Saturday, September 13, 2014

Suffering for Doing Good (John 5:14-18)

“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.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God his own Father, making Himself equal with God.” (John 5:14–18, ESV, caps added to pronouns referring to Christ)

We live in a time when we are seeing people go out into the world to preform humanitarian service in the name of Christ among people who don’t know Him and even among those who vehemently reject Him. This antagonism is growing dramatically such that in this last group we have been seeing increased reports of these humanitarians and growing numbers of Christian people groups being taken captive, abused, threatened with their lives, and even killed because of the country from which they come and the Lord which they serve. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish whether this is happening to them because of their national or cultural origins or because they are Christians. America, for example, has a long tradition of helping those less fortunate or in distress, and this tradition can be traced back to its traditional Christian values—values that seek to do good to all people. It is this principle of doing good that has opened the doors in many countries to Christian missionaries, and it is the working of that good in practical and needed ways that has softened many hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is also the commitment of His followers to stand for Him regardless of their nationality that has resulted in much of the persecution we see. Though much good is being done, there are those who are repulsed so much by Christ and Christianity that they cannot accept the good being done by His people.

In this encounter with the man at the healing pond Jesus did not identify Himself to the man when he healed Him. Instead He withdrew into the crowd, and we saw what happened as the man was confronted because of His breaking of their Sabbath rules. They were more concerned about their standard and their ways than they were about the good that was done. This is not to say that the ends justify the means, but that the rules they were enforcing were man made ones which went way beyond what God had established. In this case the particular rule was one which was established for the welfare of man.

We read from the Bible that Jesus came to fulfill the law and give life. In the process of this He performed many signs and wonders. Among them was His healing of this man who didn’t even know who He was. We see here that not everyone who Jesus performed a miracle for believed in Him, but that Jesus had compassion on them because of their need and responded to provide them relief and in so doing evidence His power.

Our passage for today tells us that Jesus later went back and found the man in order to identify Himself. The curious thing is that the passage does not record the man dropping to his knees in worship of Him, but rather it tells us that the man went and found those who had confronted him and told them who it was that had healed him. But before he left to tell those who it was that had healed him, Jesus did have something to say to the man. He told him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” We have no idea why the man was unable to walk for so much of his life and we have no real reason to believe that it was a result of sin. But having made the man whole Jesus instructed him to live as a whole man and not go back into a life of sin which would have its consequences. We read this in passages such as Galatians 6:7-8 which reads, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7–8, NASB95) There is no special class of sinner. All who sin are in need of forgiveness and salvation which comes from belief in Christ who is its grantor.

This is the last we hear of the man. The focus then switches back to those who were seeking after Jesus because of the works that He had been doing on the Sabbath. But as we read from our passage it was about more than just the miracles, it was also about His message. When they confronted Jesus, He responded to them saying, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17, ESV) He didn’t beat around the bush. He told them that as God had been working up until that time, so is He (Jesus) working now. He claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed to be the Christ—the sent One of God. As such Jesus was a threat to them and the system they had put in place. The One sent to seek and to save the lost and the One who had come as their eternal Lord and King did not match their expectations and reinforce their practices. He was a threat to all they held on to, and as such He had to be eliminated. It didn’t matter what good He did, what mattered is what He stood for. In rejecting Him they could not find good in what He did, but rather they sought every opportunity to find fault and trap Him in some way. They could not accept His claim, and thus they could not accept Him or anything He did.

As we continue to move through this encounter we’ll take a look at the lengthy response which Jesus makes to them. But for now, this passage serves for me as a great reminder that not everyone will accept the good that we do as followers of Christ. In fact, there will be some who reject us just because of who we are, and in rejecting us we are reminded that it is because of Him in us that this is done. In Luke chapter 10 when Jesus was preparing to send out seventy-two disciples to proclaim repentance He told them, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16, ESV)

The apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:12–16, ESV)

The apostle Paul wrote quite a bit about how we are to walk in these times. In 2 Thessalonians 3:13 he exhorted us with, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (ESV) And in Ephesians 5:16 he reminded us of the importance of considering how we use our times because of the times in which we live, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (ESV)

Starting today with a focus on the persecution going on around the world we are reminded in a very stark way of the reality of Paul’s words. We are encouraged to stand with Him knowing the very real spiritual battle in which we are engaged, and we can be drawn to pray for those even now who lives are threatened because of who they worship. Our God is good. He is in absolute control and He will bring to pass that which He intends even to the destruction of evil and the salvation of all who believe in Him. And He will never forsake those who place their trust in Him and suffer in His name.

Peter went on to say, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19, ESV)

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