Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Sabbath & Work" Sermon: John 5:1-18

“Sabbath & Work”

[John 5:1-18]

July 12, 2015Second Reformed Church

            Keep the Sabbath holy.

            After Moses ascended Mount Sinai, God gave him the Ten Commandments.  The fourth one – as Moses records in Exodus 20 – was a command about the Sabbath:

            “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV).

            God set a pattern for humanity in Creation:  we are to work for six days and rest one day each week.  And we are to encourage others to work six days and rest one day each week, and we are to refrain from making anyone or any of our livestock work on the seventh day.


            For at least two reasons:

            First, to have a day set aside for the worship of God and the following after God in all His Ways – a day when we are not called to our common, daily work, but put it aside to praise and thank God for His Worth.

            Second, that we would trust God for our provision and not strive at all one day in seven, but trust that God will provide for all of our needs, even as we rest in Him, not engaging in our common, daily work, but believing that we will be provided for out of the storehouses of Heaven.

            This is one of the moral laws – it is a law that applies to every person throughout time and space.  All human beings are required to keep the Sabbath and to keep it holy.

            With this in mind, let us turn to this morning’s text:

            “After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

            Jesus again obeyed His Father and turned back to Jerusalem, because there was a feast.  It is not clear which feast this was, but Jesus went back to Jerusalem with His disciples to celebrate it.

            “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed.”

            Archeologists uncovered this location in 1888.  There was a pool of water, surrounded by large roofed colonnades so the sick could rest under them in the heat of the day.  They came to this location because – from time to time –people were healed by descending into the water.  It was said that an angel stirred the water, and when it became troubled, the first person who got into the water was healed.
             Here we see, first, Jesus exposes our need.

“One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’  The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’”

When they came upon the pool, there was a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.   We’re not told how long he had been lying by the pool, hoping to be healed, but it was long enough that he had lost hope that he would ever be healed:  he told Jesus that he was physically unable to get into the pool first when the water was disturbed, and he didn’t have any friends or family who would put him into the pool first – there hadn’t even been a stranger who took pity on him who would help him get into the water first to be healed.  He was physically unable, and he didn’t have hope that anyone would help him.

And Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be healed?”

That sounds like a silly question to us, doesn’t it – maybe even insulting:  “Do you really want to be healed?  If you really wanted to be healed, you would have found a way to get into the water so you would be well.  Don’t you really want to remain an invalid…?” 

But that wasn’t what Jesus was saying – when Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed, Jesus wanted him to realize that he had to give up on self-reliance as well.  Even though the man had no one to help him, he remained at the pool.  Perhaps he thought there was still a chance that he – himself – could will himself or merit himself into the pool.

Jesus wanted him to give up on himself and understand that the One Who was speaking to him was now raising a different hope before him:  Jesus had compassion on him and wanted more than physical healing for him; Jesus had come to raise him spiritually, not merely physically.

One of the great problems of our age is that most people don’t realize that they are sick – in fact, spiritually dead.  And still, these spiritually corpses walk around saying they are fine, they are “spiritual, but not religious,” that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you don’t hurt anyone, “especially me.”

We who have been raised to spiritual life can see that these people are the walking dead – do not our hearts cry out, “Save them, Lord!”?Our hearts are burdened and pained to see these rotting corpses believing they are well – or at least, well enough!  We know that we are unable to raise the dead – that is the work of God – but we have been empowered and commission by God to raise the question:  “Do you want to be healed?”  And then to say there is but One Way:  Jesus Christ and the work that He did on earth for our salvation.

Pray for the opportunity, and God will open the door for you to say a word to your family and friends and colleagues.  I met a Roman Catholic man this week who needed someone to talk with, and he talked and talked – and I mostly listened – and I told him the name of our denomination, and he said that he didn’t understand denominations – and there was the door, so I said, I believe there are reasons for separate groups, but we are united through Jesus Christ and His Gospel as the Only Way of salvation – and he said, “That’s right.”

Others of you have had the opportunity and spoken this week, and I praise God for that and pray that we will have more opportunities and desire more opportunities to tell people that Jesus and what He did is the Only Way we can be right with God, and that God will work through us to bring people to Himself.

And so, Jesus called out to this man – confronting him with his physical need – and more.

But Jesus could have quietly healed him or told him that Gospel – why did Jesus call out among the sick and the crowds who were coming in for the feast? 

For two reasons:

First, Jesus wanted the crowd to notice Him and watch for what He would do.

Second, Jesus wanted the Pharisees to notice Him, as well, so Jesus could set them up.

The man told Jesus he had no one to help him – yes, he wanted to be well, but he couldn’t become well by his own efforts – he was an invalid and could not get to the place where he could be well.

Second, this morning, we see that Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

            “Now that day was the Sabbath.  So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.’  But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed, and walk.”’  They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take up your bed and walk’?”  Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.”

            Jesus healed the man and then disappeared into the crowd to set the Pharisees up – to show their sin in caring more about their interpretation of the Sabbath Law than in the spiritual health and salvation of the man.

            The man was instantly and completely healed by Jesus, and Jesus told him to pick up his bed and to go home.  Now, that sounds like a wonderful miracle – nothing that anyone could be upset about, but the Pharisees saw the man carrying his bed on the Sabbath and believed him to be working and breaking the Sabbath Law – which,as we saw to begin with, says that we are not to work on the Sabbath.

            The Pharisees likely took their point from Jeremiah, who records God as saying, “Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it into the gates of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 17:21b, ESV).

            So, the Pharisees stopped the man and accused him of breaking the Sabbath by carrying his bed.

            The man told the Pharisees that the Man Who healed him told him to get up and carry his bed away.

            And the Pharisees realized they had a bigger fish to fry and demanded that he tell them Who the Man was that told him to carry his bed away – but he couldn’t – the Man – Jesus – purposely snuck away into the crowd so He could confront the Pharisees later.

            Do we notice anything missing from this conversation?

            The man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years had been instantly, completely, and miraculously healed and told to get up and take his bed home – on the Sabbath.

            The Pharisees accused the man of breaking the Sabbath by carrying his bed and demanded to know Who told him to carry his bed on the Sabbath.

            What’s missing?

            The Pharisees didn’t rejoice with the man that he had been completely healed after thirty-eight years.

            The Pharisees didn’t join with the man in raisingthanks to God for his healing.

            The Pharisees completely ignored the reasons to praise and thank God in worship and rejoice with the man and focused only on what they understood to be the breaking of the Law in carrying his bed.

            Where was the compassion and care – the love for neighbor – the leading of the people of Israel in the right worship of God for all His wonderful mercies?

            Some people have this image of God, Himself – that He is sitting on a cloud somewhere, just waiting and watching to see if we sin so He can punish us – that is not our God!

            When the Pharisees were complaining that Jesus was eating with sinners, Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV).

            Our God is the God Who rejoices with His whole Kingdom when a single person is reconciled to Him.  Shall we not join with God and the angels in rejoicing when a brother or sister believes and repents, having been saved by God?  The Pharisees, likewise, should have been rejoicing with this man and giving thanks, as God was.

            Let us not neglect to rejoice and give thanks, praising God for all the good that comes from His Hand, and especially as He saves a people for Himself.

            Third, we see that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.

“Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well!  Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’  The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.  And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.  But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’”

Jesus caught up with the man in the Temple and called him to belief and repentance – telling him that he was still in his sin – unbelief – and if he did not believe, something much worse was going to happen to him than being an invalid for thirty-eight years.

So many people say that we live and we die, and that’s it, or we live and die and we become part of the “great whatsit,” or we live and die, and everybody is received into God’s Kingdom, because God is love, so He could never be just and holy.

If what we believe – and, therefore, what we do – doesn’t matter – if there is no point – no meaning – then there are only two responses that make any sense:  do everything you can to experience the most pleasure you can, not matter what it takes, or, commit suicide.

The atheist, Albert Camus, said the only real question in philosophy is “why shouldn’t you commit suicide?”

It is only in Christianity that we have real hope and meaning and purpose – we understand that we are all born at eternal odds with God, and in the Gospel, we come to know that the Only Way we can be right with God is through God’s coming to earth in the person of Jesus, living, dying, physically rising, and ascending back to His throne.

Then there is joy in living lives that follow God in faith and obedience.  Then we can rejoice with our brothers and sisters in Christ and be one together with Him.  Then – and only then – can we be assured that we will escape the worst judgment and, instead, are received into the Kingdom of God.

The man believed, and he told the Pharisees that Jesus was the One Who healed him.

The Pharisees were delighted to have more evidence against Jesus – He healed on the Sabbath – sin!  He had told the man He healed to carry his bed – sin!  And they persecuted Jesus because He had – in their understanding – sinned on the Sabbath.

But Jesus explained to them:  “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

What did Jesus mean?

In Exodus 20, we are given this rationale for the Sabbath Law:  God created everything that is in six days and rested on the seventh.  Likewise, we ought to work six days and rest on the seventh.

But Jesus said that God was working and has never stopped working.  How do we understand that?

What did God do for the six days of Creation?  He created everything that is.

What did God do on the seventh day?  He rested.

So the question that is left to us is, on the seventh day, God rested from what?

God rested from creating.  However, God did not stop doing other things – like sustaining all those things He had created.

When we are told that God rested on the seventh day, it does not mean that God did nothing – it means that God stopped doing something and continued doing other things.

Likewise, when we are told that we are to work six days and rest on the seventh, God does not mean that we should do nothing on the seventh.

That should make sense, because we are told that the seventh day is to be a day that we especially spend in the worship of God and doing those things which God has called us to do.  We are to be in worship.  We are to fellowship with our brothers and sisters.  We are to learn and obey and rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  We are to pray and be prayed for.

The Pharisees wanted to draw very distinct, thick lines saying that this was “ok” and this was not.  The problem was that God said that no one is to work on the Sabbath, and the priests – ministers, pastors – work on the Sabbath.

The general rule is that we are not to engage in those things that we normally do to make money and take care of our day-to-day living.  We are to spend the day in worship and fellowship and following after the things of God.

But that means that it is ok for pastors to work on the Sabbath – because we need them to preach the Word of God.  It means it is ok for some police and firefighters and doctors and nurses, etc., to work on the Sabbath, because emergencies happen on the Sabbath and we need those God has gifted to intercede with the gifts God has given them to protect and heal us – not to the neglect of finding time to worship – but not as sin either.

Those things which are necessary and merciful – those things which turn the eyes of men and women to the Gospel – are permitted on the Sabbath.

So, it was not sin for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath, because it was a good thing which drew attention to God and His salvation.  It was not a sin for the man to carry his bed home, because it brought attention to Jesus as the Savior Who heals.

That is not to say we should make excuses to do things on the Sabbath – on Sunday.  We are to be in worship and spending the day doing those things which bring glory to God – trusting Him for our lives.

The point is that Jesus did not sin, just as God the Father does not sin, because the rest was not total inactivity, but resting from something and doing other things.

And notice that Jesus said that the Lord God is “my Father,” so Jesus is also the Lord of the Sabbath, with His Father.

And so we see, fourth, Jesus is equal with God.

            “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because, not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own father, making himself equal with God.”

            The Pharisees heard Jesus’ words and condemned Him now for blasphemy – He claimed to be God – that He and God the Father – the God of Israel – are equal.  (This is the charge they would eventually have Him crucified for.)

            Jesus chose His words carefully and spoke them at the right time in the plan of God.  He spoke these words to open the ears of those who would believe and incite these Pharisees to plot against Him.  Jesus stated in what was plain language that He is the God Who created everything that is and then rested – stopped creating, but continued to do what was good and right and necessary, so, He, of all people, knew what was right and wrong to do on the Sabbath.  And, most importantly, this act of healing on the Sabbath, to the glory of God, was done to reveal that Jesus is God the Savior.

            As John said, this is the whole point of what is recorded in this Gospel:  “Now Jesus did many other signs which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31, ESV).

            John’s goal in writing his Gospel was that each person who reads it and hears it would believe that Jesus is God the Savior, repent of his sins, and be eternally saved and brought into God’s Kingdom.
            This morning, we understand that knowing Jesus exposed our need of salvation, and we have received salvation through the work of Jesus applied to us.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath, so it is always the right time to do God-glorifying works.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, so He is the One Who makes clear the work that is acceptable to God on the Sabbath.

And Jesus is equal with God.  The necessary truth that the world doesn’t want to hear – that we hear and rejoice in:  Jesus called out to us, as the Holy Spirit worked in us, and we responded in believing through faith alone, and now we do those works which show Jesus to be God the Savior.

May God help us to use one day in seven to rest from those things which are for our survival, that we would trust Him and seek to proclaim the Gospel and do good in His Name that He would be glorified.

Let us pray:

Hear us, O Lord.  We come before You, rejoicing in the gift of salvation that You have given us.  We rejoice in the healing that Jesus performed for this man as he came to faith.  Help us to understand that being obedient to You does not mean we have a day to be inactive, but we have a day to rest from our hectic pursuits and to focus on You and Your worship and the work You have called us to.  Revive us.  Raise us up.  Fill us with Your Joy.  And may You be glorified in all we do.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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