Devotional– When God Breaks Man’s Rules (John 5:17-18)

Scripture:  John 5:17-18

Coming in the likeness of men, being both fully God and fully man, was one of the great veils Christ used, somewhat of a parallel to His parables. If we consider it, the manner of His birth, the scandal around His conception, where He was born, where He grew up, His humility and meekness, and especially His treatment surrounding the week of His crucifixion (especially His crucifixion) were all forms of veils, stumbling blocks that became a dividing line for those who had “ears to hear and eyes to see” and those who persisted in their spiritual deafness and blindness. 

Opposition up until John 5 has not been a major highlight of what John has written in this Gospel account. Certainly it was present, but John 5 is where Jesus will give an extensive challenge to the Jews as they balk over His handling of “work” on the Sabbath. Responsibility for this interpretation of work was placed not on the lame man made well ultimately, but upon the one who told him to rise and take up his bed and walk; it is certain that Jesus knew when He healed the man He would be held in contempt for defying their view of work on the Sabbath.  The uproar would create an opportunity to speak to the heart of the problem. He would also reveal where the infirmity lied most, in the paralyzed hearts of spiritually dead people.

Notice that Jesus gave authoritative commands to the man both in having him walk and in sinning no more, which is not a call to sinless perfection, but a call to change his lifestyle, to live as one forgiven of his sins. Through all of the passages we’ve seen in the Gospel of John, it is important to see that when Jesus speaks, He speaks with authority. His tone of authority would not be lost in the presence of opposition.

“But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’” The Jews wanted to kill Jesus, which is established in verses 16 and 18.  We ought to identify something from the outset of v. 17: Jesus answered them.  He did not react to the threat of death, but spoke into their own insecurity without shying away. When we face opposition, even just general discomfort sometimes, it’s quite easy to become defensive or anxious, shutting down or turning up the heat of the moment in airing our grievances. Jesus never responded sinfully; He neither clammed up nor exploded, but answered in complete control of His emotions. Pressure has a way of drawing out what is inside of a person; if there is sin in the heart, sin will find its way out. Only a sinless individual, and that was only Jesus, could endure many frustrations and sins against Himself, defamation and disrespect, and not bring forth sin of some fashion. 

“My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” My Father is a very exclusive way of talking about God the Father. The New Testament will refer to believers as sons (and daughters) multiple times, so we too certainly call God our Father. Note a difference, though, in Ephesians 1:3-6:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.”

In the complete verse of John 5:17, Jesus is claiming a mirrored equality by virtue of like begetting like, the apple falling (in His case) completely in line with the tree. A parallel concept would be Him forgiving sins: only if He were the Son of God, equal with God the Father, could He offer forgiveness of sins against God. It would be blasphemy for Him to offer a pardon He had no authority to extend.  

Believers are adopted children of God, but they are not “biological,” if you will. The claims a believer stakes in the promises of God are on the basis of rights not inherent to us, but imparted from the righteousness of the Son of God in the justification of the sinner on the basis of faith. His sacrifice on the cross took on the punishment we ought to have endured and transferred to us His righteous record in the sight of God. Even that concept itself, justification, ought to suppress the heresy of earning the favor of God or even maintaining His favor by our spiritual, moral performance. Our sonship is entirely dependent upon His Sonship; our righteousness is only suitable because it is by nature derived from faith in His righteous sacrifice.

Jesus claimed Sonship, like begetting like, the Father working “until now” and the Son doing the same.  It is necessary to say once again that Jesus has always existed eternally as the Son of God; God the Father was never existent prior to the Son or the Spirit, but all three Persons of the Godhead have existed together forever. Saying “like begetting like” is referring more to the alignment of nature, not Jesus being the spiritual seed of God the Father.

“Working,” from the Greek ergozomai, means “to engage in activity that involves effort” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks). God is active, and He is active all the time. He spoke into being all that is created as found in the first two chapters of Genesis. While He rested on the seventh day of creation (Gen. 2:3), His activities did not cease after this. How many Sundays are accounted for in biblical texts where God was working in hearts and lives? God is working His plans out all the time.

The real problem is how the Jews had defined work and had lost the heart of the matter. Their concern for themselves far outweighed their concern to please God and that is all too often true for many of us in our own generation. The Father’s will on this particular Sabbath in John 5 was for Jesus to heal the lame man and to speak truth to those who were rejecting it for their own version. Jesus did not forget to check his calendar when He healed the man in such a way that would cause a disturbance. He could have waited for another time or healed the man in a way that wouldn’t have caused a stir, but everything that transpired was a part of the eternal plan of the Father.

“Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” The Jews ought to have observed Him more closely, for they would not have seen a defiant man but the Messiah Himself. Nevertheless, on the basis of His statements, they only wanted to kill Him. Verse 18 tells us that they now had two “good” reasons to want to kill Him: first, because He broke the Sabbath (though He didn’t). He did not break the Sabbath, only their interpretation of righteousness by legalistic means. Secondly, they wanted to kill Him because He was making Himself equal with God

Has it dawned on any of us reading these two verses that the man who was healed had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years? The Jews opposing Jesus would have been very familiar with the man, and should have marveled that he was better, but all they could think about was that he now “worked” on the Sabbath. Then again, were they familiar with the man at all? Did they even care? They did not love the man; they only held him to standards that totally missed God’s righteousness. No one rejoiced; no one was saying, “If Jesus can heal this man, surely He must be the Son of God.” No, they missed the amazing work of God because their heads were buried in the sands of self-righteousness. What Jesus did in healing the lame man at the pool of Bethesda ought to have brought exaltation rather than indignation.  He would have much to say to this group of people before He moved on.

Is there a simple application for us today from this passage? Perhaps there are some warnings we need to be made aware of in relationship to the sinful attitudes of the people in John 5. Sometimes we are so caught up in what we want that we do not stop to see what God wants. Sometimes the changes God is making are not happening at the rate we think they should, or they go a direction we don’t think they should go. We may easily hold others to the standards of what we think they should be when their alignment with God is of greatest concern. We can also lose sight of people being sinners in need of salvation when look at them and their horizontal influence upon us or others in this world. When we only identify people by politics, lifestyles, cultures, jobs, even sin, we will relate to them as such and loving them to be winsome for Christ will not be a hallmark of our behaviors towards them.  People need reconciled to God far more than they do to us.

Judgment and criticism are easy to fall into but hard on the soul. Are we concerned with loving people or loving ourselves? We live in a nation and world right now full of disagreements and uncertainties and it is our responsibility to align ourselves with the God’s word, not today’s headlines. Eternity is coming and it must influence the kind of people we are in these fleeting moments. We must set our focus on Christ no matter the storms that befall us.


Prayer from Pastor Sam:

Father, keep our hearts steadfast on the grace by which we have found favor in Your sight. Give us vision to see people beyond how they affect our  lives; help us to see them as eternal creations who need the righteousness of Christ. If they will not place their trust in Jesus, help us to still be good examples of Your love to them. Lord, give us wisdom in our interactions with others and help us to think about how our behaviors affect and influence them, too. Keep us from only thinking of ourselves. Help us to rejoice in the blessings You supply, whether they are ours or the blessings of others. Help us to set our sights on the Savior. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.