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God’s Word for You

Luke 14:1-4 Mercy

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, September 17, 2018

14 One Sabbath when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal, they were watching him closely.  2 Just then, right in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy.  3 Jesus asked the law experts and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal people on the Sabbath, or not?”  4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.

If you’re like most of us, you never remember what “dropsy” means when you come across it in the Bible. That’s probably because, unlike other diseases like leprosy, deafness, and blindness, this is the only case of dropsy in Scripture. It may help you to know that in both Greek and Latin, it’s called hydropicus (ὑδρωπικὸς), and the “hydro-” prefix tells the whole story. It’s a buildup of fluids in the tissues of the body. Recently our cat, Cleo, was sick, and had to be given an injection of fluids beneath the skin to keep her hydrated. She came home looking like Popeye after he ate a can of spinach, with a huge bicep on her left arm (front leg) that was entirely fluid. That looks a little like dropsy, a swelling or bloating because of fluids in the flesh. It’s actually a symptom of some other condition, and what that other condition was is never addressed. It’s a mistake to insist that it was brought on by any certain disease.

This took place as Jesus was heading to the home of a prominent Pharisee, a “certain leader” (τινος τῶν ἀρχόντων) of the Pharisees. Two men who would certainly qualify for this kind of distinction at this time were Gamaliel and his grandfather Shammai (who was about 79 at this time).  Perhaps one of these men was the very man mentioned in our text, but Luke doesn’t both to give us that detail. What is important is not who was there, but what was said by Jesus.

Earlier in the Gospel (7:37) we saw a woman come into a meal like this one, which was probably the evening meal (δεῖπνον, deipnon) or dinner. Strangers or visitors could and often did gather around to listen to the conversation or debate that went on, especially if a notable guest like Jesus was invited. At this time, this man with dropsy was present, either as a test from the Pharisee, a believer who presented himself, or a passerby who may have had no faith at all (Luther thinks that the man would not have presented himself or followed Jesus into the house without faith, and that “he must indeed have had some gospel knowledge and believed the wonderful things spoken about him”). Irrespective of the circumstance, Jesus chose to heal this man to make a point about healing on the Sabbath (we will talk about that more with verses 5-6). But Jesus also healed this man to show his own divine power over the ravages of sin in the world. Without sin, this man would never have suffered from dropsy, or from any other illness. Without sin, there would be no disease, no death, and no grief of any kind.

Let’s step back and think about what sin has done to the world. Because of the fall of Adam and Eve, the whole world is punished and made servant to temptation, sin, and death. The animals are cursed, women are cursed, and men are cursed. Believers are cursed, unbelievers are certainly cursed, and even the ground of the earth itself is cursed. Our Lutheran Formula of Concord (1577) summarizes the Bible’s teaching this way:

“The punishment and penalty of original sin, which God has imposed upon the children of Adam and upon original sin, are death, eternal damnation, and also other bodily and spiritual, temporal and eternal miseries, and the tyranny and dominion of the devil, so that human nature is subject to the kingdom of the devil and has been surrendered to the power of the devil, and is held captive under his away, who stupefies [fascinates] and leads astray many a great, learned man in the world by means of dreadful error, heresy, and other blindness, and otherwise rushes men into all sorts of crime.”

There is a similar summary in the Apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon: “For the fascination of wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind” (Wisd. 4:12, RSV). Read the same passage in the New Jerusalem Bible: “For the fascination of evil throws good things into the shade, and the whirlwind of desire corrupts a simple heart.” Temptations are fierce, and only God is merciful.

We turn again from the Formula:

“This hereditary evil is so great and horrible that only for the sake of the Lord Christ it can be covered and forgiven before God in the baptized and believing. Moreover, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted thereby, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost, which, however, is only begun in this life, but will not be perfect until in the life to come.”

The motive behind Jesus’ healing miracles is the same motive behind the miracle of the cross. Why would God assume human flesh and subject himself to this earthly life? “Mercy,” St. Paul answers, “because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” God wants us to recognize his mercy and put it into practice with one another. “Be merciful,” Jesus said, “just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). And Jude adds with similar compassion: “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22). Take Jesus’ example and make it your model. “Do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God” (3 John 11).

Thank God for his mercy and turn it around to be merciful yourself. You will open the path for the gospel, and perhaps the Lord will work through your patience to bring one of his precious souls to eternal life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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