Imagine what it must have been like for this poor woman. It’s likely that she was in pain all the time. She was so stooped over that she couldn’t make eye contact with those who spoke to her; her eyes were always on the ground. Perhaps, out of embarrassment and awkwardness, not many people did speak to her. She must have often thought back to her younger days when her she was able to work and able to socialise and able to get dressed with it taking an age and being extremely painful. In verse 12 we read that Jesus ‘saw her’. Jesus always seems to ‘see’ the one in a crowd who is in great need. He sees with the eyes of compassion and grace. Many would see her need and walk by on the other side without speaking to her. Not Jesus. He takes the initiative here and brings transformation to this woman’s life. He sets her free from this 18-year affliction. He restores her dignity. He does what no one else could do.
We must always remember that the healings of Jesus are pictures of what Jesus can do for us spiritually. In verse 16 we’re told that this woman had been bound by Satan for 18 years. This illness had not come through her own sin, but through the power of Satan. There is mystery here, but it seems that in some way, an evil spirit has been responsible for a terrible debilitating condition which has bound her for a long period of time. This is an example of physical suffering directly produced by the power of Satan.
1. The place of blessing
Notice where the woman was. In spite of the difficulties and obstacles and pain involved in getting up and dressed and ready for worship, this woman is found with the Lord’s people on the Sabbath. She clearly has a desire to worship God. It would have been easier for her to stay at home, but she is a shining example to us of someone who makes every effort to attend public worship. This is a message we all need to be reminded of as many people in our generation skip public worship when even the smallest obstacle blocks them. I doubt this woman could have found a comfortable seat to sit on. If she wanted to find an excuse not to come, then that would have been easy. She could have made dozens of excuses. She could have said, ‘You can’t expect me to come to church – I’m a cripple.’ She could have said, ‘You can’t expect me to come to worship. I’ve prayed for help for 18 years and nothing has happened. Why should I worship God?’
Let’s follow her example, in that she makes every effort to come to worship God. She could have thought, ‘I’ll just stay at home and worship on my own because I’m in a lot of physical pain’. But God promises a special blessing when his people gather in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s Day. ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’ (Matthew 18:20)
Dale Ralph Davis: ‘She ‘says’ a lot merely by the fact that she was there.’
Had she not been there, she would have missed out on tremendous blessing. God’s people can miss out on great blessing through skipping church! We think of how Douglas Dawson used to come to church in spite of the considerable amount of time and effort it took him to get ready as a result of his MS. We think of Dr Adam in church week in week out, even on the Sunday before her death. These people are examples to us, and ones we need.
So many these days have a far too relaxed attitude to the importance of public worship on Sunday morning and Sunday evening, and just won’t bother if they are a bit tired or upset about something. Now don’t get me wrong – of course there are times when we cannot come to church for good reasons. But what I’m suggesting is that we err on the side of going, not staying at home. I remember a sermon from about 35 years ago and my minister saying that when you don’t feel like going to church, that’s exactly when you need to go all the more. There is a lot of wisdom in that.
I’ve been a Christian for 40 years now, and only a minister for 12 of them so I can remember many occasions when I have not felt like going to church, sometimes quite strongly, but went along anyway. Not once have I regretted this. On many an occasion the Lord has spoken to me in those times of pain or darkness. Don’t rob yourself by keeping away from the place of blessing – the place God’s Word is read and preached and where God’s Spirit is present in a special way. Online worship is very much second best, and is designed for those who genuinely cannot get out to church for good reasons. It is never meant to be a replacement for the church family coming together.
2. Deliverance is always possible through the power of Jesus
Luke likes to use the word ‘immediately’. He is a medical doctor and must have been so impressed at the way Jesus, just by placing his hands on her, restores this woman instantaneously. Such power. This is power over Satan, because remember that it was Satan’s power which had held this woman in his vice for such a long time. A body which used to be twisted and distorted has been restored.
Who are we in this story? Let me suggest that we are like this needy woman. Her outward needs are so obvious to everyone around us. Perhaps your needs today are more hidden. Others don’t know about the twisted things in your life which need to be straightened out. Every single one of us has twisted elements in our lives: they appear in our work life, our relationships, our thought life, our lack of love for God and our lack of appreciation of what he does for us. There are times when we can get quite down about just how crooked we really are. And this can be a good thing, if it leads us to Jesus.
This healing ought to be an enormous encouragement to us all this morning, no matter where we are on our journey as Jesus’ disciples. This healing should fill us with hope and comfort. Why? Because we have a simple picture of the way Jesus is able to bring transformation and healing and restoration to human beings in all their need. We might be struggling with selfishness. If we bring this to Jesus and ask for his help, he is able to straighten us out and soften our hearts, so we can live more for God. There might be specific sins which we’ve been bound by for many years, and as a result, things have become so twisted over time that we no longer think much about ever changing. Jesus has the power to help you and bring about change you couldn’t possibly see in your own strength. The question is, are you willing to ask for his help in prayer?
As we have already seen, this woman’s condition is the work of Satan. But this is just one of many different kinds of bondage which Satan is responsible for. There are those in bondage to their own selfishness. We are living for ourselves and God isn’t really in the picture. There are those in bondage to drugs and alcohol. There are those who are slaves to all kinds of different lusts and addictions, from overwork to pornography to entertainment. If we are not Christians yet, then our eyes are, as it were, fixed on the ground, and we are unable to lift our eyes up to see the greater spiritual realities of what life is really about, with God in his rightful place at the centre. Those without Jesus lack hope, meaning, freedom and peace. Let me state very simply that if you are not yet a Christian, this woman’s healing reminds us that only Jesus can set us free to live as God intended us to.
And if we are already Christians, we need to hold onto this same truth: only Jesus can enable us to be the spouses, parents, friends, church members that we ought to be. Christians can also be bent over and ensnared by problems which can bring great pain into our lives. Jesus, and only Jesus, is able to liberate us from sin’s power, and bring healing and restoration into our broken lives. We have great hope for transformation in our lives because we have such a powerful and gracious Saviour.
Again, I need to ask to challenge us – are we willing to meet with Jesus throughout the week with open Bibles, and are we willing to meet with him regularly at church, where his people gather and where he dwells in the midst? Are we willing to ask him for help in the place of prayer? It would be ironic if we carried on struggling on in our own strength, doubled over by our sin, our need, our guilt and our fears, when all the time there was one in Jesus willing to bring freedom into our lives.
3. A total misunderstanding of the Sabbath
It is so tragic to read of the response the synagogue leader has to this miracle. Why not rejoice? Jesus has performed a mighty miracle, underlining that he is the Son of God, qualified and willing to forgive our sin and transform our lives. Surely this leader has seen this woman hundreds of times before. His anger is a window into his soul. Here is a man who is hostile to Jesus, and does not have love for God or for his neighbour. Here is a man who misunderstands the 4th commandment, which was meant to bring blessing and not bondage into our lives, as a day of rest and worship.
JC Ryle comments on the blessing of Lord’s Day: ‘Let us lay down for ourselves two special rules for the observance of the Sabbath. For one thing let us do no work which is not absolutely needful. For another let us keep the day ‘holy’ and give it to God. From these two rules let us never swerve. Experience shows that there is the closest connection between Sabbath sanctification and healthy Christianity.’ Do you agree with that? I hope you do!
We know that by the end of the 2nd century, the Jewish Mishnah had 39 prohibitions for the Sabbath day. The man-made rules of the Jews had taken a day meant for joy and worship and freedom and turned it into a nightmare legalistic day of unnecessary rules. Of course, we can do good on the Lord’s Day. Of course, there are necessary works we need to do. Doctors and nurses and must continue to work, and even ministers need to do some work. These things are needed.
In fact, the Sabbath was a day when freedom was meant to be celebrated. ‘Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.’ (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
Slaves aren’t allowed to have a day off. When the Israelites were in Egypt, they could not enjoy a Sabbath day’s rest. It was only when the LORD set his people free from slavery that his people could enjoy the privilege of a day of rest and of worship.
Dale Ralph Davis: ‘Sabbaths are the privilege of a free people and so a sense of freedom should always mark them.’
This man should have been delighted at this woman being set free on the Sabbath. What a perfect day to set someone free from the power of Satan. ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.’ (Leviticus 26:13)
Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of the religious leaders leaving them nowhere to hide. He simply points out that they care for their own animals on the Sabbath, working to provide them with food and water. They care more about animals than they do about this woman, who is a daughter of Abraham, probably indicating that here is a woman who trusts in the living God. She matters more than the animals. Should we show mercy to animals but not to one another on the Sabbath?
Please notice that this man’s problem isn’t that he has a too strict interpretation of the Sabbath, but rather a totally wrong one. It could be that we do too, in the opposite direction. We can be so bound by sport, shopping, work and even family that we fail to enjoy the rest and worship of the Lord’s Day. Today, there aren’t many of us with a legalistic attitude to Sunday, but perhaps too many who treat it just like any other day. I hope we can enjoy the freedom a day of rest and worship affords us.
Let’s end with this one thought in our minds this morning: Jesus is able to take our lives twisted by sin, and cause us to stand up straight. Will you come to him today and ask him to do that for you?