A man is walking down the street one day with a smile on his face, a gleam in his eyes, and a spring in his step. Suddenly he is stopped by several policemen and a conversation ensues.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going home.”
“What’s that under your arm?”
“It’s my lounge chair.”
“What are you doing with that?”
“I’m taking it home.”
“How much does it weigh?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you know it’s against the law to carry one of those on Saturdays?”
“I was told to do so.”
“Who told you?”
“I don’t know.”
By now you’re either confused, amused, or both. This imaginary conversation doesn’t seem to be making any sense, does it?. It’s also spoiling the moment for this happy traveler! He was minding his own business and now he’s accused of breaking the law!
I mean no disrespect for policemen and other law-enforcement agencies and personnel. They do a valuable service by protecting the rights of our citizens and upholding the laws of our country. My purpose is to focus our attention upon a group of self-appointed “policemen” in this passage of Scripture. These public spokesmen had their own version of God’s laws, and they were trying to “enforce” them, or force them upon the nation of Israel, making life miserable for everyone except themselves. We will see how they try to turn this amazing miracle into an act of civil disobedience, and expose the Miracle Worker as being a Criminal.
I. DATE AND TIME OF INCIDENT (verse 9)
Verse 9 of John’s Gospel, chapter 5, ends with these words: “Now it was the Sabbath on that day.” I purposely left that sentence out of my previous sermon because I didn’t want to take the focus away from the Lord Jesus and the miracle He performed at the pool at Bethesda. A man who had been an invalid for 38 years was told by Jesus, “Arise! Take up your pallet, and walk.” The man gladly obeyed. This incident occurred on the Sabbath day, probably in the late morning or the early afternoon. We don’t know for sure. There may have been a hundred or more people at that pool who witnessed the miracle. Most, if not all of those witnesses, were invalids like himself.
II. THE ACCUSATION (verse 10)
Verse 10 reads, “Therefore the Jews were saying to him who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet’.” The Sabbath – that’s going to be a major arena of controversy between the Lord Jesus and the Jewish leaders because this is the first of several miracles performed by Jesus on the Sabbath day. In John 9:1-12 Jesus healed the blind man. In Luke 4:31-37 He cast the demons out of the demoniac, and in Matthew 12:9-14 He healed the man with the withered hand. All three of these miracles were performed by the Lord Jesus on the Sabbath day.
Before we go any further, we need to have a clear understanding of the “Sabbath-day laws” that the Jewish leaders have been adding to God’s Sabbath law over a period of hundreds of years. These laws were part of the 613 laws that the Jewish leaders had put together as interpretations of the laws God gave to Moses. But the process of making interpretations and stipulations didn’t end there. By the time of the ministry of the Lord Jesus on this earth, those 613 laws had become 613 categories of laws as more interpretations were still being added to each category. I don’t know how they kept track of them all!
The category of bearing burdens on the Sabbath was a result of their misinterpretations of Exodus 20 and 23, as well as Jeremiah 17:19-27 and Nehemiah 13:15-19. The original intent of those passages of Scripture was the prohibition against the carrying of heavy burdens on the Sabbath for the purpose of doing business on that day. Let me give you some examples of just how far they drifted from the intent of Scripture. What constituted a burden in their minds? According to their laws, you could not wear false teeth or an artificial limb on the Sabbath, nor could you wear shoes or sandals that had nails in them. You couldn’t carry a needle in your robe, nor wear jewelry. All of those things were considered “burdens”, and those are just a few examples.
Let’s look again at the wording used by the Jewish leaders in verse 10: “It is the Sabbath; and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” Did you notice their wording? They said, “It’s not permissible”. They didn’t say “God forbids you”, because He doesn’t. They didn’t say, “It’s against God’s Law”, because it isn’t. They could not show this man any Scriptures that specifically prohibited his activity. What these leaders are saying is : “We forbid this activity; it is not permissible in our sight because it is a violation of our laws.”
This legalism concerning the Sabbath observance wasn’t just limited to the Jewish Rabbis at that period in time. There are many cases, even in this day and age, when people have gone beyond the teaching of the Scriptures concerning the Sabbath, and have tried to impose their beliefs onto others.
There is a true story about a minister who was a Sunday guest in a home in Scotland. It was a very warm day and he suggested opening a window to get some fresh air. The hostess eyed him sternly and said, “Mon, dinna ye know that ye can have no fresh air in this house on the Sabbath?” No fresh air was her rule for keeping the Sabbath Day.
The following illustration may be closer to home. The story is told of a pastor who found the roads blocked one Sunday morning and was forced to skate on the river to get to church, which he did. When he arrived the elders of the church were horrified that their preacher had skated on the Lord’s day. After the service they held a meeting where the pastor explained that it was either skate to church or not go at all. Finally, one elder asked, “Did you enjoy it?” When the preacher answered, “No,” the board decided it was all right. In this case, doing “enjoyable work” was forbidden on the Lord’s day. (Today in the Word, December, 1989).
II. THE ALIBI (verse 11)
The healed man’s answer to his accusers shows good reasoning on his part. But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk.’ “ The Man who gave such an “impossible” command, and then gave him the power to fulfill it, was certainly Someone to be obeyed. Jesus’ authority was superior to theirs in his mind. I doubt that he even thought about their “Sabbath laws” in his amazement and exuberance. Jesus gave him the command and the impossible became a reality. He was now a new person physically. May that also be our attitude as well. “I do what God says because He says so”. It’s as simple as that! He is worthy of my obedience because of Who He is.
III. THE SUPPORTING EVIDENCE (verses 12-13)
The man’s alibi wasn’t sufficient to satisfy the Jewish leaders. They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your pallet and walk’?” They are not asking that question so that they might meet Him and worship Him. Quite the contrary! They consider the perpetrator of this miracle to be guilty of the greater crime, and deserving of even greater punishment. In their minds there was no excuse for His behavior. Not even a miracle from God could supersede their laws, and they didn’t even want to know the details of the miracle. Evidence was not important in this case of theirs.
Verse 13 says, “But he who was healed did not know who it was; for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.” I don’t find it surprising that this former-invalid didn’t know the name of the Person who healed him. It was still early in Jesus’ public ministry, and since this man had spent most of his life laying next to the pool of Bethesda, he probably didn’t hear very much news from the “outside world”. It appears that this was the first and only appearance of the Lord Jesus at the pool of Bethesda. Not only that, but Jesus made a quick getaway after performing that miracle, disappearing into the crowd of people that had gathered around them. The Greek word literally means “to dodge”. You might say He “quietly made His way through the traffic in order to dodge any stones that might be thrown in His direction”! This was not yet the time or place for the Lord Jesus to have a major confrontation with the Jewish leaders.
IV. THE HEALED MAN REVISITED (verses 14)
When the commotion was over, we read in verse 14: “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you.’ ” After dropping off his pallet at home, this man went immediately to the temple to praise God for what He had done, and possibly to offer a grain offering of thanksgiving as well. This is where the Lord Jesus finds him, and admonishes him not to sin anymore. Thirty-eight years earlier, this man must have committed a sin in his youth that resulted in his weak and helpless condition. The fact that he had been healed of the consequences of his sin did not give him the right or permission to engage in such behavior again. I think this was the intent of Jesus’ admonition and I hope the man learned his lesson.
This passage of Scripture doesn’t tell us whether or not this man believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as his Messiah. There is no indication that he worshipped Christ or followed Him. However, I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that he didn’t do so. Every step he took and every move he made was a reminder of who Jesus was and what He had done for him. The Bible doesn’t record everything that happens in the lives of the people mentioned in it. I prefer to believe that this man became a changed man on the inside also, and that his life and his words became a testimony for Christ to others around him.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
This incident isn’t over yet. In the next message the Jews are going to be interrogating Jesus and we’ll be studying part of His response to them. From the passage of Scripture that we’ve just studied, I’ve derived four principles.
1. God’s grace and power can only begin to become effective in our lives at the point when we acknowledge our own helplessness and look only to Him in obedient faith.
2. The love, mercy, and generosity of God are not an excuse for sin, but rather a motive for grateful obedience
3. God’s purpose was not to enslave man but to free him. In Mark 2:27 Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Rest on the Sabbath day meant rest from work in order to be refreshed and have time for worship and fellowship with other believers. It also did not rule out acts of kindness and mercy to others in need.
4. My standards, if they go beyond the teachings of Scripture, should not go any further than myself. Legalism consists, not in having standards which exceed the bounds of the Scriptures, but of considering these personal standards as being equal to Scripture, and trying to impose them on others.
May this study help you to understand and deal with the forces of legalism around us today. I believe that the only cure for legalism is a humble heart and a correct understanding and application of God’s Word. So please stay in God’s Word and make it your only guide for living.
If you would like to watch a well-enacted video of the healing at Bethesda as well as the rest of John 5, click the following link below.