implies intentionality on His part. He saw the woman and knew her need in an instant (11). Her infirmity was obvious: SHE WAS BENT OVER AND COULD NOT STRAIGHTEN UP AT ALL. But Jesus supernaturally knew something about her that was not obvious: she HAD BEEN CRIPPLED BY A SPIRIT FOR EIGHTEEN YEARS. She had a spiritual and physical problem. This does not mean the woman was possessed by a demon, simply that there was a spiritual cause to her lengthy illness. The depth and length of her suffering give measure to the miraculous power of Jesus to heal her.

Jesus CALLED HER FORWARD (12); He intended to make her healing a public demonstration. Perhaps it fit with what He had been teaching.

He declared her to be FREE FROM HER INFIMITY (12). This must have meant relief of her spiritual and physical conditions.

Jesus’ miraculous healings were varied; each person was treated individually. In this case, Jesus did something unusual: He took her arms in His hands and pulled her into an erect posture (13). Jesus did not have to touch the woman to heal her: in the gospels He healed others “remotely.”

So he chose this “hands-on” method of healing. Why? I believe it was to oppose the rules against work on the Sabbath, aggravating the SYNAGOGUE RULER and other hypocrites, to draw them out and force a confrontation. This event comes AFTER the pivotal moment of Luke’s gospel. In 9:51, Jesus set out resolutely for Jerusalem. From that point on, everything in Luke’s gospel is Jesus managing events, goading the religious and political leadership into crucifying Him. For example, His Triumphal Entry and cleansing of the temple are events He used to polarize the opposition into demanding His life.

This ordinary moment of worship in a synagogue was forever changed by what happened next. It became an eternal moment. The woman’s response was to praise God (13). It impossible to imagine what she felt: the tremendous joy at being instantly relieved of a physical infirmity and an oppressive spirit.

2. The synagogue ruler attempted to cite Jesus for a Sabbath violation (14).

A SYNAGOGUE was a local replacement for the temple in Jerusalem, providing a home for worship and teaching for people who couldn’t go to Jerusalem every week. A SYNAGOGUE RULER was the man who was in charge of the facility and what went on within it. (Another SYNAGOGUE RULER, a man named Jairus, figured prominently in another healing account in Luke 8.)

Luke tells us the SYNAGOGUE RULER was INDIGNANT because Jesus had broken the law that demanded rest on the Sabbath. How was Jesus guilty of work? The answer is not obvious. There has always been considerable debate among students of the law of Moses about healing on the Sabbath. We won’t get into that dialogue: it’s sufficient for us to say the SYNAGOGUE RULER may not have been concerned about the healing itself, but about the work associated with the healing.

That sounds confusing. Some acts of healing were forbidden because they required grinding herbs and other items to make medicine. Grinding was obviously work, so that act was forbidden.

This may be the crux of the issue in Jesus’ case, and it is based on a small detail in Luke’s narrative. Because Jesus had reached out and touched the woman, He was “guilty” of doing work, which violated God’s command to rest on the Sabbath. The experts on the Law had interpreted and outstretched arm when giving alms on the Sabbath was “work,” while an arm held closer to the body was not. Interpretations were that picky and still, people were willing to go to battle over them.

The SYNAGOGUE RULER’s rebuke of Jesus was spoken to the people, a passive-aggressive stunt. He reminded them healing was work and it was to be done on the six days allotted for work, not on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:9-10, the fourth Commandment).

This is not the first time this issue came up: in Luke 6:1-11, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath. On that occasion He explained the SON OF MAN IS LORD OF THE SABBATH (6:5). Jesus had the authority to do He deemed necessary. Their fussy interpretations of Sabbath law were not binding on Him.

3. Jesus’ reply exposed the synagogue ruler’s hypocrisy (15-16).

Jesus rightly exposed the man as a HYPOCRITE (15). The SYNAGOGUE RULER was himself guilty of violating the prohibition of work on the Sabbath to do his synagogue duties and also everyday chores like caring for an animal (16). It is hypocrisy to say animal chores were not “work” while healing was.

Jesus compares the worth of the woman to the worth of the man’s OX or DONKEY and proves she was more deserving of care, especially on the Sabbath (16). She deserved immediate healing because of the severity of her illness. Jesus also demonstrated His supernatural knowledge here: how else would He know the cause of her illness (Satan’s binding) and the length of her illness (EIGHTEEN LONG YEARS)?

She deserved immediate healing as she was a DAUGHTER OF ABRAHAM (a Jew). Not only is a human being more deserving of good treatment than an OX or DONKEY, but also a Jew more deserving of better treatment in a SYNAGOGUE than a Gentile.

She deserved immediate healing because of the timing. Jesus is effectively saying, “There couldn’t be a MORE appropriate day to set this poor suffering woman free from her illness than on a Sabbath day!”

4. The result? Jesus confounded His critics and delighted his people (17).

ALL HIS OPPONENTS WERE HUMILIATED. This humiliation did not silence or even deter them. Just the opposite; it enraged them and made them hunger for His death. As Jesus moved closer to the cross, this is precisely what He wanted them to do.

THE PEOPLE WERE DELIGHTED. Luke likes to tell us the people’s reaction to Jesus. The approval of common folk is one validation of the validity of Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus demonstrated religious liberty when He healed people on the Sabbath.

It’s about grace, people. Grace is God showing us favor we don’t deserve. We depend on His grace for our everyday survival and especially for our salvation.

The worst opponent to grace is legalism among God’s people. Whenever any one of us uses the letter of the law to deny someone a benefit - regardless of whether they are deserving or not - grace has been thwarted and heaven weeps. The Holy Spirit is grieved by our hypocrisy and lack of love.

Legalists like the SYNAGOGUE RULER complain about grace because it represents an exception to their rules. They resent exceptions because they mistakenly think the rules give them power. Pride and jealousy can also incite pettiness that opposes grace.

Friends, grace is grace because it is undeserved. Because it is exceptional. Because it flaunts our rules and traditions. Grace exposes our hypocrisy when we oppose it.

When we are as guilty as the SYNAGOGUE RULER of squelching grace, our church dies a little bit. Our fellowship is strained. Our witness is compromised.

On the other hand, every time grace is shown, our church grows a bit. Our fellowship is deepened. Our witness is confirmed because the love we claim is the love we demonstrate.

Legalism is also the enemy of liberty. We have a great deal of freedom in Jesus Christ, redeemed from the tyranny of the Law. Liberty and grace are two sides of the same coin.


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Luke, Walter L. Liefield.

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Luke, Laurence E. Porter.

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