Jesus brings freedom
A lot of people would think religion is just about spoiling all our fun - you know, a long long list of “don’t”s: don’t sleep with your boyfriend. don’t eat bacon. don’t cheat. don’t get drunk. don’t lie. I think that’s one of things people are afraid of when they are considering faith, one of the things that holds them back: that it would spoil their fun.
Certainly for me, that’s part of my story, part of what was keeping me back. I didn’t want anyone else telling me what I could and couldn’t do.
People think religion is about spoiling all our fun - and perhaps they’re right. But Jesus is all about setting people free.
We’re continuing our journey through Luke’s gospel, one of the four biographies of Jesus you’ll find in the Bible, taking it bit by bit. Though it’s an ancient book, we’re finding each week that there are relevant things for us to learn for here and for now. Today we’re going to watch how Jesus responds to this idea of a religion that’s all don’t’s. So why not read with me - we’re in Luke chapter 13 - big number 13, starting at verse 10 - small 10. That’s page ________ in these blue bibles we have here chapter 13 - big 13 - verse 10 - small 10, page _______. And Selassi’s going to read for us today.
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
So what do we see here?
Jesus has the desire to set people free. Notice with me that it’s Jesus who initiates things here. There’s this woman who’s bent over and who just can’t straighten up, who hasn’t been able to for eighteen long years. But there’s no indication that she approaches Jesus, or asks Jesus for help or anything like that. She’s just there as he is teaching one day. And then in v12 when Jesus saw her, he’s the one who takes the initiative. Jesus wants to heal her, to deliver her from this disability that she’s lived with for so long.
But Jesus doesn’t just have the desire to set people free, he has the power to do it too. He calls her forward and, in front of everyone he declares it’s over! After 18 long years she’s suddenly healed. “Woman, you are set free” he says - and as he touches her, she immediately straightens up. With just a touch, effectively effortless, Jesus sets her free.
Jesus has the desire, and the power, to set people free - but he’s upset the authorities by doing it. And if that sets your spidey-sense tingling, if this feels a bit like deja vu, you’re not wrong. this isn’t the first time he’s upset the authorities through what he’s doing - particularly through what he’s doing on the Sabbath day, the Jewish people’s holy day. He’s upset people with a healing on the Sabbath before, back in chapter six - and he’s going to do it again, just over the page in chapter 14. And it’s no accident that we see this same issue surfacing again and again in Luke’s gospel. It’s a signal that we should sit up and pay attention because something important is happening here.
If you’ve been with us over the past few weeks, perhaps you’ll remember Jesus speaking about signs, and the question of whether people are willing to see them or not. About looking for fruit, and giving Israel one more chance to display it. This healing on the Sabbath thing, this a sign. A sign Jesus gives again - and again. Will the people see it, grasp its significance, connect it to what it points to?
This all takes place in the synagogue which is just the place where Jewish people would meet to worship each Sabbath day. Now the synagogue leader chips in - the head honcho, the religious authority. Has he seen the sign? Does he grasp what it points to? No - he’s indignant v14 tells us - seething; outraged at what Jesus has done in healing that woman.
Just think about that for a moment: this poor woman has been bent double for 18 years, unable to straighten up. These were small communities back then and almost certainly everyone would have known everyone, known all their stories and every piece of gossip. So this synagogue leader would almost certainly have known this woman, known her story, known the difficulty this ailment had caused her, known for just how long it had been that way. And here he’s furious that she’s been healed?! Does he not care at all? How can he be so hard-hearted?
Well, it’s worth knowing just how significant this Sabbath day was to the Jewish people. It was one of three key marks of Jewish-ness: food laws; circumcision and Sabbath. That was what it meant to be Jewish. And in their context - because this is all taking place about two thousand years ago, when the Jewish people are under Roman rule, a conquered people - in that context their identity itself was under threat: would they just be absorbed into the Roman empire, another minor tribe that would ultimately end up blended into the world-spanning, all conquering Roman empire? I think we can understand them trying to hold on to their identity, putting more and more emphasis on their key distinguishing marks as a people. Kind of like how Scottish people are the most Scottish of all when they’re abroad - “base burn” and all that.
The Sabbath is a key part of being Jewish, this law from God that every seventh day was a special day, a day without work, a holy day. And in that same spirit of emphasising their Jewishness, you can understand this desire to be super Sabbath keepers. You know, like not just being a fan of some band, but a super-fan: knowing every lyric. owning every album. a wardrobe composed only of band tshirts. walls totally covered in endless signed pictures. So they started from God’s command not to do any work on the Sabbath and went a bit mad trying to make sure they did exactly that.
They drew up lists of different things which were work and weren’t work. They classified work into 39 different forms. They figured out exactly how much of each you could do. They wanted to be precise, with absolutely no room for error. So writing one letter, that was fine. that wasn’t work. But writing two? Oh no. That’s right out. By that point it’s work. Carrying straw for your animals? That was fine so long as you only carried a one mouthful of straw - but you couldn’t carry two. Rules about how far you could walk before it was work. About how much you could lift. About how full your cup could be. Rules on rules on rules. All with the intent to keep that Sabbath commandment as precisely as possible.
So with all these rules, rules that were so important to them for their identity, the guy in charge figured there was no way you could do something like healing on the Sabbath. That was right out. Six other days for that - come any other time and be healed - just not today. And he thought this rule really was important enough to mean the woman could stay bent double for one more day - after all, it’d been eighteen years already.
So how does Jesus respond to this? Is he going to applaud their precision, their desire to dot every i and cross every t? To go above and beyond? No. Why not? Because they have fundamentally misunderstood the Sabbath. These authorities see the Sabbath as being about restriction, about not doing things. But they’ve missed its heart.
The Ten Commandments are the fundamental laws that God gives to the Jewish nation as they first become a separate people, as they leave slavery in Egypt and make their way into the land God has promised them. Ten basic rules for how they are to live - and one of those is the Sabbath command. But one of the surprising things about the Ten Commandments is that they are recorded twice. Once in the book of Exodus, as as part of the story of their escape from slavery, and once more in the book of Deuteronomy, the last of the five core books of Jewish law, almost as a reminder. And in the two presentations of the ten commandments, the Sabbath command is framed differently.
In Exodus, where the ten commandments are first recorded, it’s rooted in God’s working and resting in creation, working for six days and then resting on the seventh. Ex 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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 you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The Sabbath is about rest. Which isn’t quite the same as not working. It is what happens when you don’t work - but it’s not simply not working. The point isn’t not working. The point is resting. Rest is something else. But the second time the Sabbath command is presented, in Deut 5:12-15, it’s different again.
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor 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.
Do you see how the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt is in the foreground here? That slavery, that captivity, kept them from resting. And the command to rest is a reflection and celebration of their freedom, their liberation. So the Sabbath is about rest in Exodus, reflecting creation. And it’s about liberation in Deutronomy, the mark of Jewish freedom from slavery - now they’re free, they can rest.
With that background in mind, back to our passage. Jesus has already described himself as the Lord of the Sabbath back in Luke 6:5. Right here, in v15, notice he’s suddenly referred to by Luke as Lord rather than Jesus? He’s been Jesus up to now but suddenly he’s Lord. Lord, as in master - authority, power. Jesus, as the one in authority, is perfectly positioned to know - and to show - what the Sabbath is really about. And Jesus shows it’s about liberation, it’s about delivering from captivity, it’s about freedom. That’s why it’s right for Jesus to set the woman free on the Sabbath - remember that’s how he describes what he’s doing in v12 “you are set free!”.
Jesus starts with the hypocrisy of these sticklers for restrictive Sabbath law: they’re quite happy to release animals on the Sabbath - to untie them, even to go further and lead them out - two acts which you might well have thought of as work if you were being as picky as possible. But then they claim it’s wrong for Jesus to set free - literally untie - it’s exactly the same word he used of the animal - they claim it’s wrong for Jesus to set this woman free - far more precious than any animal, a daughter of Abraham, one of God’s chosen people.
But remember, the Sabbath is about rest, and the Sabbath is about liberation. So the Sabbath is the perfect day for liberating this woman who’s been held captive. Should not this woman be set free, says Jesus - literally is it not necessary that this woman be set free. It’s a priority for Jesus - a priority over even teaching. He stops teaching in order to liberate this woman. He shows God’s compassion towards people who have been enslaved and taken captive, people who have been oppressed for too long. He shows God’s desire to bring people out of captivity and into freedom!
Cool story, huh? Jesus’ opponents (and notice it’s not just the synagogue leader - there are others who just haven’t spoken what they’ve been thinking) - v17 “all his opponents” are humiliated - and the crowds, the people, are delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing, bringing liberation.
Cool story - but so what? What’s it got to do with us? Two things:
First, while religion is all about rules, repression, captivity, Jesus comes bringing freedom and liberation. He hasn’t come to make you a prisoner, but to release you from prison. If you’ve been keeping your distance from him, from Christianity, because you’re worried you’ll be trapped, buried under zillions of rules - do not touch; do not taste - then see here what Jesus does when he comes: Jesus sets people free. He can set you free too. Free from all the guilt of the wrong things you’ve done. Free from that dark part of your heart which pulls you away from the right. Free from the enemy of your soul who wants to take you down with him.
Have you let Jesus set you free? Open your heart to him today. Say yes to him.
We’ve been talking a lot about the Sabbath - but the Sabbath is just a picture of something bigger and better: the ultimate rest for all God’s people, the ultimate liberation for all God’s people. There’s a letter preserved for us in the Bible called Hebrews, written to early Jewish Christians, and in there, in chapter 4, it speaks about a “Sabbath rest” that’s still ahead of us, a final liberation. The bible tells us the whole of creation groans and waits for this liberation (Rom 8:19-25). Can you see that this world isn’t what it should be, isn’t all it could be? Can you imagine it groaning and waiting for something better to come? Do you feel that yearning in yourself, that groaning? That’s what the Sabbath points us forward to: final rest, final liberation.
That’s what Jesus comes to bring: with his death on the cross he liberates us from guilt, breaking the power of our wrong acts, breaking the power of our enemy. And one day soon he will come again, bringing that final liberation. You can be a part of that - you can lean into it, live into it. You are precious to Jesus, just like this woman. He sees you, he cares for you, he calls you forward. The only question is whether you dare to come. ...
So, fist of all, let Jesus set you free.
And secondly, if you have been set free by Jesus, then live in that freedom, don’t drift back towards captivity. Jesus set you free because he cared about you - I need to put it more strongly than than that: he loved you, loved you enough to die for you. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us, not when we had everything sorted and were doing fine.
Remember where you stared so you don’t slip into thinking Jesus will only love you when you have everything sorted and you’re doing fine. That God will only accept you while you’re performing well, delivering for the team. Christ has come to set you free - and he has freed you once-for-all through his perfect sacrifice. Salvation is by grace, God’s free gift in Christ, from beginning to end. There absolutely nothing we need to add. There’s absolutely nothing we can add.
So how do we respond? What does living out this freedom look like? Well how about starting by following this woman’s example: no longer bent down, looking down, but freed to stand tall, to look up. Walk in your freedom! Do what you were made for: praise God - give him glory as your liberator, your rescuer.