The Crooked Woman
Pastor Redpath’s first sermon at The Moody Church from September 20, 1953.
As my first message of this pastorate I purpose to set before us what is the primary objective in the coming years of my ministry, as God helps us and gives us grace. I believe no more fitting passage of Scripture could be used for this purpose than the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel beginning at the tenth verse—the story of a woman with a “spirit of infirmity.”
“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.
“And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
“And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”
Here is a miracle which is also a parable, a demonstration of what the same Lord Jesus Christ can do today if you and I are prepared to listen to His voice.
The Sphere Of The Miracle
May I ask you to observe first of all the sphere in which this miracle took place: He was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. It is my profound conviction today that the greatest miracles today are needed with the Christian church.
God has no problem with the world. Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” God has no problem with the devil or with the powers of darkness, for in the very shadow of the Cross the Lord said, “Now is the prince of this world judged.” To all the powers of hell the answer of Heaven is an empty tomb.
But if I may say it reverently, God has only one problem—it is with His people. How shall He get people that have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, and who are indwelt by the Third Person of the Trinity—how can He get such favored people to walk with Him, so that through them His purposes in the world might be fulfilled?
God’s problem is with crooked people, of whom this poor crooked woman is a picture. Crooked people are those who haven’t been able to understand what it means to enjoy a walk with God, to know constantly and consciously the presence of God and so to live day by day victoriously over sin, that their very presence might constitute a challenge to the world around them. God’s problem, I repeat, is with His people. Let us acknowledge it humbly.
Let us observe for a moment this woman and her need. We are told that she was bowed together. If you’ll picture in your mind a hairpin, you will understand exactly the position of this woman: she was bent double. Once she had been erect, but disease had gripped her and had caused her to be utterly and completely earthbound for eighteen years.
Do you begin to see the parable? The greatest thing that God ever did was to make a man in His own likeness, who might enjoy the company of God. The whole world which God created was but intended to be a platform upon which the glory of God could be revealed through the man whom He created to rule under His supreme authority. Man was made erect. He was made capable of fellowship with God…
But you remember what happened. One day Eve went out to walk in the Garden. Perhaps she was questioning in her mind why it was that God should impose even one restriction on them. Suddenly she was confronted by a beautiful creature who spoke to her. She would never have been attracted to a serpent—God made the devil bite the dust because he did such damage to the man that God had made. This creature questioned whether or not God had any right to impose a restriction, began to ask her to doubt the love of God, and to question the motive of God. He suggested to her that in fact God was afraid of Adam and Eve, lest if they broke through His restrictions they should become like gods and know good and evil.
“You can disobey God,” said Satan, “and it won’t matter. You can sin, and the consequences that God said would happen just won’t happen, you try it.”
She tried it, and she gave to her husband and he tried it. At that moment a man and woman who were meant to walk with God became earthbound, bent double, bowed together, incapable of fellowship, cut off from eternal life, spiritually dead. Their whole appetites and desires and interests became centered in the realm of things material. Their attitude toward God became fear of Him Whom they had disobeyed.
Here in our parable there is a woman in the precincts of the synagogue, and she is earthbound. She had a “spirit of infirmity.”
Now the Greek word that is translated by our English word “infirmity” is the word from which we get the word “neurasthenia.” It means that there is a lost connection between brain and body. That was this woman’s trouble, a “spirit of infirmity.”
In all of us the mind is the managing director, and the body is the servant. The mind says to the body, “Body, move.” And if the body is functioning correctly, it moves. Now in her mind this woman says, “Body, stand up straight,” and the body answers, “Sorry, I can’t.”
The apostle Paul had something to say about that. “Once,” he said, “with my mind I served the Lord God, but with my flesh the Lord sin.” Do you and I know anything about that experience? How much I long to do the things that I know are right, but oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death which constantly pulls me and drags me and causes me to fail?
Let us be honest about it, I wonder how many of us are permanently out of the experience of Romans 7. I question if any of us are. In all our Christian life and experience, we know constantly the inner conflict between that which is of the Lord God and which we long to obey, and, that which is of the Lord sin which in our body we cannot help but obey.
In case some of you are thinking that I am speaking to those who know nothing of the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, let me say that if there is anyone who spends more time today with his daily newspaper than with his Bible, he is earthbound. If there is someone whose interest is centered in the radio and in television and in baseball and not in the things of eternity, that man is earthbound, no matter what his religious profession or his fundamental conviction. It is what a man is in his heart that God sees and God knows.
If God is going to break into Chicago and into this church in revival, He’s got to get hold of Christians who are earthbound and do something about them.
The Time Of The Miracle
We are told that this woman could in no wise lift up herself. The language of youth is “I can stop it when I like,” but nobody talks like that when they’ve reached forty. In youth and in adolescence all that glitters seems so wonderful, and sin can be indulged in merely as a plaything. But one day that which was merely inherent within us, we discover to our horror has become our master, and we can in no wise lift up ourselves.
We are told that she had been in her bent condition for eighteen years. That’s a very long time.
I believe in the conversion of a little child. Wasn’t it C.H. Spurgeon once who was asked, “Pastor, how many converts did you have today?” Spurgeon replied, “Two and a half.”
“You mean two adults and one child?”
“No,” said Spurgeon, “I mean two children and one adult, two whole lives and one half one.”
It’s a great thing when a whole life is yielded to God, and I’m sure that there are Christian parents who with all their hearts pray, as I do, that our little children may open their hearts as a flower to the sun and receive Jesus. I believe in it profoundly.
I am also very thankful for every movement that works among young people, that seeks to bring adolescents to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Master. I don’t suppose there has ever been a generation when adolescents have had so much flung in their path that is likely to ruin their character. How I thank God and take within the scope of my love and prayers all those who seek to work among them.
But the Gospel of the Word of God is not only for children and for adolescents. If I know anything about the Gospel of Christ and its power in human life, I believe that it deals with longstanding complaints.
Here is a woman who breaks through the crowd and touches the hem of the Saviour’s garment. Immediately he turns and says, “Who touched my clothes?” and she, falling down before Him, tells him all the truth. She had been in her condition for eighteen years, but immediately she touched [His garment] and she was made whole.
Think again of the man gripped by demons and dwelling among the tombs, bound in chains. One day Jesus comes with authority from Heaven itself and speaks to that man controlled by the devil. Speaking within the sphere of spiritual worlds, He says to Satanic power, “Go.” Immediately the man is in his right mind, clothed and sitting at the feet of Jesus. And he had been possessed for a long time.
I think of the man who sat by the pool of Bethesda, watching everyone else get into that healing water before he did, and for 38 years he had given up all hope of things ever being any different. One day Jesus came to him and said, “Wilt thou be made whole?” And he rose and took up his bed and walked, although he had been helpless for 38 years.
I think again of Peter and John going into the temple to pray, and finding by the Beautiful Gate a man who was lame from birth. Peter said to him, “Silver and gold have we none, but such as we have give we thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And immediately he was on his feet praising God, though he’d been lame for over forty years.
Crooked Christians, earthbound followers of Jesus Christ, men and women failing to achieve the purpose for which God in Christ has redeemed us, and for which He shed His precious blood on the Cross, remember that there is no complaint has gone too deep but that in a moment He can come and break the power of cancelled sin and set the prisoner free.
As I think of the months and years that confront us together, I trust, of happy, holy, blessed fellowship as Jesus our Lord shall lead us on together, I believe that the first thing that’s got to happen, as I know the conditions of the lives of churches in many parts of the world, is that our risen, triumphant, glorified and coming Savior has got to come into lives and deal with long-standing complaints.
But may I turn to the picture? How does our Lord deal with these things? How did He do it in this instance of the crooked woman?
The Method Of The Miracle
Please observe—He sought her. To me that is wonderful. Those few words bring the whole message of the Gospel of the mercy and the love of God. I imagine that she had been unnoticed and taken for granted until one day Jesus came and He saw her.
She had every reason and every excuse for not coming near the synagogue. Fancy going there for eighteen years and getting nothing to meet her need, until one day Jesus came in special reality and power—and He sought her.
You may have come to church for years and been unnoticed by anybody, you may have been talking and chatting with people with your real condition of heart unknown to a soul. Jesus can see absolutely everything about us all, and—He called her to Him.
The initiative in blessing is with God, not with man. You are not converted because you put up your hand and came down the aisle and signed a decision card. It is no feeble decision of yours or mine to follow Jesus on which we bank eternity. It is because one day He spoke to our hearts—one day He broke into the deadness of them all. He showed us our need and gently led us to the foundation of the Cross where we were cleansed. Crooked Christian, Jesus sees you and calls you to Him.
He spoke to her. Surely that word from Christ was enough, but that wasn’t all. Notice that He put His hand upon her. Behind every word of God is the action of God. Behind every word that God speaks to you today there is the Cross, there is the outpouring of His blood, there is an empty tomb, there is the declaration with power that He is the Son of God, for He has been raised from the dead. The ascended Lord and the outpoured Holy Ghost are realities, and behind every word that Jesus speaks is action.
Listen to what He said to the woman. “Thou art loosed from thine infirmities.” That is a wonderful word, “loosed.” The actual meaning of it is “thou art divorced.” Thou are separated, thou are severed, thou are released, thou art set free!
This is not a question of convalescence, this is not a question of gradual improvement. He said, “Today I have met you, and today you have met Me, and from this moment you are set free from your infirmity.” The Lord Jesus isn’t interested in making people better, isn’t interested in convalescence, He’s interested in making people whole.
Whatever course that long-standing complaint may have taken, no matter how deep it may go in your life or in your heart, I want to say on the authority of the Book and of the Lord Jesus, that today He sees, He calls you to Him, He speaks to you and puts His hand on you, saying “Thou art set free.” By virtue of the blood, by virtue of the risen Christ, by virtue of the Holy Ghost, you are free: claim your freedom! You will observe that the result was immediate: “and immediately she was made straight.”
You see what’s happened? Man was made to walk with God, and God’s purpose with man was that He should fulfill His will, but he has become earthbound.
This poor woman had been earthbound, and she was made straight. Somehow all the ruin of sin and failure have been undone. Jesus has been glorified in this poor earthbound soul that has been made straight.
Has God made you straight? You’ll pardon that personal question—you won’t find that I’m here to entertain. I want to say it out of the love of my heart today, as I’ve been through these things in my own life, my own experience, and suffered because of my own failures and my own sins, I do ask you very earnestly, has God made you straight?
The thing that’s going to characterize this church in the future as I believe it has in the years that are gone, the thing that’s going to make a mark for God in America through this people is not a preacher, it is a great number of God’s people whom God has made straight, whose word is their bond, who can be trusted, who don’t try to get away with things a little dishonest, but are righteous and truthful. Within such people the Holy Ghost has come with power, and it is no longer we who live but Christ who liveth in us.
What I would say to you is that the same Lord and the same authority are with us yet. May God enable us to be people not only redeemed, but made straight.