This scripture is a difficult one to deal with and I have spent more time thinking about this one than many others that I have written about. It is only one verse, but it can be puzzling and I have prayed about it to try and understand what the Lord is saying here.
It’s not that I don’t know what He is saying in the scripture, nor my understanding of the issues involved. But it has been playing on my mind because there are deep and significant ramifications regarding this scripture that could be easily glossed over and missed if we are not careful. And that is not something I want to do. So let us look at the scripture and see what is going on here.
Law of the Sabbath
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments by which the children of Israel were to live. The fourth of those commandments pertained to keeping the Sabbath holy to worship the Lord and to rest from labours. No person was to carry out work on the Sabbath, and even the preparation of food was to be done the previous day.
Now this scripture in John 5:18 says, “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God.”
The Jews accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath because he worked on that day. However He had previously said in verse 17, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” And yet we know that Jesus did not sin for He could not have been the perfect sacrifice if he had sinned. But if it is true that He did work on the Sabbath contrary to the Law in the fourth commandment, then it would have been considered a sin. Thus a confusing issue!
Equal With God?
The second thing they accused Jesus of was when He called himself the Son of God. When he referenced His Father as he did in verse 17, then the Jews said He was claiming to be an equal with God, and any man who spoke in such a way was committing the sin of blasphemy.
But in fact we know that Jesus did not sin for he always spoke the truth. He did not claim to be equal with God, but He was indeed the Son of God. And furthermore we see from the first chapter of John that Jesus was the Word and there was nothing made in all of Creation that did not occur without His word of authority, for all things were made through Him.
So He could truthfully claim to be the Son of God and to be God if he so chose for he was and is God the Son. And if he was and is the Son of God and he is God, then it is not blasphemy to call himself God for that is his position and his right.
Working on the Sabbath
Now as for working on the Sabbath and the question whether this was sin for Jesus. First we must remember that Jesus said elsewhere that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) In fact all of the law was made for man to guide him and give him wisdom and understanding between right and wrong. But the Sabbath moreso because it was given to man for a day of worship as well as rest and recuperation.
God knew man needed rest and that he could not work all day, every day. So He arranged for man to have a break, as well as the animals and beasts of burden employed by man for work purposes. We rest so that our bodies and minds can be refreshed and recuperate. We also have our spirits refreshed on the Sabbath through worshiping the Lord so that we can remember to give Him glory for all he has done in our lives.
On another occasion where the Lord healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath He said, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4) Clearly it is right to do good and Jesus was showing that if a man has been bound with sickness, infirmity or other evils, then it is more than appropriate for him to be released of these things on the Sabbath.
Who is the Law for?
Now the Law of Moses was given to Israel and it was for all of the people so that they could live well. The Law was given to man as an interim control because of mankind’s sin. We see Paul write in Galatians, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” (Galatians 3:19) It was because of man’s transgressions that the law was added. If man had not sinned there would have been no need for the law. But the law was given until we could receive the truth of the gospel by faith.
Again we see Paul say this in Galatians 3:22-25,
22 But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed.
24 So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian
In this we see that the law was given to man. It exists for the purpose of teaching, guiding and ultimately judging man. The Sabbath as one of the Laws was given to and relates to man, it does not relate to the spiritual realm.
God is not under the Law. The Holy Spirit is not under the Law of Moses either for they are not descendants of the children of Israel and they are not men.
Who Was Working?
Now this raises an interesting question. Who did the actual work of healing on these people on the Sabbath? Who does all of the working associated with any of the miraculous acts that the Lord did? Also who did the miracles that were performed by the Apostles in their ministries?
It was all done by the power of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. And as we have just seen the Holy Spirit is not confined under the Law because the Holy Spirit is not flesh and blood but is the spirit of God. So the Holy Spirit is not confined by the Law of the Sabbath as the children of Israel were. Thus He could legitimately work and do the miracles of healing on the Sabbath without any question of sin occurring for sin is the breaking of the law, and the Holy Spirit cannot break a law that He is not under!
As for God performing the work of healing and the miraculous gifts, note at the end of Mark 16:20 where he writes about those who spread the gospel to the world, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it.” So it is the Lord who confirms the message by the signs and miracles to show that the word is the truth. It is not a man doing these works for they are the works of God, and God is not bound by the laws of the Sabbath.
To emphasise this point Jesus said back in John 5:17, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” He is showing that the works being done are being done by the Father, and He is not bound by the Law of the Sabbath. Jesus again emphasises this point saying, “…so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)
What About Today?
An excellent question! Are we bound by the Law of the Sabbath today? Well I have stated that the law was binding only on mankind but not on the spiritual realm. It is also binding only on man while he is alive. When a man dies he is no longer under the law. These are not my words but Paul who said, “Do you not know, brethren–for I am speaking to those who know the law–that the law is binding on a person only during his life?” (Romans 7:1) So when a person dies the law is no longer binding upon them.
Now we who have been baptised in water have been baptised into the death of Jesus Christ. We have taken on Jesus’ death as if it were our own and by so doing we too have died with Christ. As Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) He further adds in Romans 7:4, “Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ.” So if we have died to the Law through Christ we are no longer under the law, including the law of the Sabbath, but we now live our lives in obedience to Christ, seeking to do what is right not because of the law but because that is how Jesus Christ wants us to live. As Paul said, “But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” (Romans 7:6)
This is then true freedom in Jesus Christ. We are set free from sin through his sacrifice and we are set free from law through baptism so that we can live in the free gift of righteousness through His grace and stand before God. We are not under law, but we do not despise it or ignore it for in it God showed us right from wrong. There is great wisdom in the law, but we cannot become righteous through it. Righteousness is only possible through the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ.
There is much, much more that I could add to this post, but it is getting too long as it is. I urge you if you wish to discuss this, add a comment or send me an email. You can be sure this will be covered in more depth when I get into Romans and Galatians, but if you wish to discover more now check out my free eBook on The Foundation Teachings of Christianity.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng taken by Marcus Buckner)
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