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?

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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)

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