…And So It Begins

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted Him.  Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I , too, am working.”  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.  John 5:16-47

Jesus healed someone on a Sabbath and now the Jews were up in arms about it.  You’d think they would be amazed at the healing itself and the other issues would fade into the background.  I mean, like, come on, did healing happen so very often that they could just blow this off in order to focus on the Sabbath question?

Chapter 5 begins the Jesus’ teachings where He describes Himself to His followers and detractors alike.  Jesus usually used plain logic, though at times He turned mildly cryptic (like String Theory is basic math).  I believe there are good reasons for the obscure style of argument, though, for to say some things too openly in Christ’s day invited censure and public punishment.  Jesus had a mission to accomplish which He needed to finish before they took Him. 

If John A is keeping to a loose timeline of Jesus’ work and teaching, then Jesus began His ministry challenging the system.  After changing water into wine, He cleaned up the Gentile court so the people could worship in peace, brought the Samaritans to a knowledge of His grace using a bitter outcast woman as one of His first evangelists, then healed on a Sabbath.  All these actions took place in His first few months.

So this situation begins with a healing and ends with Him defending Himself.  Jesus purposely reveals His identity in a veiled way–a thin veil at best, because the Jews seemed to get it right away.  His statement about God being His Father angered them because by it He was making Himself equal with God.  There is absolutely no escape from this passage.  Jesus put Himself up on God’s level by calling Himself God’s Son.  Now we can conclude any son is the equal of a father pretty easily, although at birth he may only possess the potential to be so, yet once he’s grown he matches the father in everything.

Whether Jesus’ claim can be refuted or not, no one can say by the text because it is made as a statement of fact.  This “fact” might be disputed by those who disagree with the text and therefore don’t accept Jesus as anything but a good man, teacher and historical figure, but those who study the text and claim to believe it cannot, in all good conscience, do anything but agree and practice that belief.

Notice I did not say it could be refuted but disputed.  To refute a subject or claimed truth one must have firm evidence to the contrary.

Jesus defends His actions by calling on God’s work of sustaining life every microsecond.  He gives His relationship to the Father as a reason for His own work of healing, then presents a poignant argument against the Jews mishandling of the Law.  The Sabbath was made for man to rest and enjoy his Creator and the life he’d been given one day a week without working with it to produce.  God must work to sustain all life–this means He is never able to rest.   So does He break the 4th commandment?  No, the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  It was a gift to man not a universal creed or law; a day to take the boots off and soak one’s feet.  They weren’t created for the day, the day was created for them as a gift.

The Jews made a fatal error here.  Think about it:  If healing a man paralyzed 38 years is what Jesus can do when He’s being nice, what could He do when He’s angry?  If someone has the power to heal the body just by commanding it, I wouldn’t think it wise to mess with him.  Why they thought they could pin Jesus to the ropes I don’t know.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to try to take on a man who could heal an army and keep on fighting, and these guys wanted to kill Him!

As I’ve studied this gospel in the last few years, I’ve begun to catch a glimpse of what religion without God in charge does to people’s minds.  I’m all for religious beliefs and practices but I don’t believe it is the essence of who we are.  We might religiously shower but that doesn’t make us worry about it.  It’s the same with religion of any kind.  We can claim the name of Christ and shout how much we agree with Him, then turn right around and be hateful in our hearts.  Without the heart being different, the words mean nothing to God and ultimately nothing to anyone else.

Why did the Jews react first?  Why didn’t they first try to figure out whether what He said was true and study His claims and Him?  Seeing the miracles would have given me pause to adjust my thinking on any subject.  Like Nicodemus I would be cautious but still seek Him out.  They didn’t.  Jesus signaled a change to everything they knew or trusted.  Since the Babylonian captivity, they were afraid to do anything to anger God, afraid they might lose what they gained back.  They misunderstood their history, though.  How long did God put up with the worst sins a nation calling itself by His name could commit?  Almost a thousand.  If God showed this kind of forbearance when they were at their worst, why would He punish them for being what they should be and little too much to the right?

The lesson of their history was lost on them because they took the wrong lesson from it.  Instead of seeing the grace, mercy and forbearance of God in their history, they saw only judgment, punishment and fear.  Jesus’ mission mystified them because they were so hardened to their agenda, closed to anything but their own efforts to appease God and dedicated to the glory of Israel over the glory of God.  They rejected Him because instead of offering political glory, Jesus demanded their hearts change, and this will be the reason for most people who turn away from the Master.

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