Daily Devotional – Lord of the Sabbath (John 5:9b-16)

Scripture:  John 5:9b-16

The interaction of Jesus with the healed paralytic in Jerusalem is a scene that doesn’t end with a man walking away with his bed, though it would have been poetic nonetheless. One of the patterns of the healing ministry of Jesus was that the immediate need tied to some sort of physical infirmity or handicap was never ultimately the greatest problem to be solved. Even now, our prayer requests often lack the insight to see the greater need beyond the obvious, which is often why those needs exist: to draw us into the places God intends to change. Even a prayers that go unanswered or are a stark “no” have the power to change us the way God intends.

The portion of the text we will look at today revolves a lot around the Sabbath.  Sabbath, which Jews observe on Saturday, is still a very sacred day for all Jewish people.  This is the first time Sabbath comes up in the Gospel of John as a point of contention.  In regards to Sabbath, the third commandment of the Ten Commandments as delivered to Moses in Exodus 20:8-11 says:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

The Ten Commandments are the first of 613 commandments that were given. The issue at hand in Jesus’ day was the extent to how those commandments were interpreted and the scrutiny didn’t end in Bible times. What constitutes as working on Sabbath? Listen to this brief note about the Law as the Pharisees saw it:

“While following 613 commandments would be hard enough, over time Jewish leaders began to slowly add to these laws in the Mishnah. This additional teaching is an ongoing compilation of sermons and sayings by Jewish rabbis meant to interpret the original Mosaic Law. The original intent of these additions was to clarify the law, but it ended up adding many layers of complicated regulations. This Mishanh was already lengthy in Jesus’s day and continues to grow to this day. So for the Pharisees, they not only tried to follow the 613 commandments of the Mosaic Law, but the literally thousands of new commandments that were created to clarify the original 613 commandments.

For example, in the Mosaic Law, one of the commandments is to keep the Sabbath holy, which means that Jews were not supposed to work on Saturdays. But to clarify this, the Jewish scholars created thirty-nine separate categories of what “work” means, and within those thirty-nine categories there are many sub-categories. So to follow the rule of not working on the Sabbath, there are literally thousands of sub-rules to follow, including how many steps you can take, and how many letters you can write on the Sabbath.” https://www.pursuegod.org/rules-pharisees/

This understanding of the Pharisaic view of righteousness helps identify how the Jews respond to the paralytic man in saying “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” Notice that the man responds, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.'”   The burden of responsibility soon falls upon “the Man who said to (him),`Take up your bed and walk.’” Who would have the audacity to tell someone to “work” on the Sabbath when it clearly defies the teaching of the Jewish religious leaders? 

The sad truth is that many Jews failed to see that “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). How does the Law teach people towards Christ? It shows them that they don’t measure up; if they’re honest with themselves, they will realize that they can’t measure up. It should leave every person to reach out to God for grace and mercy and to consequently find them exclusively in the One who has fulfilled the Law, Jesus Christ. Sin may lead people to try harder to be better and to live with the hope that God will honor their attempts in the end, but that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Remember: salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

“But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.” There are multiple points of withdrawal in the ministry of Jesus, but they’re always strategic. Given the many times He navigated social scenes on the way to the cross either by inserting Himself into a context or withdrawing from one, it should speak volumes to us when we look at the events surrounding His death, burial and resurrection in recognizing that Christ gave Himself over, but was never out of control.

“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.’” This verse is likely speaking to sin and the coming judgment rather than a sin that might cause greater infirmities (some have made this assertion).  For a person to claim newness of life in Christ but to persist in their sin without conviction or correction of course, there are strong grounds to support a false claim of faith.  The concept of Jesus’ statement may be a parallel to passages such as 2 Peter 3:11-14: 

“Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”

Additionally, 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10 says,

“But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”

Both of those passages refer to the coming wrath of God in its catastrophic nature and the call to conduct in the meantime, knowing what we have been saved from (slavery: the power of sin) and what we will be saved from (judgment: the wages of our sin).  We could speak of salvation in reference to Hell and the Lake of Fire, the coming wrath of God, or even just the sin nature itself.  

The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. Did this man intend to get Jesus in trouble? It’s highly, highly doubtful. He wasn’t forbidden by Jesus from telling others, but once he had met with Jesus once more, he went on to tell the Jews who had healed him. This man was most likely elated after thirty-years of paralysis; we can be sure that the last thing he hoped for was Jesus to be hassled for his kindness.  The sad testament of these Jews in this passage is that they persecuted Him and sought to kill Him all because of their rigid, heavily legalistic handling of the Law. 

We must be sure to be good students of the Bible, carefully observing what is said and what is not said, for what is not said is often the interpretative playground of those who lead others astray. When well-meaning people read their assumptions into the text, they are bound to walk away with inconsistencies, additional rules and bad theology that never really was there in the first place. We must walk slowly and observe carefully as we tour the content of Scripture.

Prayer: 

Father, help us to stay close to Your word. Help us to be wary of reading our experiences into the text or to assume what is not there. Give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts that beat with faith in what You would have to speak to us through the Holy Scriptures. Thank you so much that we can have Bibles, and I pray for those who desperately desire to have one that they would be able to hold in their hands a Bible that is theirs, that is in their language, that they might learn you better. Lead many more people out into this world to proclaim Your word and to help others to understand it with precision. Move those who do have Your word to seek You and not take for granted the precious gift that they have been given. Thank You, Lord, for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.