Lord of Sickness and Sabbath
Lord of Sickness and Sabbath
Main Idea: The persecution of Jesus provides him with an opportunity to reveal his authority over all mankind and to confront the religious leaders with their rebellion against God.
- Jesus Is Lord over Sickness (5:1-9).
- It’s Not a Fake Healing.
- It’s Not a Faith Healing.
- It’s a Free Healing.
- It’s a Full Healing.
- Jesus Is Lord over the Sabbath (5:9-18).
The IRS employs more than 80,000 people and has a budget of nearly a billion dollars.Imagine how much time and money could be saved by Americans simply submitting to the IRS’s authority. But we don’t like to submit to someone else’s authority.
Human history is the history of how man has rebelled against authority. Beginning in the garden, people demonstrated they wanted to answer to no one, including God. It continues throughout the Old Testament, whether you’re reading the account of Israel complaining in the wilderness or rebelling against God in the book of Judges. The natural bent of our hearts is antiauthority. We’re rebels by nature. Only the supernatural work of God in our hearts allows us to turn from our rebellious ways to submit to Jesus as our Lord and Master.
Our rebellious nature and our struggle with authority—particularly Jesus’s authority as Lord—become clear the more we study the Gospel of John. In chapter 5 Jesus heals a lame man and is persecuted because of it. This persecution provides him with the perfect opportunity to reveal his authority over all mankind and to confront the religious leaders with their rebellion against God. By this point a transition has taken place in the Gospel. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the entire book, and chapters 2–4 reveal how people were interested in Jesus and his miracles, but chapters 5–7 chronicle the shift from curiosity to opposition and from interest to persecution. The shift in attitude toward Jesus corresponds with Jesus’s further establishing his authority. Jesus’s authority is seen as he reveals himself to be Lord over sickness and Lord over the Sabbath.
Jesus Is Lord over Sickness
Jesus is in charge. This miracle reveals the authority and deity of Jesus Christ. I want to point out four things about this miracle.
It’s Not a Fake Healing
It begins with the healing of a lame man. This man, chosen by Jesus, had been lame for thirty-eight years. He’s not faking it. Jesus is now in his early thirties—probably thirty-one or thirty-two. For this to have been fake, the man would have had to plan it six years before Jesus was born. Depending on your translation, you may or may not have a verse 4. In the CSB, NIV, and ESV it’s missing. However, a footnote in the CSB reads,
Some mss include vv. 3b-4:—waiting for the moving of the water, because an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had.
Most New Testament scholars believe this section is not original and was added in the margin of a manuscript by one of the scribes who was copying the text. However, it does show us what many thought in that time, and it explains the words of the invalid in verse 7.
It’s Not a Faith Healing
Many books and television programs promise people if they just have enough faith, all their physical infirmities will be miraculously cured. One such faith healer was Peter Popoff. He was a widely popular televangelist in the 1970s and 1980s who claimed he could heal those who had enough faith. He would call out the names and ailments of those in the audience, claiming to have received divine revelation. He was exposed as a fraud on the Johnny Carson Show when one of the radio transmissions between Popoff and his wife was aired. It came to light that Popoff’s wife and workers would mingle with the crowd before the service and pick up information. This information would then be relayed from Popoff’s wife to a tiny receiver in Popoff’s ear. Everything he had said was a lie.
This account in John’s Gospel in no way supports the claims of faith healers. The man who was healed is no example of faith. Look at verse 7. His response to Jesus’s question, “Do you want to get well?” was to complain that he had no one to help him. I love one writer’s description of this man’s response:
[Verse] 7 reads less as an apt and subtle response to Jesus’s question than as the crotchety grumblings of an old and not very perceptive man who thinks he is answering a stupid question. (Carson, John, 243)
We learn more unflattering details about this man later in the account. In verse 10, when the Jews ask him why he’s breaking their law by carrying his mat on the Sabbath, he responds by blaming Jesus: “The man who made me well told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’” (v. 11).
Later Jesus comes back to him and tells him, “Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you” (v. 14). He’s implying the man’s condition was the result of sin he had committed. It’s clear later in John’s Gospel that sickness and disease are not always the result of sin (ch. 9). In fact, they may rarely be the result of it, but they can be sometimes: the person who contracts HIV from immoral behavior or who kills her liver through drunkenness demonstrates that sin can have physical consequences.
It’s a Free Healing
This man didn’t purchase the healing. He didn’t win the sweepstakes or find the golden ticket. He certainly didn’t deserve to be healed. It was only because Jesus graciously chose to heal him that he was healed. Here is an old, angry, embittered man who’s broken and helpless. He’s done nothing to deserve the kindness of Jesus. Even when Jesus seeks him out, he responds with an ugly comment, complaining about no help. What does Jesus do? He doesn’t say, “Well, if only he had asked me,” or, “He deserves to be alone and miserable,” or, “I gave him a chance, and he failed.” In his grace he looks past the man’s failure, the man’s sin, and he restores him. He makes him whole. Jesus can do the same for you. He has eyes to see past your hard exterior, past your brokenness, and he can make you whole.
It’s a Full Healing
The man wasn’t partially healed. He was completely and “instantly” healed (v. 9). When Jesus told this lame man to get up and walk, sickness and disease fled. How much physical therapy did this man require after the disease left his body? How many days of working out before his strength returned? None. The words of Jesus brought total and complete restoration.
Sometimes we forget about the power of Jesus. He is Lord over sickness. If he commands it to go, sickness must obey. This is why Christians pray for physical healing. It isn’t always Jesus’s will to heal his people, but if it is his will, he can do it. Often he’s doing a thousand other things through the sickness—things we are unaware of, but we pray because sickness is no match for him.
Jesus Is Lord over the Sabbath
The story doesn’t end here. It isn’t as simple as Jesus healing a man and the man going his own way. Look at the last phrase of verse 9: “Now that day was the Sabbath.” Jesus chose to heal this man on this specific day to make a point to the religious leaders. He wants them to see their lack of submission to God and his authority.
Word has spread about this lame man being healed, and the Jewish religious leaders find him before he returns home. They say in essence, “It’s the Sabbath, and you’re working by carrying your bed. How dare you?” (v. 10). Doesn’t this reveal their values? First, they’re more concerned about their rules than they are about God’s rules, and second, they’re more concerned about their rules than they are about people. A man has just been healed! Shouldn’t this be an occasion to celebrate? The love of rules, traditions, and possessions more than people can creep into our lives in subtle and dangerous ways.
The religious leaders would have claimed to love this man, but their actions told the real story. Eventually they find out Jesus is the one who healed the lame man, and they persecute Jesus “because he was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v. 16). In the coming chapters we will see the persecution grow until these same men are inciting a mob to scream, “Take him away! Crucify him!” (19:15) Here Jesus gets the opportunity to defend himself: “Jesus responded to them, ‘My Father is still working, and I am working also’” (5:17).
Jesus could have rightfully set them straight on their misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Sabbath. The Sabbath day was instituted in Exodus 20, when God delivered to Moses the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath was intended to be a blessing. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
The Sabbath was to give people a day of rest from their labor and a day consecrated to him. The work they were to refrain from doing was their regular employment (Carson, John, 224). Acts of mercy—works of kindness that benefited other people—fit the spirit of the command exactly. To forbid them was a complete and utter perversion of what God intended. However, here Jesus did not defend himself by clarifying the purpose of the Sabbath. His defense was that God was working on the Sabbath. They would all have to agree with that; none of them would say that God took a day off each week. Therefore, if God was working, then it was perfectly legitimate for Jesus to work as well.
We need to understand Jesus’s logic. He’s not saying that because God works on the Sabbath, anyone can work on the Sabbath. No, he’s saying that because God works on the Sabbath, he can. For Jesus’s defense to be valid, all the factors that apply to God must apply to Jesus. Jesus is insisting that whatever factors justify God’s continuous work on the Sabbath justify his. The Jews understand that Jesus is claiming equality with God (John 5:18).
The showdown that had been brewing is now taking place. The religious leaders of Israel are faced with a decision. Will they submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, or will they rebel against his authority and choose to live autonomously? Will they honor his instructions, or will they ignore his commands and elevate their man-made rules above his will? This battle surfaces throughout the rest of John’s Gospel, and it’s a battle we’re familiar with as well. Each day we have to decide if we’ll submit to Jesus as Lord.
Our hearts are a battlefield. Two opposing forces clash violently each day. Our desire for autonomous self-rule engages in a fierce battle with an appropriate desire to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Regardless of who we are or what situation we are in, we must diligently fight to obey Christ, putting to death our desire to be in charge. It’s a battle we can win only by the powerful work of Christ within us.
Jesus is Lord over sickness and Lord over the Sabbath. What that means is that Jesus can heal and give rest. Jesus can heal your broken bone or your broken heart or your broken relationship. If you’re tired and weary and don’t have the strength to go on, Jesus can give you rest. The Lord of healing and the Lord of rest invites you to come and be refreshed and restored as you follow him.
Reflect and Discuss
- What does this passage want us to believe about Jesus?
- What other Scripture passages show Jesus’s authority over all things?
- Why is it important to note that the healing in this passage is not a faith healing?
- How do God’s people display to the world God’s sovereignty through obedience of his command to rest?
- Do you have patterns of rest in your life? How can rest be an active fight for submission?
- How had the Pharisees misunderstood the purpose of the Sabbath?
- What claim does Jesus make in response to the accusations of the Pharisees?
- Do you ever think of how each day you’re faced with a decision to submit to Christ’s authority or rebel? How might that change the way you live?
- What steps are you taking to fight to obey Christ?
- How can the battle for obedience be won?