“Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.” (John 5:9b–13, ESV)
Out passage yesterday ended, after the man being healed, with the statement, “Now that day was the Sabbath.” In most translations that break the passages into paragraphs along with verses, they begin a new paragraph part-way through verse 9 with these words. These words are very significant when it comes to drawing a line between the legalism that the Jews had fallen into in order to show themselves approved and living a life of faith which is expected by God. The Pharisees and others prided themselves in their adherence to the law and even made themselves enforcers of others obeying the law. The law that they proclaimed was much more than the law of Moses and the instructions of the prophets. Over the years the rabbis had added to the law by adding expansive stipulations on how the law was to be observed, and the rules concerning the Sabbath were just a portion of their expansion. In Exodus 20:8-11 the Jews were told to, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…” For a long time this was simply understood that they were to refrain from their customary work (employment) on the Sabbath, but according to the Mishnah (a written redaction of oral rabbinical tradition) on the Shabbath (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2) there were 39 activities that were forbidden, and the activity in question, carrying anything from one domain to another, was the 39th last item on the list.
So, here we have this man that everyone knew to be disabled and unable to walk for thirty-eight years, and rather than rejoicing in His healing he was questioned by the Jews as to why he was carrying his bed on the Sabbath. Unlike the other miraculous signs we have looked at previously, this time we actually have encounter someone who had no idea who it was that had healed him. All he knew and all he could respond to when questioned was that the man who healed him told him to take up his bed, and walk. Again rather than being amazed that the man was healed by another, they were still focused on who it was that had said that to him. They did not even acknowledge his healing. All they were focused on was who was behind this man breaking the Sabbath rules.
Jesus purposely chose not to reveal His identity at this time to the man for He knew the hearts of those who would confront him. Rather, our passage says that He had withdrawn back into the crowd to return later, as we will read, to identify Himself to the man.
In thinking about this I was greatly impressed by the compassion of our Lord. Though He knew more than anyone that the man’s greatest need was to be granted eternal life and eternal healing, He also showed His great compassion in healing the man from his present condition. Knowing from further reading that He would later come back and tell the man who He was, I can only imagine Him standing back in the crowd as the man is interrogated by the Jews. I don’t know what He felt, but I can imagine Him looking at these Jews who were so focused on their personal performance and not their own greatest need. I can imagine Him looking at this crowd who rather than rejoicing over the man’s healing they chastised him for carrying his bed on the Sabbath. I can imagine Him standing there knowing how far the people had strayed from the original law given to Moses by their adding of bars and hoops that were never a part of the original instruction.
Sure, God gave the Law to the Jews through Moses, but His intent was not that it would prove their worthiness by its observance, but on the contrary would demonstrate our great need to have the Law and the words of the prophets ultimately fulfilled in Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20, ESV) Unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees? These were the standard bearers for observing their traditions. How could we possibly exceed them? This is the very point was making. There is only One who met this requirement, and that was Jesus Himself. Not one of us has that kind of righteousness, and as such, not one of us deserves based upon our righteous acts to inherit the kingdom of God.
What misdirected pride He must have observed. The apostle Paul (as a former Pharisees, see Philippians 3:5) wrote about this kind of attitude in Romans 3:28-28, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:27–28, ESV)
It was never about how well we could obey the law. It has always been about our obeying the law as a result of our love for God and our faith in Him. There is not one of us that is righteous enough for God. We read in Romans 3:10, “as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NASB95)
And this is the great dilemma—God demands righteousness and none of us are righteous. The law proves this over and over again. But this dilemma has one and only one solution and that is found in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He, being fully righteous gave Himself for us so that His righteousness might be credited (imputed) to our account. We are made righteous in Him, and this happens not by the hoops we jump through but by the faith that we have in Him to do what He said He would do.
“And He [Jesus] said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”” (Mark 2:27–28, ESV)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)