“Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him. So he told them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I too am working.’ For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God” (John 5:16-18 NET).
Jesus was in Jerusalem because of a “feast of the Jews” (John 5:1). Although which feast is not specified in the text, most scholars take this to be Passover. If this is true, one year had now passed since the first Passover recorded in John 2, when Jesus cleared the temple. He would have two more Passovers, two more years, before his crucifixion. While in Jerusalem, Jesus did two things which angered the Jewish leaders.
The first thing Jesus did is something that seems to have characterised him – he healed a man who had been disabled for 38 years (v.5). The problem was not so much that he healed a man but that he did it on the Sabbath Day. When God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments after leaving Egypt, they were told to “Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8). Specifically they were not to work on the seventh day of the week because God had rested after creating everything on that day.
Nehemiah, after returning from captivity, prohibited carrying any commercial burden on the Sabbath because the Sabbath was being used as just another day to carry out work. When the Jewish scholars eventually debated what was and wasn’t work, they concluded that nothing could be picked up on the Sabbath, including moving a chair or even lifting the covers on a bed.
The Pharisees would have given this man two possibilities: stay by the bed until the Sabbath was over, even though this is the first time he had been able to walk in 38 years, or leave the mat behind, which might result in it being stolen. Jesus gave the man a third option – take it home with him where he would need it. When asked why he was carrying the mat, he replied that the one who had healed him had told him he could (after all, if he could heal him he undoubtedly knew the proper interpretation of the Law – see verses 10-11).
When asked to explain himself, Jesus further enraged the Jews (see v.16-18). Not only was Jesus, in their minds, breaking the Sabbath (although he wasn’t, he was breaking their interpretation of work), but he made himself equal with God! He referred to God as his own Father, which Jews didn’t do. But there was more: he used this relationship to justify his healing on the Sabbath.
Within a year of Jesus beginning to teach, he had so angered the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem that they wanted to kill him. The signs Jesus did should have been irrefutable evidence that he was not only from God but the longed for Messiah. Instead, he was rejected because he did not agree with their interpretations of God’s word.
What about us? Are we willing to examine the evidence of who Jesus really was? Or do we also reject Jesus because he does not meet our preconceived expectations? May we always be open to listening to God’s word and taking in what has been revealed to us.
Readings for next week:
22 December – John 6:35-71
23 December – John 7
24 December – John 8
25 December – John 9
26 December – John 10