The Sabbath Smokescreen

John 5

16So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. 17But Jesus replied, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?” 18So the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him. In addition to disobeying the Sabbath rules, he had spoken of God as his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19Jesus replied, “I assure you, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20For the Father loves the Son and tells him everything he is doing, and the Son will do far greater things than healing this man. You will be astonished at what he does. 21He will even raise from the dead anyone he wants to, just as the Father does. 22And the Father leaves all judgment to his Son, 23so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. But if you refuse to honor the Son, then you are certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

24“I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.

25“And I assure you that the time is coming, in fact it is here, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. 26The Father has life in himself, and he has granted his Son to have life in himself.27And he has given him authority to judge all mankind because he is the Son of Man. 28Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, 29and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to judgment. 30But I do nothing without consulting the Father. I judge as I am told. And my judgment is absolutely just, because it is according to the will of God who sent me; it is not merely my own.  (John 5:16-30, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In this chapter, Jesus has an encounter with the leaders after he heals an invalid. A man who had not been able to walk for 38 years is healed and instead of praising God for this amazing miracle, the Jewish leaders are upset because the healing occurred on the Sabbath.

Have you noticed that the Jewish authorities are particularly hung up on the rules of the Sabbath?

There are a number of things going on in this passage that I want to draw attention to.

First, Jesus responds to their rigid understanding of the Sabbath by telling them that His Father is always working and so is He. What exactly does that mean and how does this response address the Jewish leader’s constant complaints about working on the Sabbath?

Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the 7th day. The Pharisees obviously thought that meant that there was to be no activity (or work) of any kind.

But if that’s true then it would mean God is not active during the 7th day, which we are currently in, according to the Scriptures. Jesus contradicts this idea that God is not active at all while making the point that one is still allowed to do good, even on the Sabbath.

A second observation is that the Jews were not just incensed because Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. They were also upset that Jesus was making claims of deity. Their response in this passage clearly indicates that they understood Jesus to be making himself equal to God, which in their mind was a claim to deity.

It is very common today for people to assert that Jesus never made claims of deity. However, there are quite a number of passages that clearly demonstrate that Jesus believed Himself to be God and made claims as such. This is one of those passages. I wrote about another passage here.

Third, Jesus is explicitly teaching that the Son should be honored in the same way that the Father is honored. In other words, Jesus is worthy of worship. The law taught that only God was worthy of worship so it’s quite evident that Jesus is affirming that as God, He is worthy and deserves to be honored and worshiped.

Lastly, Jesus claims authority to judge and give life, two activities that are reserved for God alone.

There was plenty of evidence that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that He was God incarnate, but the Jewish leaders rejected all evidence that pointed to these facts, including the amazing miracles Jesus performed. Instead, these leaders got incredibly worked up over the fact that Jesus healed a person on the Sabbath. And this was not the first or last time they got twisted over this particular issue.

The reality is that the Sabbath issue was merely a smokescreen to conceal the hardness of their hearts. When a person’s heart is hard, no amount of evidence or reasoning will convince them that their preconceived position is faulty. Instead, they will reach for the most mundane and irrelevant issue and make that the central argument supporting their erroneous position.

Reflection

If you encountered someone who said that Jesus never claimed to be God, what would you say in defense?

Why do you think the Jewish leaders were so upset about the Sabbath?

When was a time that you abandoned reason and logic to support a faulty position simply because you couldn’t admit that you were wrong?

What do you think are some reasons why the Jewish leaders were so resistant to Jesus, even though their teaching and training should have prepared them for His arrival?

 

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

A Pivotal Council in the Early Church

While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the Christians: “Unless you keep the ancient Jewish custom of circumcision taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  2Paul and Barnabas, disagreeing with them, argued forcefully and at length. Finally, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.  3The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.  4When they arrived in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported on what God had been doing through their ministry.  5But then some of the men who had been Pharisees before their conversion stood up and declared that all Gentile converts must be circumcised and be required to follow the law of Moses.  6So the apostles and church elders got together to decide this question.  7At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe.  8God, who knows people’s hearts, confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he gave him to us.  9He made no distinction between us and them, for he also cleansed their hearts through faith.  10Why are you now questioning God’s way by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?  11We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the special favor of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15:1-11, NLT)


Acts 15 is perhaps the most important chapter in the entire book of Acts because it highlights an important dispute that arose in the early church.

The issue wasn’t just about the rite of circumcision. At issue was what was necessary to be saved. The dispute seemed to be led by some Pharisees who had been converted (see verse 5). These men believed that salvation was for the Jews and therefore, they believed that the only way a Gentile could become saved was to convert to Judaism. This meant adopting Jewish customs, including observance of the law.

Circumcision was really an outward representation that a person had converted to Judaism. So when these men from Judea began teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved, what they were really asserting was that Gentiles needed to become culturally Jewish before they could accept the Jewish Messiah.

So the question became: can Jesus save non-Jews, or do Gentiles need to adopt Jewish culture and become Jews before they can be saved by the Messiah?

Paul and Barnabas argued that Gentiles didn’t need to adopt Jewish customs, including circumcision, but only needed to receive Jesus by faith in order to be saved.

Peter also advocated for this position as he recalled his experience with Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Acts 10. Peter noted that Cornelius and his family, all Gentiles, had received the Holy Spirit just as the Jews had, on the basis of faith alone.

All of the church leaders agreed. The issue was settled, and from that point on, it was clear that the Jewish Messiah was not just for Jews but for all the peoples of the world. And more importantly, it was clear that the only requirement to receive the Jewish Messiah was faith. It was not necessary to become culturally Jewish.

There are important implications for us today as we seek to share Jesus with a dying world. The principle here is that we are to present Jesus to people and not our culture. Sometimes, it’s easy to conflate the two. People need Jesus. They don’t need my culturalized version of Jesus.

Reflection

In what ways has your culture influenced your view and understanding of Jesus? 

How can you ensure that when you share Jesus with others you are not taking a Pharisaical approach – injecting cultural requirements into the gospel message?