Last week we began our study of John 5. A man who had been suffering for 38 years was suddenly healed. He literally picked up his mat and walked away from the pool of Bethesda! What should have been celebrated by everyone became a firestorm of controversy and caused the religious leaders to set their sights on the demise of Jesus. They were livid! Not because Jesus healed the man, but because He healed him on the Sabbath. Let’s pick up our story where we left off last Sunday, at verse 9, and see what we can learn.
9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. (John 5:9-16 NIV)
As I was working on this lesson this past week, I was thinking how helpful it would be this morning to have someone from the film industry in our congregation who could supply us with some dramatic music as I read, “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (insert dramatic music!) The day on which this took place was a Sabbath…” Dramatic music is used in TV shows, game shows, and movies for effect, to emphasize the moment, and no moment in this story was more important to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day than the sentence, “The day on which this took place was a Sabbath.”
The command, regarding the sabbath, is found in Exodus 20:8, the fourth commandment, where God told His people, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8 NIV) In verses 9-11, the Lord goes on to spell out what it means to keep the Sabbath day holy. The people were to do no work. Neither were their servants, sons or daughters, animals, or foreigners living in their land to do work.
The commandment regarding the sabbath is found in Exodus 20, but this isn’t the first mention of the “seventh day,” or sabbath. The first mention is found in Genesis 2:1-3 where God had just finished His work of creation. There we read,
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:1-3 NIV)
This is the first mention of the seventh day, what would later be known as the sabbath, but there’s no command for people. We read that God ceased from His work of creation, He blessed the seventh day, and made it holy. There’s no more mention of the sabbath until we get to Moses and the Children of Israel. In Exodus we begin to see an emergence of teaching concerning how the Children of Israel were to “keep the sabbath.” Let me give you just a couple of examples.
First, in Exodus 16, while the people were traveling from Egypt to Canaan, God provided them with food each morning and evening. The people would go out and gather what they needed for the day: Quail in the evening and manna in the morning. God gave them regulations regarding His provision. He would provide them with two days worth of food on the sixth day so that they wouldn’t have to gather food on the seventh day, the sabbath. Read along with me from Exodus 16:22-26.
22 On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much–two omers for each person–and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. 23 He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'” 24 So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. 25 “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. 26 Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” (Exodus 16:22-26 NIV)
The people were provided what they needed the day before the sabbath so they could prepare it prior to the sabbath. A second example I want to show you is found in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 where Moses recounted the covenant God made with His people at Mount Sinai. In Deuteronomy 5:2, some of your Bibles read, “The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.” “Horeb” is another name for “Sinai.” In Deuteronomy 5:12-15 God reminded His people of the direction He had given His people back in Exodus 20. Read along with me.
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 NIV)
God established the sabbath observance for the purpose of rest and remembering. For six days the people were to do their work, whatever work it was that they were doing, but on the sabbath they were to stop their work and rest. They were to rest their animals who worked in the fields, they were to rest their servants and children who also worked, and for one day a week they were to rest and remember. Every seventh year they were even to rest their fields. (Leviticus 25) The sabbath was a time of rest and reflection upon who God is and what He has done. It’s interesting that when Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest, He said,
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)
If you look at the list of the Ten Commandments then you can see that what Jesus said really does sum up all of the Ten Commandments. The first four have to do with our relationship with God and the last six have to do with our relationship with other people. Jesus took the Ten Commandments and summed them up in two—love God and love people.
Those who came after Jesus, after He healed the man at the pool of Bethesda, came from a long line of religious teachers who expanded the Ten Commandments. They tried to clarify what it meant to refrain from working on the sabbath, they defined what you must “do” and what you must “not do” to keep the sabbath holy. Through the years, the rabbis came up with 613 laws. Let me give you an example.
Jews could not travel more than 3,000 feet from their house on the sabbath. Don’t go looking for the Scripture to support the prohibition because you won’t find it. It’s not in the Book. It’s what Jesus called, “merely human rules.” Do you remember that phrase? In Matthew 15, the Pharisees and some teachers of the law came to Jesus and asked Him, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus answered them and then added,
7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'” (Matthew 15:7-9 NIV)
The Pharisees and teachers of the law may have said all of the right things, but their hearts were far from God. Their worship was empty because it was filled with rules that had been made up by people. The prohibition not to walk more than 3,000 on the sabbath is a great example. That’s nothing more than a human rule and yet they didn’t even keep the laws they made up. They found loop holes to allow them to do whatever they wanted to do. Let me walk you through it. They said, “You can’t travel more than 3,000 feet on the sabbath.” What they said and what they practiced were two different things. You could get around the rule if, the day before sabbath, you went to your friend’s house and put some of your food there. When sabbath came you could walk to your friend’s house, where you had left your food, as long as it wasn’t over 3,000 feet. Once you ate your food then you could travel another 3,000 feet. Nothing more than a man-made loop hole to provide them with opportunities to do what they wanted.
The list of do’s and don’ts were endless. How about these? If you throw an object in the air you can’t catch it with your opposite hand or it is a violation of the sabbath. If you catch it with the same hand then it’s “OK.” A tailor can’t carry a needle on the sabbath or he or she might be tempted to sew something. A scribe can’t carry his pen or he might be tempted to write. You can’t take a bath because water might spill out and wash the floor. You can’t turn on any lights, but you can get a gentile to turn them on for you. In our day, you can set a timer to turn them on for you. And the prohibition that got Jesus in trouble after He healed the man at the pool of Bethesda is found in Mishnah Shabbat 7:2 where the rabbis spelled out 39 categories of work. The last one listed is, “one who carries an object from one domain to another.” The Jewish leaders had taken something God had given to His people to bless them, to give them rest, to help them reflect on His love and provision for them and they had turned it into a burden. Gerald Bouchert writes,
The rules of the rabbis were a misunderstanding of God’s design for the sabbath. The sabbath was not the means to God’s approval, as the rabbis seem to have suggested. The Sabbath was not merely a rule for humans, but a gift to humans (Mark 2:27). It was to be used to honor God and to benefit his people. More importantly, Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). If, therefore, anyone would have a right to act on Sabbath, it was Jesus. (John 1-11, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2002. pg. 228-229)
Now, some of you may be wondering, “What does all of this have to do with us?” I’m so glad you asked! It is not infrequent that I find the followers of Jesus coming up with our own rules of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We are masters at taking a verse and lifting it up above the rest of Scripture. Let me give you an example. There is a steady stream of Scripture throughout the Bible that encourages us, even commands us, to help those in need, to give to the poor. This teaching is found in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. If you’ve been around BCC any amount of time then you know how seriously we take these Scriptures. At the same time, I know people who have become so focused on giving to the poor and helping those in need that they have lost sight of Jesus. They don’t have time to find a quiet place and fellowship with the Lord because they are so busy taking care of the needs of others. Our care for others and our willingness to help others in need should be the overflow of our relationship with Jesus. When we lose sight of Jesus and focus solely on the cause then we become Pharisees. I’ve heard people who are committed to a cause speak about brothers and sisters in Christ as if they weren’t “true” followers. I’ve heard folks who are passionate about the cause of helping the poor ask questions like, “Would Jesus drive a Cadillac or Mercedes?” My response is, “Would Jesus drive period?” They ask, even though they already have the answer, “Would Jesus wear designer clothes, live in certain neighborhoods, or be a member of the Country Club?” Don’t you see what this is? It’s the same mindset of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day!
More important than knowing Jesus’ love for us, more important than loving Jesus with all of our hearts, is following their man-made rules. You must do “this!” You can’t do “that!” People love man-made rules because you can carry your check list around with you and check them off throughout the day. At the end of the day, if you get all of the boxes checked, then you can feel really good about yourself. I’m afraid that those who are sticklers for following man-made rules will draw the same response from Jesus that the Pharisees did, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'”
There’s one more verse that we must look at this morning before we finish our time in God’s Word. The man who had been healed was confronted by the Jewish leaders. They wanted to know why he was carrying his mat on the sabbath? He said, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'” (John 5:11 NIV) They wanted to know what man had told him to do it? He had no idea. He hadn’t asked Jesus His name. We are told that sometime later Jesus found the man; He didn’t run into him, Jesus went looking for him. We read about it in John 5:14. Read along with me.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14 NIV)
The problem for many people comes into play when we get to the last sentence of the verse where Jesus said, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Was it the man’s sin that caused him to be incapacitated for 38 years? We don’t know the answer to that question. Some say Jesus is referring to his disability when He says, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” That could be the case. Others say that “something worse” is referring to the final judgment. I don’t know which answer is correct, but I do know that Jesus knew and He made it plain to the man that he needed to stop doing whatever it was that he was doing.
There are those who believe that we can trace all of our sickness to some sin in our lives. They also believe that once we are in Christ we have the ability to live free from sickness. Gloria Copeland, the wife of the evangelist, Kenneth Copeland, wrote,
A Christian may continue to be sick after he has been born again, but he does not have to. He has been redeemed from sickness. The price has been paid for his healing. Sickness can no longer exert dominion over him unless he allows it. Most believers have only known a part of their redemption. Their faith will operate to the degree of their knowledge of God’s Word. They would have begun to live in divine health long ago if they had realized that healing belonged to them. As you accept the fact that as surely as Jesus bore your sins, He also bore away your disease, weakness and pain, your days of sickness will be over. (Copeland, Gloria. Health & Healing: Confessions. Free From Sin and Sickness.)
Some of you may be big fans of the Copelands. They may be right about some things, but they are dead wrong about this topic. That’s not my opinion. Turn with me to John 9:2-3. In the story, Jesus and His disciples were walking one day when they saw a man who had been born blind. Let’s pick up the story there. Read along with me from John 9:2-3.
2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:2-3 NIV)
Now, I will let you answer the question, “Why was the man born blind? Who was responsible for his blindness?” It wasn’t his sin was it? How about his parent’s sin? Jesus said the man was born blind so that God might be glorified through him. God can be glorified through our sickness, our infirmities, our healing, and even through our death.
At the same time we must not say that sickness is never associated with our sin. There are examples in Scripture where this is the case. One of the examples is found in Psalm 32 where David writes about his condition during the time that he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband killed to try and cover it up, and then lied to everyone. David wrote,
2 Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:2-5 NIV)
There are also examples found in the New Testament. One of the most compelling is found in 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul was writing to the people at Corinth who had turned the Lord’s Supper into something different than what the Lord intended. Paul wrote,
28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:28-31 NIV)
Our time of Communion on Sundays is a time of remembrance and reflection. It is a time to remember Jesus’ love for us demonstrated in His life, death, and resurrection. It is a time to reflect and examine our hearts, our lives, and allow the Lord to bring to mind the things about our lives that He wants to deal with, correct. Paul said there were those in Corinth who were weak, sick, and some who had even died. We are not to simply rush through Communion, use that time as a time to write down what we need to get done this coming week, or talk to our buddies. We need to be still and know that He is God.
As we prepare to close out our time in God’s Word this morning let me share with you a common thread I see running throughout our study. God desires a relationship with you and me. That’s why God gave His people the sabbath. He gave that day to His people to bless them, not to load them down with a long list of do’s and don’ts. God desires a relationship with you and me. He desired a relationship with His people in the days of Moses and He gave them a day to be still, to cease from work, and focus on Him. I pray that you and I will never get caught up in seeking to follow the man-made rules of religion. They are a cheap substitute for a meaningful, life-giving relationship with our Savior. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 2, 2014