By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And He was teaching on one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who for eighteen years had borne a sickness caused by a spirit, and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. And when Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your sickness.’ And He laid His hands upon her, and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.
And the synagogue official, indignant, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the multitude in response, ‘There are six days in which work should be done, therefore come during them and get healed, but not on the Sabbath day.’ But the LORD answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead him away to water him?
And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?’ And as He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated, and the entire multitude was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.”
- Luke 13:10-17 (NASB)
The late Christian pastor and philosopher Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was in conversation with his wife Edith concerning the state of the modern church. He asked a question that is still relevant after the decades since he went to be with the LORD. The question is, “If the Holy Spirit were to leave the earth, would the church still be carrying on with its programs and plans as if nothing happened?” Stop and consider that for a moment. Have the churches become so entangled in programs, finances, and business practices that it has forgotten or neglected to remember that the “church” is not a building, but people who have been transformed and made new by the redeeming power of Jesus Christ? Have we forgotten that the Spirit of God and His will take precedence over anything we might believe is important or vital?
Have we forgotten what it is like when God genuinely moves among His people, drawing sinners to the Savior and revival breaks out? Do we still rejoice when our prayers are heard by Him and lives are changed, and wonders occur that can only be explained by a move among His people? When did being with the brethren become a chore or ingrained habit and worship become a dead formality? When did routine and legalism take the place of an intimate time of joy and fellowship with the Sovereign God of all creation and the Author of our salvation? We see this situation unfold and how Jesus reacted to it as we read this story and learn from it.
In writing this account of Jesus’ ministry, Luke points out that this is the final time that the LORD does a mighty work within the confines of a synagogue. Every time He has been in a house of worship, it has resulted in disarray and anger from the members, contempt from the religious leaders, and even though a definite act of God occurred either from His teachings or working of a miracle, hearts were hardened because their way of thinking and routine had been disrupted and that the apostasy among God’s chosen was imbedded deeply into the fabric of the nation (Matt.9:15, 12:9, 13:54, 23:34; Mark 1:21, 29, 39; 3:1; 6:2; Luke 4:28, 33, 44; 13:10; John 6:59; 18:20).
I suppose a modern equivalent of this type of reaction would be if a Spirit-filled preacher got behind a pulpit and started preaching the truths of Scripture to an indifferent, apathetic church, declaring that they needed to repent and put their faith in Christ or else they were going to hell for eternity. Those same church members would call for the preacher to be quiet, get angry, or run him out of town for disturbing their self-righteousness and esteem. There might be some hearts genuinely changed, but it would not be a large number. Even the people who heard the words of Jesus directly were indifferent at best, save for a few.
Jesus is teaching the truths of Scripture with the authority He has as God in the flesh, not adding any human opinion or interpretation to His words as if He needed any input from us. In the synagogue a woman, bent over from oppression due to an evil spirit, has come to worship God and perhaps to hear the young carpenter from Galilee and the wisdom and compassion He displays as He presents the words of God to a people who have become comfortable with their ritual and religious apathy. Also in the congregation is the synagogue official, who meticulously keeps watch on all routine, Scripture reading, prayer time, and any violation of the Sabbath that may be at hand, ready to correct anything that might upset the orderliness of the service.
Jesus stops what He is doing and shows everyone who is present that God is still at work in the hearts and lives of His people by calling out the poor woman and immediately healing her of her crippling condition. She is now able to stand up straight and move normally, praising God for His miraculous power and act of love. The people have witnessed a genuine miracle from God and that it cannot be denied or explained away. There is rejoicing by some, but for the official, it is a cause for anger and frustration over what is seen as a disruption of formalities and a violation of the Sabbath. He complains to Jesus about it, telling Him that there are other days in which to ask God for healing, as if he has the authority to tell Him what He can and cannot do in His own house of worship and learning. Seriously?
Jesus turns to give attention to this religious “legal eagle” and correct the official on some issues that he has seemed to forget in his zeal to keep the national interpretation of the day of rest that God had ordained.
First, a house of worship is just that – a place to gather and give praises to God and to be in loving fellowship with one another as brethren in Christ (Hebrews 10:25). We gather to learn His word and to grow in spiritual maturity, lovingly correcting behavior that is not in line with what is expected of a true child of God, and to support the pastor/elder who has charge over the flock. We meet because we want to do so, and not because it is an expected routine that must be obeyed or else face scorn or other consequences.
God gave His people a Sabbath not out of legality and strictness, but out of love and the desire of God to put aside a day not just from our regular jobs and work, but to set aside a time to reflect on the goodness and blessings that God has provided for us. We are not to work ourselves into a state of weariness or loss of real priorities such as one’s family. The Israelites allowed their animals to rest a day after a week of bearing burdens out of love and concern for the animal’s well-being. The same goes for us as well. If you do not have to work, take some time off and rest. Even Jesus told His disciples to do the same (Mark 6:31).
I wish that churches would remember this when it comes to the responsibilities that they want to place on pastors and expect them to be able to do all that they request or even demand. Statistics have been recorded that show that pastors and other church workers leave the ministry at an estimated rate of 1,500 per month due to burnout, overwork, unrealistic expectations put on them by members and committees, family breakdown, infidelity, and other issues.
Who said that we had to have services and meetings nearly every night of the week? Who said that we must have programs for every age group? Who said that we need committees for every little function and procedure? Why do we have to justify the need for a pastor and his family to be there nearly every time the doors open for some reason that is not that important or necessary? If we are to meet as a church as Scripture teaches us, then let us do so with an attitude of love and the expectation that God will do a mighty work in the lives of His people and that of the ones who surrender to the Lordship and guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ, not because we have to do some expected routine and legality that essentially tires and frustrates even the most devout member. When we witness a genuine work of God in our midst, let us not be as this official who was rightfully rebuked by Jesus for his callousness and indifference, but to rejoice in His glory, grace, mercy, love, compassion, and sovereignty in the lives of His people. Let us welcome Jesus into the church again and let Him have His way, whether it upsets our ecclesiastical apple cart or not. Let His inerrant, all sufficient Word be our guide, not cold routine and callous dogma void of love and concern for the souls of the brethren. Amen.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.