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Choosing Rules over the Redeemer

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 12:1–21; Mark 2:23–28; 3:1–12; Luke 6:1–11; John 5:1–47

Both Jesus’ miraculous works and His clear teaching reveal that He and God the Father are equal. This great truth that Jesus Christ is God means He is Lord over every aspect of life. Do we acknowledge Him as Lord and act accordingly?


At this point in our Wisdom Journey through the Gospels, Jesus has been ministering for about one year. The news about Jesus has spread like wildfire. But as His popularity is growing, so is the jealousy of the Jewish leaders.

At this time here in John chapter 5, Jesus and His disciples have gone to celebrate a festival in Jerusalem. The Lord goes over to Bethesda, a natural pool of water surrounded by covered colonnades.

Verse 3 describes the scene. Near this pool “lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” Some translations put verse 4 as a footnote, stating that people would wait for the “moving of the water.” The superstition was that this pool was stirred periodically by an invisible angel, and the first person to get into the moving water would be cured.

Jesus ignores the superstition and just walks up to a man who’s been an invalid for thirty-eight years and speaks to him:

[Jesus] said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (verses 6-9)

Now this miracle takes place on the Sabbath. And wouldn’t you know it, some Jewish leaders soon show up. They have heard the commotion and see the healed man whom they all knew had been lying out there all those years—he is now walking, carrying his little mat on his shoulder.

They stop him and demand to know who healed him and who told him he could carry his mat on the Sabbath day. The man had not caught Jesus’ name, so he cannot answer them. But verse 14 tells us that later on, Jesus crosses paths with him again in the temple area. So now this man knows who the miracle healer is, and we are told here in verse 15, “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.”

Verse 16 tells us the Jewish leaders begin “persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” Never mind this stunning miracle! Jesus only adds fuel to the fire by telling them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (verse 17).

To put it another way, Jesus is saying, “You religious fellows ought to know that only God can heal like this. Well, He is my Father, and He and I are on the same page. We are working together.”

The next verse explains:

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.

Listen, anybody who says Jesus never claimed to be deity—never claimed to be anything more than a prophet—has not been reading the Bible. These leaders wanted to kill Jesus because He was claiming equality with God the Father.

And in case these religious leaders did not hear Him correctly, Jesus keeps talking here in verse 21, saying, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” Get this: Jesus is claiming equality in power with God the Father.

Jesus then says, “The Father . . . has given all judgment to the Son” (verse 22). One day, beloved, the world of unbelievers will be judged by none other than Jesus, God the Son. Here He clearly claims equality in position with God the Father.

Jesus then goes on to claim equality in receiving praise with the Father. Jesus says that all judgment has been given the Son so “that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (verse 23).

You cannot possibly miss the claims of Jesus as equal in power, position, and praise with God the Father.

As Jesus continues to speak, He backs up His claims with witnesses. In verse 33, he cites the witness of the prophet, John the Baptist, who said Jesus was able to forgive sin. Second, the Lord adds the witness of God the Father in verses 36-37. His voice was heard at Jesus’ baptism, saying “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” Third, Jesus says Moses is a witness: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (verse 46).

In other words, the law and the prophets all point to Jesus, the Redeemer. The trouble is, these Jewish leaders want their rules and regulations more than they want a Redeemer.

Now Mark 2:23 picks up the narrative and takes us to the next Sabbath-day event. This time the Jewish leaders object to Jesus’ disciples picking and eating grain as they walk along (see also Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5).

Jesus points out in verse 25 that even David and his men ate loaves of bread from the tabernacle in order to survive, while they were on the run from King Saul. The Sabbath law was not meant to deprive people of what was necessary.

Then Jesus sums it all up in verse 27, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath law was for people’s benefit—to give them rest. But Jesus is “the lord … of the Sabbath,” which means He has the authority to determine how the Sabbath regulations are to be applied.

And let me say here, in the New Testament dispensation of grace, our Sabbath rest is in the risen Savior. That is why we can worship on Sunday and, frankly, any day of the week and any hour of the day—because we have found our rest in Jesus.

Still another Sabbath event takes place in Mark 3, where we find a man in the synagogue who has a withered hand. The religious leaders are sitting there on the front row, and Jesus just puts it out there, asking them in verse 4, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm?” They are silent.

Verse 5 continues:

[Jesus] looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

The Pharisees get up and march out, furious, knowing they had been put in their place. And they begin, verse 6 says, plotting “how to destroy him.”

In the meantime, Jesus does not slow down at all. Matthew and Mark give us a summary of the days and weeks that follow, as Jesus continues to demonstrate His divine power (see Matthew 12:15-21; Mark 3:7-12).

So, what does all this contention between Jesus and the Jewish leaders mean for us today? Well, this gives us an illustration of the bondage of man-made religion. These sincere leaders are actually bound by religious ceremony and man-made rules that have no connection with Scripture.  

During these days—and even to this day—religion can get stuck in rituals and rules that make people feel better than others, without ever addressing the issues of the heart.

Maybe you are holding on to something because, well, that is just the way you were raised or that is how your spiritual leaders demanded that you live. Frankly, it is all just a list of rules without any relationship to the Bible or your Redeemer.

Let me invite you to go out there and barbecue some of those sacred cows you have been holding onto. The gospel invites you to trust Christ alone and enjoy the freedom, the forgiveness, and the fulfillment you have in Him. The gospel invites you to rest in Christ alone.  

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