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The Sabbath and Grace Controversy

Rev. Charles Oppong-Poku | March 21, 2024 | John 5:10-13



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. John 5:10-11 (NIV)


Our focal passage for today highlights a tension between the law and mercy. While the Jewish leaders focused on the man carrying his mat on the Sabbath, deeming it a breach of their law, they overlooked the extraordinary healing he had received. Interestingly, carrying a mat wasn't inherently against God's Sabbath law but rather the Pharisees' strict interpretation. This poor man had suffered paralysis for thirty-eight long years - imprisoned within his vessel - and was now set free - not only able to get up but also miraculously able to walk and carry his mat. Yet despite this wonder, these legal extremists of their day were determined to focus on breaking the law rather than the miracle stemming from the mercy shown by Jesus Christ. The Sabbath-day healing performed by Christ revealed his divine compassion for humanity's well-being and his disregard for the legalistic rules and rituals of Jewish tradition that hindered true worship and freedom.  


The Jewish leaders showed little interest in who healed the crippled man; instead, they were fixated on who instructed him to carry a mat on the Sabbath. To them, Jesus was the Sabbath-breaker, a notion that likely left the healed man puzzled and perplexed. Perhaps the healed man pondered quietly within himself: "Today, I was carried to the pool, and if I hadn't been healed, I would've needed to be carried back home. That would've been far more effort than simply carrying my bed mat. By healing me and allowing me to return home, Jesus actually saved labour on the Sabbath, rather than creating more work." To the healed man Jesus was He who made him well. The reaction of the religious leaders highlights their blindness and failure to recognize the significance of Jesus' miracle which demonstrated God’s mercy and transformative power. Like the paralyzed man, we are called to respond to Jesus' transformative touch by obeying God's voice and word and walking in the freedom and new life He offers us.



The original purpose of the Sabbath was to remind us of God’s grace. Many Christians today are still burdened with legalism. They have little understanding of the principle of grace whereby God does the doing, whereby He provides what we need. God does not operate by our merit but by the merit of Jesus.



Heavenly Father, help me to see beyond the letter of the law to the heart of mercy and compassion. Teach me to balance righteousness with grace, and to prioritize love in all my interactions. May I be more like Jesus, who showed mercy and kindness even in the face of legalism. Amen. 




DAILY word study: FORBIDS The word "forbids" in John 5:10 is translated from the Greek word "ἔλεγον" (elegon), derived from the verb "λέγω" (lego), which means "to say" or "to speak." In this context, the Pharisees spoke out against the healed man carrying his mat on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees' response reveals their rigid interpretation of the Sabbath law, focusing on external observance rather than recognizing the miraculous healing that had occurred. Their legalistic approach prioritized adherence to rules over compassion and mercy, leading them to rebuke the man for carrying his mat.

This word "forbids" underscores the Pharisees' misunderstanding of the Sabbath's true purpose, which was intended as a day of rest and restoration. Instead, they used it as an opportunity to enforce their strict regulations, missing the opportunity to celebrate the man's healing and glorify God.

Reflections: Are we more concerned with outward observance or with demonstrating compassion and grace to others? Do we prioritize legalistic adherence to religious practices over extending mercy and love to those in need?

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