In my last post, I talked about Jesus being equal with God, but this passage also has instruction for us regarding the Sabbath. Let’s get back to the Sabbath.
“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.”
– John 5:15-18
So not only were the leaders wanting to kill Jesus because He claimed equality with God, but also because He was healing on the Sabbath. In light of Jesus’ relationship to the Father (Jesus being equal with God, discussed in the last post) it is clear why Jesus heals on the Sabbath and easier to understand Jesus’ answer to their criticisms. Jesus gives His reasoning to both the healed man and the religious leaders in this passage:
First, Jesus explains to the (formerly) crippled man why He is healing on the Sabbath – namely, this was about the pursuit of his holiness. Verse 14 says, “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.‘” Jesus is saying, “I conquer sickness to show you that I want to conquer sin.” Jesus is showing His power over physical illness to demonstrate His power over spiritual illness (sin). “Not only can I restore your body to what it was originally, but I can restore your soul to what I created it to be.” Jesus was showing the man a physical reality (healing his paralysis) in order to demonstrate a spiritual reality (I can heal your soul).
Jesus then turns to the Jewish leaders who are criticizing the fact that Jesus “worked” on the Sabbath. He says in verse 17, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
What does this mean? How is this an answer? John Piper has a great explanation to this:“What’s he (Jesus) saying? I think something like this. Jesus says: ‘My Father and I created a perfect world, a paradise, and then we rested, not that we were tired, but stepped back as it were and enjoy the perfect display of our own glory revealed in our creative handiwork. That’s what Sabbath is for—the restful, focused enjoyment of God. But then sin entered the world, and through sin came sickness and calamity and death. And from that moment, my Father and I have been working again. We have been working—in many ways that you don’t understand—to restore a Sabbath paradise to the universe. We have been working to overcome sin and sickness and death. Even your own law, which contains the Sabbath command, was part of our working to conquer sin and hold back the miseries of unrighteousness and point you forward to a Messiah, a Savior, who would come and perform the decisive acts of restoration and transformation toward the new heavens and the new earth. When I heal a man, and intentionally do it on the Sabbath, I am showing you something about myself. What was happening at the pool of Bethesda was that my Father and I were revealing the world that is coming. It is a world in which there will be no sickness and a world in which there will be no sin. “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”’
Isn’t that good? Jesus is saying that the Sabbath is rooted in enjoyment of God, His “perfect display of His own glory revealed in His creative handiwork.” It isn’t about being lazy, being legalistic about work, or being bored. It’s about enjoying God. But sin entered the world and directly opposed the glory and holiness of God, and so God (and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) began working again for the restoration of that Sabbath in His Creation, and that includes you and me.
God is not done with us, and He is not done with the world or with those around us. He wants us all to enter His “Sabbath rest.”
Hebrews 4 puts is this way:“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The Sabbath is for us to enter into, to find our true eternal rest. And what is this Sabbath rest? It is Jesus. He is our rest. He is our peace. We are to find Him, rest in Him, spend time with Him, enter into His presence, sing, worship, pray, eat, drink, read … in pursuit of Him. The idea of resting is meaningless if it is just about being lazy or “doing nothing.” That is not true rest. True rest energizes you, it fills you up, it prepares you to go out and fight again. And our true rest, our true Sabbath, is a Who, not a What. It’s Jesus.
The day of rest is a depiction, an example of what Jesus wants for us for eternity. He wants every day to be a day of glorifying God, resting in Him, “the restful, focused enjoyment of God” as Piper puts it. The only way to have an eternal Sabbath rest is to repent, confess your sins, and run to Jesus. And to rest in Him.
Again, John Piper:
I and the Father are one. We created the world and the Sabbath. Since sin and sickness entered the world, my Father has been working, and I have been working, to restore Sabbath joy and wholeness and rest to the world. That is what I am doing here and now in the months that remain to me on the earth. I will deliver the decisive victory at the cross. And I will come again to complete my redeeming work. And in that kingdom, there will be no sickness, and there will be no sin. Therefore, repent, and rejoice that a man has been saved from both on the Sabbath. Amen.