Read: John 5:1-18
Jesus was undoubtedly a devout Jew in that he would go up to festivals in Jerusalem. This is the second time in the book of John that notes Jesus going to Jerusalem for a festival (John 2:13). Jesus encounters a man by the pool of Bethesda. (Archaeology uncovered what is likely the pool of Bethesda in the 1800 in Jerusalem.) The man was lame and had been lying by the pool for 38 years, well over half a lifetime considering the life expectancy was considerably lower than it is today, perhaps around forty years old. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” The man was holding out hope that someone would help him into the pool because the belief that angels would stir the waters and whoever entered the pool first would be healed. A lame man who couldn’t walk would obviously have a hard time getting himself in the pool. In a roundabout way, he did answer Jesus’ question affirmatively. Jesus healed him and the man got up, took up his bead, and walked.
The Jews saw that the man was carrying his bed, and they told him that it was not lawful to carry his bed. It is questionable as to whether or not the man was really breaking the law. The Pharisees valued piety and had made the law stricter than it already was, such that a simple task such as picking up one’s bedroll was considered unlawful. The prohibition against working on the Sabbath is recorded in Exodus 20:8-11 and Exodus 31:12-17. Nehemiah 13:15-21 expounds on this when Nehemiah sees people working on the Sabbath. Often times, Jesus did things that were considered unlawful to do on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17, Luke 6:1-11, Mark 2:23-28, Mark 3:1-6, Matthew 12:1-14).
Mark 2:27-28 mark two facts about the Sabbath that apparently the Jews had missed. First, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, meaning that God instituted a law to prevent man from being over worked – to give him a day of rest from labor. Also, the purpose of this day was to remember God. The Pharisees had made the law burdensome to the people rather than liberating such that one became obsessive over avoiding work on the Sabbath rather that actually resting on the Sabbath. Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites” because they would lead their livestock from feeding to drinking in Luke 13:15.
Second, Jesus (the Son of Man) is the Lord of the Sabbath. In a manner of speaking, Jesus was receiving from the Sabbath that for which the Sabbath was in part instituted: worship of God. The man Jesus healed was later in the Temple, probably worshiping as most good Jews would probably do on the Sabbath, and Jesus found him there. Jesus tells him to sin no more so nothing else worse would happen. The man then goes and tells the Jews who healed him, and they persecuted Jesus. Jesus says that it is his Father who is working and he is too. Then the Jews wanted to kill him for both working on the Sabbath and claiming equality with God who is Lord of the Sabbath and Lord of all.
The prohibition against working on the Sabbath was given for two reasons: rest and worship. Some had got so caught up in trying to refrain from working on the Sabbath that they were working harder avoiding work than they would if they were actually working! The real crime here is not work insomuch as it is forgetting the purpose of the Sabbath by being legalistic about the Sabbath and condemning those who do not keep the Sabbath according to one’s own artificial standards. This temptation has not gone away either. Being devout does not mean that one should uphold the Sabbath for the legalistic purposes, rather it is good for Christians to have a day to rest and devote themselves to Lord of the Sabbath introspectively — and don’t be afraid to do good on the Sabbath either.
Lord of the Sabbath, help me to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy!