A conflict between grace and legalism
In John chapter 5, Jesus heals a man who had never walked. It’s a miraculous sign which points to the power of Jesus. But we see him confronted by the Pharisees, who were experts in the Law of the Old Testament involving the fact that he had healed the man on the Sabbath.
The religious figures will disapproved of the timing of this miracle. As soon as this healed man picks up his bed, religious figures are ready to swoop in and bring judgment on him for violating the Sabbath.
10 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.”
Legalism without grace
The Pharisees are more concerned for their man made laws and judging this man for breaking the Sabbath.
In his commentary on John, Richard Phillips argues that an inevitable result of legalistic religion is that it treats people without compassion.
They’re not rejoicing in this miracle, they’re not glorifying God for this man who can now walk.
All they care about is that he has broken the law, in their eyes.
Legalism vs License
The Law of the Old Testament is good.
But men adding laws onto God’s law is not good. And it’s worse when we expect people to live based on extra-Biblical rules.
I’m not undermining things that the Bible commands. For someone who’s a professing Christian, expecting, encouraging, and exhorting them to live based on Biblical principles and values is not legalism.
But whether or not carrying a mattress on the Sabbath counted as work is another matter entirely.
In trying so hard to defend the Bible, they had taken themselves away from the Bible. In trying so hard to compel obedience to the Law, they had lost sight of the Spirit of the Law.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus is involved with several controversies regarding his various healings and activities on the Sabbath. In Mark 2:27, Jesus says: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
And the point was that God had given us the Sabbath as a blessing and a way to have one day in seven that was totally devoted to him and that was set apart and scared.
It’s easy to make rules. It’s easy to give people lists of things to do and not do. And you can follow all of the extra rules to the Sabbath and yet have no love for God.
During the ministry of Jesus, he will confront the Pharisees, the people who were experts in the Law but yet missed the true heart and purpose of the scriptures concerning what they’re truly about and what they point to, namely, Jesus.
In the prophets, Israel’s failure to keep the Sabbath was a source of divine judgment. They responded by going too far the other way in thinking that their justification was in observance to that and to their obedience to the rest of the law.
But to again remind us of the passage in Isaiah 1:13, God does not desire vain offerings. Just because you’re following the rules outwardly, but you’re cold and distant to God inwardly means nothing.
That is the great mistake of legalism.
And they lost sight of the greater commands of the Bible, loving God and loving people, and when the Lord healed this man, they could not appreciate that.
So you have the Pharisees and the man who has just been healed.
Verse 11, the man responds.
11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ”
He simply refers to Jesus as “the man who healed me.”
He also deflects attention from himself to Jesus. This can be interpreted as if this man is actually blaming Jesus for a supposed violation of the Sabbath since it was Jesus who told him to pick up his bed.
Either way, the Pharisees are quick to take their attention off of this man. They’re blind to the miraculousness of what Jesus has just done.
12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”
13 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.
Jesus has already disappeared into the crowd.
Verse 14 again moves the story forward:
14 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.”
Verse 14 is very interesting.
Sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you?
Is it saying that this man’s previous handicap was the result of his sin? It’s possible, but not necessarily what the text is saying.
In John 9, it’s the story of Jesus healing a man who had been born blind – one thing we learn from that passage is that not all of our suffering is directly related to a sin that we specifically committed.
That sometimes happens. We see that in the Book of Acts where Ananias and Sapphira are judged and struck dead.
And certainly we are all sinful and live in a fallen and sinful world.
But in establishing a theology of suffering, we mustn’t think that all human suffering is directly a punitive response to a sin that a person committed and that had a person not committed that sin, they would therefor never have suffered.
Suffering is part of life for all people. So what does Jesus mean then?
Sin no more that nothing worse may happen to you?
Is he saying if the man commits one more sin, something worse will happen?
I don’t believe so.
Consider for a moment a few other verses from this gospel.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God
John 8:23-24, Jesus is again talking to Pharisees:
“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins
Jesus is talking about people having faith in who he is and the eternal consequences for rejecting him.
So I return again to our passage.
Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
What’s the worst sin we can commit?
Not believing and trusting in Jesus as the Son of God.
And where he talks of sinning no more so that nothing worse may happen, he’s talking about something far worse than being paraylyzed for 38 years. He’s talking about spending all of eternity facing the wrath and judgment of God for not believing.
This passage tells us about superstitions. People going to the pool in Jerusalem in the hopes that the waters would heal them. Superstitious practices are not our hope.
This passage tells us about legalism. The pharisees added rules on top of rules. Following rules is not our hope.
Our hope is in following Jesus who calls us to sin no more. Yes, Jesus wants us to live lives of holiness and devotion to him. But more than anything else, we are called to trust God and live by faith and live as a result of that faith.
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