Jesus described the kingdom of God using surprising imagery: a little leaven and a tiny mustard seed. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his sermon series in the gospel of Luke to consider what these parables teach us about the powerful advance of God’s plan of redemption.
This morning we will continue our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. Today I will be reading Luke 13:10–21. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:
Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 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. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
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.”
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? 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?” 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.
Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 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.”
And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
We are supremely blessed to be able to hear an inspired record of the words and activities of our Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry. This is the divine Word of God. Please receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.
Our Lord, we recognize that in our day no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor entered into our hearts such extraordinary things as we have just read in this hour. Give us now a glimpse of Jesus, who, in His compassion, healed the woman bound for so many years. Encourage us by this event and by His Word. For we ask it in His name. Amen.
A Bent Woman Enters
We are told in this text that Jesus was once again teaching in a local synagogue, the location of which Luke does not give us. However, we can safely assume that this was perhaps the last opportunity Jesus had to teach publicly in a Jewish synagogue before His execution.
It was customary in those days, if a visiting rabbi was in the neighborhood, that he would be invited to expound the designated Old Testament text of that day. Jesus, having been invited, assumed the role of teacher and explained an important text of the Old Testament.
We are told that while He was teaching, He was interrupted when a woman appeared through the back door of the synagogue and sat on the back right hand side, which was the designated seating place for women. Jesus could not help but notice her because of her obvious deformity. She walked bent over, completely double.
Modern commentaries have furnished for us a medical diagnosis of her condition, which is called spondylitis deformans. This condition has to do with a deformed spine where the bones fuse together into a single, rigid mass, making it necessary for a person to walk completely stooped over double. Not just a little bit tipped over, as some people suffer from somewhat common spinal problems, but this rare disease would double a person over altogether.
In my lifetime, I have only known one person who suffered from this spinal disease. I can remember watching this man bent over trying to navigate his environment where his vision was severely restricted to only a couple of feet in front of him. For us to navigate close places, we have the advantage of being able to look ten, twenty, thirty, or forty yards ahead. Somebody with this condition can only see as far as his eyes can be lifted, which is only a couple of feet in front of him.
The woman entered, in her crippled condition, into the synagogue. Luke tells us that she had been afflicted with this infirmity for eighteen years. Not only was the deformity grotesque in its appearance, but it was also at times exceedingly painful. Jesus was giving a lecture. He noticed the woman bent over in half coming into the back of the synagogue.
We do not know why she was there. We can guess that perhaps she had heard Jesus was in town and knew of His reputation. She made her way, painfully and slowly, to the place where He was teaching. When Jesus saw her, Luke tells us, He stopped His teaching. He called her from the back of the synagogue to come forward. He did two things: He spoke, and He touched her.
As the woman came to Jesus, He looked compassionately upon her and said: “Be loosed from this infirmity. Be released from the grip of this dreadful disease.” Then He laid His hands on her. He touched her and, not gradually or slowly, but immediately, for the first time in eighteen years, the woman stood up straight. Her spine had been healed and the affliction removed from her.
The Indignant Synagogue Ruler
All the multitude, the whole congregation, rejoiced for the glorious things done by Jesus on this occasion, with one notable exception. The ruler of the synagogue was indignant about Jesus’ action.
It was the responsibility of the ruler of the synagogue to establish the liturgy for the day and issue the invitation to the visiting rabbi who would give the interpretation of the Old Testament passage. This man was shocked by what he saw, and in his judgment, the Sabbath day in the synagogue was not the place to carry on a healing ministry. In his anger, he rebuked Jesus for disrupting the normal flow of the liturgy with His action toward the poor woman.
The ruler addressed the crowd. He said to the congregation: “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The rebuke was aimed at the woman, Jesus, and the whole congregation for giving their seeming approval to this violation of Sabbath protocol.
How did Jesus answer the synagogue ruler? Did He look at him and say: “I’m so sorry. I forgot what day it was. I should have asked the lady to make an appointment on one of the other six days of the week, but I got distracted when I saw her. I lost My head. I lost My place. In fact, as I was expounding on the Old Testament text, and I’m sorry to have violated the liturgy in this manner. I promise it won’t happen again”? No, no, no—that is not what Jesus said.
Listen to how Jesus answered the ruler: “Hypocrite! You’re a ruler of the synagogue, and you’re outraged because I’ve just healed this lady. You’re a hypocrite.” Why did Jesus call him a hypocrite?
Jesus said: “Do each one of you on the Sabbath day not loose his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it away to water it? Do you think it’s a violation of the Sabbath day to give the necessary basic requirements of life to your jackasses? You won’t allow me to do it for a human being? What’s wrong with you? Where’s your value system? You give more value to your donkey and to your ox than you do to human beings.” Does that strike you as strange, the topsy-turvy world in which the brutes of the earth are treated with more dignity than human beings? You ask, “How could this be?”
A Deathly Silence
In recent weeks, the newspaper was filled with people writing in and protesting or standing on the street corner holding up signs, outraged because some bears were euthanized when a local woman was mauled by a black bear. In New Smyrna, you can see the extent to which the eggs of turtles are protected. Then, after you have talked to these people, spend a day with John Barros at the abortion clinic. We routinely kill tens of thousands of babies every year in the state of Florida. I love the bears, and I do not want to hurt the turtles, but where is the outrage of the systematic destruction of living human beings?
Recently it was said that the worst crime of the twentieth century was the Holocaust, perpetrated by Hitler and his henchmen with the extermination of eight million Jews. Genocide, “the final solution,” according to Adolf Eichmann. Yet we have taken sixty million babies and torn them limb from limb, and it is not Hitler orchestrating it; we are doing it ourselves, to our own children, to our own babies. There is a deathly silence in the land about that.
Established Societal Convention
Recently, the Orlando Sentinel reported on a poll in which they asked people their opinion of a law that would restrict abortions after twenty weeks instead of a longer lawful period to pay to have your baby murdered. The poll results showed that 48% of the people polled were in favor of pushing the time frame back, and 52% of those polled were opposed to further restrictions on abortion.
I do not know how much I trust the polls. How did they frame the question? Who were they asking this question to? Where was the poll taken? Those are variables that could have a significant outcome on the results of any kind of polling process.
You might come away from the poll results and say, “The edge is getting closer if 52% support abortion and 48% oppose it.” No, the question was not whether you are for it or against it. It was whether you are for or against restricting it by another few weeks—that is all. I suspect the edge of those in favor of abortion-on-demand, or “pro-choice” as it is called, is greater than 4%.
I read things like this and tend to get sick to my stomach. Then I think of Wilberforce, who year after year, parliament after parliament, protested slavery in England. Year after year, he was roundly and soundly defeated. Why? Because slavery was an established convention. We have now established abortion-on-demand as a societal convention in our culture, which is almost impossible to overturn once it has been established.
Parables of Hope
Jesus punctuated His activity in the synagogue with two small parables that should give us considerable hope. He said, “What is the kingdom of God like?”
How would you answer that question? Jesus gave two short parables to answer the question, “What is the kingdom of God like?” He did not ask, “What is society like?” or, “What is the culture like?” but: “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” Jesus answered the question this way: “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.”
We know that the mustard seed was one of the tiniest of all the seeds that could be found in Palestine. Jesus said: “Look what you can get from this tiny little seed. You put the seed in the ground, and you water it, and you wait. Pretty soon, a little sprout comes up out of the earth, and it begins to grow. It grows more until it becomes not just a bush, but a tree. It might be ten, eleven, even fifteen feet, with a very strong canopy, so dense in its vegetation that multiple varieties of birds seek it out as a place to find their rest or build their nests—all that from this infinitesimally small seed.”
Next, Jesus said: “It is like a woman who has three measures of meal. She takes a tiny piece of leaven, a little bit of yeast. She doesn’t take a heaping dose of it. Just a tiny bit of yeast will leaven the whole measure.”
What is Jesus getting at with the mustard tree? What is He getting at with the leaven? Jesus was saying: “That is what the kingdom of God is like. Small beginnings yield great and vast fruit.”
God Grows His Kingdom
Within forty years from when Jesus gave His parables, the kingdom of God had penetrated every locale in the Roman empire. He started with a handful of people, and they leavened the whole lump. The little seed planted by Jesus has grown into a tree that keeps us in its branches even today, two thousand years later.
The society may be ten thousand times stronger than you are and totally opposed to everything that you hold holy, sacred, and precious. But that hand of God is like John Barros, by himself, standing in front of the abortion mill in Orlando, which has now gathered the attention of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States of America.
It is a small thing, but God can grow it, and it will grow. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it because it is the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of men. With God, all things are possible. With Christ, all things are possible. A woman bent over in half can be made straight. A culture twisted and distorted in half can be turned right side up when the people of God become the people of God.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.