GOTCHA! – John 7:19-24

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INTRODUCTION:

“Gotcha” is an American slang term that literally means, “I’ve got you”.  It has been used in a number of ways.  Many of us have used that word in a conversation, and we had a specific purpose and meaning in mind.  It can mean “I understand what you are saying”, or “I’ll do what you’ve asked”.  The word is sometimes used in the sense of capturing or apprehending someone, taking someone by surprise, embarrassing or disgracing someone, exposing a person’s mistakes, or proving that the person is wrong.  That’s quite a range of meanings and uses for the word, and that’s not all of them.  Why would I be using the word “gotcha” to describe an event in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Does that choice seem strange to you?  As we study this passage of Scripture, I’ll let you decide for yourself whether or not this title is appropriate.

TRANSITION:

As we begin our study of John 7:19-22, let’s imagine the scene at that moment in Jesus’ life.  It’s the week-long Feast of Booths [or Tabernacles].  Jesus arrived unnoticed, went into the temple and began to teach.  A crowd of people has formed around Jesus to listen to Him.  The Jewish religious authorities have arrived, have made their way to the front of the crowd, and are standing in front of Him, making accusations about Him; and Jesus is once again defending His authority.  Meanwhile, the crowd is standing there, watching and listening.

I.  THE ACCUSATION (verse 19a)

In verse 19, there is a change of direction.  Jesus takes the offensive position against them and assumes the control of the conversation.  “Turnabout is fair play”, as the saying goes.  It’s time for Him to examine their words and their actions, and offer His conclusions.  It’s time to bring them back to reality.  He begins His attack by saying, “Did not Moses give you the law”?  They are thinking in their minds, “Of course he did!”  They prided themselves on this, and believed that every violation of the law of Moses was deserving of death.  While they are gloating about their self-righteousness and their exalted position in the eyes of God, Jesus goes on to say yet not one of you carries out the law.” Those are stinging words to His questioners!  These leaders revere Moses and obey his every word – at least they try to give the impression that they do so!  Jesus is telling them, “You’re not carrying out the Law that God gave to Moses.  You’re carrying out your own version of it.  Those aren’t the Sabbath laws that God gave to Moses.  You’ve changed them and added to them to the point where they have become a despicable burden to the people.  It’s no surprise that you reject My teaching because you have rejected Moses’ teaching” (John 5:46-47).

At this point in Jesus’ discussion, it’s important to know the words that Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 31:10-13.  Here are those words:

Then Moses commanded them saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the
time of the year of the remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel
comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place which He will choose,
you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing.  Assemble the people,
the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that
they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe
all the words of this law.” 
[bold print added to emphasize key words]

We aren’t told whether or not this is the seventh year but, if not, Jesus may be alluding to that command to remind the Jewish leaders that, when the people hear the words of the Law being spoken, they will notice many of the differences between the Law of Moses and the teachings they have received from these rabbis.

II.  THE QUESTION (verse 19b)

As further proof of their disobedience to the law of Moses, Jesus asks them a question:  “Why do you seek to kill Me?”  He is saying, “Where does Moses say specifically that I should be killed for healing a person on the Sabbath day over a year ago?  What offenses deserve the death penalty in the law of Moses?  If My healing-miracle is not one of those offenses, then one of the commandments in the law of Moses says, ‘You shall not kill’.  So you’re the ones who are breaking the law of Moses by seeking to kill Me.”

III.  THE CROWD’S RESPONSE (verse 20)

I can imagine that the leaders of the Jews were standing there dumbfounded.  Jesus’ reasoning was too solid.  They weren’t prepared for this, and didn’t know what to say.  The crowd, most of whom were from outlying areas and weren’t familiar with Jesus or with the things He was saying, come to the defense of their leaders.  In verse 20 we read, The multitude answered, “You have a demon!  Who seeks to kill You?”  They weren’t telling Jesus that He was demon possessed.  During that period of time, many Jews believed that all unusual or uncalled for behavior was prompted by the devil.  In this day and age, we might use the words “you’re out of your mind”, “you’re crazy”, or “you’re paranoid”.  They misunderstood Jesus’ words because they didn’t know the history behind them.

IV.  THE QUESTION ANSWERED (verse 21)

I’m sure the leaders were relieved that the crowd directed the attention of Jesus away from them, but it didn’t last for long.  Rather than become distracted by the crowd and direct His conversation toward them in defense of His sanity, Jesus ignores their remark and continues His conversation with the leaders of the Jews, answering His own question.  In verse 21, He says,  “I did one deed and you all marvel.”  The religious authorities were amazed when they learned that Jesus healed, in an instant, a man who had been lame for 38 years, just by saying the words.  It was a miracle that only God could perform.  Yet they wanted to kill Jesus because He performed that miracle on the Sabbath Day.

V.  THE APPLICATION TO CIRCUMCISION (verses 22-23)

In verse 22, we find that the Lord Jesus isn’t finished with His argument.  He is still building His case against them.  This time He applies their Sabbath laws to the rite of circumcision when He says, “On this account Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man.”  First, He corrects their misunderstanding about circumcision.  Moses was not the originator of circumcision.  Before God told Moses to put the command of circumcision into written form in Leviticus 12:3, it had been practiced by “the fathers” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) over 700 years earlier.  In Genesis 17:10-12, God said to Abraham,“This is the covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. . . . every male among you who is eight days old.”  Therefore, in obedience to that law, every man-child (male baby) is circumcised on the eighth day, no “if’s”, “and’s”, or “but’s” about it.  There are no exceptions to the rule.  It’s the law, and this ceremonial law even takes precedence over the Sabbath laws.  That was the teaching of the Jewish religious authorities of that day.  However, there were exceptions to that rule.  In the Talmud (the collection of the teachings of the rabbis), it states that, should the baby suffer from an illness, the circumcision is postponed seven days for the sake of the well-being of the infant.  Therefore, the baby’s health is more important than this rite of purification, and this is one of several exceptions in the Talmud.

With that information in mind, Jesus presents His next argument in verse 23, saying, “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath.”  Jesus is saying, “You make exceptions to circumcision on the Sabbath because the health of the child is more important than the strict observance of the Law, so why are you upset because I healed this man completely on the Sabbath?”  He’s telling them that they are contradicting themselves because they say one thing but do another.

There is another argument that isn’t spoken by Jesus, but it’s implied, and all the rabbi’s standing around Him know what that argument is.  As they add this final argument to the ones already stated by Jesus, they realize that they have lost their case and there is nothing to refute.  Are you wondering what that final argument is?  It has to do with one of the teachings of their most famous rabbi, Hillel the Great.  Hillel’s first great law of interpretation was, “The Major may be inferred from the Minor”.  What does that mean?  In this case, circumcision, which was considered to be the ceremonial law of the purification of newborn males) overrides the Sabbath, and health overrides circumcision.  So the Sabbath and circumcision are ‘Minor’ when compared with health.  Thus Jesus’ case against them might be put into these words:  “I did what’s considered ‘Major’ according to your laws and the teachings of your most famous rabbi, when I healed that man completely on the Sabbath, so why are you majoring in the ‘Minors’?”

What excellent arguments!  Case dismissed!  As I review Jesus’ arguments, a word comes back to mind.  The word is GOTCHA!  Does that word seem appropriate to you also?

VI.  THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED (verse 24)

While those teachers of the Law are standing there, looking at Jesus in wide-eyed amazement, experiencing the shame and agony of defeat, the Lord Jesus uses that moment to teach them a lesson in verse 24.  Here are Jesus’ words of instruction to these rulers of the Jews.  He says to them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”  He’s telling them to repent of the way they have mistreated Him and do what’s right in the sight of God.  How easy and how tempting it is to make judgments about the actions and motives of others before all the facts are known, or in spite of the facts that are known.

A newspaper correspondent attended an auction where he saw, among other items, a pair of excellent crutches.  A poor, crippled boy was the first to bid on them.  A well-dressed elderly man was also interested in them and kept offering more money for them.  Some of the people frowned in disapproval, and one lady said, “Shame on you; let the boy have them!”  Whenever the boy called out a higher price, the man would always top it.  At last, the boy held up a five-dollar bill, all that he had, and made a final bid.  When more was offered, the young fellow turned away in tears.  The crowd muttered angrily.  Then, to everyone’s surprise, the gentleman presented the crutches to the boy, saying, “These are much too small for me, so I won’t have any use for them.  When I saw that you were crippled, my heart went out to you.  So I decided to buy the crutches and give them to you.”  The crowd began to applaud for they realized they had completely misjudged the man and the situation.  They looked at outward appearances only, and came to their own conclusions, when they should have given the situation time to allow the true motives to be revealed.  That same principle is reflected in our attitude toward God’s Word, the Bible.  Are we committed to what God’s Word actually says, or to what we want it to say?

One of the things that can cause us to make wrong judgments is peer pressure.  Em Griffin in his book, “The Mindchangers”, describes an experiment done by Solomon Asch with groups of 12 people.  They were brought into a room where four lines of unequal length were displayed.  They had to decide which two were the same length and publicly vote for their choice.  Person after person after person (11 in all) voted for the wrong line – because they had been told to do so ahead of time.  The one individual who was in the dark couldn’t imagine how in the world all these seemingly normal people could all choose the wrong line.  When it was his turn to vote, he had to decide, “Do I go with what I know my senses are telling me, or do I go with the crowd?”  One-third of those tested caved in to group pressure and changed their vote to agree with their peers.  Are you feeling the pull of peer pressure in your life?  Don’t let peer pressure keep you from repenting of your sin and following Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  He will give you a new life, a changed life manifested by a love for Him and desire to obey Him and depend upon Him for strength, guidance, and victory.

Fellow-believers, a decision needs to be made in our hearts to do what is right in God’s sight even when everyone around us, where we live or work or go to school, wants to go the wrong way.  Ask God for the desire and the strength to make the right choice and do the right thing, even if it means standing alone.  In actuality, we won’t be alone.  The Lord will be with us, and there are many Christians over the past 20 centuries who have chosen to live righteously.  Some of their testimonies are written down for us in the Scriptures and in the history books.  I’ll close by giving you one of those examples.  In the third century, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, strongly opposed the teachings of Arius, who declared that Christ was not the eternal Son of God, but a subordinate being.  After being exiled five times for his beliefs, he was summoned before emperor Theodosius who demanded that he cease his opposition to Arius.  The emperor reproved him and asked, “Do you not realize that all the world is against you?”  Athanasius quickly answered, “Then I am against all the world.”

May we have that kind of tenacity in our obedience to the truths of God’s Word.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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THERE’S A LAW AGAINST IT – John 5:10-14

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INTRODUCTION:

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.