Luke 13 Part 2
10. Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
Now we are brought to consider another event that took place on a different day. On this occasion, He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. Because a Sabbath day’s journey was only about a half a mile, often there would be more than one synagogue per town to allow more people to make it to a synagogue to spend their day of rest with their friends and neighbors. The Jews had rules about how many people there had to be to build a synagogue and how far apart they could be and so forth. At any rate, the Lord Jesus is teaching in one of these synagogues on a Sabbath day.
11. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.
In this synagogue there is a woman who has an interesting ailment indeed. It seems that an evil spirit had overpowered her and bent her over, and that she was totally unable to straighten up. This spirit is called a “spirit of infirmity,” but this is a Greek figure of speech meaning that this spirit was causing her infirmity. Moreover it had been keeping this poor woman bent over for eighteen years by this time. This was a miserable condition indeed, and must have been a terrible burden for this women to bare for such a long time.
Some seek to spread out this sort of thing, and say that all illnesses are caused by evil spirits, or by Satan, to whom the Lord ascribes this illness in verse 16. Yet this is not the truth. In I Corinthians 11:30, some are spoken of who were weak and sick because they had not discerned the Lord’s body. These were sick because God made them that way in the kingdom program that was going on in the Acts period. In Philippians 2:30, Paul speaks of Epaphroditus, who was sick and came close to death because of the work of Christ. Thus we see that there are many things that can cause illness. To say that every illness is demonic in origin is just not accurate with what is taught in the Word of God.
12. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”
The Lord does not waste time when He sees this woman with this ailment. He immediately calls her to Him, and pronounces her loosed from her infirmity. This word “loosed,” apoluo in Greek, is only used here of a healing. This is because, as we read above, this woman had been bound by this spirit, and that is what caused her infirmity.
13. And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
The Lord, as ever, is able to totally heal the woman from her sickness, evil spirit or no. This was no obstacle to Him. Moreover, He did not have to put on a big show, or work up some emotion in the woman, or conduct some kind of healing service. All He had to do was lay His hands on her and she was made straight. She responded to this with praise. Imagine being doubled over for eighteen years, and we can truly understand why the Lord healing her caused her to glorify God!
14. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”
There was always one in the synagogue who was in charge of the meetings that took place there and was supposed to keep decorum, welcome visitors to speak, coordinate the reading of Scripture, and so forth. The leader of this synagogue was very concerned with the keeping of the Sabbath rules, and thus was greatly offended by the Lord’s actions. Yet we might wonder if there was not a good deal of jealousy mixed up in this indignation. This woman had been in this terrible condition in his synagogue for many years, and though he might have urged her to pray for deliverance, he had otherwise been unable to do anything about it. Now the Lord had come in and had corrected this sad situation immediately, something that he had never been able to do. This surely would have stung the pride of a self-absorbed man.
This man lashes out in his indignation, but acts in somewhat of a cowardly way, as he addresses his rebuke to the crowd and not to the Lord Himself, in spite of the fact that it was Jesus Christ Whom he was really attacking. He speaks more against the actions of the woman in allowing herself to be healed than the actions of the Lord in healing her!
This was rather a backhanded insult. We could compare this to someone scolding a child for doing something that you as another adult had just told him he could do. A person who did this would really be rebuking you as a poor keeper of children for having permitted this child to do this. Yet to rebuke the child rather than you is really a kind of backhanded insult. A person who has a problem with your leadership of children should bring it to you person-to-person. To scold the child for it in front of you would be like saying that you are beneath approaching with the problem, or that you are like a child yourself and not worthy of dealing with as an adult or an equal. Thus, this rulers’ rebuke of the people is not only really a rebuke of the Lord, but is also a sneering, insulting kind of rebuke, as if the Lord is like an unruly child beneath sophisticated interaction.
15. The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?
The Lord Jesus responds immediately to the synagogue ruler’s words, and tears into him with uncharacteristic heat. Yet I do not think this was just because he had treated the Lord in a very insulting way. I doubt the Lord appreciated this man’s attitude towards Him, and yet this man had also rebuked one whom the Lord had just rescued and upon whom He had just had compassion. Was it right for this man to scold a woman for coming to the Lord for healing? She had not even asked the Lord for this, and yet He had poured this grace upon her. Now, because of this grace, was she to be rebuked by a petty and arrogant man who thought himself above the need for grace from the Lord? The Lord was not about to tolerate a man who sought to keep needy ones from Him. There are many like this even today, and we can know that, if it were not for the Lord’s silence, His answer to them would be the same. How dare anyone rebuke the needy for coming to the Lord for the grace and help they need!
The Lord, unlike the synagogue ruler, does not mince words or try to disguise His attack as He responds to this ruler’s sneering rebuke. He comes right out and calls the synagogue ruler a hypocrite. Then, He points out why He has called him this. He knows that this man and indeed everyone in Israel who owns animals does not neglect to loose them and lead them to water on the Sabbath. They did not force their animals to go thirsty for an entire day just because it was the Sabbath!
It is interesting that the Lord uses again this same word “loose” in condemning the synagogue ruler. It is clear that he considered this poor woman as having been bound by Satan. What He had done was loose her, and that is what healed her. As we noted above, however, this was something unique to this particular healing. Not all illnesses by any means are caused by the binding of a spirit.
16. “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound–think of it–for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
The Lord points out the obvious conclusion one could make from this. If animals can be loosed from their bonds on the Sabbath day to give them water, how could it be wrong to loose this poor Israelite woman from the disease Satan had cursed her with for so many years? Should one have more compassion on an ox or a donkey than on a woman, a daughter of Abraham, who had suffered under such a terrible illness for such a long time? So contrary to what the synagogue ruler thought “ought” to be done, the Lord says this is what “ought” to be done, and this from compassion and love, not from the letter of the law.
17. And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.
These words of the Lord Jesus were so obvious and sensible that they put the synagogue ruler and all those who opposed Him to shame. The truth of his their lack of compassion and hypocrisy was pointed out in an unmistakable way. This man in his indignation had sought to humiliate the Lord, and yet he is the one who ends up humiliated.
How often we could wish that Christ in our day would speak for Himself and put His enemies to shame in this same way! Yet God chooses to remain silent and to speak only through the Word That He has written. This is the way things are in the time of God’s silence, when He is working only in grace.
18. Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?
The Lord now seeks a comparison to help His hearers understand what the kingdom of God is like. He wants them to have a clearer understanding of it, and so He gives them this illustration.
I have heard this parable interpreted as speaking of the church or of Christendom. Yet this is not what the Lord says it is about. Rather it is about the Kingdom of God on earth, and is describing what His future government will be like. If we lose sight of this we will never be able to correctly interpret the parable.
19. “It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
The Lord compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed which a man plants in his garden. This is a very unusual illustration from the start, for who in planting a garden would ever plant just a single seed? Would a farmer planting corn ever plant just a single seed of corn? Would one planting wheat plant a single grain of wheat in the ground? This is not how planting is done! Yet this man plants only a single mustard seed. He must have great confidence indeed in this seed to do such a thing!
Mustard seeds were very small, yet they grew into a rather large plant. Yet this plant was pretty much a bush, and in no wise could be called a large tree. Yet this mustard seed in Christ’s illustration grows beyond all expectation for such a seed. It grows into a great tree, in which the birds of the air can come and nest in its branches.
Thus according to the Lord, the Kingdom of God starts very small. Yet ultimately it will grow so large that those who see it will be astonished, and declare that no one would have expected it to grow so large considering its humble beginnings and considering how much larger it has become than all other governments in the past have ever been. As we look at the record of God’s government in the New Testament, we can see with what small beginnings the Lord began His movement in the earth. Whether we count the beginning as a single babe in a manger in Bethlehem, or as a little group of 120 men gathered together on the day of Pentecost, the kingdom began in a very small way indeed. Yet what a large and all-encompassing government will grow out of these very small beginnings!
Some insist that the birds of the air must be something evil here. They would point us back to the parable of the sower in Luke 8:5, when the birds of the air symbolized the devil who came and snatched the word out of the hearts of those who otherwise might believe. Yet just because something is used as a symbol for something else once doesn’t mean it symbolizes the same thing every time. Birds (ravens) fed Elijah in the wilderness in I Kings 17:6, and yet these did not symbolize evil. One cannot just make such a rule. For example, the devil is compared to a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour in I Peter 5:8. Yet in Revelation 5:5, the Lord Jesus Christ is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We simply cannot take a symbol like this and insist it means the same thing every time.
The birds of the air here symbolize all the various governments of the world, which come and take their shelter under the rule of God in His kingdom. Whether or not these governments are evil, once they are subject to God’s rule, they are so no longer.
20. And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God?
Now the Lord again seeks another illustration to which He may liken the government of God.
21. “It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
The illustration He gives now is of leaven. He compares the kingdom of God to this leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened. Some have been likely to make much out of the woman, the three measures, and the meal. Yet I believe that the woman is just brought in here because it was the women who did the baking. The three measures of meal would have been an average meal for a single family. Thus, we must not be distracted from the true interpretation by these incidental details.
Some have declared to me and would have me believe that leaven in the Bible always symbolizes sin, and thus it must symbolize something bad here. Yet we clearly read here that this symbol is of the Kingdom or Government of God. This viewpoint can be answered by a single question: is the kingdom of God something good or something evil? If it is something sinful or bad, then we could not possibly pray, “Thy kingdom come,” for we would not want something evil to come into the world. Yet Christ Himself commanded His disciples to pray this! Can we really believe that God’s Own government is a sinful or a bad thing? Certainly not! When God’s government comes to earth it will be a thing of great purity and sinlessness. It will not by any means be filled with sin and iniquity. Those are the very things that it will do away with! Thus, whatever it might mean in other places, the leaven does not illustrate something sinful here.
Others have tried to make leaven here to be a representation of the gospel. They would make it that the gospel goes out and changes the world. And yet this is contrary to what the Lord was saying. The Lord did not proclaim that He was seeking an illustration for the gospel. He said He was seeking a comparison for the kingdom of God. If His words are to be believed, then what this leaven symbolizes is the government of God, and nothing else.
So what does leaven symbolize? As we know leaven is the living catalyst that causes bread to rise. One takes leaven and mixes some of it into bread before it is baked. This leaven, because it is alive, will affect the entire lump of bread once it is added even if there is only a small amount added at first. Thus if a woman adds a little leaven to bread meal and doesn’t immediately bake it, that leaven will soon spread throughout the meal and affect the entire loaf of bread. This is, of course, what she wants it to do, as she wants her bread leavened.
Thus leaven is a good symbol for sin. Sin usually starts small, but once it gets a hold on a person it can affect his entire life. This does not mean that leaven can only be used as a symbol for sin, however. It could also be used of anything that spreads extremely rapidly and thoroughly throughout what it is added to. And that is the way Christ is using it here. The Kingdom of God is like leaven in that it is added at first only in a very small amount to a very little part of the world. Yet this leaven is alive with the power of God’s Spirit, and thus it soon spreads and affects the entire world, taking it over for God. What a wonderful truth that is!
Yet what of things that the kingdom cannot affect, some might ask? What of things that it cannot change to conform to God’s character? All we can say to this is that these things must be eliminated. If there was some foreign object in the meal, like a piece of wood or a bit of metal, the leaven could not affect that. Yet those foreign objects must be removed, for they do not belong to the loaf. Everything in this world changed by the government of God. Those individuals who refuse to go along with it will be removed from this world altogether.