Flashback Episode — A Disobedient Jesus: John 5:1-15

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In our last episode, we began looking at the event where Jesus healed the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda. However, like many of the previous events we have looked at this year, this one contained more than one episode could handle, and we finished our last episode before the event had finished.

We left off immediately following Jesus healing the man, but before we discovered what happened next. Let’s read this whole event, and then focus in on the conclusion and what we can learn about what Jesus felt was important for us to pay attention to.

Our passage for this episode is found in the gospel of John, chapter 5, and we will be reading from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a large number of the sick—blind, lame, and paralyzed.

One man was there who had been sick for 38 years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had already been there a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the sick man answered, “I don’t have a man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I’m coming, someone goes down ahead of me.”

“Get up,” Jesus told him, “pick up your mat and walk!” 9a Instantly the man got well, picked up his mat, and started to walk.

In our last episode, we stopped reading at this point, but this is the point in our event when things are about to get even more interesting. Continuing in the second half of verse 9, John tells us that:

9b Now that day was the Sabbath, 10 so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “This is the Sabbath! It’s illegal for you to pick up your mat.”

11 He replied, “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

12 “Who is this man who told you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?” they asked. 13 But the man who was cured did not know who it was, because Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 After this, Jesus found him in the temple complex and said to him, “See, you are well. Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.” 15 The man went and reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

In this passage, we discover that Jesus had the audacity to heal this hurting man on the Sabbath, the day set aside for rest and for focusing on God. Work wasn’t just discouraged, it was prohibited, and the religious leaders kept a long list of what we could call “clarification laws” in place to determine whether an activity could be classified as work or not. One such prohibition was carrying your sleeping mat.

This then prompts the question in my own mind of why Jesus would heal this man on the Sabbath when any other day of the week would do? If you are remotely familiar with the gospels, you will know that many of Jesus’ healing miracles were done on the Sabbath, and Jesus didn’t seem to even remotely consider healing to be against the day God set aside for rest.

Since Jesus seemed to be so relaxed about what it meant to honor and remember the Sabbath, should we be as relaxed as Jesus was? If God set the Sabbath aside as holy, and Jesus acted indifferent towards it, does that mean that we can act indifferent towards it as well?

This is where many Christians are today, but it is important to pay attention to the small detail that Jesus never acted with indifference towards the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus didn’t pay much attention to the religious leaders’ extra laws they had constructed around determining if one was properly keeping the Sabbath.

A great way to describe this attitude was if we were to drive along a road where the speed limit was 75 miles per hour, or for our friends outside of the United States, let’s say the speed limit was 120 kilometers per hour. Knowing that people like to push their limits, the religious leaders decide it’s best to set and enforce a lower speed limit, just to make sure the people don’t actually break the real speed limit. In our example, the religious leaders set their cautionary speed limit at 50 miles per hour, or 80 kilometers per hour.

Then Jesus comes along, and while everyone has gotten use to the idea of driving at the slower limits, Jesus decides He will drive at 70 miles per hour, or 110 kilometers per hour, which is within the actual speed limits of the road, but beyond the religious leaders’ arbitrarily imposed limits.

When we look at how Jesus treated the Sabbath, we never see Him break any of God’s laws regarding Sabbath observance, but we do see Him instruct others, we see His disciples, and we likely could even see Him break some of the religious leaders’ extra laws in place for the Sabbath. In the case of our miracle, nothing in God’s law prohibited a person from carrying their sleeping mat on the Sabbath. This was clearly a cautionary law intended to keep people from coming close to actually breaking the real laws. Jesus knew this, and the man probably knew this too, which is why he didn’t hesitate when Jesus told him to pick up his mat and go home.

It is also interesting that this man does not have faith in Jesus knowing who Jesus is. Perhaps he had prayed earlier that day for God to help him, and that is what prompted Jesus to stop by. Whatever the case was, when the man is challenged by the religious leaders for breaking their laws, he doesn’t know who Jesus was to be able to identify Jesus to these leaders.

Regardless of this detail though, the leaders almost were guaranteed to have attributed this miracle, and the lawlessness they saw in this healed man, to Jesus before the man even knew it was Jesus.

Does Jesus want us to break the law? No. When we break the law, we will face consequences. When we break the law of the country we are in, we face civil punishments; and when we break God’s law, we will face spiritual punishment. Jesus never advocated breaking civil or spiritual laws, but He was very clear that when there was a conflict between civil and spiritual laws, we are to abide by the spiritual laws and their standard over the civil laws that conflict.

In this event, we might think Jesus broke the spiritual law by healing on the Sabbath, but it is best for us to remember that the only laws broken in this passage were the unrealistic laws that the religious leaders had built up around the Sabbath in order to appear superior to others. Jesus never broke God’s law, and Jesus upheld God’s law to a level the religious leaders never even came close to. Jesus obeyed God’s law and He modeled obedience based on love and gratitude – and as followers of Jesus, we are called to obey, not because God will kill us if we don’t, but because we are thankful, grateful, and happy God sent Jesus to redeem us.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As always, intentionally seek God first and place Him first in your life. Choose to obey God’s law because you love God, and because you are thankful to God for everything He has already done for you. Obey because of what has already been given and not because you expect to be given anything more. Sure, God has promised us so much more, but obeying with the expectation of what we will get leads us towards the path of legalism and away from love. Obeying because we are grateful for what God has already done for us keeps us on the path of love.

Also, be sure to keep praying and studying the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God. While others can give you great ideas to think about, filter everything you learn and see through the lens of God’s Word and use His word as your guide in life.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of Miracles – Episode 25: When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and tells him to carry his mat home, is Jesus advocating breaking God’s law, or is there something more important that we can learn from what happened? Discover how Jesus validated God’s laws while the religious leaders had fallen far from God’s ideals.

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