The miracles of Jesus gave credibility to His astounding claims, such as that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father, and gave Him the opportunity to teach.
John 5, after the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda (5:14), includes a long debate between Christ and the Pharisees (5:17-47), but that debate was not about the Sabbath directly. He explained to them certain higher order principles, such as His work of resurrecting people from death (5:21, 25, 29), judgment, and eternal life (5:24, 39-40) and honoring the Son “even as they honor the Father” (5:21-30).
Similarly, after the miracle healing 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 (10:7, 11-16) and that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again.
One purpose of the Sabbath healing miracles, acting deliberately contrary to the traditions of the elders, was therefore to create the opportunity to teach the religious rulers. He gave the nation of Israel every opportunity to repent. As He said,
“I say these things so that you may be saved” (5:34).
Because of His claims, such as that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father, some Pharisees concluded that He has a demon. But others were willing to believe Him because of the miracles. This was another 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)
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:
The Demoniac in the Synagogue (Mark 1:21-28)
Peter’s Mother-in-law (Mark 1.29-34)
The Man with the Withered Hand (Mark 3:1-6)
The Crippled Woman (Luke 13:10-17)
The Invalid at Bethesda (John 5:1-18)
The man that was Born Blind (John 9:1-41)
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?