In his joy of being healed after 38 years of being unable to walk, this man completely forgot the Sabbath laws … or maybe he didn’t care. He had been given a new life, literally. This man was given a massive gift, and in his joy, he forgot all social norms and religious duty and picked up his mat on the Sabbath.
This was a big problem during this time, because God’s laws on the Sabbath were interpreted and applied very strictly – you do not work, and picking up anything up heavier than a feather was considered work. For activities prohibited on the Sabbath, see this article. The Jews missed the heart of God’s law-God created the Sabbath day for enjoying and resting in Him. It was not to add weight and burden, but to uplift and enliven. However, over centuries of law and tradition, the Sabbath had become a labyrinth of complicated laws and, in many ways, an oppressive force.
“Why are you breaking God’s law?” The irony of this is that Jesus, God’s beloved Son, the Word made flesh, is the One who commanded this man to carry his mat. God does not contradict Himself. As Christians, we believe Jesus is part of the trinity, being “in very nature God.” Therefore, Jesus’ command to the man to pick up his mat was in keeping with the very law of God and His Sabbath.
This formerly crippled man’s only defense is to tell the Jews that the Man who healed him commanded that he take up his bed and walk. He was just obeying Jesus, even though he didn’t even know it was Jesus who healed him. This man obeyed Jesus in spite of the Law.
We arrive here at a topic many churches, pastors, conferences and Bible studies avoid – Obedience. It is not a word we like, is it? We like Freedom, Grace, Mercy, Deliverance, Blessing, Patience, Struggling…. These are all words that, while good and true, have been used out of context by many in the church as covers for procrastination, laziness and even flat out disobedience when it comes to their sin.
Jesus walked up to this crippled man and ask him, “Do you want to be healed?” This healing came with inevitable changes, just as our salvation does. We are not saved by Jesus and then left alone. Jesus makes demands of us, changes us. No one really talks about this, but life doesn’t get “easier” or “better” once you are saved – it gets harder, more difficult, more personal, more gritty. Sanctification is not fun. It is uncomfortable, awkward, difficult, and frustrating … but aren’t the best things in life difficult, challenging, and demanding, such as running a marathon, getting in shape, getting married, having children, being saved? …. Ask anyone if those things are difficult, and they will wholeheartedly say “Yes.” Then ask them if they those things are worth the pain, and you will almost unanimously hear “Yes!”
This crippled man has a choice – obey men or obey God. He was conflicted about this, and for the first time probably in his life, he goes to the Temple to pray and seek God. There he encounters Jesus once more, and again we see that this healing came with a demand for change: “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
When you encounter Jesus, there are expectations of good fruit, change, growth, submission and obedience. The Gospel comes in and makes demands of us! Paul in Colossians 3 says it this way: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ …. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry…. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips….Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness humility, gentleness and patience.”
Being changed by Jesus is scary, right? Look at this crippled man – the only trade he knew was begging for coins. He didn’t have an education or “network” to get a job, he did not know what the city of Jerusalem looked like since he was regulated to certain streets and corners. Being healed was a major blessing, but it also had to be very unsettling. I can just hear him asking himself (after the excitement wore off and reality began to set in), “What do I do now? How do I survive? Where will I live?” Jesus came in and took away all predictability, comfort and excuses. He fundamentally changed this man’s life from top to bottom, took away all that was familiar and comfortable.
What about you? Has Jesus come into your life? If so, He always comes with a demand for change. He will remove the comfort you have with your sin, the excuses you have for being lazy, the predictability of how you love your wife and family. There must be change, fruit, repentance, confession. Jesus will see to it that you are uncomfortable with your sin.
What is the alternative? Is there any way to avoid this? Yes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses this topic in his book entitled The Cost of Discipleship, calling this alternative to being changed by Jesus “cheap grace:”
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession….
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
In other words, the alternative to obeying Jesus, being renewed day by day into His image (2 Corinthians 4:16), and having our comfort in our sin and laziness taken away is NOT another type of Christianity, a different path to the same Jesus, or a legitimate way to live your life as a believer in Christ. Grace without repentance, discipline, confession, hard work, self-evaluation and shock over our sin is not Grace at all – it is a counterfeit, a lie, a farce.
Jesus summarizes this in Matthew 7:13-14 when He says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate that is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Acts 5:29 says, We must obey God rather than men. So as you evaluate your life and your walk with Jesus, ask yourself – Is my Christianity easy right now? Is my life free of challenge, void of aggression toward my sin? Am I comfortable with the sins in my life? Am I content to be lazy with how I love my family and friends? Am I okay with ignoring or minimizing the sins in my life that those close to me have lovingly pointed out?
If you answer yes to these questions, you need to repent and seek the Lord. In case you didn’t make the connection, we are the crippled man in this story. Jesus healed this crippled man and then commands him to stop sinning. He tells him to live a completely different life. We cannot do this on our own. We need His power, His strength, His Holy Spirit. We need Christ, the hope of glory. We need Him to put on our armor, we need Him to fight the good fight of faith, we need Him to help us resist the Devil and resist temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Hebrews 2:18…. We must obey this command in Galatians 5:16 – “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
If Christ has saved you and rescued you from sin, you must obey Him. And it is not a begrudging obedience. It is joy! Jesus saved us from eternal death, rescuing us from evil. Oh, what joy there is to be found in obeying Him! As John Piper says, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
For more information on how to make war against your sin, here is a great sermon series by John Piper – http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/how-to-kill-sin-part-1