So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.
- JOHN 5:16
At the end of our last reading, Jesus drew the indignation of Jewish religious authorities for healing a man on the Sabbath day and then instructing the man to “pick up” his mat and “walk” (John 5:8). Both of these actions, providing non-urgent medical treatment and carrying a mat on the Sabbath, were considered punishable crimes in Jewish society at that time. It’s important to note that nowhere in Scripture are these actions outlawed. In Scripture, God commanded the Israelites to do no work on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, so that they might remember that He is in control and the Creator of life (Exodus 20:9-11). But, other than a few prescriptions about what can and cannot be done, Scripture is remarkably ambiguous about what constitutes “work.” Because of this ambiguity, religious leaders during Jesus’ day sought to clarify the situation by spelling out explicitly what was not allowed on the Sabbath—things like carrying mats and providing non-urgent medical treatment.
In today’s reading, Jesus is put on trial by religious authorities for these crimes and He provides a fascinating defense. Part of His defense involves calling forward the witness of Scripture. Jesus says, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus is pointing out that the Scriptures these religious leaders sought to clarify, actually anticipate everything He is doing. These experts failed to understand this. They thought they could preserve their lives and the lives of others by enforcing their own legalistic interpretations of biblical Law. But they were blind to the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17). He came to restore life and offer true Sabbath rest (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus’ defense here serves as yet another reminder that He is the source of life that our world so desperately needs. His defense should also be read as a warning for the church today. We must be careful not to let our own Sunday morning traditions cause us to miss the true message of Scripture or the fresh work Jesus may be doing in people’s lives. Jesus is looking for a transformation of the heart, not just an outward conformity to rules. If we follow the rules without showing love for Jesus and others, we’re no different than these ancient religious authorities.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE SON
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.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 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.
24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
TESTIMONIES ABOUT JESUS
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.
33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved.
35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
45 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”