This post is part of The Grave Robber series.
God is more concerned with fulfilling His mission than satisfying man’s rulebook.
If there is any game that frustrates me, I’d have to say it’s the game Apple to Apples. I know there are avid fans out there today scratching your heads, and you’ll probably keep scratching them after I explain why. In this game someone throws out a green card with an adjective—say Delicious, with a subtext that reads tasty, pleasing, appetizing. In turn, everyone anonymously throws out a red card with an appropriate noun on it from their hand. The judge for that round reveals the cards, reads them out loud, and chooses a winning combination. The trouble is, out of those nouns the judge has to choose between French Fries, Trailer Parks, and Cow Pies. Mmm… delicious.
Most judges I have ever played with pick the Cow Pie. But me, I pick French Fries. Call me boring—but I am a stickler for the rules. You’ll find both kinds of people in the world—those who thrive within clear-cut boundaries, and those who enjoy shaping the game as they go.
Today, we talk about Jesus as The Rule Breaker—the only One who perfectly lived the letter of the Law, but saw fit to abolish it in leu of something greater—the Holy Spirit and a discerning heart.
In our Summer Series on the Sermon on the Mount, a major observation was the shift Jesus is making from a letter-of-the-law faith and a Spirit-led faith. Jesus lived in the same kind of world we do, one where people ask “How far can I go without this being a sin?” Instead of asking “How can I best please God today?” Jesus makes it abundantly clear that His teaching ministry centers on a heart-orientation over and against a mental-recitation of rules. Jesus moves us from human-centered edicts to a Spirit-led way of life—speaking about a narrow road, a clean heart, and highlighting the giving of two pennies in the offering. These aren’t explicit commands, they are illustrations of a type of living, examples of our hearts living for God.
When I was a kid, we had a light post at the end of our driveway. We’ve had a number of accidents on that road as there is a big hill and a lot of hidden driveways. So it made sense my Mom made the rules exceedingly clear: don’t go past the light pole. You can guess where my brother and I spent most of our time though. At the light pole.
What Jesus is doing throughout His teaching ministry is turning the hearts of people. He is opening up the compass of our souls and changing what due North is. What we used to want we no longer desire and what was once difficult now gives us joy.
This is the context in which we call Jesus the The Rule Breaker. While the religious leaders of Jesus day would make sure they offered the perfect ounces of the right spices to God, they withheld money to the needy elderly because it was already earmarked for “worship” Let me put it this way, if there was a choice between Jesus getting to church on time to lead Bible Study and helping at the scene of an accident, He’ll choose the emergency every time. In His own words “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
What is the compass direction of your soul? While some of you are asking “How far can I go without this being sin?” There are others asking “How can I make history with God today?” I suggest you seek the latter and you won’t need to worry about the former.
If you haven’t been here in a few weeks, we’re in the middle of our Fall Series: The Grave Robber where we are gaining renewed hope and daring to believe again. Believe what? That the God of the Bible is alive, He is working, He is here, He is able, and He is willing!
he Gospel of John records seven specific miracles, also called signs with the aim that those who read these eye-witness accounts would, in John’s own words “…believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31 ESV). We’ve covered two of these signs so far, and today we check out the third which alludes to Jesus’ divinity and fulfills His agenda. So let’s jump into our text today. If you have your Bible, please turn to John Chapter 5. If you are using a Sanctuary Bible, that is page 890.
John 5, Verses 1-18. This is still early in Jesus’ ministry. He isn’t widely known and He hasn’t caused any controversy. But that’s all about to change.
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
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. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
There are four sections to this story and I want to provide some background on each one, culminating in an understanding of Jesus as the divine Rule Breaker.
So first, Time and Location. John tells us this was a feast time. Feasts are brought up multiple times in John’s Gospel and we think it is because of how the feasts celebrate momentous times of God’s deliverance, which ultimately point to Jesus Himself.
For instance, many know the Passover feast, where the Israelites slaughtered lambs to remember when God’s judgment “passed over” them is a direct pointer to Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. But what about the feast mentioned here? Scholars debate, but I tend to side with the Pentecost theory. It would have been too cold for sick people to lay around if it were Passover season, and John 7 deals extensively with the Feast of the Tabernacles, which leaves the Pentecost Celebration. At this time, Pentecost was the remembrance of God giving the Law on Mount Sinai—you know where God gave the Ten Commandments. Interestingly enough, the fourth of which is Keep the Sabbath. I wonder if Jesus meant to heal at this festival, on this Sabbath. Hmm.
This location has been confirmed by archaeology. It is now called the double-pool of St. Anne and to get a sense of the scene, there are two pools 165 feet wide by 220 feet long. Five porticoes, which are covered walkways formed the outer structure. It was likely a busy place, which is good for begging.
Which brings us to Section 2: The Lame Man.
Jesus sees the man and realizes the severity of his chronic disability. Whether Jesus had heard about how long this man had been coming to the pools, or whether it was revealed to Him by the Holy Spirit we don’t know for sure. But either way Jesus decides, this is the one. Now I actually have a theory about this. I think John specifically mentions the man had been lame for 38 years because it references Israel’s wandering in the desert in Deuteronomy 2:14 ESV. The passage reads
And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them.
Here in this passage, the remnant of those who were unfaithful and cursed to walk in the desert for forty years had passed on. In fact, the text says they crossed the brook of Zered—which translated literally means to prune.
So here’s what I’m getting at—I think this man represented Israel in their unfaithful state, and Jesus wanted to make a point that a new day was here. It was time for the lame, atrophied Israel to be restored. The old way is being pruned and the new way has come!
So Jesus asks “Do you want to be healed?” To which the man answers as one not recognizing who he is speaking to. The man is still enamored with these waters. Local legend says angels come and stir the waters. When that happens the first one in gets healed. Well, our modern digs have shown a channel connection between the pools which, when a pressure differential occurs would cause stirring. This man was grasping for straws, putting his hope in that which the world put its hope in. But it was empty. Still, Jesus speaks the word and muscle grows where it had all but withered away. Now part two of Jesus’ sign is enacted, the man walks on with his mat in hand.
It doesn’t take long on a Sabbath to notice a Jew carrying a mat. The religious leaders were notorious of keeping a close eye on the community. Interestingly, when asked why the man is carrying his mat, they actually avoid the part about being healed and focus on the breaking of the Sabbath rule. Now we’ve got to stop there for a second. This is the crux of it all. When a man comes up and says “I’m carrying my mat because I’ve been healed of my thirty-eight years of muscle dystrophy” and the response is “Who told you it was okay to carry your mat?” there is a disconnect. Somebody is so deep into the rules, they can’t see the bigger picture.
You’ve heard how I feel about Apples to Apples, but I haven’t told you about Miniature-Golf. If no explicit instructions are provided by the course, the default playing rules of two-head lengths out from a boundary wall, one mulligan of an opening drive per course, and a six-stroke maximum limit are to be employed. Yes, I’ve been known to don my knickers if the situation necessitates it. But—while I definitely keep score even if nobody else is—I make sure I have fun with everyone. Because the purpose of Miniature Golf isn’t about the score—it’s about relationships.
The men in this passage are missing the point—God is on the move. It’s bigger than you, it messes up your system and plans, it does not appear to be a controllable, sustainable situation.
So I need to ask you this morning—is God allowed to break your rules? If the Catholic Church in town is having revival, and God is moving, would you go prayer walk around the building, invite your co-workers to go check it out, or write an encouraging letter? Or would you think to yourself “This doesn’t fit within my previous experience, I can’t trust it”?
Maybe even in this series, here in our church you’ve been feeling like “we can’t go down this road—it’s not safe” And these are the moments we must stop and ask the question “Is God allowed to break my rules?” Because I will tell you, He is more concerned with fulfilling His mission on earth than satisfying our insecurities.
Shortly after this, Jesus confronts the man who was healed and commands him to sin no more. According to rabbinical tradition of the time, the penalty for his crime of breaking the Sabbath rule was stoning. And instead of trusting the Lord of the Sabbath, he trusts his gut to save his head. He goes and tells the authorities about Jesus.
The final section of the passage shows the Jewish Religious Leaders confronting Jesus. This is the first major conflict of its kind in John’s Gospel. Without skipping a beat, Jesus answers them by both equating Himself with God the Father and by explaining the rationale behind the work of God. There is a long-standing Jewish Tradition that explains God created the Sabbath for man as He Himself cannot observe it. Just as God has been working to sustain and to order, and to heal—so Jesus extends His Father’s work—Sabbath or not.
But the bigger point is clear, healing, wholeness, newness, life—these are what God is seeking after. It isn’t strict adherence to the “don’ts” of life—it is a passionate chasing after God’s dreams for the lost and broken.
Band, you can come up at this time. In response to God’s Word this morning, we’re going to sing the song ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to let go of our orderly, predictable religious notions. But sometimes God wants to stretch you—actually quite often. I colored with my 1-year-old daughter yesterday. I like to color in the lines. But you know what? We had a lot more fun just coloring, creating, making something new together—we made a loving relationship the goal, not the black-and-white instructions. Let’s stand and sing together, trusting Jesus as He does infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine.