Jesus and the Crippled Woman: On the Kingdom

May 7, 2023 ()

Bible Text: Luke 13:10-21 |


Jesus and the Crippled Woman: On the Kingdom | Luke 13:10-21
Brian Hedges | May 7, 2023

Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to Luke 13. We’re going to be reading (here in a moment) Luke 13:10-21.

While you’re turning there, let me tell you about an experience I had as a little boy. Most of you probably know that I grew up in a pastor’s family, so for much of my growing up years my dad was a pastor of a small church in Brownfield, Texas. That gave me some experiences that probably a lot of younger people don’t have that early in life. Part of that was just the many visits that we paid to people in their homes or ministry in nursing homes—those kinds of things. My dad regularly preached at a nursing home once a week and I would often go with him. He would visit elderly people in their homes.

One couple in particular stands out, a couple whose names were Lester and Mary Caswell. They were an interesting old couple. They never came to church; not one time in all the time that we were there in Brownfield, Texas, they never visited church. They didn’t because they were both very old, they were really feeble. Lester could only barely get around with a cane. But his wife, Mary, was severely crippled with arthritis. I don’t know if I’ve ever since seen someone who had such a severe handicap and disability from that terrible disease. Her fingers were gnarled, her feet balled up. She was confined to a wheelchair, she couldn’t get out at all. They had no children of their own, so Lester largely took care of them, and they only seldom had visitors who would come into their home. But my dad would visit them periodically, and a number of times I went with him.

I bring that story up because the story we’re going to read together in Scripture is a story of a woman who had a similar disability. We don’t know exactly what it was; of course, it’s not named as arthritis. But the text tells us that she had a disabling spirit, that she was afflicted, and that she was bent over and could not straighten herself up. She couldn’t stand up straight, she was bent over, and had experienced this eighteen years. Evidently she was able to at least go to the synagogue, because she goes to a synagogue one day and there she meets Jesus and he heals her.

That’s the story we’re going to read this morning in Luke 13. This is part of a series that we’re doing called “Conversations with Jesus,” and we’re really just looking at unique encounters that people had with Jesus that are only recorded in Luke’s Gospel. That’s one of the unique things about this series of sermons; these are only found in Luke’s Gospel. We’ve looked at several of these so far, we’re about halfway through the series, and each one of these stories teaches us something in particular that’s really important about the kingdom of God.

When we looked at the story of Zacchaeus at the beginning of the series we saw an example of salvation. “Salvation has come to your house today, Zacchaeus.” Here’s this unlikely person, essentially a gangster, a mob boss, and Jesus chooses him to bring him into the kingdom of God.

The next week we looked at the story of Mary and Martha and how Jesus went into their little home in Bethany, and the example of Mary and her devotion to Jesus, as she sat learning at Jesus’ feet.

Last week our focus was on the love and the forgiveness of this sinful woman. You remember the sermon that Brad delivered last week—the sinful woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, and how she stands in contrast to the Pharisee named Simon, who did not see his own need for forgiveness and so had very little love for Jesus.

Today our focus is really on the kingdom itself; the kingdom of God and the power of the kingdom of God to bring freedom into someone’s life. We have it in Luke 13, beginning in verse 10. I’m going to read verses 10-21. That includes a few verses of teaching, but I think the way Luke constructs this narrative it’s very clear that the teaching took place in this same context. So I’m going to include those verses, verses 18-21. So, beginning in Luke 13:10; you can read along in your own copy of God’s word or on the screen.

“Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability.’ And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’ Then the Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?’ As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

“He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’

“And again he said, ‘To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.’”

This is God’s word.

I have a very simple outline. As we work through this story I want us to see:

1. The Healing of the Woman
2. The Response of the Religious
3. The Message of the Kingdom

As we work through this story, a number of important insights and lessons are suggested to us.

1. The Healing of the Woman

We begin with the healing of the woman in verses 10-13. It’s a pretty straightforward story of this woman who has a disabling spirit, or “a spirit of disabling” or of weakness or of iniquity or sickness or disease. The word can be translated in any of those ways. It’s not clear exactly what the disease was, but the condition is that she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself.

So she comes to synagogue that day, probably not expecting to meet Jesus, who comes with the message and with the power of the kingdom of God.

I think this story of her healing shows us several things. It shows us, first of all, the compassion and the power of Jesus. We see that first, the compassion and the power of Jesus. Here is this woman doubled and bent over with her affliction, and notice what Jesus does. There are four verbs here. Jesus saw her; he had eyes of compassion and he saw her. He didn’t neglect her, he didn’t overlook her, he didn’t ignore her; he saw her. He called her over to him and said to her—he spoke, and the word “called” carries the idea of summons. He summoned her, brought her to himself, and he spoke to her. Then, in verse 13, he laid his hands on her; he touched her. She was immediately healed, her body made straight, and she glorified God.

It’s just one of many instances we have in the Gospels where Jesus shows his compassion for hurting people and his power to bring healing, restoration, comfort, forgiveness—whatever the need is—into their lives.

Brothers and sisters, let’s just pause to say that this compassion should be true of us as well. We also should have compassion for those who are disabled, for those who are sick, for those who have needs, who are experiencing physical affliction. Let’s be like Jesus; let’s have eyes to see those with these needs, and let’s minister to them in what ways we can.

The passage also shows us something about the evil of human suffering. Obviously she is a woman who has suffered greatly; she has suffered this for eighteen years, we learn. This is a particular kind of evil.

It may be helpful for us to distinguish between two kinds of evil. There’s natural evil and moral evil. We distinguish between those two things. Moral evil is evil that results from the intentions or maybe even the neglect, the decisions of human beings as moral agents. These are sins. These are evils that people do or that result from their choices.

You might think of lying and stealing and killing. Think about violence, think about political corruption, think about pride. Think about all of the things that happen in the world as a direct or an indirect cause of human sin. That’s moral evil.

Natural evil is bad things—evils—that happen in the world that are not the direct result of people’s sins. They’re not caused by the choices of human beings as moral agents. Instead, these are things that are part of the condition of a fallen world. We think of hurricanes and tornadoes and natural disasters. We think of disease and sickness—cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, ALS. These are natural evils that do not so much come upon people as a direct result of their own sin but are the conditions that we live with as people who live in a fallen world. We see that natural evil in this woman’s life.

But there is something interesting about this particular passage, because it hints at something that the Scriptures also speak about in other places. It hints that there is a malevolent force, an evil power that is behind the suffering and the evil that’s in the world. Luke tells us that this woman had “a disabling spirit.” A spirit—that means some kind of non-physical entity or being, often used to speak of either angels or demons. Then Jesus himself says in verse 16 that she had been “bound by Satan,” and it’s literally the Satan. The definite article is there. She had been bound by the Satan, the adversary, the enemy for 18 years.

It seems that in some way her malady, her sickness was caused not by her own sin, but that there was this evil power that lay behind it. We don’t have the details, we don’t know exactly what this entailed. Jesus doesn’t exorcize a demon, it doesn’t look like she’s demon-possessed, but he says she’s been bound by Satan for eighteen years.

There are other example of this in Scripture. In Acts 10:38, when the apostle Peter is giving us a summary of the ministry of Jesus, he says that God “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” That’s kind of a summary statement about Jesus’ healing ministry, but it’s expressed in this way. He healed those who were oppressed by the devil.

Then you have that famous story in the Old Testament, the story of Job. I mean, this is the quintessential story of suffering. Here’s a righteous man, a godly man who’s the most righteous man on the face of the earth at the time, and he suffers these terrible things—loss of family and loss of wealth, and he is struck from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet with boils—so much so that his friends accuse him of some hidden fault, of some hidden wrongdoing. But we know from the way the story is told that the direct agent behind all of this suffering was the adversary. It was Satan. Satan was the one who struck him.

Even the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 talks about this thorn in the flesh that was given to him. We don’t know exactly what it was, but probably some kind of physical ailment or affliction; this thorn in the flesh. He said it was given to him to keep him humble, to keep him from being exalted because of the revelations given to him. But he calls it “a messenger of Satan to torment me.”

Now, I bring all of this up because I want to bring some balance into our thinking. We Reformed types talk a lot about the sovereignty of God. We believe in a big God, a God who has wisdom and who has power and who governs the world with goodness and with wisdom. Sometimes we talk about the mystery of God’s sovereignty and his sovereignty over suffering and evil. All of that I believe is true and is right, and the Bible teaches it.

But sometimes we can be flippant in our application of that doctrine, and someone can be suffering in a particular way and we are quick to pull out a verse like Romans 8:28. “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose!” We can give the impression that God is the direct agent that’s behind your suffering right now. It can be a very cold comfort. It can be quite insensitive to people who are experiencing some kind of natural evil in our lives.

I just want to say that the Bible is a little more complicated than that. When the Bible talks about suffering, it of course teaches us that God is an omnipotent being with all power, but the Scriptures also teach that there are other forces at work in the world. There’s an enemy who has invaded God’s good creation and has brought sin and evil and suffering into the world. This world lives under a curse.

Paul tells us in Romans 8 that the world itself is in bondage to decay and to death. We just need to understand that there is a complexity to the suffering that is in the world and to the way in which God interacts with it.

I have found C.S. Lewis’s words quite helpful. This is from his wonderful book The Problem of Pain, which I commend to you. Lewis said,

“Suffering is not good in itself. In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish between (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for his redemptive purposes, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute.”

The good that is promised in Romans 8:28 is a complex good in which the dark threads of evil and suffering, culminating in the cross of Jesus Christ, are woven together so as to bring redemption into the world. But let’s not be too quick to blame every diagnosis of cancer on God. Let’s also not look for a demon behind every sickness, but let’s understand that there is an evil power that has been at work in the world since its beginning, that we live in a fallen world that’s under a curse, and that what we see in Jesus is what the power of the kingdom of God does to bring redemption. What we need and long for is the fullness of that power in our world.

That leads us to a third thing here about the healing of the woman. This is a case in point of the power of God’s kingdom breaking into human history. Every time Jesus does a miracle in the Scriptures it is both a physical miracle where someone is actually healed and it’s also what the apostle John calls a “sign.” What’s a sign? A sign is a pointer. That means it points to another reality, a deeper reality. There’s a spiritual dimension. The miracles, then, are also, in a sense, parables for us. They are pointing us to a deeper spiritual reality about the power of God’s kingdom.

What is that Jesus does? He comes on the scene and he reverses the effects of the Fall. He brings healing where there is disease; he alleviates suffering. He brings food to the hungry, he brings forgiveness to the guilty. In every case he’s pushing back against the effects of the fall as he brings the reign of God, the kingdom of God, to bear in human lives.

This is exactly what Jesus said he would do in his very first sermon in a synagogue, recorded for us in Luke 4:16-21.

It says that “he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.’”

And then he says, “Today this has been fulfilled in your eyes. This is what I came to do!”

This story of the healing of this woman with a disabling spirit is a case in point of Jesus bringing liberty to the oppressed. In fact, this story in Luke 13 is the last time in the Gospel of Luke we will find Jesus preaching in a synagogue. This will lead to this growing escalation of conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders that will eventually culminate in the cross. But don’t miss that the healing of this woman is a case study of the power of Jesus the King, the power of the kingdom of God at work. It’s pointing us to the deeper reality that will be fulfilled when Jesus comes again, when all things will be made new, when the world (which is in bondage) will be set free. We can say that this woman in her crippled condition in a way is a picture of the whole world that is crippled by the fall, and just as Jesus brought her healing so Jesus will bring healing to our broken world.

Do you remember that wonderful line from Tolkien in The Return of the King? When Aragorn, the exiled king of Gondor, comes back to the city of Gondor, and he goes into this hospital-like place, the Houses of Healing, where all these people are who have been injured in battle, and he lays his hands on them and they are healed. There’s a proverb, and somebody quotes it: “The hands of a king are the hands of a healer, and thus shall the rightful king be known.”

So it was with Jesus. He was showing his kingship, that he is the one bringing the kingdom of God, the reign of God to earth. He was showing it through his healing ministry. So we see the healing of the woman.

2. The Response of the Religious

Then, secondly, notice the response of the religious. This is something. You have here religious people who are coming to the synagogue on the Sabbath day—a holy time, holy place—and they are coming to worship God. Here is the power of the kingdom of God in their midst, and how do they respond? Look at verse 14.

“But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, ‘There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’”

He’s speaking to the people, but it’s really a message to the woman: “Don’t come for healing on the Sabbath.” And it’s a message to Jesus: “Save your healing tricks for a different day.”

Jesus responds to him in verse 15. “Then the Lord answered him, ‘You hypocrites!’” Jesus often calls the religious leaders hypocrites. The word “hypocrite” literally means an actor. It was the word for a stage actor, someone who acted wearing a mask. He calls them hypocrites because of their pretense, because they act in ways that are not true to their hearts. They pretend to be something that they are not.

He says, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

There’s a little play on words. “You’re a hypocrite,” he says, “because you untie your animals, which are bound, to give them water. You care about meeting your animals’ needs. Should not you care about this woman who is bound, and for her to be untied, for her to be loosed, for her to be freed?” Their hypocrisy is they care more about the rights of their own animals than they care about human suffering. So Jesus rebukes them.

I think when you situate this encounter of Jesus with the religious within the unfolding narrative of Luke it shows us two things about religion without Jesus. The word “religion” can be a positive word in the Bible, it can be neutral, and it can be negative. So I’m going to use it in a negative way. Religion without Jesus is the externals of religion—going to synagogue, going to church, keeping the Sabbath, giving your alms, listening to sermons, going through the ceremonies, going through the rituals. You can do all of that and miss the kingdom of God, miss Jesus. There are two problems that I think are very clear when you see this in light of what has come directly before in this passage.

(1) The first is the problem of spiritual blindness, because in Luke 12:54 Jesus is speaking to the crowds, and I think he’s speaking about the religious people of the day, and he says, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! [There it is again.] You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”

Jesus is saying, “You know how to read the weather, but you’re missing the kingdom of God right in front of you! You know how to interpret the weather, but you’re missing what’s going on right under your noses,” because they were missing Jesus. They were missing God’s work. They were missing the kingdom of God; in fact, the King himself who was right there. It’s a problem of spiritual blindness. People were involved in religion but they didn’t see spiritual reality, they didn’t see Jesus.

How might we miss the work of God among us today? This can be our problem as well, spiritual blindness. We can miss it by busyness. We’re just too busy to notice. We’re just not paying attention. We can miss it by measuring success in worldly standards: money and numbers. “When the church is full and the bank accounts are full, God must be blessing.” Well, maybe, but maybe not.

On the other hand, even when there aren’t lots of numbers and there isn’t a lot of money, if the work of God is going on quietly, imperceptibly in the hearts of people bringing faith, bringing repentance, that is the real work of God. We can miss it by shutting ourselves out, closing ourselves off to God’s voice, not letting the word of God penetrate, not letting the conviction bring change and transformation. If so, we also are spiritually blind.

(2) The second problem is what we might call the problem of spiritual barrenness. I draw this from the parable that Jesus gives immediately before this passage. Now it’s Luke 13:6-9.

“And he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, “Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?” And he answered him, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.”’”

I don’t think that parable is hard to understand. I think Jesus has in his earthly ministry been looking for fruit within his own people, within the Jewish people, within Judaism. There’s no fruit there. It’s a barren fig tree. It’s the barrenness of religion without Jesus.

Now he comes into the synagogue, he heals a woman, and the response of the leaders is a case in point of the exact things he’s been teaching the crowds: spiritual blindness, spiritual barrenness. You read the weather but you miss the kingdom. There’s no fruit of compassion and of love and of grace in your lives. It’s the barrenness of religion without Jesus.

Again, we just have to hold a mirror up to ourselves and ask ourselves, is this true of our own lives? We also can be guilty of hypocrisy and of spiritual barrenness and a lack of fruit when we are so concerned with the minutiae of religion but we miss the needs of people. When we care about our legalistic preferences while we are marginalizing and neglecting people with real needs.

Hear these words of Jesus from Matthew 23. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin—” There are two kinds of people in the world, those who say “cue-min” and those who say “cumin.” I’ve looked it up; they’re both right pronunciations. “You tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

It’s the barrenness and the blindness of religion without Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, in all of our efforts to be a part of organized religion, to be a part of the church—and you know me, I believe in the church, I’m glad you’re here; this is important, what we’re doing—let’s not miss Jesus in it. The important thing is not the church per se, it’s not religion, it’s Jesus himself.

3. The Message of the Kingdom

So we see the healing of the woman, we see the response of the religious, and then in Jesus’ response to what has just happened we see the message of the kingdom. Jesus responds. Verse 17 gives the response of people after Jesus has spoken. “As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.” But then look at verse 18. “He said therefore…”

That “therefore” is important. That is a connective; that’s an important word that connects what Jesus says here directly with what went before. Because of what just happened, Jesus now says this, and he gives two parables.

“He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’

“And again he said, ‘To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven [or yeast] that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.’”

I think this shows us three things about the kingdom of God—really quickly.

(1) Number one, it shows us the power of the kingdom. What Jesus says here is connected to the power that has just been demonstrated in the healing of this crippled woman, something that maybe did not seem all that significant to the ruler of the synagogue. He was ready to brush it aside, to discount, to criticize, and yet it was a real demonstration of Jesus’ power.

In the parables that Jesus gives, the power is found in something really small that then grows large or has pervasive influence. So, a mustard seed is really small, and yet it grows into a large shrub, a large bush, in an ancient Jewish person’s garden, in which the birds could come and build their nests. But it starts tiny.

And leaven—just a little bit of leaven, a little bit of yeast has a pervasive influence on the whole lump of dough. I think it’s an illustration of the power of the kingdom of God, which starts small. It begins with small, seemingly insignificant things to human perception, and yet there’s power there.

This can be really encouraging to us as we think about the power of the message of Jesus Christ, the power of the gospel, to bring change and transformation in our own hearts and lives.

I was reading this week in preparation for this Bishop J.C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke, a wonderful devotional reading. I would recommend it to you. And this encouraged me; I hope this will encourage you. He said,

“We need not doubt that this mighty miracle was intended to supply hope and comfort to sin-diseased souls. With Christ, nothing is impossible. He can create and transform and renew and break down and build and quicken with irresistible power. Let us never despair about our own salvation. Our sins may be countless, our lives may have been spent in worldliness and folly, our youth may have been wanted in soul-defiling excesses of which we are lamentably ashamed, but are we willing to come to Christ and commit our souls to him? If so, there is hope. He can heal us thoroughly and say, ‘You are loosed from your infirmity.’”

Then he says,

“Let us never despair about the salvation of others, so long as they are alive. Let us name them before the Lord day and night and cry to him on their behalf. We may perhaps have relatives whose case seems desperate because of their wickedness, but it is not really so. There are no incurable cases with Christ. If he were to lay his healing hand on them, they would be made straight and glorify God. Let us pray on and faint not.”

There’s power in the message of Jesus, power in the kingdom of God.

(2) Secondly, the progress of the kingdom. Ryle says that the parable of the mustard seed shows the progress of the gospel in the world—it starts small, grows large, and the idea there is that the tree represents the kingdom of God and the birds in the tree represent the nations, the Gentiles, coming and having their place in the kingdom. He says the parable of the leaven shows the progress of the gospel in the heart of the believer.

Whatever the exact reference here, what’s clear is that something small has influence, and it grows. A small seed grows, and the yeast mixed in with the flour has a pervasive influence, so that all of the dough is leavened.

It’s interesting that leaven is usually a negative image in Scripture. It’s usually negative, but here Jesus uses it in a positive way, and it’s almost an exaggerated parable, because when he says three measures of flour, we can miss that, but that’s twenty-six quarts of flour, which is fifty pounds. That’s a lot of dough! She’s not just making a batch of bread for Sabbath lunch, she’s making a meal for a party. And just that little bit of yeast affects the whole lump of dough.

I think it teaches us something about the nature of the kingdom of God. It starts small, with this Jewish rabbi in Palestine two thousand years ago, and just a small band of believers; but slowly, imperceptibly, sometimes invisibly, sometimes it looks like the church is going to be stamped out, but the kingdom of God makes progress and grows, so that now there are thousands upon thousands all across the face of the earth who worship the name of Jesus Christ.

In our lives as well the work of God often begins slowly. It’s just a whisper of conviction of sin. It’s an inclination to crack open the Bible and to start reading it, or to get on our knees and pray. It’s a curiosity about Jesus, or maybe it’s this sense, “Maybe I should start taking my family to church.” But slowly, almost imperceptibly, you begin to change. Your heart begins to change, your desires begin to get sorted out. You start dealing with bad habits and sinful thought patterns and your relationships. It has a pervasive effect as your life begins to change. Why? Because you’re coming under the reign of Jesus, the King. Your life is getting sorted out and you’re beginning to live as Jesus would have you live. It’s the progress of the kingdom of God.

We’re to pray, Jesus say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

(3) Finally, one more thing, the paradox of the kingdom. It’s an apparent contradiction. It’s not really a contradiction, it’s a paradox: something really small that becomes really great. This is a pattern that we see over and over again in the Gospels and the life of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and Scripture: it’s through weakness that we see the strength of God demonstrated. It’s the humble who are exalted. It’s the outsiders, it’s the weak and the infirm and the sick and the poor, it’s the tax collectors and sinners—they’re the ones that are brought into the kingdom of God, a reversal of our expectations. And it’s through the humility of Jesus, who humbles himself and becomes a servant and goes all the way to the cross—it’s through that humiliation that exaltation comes. It’s through his apparent defeat in death as he is crucified as a common criminal that he brings salvation and redemption to the world. It’s through suffering that we see glory. It’s the paradox of the kingdom.

Do you remember Amy Carmichael? She was that young Irish woman who became a Christian and felt called to be a missionary to India. She was never married, she went to India, founded an orphanage, and she served there for fifty-five years, living a life of self-denial and sacrifice, taking care of these orphaned children. She wrote thirty-five books, including much beautiful poetry, and she wrote this poem called “Divine Paradox.”

But all through life I see a cross
Where sons of God yield up their breath;
There is no gain except by loss
There is no life except by death;
And no full vision but by faith
No glory but by bearing blame.
And that Eternal Passion saith:
“Be emptied of glory and right and name.”

That’s the pattern. It’s the pattern that Jesus himself lived by as he embraced the cross, as he suffered in our place so that we through his suffering could be healed and restored. It’s the path of discipleship for us as we follow Jesus in his footsteps on this Calvary road; as we take up our cross, as we deny ourselves, and we love others in Jesus’ name, believing that in our weakness he will be strong, as we humble ourselves we will be exalted, that true greatness is found in servanthood, that true life is found in dying to ourselves.

Have you experienced that today? Do you know anything of this paradoxical power of the kingdom of God in your life? I hope you do, but if you don’t, let me invite you today to look to Jesus, see his beautiful life, embrace him as your Savior, follow him as your example, and learn to live in the power of the kingdom of God. Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank you this morning for this beautiful story of the power of the Lord Jesus and his compassion for this disabled woman and what he did for her and what he has taught us through it and through your word. We ask you now, Lord, by your Spirit to take these truths and apply them to our hearts. Lord, we confess our need for it. There’s a sense in which we also are crippled and disabled and we need to be straightened. We’ve been broken by sin, and we need to be healed. Lord, we live in a broken world that is in need of your redemptive power and grace. Lord, you’ve called us as your people to be ambassadors representing the message of the kingdom to others. So we ask you, Lord, to help us. Help us to see it, to believe it, to embrace it, and to live in this way which you’ve called us to.

As we come to the Lord’s table this morning we ask you, Lord, to prepare our hearts for it, that we experience a real fellowship with Jesus Christ through faith. We come, Lord, not trusting in ourselves; we come trusting in him and in him alone and what he has done for us. We pray that you would be glorified in this time together. So draw near to us, we pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.