Summary: # 15 in series. “One of the most serious problems facing the orthodox Christian church today is the problem of legalism."
A Study of the Book of John
“That You May Believe”
Sermon # 15
“Facing Up To Legalism”
(John 5:9-13,15, Gal 1:6-10, 2:1-5, 11-14)
The subject that I want to talk to you about this morning is legalism. You know it’s kind of odd but, I have never met a Christian who admits to being a legalist. I know Christians who admit to lying, stealing, envy, lust – but no one wants to admit that they are a legalist. Yet to overcome the problem, we must all admit that we are at times legalistic.
The list of regulation we impose on others is long – and not always obvious. We judge people for the version of Bible they carry, by the way they wear their hair, and by the clothes they wear, by whether or not they have tattoos, or anything that doesn’t fit within our boundaries of acceptability. We judge people by whether they like praise choruses rather than hymns. We make judgments based on how they choose to educate their children. We judge people for raising their hands in service, or for not raising their hands in service. We judge people by what political party they affiliate with. The list of things we judge people’s spirituality on is almost endless!
We return this morning to the healing of the man by the Pool of Bethsaida, here Jesus entered into the midst of hurting people who waited by the pool of Bethsaida for a healing.
Among all those gathered there that day Jesus was drawn to one man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. In verse six, Jesus asked this man, a pointed question, “Do you really want to be healed.” And then in verse eight He commanded him to “Get up, take up your bed and walk.” The Lord healed the man through His spoken word. It is important that in the last part of verse nine we are told, “And that day was the Sabbath” on which the miracle was performed.” The miracle would have caused no problem except that it was performed on the Sabbath. But as it was, this miracle became very important because it precipitated a great “Sabbath Controversy.” I believe that Jesus worked this miracle on the Sabbath on purpose to focus the attention of the religious leaders on the fact that they are missing the original purpose of the Sabbath and fact he is LORD over the Sabbath.
The Old Testament taught that a person should do no work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-10). By Jesus’ time the rabbis had expanded this simple command by going into great detail there were now 1,521 rules as to what constituted “work.”
The healed man is intercepted by the religious leaders who inform him that he is breaking the law by carrying his bed on the Sabbath. In verse ten we read, “The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed." (11) He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, "Take up your bed and walk."’ (12) Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, "Take up your bed and walk’?" (13) But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. … (15) The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”
They are not concerned about this man – they do no even acknowledge that he has been healed – let alone rejoice over it. Their only concern is that this man is breaking the rules – their rules. He tells them that it is not his fault, the one who commanded him to get up and walk is the one who also commanded him to carry his bed.
At first these verses seem to be all about the Sabbath and that is the direction that I approached it from, at first. But when you really think about it the issue is not the Sabbath, this about legalism. The Pharisees are the grandfathers of legalism and Jesus meets them head on in a confrontation that turns the tide of official opinion solidly against Him.
Once informed that Jesus is the one who healed the lame man, the Jews cease to harass the healed man and fix their attention on Jesus. Verse sixteen informs us, “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.” John tells us that the religious leaders began to “persecute Jesus.” An important feature of this miracle is that it began an open conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders that would culmin-ate at the cross. Because this miracle was done on the Sabbath day, it gave raise to the first demonstration of rejection on the part of the religious leadership.