The Chain Breaker

Luke: The Road to Jerusalem  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:04:30
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The Chain Breaker
Justin Gatlin
Luke: The Road to Jerusalem / Luke 13:10–17

Kid Time

Daniel 3:12–18 KJV
There are certain Jews whom thou hast set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; these men, O king, have not regarded thee: they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up. Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of musick, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
God is good, even if He doesn’t do what I want.


A while back, I chased a rabbit trail about the placebo effect. You are familiar with the basic idea: sometimes people get better taking a sugar pill because they expect to get better. But I was curious about how often that happens. So, I dug into some research about placebo effects in clinical trials, where they test new medicines. Some people get placebo, some get the new drug, and you compare the results. The patients don’t know which they are getting, and neither do the doctors. Some of the people in trials die. Some get better. Some drop out, often because the side effects of the medicine are more than they can handle. But here is the twist: most people who drop out of a clinical trial because of severe side effects are getting a placebo - not real medicine.
Isn’t that amazing? Your mind, body, and spirit are intimately interconnected. God designed it that way. Your ultimate hope is not to be a disembodied spirit in heaven but that God will raise this mortal body in glory. In the meantime, each part of who you are affects every other. This is why the Bible links physical and spiritual things all the time.
In times of great reverence, the Bible tells us, “O come, let us worship and bow down: Let us kneel before the Lord our maker (Psalm 95:6)” In times of worship, Lamentations 3:41 says, “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” In grief, Moses lay down on his face before the Lord (Deuteronomy 9:25). God calls on us to clap our hands (Psalm 47:1), and to shout for joy (Psalm 132:9). These are not really separate things, but the inner man affecting the body and the body affecting the inner man. You may have experienced that just as joy leads to smiling, smiling can sometimes lead to joy. We can fall on our knees before God because of our humility, or we can fall on our knees to teach ourselves to be humble. It is all connected.
Today, we turn to a brief but powerful story of Jesus and a woman who had been spiritually and physically broken down for eighteen years. Instead of traditional points, we will think about the scenes in the story: the setting, the hero’s action, and the conflict it brings. Please stand with me in honor of the reading of God’s Word to Luke 13:10. <Read Text>

The Setting

The setting – Let’s set the stage.
Luke 13:10–11 KJV
And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath day. The people stood to listen, and the teacher sat, so imagine the shuffling of bodies, adjusting their weight, standing closely pressed together. There’s Jesus - on a platform with a scroll, the Living Word of God teaching the written Word of God. This is a teaching service. This woman has not come to be healed but to hear. Of course, hearing the Word of God can heal our hearts.
This is a real woman, who has come to hear God’s Word. Imagine all of the excuses she could have made to stay home. She has been hunched over and unable to stand properly for 18 years. Every step down the streets was uncomfortable. She would not have a good view when she finally arrived. But she came anyway. I don’t know which church service God will use to change your life, but I know it will not be the one you miss. She has a problem, and not just a medical one. This woman has a “spirit of infirmity.” That might be a metaphor in some circumstances, but in verse 16, Jesus explicitly tells us that Satan had bound her for 18 years. Her body was affected by spiritual warfare. This is why I think her visible problem was almost certainly part of a matched set with an invisible one. She was not possessed: Jesus does not treat it as an exorcism. This was something that had happened to her years before, which had left a lasting mark. Going through trials is not a sign of sin – remember our discussion last week of those who died in the tower or were killed by Pilate? No, it can just be the collateral damage of living in the world of demonic and human rebellion against God. We live in a war zone between God and evil, and the scars of the conflict show on our bodies, minds, and spirits. Her body is bowed down. A picture for mourning and grief.
The Bible uses the language of “bowed down” for depression, but you already knew that they were connected. When you are discouraged, you hunch forward and look down. In the same way, when you keep your eyes fixed on the ground, you can grow depressed and disoriented. Here is a woman who cannot see Jesus clearly because her body has twisted her into a pretzel, and all she can see is down.
I have heard from my friends with clinical depression and similar conditions like anxiety that their physical ailment is like this. Their brain cannot process the good - that cannot be for me; it must belong to someone else. And their brain seized onto the bad - they must be angry with me. I must be doing something wrong. It is hard, perhaps impossible, to separate the physical and spiritual in circumstances like this. Satan binds this woman, mind, and body alike. The word for “bound” is the same word used for the chains that bound Paul in prison - she is stuck!
Notice, too, that there is nothing she can do. She “could in no wise lift up herself.” It is beyond her power. Her bones are locked, and her eyes can only glance up to the heavens with extraordinary effort. Her problem is too great for her. She isn’t at fault - Jesus doesn’t tell her, “Go and sin no more.” Being bound by Satan is not because she served Satan but simply because she lives in an evil world where Satan is active, cunning, and powerful.
I have never suffered from something like this, so let me share the words of Charles Spurgeon, often called the prince of preachers (and not just because he has my birthday), who often endured what he called back then “fainting fits” but we would call “depression” today. I am sure many people told this godly man to “snap out of it,” or “pull yourself together.” So it seems kind of personal when he imagines the kind of “advice” this woman probably received.
The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. XXIV The Lifting up of the Bowed down (No. 1,426)
There may have been a time, perhaps, when her older sisters said, “Sister, you should keep yourself more upright; you should not be so round shouldered; you are getting quite out of figure; you must be careful or you will become deformed.” Dear me, what good advice some people can give! Advice is usually given gratis, and this is very proper, since in most cases that is its full value. Advice given to persons who become depressed in spirit is usually unwise, and causes pain and aggravation of spirit. I sometimes wish that those who are so ready with their advice had themselves suffered a little, for then, perhaps, they would have the wisdom to hold their tongues. Of what use is it to advise a blind person to see, or to tell one who cannot lift up herself that she ought to be upright, and should not look so much upon the earth? This is a needless increase of misery. Some persons who pretend to be comforters might more fitly be classed with tormentors. A spiritual infirmity is as real as a physical one. When Satan binds a soul it is as truly bound as when a man binds an ox or an ass. It cannot get free, it is of necessity in bondage; and that was the condition of this poor woman. I may be speaking to some who have bravely attempted to rally their spirits: they have tried change of scene, they have gone into godly company, they have asked Christian people to comfort them, they have frequented the house of God, and read consoling books; but still they are bound, and there is no disputing it.
Is that you? It is a somber scene. When Brother Daniel Moore was here a few weeks ago, he pointed out how even the great prophet Elijah went through the same kind of discouragement. Satan convinced him he was all alone; he believed there was no hope, and his body was exhausted and hungry (it’s all connected). But it is in this setting that the Master comes to rescue. In the darkness, He shines all the brighter.

The Hero Acts

Look with me in verse 12, where our Hero takes his rightful place in the story.
Luke 13:12 KJV
And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
I don’t think I can go past the first words here. Jesus saw her. Have you ever lost somebody in a crowd? Dad took me to NQC when I was a teenager and I told my Mom that if got separated, I would just find whoever was clapping on 1 and 3. That… did not work. Colleen is 5’2”. Sometimes, in a crowd, I lose track of her. I have to yell “new phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways” until I hear her say, “It’s still rock and roll to me.” It’s like sonar.
Imagine this woman, hunched over, unable to stand up straight, in the crowded synagogue. Unable to lift her body up at all, she can barely see Jesus - but Jesus saw her.
Isn’t that one of the most beautiful things you have ever heard? When sickness, discouragement, sin, loneliness - whatever it may be - blocks your view of Jesus, He sees you anyway. He saw you before there was any you to see. From the foundation of the world, He knew your name, and if He foreknew that you would trust Him, He wrote your name in His book. He sees you, and no infirmity can block His view. Like a parent who sees a child through a dirty face – He recognizes you. He knows you. But seeing her is not the end of the story. He doesn’t see her like you might see a sad story on the nightly news and say, “Oh, how sad,” before forgetting they existed. No, he saw her and then called her.
And it didn’t even stop there. He didn’t give her some advice or some exercises to do to unbend her spine. He looked at her and simply declared her freedom as a fact: “Woman, thou are loosed from thine infirmity.” I break the chains of weakness that have held you for so long. The ones that have held you for 18 years are mine in a moment. You are free.
You - the one who just came to hear His Word with no real hope of being changed. You - bent down and discouraged, aching with pain and blistered from the chains of the Devil. Jesus has come down for you, from the throne of Heaven to a rugged cross, and now He looks at you with love in His eyes and says Matthew 11:28–29, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Jesus has come to break the chains that hold you. How? By taking them on Himself. When He, the innocent Lamb, died on the cross in my place, He bore everything that was rightfully mine and carried it away. When He was nailed to the cross, He was truly alone - My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me? His body was tormented, and his back would not bend because of the nails on either side. The shame, the death - it all became His so He could take it away from us. Let’s see it happen:
Luke 13:13 KJV
And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
He called her to himself, laid His hands on her, and immediately healed her. But “immediately” is an interesting word here because it was immediately… after 18 years. A Christian can struggle for a long time, and then suddenly, with perfect timing, God can act. Other times, He breaks our chains differently. Your sickness, anxiety, or family problems may still be present but no longer hold you.
As a close friend and travelling companion of the Apostle Paul, Luke knew this very well.
2 Corinthians 12:7 KJV
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
We don’t know what this “messenger of Satan to smack me around” was, but it was bad!.
2 Corinthians 12:8 KJV
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
Paul had a problem, and he wanted it to go away. For three seasons of prayer, he begged God to take it away. Some TV evangelists or well-meaning friends might tell you that God will always do that; you just need to be righteous and have enough faith. But it would be hard to be more righteous than Paul, who wrote 13 books of the Bible and did more, humanly speaking, to spread the gospel than any other man in history. And how did God respond?
2 Corinthians 12:9–10 KJV
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
God told him, “no.” “No, I will not take it away. My grace is enough for you. You don’t need a life with less pain; you need a life with more of Me. My strength reveals its full significance when it can meet your weakness.”
Is that somehow less power than God taking it away from him in a moment? If Jesus had told the woman, your back will remain broken, but I will stay by your side to strengthen and comfort you every moment of your life, would that be a bad deal? No! God may take you from your problems, or He may take you through them, but either way, they are no longer your master. Let’s finish that verse.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10 KJV
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
Paul says his weakness is better because it allows God to show off. I wonder sometimes how much we miss as modern Americans because we are too rich, too healthy, and too comfortable for God to show off in our daily lives. Paul says that he takes pleasure in these things. I looked up the Greek word for pleasure to see if there was some escape hatch to lighten the significance. There isn’t. It means to be pleased, to delight in. He delights in his weaknesses! One translation renders the list this way (CSB): “So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ.” Why? For when I am weak, then am I strong.
If you have read this story with me this morning and wondered why Jesus has not broken some chain in your life, I can only say that it may take what seems to be a long time to you - 18 years is nothing to the eternal God, or God may be breaking its hold over you without breaking it. Christianity is not the subtraction of problems – it is the addition of power.
It is not a sin to be tempted; it is a sin to give in. So, it is not a sin to be addicted to alcohol. Maybe you pray for God to remove the desire, and He does. Perhaps He doesn’t, but He tells you His grace is sufficient. The chains are still there, but they don’t own you anymore. Maybe you struggle with clinical depression or anxiety and pray for God to deliver you. Maybe He does! Praise the Lord! But don’t assume that He always will. Some will continue to bear that struggle, their brain bent like the woman’s back, without giving in to the sin of losing faith. Another might wrestle with same-sex attraction and pray for God to take it away. Sometimes, He does; other times, He says, “My grace is sufficient for you to withstand this temptation. My power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s primary concern is not the brokenness of our bodies - one day, Jesus will return and replace all of that weakness with His glory! His goal is to teach us to serve Him anyway.
Returning to Luke 13:13, the woman’s reaction is as immediate as her healing.
Luke 13:13 KJV
And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
Her body is healed, her soul is free, and she worships, looking face to face with her God. But, unfortunately, it cannot be left there. There is a conflict yet to come.

The Conflict

Luke 13:14 KJV
And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
Our antagonist appears! And he is a coward. He is angry with Jesus (he answered with indignation) but addresses the crowd instead. He has seen the miraculous healing, and his mind goes immediately to propriety. The Bible tells us to do all things decently and in order, but some people would have run off the man borne of four for damaging the roof. This man sees a miraculous healing but does not perceive it. All his mind can see is what he thinks is a breach of the Sabbath. Too weak to address Jesus directly, he takes the passive-aggressive route: “If you want healing, come in the six days when men ought to work, not on the Sabbath.”
But this is tremendously silly. First, no one had come to be healed. She had come to learn, and God had shown up. Second, he acted as if healing was available on order at any time by Amazon Prime. Just come back tomorrow; God’s power is something we can schedule into our calendar. Church is from this time to that time; then I need to get to lunch. I have fellowship planned for next month and prayer penciled in before bed if there is nothing good on TV. Finally, neither coming for healing nor saying, “Woman thou art loosed,” was work. There is no violation of the Sabbath here. There is just a man who is obsessed with control. Obsessed that nothing ever rocks the boat. Obsessed that everything is done how he thinks is proper, never mind God.
Unfortunately, his kind had not died out. I have told you about the conference I attended at a church that had ushers at every door with trashcans to take people’s cups away. Brothers and sisters, I have never seen a cup of coffee float into a building without an image bearer of God attached. We request people only bring water into this room as a way of taking care of the property God has given us. But there is certainly no “thou shalt not drink a latte in church” in the Word of God. And when that church elevated their traditions over the weightier matters of the Law like love and hospitality for that person coming in, I believe they crossed the line into sin. I know of another church where there was a push to disband the youth group because a water spicket broke when a kid jumped on it during a game of tag. Every t crossed, and every i dotted while the world goes to Hell.
But I should not let myself off the hook so quickly! We all like things the way we like them, and when something is new or different, our first reaction is almost always, “This is wrong, isn’t it?” That’s why we say that Walmart messed up the aisles or Microsoft broke Word. I think we all have a touch of that in us. But we have to be aware of it and tame it. Because too often, it is a reflection of our real priorities. The woman was bent down, but this man was still spiritually bent down - too busy looking for scuffs on someone’s shoes to see the glory of God above his head.
I already told you how I would have responded - fight fire with fire. This is not a violation of the Sabbath, so all of his arguments are irrelevant. But that isn’t what Jesus does. He sidesteps the smokescreen of logic and goes straight to the heart.
Luke 13:15–16 KJV
The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
“You hypocrite!” Jesus sees his heart and truly knows this man. The Pharisees had elaborate rules for how an animal could be taken out for water on the Sabbath. I understand that it could not have a wagon attached, but it also could not have a pad on its back or a bell on its neck (that’s work!). But, within these strictures, it was assumed that a man could untie his goat to get it water or tie it up again to keep it from wandering off. In another place, Jesus said they would undoubtedly rescue an ox that had fallen in a deep ditch on the Sabbath instead of leaving it to die. These are acts of necessity.
So why does this man have more compassion for his animals than he does for this woman? And not just any woman, but a fellow Israelite? A daughter of Abraham probably means more than genetics - she was a real righteous woman who had been suffering for so long and lacked the compassion given to an animal.
Here is where I am going to start meddling. There are lots of people who care more about their lap dog than they do about the people all around them. “I like my dog better than I like people” is a joke that is not funny. Every man, woman, boy, and girl you meet is made in the image of Almighty God and has the infinite worth of someone Jesus died for. Yet some people will stop and pick up a dog from the side of the road but refuse to help their neighbor in a time of genuine need. I understand that we cannot help everyone every time, and in fact, the Bible says that every man should carry his own burden, and if a man will not work, neither shall he eat. But let’s cut the red tape and get to the nuance: do you get more worked up over a commercial with a sad puppy than you do over the children starving and dying around the world? Remember that the first child abuse case in the United States was tried in 1874 under an animal abuse statute (Mary Ellen Wilson). Do we care more about someone falling out of church or a stained pew? Do we care more about checking every box or about the will of God? Remember our text from a few weeks ago, Luke 11:42: “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment (justice) and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
The ruler of the synagogue looked at this woman and said, “not my problem,” unlike his donkey. Jesus looked at her and saw a precious daughter of Abraham. The ruler of the synagogue saw Christ’s miracle and looked to criticize. Jesus saw her need and looked for ways to meet it. The ruler of the synagogue wanted everything to be done right. Jesus wanted everything to be right. The ruler of the synagogue thought healing was work. Jesus knew that breaking Satan’s power in an act of love was worship. Maybe most of all, the ruler of the synagogue looked at this woman, who had been bound for 18 years, and said, “What’s one more day?” Jesus said, “18 years is long enough.”
He could have argued the Law. But He knew the Law was not the problem. A man too blind to see the miracle before him is a man determined not to see. And maybe there are some of you like that here this morning. Coddled by comfort and custom and blind to the power and purpose of God. I pray that some arrow here strikes your heart and you reevaluate what angers you. Jesus was angry that Satan bound this woman - the ruler of the synagogue was angry at the timing of when Jesus released it. What makes you and I angry? What were you mad that I mentioned? What are you afraid I am going to mention?
I don’t know. Jesus still does.
He has come, He has healed, He has confronted. What happens as the credits roll?


Luke 13:17 KJV
And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
There are two groups at the end of this: those who are ashamed and those who rejoiced. Now, shame is not always a bad thing. It can be a healthy tool, like the pain of a hot stove. But shame can also make us hard and defensive. Do you know that you have sinned but that Jesus is the chain breaker, or do you pretend that He is not strong enough and act like you are still trapped? Do you know that He can break the power of the bonds in your life, even when they are still present - they don’t own you? If so - rejoice! Rejoice if He calms the storm, and rejoice if He calms His child. He is doing glorious things either way. Rejoice that you are more valuable than many sparrows; no matter what others think, you are precious to Him. Written on His hands, graven on His heart.
I usually quote hymns, but as I was mulling over this sermon, I heard a contemporary Christian song by Rend Collective that I think gets right to the point.
I’ll find a way to praise You From the bottom of my broken heart ‘Cause I think I’d rather strike a match than curse the dark Yeah, I’ll find a way to thank You Though the bitterness is real and hard Cause I’d rather take a chance on hope than fall a part I don’t think I’m ready to surrender to the dark, so Even if my daylight never dawns Even if my breakthrough never comes Even if I’ll fight to bring You praise Even if my dreams fall to the ground Even if I’m lost, I know I’m found Even if my heart will somehow say Hallelujah anyway
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - Daniel 3:17–18 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
God is able to deliver us, but even if He doesn’t - Hallelujah anyway.
Each and every one of us is born bent over by sin, with a flesh cursed by Adam’s rebellion. But Jesus came and said, “I see you. I know you. Come to Me and you will be loosed. My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Right now, you can be forgiven, by calling out to Him and trusting Him. If you admit your sin and ask Jesus to save you, He will change your heart and make you a new creature. Experience tells me that if you do that, some temptations which once bound you for 18 years will vanish in a moment; you will stand up straight in victory and rejoice. Others, you will continue to struggle with, wrestling with the pain, knowing that He is with you and His strength is perfect in weakness. Hallelujah anyway.
Some of you have been saved a long time, and still drag around the same old chains, unwilling to give them to the Master. Step out this morning and bring them to Him, whether He breaks them or breaks their power over you. The spiritual and physical are intermingled and some days one will shape you more than the other. Hallelujah anyway.
Still others of you might have been bound by self-righteousness. You saw yourself in the ruler of the synagogue. You want Jesus as long as He doesn’t rock the boat. Keep it respectable, don’t ask me to leave my nets and follow where there are no roads at all. Let me keep my money and my health and my comfort and my respect in the community and all the tiny gods I have set up around you. Oh friend, if that is you, then walking this aisle and admitting it to yourself will be the hardest thing of all. But ask Him to wash your heart with your tears, and if He takes away everything you one held dear - hallelujah anyway.
Won’t you come this morning and let the Christ who sees you, loves you, calls you, and lays His nail-scarred hands on you have your life?
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