Jesus heals on the Sabbath; publicly, in a synagogue, He healed a crippled woman. But, in doing so, He contravened the traditions of the elders. The synagogue official became very angry, but Jesus responded by saying that this woman has been bound by Satan for 18 years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day? This puts a new emphasis on the Sabbath day. The Fourth Commandment simply prohibits work on the Sabbath, but Christ implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free people from Satan’s bonds.
Luke 13 reports an incident where Jesus heals on the Sabbath; a crippled woman, while teaching in one of the synagogues. The woman had been ill for eighteen years. She did not ask to be healed. Jesus simply called her over and immediately healed her.
She was overjoyed and glorified God, but the synagogue official became angry, and chased the sick people out of the synagogue, informing them that healing is not allowed on the Sabbath.
The religious leaders were convinced that healing was work, but it was the traditions, disallowing anything that even remotely looked like work, that prohibited healing on the Sabbath; not the Law of Moses.
The religious rulers were, in general, not God’s children, but used the traditions as a tool to maintain their authority over the common people. Christ’s condemnation of the traditions through His Sabbath healing miracles therefore threatened their authority, causing their anger.
The Lord responded sharply, calling the religious leaders hypocrites. He mentioned that this woman was bound by Satan for eighteen long years and asked this very significant question, “should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
Jesus did not contest the binding nature of the Sabbath. Rather, by debating with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, He confirmed the Sabbath commandment as binding.
By asking “should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16) Jesus implied that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day for freeing people. This woman was freed from illness. This means that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day for healing.
This lends new meaning to the Sabbath. While the Fourth Commandment simply prohibits work on the Sabbath, Christ implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free people from the bonds of Satan. Understood this way, man, on the seventh day, still ceases from whatever he has been doing on the other days, but the seventh day becomes a day of activity; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan. This meaning of the Sabbath is not found in the Ten Commandments or in the Law of Moses.
He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
There was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all.
When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her: “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.
But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus heals on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response: “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and 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 … whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
In many respects this incident is similar to the healing of the man with the withered hand:
Both healing miracles occurred in synagogues.
Synagogues were not like our churches today, where only one person speaks, but allowed various people to speak. In the book of Acts we also read about the apostles teaching in synagogues.
It was the traditions that prohibited healing on the Sabbath; not the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath, but both incidents show that the religious leaders had no doubt that healing was regarded as work. This law against of healing on the Sabbath must therefore have been in their traditions. These traditions disallowed anything that even remotely looked like work; including healing.
The religious rulers responded with anger because Jesus heals on the Sabbath. Their authority was threatened.
In all instances the healings were clearly visible, for example the healing of the withered hand and the crippled woman. If the religious rulers were God’s children, they would have responded by falling to their knees, but these healing miracles only made them angry (Luke 6:11; 13:14).
To understand this one must understand that Israel had no king at the time, but was ruled by the religious leaders. They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions. The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people. However, but as Christ said to them in John 5:42, “you do not have the love of God in yourselves”.
Into this context Jesus came by the authority of God, bearing His image, fulfilling His word, and seeking His glory. He gained an influence with the common people because they could understand His words, and because their hearts were warmed and comforted. He spoke of God, not as an avenging judge, but as a tender father. He revealed the image of God as mirrored in Himself.
Yet He was not accepted by the leaders in Israel because His teaching demanded the sacrifice of self. As Jesus said to them in John 5:44, they “receive glory from one another and … (do) not seek the glory that is from the one and only God”. They would have accepted Christ if He appealed to their desire for self-exaltation and flattered their pride by approving their cherished opinions and traditions.
But by gaining an influence with the people and at the same time by condemning them by condemning the basis of their authority, namely the traditions, He was a threat to their authority. In order to maintain their own power, they determined to break down His influence; to destroy Christ.
Neither of the healings were emergencies.
These Sabbath healings were an important part of Christ’s message.
Many sick people were continually streaming to Him, and He healed them all (Luke 4:40; 6:18-19). These healings confirmed His divine nature, the supernatural source of His mission and that God can and wants to restore man. Healing therefore was an integral part of His mission. In Jesus God has come to live amongst us.
But we ask why Jesus heals on the Sabbath? He knew that they wanted to kill Him and that they were seeking justification to do so. And none of the sick people whom He cured on the Sabbath asked to be healed. But still He deliberately and publicly contravened the Sabbath laws, as practiced by the Pharisees. Jesus did not do things to endanger His life or mission without good cause. These Sabbath healings therefore had an important message, such as to condemn the religious leaders and their traditions, and to explain the true Sabbath.
Christ accepted the Sabbath commandment as a binding obligation.
In all incidents, when accused of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus did not contest the binding nature of the Sabbath. Rather, by debating with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, He indicated that He accepted the Sabbath commandment as binding. There is no indication in His teaching that the seventh day is no longer special or that it will ever become common, like the other six days.
Two differences between the two incidents may be identified.
To free is an example of doing good.
The first is the justification of the Sabbath healing. Jesus justified the healing of the man’s withered hand by saying that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12). In the incident of the crippled woman He used the word luein, which means to free. He used this word three times, but these words are translated differently in each case. He first said to the woman, “Woman, you are freed (luein) from your sickness” (v12). After the synagogue official responded with anger (v14), Jesus used the example of an ox or donkey that is untied (luein) on the Sabbath (v15). Lastly He justified her healing by saying “should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16) To free somebody or some animal is an example of doing good. The general principle therefore remains that it is “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath”. So this is not really a difference.
The Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody.
By saying “should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16) Jesus said something that we do not find in the report of the man with the withered hand, namely that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody. Jesus said that this woman was bound by Satan for eighteen long years (v16). Like the ox or donkey is tied with a rope, this woman has been tied by physical illness. Since the bond of Satan that held this woman was her physical condition, physical or psychological illnesses may be classified as the bonds of Satan. To free people from the bonds of Satan therefore includes to heal people. So while the incident of the withered hand informed us only that doing good, including healing, is allowed on the Sabbath, the incident of the crippled woman informs us that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody from the bonds of Satan, which also includes healing.
This gives a new meaning to the Sabbath.
By saying that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody from the bonds of Satan, Christ defined the purpose of the Sabbath. This brings us back to the conclusion that Christ did more than interpreting the Sabbath commandment; He gave a new meaning to it. While the Law of Moses simply prohibited all work on the Sabbath, Christ indicated that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free people from the bonds of Satan. This gives a meaning to the Sabbath that is not found in the Ten Commandments or in the Law of Moses more generally.
This meaning of the Sabbath Christ received from the Father.
This emphasis of the Sabbath as intended to heal people from their physical or psychological illnesses seems to go beyond the Law of Moses to the creation account, which states that the Sabbath was blessed (Gen 2:3), which implies it is intended to be a blessing to mankind. By blessing the Sabbath at creation (Gen 2:3), God made the Sabbath “for man” (Mark 2:27); in other words, for the benefit of man. In this view the Sabbath becomes the day on which man should expect supernatural healing. In John 5, after He was challenged with respect to another healing miracle, He claimed that the Father is the Source of the things He did, and therefore of His view of the Sabbath:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner”. (John 5:19)
Christ’s Sabbath is not a day of idleness, but of work to free people.
The origin of the Hebrew word sabbat is uncertain, but it seems to have derived from the verb sabat, meaning to stop or to cease. If Jesus applied this meaning to the Sabbath, then the seventh day remains a Sabbath, in the sense of man stop doing what he has been doing on the other six days, but not in a sense of doing nothing. Jesus presented the Sabbath as a day of activity; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan.