The key to this story is the time: it happened on the Sabbath. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, showing that he obeyed the Sabbath and that the town was interested enough to hear him.
While he was teaching, Jesus noticed a woman who had a “disabling sprit”. Luke attributes her disability to the cruelty of Satan. Jesus said she was bound by Satan. (16) He noticed her; she did not seek him. She had been bent over for 18 years. Jesus’ ministry was not only teaching about the kingdom, but demonstrating it with his compassion for those who suffer and his conflict with demons.
1 John 3:8 says the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
Jesus called her over, laid hands on her and freed her. She was made straight. (13) She reacted appropriately: she glorified God. She understood the supernatural work that had taken place. The last sentence of the story indicates that the people in attendance also rejoiced. (17)
But the ruler of the synagogue was indignant. He was upset that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He did not have the nerve to reproach Jesus, so he told the congregation to come for healing on other days, not the Sabbath. (14)
Jesus reacted to this with a correction to the ruler’s thinking. He called him a hypocrite. (18) He pointed out the they believed you could take care of a donkey on the Sabbath. How much more, then, should they want to help this woman.
He used the same word for “untie” as he did for “loosed”.
He called her a child of Abraham, meaning she had value as a member of the covenant people. And why could be better than freeing her from the power of Satan on the day reserved to worship the Lord? (16)
Here is a little background for this story. “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word “shabbat”, which derives from the word meaning “to cease”. God rested, or ceased, his labor of creation on the seventh day. Genesis 2:1-3 tells us this. It says:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So god blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
The principle of the Sabbath began in the beginning. But God also imposed Sabbath observance as part of his covenant with Israel. He said:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it shall not do any work…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
The Sabbath was a recognition of God as creator. As he ceased his work on the seventh day, men and women were to cease their work as a memorial to God, their creator.
The Pharisees were concerned to honor the Sabbath as God commanded it. They made up many rules to define work. Sadly, healing was labeled as work. That is why the ruler of the synagogue was indignant: Jesus had worked and he had done it in the synagogue.
Jesus, however, knew there was more to the Sabbath than rest. It was also about redemption. That is because the basis of the covenant was God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. God began the giving of the law with these words of redemption:
I am the LORD (Yahweh) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1)
The restatement of the law in Deuteronomy emphasizes redemption with the Sabbath observance. It emphasized that the Sabbath was to be observed by the individual, but also by their servants. They were to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and God brought them out of slavery. Therefore, they were to observe the Sabbath. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
The ruler only wanted to recognize the rest aspect, forgetting the redemption aspect. Jesus emphasized the redemption aspect. He is, after all, the Redeemer.
The law, including the Sabbath, was designed by God to point to the Redeemer. Colossians 2:16 calls the Sabbaths and the feasts “shadows of things to come”. But the Pharisees had come to see the law as and end unto itself. Therefore, they focused on the requirements and not the representations, or symbols, that pointed to God’s redemption.
There is a lesson for us here. We have our rituals. We have our rules. There is nothing wrong with that. But we must always look at what they mean and how they point us to God, and not get caught up in rules that God did not impose.
We must also care for people as Jesus did. It is easier to obey human rules than to care for someone. But it is not what Jesus did and not what we should do.
We want to be those who rejoice in the work of God, not those who carp about the process.
Verse 17 says Jesus’ adversaries were put to shame. Their hard hearts and lack of compassion were revealed.
Jesus’ work of healing was also a sign of things to come. When the kingdom comes in all its fulness, there will be no mental or physical disabilities, no suffering, no deformity.
Next, Jesus told 2 stories of the growth of the kingdom.
The Growing Kingdom
In this passage, Jesus spoke about the kingdom and its growth. He compared it to a small mustard seed that grew into a plant large enough for birds to nest in it. ((18-19) It was like a small amount of leaven that would leaven a large amount of flour. The point of both of these images is growth from small to large. Christ’s kingdom started with just a few followers, but would grow to have millions.
The Narrow Door
This teaching occurred and Jesus continued along his way to Jerusalem. All along the way he stopped and taught.
Someone asked him if the number of persons saved would be few. (23) Jesus answered indirectly, by comparing one’s entry into the kingdom to one’s entry into someone’s house.
He said to strive to enter through the narrow door. A narrow door would imply that everyone does not get in. There is one way in. It is restricted by narrowness.
Jesus said when the master of the house shut the door, others would stand outside and wanting. They would say “open the door” because they ate and drank in his presence and he taught in their streets. But he would say he did not know where they came from. He would tell them to depart and call them evil. They would go to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus is the master of the house. Those outside are those who did not commit their lives to him in faith. Sure, they hung out with church people. They thought Jesus was a good teacher. But none of that was enough.
Hell is the place for those who will be cast out of God’s presence. Here the Master says “depart from me”. He cast them out, just as God cast Adam from the Garden and the Jews from Israel.
Hell will be a place of suffering. There will be weeping. People will gnash their teeth in agony. (28)
Jesus told the crowd of Jews that they would be in that place and would suffer as they saw Abraham, their father, in the kingdom with all the prophets and all believers, but themselves cast out because they rejected Jesus. (28)
And while they would be cast out, Gentiles would come from all directions, pass through the narrow door, and reclining at table in the kingdom of God. (29) Again we see heaven portrayed as a wedding feast.
So, what was Jesus’ answer to the question “will those who are saved be few”? The answer was, and is, only those who enter by the narrow gate will be saved. There will be many that think they are saved for the wrong reasons, but are not.
For this reason, we must be careful to proclaim the gospel as Jesus did. This story indicates that the narrow door means there is one way into the kingdom. That way is repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. We cannot water that down in evangelism or in the face of opposition.
You might be familiar with a recent event where a Christian came under a scathing attack from Senator Bernie Sanders. It occurred during the confirmation hearing for Russell Vaught’s nomination to become Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Mr. Vaught had written an article that contained the following statement:
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
That statement is absolutely correct according to the Bible.
Mr. Sanders responded in this way. He said:
“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world”. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”
At the heart of Mr. Sanders’ rhetoric is a belief that all religions are equal and we cannot hold out Christianity as the one way to eternal life. That is not, however, the view of Jesus. He said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:6)
That is plain. It is the word of the Son of God. We have no authority to change it. And if we do, the blood of those who are lost because of it is on our hands.