10 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.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?
16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Context is important. We like to have the support of others in our devotionals, and so we turn to publications like Our Daily Bread or Forward Day By Day, but we then are getting our scripture, usually only one verse at a time, through the lenses of someone else. Even a timeless book like My Utmost for His Highest is being filtered through Oswald Chambers' lenses. Study Bibles with footnotes are being filtered through the notes, and even ME, your preacher, should be listened to before you go to the scriptures yourselves and confirm what I preach. Are you alone with the scriptures? No, the Holy Spirit of God is with you, revealing things to you that will enhance your knowledge of God and your walk with Him.
When we read this passage about the woman healed by Jesus, certain things stand out. First, there is the line, "she had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years." Second, Jesus himself says, "whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years." We know there are many layers to this passage about healing someone on the sabbath, etc, but in the back of our minds, what do these two lines make us think? It's not my fault! I've been in bondage to the devil. You've heard the phrase from comics, "the devil made me do it?" That's the kind of theology that we get. It's hard to feel convicted of sin when you think that the devil made you do it, that you're merely in bondage to Satan, and once Jesus frees you from bondage, you will be okay.
Let's look at context. Here are the previous two passages in Luke 13. Luke didn't just have some random stories and say to himself, where should I sick these? Well, I've got some space at the beginning of chapter 13, I'll cram them there! These passages are placed here for context. Listen:
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?
3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?
5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.
7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.
9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
Verses 1-5 is summarized by Paul in Romans 3:23. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All sin, and unless we repent, we are dead in our sins, even the woman healed a few verses later, no matter how many years she has been in bondage. We are still guilty of crimes against God and humanity. We can be both in bondage AND guilty.
Verses 6-9 are about the Christian bearing fruit. The Father wants to cut down the tree that doesn't bear fruit, and the Son pleads our case for us. "Give me a year to nurture the young Christian, so he will bear fruit." We know Jesus will succeed, because the Lord will not be stopped.
So, taking context into consideration, we have three things that Christ does for us: he leads us to repentance, he nurtures us to bear fruit, and he delivers us out of bondage. Isolating part of the chapter gave us an incomplete view of the big picture. Including the rest of the chapter gave us a more complete picture. Imagine adding the other chapters in the book of Luke and adding in the rest of the New Testament. Then adding the Old Testament. Think of taking the whole Bible into consideration when you study a verse.
One more piece of context: here are the verses after the healing of the woman:
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 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 about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
We have a transitory word here: then. Other translations have "so" or "therefore." Jesus is linking what he says next to the rest of the chapter before it. Remember, we have learned that Jesus does three things: lead us to repentance, nurture us to bear fruit, and deliver us from bondage. THEREFORE, the kingdom of God is then compared to a tiny seed that grows into a big tree and yeast that spreads through dough.
What are Jesus first words of his ministry? "Repent for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near." Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven with him. It is here now. Timothy Keller describes it as being laid overtop the Godless world. The world is fading away but is not gone yet. The kingdom of heaven is here but is not fully here yet. We are caught in the middle. We see the secular world but the kingdom remains invisible to us. Why?
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. As we undergo the three things Jesus describes before: repentance, fruitbearing, and deliverance, we begin to cease living in the secular world and begin living in the kingdom of heaven. It is here now. We can be part of it now. The worldly world begins to fade and become unreal. The heavenly kingdom begins to be seen and become more real. The mustard tree grows a little larger. The yeast spreads a little more.
Think about times you have been away from a certain aspect of everyday life. Let's say you canceled your cable and haven't seen a commercial in months. Then you're in a restaurant and you see a commercial--it's jarring, because it has ceased to be real. The real world was the one you were living in, the one without commercials.
Jesus brought the kingdom of God through the incarnation. He gave us access to the kingdom through his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit is with us now, in order to bring us to repentance, to nourish us so that we may bear fruit, and to deliver us from Satan's bondage. The kingdom is real, and it is here.
And that is why context is important. Now go read Luke 13 and confirm.