Here is, I. The miraculous cure of a woman that had been long under a spirit of infirmity. Our Lord Jesus spent his Sabbaths in the synagogues, Luke 13:10. We should make conscience of doing so, as we have opportunity, and not think we can spend the sabbath as well at home reading a good book; for religious assemblies are a divine institution, which we must bear our testimony to, though but of two or three. And, when he was in the synagogues on the sabbath day, he was teaching there—en didaskon. It denotes a continued act; he still taught the people knowledge. He was in his element when he was teaching. Now to confirm the doctrine he preached, and recommend it as faithful, and well worthy of all acceptation, he wrought a miracle, a miracle of mercy.
1. The object of charity that presented itself was a woman in the synagogue that had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, Luke 13:11. She had an infirmity, which an evil spirit, by divine permission, had brought upon her, which was such that she was bowed together by strong convulsions, and could in no wise lift up herself; and, having been so long thus, the disease was incurable; she could not stand erect, which is reckoned man’s honour above the beasts. Observe, Though she was under this infirmity, by which she was much deformed, and made to look mean, and not only so, but, as is supposed, motion was very painful to her, yet she went to the synagogue on the sabbath day. Note, Even bodily infirmities, unless they be very grievous indeed, should not keep us from public worship on the sabbath days; for God can help us, beyond our expectation.
2. The offer of this cure to one that sought it not bespeaks the preventing mercy and grace of Christ: When Jesus saw her, he called her to him, Luke 13:12. It does not appear that she made any application to him, or had any expectation from him; but before she called he answered. She came to him to be taught, and to get good to her soul, and then Christ gave this relief to her bodily infirmity. Note, Those whose first and chief care is for their souls do best befriend the true interests of their bodies likewise, for other things shall be added to them. Christ in his gospel calls and invites those to come to him for healing that labour under spiritual infirmities, and, if he calls us, he will undoubtedly help us when we come to him.
3. The cure effectually and immediately wrought bespeaks his almighty power. He laid his hands on her, and said, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity; though thou hast been long labouring under it, thou art at length released from it.” Let not those despair whose disease is inveterate, who have been long in affliction. God can at length relieve them, therefore though he tarry wait for him. Though it was a spirit of infirmity, an evil spirit, that she was under the power of, Christ has a power superior to that of Satan, is stronger than he. Though she could in no wise lift up herself, Christ could lift her up, and enable her to lift up herself. She that had been crooked was immediately made straight, and the scripture was fulfilled (Ps. 146:8): The Lord raiseth them that are bowed down. This cure represents the work of Christ’s grace upon the souls of the people. (1.) In the conversion of sinners. Unsanctified hearts are under this spirit of infirmity; they are distorted, the faculties of the soul are quite out of place and order; they are bowed down towards things below. O curvae in terram animae! They can in no wise lift up themselves to God and heaven; the bent of the soul, in its natural state, is the quite contrary way. Such crooked souls seek not to Christ; but he calls them to him, lays the hand of his power and grace upon them, speaks a healing word to them, by which he looses them from their infirmity, makes the soul straight, reduces it to order, raises it above worldly regards, and directs its affections and aims heavenward. Though man cannot make that straight which God has made crooked (Eccl. 7:13), yet the grace of God can make that straight which the sin of man has made crooked. (2.) In the consolation of good people. Many of the children of God are long under a spirit of infirmity, a spirit of bondage; through prevailing grief and fear, their souls are cast down and disquieted within them, they are troubled, they are bowed down greatly, they go mourning all the day long, Ps. 38:6. But Christ, by his Spirit of adoption, looses them from this infirmity in due time, and raises them up.
4. The present effect of this cure upon the soul of the patient as well as upon her body. She glorified God, gave him the praise of her cure to whom all praise is due. When crooked souls are made straight, they will show it by their glorifying God.
II. The offence that was taken at this by the ruler of the synagogue, as if our Lord Jesus had committed some heinous crime, in healing this poor woman. He had indignation at it, because it was on the sabbath day, Luke 13:14. One would think that the miracle should have convinced him, and that the circumstance of its being done on the sabbath day could not have served to counteract the conviction; but what light can shine so clear, so strong, that a spirit of bigotry and enmity to Christ and his gospel will not serve to shut men’s eyes against it? Never was such honour done to the synagogue he was ruler of as Christ had now done it, and yet he had indignation at it. He had not indeed the impudence to quarrel with Christ; but he said to the people, reflecting upon Christ in what he said, There are six days in which men ought to work, in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. See here how light he made of the miracles Christ wrought, as if they were things of course, and no more than what quacks and mountebanks did every day: “You may come and be healed any day of the week.” Christ’s cures were become, in his eyes, cheap and common things. See also how he stretches the law beyond its intention, or any just construction that could be put upon it, in making either healing or being healed with a touch of the hand, or a word’s speaking, to be that work which is forbidden on the sabbath day. This was evidently the work of God; and, when God tied us out from working that day, did he tie himself out? The same word in Hebrew signifies both godly and merciful (chesed), to intimate that works of mercy and charity are in a manner works of piety (1 Tim. 5:4) and therefore very proper on sabbath days.
III. Christ’s justification of himself in what he had done (Luke 13:15): The Lord then answered him, as he had answered others who in like manner cavilled at him, Thou hypocrite. Christ, who knows men’s hearts, may call those hypocrites whom it would be presumption for us to call so. We must judge charitably, and can judge only according to the outward appearance. Christ knew that he had a real enmity to him and to his gospel, that he did but cloak this with a pretended zeal for the sabbath day, and that when he bade the people come on the six days, and be healed, he really would not have them be healed any day. Christ could have told him this, but he vouchsafes to reason the case with him; and,
1. He appeals to the common practice among the Jews, which was never disallowed, that of watering their cattle on the sabbath day. Those cattle that are kept up in the stable are constantly loosed from the stall on the sabbath day, and led away to watering. It would be a barbarous thing not to do it; for a merciful man regards the life of his beast, his own beast that serves him. Letting the cattle rest on the sabbath day, as the law directed, would be worse than working them, if they must be made to fast on that day, as the Ninevites’ cattle on their fast-day, that were not permitted to feed nor drink water, Jonah 3:7.
2. He applies this to the present case (Luke 13:16): “Must the ox and the ass have compassion shown them on the sabbath day, and have so much time and pains bestowed upon them every sabbath, to be loosed from the stall, led away perhaps a great way to the water, and then back again, and shall not this woman, only with a touch of the hand and a word’s speaking, be loosed from a much greater grievance than that which the cattle undergo when they are kept a day without water? For consider,” (1.) “She is a daughter of Abraham, in a relation to whom you all pride yourselves; she is your sister, and shall she be denied a favour that you grant to an ox or an ass, dispensing a little with the supposed strictness of the sabbath day? She is a daughter of Abraham, and therefore is entitled to the Messiah’s blessings, to the bread which belongs to the children.” (2.) “She is one whom Satan has bound. He had a hand in the affliction, and therefore it was not only an act of charity to the poor woman, but of piety to God, to break the power of the devil, and baffle him.” (3.) “She has been in this deplorable condition, lo, these eighteen years, and therefore, now that there is an opportunity of delivering her, it ought not to be deferred a day longer, as you would have it, for any of you would have thought eighteen years’ affliction full long enough.”
IV. The different effect that this had upon those that heard him. He had sufficiently made it out, not only that it was lawful, but that it was highly fit and proper, to heal this poor woman on the sabbath day, and thus publicly in the synagogue, that they might all be witnesses of the miracle. And now observe,
1. What a confusion this was to the malice of his persecutors: When he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed (Luke 13:17); they were put to silence, and were vexed that they were so, that they had not a word to say for themselves. It was not a shame that worked repentance, but rather indignation. Note, Sooner or later, all the adversaries of Christ, and his doctrine and miracles, will be made ashamed.
2. What a confirmation this was to the faith of his friends: All the people, who had a better sense of things, and judged more impartially than their rulers, rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him. The shame of his foes was the joy of his followers; the increase of his interest was what the one fretted at, and the other triumphed in. The things Christ did were glorious things; they were all so, and, though now clouded, perhaps will appear to, and we ought to rejoice in them. Every thing that is the honour of Christ is the comfort of Christians.
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