How the Kingdom Humbles and Exalts
IS IT LAWFUL TO HEAL ON THE SABBATH?
Luke 11:53 And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things,
Luke 11:54 lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.
This group of religious zealots called the Pharisees were clearly and consistently antagonistic towards the Lord Jesus.
Knowing how intensely the Pharisees have opposed the Son of God, would you be surprised to find one of them inviting Christ to dine at his house on the holiest day of the week?
Luke 14:1 Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely.
Despite their vigorous differences, Jesus and the Pharisees did not break fellowship with one another. The Gospels record Jesus’ ongoing interactions with these men until His final week in Jerusalem.
“to eat bread on the Sabbath” – it was typical of faithful Jews to sit down to the biggest and best meal of the week after worshiping in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
The Sabbath meal was, of course, prepared the day before. It was likely served at noon, since it was customary to eat at the 6th hour (Jewish days began at 6am, or the 1st hour).
Itinerant rabbis were often invited to the Sabbath meal following the worship service at the synagogue.
Remember, a traditional meal like the one on the Sabbath was more than fellowship. It was an opportunity for honor. It marked insiders versus outsiders. Jesus’ host was an important man. A Sabbath meal was a “can’t-miss-event.”
Observant Jews did not invite guests who might compromise the ceremonial cleanness of others. Nor would they invite guests who might decline an invitation.
It is easy to understand why Jesus would be invited. He was obviously knowledgeable of the law of Moses. And for His differences with them, He could be counted on to accept the invitation. Inviting Jesus makes sense. This is a “who’s who” meal.
So, what is this guy doing there?!?
Luke 14:2 And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy.
This verse should make us immediately skeptical of this ruling Pharisee’s motive for hospitality.
“Dropsy” is an older term for what we now call “edema.” Those suffering from this condition swell up from excessive accumulation of fluid in the body – especially the limbs and joints.
It is usually a symptom of a much more serious problem like heart disease. Edema is a painful indicator that something is terribly wrong inside the body. It is also difficult to hide since the swelling is usually prominent. Others notice fairly quickly.
It would seem abnormal for such an individual to be included in a Sabbath meal at the home of a scrupulous Pharisee.
His arrival imperils the ritual purity of the meal itself. In his sick condition, threatens the honor of this gathering of the socially powerful and privileged.
3 clues that this episode was a trap:
(a) influential leadership “one of the rulers of the Pharisees” – 7 of 8 occurrences of “archon” in Luke are disparaging and 6 of 8 refer to religious leaders
(b) malicious surveillance “they watched Him closely” – implies suspicious motives; clearly looking for something to charge Him
(c) unusual character “a certain man…who had dropsy” – irregular for a sophisticated banquet attendee; edema was often associated with corruption
Without their speaking, the thoughts of the Pharisees and experts in the law are known to Jesus.
Luke 14:3 And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
Now the tables were turned. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had been trying to trap Jesus, but when He asked this question, they were the ones who were trapped.
We know from Luke 6:6-9 and 13:10-17, that Jesus was perfectly familiar with cases where the Sabbath rule was lifted to allow for mercy to be shown to both humans and animals.
The general guideline governing activity on Sabbath was: “Is it absolutely necessary?”
If something could not be delayed, then it was permitted on Sabbath; but if it could be delayed until Sabbath was over, it was forbidden.
Assuming this man’s edema was not life-threatening, his healing could wait until after sundown on Saturday night.
But Jesus did not ask about this individual’s condition. He asked about whether it was lawful to heal on Sabbath.
Was it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? They could not say “yes,” because according to their own rules and interpretation, it was not lawful to heal anyone on the Sabbath, except perhaps if it was a matter of life and death.
This had been the whole point of trying to get Jesus to heal the man with dropsy. If they now gave Him the go ahead to heal on Sabbath, they would be contradicting everything they stood for.
But the Pharisees could not say “no” either. If they told Jesus He could not heal on Sabbath, everyone would know how heartless they were and accuse them of not caring about human suffering.
The question placed the Pharisees in an awkward spot. So, they say nothing in response the Lord’s question.
Luke 14:4 But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go.
Regardless of how the Pharisee intended his silence, Jesus takes it as an instructive interlude.
He knew exactly what to do. His mercy demanded deliverance without any further delay. So, He “took” the man with dropsy, healed him, and dismissed him from the party.
The Pharisee was passive and silent, whereas Jesus initiated and engaged with human need.
Word study: “took”
It is what Jesus does when the faith of an individual believer is failing…
Matt 14:30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
Mark 14:31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
It is the prevailing action on someone who would not ordinarily volunteer…
Luke 23:26 Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.
What is the significance of this Sabbath healing (3rd in Luke)?
(1) disability – man with withered hand (6:6-11)
(2) demonic – lady bent over by evil spirit (13:10-17)
(3) dropsy – painful swelling due to water retention; chronic condition typically not life threatening (14:1-6)
Some biblical truths are so primary that God returns to them to repeatedly demanding clear understanding by us
The Pharisees thought God’s Law was honored by scrupulous obedience, so they ask, “What is permitted on Sabbath?”
Jesus, who is Lord of the Sabbath (6:5), asks, “What is intended by the Sabbath?”
From Jesus’ perspective, healing the man with dropsy was not simply permitted, it was required on Sabbath.
Mark 2:27 And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
The day of rest, instituted by Almighty God at Creation, was made to be a blessing for us and a day to worship the Lord and reinforce our faith in Christ. It was made for us, not to hinder us.
Why did Jesus send the man away?
The word translated “let him go” has elsewhere been translated “to release or set free.”
Luke 13:12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”
When Jesus healed this man of painful, humiliating and debilitating edema, He was setting this poor soul free.
By letting him go, or dismissing him from the party, Christ was also protecting him from controversy.
Why let this man experience even a moment of disappointment in thinking that his healing would be anything but celebrated by those Pharisees who presumed to be examples of religious faithfulness?
His healing should be applauded not criticized. Jesus freed him from that. He released the man, not only from dropsy, but from having to view the ugly side of faith without love.
If the Lord has shown us anything over the last 2 decades in our church, it is that we don’t have to fight each other in the congregation. Your church experience can/should be characterized by resolving inevitable conflict through love and deference.
Churches that are marked by conflict and controversy and factions have deviated far from the pathway of the narrow road. That looks nothing like Jesus. It suggests a quenching of the Holy Spirit among God’s people. It is unacceptable according to Scripture.
Like this healed man, Jesus would send us away from the quarreling and debating that accomplish nothing.
Next, Christ proceeded to justify His action by appealing to their own procedure.
Luke 14:5 Then He answered them, saying, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?”
Some of the earliest manuscripts say, “Which of you having a son or an ox that has fallen into a pit…” – it’s likely the better translation, and it packs more of a wallop.
Either way, the Pharisees had to admit that Jesus was right.
If one of their own children – or even one of their animals – happened to fall into an open cistern/well, they would never let him drown, even if it happened on the day when no work/effort was permitted.
Of course not! In that kind of emergency, they would find some valid legal reason to pull them out of the pit.
The law requires immediate compassion and assistance towards someone’s livestock if they are found to be in peril.
Deut 22:4 You shall not see your brother's donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again.
But if they would do all that to keep one of their animals from drowning, then why shouldn’t Jesus have mercy on a man with dropsy to keep him from drowning in the fluid of his own body?
The Pharisees knew that Jesus was right, so they responded with stony silence.
Luke 14:6 And they could not answer Him regarding these things.
They are mute before the authority of Jesus, in this instance because they have no answer to His biblical logic.
This verse reminds us that there are people, like the Pharisees, who call upon Jesus, sit in His presence, and listen to His teaching – yet remain silent in the face of His concrete call to discipleship to help a fellow human being in need.
The fact that Jesus appeals to a verse from the law of Moses to justify His healing on the Sabbath is evidence that He is not indifferent to the laws of God.
As Lord of the Sabbath (6:5), He is invested with the proper understanding of the 4th commandment.
It was not a day for trying to catch people making a moral mistake, or to gain spiritual merit by keeping laws that were even stricter than the law of God.
This episode has shown for at least the 3rd time in Luke how important it is to understand God’s intention for His Sabbath command to rest and worship at least one day in seven, and also for showing mercy to people in need.
J.C. Ryle – The Sabbath was made for man – for his benefit, not for his injury – for his advantage, not for his hurt.
What other teachings in the Bible, by their frequent mentioning, suggest that we must know their biblical standards that we may live by faith?
In our culture, we need a biblical ethic on human sexuality. We also need a biblical ethic on money and possessions.
1 Thess 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
1 Thess 4:4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
1 Thess 4:5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
1 Thess 4:6 that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.
1 Thess 4:7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
1 Thess 4:8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
Heb 13:4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Sex is not recreation for unmarried teenagers and adults. It never has been. Our culture is not making “progress,” it is inviting judgment.
Matt 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 12:15 And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
1 Tim 6:10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
The clear implication of this whole episode is that deeds of mercy are in order on the Sabbath.