Jesus Breaks Sabbath Law
Jesus was not a religionist!
His spiritual devotions never involved habitual ceremony. He prescribed no rituals and there was nothing routine with His words or actions. Some responded to Him angrily, none yawned.
Any rituals He may have followed are not recorded for us. If anything, Jesus was religiously unpredictable.
- He traveled to Jerusalem on many occasions but not once are we told He offered any sacrifices. He did, on the very odd occasion, tell someone to offer an appropriate sacrifice (Matthew 8:4) but we have no record of Him blessing those ceremonies with His presence.
- Many of the things Jesus did and much of what He said was religiously disruptive: cleansing the Temple (once in John 2, a second time in Matthew 21*), claiming to be Messiah in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4) and healing on the Sabbath (John 5).
- The people about whom He spoke His harshest words, the Pharisees, were excessively religious (Matthew 23).
- It was the ultra religious who were the most instrumental in his execution (Mark 15:1-15).
- Jesus rarely encouraged anyone to be religious. He spoke of disciples as sacrificial not ritualistic.
- Jesus evangelized the religiously hardened and did so by being religiously agitating.
I wouldn’t say that Jesus was anti-religion but I would say that He had no tolerance for religious nonsense.
In John 5 Jesus takes action which directly affronts one of religions most holy cows, the Sabbath, and by doing so demonstrates His discord with religious dictums.
The problem was, that particular day was the Sabbath and religious leaders had expanded Sabbath regulations to disallow many things including carrying a bed. Healing wasn’t allowed either. The penalty for breaking these man-made laws could be as severe as death. Jesus knew this and broke with religious law to make a point.
Jesus also knew what the Bible said about the Sabbath and understood the real meaning – the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Unfortunately, religious zealots had so encumbered the rest-principle with restrictions that it was creating stress rather than relieving it.
Not only were they missing the point about the Sabbath they were way off target on salvation. They worshipped the Sabbath considering adherence to its regulations a means of salvation. They felt safe as long as they never broke these laws.
Because the Sabbath was established before any sin was committed, we understand it to relate more to physical needs than spiritual health and was not a remedy for sin. The Sabbath rule correlates more with dietary law than penance. Those are not thoughts that religious people usually consider.
For a full discussion on the nature of the Sabbath go here.
Back to the cripple.
On this particular day Jerusalem was very busy. The Jews were observing one of three yearly festivals every adult male was expected to attend. The streets were crowded with people all of whom were carefully observing Sabbath law. The ex-cripple, however, merrily bounced along with matt in tow liberated and free for the first time in his life. He stood out like a sore thumb.
When confronted by the religious zealots about his bed-carrying infraction he explained that the man who healed him also told him to “take up his bed and walk,” exact words.
To make a long story a little shorter, this eventually led to a conversation between Jesus and the religious Jews the point of which was, Jesus is equal with God and the Savior of the soul.
That is a very brief summary but it was in the course of this conversation that Jesus made His most extended yet simple statement…
One, defining belief
Two, defining the focus of belief
Three, describing the security of salvation once sealed
Truly, Truly, I say unto you, the person (any person) that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has (present tense) everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation (emphatic); but is passed from death unto life (final). (John 5:24)
Jesus orchestrated this entire event just so He could share this powerful yet simple statement of salvation truth with people who were so bound up in ritual they were blind to their need for salvation and the God who could give it. He was being evangelistic and He did this by being religiously defiant.
Jesus taught us to be evangelistic not religious
Jesus never spoke against the rituals associated with the Jewish religion but He was never bogged down by them either. He answered the demands of the law and epitomized the character of biblical statutes.
The Law was our teacher but it was His servant. Jesus answered Old Testament ceremony and in doing so became our Savior and the living representation of the law. After Jesus, the ceremony was no longer needed.
Because of His unique relationship to the Law, what Jesus was religiously is very difficult to define. He didn’t observe Old Testament ritual and He wasn’t very New Testament-like either. If people today were to cancel out all external religious influence and use only Jesus and His ministry as a pattern for religious life we would be quite different to what we are.
Unlike most religious participants, Jesus spent His time going TO people.
- He moved between cities and provinces constantly.
- He did very little to encourage or beg people to come to Him.
- People were the primary focus of His ministry activity and most of the people to whom He ministered were religiously inactive or disrespected.
- The biggest problem the disciples had was learning to avoid religious routine. Before His ascension, Jesus said they were to “go” and instead they anchored themselves in Jerusalem. Even persecution didn’t unseat them (Acts 8:1).
Obviously, Jesus’ purpose was not to become a great religious example and He wasn’t encouraging us to become devotees. He exemplified something which served a much higher purpose than religion, evangelism. He was constantly evangelizing even when faced with the religiously hardened. Maybe instead of being called “members” of a church we should be called “evangelists” of Jesus.
Religion cannot save
Religious activity can make you acceptable to a certain church but it doesn’t make you acceptable to God.
Jesus understood this and clearly aimed His evangelistic efforts at people who were intensely religious. They thought they were right (not even possible) and therefore safe. Jesus knew otherwise.
We think just the opposite. We don’t consider religious devotees the best prospects to evangelize and, just like Jesus, we don’t find them readily willing to engage the dialogue. Their most prominent characteristics are “self-satisfied,” “argumentative” and/or “dismissive.”
Some avoid the discussion as unnecessary assuming that God, if He exists, doesn’t care what you think or do (dismissive). The other extreme focuses on fine points that don’t matter, like how to observe the Sabbath (argumentative). Both are self-satisfied.
Jesus skirted the rabbit trails and diverted the conversation to the only issue that matters, salvation through the Savior.
Religion generates angst not grace
The response to the good news of this man’s healing by the religious leaders was hostility and their angst was directly proportional to their religious allegiance. “Hateful” is not a good characteristic of any religious group.
“Devotion” is the word we use to describe good religious people. Their acceptance is based on adherence to ritual. Once the ritual is broken, however, they become unacceptable and are likely to be cast out. There is no grace in that. This kind of system is all about protecting self which in turn diminishes concern for others.
But that is the nature of religion. “Ritual” eventually takes over and becomes all important. When magnified people become cold, self-righteous, unapproachable, isolated, insensitive, unreal, inflexible, artificial, indifferent and, as in this case, hostile. When Jesus broke the common rule (not God’s) for the Sabbath the religious attacked.
Jesus helps us see that religious devotion is ineffective and experience proves this. Historically it has been extreme religious devotion that has kept people away from church. The opposite of evangelism. Mindless religious devotion blinds the religious and barricades the irreligious from the primary point, salvation.
The thing that makes us good Christians is not the intensity of our devotion but the object of our devotion. People become Christian when they “believe” in God not ritual and they become good evangelists, and therefore good Christians, for the same reason.
Evangelism is the solution to religion
The best way to avoid becoming overly ritualistic is to focus on evangelism and the best form of evangelism involves personal conversation, again non-ritualistic.
Because evangelism can happen in any setting at any time and under any circumstance it is very difficult to ritualize. There isn’t only one way to evangelize and if you are looking for a “best” way you will have to defer to Jesus. All of His evangelistic moments were driven by personal conversation and the conversations were set up by some strategic action.
- He cleansed the Temple in the end of John 2 and had a very significant evangelistic conversation (you must be born again) with Nicodemus immediately afterward, John 3. Nicodemus came to Jesus He didn’t go to Nic.
- In John 4 He asked a woman He’d never met before for a drink of water in a public setting. Men did not address women publicly in the culture of that day and His question was made even more unthinkable because of their different religious backgrounds, He Jewish, her Samaritan. But, that one question got her attention and the resulting conversation led to her salvation as well as the salvation of her friends.
- In John 5 He healed a non-believing crippled man on the Sabbath and then commanded him to carry his bed through Jerusalem. That got everyone’s attention and provided Him the opportunity to talk more about saving belief.
Conversation and dialogue are forms of social art that are not encouraged. Our talking is more like throwing words at people and giving out tracts is a good example. People become angry at our manners and we assume they are rejecting God.
Jesus wasn’t selective in those He conversed with. He spoke with all types and the Pharisees called Him the friend of sinners because of it. They thought they were insulting Him and didn’t realize they were putting a finger on the very thing that made Christianity different to religion.
Christianity loves everyone because they all need salvation. Religion spends its time separating those who are “in” from those who are “out.”
Religion is much more simple than we make it
The only passage in the whole New Testament which makes any definitive statement about religion is James 1:26-27 which says…
If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
This statement is both vague and specific.
It is vague in areas on which we love to focus (sin and how to avoid it) and specific in areas to which we only give lip service (helping people).
We love to focus on the world and describe in great depth and detail what constitutes a spot, how to avoid getting one and the procedures required to remove them when we do. Major fellowships are formed around statements on spot management.
According to James charity is a very important tenant of religion and he mentions specifically the objects of our charity, orphans and widows. Helping people is an important issue in both testaments. It is a big part of what defines religion but historically it hasn’t figured largely in religious activities. Even the efforts of Mother Theresa, which we loudly applaud, represents a small fraction of the ministries of a worldwide church.
Another point James makes about true religion is the person who has it is one who has learned to control their tongue. Misuse of the tongue is one fault a properly religious person will guard against.
Notice that James did not say that a person who is properly religious does not gossip. Gossip is the first thing that comes to mind but it is only one issue. James was discussing total tongue management.
There are many ways in which you can misuse the tongue and gossip is not necessarily the worst.
Any misuse corrupts true religion. When people speak to soon, or out of turn, or make promises they can’t or don’t keep or tell lies or make statements they can’t really justify or misrepresent the facts or confuse the issue or make cruel, mean or angry remarks or try to teach when they do not really qualify…all constitute the uncontrolled sinful use of the tongue.
Bridling the tongue means keeping all of these sins under control.
Jesus was not very religious but He was excessively evangelistic. The things He did were irregular and would never fit into a religious scheme but He consistently got the attention of the people around Him and drew out their responses. Afterward they were ready to discuss the most important issue, salvation. For Jesus, religion was a means of evangelizing. What is it for you?
* Michael Gleghorn at Probe Ministries gives good evidence to support the view of two cleansings.