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.” 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 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 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.”
(John 5:6-17 ESV)
This is a tricky passage, I think. In other Gospel versions, Jesus quizzes the experts by saying something like “Is it lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath?” Jesus’ response here is not so cut and dry. I believe that it’s a more important and applicable answer, however.
It’s all about legalism, really. The Law forbade doing any work on the Sabbath. The man who had been healed was first questioned because he was carrying his mat. That was not allowed on the Sabbath. He was breaking the Law. But Jesus told him to pick up his mat. What? Surely Jesus, of all people knew the Law. But there it is. Jesus told this man to go against the Sabbath Law.
And then there is Jesus. He healed on the Sabbath. Oops. Maybe He was unaware of what day it was. No. He said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” There it is. Our lesson. It is never a bad time to follow God’s will. We speak of having Jesus in our hearts but then we want to religiously follow our rules and regulations and traditions and believe that’s good enough and that these make us “pure”. The Apostle Paul called this idea “scubala”. Often this word is translated “rubbish”. I’ll leave it at that.
Some day, I might begin a study on Romans and then we can examine all that Paul says about the Law and the Christian walk, but for now, let’s just say that all the Law (any of it) can do is convict of sin. Christians are free of the Law. This is not a call to anarchy, however. Christians are not free to do as they will but free to do as God wills. This this is not to say that the Law has no purpose but it is limited and has served its purpose (defining God’s pre-Church people).
Now we are to serve God out of our relationships with Him. Not in a vacuum, but through our relationships with each other, through times of private and corporate and public worship and prayer, through faith-filled Bible study, through fellowship and working for the Kingdom. But suffice it to say that scubala happens in our lives on this fallen planet and things aren’t cut and dry.
But our personal relationships with Jesus will provide the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide us at those times. His is the true guidance that we need rather than sets of legal traditions. He is still working in us and through us, after all.