When Made-up Rules Come Face to Face with Truth

Text – John 5:8 – 6:2;  Reader – Richard Wallman

Video from “The Chosen”

Jesus performed healings and the Gospel book writer John called them “signs”, pointers to Jesus as to who he was, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. John expected his readers to look at the signs and respond accordingly. After each miraculous sign, John then gave commentary on what just happened. That’s the pattern throughout John’s Gospel: a miracle took place, that miracle was a sign that John made sure was explained or commented on. Last week, in John 5, we saw the healing of a man who had been sitting by Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda for 38 years, hoping for healing but not being healed. Jesus went to him.

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:8,9a)

Video from last Sunday, The Chosen, Season 2, Episode 4

It’s good writing by The Chosen’s writers to show John pulling out his notepad and writing down what happened there for it reminds us that the Gospel books told the things Jesus did and said as seen or dictated by eyewitnesses, one of which was John. This miracle upset the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees, who were jealous of Jesus’ popularity and his apparent divine power. As well, they were mad that Jesus had broken Sabbath law. Here was a contrast: Jesus didn’t care about what the Pharisees said, while the Pharisees didn’t care about the man healed, only that their made-up laws had not been followed.

Video for this Sunday, The Chosen, Season 2, Episode 4

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 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.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” So, they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 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.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. (John 5:9b-16)

Jesus did not make the healing about himself. He didn’t even tell the healed man who he was. He simply healed him because he cared for him. However, when Jesus later saw the man, he told him to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you”, which suggests that Jesus knew something about this man’s past, inferring that the man’s illness had been the result of sin 38 years before. Jesus’ warning was compassionate. He didn’t want the man to slip back into old sinful habits that would cause further suffering for himself after God had healed him. But the main foci in this event was not about the healed man by about the following two topics: 1. keeping Sabbath law, and, 2. the Pharisees unwillingness to look at the signs and believe in Jesus. Some background:

God gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), and then gave additional laws expanding on them to make a total of 613 written commandments which formed the Mosaic Law.

Now, Jewish people laboured to keep all of those laws, but the Jewish leaders made doing so impossible for them. Here was the situation:

Over time, Jewish religious leaders slowly added to those 613 laws further sub-laws or oral traditions that were originally intended to clarify how to keep the Mosaic Law.

Their original intent may have been honourable in that they were simply trying to help people understand the laws and keep them. However, the religious leaders became overly strict about the people following the oral tradition laws they had come up with. The “oral traditions”…

These were called “fence laws” as they were intended to build a protective barrier around each of the 613 Mosaic Laws.

A person would be kept safe if they stayed within the “fences” the oral traditions provided. That was a good intent. But, what happened was that, over time, the Jewish religious leaders came up with thousands of those “fence laws”. These fence laws or oral traditions weren’t written down anywhere, though, and were known only to the religious leaders. The masses didn’t know about the various fence laws until they were told by the Pharisees that they had broken them.

The fourth of the Ten Commandments was to “keep the Sabbath holy” which meant that the Jews were not supposed to work on Saturdays but to focus on God.

Simple enough, right? But the actual keeping of it was anything but as…

Jewish religious leaders then created 39 separate categories of what “work” meant, and within those 39 categories many other sub-categories, with the result being literally thousands of oral traditions/fence laws concerning Sabbath-keeping that the Jewish people were to follow.

The people had no chance of upholding those oral traditions/fence laws. Then,

The Pharisees (who were not priests but self-appointed bureaucratic rule-makers and keepers) created over 1,500 additional “fence laws”, and then appointed themselves the keepers of those laws. They burdened the people by their human-made legalistic rules that God never commanded.

I am sure that you now understanding why Jesus had such difficulty with the Pharisees. Here are examples of their made-up oral traditions/fence laws:

You could not spit on the Sabbath because it would disturb the dirt and you would be guilty of plowing.

You could not swat a fly on the Sabbath because you would be guilty of hunting.

A woman could not look at her reflection because she might see a gray hair and pluck it out, which would be doing work.

Plus, to make things easier for “friends in high places”, or some such thing,

Loopholes became commonplace. If your house was burning down on a Sabbath, you could not carry clothes out of it. However, you were allowed to put on several layers of clothes as the house was burning down. You could leave without breaking the law because you were wearing them instead of carrying them.

You could not travel more than 3/5 mile (2,000 steps) from your house on the Sabbath. However, if food was 2,000 steps away, then you could go the night before and leave food at that spot, eat it (because it was considered to be yesterday’s meal), and then walk home, making it permissible to travel twice the “Sabbath’s Walk” distance without breaking the law.

You could not light a candle or gather a hen’s eggs, but you could pay a Gentile to light the candle or gather the eggs for you.

Concerning keeping God’s law, the Mosaic laws, Jesus said this about himself:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17,18)

Jesus was for keeping God’s laws, but he was not interested in following oral traditions/fence laws that God had not commanded, and which humans had made up. Once, in an attempt to trick him into saying something they could use against him, the Pharisees asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. Instead of naming a commandment they could argue with him about,

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Right after that, he lambasted and exposed the Pharisees for who they were:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but, on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27,28)

With the hypocritical Pharisees, Jesus was neither impressed nor afraid. In fact, Jesus defended himself against the Pharisees’ charge that he had broken Sabbath law. God and His law Jesus deferred to; not what Pharisees claimed.

In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason, they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:17,18)

So, it was not just the healings Jesus was doing, or the fact that he was doing them on any day of the week – even on the Sabbath – that so incensed the Pharisees, but that Jesus made himself equal with God. Listen to what he said:

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)

1 – The Father does good things and the Son sees the good things the Father does and then the Son does the same things.

For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. (John 5:20)

2 – The Father loves the Son and shows Him everything. People are amazed at the things the Father does.

For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. (John 5:21)

3 – The Father raises the dead! Because the Son sees and does what the Father does – He can also give life to whomever He pleases!

Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. (John 5:22)

4 – BUT! The Father judges no one…He gives the role of judge completely to the Son.

Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:23)

5- When people honor the Son, they are also honoring the Father.

To sum up, the love of God the Father for His son, Jesus, meant that God showed Jesus everything He had been doing and gave Jesus His same authority to do such things, including the right to eternally judge people. Jesus continued on…

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:24-27)

The “dead” who hear the voice of Jesus the Son of God and “come to live” are those who do not believe in Jesus but have come to believe. Jesus was stating to the Pharisees that their enforcing of oral laws would not save anyone. In contrast, Jesus saves people, simply by them believing in his words and placing their faith in him. The Pharisees were amazed by that. To them, Jesus said:

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:28-30)

Jesus’ judgment will be just because His Father’s judgment is just. The Son of God does not see his own will but only the Father’s perfect will. “Not my will, but yours be done”, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’ life on earth was all about doing His heavenly Father’s will. That would have been too heavy for those religious leaders to take in, so Jesus simplified things by pointing to John the Baptist, who the crowds loved and some Pharisees begrudgingly admired.

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true. You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish — the very works that I am doing — testify that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:31-36)

But there was another whose testimony about Jesus trumped even John the Baptist’s. That “other” was God the Father who also gave testimony about Jesus.

“And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:37-40)

It was evident to Jesus that the Jewish religious leaders did not believe in him only because they did not want to believe. Yet, O.T. scriptures testified about Jesus. The religious leaders read those verses, yet they refused to allow themselves to see that they were written about Jesus. Jesus knew their hearts, though, and that his validation did not need their testimonies about him.

“I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:41-44)

The Pharisees thought that Jesus would be stopped in his tracks if they did not affirm him, but they were wrong. The only glory, praise, honour, or recognition that Jesus cared about was that of His Father. Whereas the Pharisees sought admiration from humans for their knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, Jesus was so unlike that. When he had willingly set aside his heavenly glory and come to earth as a human as God incarnate on earth, Jesus embraced humility. He knew his purpose in coming to earth: to provide salvation and forgiveness for humans. Think about it: The seeking of honour from people and from God the Father are mutually exclusive of each other. They do not jive with one another. Jesus knew that. And, in one final shot at the Pharisees – who sought the praise of humans rather than – Jesus told them to read the words of Moses where they could read about him and possibly could to believe in him, if they were only willing to do so…

“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:45-47)

In closing, I will quickly mention that in three weeks time, thus after Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, we will continue on with our sermon series by going to the next chapter, to John, chapter 6, where we will see that the masses were so different from the Pharisees. The masses did look at the miraculous signs Jesus had done, such as healing the invalid at the Pool of Bethesda. 5,000 people turned up to the next event John wrote about.

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. (John 6:1,2)

The Pharisees could have been like the masses, but they didn’t want to believe in Jesus. Doing so would have meant them losing their privileged positions of power in the Jewish society. Let us be not like the Pharisees but be like the masses. Jesus challenges people to believe in him. He doesn’t simply do miracles or teach truths and hope that people notice, while letting people go on their way. No! He challenges people to look at the miraculous signs and to believe, because he knows that by doing so people will find life and escape death. Because he came from heaven and was from God, he could do all that he did – but he expects a response from us. How do we respond? That is the question of today. Let’s pray.

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