(A) Introduction. Read: Luke13v10to21

I am going to deal with the Parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast together with the miraculous healing of the crippled woman because the synagogue ruler's reaction to the Sabbath healing was what prompted the parables. It is a mistake to divorce the parables from their context.

The passage lends itself to four headings:


(1) A daughter of Abraham.

Jesus said of the crippled woman: "Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen years be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her." v16.

Jesus did a lovely thing when he called the woman a daughter of Abraham. In his eyes she was as much a child of promise as any other person in the synagogue. She was in the synagogue notwithstanding her affliction and in all probability she shared Abraham's faith.

We need to remember the attitude of Jesus when confronted with physically or mentally handicapped people. We should show them the respect Jesus showed the crippled woman.

The woman also set a good example. We should never stop away from church if we are distressed or afflicted. That surely is the best place to be in time of trouble. We had a mother and two sons in our congregation last Sunday who had just lost a dear husband and father. David Piper, our speaker in the morning, preached a wonderfully comforting sermon on Psalm 23. Church is the place of unexpected blessing!

The woman's example should be a very real challenge to us. Think how difficult it was for her to get to the synagogue in her condition. She wasn't particularly welcome! She didn't have a lot to thank God for! Yet for 18 long years come the Sabbath she was in the synagogue. Her determination to worship God puts to shame those who need little excuse to stop away from church.

(2) A life that was spoiled.

The woman's life was spoiled by:

    (a) Physical disability. She was crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. v10and11. When Dr Luke, the gospel writer, states the woman was crippled by a spirit it is his way of describing what had happened to her in the absence modern medical knowledge. It is the best he could do. In all probability the woman suffered from spondylitis deformans - a disease, like arthritis, of the immune system that results in the spinal vertebra being progressively fused together by bony growths. The cause of the disease is still not properly understood! It is both painful and chronically debilitating. It is significant Jesus said she had the problem for eighteen LONG years.

    (b) Public opinion. The woman aroused a variety of reactions all of which tended to isolate her. Some pitied her; others despised her as a freak, while those who believed her disability was a consequence of personal sin disapproved of her. She wasn't treated like a normal person. I can remember how one of my pupils fought a brave but losing fight against leukaemia. His parents said, "All Simon ever wanted was to be a normal boy."

    (c) Satan. Jesus said of her: "Whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years." v16.

    Satan used the woman's condition to encourage destructive thoughts. We can imagine her thinking: "I've deserved this. God is displeased with me. I am being punished for my sins. God cannot approve of me. What can I do to please him? How can I be released?" Such thoughts were like a net binding her in doubt, despondency and despair.

(3) Application to Christians.

There are many Christians whose lives are spoiled. They are bowed down by:

    (a) Illness.
    (b) A great loss - divorce, death, redundancy, the apostasy of loved ones.
    (c) Poverty.
    (d) Failure in service.
    (e) Disappointment and frustration - singleness, childlessness, friendlessness, unemployment.
    (f) Addictions, inhibitions, phobias.
    (g) Overwhelming responsibility.

Let us just consider a Christian woman who has been abandoned by her husband after a marriage lasting 25 years. Satan will use this to oppress and bind. He will promote binding thoughts like: "Where did I go wrong. I could have done more. How can I get him back. Perhaps I am a bad person and deserve it. God cannot love me."


The passage tells us four things about Jesus' approach to the woman:

(1) He saw her. When Jesus saw her. v12.

The crippled woman did not go unnoticed. Jesus did not ignore her or reject her in the fashion of so many others. He does not change! Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. So be sure he is aware of your troubles. I like the words of the Sankey hymn, 'There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus':

            There's not an hour that He is not near us,
            No, not one! No, not one!
            No night so dark but his love can cheer us,
            No, not one! No, not one!
            Jesus knows all about our struggles;
            He will guide till the day is done:
            There's not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
            No, not one! No, not one!

(2) He called her forward. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward. v12.

Jesus invites all those who are weary and heavy laden to come to him. He said: "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Mt12v28and29.

This seems a very strange thing for Jesus to say because his burden seemed anything but light - especially in the Garden of Gethsemane. But Jesus was humble and submissive to God. There is no doubt that his burden was lightened by remaining in the will of his Father in heaven. We are in the will of God when we come to Jesus in submission and obedience and this certainly does ease our yoke and lighten our burden.

(3) He put his hands on her. Then he put his hands on her.

Jesus still puts hands on the oppressed - using a great variety of means. I have dealt with this many times in the course of my expositions. F.W. Boreham's parents went through a dark and frightening time until the month changed and his mother looked at the new text on the wall calendar. It said: Hitherto hath the LORD helped us. 1Sam7v12.. The gloom was lifted and binding power of Satan was broken. In her book, 'In My Father's House,' Corrie ten Boom deals with Tante Jans' fear of dying. She was an evangelist of rare power and zeal yet she dreaded death. But when death beckoned Tante Jans was able to say: "Jesus said, 'I give my sheep everlasting life.' That's good ..... I can't do anything more ..... . I'm safe in the hands of the Good Shepherd who gave his life for us." When the hour of death came Jesus broke the binding power of fear. The great apostle Paul admitted that when he entered Corinth he trembled with apprehension at the task facing him. He was bound with a sense of his own inadequacy. He wrote in 1 Cor2v3: I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. Jesus came to Paul and his words were the equivalent of an arm around the shoulder: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no-one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city." Acts18v9and10.

(4) He set her free. "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." Then he put his hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God. v12and13.

Jesus sets Christians free from guilt, self-reproach, low self-esteem, longing, doubt, despondency, disappointment and fear. I have witnessed many Christians who have suffered grievous, crippling blows but have been able, with Christ's help, to rise above circumstances.

I have told the story of a lady burdened by childlessness after many years of trying. See Acts2v14to41 There is no doubt that Satan used her disappointment to bind her. But one evening she heard me preach on Hannah's prayer. See exposition on 1Sam1v1to20. The Lord used the sermon to set the lady free - and soon afterwards she conceived a son. I wish things like that happened more often when I preach!

What happiness the crippled woman experienced when she was set free from Satan's bonds. She straightened up and praised God. F.W. Boreham's father framed the text on the wall calendar that set him and his wife free. It hung as a continual reminder of the releasing power of God's mighty word.


The ruler of the synagogue who reproved Jesus was:

(1) Cowardly.

He mounted an indirect attack on Jesus: The synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work so come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." v14.

This remains a very common approach. It is used by schoolteachers and even church leaders who have been upset by the behaviour of the few. Instead of identifying the troublemakers and addressing them they take all under their care to task saying something like: "There are people who .... ." This is likely to cause resentment in the majority who feel they have done nothing to deserve a dressing down.

The opponents of Jesus continue to attack him indirectly. It is still quite rare for militant secularists to openly criticise Jesus. Instead the church is derided as an outdated institution or Christians are accused of superstition and bigotry.

(2) Legalistic.

The ruler of the synagogue was probably a Pharisee and more interested in a system of rules and regulations than the welfare of the sick. His brand of Theology was more important than serving God and doing good. Jesus' priority was very different. He chose to set a poor, bound woman free rather than stick to the letter of the law.

A minority of Christians remain obsessed by their system of Theology - by their denominational distinctives. I have heard men rejoice because a 'Reformed' witness has been established in a town. To them any church with a whiff of Arminianism about it is barely Christian!! There again, not long ago, I met a man who was sponsored by his fellowship in America to do a church planting work in England. The sponsorship was withdrawn when he preached a sermon on election to his own people. When Billy Graham was conducting his great evangelical crusade in Britain there were Protestant groups who refused to support him because of his willingness to co-operate with Roman Catholics.

(3) A hypocrite

The ruler of the synagogue didn't practice what he preached. He said: "There are six days to work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." Yet he, along with others in the synagogue who agreed with him, were quite prepared to work on behalf of their donkeys and oxen. The Pharisees had one rule for the crippled woman and another for their donkeys. The woman could remain bound for another day - but an ox could be loosed and led to water. Jesus' words were scathing: "Don't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water." v15.

Hypocrisy exists whenever Christians pretend to be better than they are. I have heard Christians profess to love one another when there are believers in the church who are never helped, never visited and never entertained for a meal. How can we love a brother and criticise him behind his back? How can we love a sister and deny her, out of jealousy, the opportunity to serve? How can we love our pastor and go running off to listen to someone more exciting on Sunday evenings? How can we love any Christian in our church and ignore their needs?

(4) Materialistic.

The ruler of the synagogue and many of the Pharisees he represented cared more about their donkeys, which were worth a lot of money, than about poor, crippled, oppressed women. As far as the religious elite were concerned a deformed woman was of little value.

Some Christians remain obsessed by things. We have all come across the house proud woman whose house we dare hardly visit with children. Perhaps, you know a man who is mortally offended if someone dings his motor. In one episode of the British comedy, 'The Thin Blue Line,' Inspector Grim came steaming into the police station because a 'criminal' had dinged his motor.' He expended all his time and energy to discover the culprit. There was no crime like the crime of dinging his motor. My father, a poorly paid Grace Baptist pastor, often used to bemoan the fact that a significant number of Christians cared more about the upkeep of the building they worshipped in than his upkeep. There have always been Christians keener to invest in bricks and mortar than people.

(D) A SITUATION that would be REPEATED.

The parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast arose out of the disagreement between Jesus and the ruler of the synagogue. The parables are introduced by: Then Jesus asked .... v18. The parables indicate that Jesus was very realistic about the future nature of the church. He realised that the attitudes spoiling Judaism, evident in the reaction of the Pharisees, would be repeated in the kingdom of God - the church.

The parables were NOT told to highlight the growth and triumph of the gospel from small beginnings but to warn that the church would not be immune to evil but infected by the very ills that blighted Judaism. It is possible to find this teaching of Jesus either deeply depressing or very challenging!

So let us look at the two parables:

(1) The Parable of the Mustard Seed.

A Black Mustard seed will grow spectacularly quickly into a large, branching plant between 10 and 15 feet high. It would be large enough for birds, the enemy of the gardener, to perch.

This is a picture of rapid church growth from small beginnings. Unwelcome visitors are attracted whenever the church grows like this and becomes both strong and influential. People will join for power, wealth and status. This was true when the church became dominant in the Roman Empire by the 4th century AD. It was also the case in the Middle Ages when the church was all powerful and during the ascent of Puritanism under Oliver Cromwell. Today, men and woman are far more likely to join the church in America for wealth and status than the church struggling for survival in Western Europe.

Needless to say it has always been very, very, bad for the church whenever people are attracted to it for personal advancement and glory. Like birds in the mustard plant they are predatory and alien influences.

(2) The Parable of the Yeast.

Yeast is invariably used as symbol of corruption in the Bible. Jesus does not teach the same truth in this parable as when he referred to his disciples as the salt of the earth and the light of the world. See Mt5v13to16.

Jesus reminded his listeners how a small amount of yeast if worked into a large amount of flour (56lbs of it!) will affect the whole batch. Satan works some evil tendencies into the church to such effect that they affect us all. For example:

    (a) Pride in being right.

    This was, perhaps, the Pharisee's chief sin. It gave rise to legalism and intolerance. Pharisees lacked love and mercy and had no conception of God's grace.

    Pride in being right is very widespread in the church. It is what divides the church. It drives Christians apart in clear disobedience of Christ's demand that we remain united. Pride is the greatest of sins.

    (b) Hypocrisy.

    Most Christians are unwilling to face up to their failures and pretend that they are better than they really are. Lack of true humility is associated with self-righteousness, priggishness, censoriousness and an unforgiving spirit.

    (b) Materialism.

    We need to accept that in all probability we are over enthusiastic for worldly success and the wealth and possessions that go with it. Some Christians even see these things as a sign that God is pleased with them!! In this they bear a remarkable resemblance to the Pharisees. A preoccupation with worldly advancement is one of the greatest hindrances to effective Christian service.

    (d) A failure to take Jesus seriously.

    Christians would never openly confess to this but nevertheless they may have reservations in their hearts about Jesus' unrealistic demands. We can say to ourselves: "He expects too much." We can play lip service to being his servants without having any real intention of serving others.

(E) Conclusion.

There is a very real contrast in the passage between the wonderful work of Jesus - his saving and restoring work - that transformed the life of a poor, bound woman AND the carping, loveless criticism of a self-righteous, legalistic, Pharisee. Jesus' action captures something of the light and liberty of the gospel whereas the the ruler's reaction has about it something of the night.

It is possible for Christian practice to cast a shadow on the gospel - to almost overwhelm it - to spoil the life and witness of Christ's church. That is the grim message of the Parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast.