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Luke 13:10-17

In this study, as in some of our previous studies (four,six and eight), we shall be looking at a woman for whom we have no name, but whose encounter with the living God has been immortalised in the pages of Scripture and is certainly worth our attention. If you or I had been bound like this woman for just eighteen days - let alone eighteen years - how desperately would we have longed to be set free. Imagine for a moment how she must have felt. Through all those long years, had she given up all hope of ever being free of her infirmity? Had she ever dreamt of meeting someone who could deliver her from her "prison"? Well, she met someone that day... Jesus.

Many people are bound at sometime during their life by limitations of one sort or another. They be physical, emotional or even spiritual. Perhaps we have been rejected by someone close to us or feel stunted by our lack of faith in God. Have we stayed away from a particular place for fearing of bumping into someone or felt our heart go bump when the 'phone rings? Many experiences in life can bind us to some degree. Broken friendships or the sudden death of a loved one: they can feel like a "thorn in our flesh" that we're unable to shift.

A spiritual enslavement

The woman in our study could not straighten herself up. Luke, who recorded this story, was a medical doctor. Naturally, he would not have had the more advanced medical knowledge that we have today, but he seems to have regarded this condition as being something that went beyond a purely physical problem. He says that she "had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years". (Luke 13:11) There was little that she could do physically, to help herself, and she must have depended to a large extent on the kindness and support of others. Perhaps, too, she had also recognised that her situation needed something that went beyond physical healing, because she was at her local synagogue on the Sabbath day when Jesus happened to be there as well. We can imagine that she was probably there every week, finding comfort and encouragement from the reading of the Scriptures and the regular teaching about the God who had chosen her nation to be His special people.

Luke offers no explanation as to the reason for her condition, but Jesus clearly points to it being spiritual, describing her as having been kept bound by Satan for eighteen long years. (Luke 13:16) We may speculate as to why she was in this condition: had she fallen prey to bitter envy or selfish ambition, allowing herself to be dominated by earthly, unspiritual, demonic thoughts and feelings? (James 3:14-16) But Jesus does not shame the woman or parade her mistakes to the rest of the congregation. He calls her forward but simply says to her: "Woman, you are set free [loosed] from your infirmity!" He puts His hands on her and immediately she straightens up and gives praise to God. (Luke 13:12-13)

Set free

With one simple command, Jesus set this woman free. He lifted the heavy burden from her back and gave her relief and new hope for the future. Even today, so many Christians are weighed down with burdens that they cannot do anything about. They may have been caused by guilt for things done in the past, or unresolved, unconfessed sins in the present and they often result in some physical symptoms. These may not be as obvious as the infirmity suffered by the woman in our study, but they can still range from sheer physical fatigue to the misery of ongoing depression.

Jesus calls us to bring these things to Him. "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with Me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30 Msg) God wants us set free from the loads that we carry. He does not want us to become reconciled to problems, when the opportunity is there to let them go and allow Jesus to carry them. Problems can be a "security blanket" for us. They give us something to talk about and allow us to become the centre of attention for a while. But God is not looking to provide us with temporary relief; He has an altogether more drastic cure in mind: complete healing!

We may have long-standing problems such as an emotional handicap from our childhood that leaves us unable to make lasting friendships now. Our burdens may stem from our own foolishness or wrong-doing, or we may have done nothing to deserve the abuse or hurt that we received from others. It matters not. We have to give these things to Jesus and leave them with Him. We have to allow Him to touch us and renew us with His life-giving power.

Short-sighted and obstinate

We might have expected everyone in the synagogue to be amazed and delighted by this miraculous healing but not everyone was happy. The religious leaders were also bound, though not in so obvious a way as the woman. They had become obsessed with religious rules and regulations as being the only hope of future salvation. They were unable to recognise the hand of God at work, even in the very place - the synagogue - where they believed that God would meet with His people. So far as they were concerned, nobody was allowed to work on the Sabbath - even God Himself apparently!

Jesus responds by openly accusing them of being hypocrites. He points out that they "work" on the Sabbath when they untie their animals and lead them out for water. Should not a child of God be "untied" and led to the living water that God Himself was longing to give them? (Luke 13:15-16) The woman's own response is simple and uncomplicated: she praises God! How can we face our own burdens and those of others?

Dealing with our own disabilities

  • Praise and worship is "spirit" activity. No one can bind your spirit - only you. (Psalm 8:2)
  • We are in a spiritual battle, but let's take encouragement from knowing that our Enemy has been defeated. (Revelation 20:10)
  • We must be careful who we listen to. Let's find healing - not reluctant acceptance of our burdens.
  • Let's not forget others in our family who are also suffering.
  • Let's remember that Jesus knew tremendous suffering during His life, especially at His death. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
  • Let's keep focus on the joy that is coming, which is guaranteed. (Philippians 3:14; Hebrews 12:2)
  • We can train ourselves to be thankful. (Acts 16:25; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22)
  • Let's remember the promise that we will not be given more than we can cope with. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  • Remember! Our value has not changed one bit. He loves us always and for ever. (1 John 3:1)

Responding to the disabilities of others

  • All people are infinitely valuable to our Father.
  • People have hungry spirits; let's feed them with God's word. It is food and life!
  • Everyone enjoys being acknowledged and spoken to, even if they cannot speak back.
  • Believers with disabilities are as vital a part of the body of Christ as any able-bodied person.
  • Don't look down on people, physically or in any other way. Always move down to their level.
  • Physically disabled people do not just have physical needs. They also need to be whole spiritually.
  • Put yourself in their position and try to say something relevant to their situation.
  • Listen to what they are really saying. Be willing to be silent as the Holy Spirit leads.
  • Always be ready to pray, but not necessarily for healing. God may be dealing with other issues before healing will come.

Letting go of the chains

When God heals someone as Jesus healed this woman - swiftly and dramatically - it can take some time for people to come to terms with the full extent of their healing. There can be a temptation to want to retreat to a lifestyle which had far fewer expectations of the person concerned in the face of new responsibilities and major changes. A full restoration of health may mean a return to full-time work, greater family commitments, a change of wardrobe and a bewildering choice of new opportunities. At the same time, there may need to be a series of consultations with doctors or other health professionals and some advice and guidance on the continuing use (or otherwise) of medication. Certain financial grants and benefits may cease suddenly. Although it's an incredibly joyful event, those who have been healed may need ongoing support in letting go some of the chains that bound them.

When Jesus sets us free from any burden, it is always for a purpose. When Jesus wanted to ride into Jerusalem, He made arrangements for the use of a young horse that was tied up in a particular place. The disciples were sent to untie the colt and, when asked what they were doing, replied: "Because the Lord has need of it.” (Luke 19:31) God loves to work through us, His people. Indeed, this is how we can learn so much about our Father: learning to listen to the Holy Spirit and to respond to where He calls us to go and what He calls us to do. We are set free, not to wander here and there like tourists on holiday, but to be involved in exciting projects that help to build the kingdom of God, both for now and eternity.

The woman in this story was able to "straighten up" but it was not just her body that was released; her tongue was also set free. Immediately, she began to praise God. Whether or not we have been physically disabled as she had been, we all need to be ready to allow Jesus to use our bodies, including our tongues, to praise God and to make ourselves available to Him for His kingdom.


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