90 Days With Jesus, Day 19: John 5:9b-18: Religious & Irreligious Folks

John 5:9b-18

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

To paraphrase an old friend, ‘Now that is remarkable. Here is a man who has been laying idle for 38 years and the first thing you Pharisees point out to him is that he is carrying his mat on the Sabbath. The man hasn’t carried a mat on any day for 38 years. He hasn’t carried a mat for 13, 870 days and you are worried about today? Did you praise him on any other 1,976 preceding Sabbath’s that he did not carry his mat?” Here is no miracle, for sure. The only thing that happened was that the law was broken. That is all they saw. They did not see a man set free, they did not see a man healed, they did not see a captive loosed from his prison, they did not see a man cured of a disease that had left him completely impaired and despairing for 38 years—a man who had, for all intents and purposes, simply lost the will to live. Of course he had no one to help him in the water when it was stirred—he didn’t want anyone to; it was easier to do nothing each day.

I quoted from an essay, in my previous meditation, written by Tim Keller. Here’s another helpful paragraph:

Moralism is the view that you are acceptable (to God, the world, others, yourself) through your attainments. (Moralists do not have to be religious, but often are.) When they are, their religion if pretty conservative and filled with rules. Sometimes moralists have views of God as very holy and just. This view will lead either to a) self-hatred (because you can’t live up to the standards), or b) self-inflation (because you think you have lived up to the standards). It is ironic to realize that inferiority and superiority complexes have the very same root. Whether the moralist ends up smug and superior or crushed and guilty just depends on how high the standards are and on a person’s natural advantages (such as family, intelligence, looks, willpower). Moralistic people can be deeply religious–but there is no transforming joy or power.

These are the people who find no joy in the ‘success’ of others because they are far too concerned with the sins of others. They are utterly incapable of being joyful—joy-filled. To these folks, life is a burden they must carry around as they trudge from person to person helping them work out their own salvation—with fear and trembling of a kind the apostle Paul was unaccustomed to. These folks are ‘holier-than-thou’ types. They care not about a person’s walking and leaping and praising God, only about his carrying a mat on the Sabbath. It is a terrible way to live, and sadly, it is a life completely devoid of grace.

They said, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’ I take this as their way of saying, ‘It is the Sabbath; we forbid you to carry your mat.’ I take these to be very cold, callous folks. Seriously, who is more concerned about a mat being carried than about a man being healed of a 38 years long trip to nowhere? My Lord! There should have been a party in the temple precincts! They should have killed the fatted calf! They should have invited Jesus to turn the Jordan River into wine so the party would not have to end! But, these sour-pusses stared down their pronounced noses, glared over the top of their gaudy bi-focals, stretched out their long, pointy fingers, and declared with the authority of a prophet, the justification of Scripture, and in the voice of God: “You would be better off still crippled by that pool in Bethesda than to be carrying your mat on the Sabbath.” Isn’t that really what they are saying?

I think those people still exist today.

But the man replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” Funny, isn’t it, how Jesus’ authority was good enough for this man when it came to getting well but afterwards Jesus is merely scapegoat. I take nothing positive from this man’s actions between verses 11-15. I think he became an ingrate or at least his true colors began to show. He evidently goes back to a life of sin—a life of sin that may have led to the condition that had laid him up for 38 years to begin with. Jesus did not set this man free from his prison so that he could go and pick up where he left off in sin. No he picks him up, sets him free, and demands, I think, a life that reflects that freedom. Instead, he went back to sin. Let’s read Mr. Keller’s essay again:

Relativists are usually irreligious, or else prefer what is called “liberal” religion. On the surface, they are more happy and tolerant than moralist/religious people. Though they may be highly idealistic in some areas (such as politics), they believe that everyone needs to determine what is right and wrong for them. They are not convinced that God is just and must punish sinners. Their beliefs in God will tend to see Him as loving or as an impersonal force. They may talk a great deal about God’s love, but since they do not think of themselves as sinners, God’s love for us costs him nothing. If God accepts us, it is because he is so welcoming, or because we are not so bad. The concept of God’s love in the gospel is far more rich and deep and electrifying. (There is a link in yesterday’s meditation where you can access the entire essay.)

I think those people still exist today also.

The guy is a tattle-tale, and Jesus is the one who is persecuted for it. ‘For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.’ There will always be someone who wants to persecute and kill. I don’t know about you, but I find it not one bit surprising that it was the religious folks who wanted to persecute Jesus. It was the religious folks who wanted to kill him. It was the religious folks who had no room for him in their scheme of things. They had it all worked out: the rules, the laws, the manner of obedience. There was no reason for this Jesus guy to come in and mess things up for them. He was only making matters much worse than they had to be.

I think those people still exist today too.

Seriously, there are too many religious folks in the church and too many irreligious folks in the church. Here’s Keller’s point: They are both folks who want control over their own lives and over their salvation. Religious folks want saved by their rules and laws and obedience to them; they tell Jesus what to do. Irreligious folks determine their own paths of right and wrong: They don’t need Jesus telling them what to do. You know what is scary? I have lived both ways. This is what I realized in that short van ride last night: For a very long time I did because I had to if I wanted to be saved. There was no joy in serving. It was all work. All burden. All trying to please God day in an day out because I could not grasp grace.

Then there was a time when I did because I wanted to. I confess, it is a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. So instead of submission (‘Go, and sin no more.’) out of love for what he had done for me that I could not do for myself, I simply did what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. Again, there was no joy because there was only ever guilt, shame, and the humiliation of having to come back to him again and again asking for that forgiveness I thought so easily obtained. Neither is a way to live properly in grace. This was an abuse of grace.

Up until about 3 years ago I never did because because God did first. In other words, I did not do because of grace. Life was either serve to be saved or sin and seek forgiveness later, but never saved to serve—gladly, freely, without obligation, simply because the love and joy of God had done for me what I could not do for myself, because grace had broken in, because I had been set free. I was a slave to law; I was slave to sin. Never was I a happy servant of the Lord. I realize that both of these folks were ingrates. The religious folk because they didn’t see a healed man; the healed man because he went back to sin. I think these are both ways of doing the same thing: persecuting Jesus, plotting his death, or turning him over the authorities who wish to do so. But never recognizing that one who claims to be equal with God has the right to set me free from slavery on any day of the week and determine the course of my life after I have been set free.

I think these folks still live in the church today. And shall they be set free?

Both parties missed grace—the leaders and the healed man. My hope is that we won’t: Neither you, nor I.

I hope this 19th Day of your 90 with Jesus finds you living in and because of Grace.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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