Jesus heals and deliberately contravenes the Sabbath

Healing was an important part of Christ’s work.  The Jews defined healing as work that is not allowed on the Sabbath, but Jesus heals often and deliberately on the Sabbath. Consequently the Sabbath looms huge in the gospels, as it also does in the Old Testament. What important message did Jesus give through His resistance to the Sabbath?

Jesus heals often on the Sabbath.

Christ came to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to set free the oppressed (Luke 4:18-21).  Many sick people were continually streaming to Him, and He healed them all (Luke 4:40; 6:18-19).  These healings confirmed His divine nature, the supernatural source of His mission and that God can and wants to restore man.  Healing therefore was an integral part of His mission.  In Jesus God has come to live among us.

These healing miracles often were on the Sabbath.  No less than seven Sabbath healing miracles are reported in the gospels:

  1. The Demoniac in the Synagogue (Mark 1:21-28)
  2. Peter’s Mother-in-law (Mark 1.29-34)
  3. The Man with the Withered Hand (Mark 3:1-6)
  4. The Crippled Woman (Luke 13:10-17)
  5. The Invalid at Bethesda (John 5:1-18)
  6. The man that was Born Blind (John 9:1-41)
  7. The Man with Dropsy (Luke 14:1-4)

The Jews disallowed healing on the Sabbath.

The following indicates that, in the view of the Jews, Jesus broke the Sabbath law by healing on the Sabbath:

One Sabbath, while Jesus was teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus drove a demon out of a man (Luke 4:31-37).  Afterwards the people brought all their sick to Him, but they waited until the end of the Sabbath, when the sun was setting (v40).

The Pharisees were watching Jesus to see if He would heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him (Mark 3:1-6).

The synagogue official was angry because Jesus healed the woman who was bent double, and could not straighten up at all, on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17), and said to the people: “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:10-17).

At Bethesda Jesus healed the man who for 38 years was unable to walk.  “For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16).

Jesus healed the man who was “blind from birth”, after which the Pharisees concluded “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:1-41).

These examples make it clear that the Jews defined healing as work that is disallowed on the Sabbath.

Jesus deliberately contravened the Sabbath.

Why do we read that Jesus heals on the Sabbath?  He well knew that they were seeking justification to kill Him.  The spies followed Him with merciless hostility.  He also knew the laws and traditions well, and knew that He would be singled out as a transgressor if He would heal on the Sabbath.  And none of the sick people whom He cured on the Sabbath asked to be healed.  But still He deliberately and publicly violated the Sabbath, for instance:

None of the people whom He healed also were medical emergencies; All the people that were healed by Christ on the Sabbath, such as the crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17), the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), the man born blind (John 9:2) and the man that has been invalid for 38 years (John 5:5), have been ill for a long time.  In all instances He could have healed these people on any other day of the week, but He healed them deliberately on the Sabbath.

None of them asked to be healed.

After He cured the paralytic at Bethesda Jesus might have warned the man not to carry his bed, but He deliberately told him to pick up his mat and walk.

The Sabbath healing miracles in the gospel of John were not done in the presence of religious rulers and in both instance the healed men did not know who He was.  Christ could have remained anonymous, but after both miracles Christ went to look for the man later on the same day in order that He (Christ) may be identified (John 5:13-15; 9:35).

Not only do we read that Jesus heals deliberately on the Sabbath, He also deliberately combined His healings with other actions which the extremely strict traditions perhaps classified as work:

Jesus healed the blind man (John 9) by making clay to put on his eyes and by telling him to wash his face in a pool (9:14-16). All three of these actions were perhaps classified as work that was not allowed on the Sabbath.  It was not necessary for Christ to make clay or for the man to wash off the clay to heal the blind man of John 9. Perhaps Christ made clay to deliberately contravene Sabbath.

The Jews could identify two contraventions of the Sabbath Law in the incident in John 5.  Firstly the man carried his sleeping mat (5:10) and secondly Jesus healed the sick (compare Luke 13:14).  Jesus was ‘guilty’ of both, because He told the man to carry his mat.) (Note the plural “doing these things” in verse 16).

The Sabbath was not an issue at all in Paul’s time.  This is indicated by the fact that he uses the name “Sabbath” once only in all of his letters, and then only as part of a technical term referring to the entire system of holy days on the Jewish calendar.  But through Christ’s deliberate violation of the Sabbath restrictions the Sabbath looms huge in the gospels, as it also does in the Old Testament.

Jesus conveyed an important message through the Sabbath healings.

Why did He deliberately contravene the Sabbath?  Why did He not delay healing to another day?  Why was He willing to risk His life and mission for it?  He did not do it simply out of compassion, for there were many other sick people at Bethesda whom He did not heal.  Christ never acted stubbornly.  He did not do things to endanger His life or mission without good cause.  Everything He did and said was important, according to the infinite wisdom of the Father.

We therefore conclude that the message which Christ conveyed through His resistance to the Sabbath laws was important.  What was that important message and for whom was that message; for the Jews, or for the church?

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

Next: The Real Reason they killed Jesus

TO: General Table of Contents

First two Sabbath healing miracles

Jesus heals the sick on the Sabbath.  The first people were a demon possessed man and Simon’s mother-in-law.  Then the people brought all their sick to Him, but they waited until the end of the Sabbath.  Everybody knew that the traditions do not allow healing on the Sabbath.  Jesus, by acting contrary to the traditions, thereby powerfully condemned the traditions, as well as the Jewish system of authority, which was based on the traditions.

Summary

After Jesus was baptized, and after He overcame the temptations of the devil for forty days in the wilderness, He began His ministry.  He taught in various synagogues.  “They were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority”.

One Sabbath soon afterwards, while Jesus was teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum, a demon possessed man cried out with a loud voice and identified Jesus as “the Holy One of God“!  Jesus then drove the demon out.  This happened in the synagogue in full view of everybody.

Later that same day Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, who was suffering from a high fever, but that was privately in Simon’s home.

Then the people brought all their sick to Him, but they waited until the end of the Sabbath, when the sun was setting.  This means that everybody knew that their traditions did not permit healing on the Sabbath.  Although nothing is reported in this chapter as said for or against Sabbath healing, we can assume that the synagogue officials were alarmed by His Sabbath healing miracles.  Jesus, who also knew the traditions very well, effectively condemned the traditions by healing on the Sabbath in public view of all.  Furthermore, since “the report about Him was spreading into every locality in the surrounding district”, these miracles laid the foundation for the later confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees about His Sabbath healing miracles.

Discussion

Luke chapter four describes events very early in Christ’s ministry.  After Jesus was baptized (Luke 3:21) and began His ministry at the age of 30 (Luke 3:23), He “was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1-13).  There-after He “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) and “began teaching in their synagogues” (4:15).  When “He came to Nazareth” (Luke 4:16) He announced Himself as the One predicted by Isaiah on whom “the spirit of the LORD” will be; to be “anointed” by God “to preach the gospel to the poor. … to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.” (Luke 4:17-20)

This announcement is followed by two Sabbath healings.  The first was the healing of a demon-possessed man in the synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 4:31-37).  It happened while He was teaching.  “They were amazed at His teaching, for His message was with authority”.  But then “a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon … cried out with a loud voice:

Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are–the Holy One of God!

But Jesus rebuked the demon, commanding it to be quiet and come out of the man.  The demon then threw the man down in the midst of the people, but came out of the man without doing him any harm. Amazement came upon all and the report about Jesus spread throughout the surrounding district.

Later that same day Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, who was suffering from a high fever (Luke 4:38-39).

Then “all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him”, and He healed them (Luke 4:40).  The whole city had gathered at the door (Mark 1:33).  But it is interesting to note that the people waited until the end of the Sabbath, when the sun was setting (Luke 4:40; cf. Mark 1:32-33), before they brought their sick.  The Old Testament says nothing specifically about healing on the Sabbath, but this incident makes it clear that healing was not permitted on the Sabbath.  This means that it was the traditions—the Jewish application of the Law—which disallowed healing on the Sabbath.

These were no ordinary healings.  These were supernatural healings.  It was God at work, but even supernatural healing was not allowed.  By implication the Jews subjected God to the Sabbath Law.

But if they disallowed supernatural healing on the Sabbath, one wonders what their attitude was towards the sick on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees were the strictest sect of the Jewish religion (Acts 26:5), and on the Sabbath they disallowed anything that even remotely looked like work.  Does that mean that they left the sick to suffer by themselves; not doing anything to help them?

Nothing is reported in this chapter about Jesus or any of the religious authorities saying anything about the Sabbath healings, but since the people waited until the end of the Sabbath to bring their sick, we can assume that all knew that Sabbath healing was not allowed.  This means that the synagogue officials would have been alarmed by His Sabbath healing miracles.  Jesus also knew their rules very well, and by healing the man on the Sabbath, in public view of all, He effectively condemned the traditions.

Furthermore, since “the report about Him was spreading into every locality in the surrounding district”, these miracles laid the foundation for the later confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees about His Sabbath healing miracles.  The next time that Jesus “entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered”, the scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. (Luke 6:6-7)

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

NEXT: The Withered Hand

TO: General Table of Contents

Jesus heals the blind man in John 9

The traditions did not permit healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus heals the blind man specifically on the Sabbath.  He thereby:
(1) Illustrated the nature and work of the Father, namely to heal, redeem and restore;
(2) Provided support for His astounding claims, such as that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again;
(3) Condemned the Jewish system of authority, which was based on their traditions; and
(4) Declared that the purpose of the Sabbath is to heal and restore;

Overview:

One Sabbath Jesus heals the blind man.  He was blind from birth.  Jesus made clay, applied it to the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  So he went away and washed, and came back seeing (John 9:6-7).

Most of John 9 describes the dialogue between the blind man, his neighbors, his parents and the Pharisees, without Christ being involved (9:8-33).  The realistic nature of these exchanges, for such an unusual situation, assures us that this miracle really happened.

The Pharisees concluded, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath“.  Jesus not only healed the man, He also made clay to put on the man’s eyes and He told the man to wash his face in a pool.  All three these actions were perhaps classified, by the extremely strict traditions, as work that was not allowed on the Sabbath.

In this incident Jesus did not justify His Sabbath works, except to say it is the Father’s work.  When Jesus heals the blind man, it was the Father at work.  God’s purpose and perpetual work in this world is to redeem and restore man, healing sinners both spiritually and physically.    In Christ the Father came near to us:

It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (9:3).

After the miracle Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and told them that He is one with the Father, that He was sent by the Father, that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father, that He is the Son of God, that He is the door to God’s people, that He is the good shepherd and that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again.  Christ appealed to the miracles to support these astonishing claims:

the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me” (10:25).

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (10:37-38; compare 9:3)

Another purpose of His Sabbath healing miracles was to condemn the religious rulers as religious thieves and robbers, coming to steal and destroy.  This was one of Christ’s major messages in these chapters in John.  He said to them, “you do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (10:26).  By healing on the Sabbath, in direct contravention of the traditions (9:15, 16), He condemned the Pharisees’ rule and the foundation of their authority, which was their traditions.  It was not necessary for Christ to make clay to heal the man.  Perhaps He made clay on the Sabbath to deliberately contravene of the extremely strict the Jewish traditions.

Since Christ so often healed these non-emergency cases on the Sabbath, without being asked, in deliberate contravention of the traditions, it should be concluded that He was thereby saying something important about the Sabbath:

Firstly, that doing the Father’s work is allowed on the Sabbath.  “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat 12:12), and healing is a good example of the “many good works from the Father” (John 10:32).

Secondly, that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  It was for this purpose that the seventh day has been set aside.  Since Christians are people that abide by the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), which is His teachings, Christians should cease other work on the seventh day to focus on this work; to restore man.

The Sabbath healing miracles are therefore merely part of His message, supporting His claim to be sent by the Father, but also condemning the Pharisees, while also showing what the Sabbath is supposed to be; a day for the “good works from the Father”.

Jesus heals the blind man

Most of the chapter (9:8-33) describes the dialogue between the blind man, his neighbors, his parents and the Pharisees, without Christ being involved.

The people who knew him were amazed (9:8-11).  They took him to the Pharisees (9:13), who did not believe that the man was born blind (9:18) until they interrogated his parents (9:18-21).  Because it was a Sabbath on which Jesus made the clay and told the man to wash his face, some of the Pharisees concluded that Jesus worked on the Sabbath and therefore that He was a sinner (9:14-16).  But others were not sure (9:16), causing division in the ranks of the Pharisees (9:16).  Interestingly, they then asked the blind man for his opinion about Christ (9:17).

But eventually the consensus amongst the Pharisees was that “we know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner” (9:24).

The brave and wise words from the blind man, when they interrogated him for a second time (9:25; 27; 30-33), indicate the working of the Holy Spirit.  He witnessed to the Pharisees that Jesus was “from God” and questioned Pharisees’ legitimacy, seeing that they did not know where Jesus is from.

Therefore the Pharisees excommunicated the blind man (9:34, compare 9:22).  Later Jesus went to look for the man, and introduced Himself to the man as Daniel’s “the Son of Man” (9:35).

Causes and reasons of suffering and illness

When His disciples first saw the blind man, they asked:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (9:2)

This question reflects the general Jewish view of the time, namely that every illness was God’s penalty of some wrongdoing; either of the sufferer himself or of his parents.  This view is also reflected in the statement later made by the Pharisees to the blind man:

You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” (9:34)

Correcting His disciples, Jesus said:

“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (9:3)

Different people have different views with respect to what causes suffering, for instance:

  • Many people think that God causes suffering and disease.
  • Others think that it is caused by Satan.  They may use the history of Job in support of their view.
  • Still others view it as the natural result of sin.

People that believe that God causes suffering and disease also have different views with respect to His purpose.  Some view it as God’s punishment for sin. Others view it as discipline.  Discipline is, like punishment, the consequence of wrong things done in the past, but the purpose of discipline is to correct behavior to harvest good things in the future, while punishment has no future purpose.

In 9:3 Jesus seems to oppose the idea that suffering is God’s penalty for the sins of the past, “but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him”.  This raises a number of questions.  Does this mean that all illness is intended to display “the works of God”, or was this man a special case?  Did God cause his blindness from birth to display “the works of God”?

There is another way of interpreting Christ’s words here.  Note that the words “it was” in 9:3 are added by the translators.  By deleting these words and by replacing the full stop with a comma (there are no punctuation marks in the original text), it reads:

but so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day”. (9:3-4).

Read in this way Christ is not saying that God caused the man’s illness, but rather that He (Christ) will use the man’s disability to display the works of God.  It is therefore proposed that 9:3 by itself is insufficient to come to general conclusions with respect to the causes and reasons of suffering and illness.

The Father’s Works

Jesus said:

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (9:4-5)

This is Christ’s only justification in this chapter for the Sabbath healing that is described in the next two verses (9:6-7).  He justifies it as “the works of Him who sent Me” (9:4) which are “good works from the Father” (10:32).  This is the same justification as for the Sabbath healing in John 5, where He said, “My father is working still, and I am working” (5:17).  Both statements refer to the Father’s work and both say Christ is doing the Father’s work.

We sometimes put the Father in the background, but Jesus was the Father’s agent.  He has been sent by the Father (9:4).  When Jesus heals the blind man, it is the Father at work.  God’s purpose and perpetual work in this world is to redeem and restore man, healing sinners both spiritually and physically:

the Lord Jesus Christ … gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:3-4)

Night and Day

Consider again Christ’s words:

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (9:4-5)

The word “day” links to the word “Light”.  In other words, “day” here refers to the time when Jesus was in the world.  “Night” probably refers to death.

Light is something that makes it possible for us to see.  Christ is the “Light of the world” because He made it possible for the world to see spiritual truths.

Similar to John 5

This incident is in many respects similar to the healing at Bethesda:

Both healed men have been ill for a long time.  Neither was an emergency.  One was an invalid for 38 years (5:5) and the other was blind from birth (9:2).  In both instances the healing could have been delayed to the next day.

Neither of the chronically ill men asked for or expected to be healed.

Both miracles were performed in Jerusalem (5:1; 8:2), but not in the temple (8:59), nor in one of the synagogues.  Consequently in neither case Pharisees witnessed the healing, but both incidents were later reported to the Pharisees.

In both instances Jesus later went to speak to the man again (5:14; 9:35).

Pools are involved in both miracles.  The paralytic was lying on the edge of the pool in Bethesda while the blind man had to wash in the pool in Siloam.

In addition to healing, which the Pharisees viewed as work that is disallowed on the Sabbath, both miracles also included other activities which the extremely strict traditions perhaps classified as work.  In the first Christ instructed the paralytic to carry his pallet, and in the second Christ “made the clay” and instructed the man to go and wash his face in a pool (9:14-16).

After both miracles the Pharisees accused Christ of breaking the Sabbath: “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (9:16).

Support His astounding claims

The healings in both John 5 and John 9 are followed by Christ’s teaching.  Christ’s teachings cover 30 verses in John 5 (5:17-47) and 20 verses in John 9-10 (9:41-10:18).

After Jesus heals the blind man in John 9, Jesus told the Pharisees that He is one with the Father (10:30), that he was sent by the Father, that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father (10:38), that He is the Son of God (10:36), that He is the door to God’s people, that He is the good shepherd and that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again.  Because of these claims some Pharisees concluded that He has a demon, but because of the miracles some were inclined to believe Him.  This was one purpose of the miracles, namely to support these astonishing claims:

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (10:37-38)

Opportunity to speak

Another purpose of the miracles was simply to create controversy to create the opportunity for Him to teach the religious rulers.

Condemn the Jewish authorities

One of Christ’s major messages in these chapters was to condemn the Pharisees as religious thieves and robbers, coming to steal and destroy.  He said to them:

If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains”  (9:41).

“You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (10:16).

I am the door of the sheep” (10:7), “he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way (implying the Pharisees), he is a thief and a robber” (10:1).

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd (by implication the Pharisees), … sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees … because he … is not concerned about the sheep.” (10:11-13)

The Sabbath healing miracles had the same purpose.  By healing on the Sabbath, in direct contravention of the traditions (9:15, 16), He condemned the Pharisees’ rule and the foundation of their authority, which was their traditions.

Doing good is allowed on the Sabbath.

By healing on the Sabbath and by explaining this as the Father’s work (9:3-4; 10:25, 32, 37-38), Christ implied that all work necessary on the Sabbath to accomplish the Father’s purpose to redeem and restore man is in harmony with the Sabbath.  In the healing of the man’s withered hand Christ’s defense was that He is doing good, and that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat 12:12).  To “do good” is to assist people or animals that are in distress.  Healing is a good example of doing good.

The purpose the seventh day is to restore man.

By healing these non-emergency cases so often on the Sabbath, without being asked to do so, Christ furthermore implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  For this purpose the seventh day has been set aside (Gen. 2:3).  Since Christians are people that abide by the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), which is His teachings, Christians must cease other work on the seventh day to focus on this work.

Conclusion

The miracle healings are therefore simply part of His message, supporting His claim to be sent by the Father, but condemning the Pharisees and their traditions, specifically telling them that their interpretation of the Sabbath is wrong, and showing them what the Sabbath is supposed to be; a day for the “good works from the Father” (10:32; compare 9:4; 10:37).

NEXT: Deliberately breaking the Sabbath

TO:  Sabbath Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Bethesda – John 5: Jesus heals on the Sabbath Day

The traditions were very important to the Jews, but the strict rules allowed little space for the principles of the Kingdom of God, such as compassion and mercy.  The Sabbath Day was made to be a day a rest, but became an intolerable burden, falsely depicting God as a tyrant.

One Sabbath day Jesus deliberately and publicly broke the Jewish traditions by healing one of the many desperately sick people around the pool of Bethesda, and by telling the man to pick up his pallet and go home.  Jesus was seeking confrontation to condemn the traditions.  Therefore, since man did not know who Jesus was, Jesus later introduced Himself to him.

But Jesus did more than condemn the traditions; He gave a new meaning to the fourth commandment.  The fourth commandment forbids work and demands rest, but Jesus taught that the seventh day is the preferred day to focus our thoughts and energy on bringing joy to people by physical, psychological and spiritual healing, while we rest from ordinary work.

Summary

John 5 records Christ’s miracle healing of a paralytic man on the Sabbath day.  This man had been ill for 38 years.  He was lying with a multitude of the sick, blind, lame, and withered next to the pool known as Bethesda, hoping for a supernatural cure.

The man did not ask to be healed.  He did not even know who Jesus was.  Jesus also did not require this suffering man to exercise faith.  Jesus simply told the man to get up, pick up the mat on which he was lying, and walk.  The man immediately became well, picked up his pallet and began to walk.

But it was the Sabbath day and the Jewish religious police was quick to spot him.  They said to him “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (v10).  As if to say that a man, that is able to heal so completely, should know what is allowed on the Sabbath day, the man responded, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, Pick up your pallet and walk”.

The Jews asked him who the Healer was, but he did not know.  Jesus had slipped away into the crowd.  But later the same day Jesus found him in the temple and spoke to him.  Jesus might have remained anonymous, but He was seeking confrontation with the religious rulers.

The man then told the Pharisees who the Man was who cured him, probably expecting the religious leaders to be overjoyed, just like he himself was, to meet this miracle Worker.  But this news made the religious leaders more committed than ever to persecute Jesus.  Not only did Christ heal the sick on the Sabbath; He also told the man to carry his mat.

While the Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath day, simply prohibiting work on the Sabbath day, the “traditions of the elders”, which was their fence around the Law of Moses, had an extremely strict and detailed definition of work, even prohibiting non-emergency healing on the Sabbath day.  According to these “traditions” Christ clearly contravened the Sabbath commandment.

The traditions were extremely important in Jewish society, but by adding this multitude of very strict rules to the Law of Moses, the Jews allowed very little room for compassion, and consequently perverted the Sabbath day.  What was supposed to be a day a rest from the toil of human existence, became an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves, falsely representing God as a tyrant.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but to heal on the Sabbath day was so important to Jesus that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it.

One reason for His Sabbath day healing miracles was to condemn the Jewish traditions and the entire Jewish system that rested upon those traditions.  But the more important reason for Christ’s deliberate contraventions of the traditions was to give a new meaning to the Sabbath day.  Similar to the way in which He replaced the commandment against adultery with a commandment against looking at a woman with lust in the heart, and similar to the way in which He replaced the commandment against murder with a commandment against anger, He gave a much higher / deeper meaning to the Sabbath day.

The fourth commandment forbids work and demands rest.  Jesus accepted the principle that the seventh day is set aside for special use (sanctified – Gen 2:3), but He not only declared that it is allowed to do good to people and animals in need on the Sabbath day; He also declared that the Sabbath day is the preferred day for doing good to others, which includes to restore people to health.  In this way He have a new meaning to the Sabbath day.  He shifted the focus:

From the fourth commandment to the original purpose of the seventh day, namely to be a blessing to mankind (Gen 2:3).

From rest to the purpose of the rest, namely to restore man to health.

From the negative prohibition against any form of work to the work that is required on the seventh day, namely works to restore people to holistic physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

Since this shifts the focus away from the rest required by the fourth commandment, we should accept Christ’s Sabbath deeds and statements as new truth for the Christian; as a founding statement for Christianity.  Thus the Sabbath day also becomes a work day, but a different type of work.  The Sabbath becomes a day on which we focus our thoughts and energy on bringing joy to people by healing; not only by physical healing, but also by psychological and spiritual healing, while we rest from the work that is required on the other days of the week.

The Story

John 5 records Christ’s miracle healing of a paralytic man (v7) on the Sabbath day (v9).  The story is as follows (with comments in brackets):

Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.

In Jerusalem there was a pool called Bethesda, with five porches.  In these porches lay a multitude of the sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters.  (They had the superstitious belief that the person, who gets into the pool first, after it was “supernaturally” stirred, will be healed.)

One of the men there was ill for 38 years (v5).  When Jesus saw him, He knew that this man had been in that condition for a long time.  Jesus said to him:

Do you wish to get well?” (v6)

The man answered that he has nobody to put him into the pool when the water is stirred.  Jesus then said to him:

Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (v8).

(The man did not ask to be healed.  He did not even know who Jesus was.  Jesus also did not require this suffering man to exercise faith in Him.  He simply told him to get up, pick up his pallet—his sleeping mat—and walk.)

The man became well immediately, picked up his pallet and began to walk.  (But it was the Sabbath day and the Jewish religious police was quick to spot him carrying his mat.)  When the Jews saw this man carrying his pallet, they said to him:

It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (v10).

But he answered them,

“He who made me well was the one who said to me, Pick up your pallet and walk”.

(As if to say, a man that is able to heal me so completely, after lying on my mat for 38 year, should know what is allowed and what is not allowed on the Sabbath day.  If he tells me to carry my mat, then I will do it.)

The Jews asked him who this man was, but he did not know.  Jesus had slipped away into the crowd (v13).  (After his healing the man probably was bewildered, not believing what his body is doing; too excited to pay attention even to his Healer.)

Later the same day Jesus found him in the temple and said to him,

Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (v14)

The man then told the Pharisees who the Man was who cured him (v15). (The healed man was naturally overjoyed by his deliverance.  Probably ignorant of the enmity toward Jesus, he assumed that everybody, particularly the religious leaders, will want to meet this miracle Worker.)

For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v16).

(Note the plural “doing these things” (v16).  The Jews could identify two contraventions of the Sabbath Law in this incident.  Firstly the man carried his sleeping mat (5:10) and secondly Jesus healed the sick (compare Luke 13:14).  Jesus was ‘guilty’ of both, because He told the man to carry his mat.)

(The Jews apparently then questioned Jesus, because, according to the next verse,) He answered them,

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (v17).

Discussion

Jesus did not contravene the Law of Moses; He contravened the Traditions.

But did Jesus contravene the fourth commandment?  The Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath day, simply prohibiting work on the Sabbath day.  But still the Jewish authorities had no doubt that healing is not allowed on the Sabbath day(Luke 4:40; 13:14; Mark 3:2).  It is therefore concluded that it was the regulations, known as the “the traditions of the elders”, that prohibited healing on the Sabbath day.

The Traditions were a fence around the law.

Because it was, according to the voluminous Talmud, intended as a fence around the law, the “traditions of the elders” had an extremely strict definition of work.  For example, if the Law of Moses determines that the Sabbath starts at sunset, the traditions might require Jews to stop their work an hour before sunset.  And anything that even remotely looked like work was defined as work; a Jew was not even allowed to light a candle on the Sabbath.  In this way they hoped to protect themselves from breaking the law.  They knew that a contravention of the traditions is not necessarily a contravention of the Law of Moses, but the traditions were nevertheless applied as law.

The Traditions were extremely important in Jewish society.

We generally have very little appreciation of how detailed and complex the traditions of the elders” were, or how important it was in the Jewish society.  Paul, describing his previous life, wrote “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1:14).

The Traditions perverted the Sabbath Day.

But by adding this multitude of very strict rules to the Law of Moses, the Jews allowed very little space for compassion, and consequently perverted the Sabbath.  What was supposed to be a day a rest from the toil of human existence became an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves.  This falsely represented God as a tyrant.  Because the traditions made people to serve the Sabbath, Jesus objected by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Jesus was seeking confrontation with the religious rulers.

We see this in the following:

Jesus could have healed the sick man on any other day of the week, but He healed him deliberately on the Sabbath.

After He cured him Jesus might have warned the man not to carry his bed, but Jesus deliberately told him to carry away his bed.

The man did not know who healed him, because “Jesus had slipped away” (5:13).  Jesus might have remained anonymous, but instead Jesus afterwards “found him in the temple” (5:14) and spoke with him, apparently with the purpose that the man may inform the Pharisees “that it was Jesus who had made him well” (5:15).

Jesus did not explain in John 5 why healing is allowed on the Sabbath Day, except to say it is the Father’s will.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but why was it so important to heal on the Sabbath that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it?  He did not do it simply out of compassion, for there were many other sick people at Bethesda whom He did not heal.  The people whom He healed also were not medical emergencies; they were all sick for many years.  Why did He not delay healing to another day?

In healing the man’s withered hand, He said “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  In healing the crippled woman, He said “this woman … whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  But we find no such explanation in John 5.

John 5, after the healing, does include a long debate between Christ and the Pharisees (5:17-47), but does not explain why He healed.  It seems as if one reason for performing this miracle, deliberately acting contrary to the traditions of the elders, was to create the opportunity to explain to them some higher order principles, such as resurrection from death, judgment, eternal life and honoring the Son “even as they honor the Father” (5:21-30).  He later says, “I say these things so that you may be saved” (5:34).

His justification of the healing is limited to saying:

My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17)

the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (5:19)

Notice that the words “working”, “do”, “doing” and “does” link these statements to the work of healing which He performed on the Sabbath.  These statements seem to simply say that these Sabbath healings are the right and proper things to do, according to the Father’s will, without explaining why.

He later added:

If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?” (2:23).

This seems to say that circumcision is a form of healing, and that healing is allowed on the Sabbath, but still does not explain why healing is allowed on the Sabbath.

By healing on the Sabbath, and by His Sabbath declarations, Jesus gave a new meaning to the Sabbath.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but to heal on the Sabbath was so important to Jesus that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it.  One reason for His Sabbath healing miracles was to condemn the Jewish traditions and the entire Jewish system that rested upon those traditions.  But perhaps the most important reason for His Sabbath healing miracles was to give a new meaning to the Sabbath:

The Sabbath commandment simply forbids work and requires rest.  The religious leaders applied this literally, and we probably would have done the same, because that is the emphasis in the commandment.  It would be difficult to justify non-emergency work on the basis of the Law of Moses alone.  Even Christian Sabbath-keepers today would find in difficult to justify work related to non-emergency healing on the Sabbath.

But Jesus came and taught that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  He went further and said the Sabbath is the most appropriate day for releasing people from the bonds of Satan—which includes physical illnesses (Luke 13:16).  He declared this as the Father’s will (John 5:17, 19).

In the view of the Jewish leaders Christ’s statements contradicted of the Law of Moses, but that was due to their extremely narrow and strict interpretation of the Law.  Christians need to assume that these statements are consistent with the Sabbath Commandment because Jesus never acted contrary to the Law of Moses.

By arguing with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, implying that certain things are not allowed on the Sabbath, He confirmed the principle that the seventh day is set aside for special use (sanctified – Gen 2:3).

To be able to adopt the meaning which Christ attached to the Sabbath, we have to interpret the Sabbath not only in terms of the fourth commandment, but also in terms of its original purpose, namely that it was created to be a blessing to mankind (Gen 2:3).  As Jesus confirmed, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).

Then the requirement for rest in the fourth commandment is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  Then we interpret the “rest” in the Sabbath Commandment as to cease the work of everyday life, to focus the mind and energy on bringing joy to people by restoring ourselves and other people to holistic physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

Understood in this way “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” and anything that we can do to restore ourselves and other people to health, holistically defined, is not only allowed, but completely consistent with the purpose of the Sabbath.  In fact, to neglect to do on the Sabbath anything that we can do to restore people to health would be inconsistent with the Sabbath principle.

But the principle in the previous paragraph apply to all days of the week.  We should go beyond this and accept the Sabbath as the preferred day for healing.  Thus the Sabbath also becomes a work day, but a different type of work.  The Sabbath becomes a day on which we work for the mentally, physically and spiritually sick, blind, lame, and withered, to heal them.  Then our lives will become divided into two parts; for six days we work for ourselves, but on the seventh day we work for the physical, psychological and spiritual health of others.

Understood in this way we accept Christ’s statement, that healing on the Sabbath is the Father’s will, as new truth for the Christian; as a founding statement for Christianity.  Jesus gave a new meaning to the Sabbath which cannot be derived simply from the Law of Moses.

What Jesus did to the Sabbath is the same as what He did to the entire Law of Moses; He replaced it with the The Law of Christ.  The Law of Moses was God’s eternal laws for mankind, but adapted to the condition, abilities and situation of the enslaved and corrupt little nation of Israel.  It therefore, for example, prohibited adultery.  But Christ again revealed the eternal principles on which the Law of Moses was based, replacing the law against adultery with the law that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery” (Mat 5:28).  All moral principles of the Law of Moses are retained in the Law of Christ, but the Law of Christ raised the standards to the Father’s perfection.  We should therefore not be surprised to find that Christ replaced the fourth commandment with a much higher law, without lowering the standards.

NEXT: The healing of the blind man in John 9

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