What He Really Meant Was…
By Stefan Johnsson
John 5:10-17 (NIV)
10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”
12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
I remember one discussion I had with a person. He asked me, “Why did Jesus break the laws of the Torah?” He used John 5:10 as the example for his argument. “If Jesus broke the laws,” he reasoned, “how can he be the Messiah, the Son of God?” That is an excellent question to ask. How can we answer this behavior from Jesus?
We can approach this from two angles. The first is simple, wherein the Torah do we see a law regarding picking up your mat and walking? There is none. This Law does not exist. So, from where did the Law come? It was created by the Jewish priests and teachers of the Law to help them define what work was on the Sabbath. Instead of viewing the Sabbath as a day to rest and focus on God in worship, they wanted to clarify what God was referring to as work. They focused on the minute instead of the big picture.
The priest and teachers of the Law took their eyes off of God, where the Law was pointing too, and instead found their salvation in the Law and in man, where they should not have looked. These additional laws were used to control the population and to hold them to the strict standards they had implemented. By doing so, they were causing the people to move away from truly worshipping God. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”
The second point is that the Law of the Torah does not stop people from doing work to help others. Jesus mentions a story concerning Exodus 21:33 in both Luke and Matthew. In Luke 14:5 it says, “Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” The teachers of the Law were not able to answer the question, and that was because they did not grasp the true meaning of the Law. They had made it their own. Helping others and your animals did not constitute as work on the Sabbath, so why should picking up a mat that you were laying be as well? Jesus knew the answer because he saw the bigger picture of what the Law meant.
Jesus, in the end, did not break any law; he fulfilled the true meaning of the Law. It was the priest and teachers of the Law that had forgotten why the Law was there, to begin with, and how they had perverted it.
We should also be encouraged that God does not stop working on the Sabbath. He is here among us and continually watching over and helping us. We are meant to rest and worship God, to spend time with our Father in heaven. Let us not forget this.