Summary: Jesus' healing of a man on the Sabbath teaches us several truths about Jesus.
During the last few months of Jesus’ life, opposition to him grew. Herod wanted to kill Jesus (Luke 13:13), and the scribes and Pharisees were “lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say” (Luke 11:54) or do. In their desire to get rid of Jesus, the Pharisees set up a man with an illness on a Sabbath day to see what Jesus would do so that they could “catch him” breaking their misinterpretation of God’s law.
Let’s read about Jesus’ healing of a man on the Sabbath in Luke 14:1-6:
1 One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. 2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” 4 But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things. (Luke 14:1-6)
Luke was the author of The Gospel of Luke. We know that Luke was a physician (cf. Colossians 4:14), and so it is not surprising that he records many miraculous healings performed by Jesus. For example, Luke said that when Jesus was in the city of Capernaum, “all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (4:40). Later, “a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon . . . came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases . . . . And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all” (6:17-19). Jesus healed countless numbers of people in a miraculous manner.
One would think that Jesus would be enormously popular because he healed so many people. However, Jesus encountered a problem because he did not heal on just six days of the week; he healed on all seven days of the week.
William Barclay notes in his commentary on The Gospel of Luke:
In the gospel story there are seven incidents in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath day. In Luke we have already studied the story of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law (4:38); of the man with the withered hand (6:6); and of the woman who was bent for eighteen years (13:13). To these John adds the story of the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:9); and of the man born blind (John 9:14). Mark adds one more – the healing of the demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21).
The problem Jesus encountered was that every miraculous healing he performed on the Sabbath day only made the scribes (i.e., lawyers) and Pharisees more certain that Jesus was a law-breaker. According to their misunderstanding of the law, Jesus “healed on the Sabbath; therefore he worked on the Sabbath; therefore he broke the law.”
So, in today’s lesson Luke gives us the fourth incident he recorded (cf. Luke 4:38; 6:6; 13:13; 14:1-6), as well as the seventh incident in the Gospels, in which Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath day.
The analysis of Jesus’ healing of a man on the Sabbath as set forth in Luke 14:1-6 teaches us several truths about Jesus.
Let’s use the following outline, which is borrowed from Bishop J. C. Ryle:
1. Jesus Accepted Every Invitation of Hospitality (14:1a)
2. Jesus Was Watched By His Enemies (14:1b)
3. Jesus Asserted the Lawfulness of Doing Works of Mercy on the Sabbath (14:2-6)
I. Jesus Accepted Every Invitation of Hospitality (14:1a)
First, Jesus accepted every invitation of hospitality.
Luke said that one Sabbath, Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees (14:1a). It was common for a visiting rabbi to be invited to a meal. It is likely that this ruler of the Pharisees noticed Jesus at the synagogue. Luke did not state whether or not Jesus taught that day. Nevertheless, Jesus went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees on that particular Sabbath day.
Although there were some Pharisees who became disciples of Jesus (one thinks of Nicodemus), it is likely – because of what transpired – that this ruler of the Pharisees was no friend to Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus accepted the invitation.
If we want to know how Jesus interacted with his host, the ruler of the Pharisees, we simply have to read the first twenty-four verses of chapter 14. We find Jesus – as he always did – going about his heavenly Father’s business. We see him defending the true purpose of the Sabbath day. We then see Jesus expounding the nature of true humility. Then Jesus taught his host about true hospitality. Finally, Jesus taught about the invitation to the Great Banquet. And all of his teaching was done in a wise, calm, gracious, and dignified manner. As was the case on every other occasion, Jesus always “said the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way. He never forgot, for a moment, who he was and where he was.”