The Explorer’s Way
John: Gospel of Glory
Sign Three: Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, picked up his pallet, and began to walk. (John 5:8-9 NASB)
Please read the full text HERE,
John tells this story in three parts:
- Jesus heals the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.
- The Jewish authorities challenge Jesus for healing the man on the Sabbath.
- Jesus truly reveals himself to the man and explains the meaning of the miracle.
Act 1: Seeking Someone to Heal
Jesus approaches the man knowing he has been paralyzed for 38 years. Given that the average life expectancy of men at that time was about 40 years, we may surmise he had been in this condition most, if not all, his adult life. Therefore, Jesus asks a fair, honest question: “Do you wish to be healed?”
But the answer the man gives to Jesus is less a resounding “yes” than an invitation to join him in his misery. Instead of answering Jesus directly, he relays a fantasy about being lowered into the pool which supposedly had healing properties. He also gives an excuse about why he has been denied healing - he is never the “first guy into the pool” because he has no one to swiftly assist him.*
As we saw last week (Lord of Healing), Jesus rarely, if ever, does what is expected:
Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet, and began to walk. (5:8-9)
Jesus chooses whom to seek and heal as a “sign,” though with permission. And Jesus heals His way, not the way the man expects or according to some popular myth.
Act 2: This is a Good Thing, Right?
So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is a Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’” (John 5:10-11, NASB)
It is questionable how the former paralytic feels about his healing from what follows in the text, but when the Jews question him about his taking up his pallet on the Sabbath, he blames Jesus. The man, of course, doesn’t yet know that his Healer is the Lord of the Sabbath. But he will get a second chance to understand.
Here we must ask a crucial question: Why was the Sabbath so important to the Jewish leaders that the healing of this paralytic would anger them to the point of wanting Jesus dead?
Theologian Darrell Johnson notes that John in his Gospel (chapters 5-11) uses the Jewish feasts and holy days to reveal that Jesus is the literal, physical fulfillment of those ceremonies. In the “feast miracle” before us, John focuses on the weekly feast: the Sabbath.
In our day and culture, we could not be further from a first-century Jewish understanding of the Sabbath, let alone the Jewish leaders’ hyper-vigilance in keeping it. We rush through each day, never ceasing to work, always striving to accomplish. In stark contrast, the Jewish leaders obeyed the Fourth Commandment to a nearly insane specificity:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, (Ex. 20:8-10a, NASB)
By Jesus’ day, the rabbis and teachers of the Law had developed 39 “types of work” that were forbidden, the chief of them being “carrying.” The spirit of this prohibition is noble, for “carrying” is seen as a form of both mastery over nature and ownership, gathering for oneself. But, according to Johnson, the Jews’ focus had drifted from the Sabbath’s healthy intent of “exposing” people to God’s goodness, grounded in creation itself, to “imposing” rules upon them.
Contrast our culture's hunger for constant acquisition and mastery over nature with the idea of resting from all such pursuits for one out of every seven days. Think about how this rest would cause you to contemplate who truly rules nature and provides for all your needs.
Act 3: The Sign Points Beyond Itself
For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on a Sabbath. But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. (John 5:16-18, NASB)
Jesus explains to the Jews that He healed the man because He, like His Father, “is always working.” To the Jewish mindset, this is excusing the breaking of one law by breaking a much greater one. Jesus breaks their Sabbath rules (these were additions) because He equates Himself with God. To understand the audacity of this statement, imagine a police officer pulls you over for speeding. Your excuse to the officer is that you were making your getaway after robbing a bank.
In Jesus’s case, though, it’s true. He is equal with His Father, just as surely as His healing of the paralytic was real.
Once again, we see the glory of Jesus, His displacing heaviness and authority. Jesus is the Lord not only of healing but of the Sabbath. He can work on the Sabbath because He is God. Only God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - should work on the Sabbath. We deny a human reality, grounded in creation when we ignore this. What a tragedy. But the greater tragedy, for these Jewish leaders, is that what God meant to refresh them and draw them closer to Him ultimately set them about plotting to kill His Son. In the wake of misplaced religious fervor, they missed that nothing could be more appropriate than that God’s Son would heal on the Sabbath, for He is the Lord of the Sabbath.
From chapters 5-11 get ready for Jesus to say and do some of the most unprecedented things ever recorded in human history. Any notions of Jesus being just a “noble teacher” are swept away as He reveals the glory He has shared with the Father for all eternity from within the very worship life and messianic expectation of Israel over the coming Jewish feasts.
Please comment below or ask questions as we go. No one ever did the things that Jesus did or said the sort of things that Jesus said.
*Note on John 5:4. Maybe you have noticed this is not in your Bible? If you are using a modern translation like the NASB, ESV, NIV, etc. that verse will not appear as textual critics agree that this verse was added to the text later and was not a part of the original ‘autograph.” This is a rare occurrence in our Bibles and usually is referenced in the notes. So, the myth of an “angel stirring the waters” of the pool is just that – a myth that grew over time and was added later. Leaving it in 9or reading the KJV doesn’t hurt as Jesus ignores all of the paralytic’s assumptions about healing. But for accuracy's sake, it is good to be aware of it.
Next Week - Sign Four: Lord of Our Beings - The Feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-41)
Pastor Mac (Christopher MacDonald) is CornerstoneSF’s new Online Community Pastor. Former co-founder of the Apologetics Resource Center, and the director of SPOKE: The Human Meaning Project (humanmeaning.org), he has long expressed rich theological and biblical concerns through his writings. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.