Sunday, April 04, 2010

Breaking the Sabbath (Jn. 5:16-18)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 28 March 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.
Passage: John 5:16-18

Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath day? Why did He not wait for another day? Jesus did it on purpose in order to correct the error in the Jews’ understanding of the Sabbath, which they have absolutised.

In the first place, regardless which day Jesus healed the man, it should be taken as a shocking miracle since the person was paralysed for 38 years. But the Jews did not look at it that way. They cannot see the glory of God in that miracle. All they were interested in was that Jesus healed on the Sabbath day and that was against the law and He ought to be cursed.

God gave the law to show men their sin but the Jews made it their basis for arrogance. Instead of seeing their own sin, they were arrogant. Not only did they judge other people using the law, they used the law to judge the Son of God. They used the law to condemn the Law Giver.

The Jews figured that since God commanded His people to rest on Sabbath day, God could not have broken the Sabbath Himself. So they must be right and Jesus must wrong. If the law was true, obedience to the law was right. Why should they follow Jesus rather than God?

When the man who was healed was rebuked by the Jews for breaking the Sabbath, he immediately put the blame to Jesus. This spirit of shifting blame began with Adam. He wanted to defend himself so he said he was commanded by someone else to carry his mat. The Jews became angry that there was actually a man who commanded people to break the Sabbath. They wanted to know who this person was, but the man did not know Jesus’ name.

Later on, Jesus found him again and said, “Now you are well. Stop sinning or something worse might happen to you.” He should be thankful that Jesus had cared for his soul but instead, he went away to report to the Jews that he had found the man who healed him. This is a man without conscience. Why did Jesus heal him? Was it because of his faith? Not in this case. When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, he did not even say yes. This person is like you and I. We want to make use of God. He did not give thanks to God. He received the grace of healing freely and his response was to accuse Jesus of causing him to break the Sabbath.

He was happy to experience the blessing of healing but he did not give thanks and was not interested in Jesus’ warning. When he reported to the Jews, they came to persecute Jesus.

Healing someone is a good work but they could not identify the goodness and the power of God. They felt Jesus had sinned in saving a life because He broke the Sabbath so they felt killing him was a right thing to do. Killing is breaking the 6th commandment but they felt they were right in killing Jesus because He broke the 4th commandment, which is to keep the Sabbath holy. Their confusion reflects the evil of fallen humanity. They are preoccupied with the external and were impeding the internal spirit of the law.

When accused of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus’ replied, “My Father has been working to this day, so am I.” The Jews saw Jesus heaping sin upon sin as they thought Jesus now called God His Father, and further claiming to be doing what God was doing so making Himself to be God.

But what did Jesus mean? Was He implying that God did not observe the Sabbath? Why then di the Bible say God rested on the seventh day? Jesus healed on the Sabbath day to correct this understanding. He wanted the people to know that God still works on Sabbath day.

He gave us a correct interpretation of the Sabbath day. He explained that God never stopped working to this day. On the Sabbath God rested from His work of creation, and after that He began His work of sustaining His creation. So the Jews could not constrain Him from His redemptive works just because God rested from His work of creation. The work of sustenance and salvation are still ongoing.

Jesus gave two principles regarding the Sabbath. Men are not made for the Sabbath, but Sabbath for men. Do you think you love God by sending people to hell? Many churches will follow all rules and do not care if people do not come. Some will accommodate based on grace. Grace is not to go against the law but to surpass the law. The importance of men surpasses whether they follow the law or not. We need more love and grace since we ourselves also fail. Often times people use the law as a yoke. But by the power of love we can surpass the law. The sufferings of Christ deliver us from the power of the law.

God works to sustain all creation. After the 6th day God no longer create. He sewed garments of skin and gave to Adam and Eve after their fall. That is work too, which symbolised God’s work of salvation. The Jews never enter into Sabbath rest because they never understand.