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UKE 13:10-21

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
September 14, 2003

Please turn with me to Luke 13 - starting at verse 10.

I recently read about a farmer who was continually optimistic - seldom discouraged - always looking at the possibilities - the potential for good in each new situation. He had a neighbor who was just the opposite, grim and gloomy - never considering the potential good - he faced each new morning with a heavy sigh.

The optimistic farmer would see the sun coming up with all the potential of a new day and shout over the roar of the tractor, “Look at the beautiful sun and clear sky!” With a frown, the negative neighbor would reply, “Yeah, it’ll probably scorch the crops!”

When much-needed rain would start to fall, the positive farmer would smile across the fence, “Ain’t this great? God is giving our corn a drink today!” Again, the same negative response, “Uh huh, but if it doesn’t stop before long it’ll flood and wash everything away.”

One day the optimist decided to put his pessimistic neighbor to the maximum test. He bought the smartest, most expensive bird dog he could find. He trained the dog to do things no other dog on earth could do - impossible feats that would surely astonish anyone.

He invited the pessimist to go duck hunting with him. They sat in the boat - hidden in the duck blind. In came the ducks. Both men fired and several ducks fell into the water. The optimist said to his dog, “Go get ’em!” The dog leaped out of the boat - walked on the water - picked up the birds - brought them back - tossed them into a basket.

The optimist said, “Well, what do you think of that?”

Unsmiling, the pessimist answered, “He can’t swim, can he?” (1)

There are some people who get up each day at 4:00 a.m. - bright eyed - ready to rush out into the potential of the new day - always happy - the glass is “half full” type of people. But, for the rest of us - looking at who we are - where we’ve come from - where we live our lives - sometimes its hard for us to see the potential.

This morning - on this Sunday of renewal - we need to know - to be encouraged - that we - individually - and as a congregation - we have potential. God can use us - can do tremendous and wonderful things in us and though us. Even beyond what we might think possible.

Look with me at that potential - Luke 13 - starting at verse 10: And He - Jesus - was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up.

In a Jewish synagogue the service began with someone reading the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Then prayer. Then a reading from the Pentateuch - the Scripture written by Moses. Then another prayer. Then the leader of the synagogue would invite one of the men to read from the prophets and to teach. Order and tradition.

On this Sabbath - there in the synagogue - Jesus the visiting rabbi has been invited to teach. A woman enters. For 18 years she’s been demonized - under the influence of a demon who has caused her to be crippled - bent over.

Let’s be careful here. There is no way to teach - using the Bible - that Christians are possessed by demons who cause sicknesses or controlled by spirits such as lust and anger or any other such thing. We may be oppressed. We may be attacked. But, we’re not possessed. We always have victory over Satan and his minions through the powerful Name of our resurrected Savior - the Lord Jesus Christ.

What we see here is a woman who 18 years earlier had opened herself up to the working of this demon. And, apart from Jesus she was hopelessly ill. On that Sabbath she came to listen to the rabbi Jesus. There she stood in the synagogue.

Verse 12: When He saw her, He called her over

There’s a connection here. Jesus sees her standing in the synagogue. Has compassion on her. Through the crowd He calls to her. She steps forward in faith - perhaps hobbling down past rows of staring eyes - in faith she comes to Jesus not really knowing the potential of what might happen.

and Jesus said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again - immediately she straightens herself up - by faith having come to Jesus she’s set free from the demon - completely healed spiritually and physically - and she began glorifying God.

Verse 14: But the synagogue official - the man in charge of the synagogue - in charge of the services - regulations and traditions - the same man who probably had invited Jesus to speak and now regretted it - the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, "There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath."

Remember the fourth commandment? Keep the Sabbath holy - rest - no work. To keep that commandment the religious leaders had added all kinds of extraneous regulations - no gathering sticks for a fire, no traveling, no carrying loads, no baking bread, and on and on - and especially no healing.

The point being that the Sabbath had become a formal - religious - tradition - with emphasis on the letter of the Law rather than the reality of living in a relationship with the living God. “Not that we’re against people being healed. Just not on the Sabbath. We have regular office hours for that sort of thing.”

Verse 15: But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is - created in the image of God - one of God’s own chosen people - your own flesh and blood - whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” - the day God set apart for us to come to God and experience His healing presence and peace in our lives. What’s more important to you - a donkey and your regulations or a woman becoming right with God?

Verse 17: As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

Here this. Jesus holds up the entirety of the Kingdom of God - all of the potential of what God is doing and can do in our lives - holds it right up in front of the faces of this synagogue official and those who were against Jesus - and says here it is. And their response? Sorry, it doesn't fit our understanding of things. We can’t rejoice in this. We'd rather trust what we know and believe.

Before we go on, let me ask you a question. Keeping that scene in your mind. The woman who hobbled forward in faith. The official refusing to look to the potential of what God was doing. The crowd on the sidelines cheering what Jesus had done.

Here’s the question. Which group are you in? Those with expectation - looking towards the potential of what God can do? Or, those who struggle to get beyond their own understanding of how God can do things? Or the spectators - rejoicing - but still not committed enough to step forward in faith - not committed enough to get into the heart of the action of what God may do.

In verses 18 to 21 Jesus gives two practical illustrations of what the Kingdom of God is like - the potential for those who choose to trust Him. These are an encouragement to us to trust God.

His first illustration comes in verse 18: So He - Jesus - was saying, “What is the Kingdom of God like, and to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

Illustration number one concerns the potential of what can happen when we place our trust in God.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a small mustard seed - that grows to become taller and larger than the other plants in the garden - branches offering shade to people below and places for birds to build their nests.

Which is strange. Potentially a mustard seed might grow-up to be a plant about 8 to 10 feet in height - given all the right growing conditions. But even if it did grow that high it would still be a thin - scraggly thing. There's no way it would support even a bird's nest. Its nothing like what Jesus describes.

The point Jesus is emphasizing is the great potential of the seed when cultivated by God. A very small mustard seed grows unnaturally - supernaturally - into a tall shady tree. That's the potential of the Kingdom of God.

Today, we look backwards through almost 2,000 years of church history and tradition and it would be so easy to think that all of that is what Jesus was talking about. The spread of Christianity over the earth. The dominance of Christianity in the west. Centuries of theological debate and study. All the religious knowledge we have today. Its so easy for us to focus on the outward activity of the Christian religion - and think that the spread of Christianity means that God's Kingdom is growing.

If a lot of people show up on a Sunday morning then it was a good service. Sunday School is great when the class is full. If the budget is met - if the building is paid for - that's success - that's the Kingdom of God growing. We're easily impressed with size and influence and power.

Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not all this external religion - the rules - the regulations - the traditions. The Kingdom of God is people - people of faith - who step forward when He calls to them - who have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The potential of the Kingdom of God is realized in our lives when we are willing to trust God.

Thinking about Merced - how are we - this small congregation suppose to reach this city - with all its issues and problems? How are we suppose to have an impact in people’s lives? We want to pray and work that people will come to trust in Jesus as their Savior. Yet, often when we speak out in faith - we experience resistance - ridicule - indifference. Its hard to follow Jesus. When we compare ourselves to other churches - our facilities - our worship - our ministries - our location. Who are we compared to them?

And, who am I? Look at my life - my hang ups - my struggles - my past - my inadequacies. What potential do I have? Do you ever ask yourself that? Not about me. About yourselves!

So often we focus on the small seed - small and alone in the world - and forget to visualize the potential of the tree - of what God wants to do in us and through us. The seed is small. But, what does Jesus say? The seed is supernaturally becoming the Kingdom of God. God will water it. God will nurture it. God will bring growth to it. In the mustard seed - in you - in us - there’s a tremendous potential. Turn to the person next to you and encourage them, “You’ve got potential.”

Second illustration - verse 20: And again He said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven - yeast - which a woman took and hid in three pecks - about 20 quarts - of meal, till it was all leavened.."

Second - Jesus speaks of the potential influence we have on others.

A woman takes some leaven and hides it in a large tub of flour - after time it changes all the flour - penetrates it - so that all the flour is leavened. There's inherent potential in the yeast to infect the flour. Just as there is potential for the people of God to transform this world.

The Bible speaks of leaven in two ways. I think Jesus has both in mind here. First, leaven is often symbolic of sin - people and actions that are disobedient to the will of God. Second, leaven is yeast - its the ingredient that makes dough rise - expand. Which is a good thing.

Our actions are like leaven - they're infectious - they influence others - either for evil or for good. We may not think that what we do is really all that important - but according to Jesus, it is.

Especially in a town the size of Merced or Atwater people know us. They notice how we live. The words that we say to our brothers and sisters in Christ - or what we say about each other - what we say about God's ministry - the words we speak when we're not a church - people hear. Our commitment to worship and obey God - the priority He has in our lives - people watch how we live our lives.

If everything that we are is given to God - trusting Him - living in obedience to Him - we can be leaven that brings people closer to God - that attracts people to His ministry here. We can be leaven that seeks to build up His Church - that He can use to enlarge His Kingdom and bring others to salvation.

The religious leaders - and most of the people listening to Jesus - didn't understand what He was offering them. Many were very religious - observing all the external effects and regulations of their religion. Yet, they missed the potential of God's working in them and through them.

The bottom line - is that entrance into the Kingdom of God - and all the potential of what that means - is by choice. Being a part of the Kingdom of God doesn't happen because of our physical birth or because we're raised in the church and lived Christian lives. Entrance into God's Kingdom - and all the potential of what that means - comes when we individually choose to step out in faith - to receive Jesus as our Savior and to live trusting God with our lives now and for eternity.

1. John Haggai, How to Win over Worry - quoted by Charles Swindoll, Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.