104. An old, old story for the new year.

Let us go back. To our birth? No further back. To the time of our forefathers? Even further back. Well okay, to the time of Jesus on the earth because we are studying the book of John. No, wrong again. Let us go back to the beginning. The beginning of what? The beginning of everything. Let us take our lesson today from the story of Genesis that gives us the believer’s account of Creation, the creation of everything in the mighty Hand and by the majestic Word of our Father.

Why would we go so far back? Is there anything there to learn that could be applicable to modern living? Let me quote our ancient friend and poet David.

Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. (Psalms 119:18)

Let us look with enlightened eyes to one of the most liberating principles of ancient times with a prayer to apply it to our life this year in order to experience new things from God.

We have discussed the principles of a miracle in our previous piece. Jesus heals the man at the Bath of Bethesda in spite of his 38 years of illness and his focus on a useless superstition. This amazing miracle takes place on the Jewish Sabbath, which is meticulously observed by the church leadership.

We have talked about it in Pebbles before and I quote from: A royal encounter [95]:

An example of this meticulous law observation by the Pharisees, was the rules on the Sabbath, when no work was to be done by man or servants or animals. The definition of work was developed over generations. The Mishnah is the codified scribal law and it contained 24 chapters on the Sabbath alone. The Talmud is the explanation (commentary) of the Mishnah. On the subject of the Sabbath the Talmud runs 64 columns of fine print. In the Babylonian Talmud it runs 156 double pages. One rabbi spent more than two years to study one chapter of the 24 of the Mishnah on the Sabbath.

Just a quick example: To tie a rope knot was sin, to tie a woman’s petticoat was legal. If you needed to let the bucket down in the well for water on the Sabbath, you couldn’t tie a rope, but you could tie it to a woman’s underwear – fully legal and pleasing to God in their opinion!!

The Scribes worked out the details; the Pharisees dedicated their lives to live by it. Even in the deception of following the law so strictly, it must have been a special kind of man to dedicate his life to pleasing God. The word Pharisee meant: the separated one and so they lived: separated and away from ordinary life to keep every detail of the Law.

With that background let us look at the reaction on the miracle in John 5. The healing of an incurable disease should have been an occasion for joy and gratitude. The news was met with bleak judgment because it took place on the Sabbath. Apart from Jesus “working” in the healing process, the man carried his bed. The law said the Sabbath should be different from other days. The Jews set out thirty-nine different classifications of work, one of which was that it consisted in carrying a burden.

Jeremiah talked about the Sabbath (17:19-27) and so did Nehemiah (13:15-19). In Nehemiah it is clear that he wanted to prohibit trading on the Sabbath. The Rabbi’s (around the time Jesus came) argued that carrying a needle in your robe or walking with false teeth, or your wooden leg is not permitted. Every petty detail was escalated to a matter of life and death.

The healed man under cross-examination said the man who healed him told him to do it and he did not know his identity. Later he met Jesus in the Temple and told the authorities it was He. The poor man’s miracle joy was robbed in an instant as he was trying to save his life from stoning – the punishment for breaking the law. He wanted to say it is not his fault that he broke the law.

The accusations came to Jesus – the verb is in the imperfect tense (5:18), which shows repeated action in the past. John used this story as a sample of what Jesus habitually did.

His defense: God did not stop working on the Sabbath and neither does He.

Another writer said: “The sun shines; the rivers flow; the processes of birth and death go on the Sabbath as on any other day; and that is the work of God.”

 True, according to the creation story, God rested on the seventh day; but he rested from creation. His higher works of judgment and mercy and compassion and love still went on.

Even on the Sabbath God’s love and mercy and compassion act. Jesus is God – it was the most natural thing for Him to reach out and heal in the time of need. How can we live if our compassion and acts of love are suddenly suspended on the day of the Lord? Can it ever make any sense at all?

The Jews reeled in horror – Jesus was putting Himself equal to God. Jesus was teaching that a human must always be helped. There is no greater task than relieving pain and distress. Our compassion is God-like and 24/7. Other work is to be laid aside on the Sabbath – never compassionate work and relieving suffering.

What do you think about the Sabbath here in our 21st Century? Is it applicable to modern living? Are you willing to incline your ear and hear the voice of God speak afresh on this matter? What do you hear?

“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord;
And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth,
And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13,14)

Just HEAR how The Message makes the case:

“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
    and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
    God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,
    making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
    Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
    Yes! God says so!

Remember, we live in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Your Sabbath does not need to be on a Saturday or Sunday specifically. It can even change often as it is practical to observe this joyful weekly feast about the goodness of God.

The underlying principle is that God wants to bless you with rest and for that you need to set apart your time. If you do not enjoy a day where you can “pull yourself together”, sit back and reflect on life and God, do yourself a favour this year and build it into your week.

This might be one of the greater challenges for “something new”.

Jesus told the man to sin no more in case something worse happens to him. For the Jews sin and suffering were connected. They always sought first forgiveness then healing.

To be healed by God in a miraculous way of illness or any other affliction, brings great responsibility to live the life of one who has been richly forgiven. It is not “business as usual” after such a magnificent divine intervention. We do not deserve anything and is given everything in the grace in mercy of our loving Father.

Our life is forever changed to live the grace that has been extended to us miraculously.

Very important: we should never connect sin and suffering in the way the ancient Jews did. We live in a broken world and much suffering comes from the sin and brokenness around us. We are not carrying the burden of the sin of this world; Jesus did that on the cross. We are merely affected by our living space and do not “earn” sickness through our personal sin.

We never “explain” suffering and illness. We ask God to reveal Himself in every situation.

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

There were those in the church who used their liberty as an excuse for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). There were those who sinned in the confidence that grace would abound (Romans 6:1-18).

There have always been those who have used the love and the forgiveness and the grace of God as an excuse to sin. But we have only to think what God’s forgiveness cost; we have only to look at the Cross of Calvary, to know that we must ever hate sin because every sin breaks again the heart of God. [William Barclay]

Healing comes in the humble prayer of the one who bends his knee before God and Christ. Divine healing is not cheap – Jesus warns the man to live responsibly in his healing and not regard it as a ticket to sinful living.

After the miracle Jesus withdrew; quite literally it meant to turn aside, to bend the head aside, to shun, to avoid. He was slipping away to avoid applause and argument. Sometimes it is good to just walk away. Take your Sabbath.

We are not the “fixers” of wrong living and wrong thinking.

 

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

 

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