* * * *
“And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And He laid His hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto die people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on die sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on die sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? And when He had said these things, all His adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things diat were done by Him”—Luke 13:10-17.
* * * *
As we go over this account we are reminded that all through the three and one-half wonderful years of our Lord’s ministry, as He went about doing good and healing all oppressed of the devil, He found Himself in conflict with a certain group of legal formalists in Israel who put far more value upon outward observances, sacred ceremonies and religious rites than upon the human soul. And yet the soul of man is more to God than all such rites and ceremonies. Our Lord Jesus never lost an opportunity to rebuke this type of hypocrisy. He calls it that very definitely.
Many people go along the line of least resistance, because they do not want to bow their heart before God and really get right with Him. They place the emphasis upon outward things—attending church, ordinances, such as baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or elaborate ritualistic services. They stress these things rather than the recognition of the Lordship of Christ and the salvation of men.
There are some spiritual lessons set forth here which the Lord would have us learn. He was teaching in one of the synagogues in Capernaum on the Sabbath. It might have been, possibly, the very synagogue which has been uncovered within our own times from the dust of nearly two millenniums. While teaching there one Sabbath day He observed before Him a poor woman to whom His sympathy immediately went out. He knew she “had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.” It might have been arthritis or some type of spinal trouble which bowed her down. She had doubtless gone to physicians and sought help and failed to obtain it. But as the Lord looked upon her, His heart went out to her in compassion and He called her to Him, and said unto her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” There is no form of suffering which we endure but that the Lord looks upon us in compassion, ready to give needed grace, and sometimes He heals us if that is His highest will for us; if it is not His will to heal us He will give needed grace to sustain the spirit in the midst of trials, so that we can learn to glory in tribulation and to rejoice even in our infirmities. Jesus looked upon this poor woman with compassion, and called her to Him. He does the same with us. He looks upon us; He has compassion upon us, and He calls us and bids us come to Him and bring to Him all our ailments, our difficulties, our perplexities, assuring us that He is ready to undertake for us in His own marvelous way.
The woman left her place and came forward. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened upon her. I imagine she was a rather humble-looking person; her poor, bent body witnessed to her suffering. But oh, how all was changed as she came to the front! The Lord laid His hands upon her—those hands which were so often lifted up in blessing; those hands which were laid upon the eyes of the blind, and they were opened; those hands which were laid upon lepers, and the leprosy was cleansed; those hands which were so soon to be pierced with the nails on the cross—He laid those hands upon this poor woman, and she felt the thrill of a new life coursing through her entire body; and she who had been crooked was made straight in a moment. And we are told she glorified God. She realized that He who had wrought this miracle upon her must be God’s Servant, for she recognized the fact that the healing was from the Lord. How far she entered into the truth of the Saviour’s Deity, I cannot say; but she recognized at least that the power of God had wrought this miracle. We might expect that there would have been great rejoicing on the part of all who were present, that a paean of praise would have risen from the throng who had witnessed this manifestation of the love and power of God. But though this was true of some, there were those who looked upon it all with jealous eyes and with bitter envy in their hearts. Even the ruler of the synagogue was indignant. To him it was a profane interruption of a sacred service. He did not speak to Jesus face-to-face but turned to the people and said, “There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” But God finds more glory in delivering people from their suffering, physical and spiritual, than in any formal religious service. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Thou hypocrite.” That word “hypocrite” is really the Greek word for an actor, and literally means “second face.” Greek actors did not appear on the stage showing their own faces but put on masks, and so the word “second face” was given to an actor. It is applied here by our Lord to one who is not real—Thou hypocrite, thou two-faced one! Jesus thus exposed the unreality of this man, who was one thing before men and quite another before God. He was altogether different in his home, and possibly altogether different in his business and in his relations with other persons than he was as ruler of the synagogue. There are many such hypocrites still: men, and women too, who can be very pious when they are in church but very impious when driving a hard bargain through the week; or who make everyone miserable in the home because of a violent temper and a hard and cruel manner in dealing with the family. Bunyan pictures one like this: “A saint abroad and devil at home.” Two faces: one face for the public, another face for other relations. There are many who resent a preacher’s speaking like this. They do not like to have sin called “sin”; they do not want anything that will disturb them in what they call their “religious exercises.” Our Lord knew this man, and He exposed the corruption of his heart as He exclaimed “Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” When they attended to their animals on the Sabbath it was all right; but when He healed a poor, suffering woman and delivered her from an infirmity of eighteen years* standing, they looked upon that with indignation. Yet this woman was a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound: that is, she was one who believed in God as Abraham did; she was a true daughter of the covenant. She was not merely a Jewess by natural birth, not merely one who sprang from the line of Abraham, but she was a woman of faith, in spite of the affliction wherewith Satan had bound her. She believed God; she had faith in Him. We read that, “They which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” She was a woman of faith and now her faith was rewarded. She was healed of her infirmity, and some who should have rejoiced only complained!
Notice how definitely Jesus traces her infirmity back to Satan himself. Sickness never comes directly from God. God is infinitely pure; there is no corruption in Him. All the sickness, all the infirmity that anyone has to endure is the direct or indirect result of sin. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean one’s own personal sins are responsible for his infirmities. It would be cruel to take the stand which was taken by Job’s friends, that calamity comes to one only because of personal sin. But no one would ever have been ill if sin had not come into the world by Adam’s fall. There are times when in a very special way Satan undertakes to inflict punishment upon God’s people, but he can do that only as God gives permission. This is clearly illustrated when Satan went before God, and God said, “Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth?” Satan replied, “Thou hast given him everything a man could desire, and that is the reason he fears Thee, but take it away from him and then Thou wilt see that he will curse Thee to Thy face.” God gave Satan permission to test Job in this manner, and Satan went forth and took everything away from him: his sons, daughters, and all his possessions. The only thing he left Job was a wife with a bad temper; all else was gone. But Job looked up to God and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” Satan went before God again, and God said, “Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” Satan said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth Thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes.” Some physicians consider that this was a form of elephantiasis, a lothsome disease with excruciating agony. His wife said, “Why not curse God and die?” But Job said, “We receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not also receive evil?” God demonstrated to the devil that Job’s love was for Himself alone. In similar ways Satan is permitted to try God’s people still. He is permitted to put illness upon us; but the Lord will turn it all into blessing if only we learn to receive it as from His own hand and recognize no second causes.
In this case, notice again the way the Lord puts it: “Ought not this woman… whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond?” Do you see what He had done? He had made a crooked woman straight! Of course her ailment was physical; but I think there is a spiritual lesson here for us. All through the centuries since, that is what the gospel has been doing—it has been making crooked people straight. Sin makes us crooked. We have “all gone out of the way.” “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “There is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.” As God looks down upon us He discerns the crookedness in all of us; but when we come to Christ He can straighten us out. The lives of some people are more crooked than others. Some people can cover their crookedness from the eyes of their fellows, but it is useless to try to hide their crookedness from God. There are many who have never come to the place where they have confessed their crookedness, acknowledged their sinfulness, and faced their true condition before God. He desires to do something for them; He wants to straighten them out, but they refuse to come to Him, for they do not realize their need of His grace. One of the most crooked persons I ever knew was a man who was crooked in his business. All who patronized him found that he cheated them. But when he came to Christ it was not long before people were saying, “You know Mr. So-and-So is a different man: he is straight in all his dealings.” Many people have been morally crooked, licentious, and given to vile habits; but they have come to Jesus and trusted Him, and He has made them upright. We cannot do this for ourselves. Only the Lord can straighten us. If you are morally crooked, and you have tried to straighten yourself and have not been able to do so, I plead with you: come to Jesus; look to Him; confess your failure and your sin to Him, and you will find that He is able to make you straight. He does not merely improve the old life; He gives a new life. When you receive this new life you will learn to hate the things you once loved and to love the things you once hated.
Coming back to our story—a picture of what Jesus can do for all crooked people who come to Him—we are told that, “When He had said these things, all His adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.” Evidently there were many besides the rulers who were opposed, many critical Jews who were angry, because of the healing of this poor woman on the Sabbath. But they were ashamed; they did not dare say anything more. And all the people, that is, the common people— the people who loved to hear the words of Jesus and to see His works of power—”rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.” Thank God, He is still doing glorious things! He is still straightening up crooked people; He is still delivering folk from their infirmities. If you, to whom this message comes, have not known in your own life God’s wonderful work of grace, He bids you come to Him just as you are, and He will make you straight.