February 25, 2001
In healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath, Jesus provided a beautiful—and controversial—glimpse into the nature of God’s “kingdom business.” Alistair Begg unpacks this wonderful act of love, describing how God often works out His purposes in unpredictable ways using unexpected people. No matter how small or insignificant an act may seem, God can still use it to actively establish His kingdom on earth and in heaven.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now I invite you to take your Bible and turn again to Luke chapter 13. And as you open your Bible, then we’ll pause and ask God to help us as we study together:
And so, our God and Father, we pray that you would grant to us such a sense of looking to you, such a freedom from every distraction, that we might, in the pages of your Word, meet Christ. For it’s in his name we pray. Amen.
Back in Luke 9:51, Luke has told us that Jesus is on his way now to Jerusalem. Most of us will have forgotten about that. If you flip back, you’ll see it there: “As the time approached for him to be taken … to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” And it is as he proceeds on this journey to finally arrive in Jerusalem that we are continuing to follow his progress. In verse 33 of our chapter this morning, he is talking about the fact that he needs to keep going, and the next day keep going, “For surely,” he says, “no prophet can die outside [of] Jerusalem!”
Now, I mention that simply that we would have a sense of what is happening here: that we are following, as Luke records it for us, the progress of Jesus towards his destiny at Calvary. He realizes that he must go up to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of wicked men. And on the way, all of these encounters are taking place.
We have already noted that Jesus was faithful in his attendance on the synagogue. Back in chapter 4—a passage of Scripture to which we will be returning with frequency as we study in Luke, and not least of all this morning—but back in chapter 4, we were told there that “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” In other words, he didn’t wake up on the Sabbath morning and say, “Now, I wonder if I should go to the synagogue today?” the way in which some of us are tempted to do; and then, depending on whatever else he had on his program or in his agenda, he then made a determination as to whether the synagogue attendance would push out some of these other things or whether the other things would preclude him from attending the synagogue. No, Jesus went to the synagogue “as was his custom.” And so it is that Luke tells us here in 13:10 that it is once again the Sabbath day, and Jesus is once again teaching in the synagogue.
Now, actually (and you can check this by studying ahead at home), this is the final occasion when Luke records for us Jesus teaching in a synagogue—at least the final occasion that I’ve been able to find in Luke’s Gospel—the reason being that the animosity and the hostility of the Jewish leaders was reaching a fever pitch. At the end of this little encounter with the lady in the seventeenth verse, we’re told that the people were absolutely delighted at the way it came out, and the synagogue ruler and all the opponents of Jesus were absolutely humiliated with the way it came out. And people by and large do not like to be humiliated, and so they decided that they would take matters into their own hands. And by the time Jesus reaches the temple precincts in chapter 19, we’re told by Luke that the chief priests and the teachers and the rulers were just flat out trying to kill him. They had given up any notion of pretense, any subtlety in it all, and they had said to one another, “The only thing we can do is find a way to have him dead.”
Now, it’s within that journey that we come to this portion of Scripture this morning. And this section that begins at verse 10 follows verse 9, as you would see, and sits in the heart of this thirteenth chapter. And one of the questions that we need to ask ourselves—and this is something that we have learned to our profit, those of us who are students of those who are the teachers of the Bible: that we need to learn to discover what the melodic line is that runs through the material that is before us this morning. Now, you understand that that is simply a picture from music: that if you were to take ten or a dozen bars of music, it would be possible to focus just on one or two notes, or to disengage one or two notes and rearrange them with other notes and do certain things and make certain deductions, not all of which would be trivial or irrelevant; but we would be able to do that in a musical frame without ever having discovered what the melodic line was that ran through the bars of music that we were considering.
Now, if you transfer that to the study of the Bible, you realize that we can equally study the Bible in a way that simply disengages bits and pieces, and we can learn important things—it’s not necessarily irrelevant or wrong—but we do so in such a way that if someone were to say to us, “But what is the melody that runs right through this section?” we’d be saying, “Frankly, I haven’t got a clue. I like verse 10, and I learned something in verse 11, and verse 16 is good, and I like what he says in verse 21, and so on. But I really don’t know what’s happening here at all.” Now, that’s supposed to be the case, and that’s one of the reasons that God has given to the church pastors and teachers: so that we would spend our time thinking and praying and discovering so that we could help those under our tutelage to understand these things.
So what is the melodic line? Is the incident in the synagogue the point? Is this simply about the Sabbath and its use and its abuse, as we’ve seen encounters on the Sabbath before? Is the synagogue incident the point, or is it illustrative of a larger point? And if it is the latter, then what is the point? And what are we to do with these two parables in verses 18–21? Do these tie in with the event that is described for us in the synagogue, or are they just hanging out there by themselves?
Now, in many cases, we will be helped by the paragraph breaks that we find in our Bibles, but not always. And we will often be helped by the headings that we find in our Bibles, but not always. And those of you who, like me, are using the NIV this morning need to beware of being sent in the wrong direction by the paragraph breaks that are in the section that we just learned, and also on account of the heading that appears in between verses 17 and 18. I need to remind you that in the translation of the Bible, these things are inserted purposefully but quite arbitrarily on the part of the translators. If you have a preface to your Bible written by the translation committee, as I do, then you will discover, if you look for it, that they actually make sure that the readers of the Bible do not fall foul of this. They say these headings and distinctions “are not to be regarded as part of the NIV text,” they “are not for oral reading, and are not intended to dictate the interpretation of the sections they head.” Well, I’m glad they said that, because it’s very, very important. Because the obvious danger in this passage is that we divorce the parables from what precedes them, and in doing so, we will actually miss the main thing, which should, of course, be the plain thing.
Well, with all of that by way of introduction, let me see if we can’t get to grips with this passage. I want you to notice three things as time allows: first of all, that as we read this, it is clear that it is the record of a life transformed. First of all, here we are confronted with a life transformed.
“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues,” and then immediately, Luke narrows down the focus of the camera, and he says, “A woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years,” and he goes on to describe her physical condition. It was a severe condition, and it was a prolonged condition. It was the kind of physical impairment that both she and her neighbors would have grown accustomed to over time. And in some strange way, physical malady such as this often renders an individual socially invisible. If you think about this in your experience, people become so used to seeing people in this predicament that eventually, nobody sees them at all. Now, there can be good to this, inasmuch as what it means is that people have overlooked any sense of physical impairment and they are now simply including the person as part of the process of life. But there is bad to it as well, and so often the bad outweighs the good—namely, that the individual who is thus impaired is actually socially ostracized, so that they are not invited to the group, they are not present at the parties, they are not included in many of these things, because actually, people have grown so used to seeing them there that they don’t see them there at all. And part of it is because, frankly, they represent something of a nuisance, and if we are to include them, then it’s going to rearrange our situation. There’s probably some of that in the lady’s life as Luke tells us of her here.
Now, “she was bent over,” we’re told, and she “could[n’t] straighten up at all.” The condition would appear to be what doctors tell us is ankylosing spondylitis. It may be that it is not that. It may be a mental condition: that she was psychologically disturbed; that as a result of her disturbance she had bent over, and having been bent over for so long, she now was no longer able to straighten herself at all because she was convinced that she was actually physically impaired when, in point of fact, she was only mentally unstable. It would seem, probably, that it is a physical impairment—a form of spinal arthritis that eventually causes the ankylosing, or the fusing, of the vertebral and sacroiliac joints.
You say, “My, you know a lot about this for somebody who doesn’t know a lot about much.” Well, one of my best friends has ankylosing spondylitis. We played soccer together for three years. He’s one of the best guitarists that I ever met. We parted company at the end of our studies, and the next time I saw him, he had begun to lean. On a visit to London a couple of years ago, I went with another friend to his home to find him completely bent double and speaking to me out of his eyes like this, so that I sat on the floor to talk with him. And his wife fed him with a spoon, and he became frustrated by the fact that he was no longer able to function as he had functioned when, twenty-three years prior to that, we had run around on a soccer field together.
Now, the language that Luke uses to describe this physical condition is interesting, isn’t it? Verse 11: she’d “been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.” Verse 16: Satan had “kept” her “bound.” It’s a reminder to us of what we’ve seen before: that Luke as a doctor, as he describes these physical conditions of individuals, recognizes that the physical malady and the satanic activity are somehow interwoven in the lives of many of these people. Green, one of the commentators, says, “From this ethnomedical perspective … this woman’s illness has a physiological expression but is rooted in a cosmological disorder.”
Now, we needn’t delay here. We don’t want to chase this mouse around the house. Because the point is not the biomedical aspects of this situation. That is something for biomedics to consider when they take the studies in Luke’s Gospel and they pour them through the grid, if you like, of their own clinical and medical analysis. It’s an interesting Gospel for doctors and medics to peruse, because there is so much to which we’re introduced as a result of Luke’s insights as a doctor.
What we need to focus on is what Luke makes clear to us—namely, that he has been presenting Jesus to us, ever since chapter 4, as the one who is able, by the use of his finger, to roll back the domain of Satan. And as he rolls back the hold which Satan has on the lives of men and women, so the kingdom of God is seen to be established in the present tense.
Now, I mentioned chapter 4, and I think it’d be helpful just for a moment. I’ll try not to take you too many places, because cross-references can be so tedious. Eventually, when people do it to me a lot, eventually I just close my Bible and give up. So I don’t want to do that. But Luke chapter 4. Let me remind you that on the Sabbath day, Jesus is in Nazareth. He reads from the scroll of the prophet. Remember verse 18:
The spirit of the Lord is on me,
… he[’s] anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
… Sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
… recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And “then,” we’re told by Luke, “he rolled up the scroll,” he “gave it back to the attendant,” he “sat down,” and “the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,” because he has now adopted the seating position of the teacher. And material that would have been familiar to many of the synagogue attendees now has been read again by the lips of this Galilean carpenter. This young rabbi is now about to speak on the strength of the prophecy from which he has read. Their ears could never have been prepared for what he goes on to say: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, says Jesus, “That which the prophet Isaiah predicted six hundred years ago is the business in which I am now presently engaged. If you like, I am now on ‘kingdom business.’ And part of that business is to release the oppressed.”
Now, Luke has already introduced us to this truth, and we’ve been following Jesus through, and we’ve seen on frequent occasions the way in which the section from Isaiah’s prophecy in Luke 4 finds its embellishment in the encounters of Jesus along the way, and not least of all in this dramatic incident here in the synagogue, as we’re told. Because verse 13 describes the drama of God’s kingdom breaking in upon this circumstance. Here is a lady, crippled for eighteen years, bent over, cannot straighten up. Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her”—he sees the one that others find socially invisible—“he called her forward,” and he spoke to her, saying, “‘Woman, you[’re] set free from your infirmity.’ Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and [started to praise] God.”
Now, this is not the point of the passage, but I think it is valid to make the point along the way: Many of us have gone to all kinds of people to try and straighten us out and straighten us up. We may even be, today, in a series of sessions with some individual or another who’s trying to explain our lives to us, trying to interpret our past to us, trying to unscramble the riddle of who you are. You’ve been going now for weeks, perhaps even months. You’re not sure that you’re any better. You feel that you may be actually a little more confused than when you started. You’ve got in your car on a number of occasions, and you’ve said to yourself, “I wonder, is there anyone who knows me so thoroughly, who can touch me so deeply, and straighten me up so completely?” Let me say it to you again: you’ve been asking the question, “Is there one who knows me so well, who can touch me so significantly, and straighten me out?” And the answer is yes. And here he is, doing the very thing in the life of a woman who is absolutely unable to help herself and, interestingly, is not even asking for help!
The initiative in the incident, you will notice, lies with Jesus himself. He sees her. He calls her. He speaks to her. He touches her. What a wonder it is that we have an initiative-taking God! Were that not the fact, where would we be? Where would I be if Jesus didn’t love me? Where would I be if Jesus didn’t care? “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and [he] sent his Son” as an atoning sacrifice “for our sins.” So he who is the King establishes his kingdom by liberating and restoring this lady. And by freeing her from the dominion of the Evil One, he presents the fact that his kingdom is at work in the present.
Well, there you have it: a life transformed.
We must move quickly now, secondly, to notice that we have also in the passage hypocrisy uncovered. And we’ll spend less time on this.
Before the congregation has a chance to get to the door and run out into the community with the staggering news—people rushing home for their lunch: “Can’t wait to tell my wife what happened today”—before they get a chance to do that, the synagogue ruler picks up a large wet theological blanket and throws it on the whole event. Mr. Happy-, verse 14, in-All-of-His-Religious-Orthodoxy is indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath.
Now, there’s got to be something really wrong with somebody—really wrong with somebody—who can witness an incident like this, a life-transforming encounter that sets a woman in such abject need in such a transformed position, and the first thing out of his mouth is “You know, this didn’t happen the way it’s supposed to happen. This is not happening at the right time. Let me tell you people…”
Now, Jesus had begun part of this encounter—it’s recorded at the beginning of chapter 12—by warning the people against “the yeast of the Pharisees, which he says is hypocrisy.” And the hypocrisy’s been jumping out all over the place, and here it comes again. That’s why Jesus answers the man in the way that he does. The ruler was a hypocrite. He was hypocritical in that he was talking to the crowd although really aiming his rebuke at Jesus. If you’ve got something to say, say it Jesus. That’s the person you’re encountering. Don’t be going around the houses and saying it to the people. He was equally hypocritical in professing a zeal for the law, because at the same time, he failed to rejoice in the transformation which actually fulfilled the spirit and the purpose of the very law he sought to uphold.
So Luke says, “The Lord answered him.” Notice how he introduces him: “The Lord.” He who is the Lord of the Sabbath addresses the man and exposes his hypocrisy by asking him two questions: number one, “Do you care for your animals on the Sabbath?”; number two, “Shouldn’t this woman be set free?” Pretty good questions, I think you would agree?
Says Plummer in his commentary, “There is no prescription against doing good; and a religion which would honour God by forbidding virtue is self-condemned.” That’s one of those “wish I’d thought of that one” phrases. “There is no prescription against doing good; and a religion which would honour God by forbidding virtue is self-condemned.” So Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater: “If an animal, how much more a daughter of Abraham? If one whom you’ve had bound for a few hours should be set free, how much more should one who has been bound for eighteen years be set free? And if you can loose the bonds of your animals on the Sabbath as well as on the other six days of the week, how much more necessary is it for God to loose the bonds of this woman on the Sabbath?”
Now, you see what’s happening here: once again, religious orthodoxy, as represented in this ruler’s reaction, serves as a barrier to the woman’s liberation. The rules that he seeks to employ he uses to segregate her from the very help she needs. Religion has a dreadful way of doing this, outside of Jesus. See, because when we take our eyes off of Christ, who is Lord of the church, who is King of the kingdom, who is Master, and we begin to focus on that which is less than what he conveys to us, then we get ourselves in all kinds of mess.
I will not do what I said I wouldn’t do by taking you back to Luke chapter 7, except in your mind. And there in chapter 7, Jesus is at the home of the Pharisee. And you remember the lady comes, because it was customary, when you had somebody over and you were out in the courtyard, for people just to drop by. And in the drop-by group comes a lady who comes up to Jesus, and she’s so overwhelmed by meeting him that she weeps over him; she anoints his feet with her tears, and she dries them with her hair. And the Pharisee says to himself, “If he was Jesus, he would know who and what this woman is, and he would never let her touch him.” Wrong, wrong, wrong! Jesus is saying to them, “It’s not the people who are well that go to the doctor; it’s the people who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous; I came to call sinners to repentance. Do you think I want to hang around with all you smart guys and all your robes and all your dolled-up deal and all your rules and regulations? No, I don’t. The only reason I’m here is so that she can come, and I want her to come and touch me.” So you see, here we are in 13, and it’s the reverse. In 7, she shouldn’t be touching him. In 13, he shouldn’t be touching her!
“No,” says Jesus, “I want you to understand that today—this day, the Sabbath day—this is the right day for the redemptive purpose of God to be established.” I don’t think it’s insignificant that it was on the Sabbath, in Luke 4, that he says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Isn’t it? Isn’t that what he says? Today it’s fulfilled. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Today. And here we are on the Sabbath day, and he says it again: “Today, this day, the Sabbath day, I am about my kingdom business.” And here, this lady needed to be liberated; she needed to be restored. She is the epitome of the downtrodden, of the poor in spirit. She is bent double, she is without credentials, and she doesn’t have a one-in-a-hundred chance of meeting Jesus under normal circumstances. Because if the synagogue ruler had said on the previous Sabbath, “Now, next Sunday we have Jesus of Nazareth. He will be giving the morning lesson. What I want to do is get a group of people together—and obviously, it can’t be all of you—but I’d like a group of people to be able to meet Jesus. And I’ve already got some of you in mind, and those will be the people that gave the most money over the last twelve months and the people that wouldn’t dribble down their chin if they met Jesus and would be able to hold a reasonable conversation. I’ve got a number of you already in mind. There’s a few more places left, if you just sign up on the sheet, which is in the vestibule, as you leave the synagogue this morning.” What chance do you realistically think that a woman bent double for eighteen years, who had become socially invisible and was ostracized—how many chances in a thousand do you think she had of making the list and meeting Jesus? Correct. And Jesus singles one out from the crowd, and who does he single out? The least likely person of all.
The Good Shepherd, you see, reaches down to the sheep that are so clearly unable to help themselves. That, incidentally, is why some of you are not Christians this morning. It’s why some of you remain unconverted. Because Jesus comes in order to reach down and touch those who recognize their helplessness and their hopelessness. And since everything in your life has been put together to this point to guard you against ever being helpless or ever being hopeless—and certainly, if ever finding those events, ever being prepared to admit it—apparently, you keep getting passed by when Jesus comes. You hear the preaching. Parts of it affect you. Other parts annoy you. You sleep through other bits of it. Somehow or another, you continue to come, but you remain unchanged. And this is why: because you’re a self-help expert, and you’re going to help yourself to hell unless you are prepared to bow down and admit that you are hopeless and bent double and inconsequential and without credentials and the last person in a thousand that Jesus should single out for a personal meeting.
The spirit of Naaman is abroad: “Oh, I thought that Elisha would have at least come out, you know, and waved his hands around, or done a service for me, or done something good, you know. Who does he think he is, saying, ‘Go dip yourself in the Jordan seven times?’” Isn’t that where some of you are? “Oh, I like this idea of Jesus. I like this Judeo-Christian ethic stuff. I like this idea of getting the country back where it needs to be. Yes, I’m here for that.” Well, fine, but that’s not the message of the kingdom. The message of the kingdom is that he comes at unexpected times to unexpected people, and he does unexpected things, so that people say, “I would never have expected that.” “I would never have expected to see you here,” they say to you, don’t they? Because they knew you before! “What are you doing here?” they say. The answer is, of course: Jesus reached down and grabbed another unlikely one.
Well, finally, ’cause our time is gone, let’s just notice verses 17 and on: a life transformed, a hypocrisy uncovered, and then two kingdom pictures to tie a bow around the material, as it were.
Verse 17 reads in such a way that you can understand why it is that the NIV sort of wrapped it up there and then put a heading between 17 and 18: humiliation on the part of the opponents, jubilation on the part of the people. But there’s actually a conjunction in the Greek text. The word therefore is in the Greek text. It heads up verse 18. It’s a little word, [o]-u-n, [o]un. The NIV ignores it for some reason. Well, I shouldn’t say it ignores it. It tries to get it across by saying “then.” But it doesn’t make the point very strongly, does it? The NASB says, “Therefore he was saying…” The Revised Standard Version translated, “He said therefore…” The Amplified Version says, “This led Him to say…” My paraphrase is: “Jesus said, ‘Now that I have your attention, let me just ask you a couple of questions.’”
You see, there’s a direct relationship between what has happened here in this moment and the questions with which Jesus finishes this incident. “Let me ask you a couple of questions,” he said. “First of all, what is the kingdom of God like, and what do you think I ought to compare it to?” Now, they’re rhetorical questions, because he immediately goes on to use the pictures from Palestine and tell them.
First of all, he says, “It[’s] like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden”—in other words, the smallest kind of seed sown by Palestinian farmers, yet a seed which in a very short time would grow to be the biggest of all plants grown from seed. And indeed, the picture of the birds finding a place to perch in it is probably an Old Testament allusion to the universal appeal of the gospel and the nature of God’s kingdom. If you go back in the Old Testament and search with a concordance, you’ll find this picture of the birds being used of the nations and the kingdoms of the world, and it would be, then, an allusion on the part of Jesus to say, “The powerful expansion of my kingdom is such that it will embrace all nations.” And then the picture of the yeast: not only externally will the kingdom embrace all nations, but internally, it will transform the whole of human life. She mixed this yeast “into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Now, Jesus is teaching here that the kingdom of God will, then, outwardly and inwardly, be brought to a glorious conclusion, even though its beginning was insignificant, and even though the opposition to it was severe—even in the experience of the moment in which Jesus was teaching.
Now, when you think this out just for a moment or two, you realize how incredible it is. “And then there came wise men from the east to the palace of Herod, saying, ‘Excuse me, king. We have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him. Where is he that is born King of the Jews? I mean, this has got to be a big deal, Herod, for goodness’ sake. There have been manifestations in the sky, and there are things written in the scrolls, and we’ve been putting two and two together, and we believe that there is something going on here. Where is he that is born King of the Jews? We came to the palace. That’s where we would expect to find him.’ And Herod was alarmed, and all Jerusalem with him”—because he hadn’t a clue what he was talking about, and he didn’t know where this new king was to be found. And when he went looking for him, where did they find him? In a stable. A King in a manger! The creator of the universe lying in such a strange place!
This is a strange kingdom, isn’t it? And when the Galilean carpenter, having completed his work with his father Joseph throughout his formative years, steps out onto the stage of human history, his messianic mission unfolding, and he puts together a group of twelve guys, what are they like? A motley crew by any standards! He doesn’t go to the Ivy League schools. He does not scour the royal palaces looking for, you know, the “right people” who would be able to be the princes and rulers of his kingdom which he is establishing. No! Down by the seaside, at the tax collector’s booth—in the strangest places, and some of the most unlikely characters.
And so they follow him, and they find him keeping doing the same thing. And so here he is in the synagogue on the Sabbath. I’m sure they had almost grown used to it. You know, they might have said to one another in the morning when they wakened up, “I wonder who Jesus’ll pick out today. But I can guarantee you, it won’t be somebody we expect!” And sure enough, he calls the woman forward, and he takes the initiative in the life of one who had been ostracized and marginalized. And in the transformation of her life, the power of the kingdom of God is seen. Even though it may seem trivial, even though it may seem small and insignificant, it is the evidence that something tremendous is in progress. That’s what Jesus is saying: “What has happened here in this moment prompts me to ask you: What do you think the kingdom of God is like? Let me tell you what it’s like! It’s like this tiny seed, and it’s like this batch of yeast.” You show me yeast in a cake or in bread. Show me yeast in dough. Not “Show me yeast before it goes in.” Show me it once it’s in. You can’t show me it once it’s in. You can’t distinguish. You can only see the evidence of what has happened as a result of the yeast transforming the process. And that’s what Jesus says.
Now, by the time Paul writes to the Corinthians, he’s underscoring the same thing. “Consider your calling, brethren,” he says in 1 Corinthians 1:26 and following. “Consider when God called you,” he says. “Not many of you were wise. Not many of you were out of the intelligentsia. Not many of you were top drawer. Not many of you were powerful. Not many of you were particularly influential.” He doesn’t say “not any.” The m is important: “not many.” He says, “But in point of fact, what has God done? He’s chosen the apparently foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He’s chosen the weak things to shame the strong. He’s chosen the things that are not in order to point out to the things that are apparently ‘the thing’ that he is God.” And he doesn’t need any of that claptrap in order to do it.
You think about the average person starting a business and putting together a profile and a pro forma so that they can take it out and get investors. You see their logo. I haven’t seen one with a mustard seed on it, I must confess, or a lump of yeast. No, it’s all dramatic stuff. “This is the great kingdom, you know. We’re about to establish it! Give me x thousand dollars, and we’ll show you how terrific we are.” We like to think about the church that way as well, don’t we? Let’s be honest: if we were creating a logo, we’d say, “Jesus, don’t let’s have a logo with a seed, you know. A seed—we can’t even see it on the brochure! And yeast! How’s anybody going to know about yeast? Jesus, how ’bout an oak tree at least. You know, something… An oak tree, or a California redwood, Jesus. One of those big ones you can drive your car through. Yeah, maybe one of those, with a car going through it or something like that, to show, you know, that it transcends everything.” Jesus said, “Oh, dry up!”
God’s kingdom is made present in the seemingly inconsequential acts, such as the restoration of this woman, bent over, marginalized, ostracized, and unable to help herself. This, says Jesus, is the picture of the kingdom coming. Now, until we learn that, we will be tempted to run around and establish kingdoms on the basis of all of our ingenuity or our endeavors. And I’m going to resist the temptation to go down that avenue, for my time is gone. But if we haven’t learned the lesson of the last twenty years in evangelical Christianity in America about trying to establish big, powerful kingdoms, I don’t know if we ever will. He comes to pick up the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, and he comes to restore an ill woman who lived on the margins of society.
Now, let me conclude with two thoughts, and briefly.
First of all, the kind of intervention which took place in this woman’s life is the kind of intervention that many of us this morning need: that we need to come to Christ at his call, that he may lay his powerful hand upon us, straighten us up, and make us those who praise God. So, for those of you who have ears to hear, hear. You hear the call of the Lord Jesus to you, saying to you, “Here I am. I want to place my hand upon you. I want to straighten you up in order that you might praise God, in order that you might understand the very reason that you were made.” Some of us are so out of shape and running hither and yon trying to find out why we exist and where we’re going and if there’s any purpose in it at all. And here the King says, “You know, I will establish my kingly rule within your life. I’ll straighten you up—and change the stations on your radio.”
And finally, there is a perspective here that we need to learn again as those who follow Jesus, and particularly those of us who are involved in the work of the church. And it is simply this: that God really does work in ways that are small and apparently inconsequential to the end of the establishing of his kingdom. Now, I don’t know about you, but that is a great help to me. Because it’s not often, but it is enough times that I can say it with integrity, that I stand in the middle of this place or sit here by myself in the middle of the week, when no one else is here, and I say to myself—it goes like this: “How in the world did I get here? Is anything happening here? How did we get in this place? I mean, this isn’t New York. This isn’t Philadelphia. This isn’t Chicago. This is Cleveland.” (Does any good thing come out of Cleveland? Have you heard of one significant preacher out of Cleveland in the last 250 years? If you have, give me the book; I want to read it. But I never have.) “And we’re not just in Cleveland, Lord. We didn’t even get Public Square! We didn’t even get University Circle! We didn’t get anywhere near where anything’s near! We got Bainbridge! We got Pettibone Road. What a name that is! I mean, this isn’t Fifth Avenue. This isn’t Regent Street. This is Pettibone Road. Lord, we’re about to be overrun by Six Flags! They’re going to turn us into a ride if we’re not careful!” And sometimes I want to run right out through the double doors, double doors, skip to the side, and go out the door and in my car and just go.
And then the Lord says, “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! I thought you were reading your Bible, Alistair. I thought you were reading about the kingdom! I thought you were actually learning what you were teaching: that God chooses to use some of the most unlikely places and the most unlikely people in a most unlikely way in order that everybody, including the people used, will know, ‘This has to be God and his kingdom, because it surely isn’t us. It couldn’t be. Look at us! The crippled, the marginalized, the lame, the social misfits.’” You say, “Well, this is not a very good description of the congregation.” Well, we’re not going to put it in a brochure, but let’s be honest! And God says, “Listen: I’m going to come, and I’m going to touch the lives of really unlikely people in the congregation. And in this apparently inconsequential way, I’m going to establish my kingdom. And my kingdom cannot fail…” It
rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus giv’n:
[So] lift up your heart,
Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
Now, I think that’s the melodic line. So go out and hum it to yourselves.
Let us pray:
O God our Father, we pray that all that is of yourself may be retained and anything that is unhelpful or unclear may be clarified or lost sight of completely. Thank you for the wonder of what you do and for the magnificence of who you are, Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that there will be those who today hear your call, step forward to meet you, and are straightened up and made to praise God. And I pray that those of us who are so tempted to think that we are the key to what’s happening may bow down before you, because you are an awesome God, and recognize that since dependence is your objective, that weakness is actually an advantage.
And so may the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one of us, today and forevermore. Amen.
 Luke 4:16 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 19:47.
 Preface to the New International Version of the Bible (1984).
 Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 521.
 1 John 4:10 (KJV).
 Luke 12:1 (NIV 1984).
 Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Gospel According to St. Luke, The International Critical Commentary (New York: Scribner, 1920), 343.
 Luke 7:39 (paraphrased).
 Luke 5:31–32 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 7:40–47.
 2 Kings 5:11 (paraphrased).
 See Ezekiel 17:23; 31:6.
 Matthew 2:1–3 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 1:26 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 1:27–29 (paraphrased).
 See John 1:46.
 Charles Wesley, “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!” (1744).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.