Every one of us has certain prejudices or biases that are a part of our life. These areas of bias create what is called “tunnel vision”. Tunnel vision is when you see only a narrow image (as through a tunnel) rather than seeing the whole picture thus gaining perspective.
We can have tunnel vision when it comes to politics, when it comes to relating to people who are getting help from the government, and even when it comes to people who are materially blessed. Think about it, if you see a bunch of motorcycles going down the road in a group you may tend to make certain assumptions about the people who are riding that have nothing to do with the actual people involved. These assumptions come from your tunnel vision.
We have great tunnel vision in our view of ourselves and our behavior (we see what we want to see) and we have tunnel vision oftentimes in our faith. Many of the controversies that bring conflict in the church are caused by tunnel vision. One of these controversies in Jesus day related to the observance of the Sabbath, or the day of rest.
Jewish leaders were concerned about obeying God’s law (a good thing) and so they developed a large body of regulations that clearly defined what constituted work (thus violating the Sabbath) and what wasn’t considered work (this was not such a good thing). It was like writing a 200 page piece of legislation that outlawed talking on your cell phone while driving your car!
Jesus confronted these regulations throughout His ministry. It wasn’t that He did not support the observance of the Sabbath (we will see that He did), it was that they had tied the restrictions regarding the Sabbath so tightly that the good purpose of the Sabbath was being lost.
An Act of Compassion
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 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. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
It was a Sabbath day and Jesus, as was his regular practice, went to the synagogue for worship. As a prominent visiting Rabbi it was likely Jesus was asked to teach. In the congregation that day was a woman who had a disease that caused her to be bent over. Most people believe this was a disease that resulted in the fusing of the spine into a rigid mass. It seems that the woman did not come to Jesus for healing; He picked her out of the crowd.
Imagine what life was like for this woman. She was isolated from people physically. The only way she could look someone in the eye was if they got down on the ground! She may have been suffering socially. When someone has a disability people often keep their distance because they don’t know what to say/do. Others avoid the person because extra effort is required to be able to relate to the person. As a result people with special needs start to feel invisible.
This “invisible woman” was seen by Jesus. He not only noticed her . . . He SAW her. He saw her physical and emotional pain. He saw her as a person worthy of His time. In verse 16 Jesus identified Satan as the one who had somehow bound the woman even though the woman does not seem to be possessed by a demon (In every noted case of Demon possession Jesus spoke to demons as He cast them out). It may be that Jesus saw her disease as one of the repercussions of the sin brought into the world by Satan.
Jesus called the woman forward in the crowd. Certainly this would have created a buzz in the crowd. “He put her hands on her and immediately she straightened up”. Imagine the gasp of the crowd. Not only did the miracle re-establish the flexibility of her spine but it brought life, strength and vitality to muscles and nerves that had atrophied! Imagine the dramatic change experienced by this woman. After eighteen years she was able to look into the face other people. After 18 years she no longer had pain. This one who was resigned to live faithfully with her disability was now set free to live without it. Is it any wonder that she began to praise God?
Let’s draw an application. Are you in need of straightening today? Does something have you tied up so that you are unable to function? Are you in need of someone who will truly see you and know you so well that He can straighten you out? Whatever your bondage the message today is this: Jesus SEES you. He understands what is going on in your life. Others may look past you, may push you aside or may be fooled by the person you pretend to be. Jesus sees the truth. As He was willing to help this woman, so He is willing to help you. If you will honor Him as God, if you will seek Him, He will embrace you and bring real change in your heart and life.
A Legalistic Ruler
The second scene is the response to this miracle. As you might imagine, the healing disrupted the liturgy of the day. The ruler of the synagogue was not happy. I hear the tone of frustration and rebuke when he said to the crowd,
“There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
A great miracle had happened and this guy brings out his rule book! Every meeting needs some order. I think Robert’s Rules of Order are a valuable guide for how to run a meeting properly. However many of us have seen meetings completely derailed by someone who is continually making “points of order” and using other parliamentary means to stop an action.
The synagogue leader saw a law, Jesus saw a person. Jesus showed the man that the manmade rules were inconsistent. He asked Him two questions:
- Don’t you take your animals and lead them to water on the Sabbath?
- Shouldn’t we show at least that much compassion to this woman who has been bound for 18 years?
The Sabbath regulation is a good Law. Its purpose was to help us maintain a healthy relationship with God (by honoring Him with our time and attention). The Sabbath, if you will, was to serve as a weekly checkpoint that would get us back on track. It was designed to get us back on track spiritually and physically. The rules of the leaders were missing the point. They put the focus on “How not to offend God” but Jesus emphasized “How to honor God”. One was negative the other positive.
The leaders recognized that God would want them to show compassion to their animals by giving them basic care but they failed to see that God’s would also want us to show compassion for others on the Sabbath! When you get caught up in tunnel vision all you can see is your needs, your desires, your rules. You lose any sense of compassion.
The Kingdom of God
18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”
20 Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
In my first reading I thought this was a different section because there was a different heading in my Bible. However, we must always remember that the headings we find in the Bible are only guides and reference points that (like verse numbers) were added much later. Verse 18 seems to connect this section with what has gone before. Jesus asked another question: “What is the Kingdom of God like” (He asked it twice)?
It appears that Jesus didn’t wait for an answer. He said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a very tiny seed, planted in the garden. After a period of time the little seed, if given proper care, would grow into a six to eight foot bush/tree where the birds could perch and sing their songs. Out of the little seed something significant was produced.
The second illustration was similar. A woman took a small amount of yeast and mixed it with a whole bunch of flour and the yeast impacted all the flour and the dough began to rise. The principle is the same: The Kingdom of God is advanced through little acts that have a great impact.
The Kingdom of God generally is not advanced with big programs or revivals (although these things happen). The normal course is for the Kingdom of God to move forward an inch at a time as God’s people are faithful in their worship and in their relationships with each other. The Kingdom of God advances as we show compassion and love to people one person at a time. The synagogue leader thought the worship service had been ruined. Jesus pointed out that this act of compassion was a seed planted. The Kingdom was advancing.
A person doesn’t just get up one day and say, “I think I will run a marathon”. They train. They may start by walking and then they run short distances, then they run longer distances. This doesn’t happen in a week, it may take months. There may be days when it seems like no progress is being made but day by day, step by step they advance.
The Kingdom of God is the same way. There is no one program, sermon, or event that is going to change the direction of our wayward society. The Kingdom advances one step at a time,
- The step to get up and honor God in worship on Sunday morning
- The step to honor God with our finances
- The day by day instruction of Biblical truth to our children
- The daily example of consistency in following Christ
- The positive and faithful attitude day after day at work
- The sharing of the gospel even in little ways with friends and neighbors
Most of us feel insignificant. We look at the world around us and we wonder, “What can someone like me do to make a difference?” Sometimes we feel so insignificant that we see no reason to try. I believe Jesus is telling us to plant some seeds and then marvel at how he can make them grow.
Think about it. Your kind word to an overworked checker at a store may keep them from committing suicide or from taking out their frustration on their family. Your consistent example of faithfulness may open someone to the message of salvation (changing their eternity!). Your stand for the truth may lead someone else to consider more deeply what is right or wrong. Your visit to someone may lift their spirits and bring them comfort. Your faithful instruction with youth in Sunday School, Youth groups or AWANA is equipping children to stand firm and think clearly when they face the godlessness of the University environment.
Just think of what we have learned the last couple of months. We have learned that when we all do what we can, we make a difference. This fall two communities in Africa will have clean water wells; teachers in our local school will have a few more supplies; and a Seminary in India will have power to teach those who will take the gospel to places we will never see. All because we were willing to plant some seeds!
Every DAY we have over 1000 visits to our website. We get e-mails every week from people from all over the world! The weekly sermon is e-mailed to around 500 people every week who live all over the world. We send out CD’s, tapes, and print copies every week. How does this happen? We plant seeds . . . God brings growth.
Let’s wrap things up with three principles from this passage. First, notice the importance of the weekly practice of worship. Jesus, the Son of God, was in the synagogue every Sabbath day. If Jesus felt it was important to worship on the Sabbath, so should we.
The woman who was in pain and disfigured, still worshiped the Lord. She did not pull away from God as so many do when times are tough (and even more so when times are prosperous). She continued to honor God by doing what He said. It is safe to say that this woman would not have encountered the power of Christ if she had absented herself from worship.
Sadly we live at a time when even self proclaimed Christians feel weekly worship to be an optional activity for when we don’t have anything more interesting to do. We comfort ourselves by saying, “God understands”. Indeed He does. He understands that you have chosen to ignore His commands and push Him to the side. Throughout the prophets we read that God’s condemnation of Israel’s disregard for the observance of the Sabbath. This ignoring of the weekly time of worship led to their capture and destruction of Israel at the hands of Babylon. Our refusal to honor God as He has required, is understood by Him as a serious act of rebellion.
Others comfort themselves by saying, “I had more important things to do” or “family comes first”. Stop and listen to those words: Do you understand what you are confessing? You are saying that you have placed other things before the Lord of Life! You are telling the world that you are an idolater!
If you really did want to put the needs of your family first you would be teaching them the importance of honoring the Lord. You would want them to have a vital relationship with God so they would know His wisdom, strength, comfort and so you would know that they would live even after they die.
If we want to see change in our country it will take more than complaining and sending e-mails to each other. Things will start to turn around when professing Christians start actually putting God first in their lives. One of the first steps to this is for us to return to the priority of worship. It is one of the easiest steps of obedience and respect toward the Lord.
It is often said that the will of the people is expressed through the ballot box. I think we can also say the devotion of a Christian is expressed by the way they respond to the command to worship and honor God one day a week.
Second, we must remember that God cares about people more than programs. If we truly connect with God’s heart, we will show it through acts of compassion and grace. God calls the church “The Body of Christ”. We should reveal God’s love through our actions. I wonder how many people have turned away from the church because
- They felt dismissed because of their past
- Embarrassed because they didn’t know what to do
- Condemned because of their failures
- Inferior because of their lack of knowledge
- Excluded because they didn’t belong to the right clique
The church is supposed to be a place where we welcome people with the love of Christ. This doesn’t mean that we overlook sin. God hates sin and so should we. However, I believe it means that we love people even though they are sinners. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is tell people the truth about their sin. At other times the most loving thing we can do is wrap our arms around someone and help them as to find the way to new life.
Finally, we should never underestimate what God can do through simple acts of faithfulness. It is true that you are just one person. It is true that we are from a small town. It feels like there is little difference we can make. What we forget is that it is not just us. We serve the God of Creation. Our meager contributions in His hands will help advance the Kingdom of God!
Your act of kindness, your faithfulness in prayer, your willingness to visit those who are lonely or forgotten, your simple testimony, your sharing of a Scripture passage, your acts of simple obedience may be the very things that God will use as a seed to enable something great to grow.
Here’s God’s challenge to us: Take off the blinders. Honor God. Do what He says. Notice others. Plant a bunch of seeds. Then pay attention, because God is full of surprises. He will cause His kingdom to advance in ways we never imagined. And we will begin to see things that we never saw before.