Tag Archives: Law of God

God’s Decree

Meditations on the Psalms

I will tell of the decree (Psalm 2:7 ESV)

All creation is bound by the laws of God. What is a decree? A decree is a legal ordinance prescribed by a ruling authority to resolve, to limit, or to fix and approve a specific required action. God is speaking in the first person about an action He has determined necessary which has already been done and finished. History, from God’s perspective, is complete and finished, even though people have yet to live it. He sees and knows what will happen. God is telling us about that which He decided in eternity to accomplish in space-time history.

King David desired to build a temple for God in Jerusalem, to house the ark of the Lord. Before he died God told him, through the prophet Nathan, that he was not the one who would build a temple for God. “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:12-13 ESV). God decreed David not build the temple but that Solomon, David’s son, would build a house for God and the ark of God in Jerusalem. This is what happened in history.

From the beginning, when God created Adam in His image, He gave Adam a boundary. There was only one constraint placed upon him. He was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:1 6-17 ESV). Adam was given dominion over the earth and everything on it. He was given the enjoyable responsibility of being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth. He was even given direction to care for everything, including the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The only restriction place on him was that he did not have permission to eat from this one tree. If he ate from the tree he would die both physically, though not right away, and spiritually. Surely die is actually the word die twice. Die die.

When God brought His people out of Egypt, making them wander through the desert, He gave them laws and ordinances. He decreed they follow His laws. Exodus through Deuteronomy are a compilation of laws and the history of Israel from the time they entered Egypt until they entered the Promised Land. In two places the Ten Commandments, ten irrevocable statements of God about Himself and those who are His, are given, once at the beginning of their wanderings and then at the end. God is specific and pointed in His statements. They are to worship Him only and love each other. (See Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.) These are immutable laws, absolute in the physical world and the eternal realm. They transcend space and time, and are upheld by God throughout eternity.

God’s decrees are not simple corporate mandates for nations and peoples to blindly follow. They are commands for each individual.

God leaves the Christian in the world as a testimony to the world about Him and His grace. Having the image of God gives the ability to naturally follow God and His will. For the Christian, having the indwelling Holy Spirit, because of the corruption of the vessel containing the image of God, gives the tools needed to live righteously in an unrighteous world. Christians do not try to be salt and light. They are salt and light.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

Following God’s laws and decrees are a natural ability for those created in the image of God. That He has to tell us His decree about His Son is a testament to the truth of rebellion and sin. God gives His written laws so there is no mistake about His absolute will. Go sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as irrefutable evidence of the need of Man and the grace of God toward those bent by sin. Jesus’ life is God’s decree about life

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Amen

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [Matthew 5:18 ESV]

Jesus uses the word “amen” in this verse. “For truly(amen)I  say to you.” God uses the word to affirm the absolute fulfillment of His promises. Revelation 3:14 uses the word as a name of Christ. “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation’” [Revelation 3:14 ES]. Jesus is throwing the full weight of God’s eternal being behind the words He has and will state.

God gave His Word, deciding before creation what would occur, knowing, before creation what He would do. Heaven and earth began. His Word was present. Heaven and earth will end. His Word is eternal. Like Himself His Word is not constrained by time or place.

Perhaps we need to realign our thinking with the truth of His eternal Word. When He says “I have come to fulfill them (the Law and the Prophets) [Matthew 5:17 ESV] we think automatically He is referring to the Hebrew Scripture. By doing so we place upon His Word our created and temporary thinking. This is not wrong thinking but is incomplete thinking.

Long into the history of the nation of Israel God gave the Law to Moses for the people of Israel to follow. Hundreds of years before Abraham had been separated out from all people and blessed. Soon after he was given the command to circumcision. Isaac was chosen, not Ishmael. Jacob was chosen not Esau. Jacob had twelve sons by four women and his tribe went to Egypt and lived there for 400 years. After Moses was born it was another 80 years before God brought the people out of Egypt. Then, 400 years into Israel’s history, God gave the people the Law, beginning with the Ten Statements, commonly known as the Ten Commandments.

To limit the Law and the Prophets to the written law of Moses is to ignore the history of Israel and the real people who lived that history. It also completely ignores, or makes of little consequence, the relationship God has with His creation before and after the giving of the Law of Moses.

A great portion of the Law of Moses prescribed the duties of the priests in offering sacrifices. Certain animals were forbidden as sacrifices. God identified what kind of animal could be sacrificed and how the animal was killed. Hebrew Law determined who received portions of the sacrifice for food and what parts were given wholly to God.

There is no longer a need for animal sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled the laws of the sacrifice. Does this mean the laws dealing with sacrifice are null and void? Absolutely not. We learn, if we are willing, about the extent of the sacrifice of Christ for us through the sacrificial law. Israel’s history tells us about God who redeemed those enslaved by sin.

He is the eternal Word, the author of the Word of God and nothing about Him will cease to exist when heaven and earth disappear. We place ourselves in a box when we refuse to view God’s Word as eternal demanding our interpretation of His Word be limited by a specific time and place.

Jesus confronted the teachers of the law over and over about their misinterpretation of God’s Word. They had the Word of God, the Law and the Prophets and used the traditional interpretations of the words to justify themselves. God gave His law so men would see their sin and turn to Him not so they would have a means to justify themselves before Him.

Why could not the teachers of the law understand Jesus’ words as He spoke and taught, or His actions as He healed? They had been taught and embraced a training which closed their minds to the truth. They had been taught by their “father, the devil” [John 8:44 ESV] turning truth and its head, claiming truth was not true and the lie was true and trustworthy. “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” [John 8:45 ESV]. Remove and compromise the truth and you will keep self from being good, because good has been redefined, excused, tortured into a lie. Take away the goodness of God and there can be no justice or righteousness, only fairness applied arbitrarily. Rob the world of justice and righteousness and holiness expunges the world from its presence, for only that which is true and good and right and just can be holy. Jesus was all of these things. Like a foreign object being rejected by the body so the corrupted body of men rejected Jesus.

We learn about Jesus by examining His life and His words. Since He wrote the Hebrew Scripture about Himself we would do well to examine it and know what it says. God’s Spirit in us will teach us if we are willing and open to learning.

God Is Not Mocked

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him. [Luke 22:63-65 ESV]

People mock that which they do not know or care to understand. People who mock think they have the upper hand over someone they consider inferior, undeserving of respect or compassion and mercy. It is the guilty who mock the innocent, the strong who mock the weak, those who have control who mock those who have no control.

It is the Jewish Temple guards and authorities who mock Jesus. Soon, the Roman guard will mock Him and put Him to death. Their mockery shows they are aware of what others have claimed about Him and what He has claimed of Himself.

Like His cousin John, Jesus was deemed a Prophet similar to those of the Hebrew Scriptures. In Hebrew history it was God’s prophets who came to the rulers and peoples of Israel and Judah telling them to stop sinning and return to worshipping only God. They stood before kings and priests, before the thrones and inside the city gates, telling all that if they did not return to worshipping only God they would die or be taken into exile to die away from their land. These who spoke for God were held in contempt because God is held in contempt. They were treated shamefully because the people did not believe their words. They did not believe God. Those who speak for God will encounter those who would silence them because of the hatred they have toward God.

Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. [Hebrews 11:36-38 ESV]

Writing through David 900 years earlier Jesus told what would happen to Him. “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’” [Psalm 22:7-8 ESV]. Pilate examined Jesus and found no guilt in Him. Pilate’s solution is to “punish and release Him” [Luke 23:22 ESV]. Pilate’s punishment is physical abuse. If Jesus is not guilty of anything why punish Him? Pilate’s punishment is a mockery.

Herod examined Jesus because he wanted to see Jesus perform a sign, a token miracle, as if Jesus were a performer sent to entertain. Jesus would not perform for Herod. “Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him” [Luke 23:11 ESV]. Pilate and Herod were enemies until they stood before the condemned Jesus. Afterward they became friends.

When Jesus was delivered over for crucifixion the Roman guard treated Him with their fullest contempt. These men were experienced at dehumanizing their prisoners and making sure they died in excruciating agony.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. [Matthew 27:27-31 ESV]

A sign was made and placed over Jesus as He died on the cross. “This is the King of the Jews” [Luke 23:38 ESV]. Pilate ordered the sign inscribed and placed above the condemned man. While Jesus hung on the cross many of the people there challenged Him to take Himself off the cross miraculously. Even those crucified with Him (at least one of them) suggested He save them when He saved Himself.

Jesus did not come to save Himself. Everything which happened to Jesus was predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Perhaps the most insidious and disturbing evidence of hatred for God is the motives and actions of the religious leaders tasked with upholding the Law of God. In their zeal for looking superior before the people they violated the Law they were responsible for knowing and enforcing. Jesus taught against the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders, quoting Isaiah written 700 years earlier, to show He knew their hearts from eternity.

So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” [Matthew 15:6-9 ESV; quoting Isaiah 29:13]

Jesus’ life, His motives and actions, His teaching and healing, His miracles culminating in His resurrection from the dead, show He is God, the Author of the Law and the Prophets come to fulfill them. God will not be mocked.

Author and Creator

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. [Matthew 5:17-18 ESV]

Jesus is the Word of God. He is not only the Author and Creator of all but the Author of and inspiration for Scripture. We are going to concentrate on two significant conclusions based upon this truth.  First, when Jesus was incarnate He entered into His creation. God transcends creation, eternally outside of the universe. While the laws of the universe are in place, He, the Lawmaker, has authority to suspend those laws. Miracles are the suspension of the physical laws of the universe. But He will only suspend the laws for a moment. Once He has accomplished His will the laws of the universe are moved back into place. Walking on water or calming a storm are examples of miracles. Elisha making an ax head float or Moses parting the waters are OT examples of miracles.

When Jesus turned water into wine He did that which only God could do. He created something out of something else. We would call this a miracle. He suspended the absolute laws of nature for a moment to create.

Anyone who is created cannot suspend the laws of nature but must abide by those laws. People cannot do miracles. Satan cannot do miracles. Satan can do that which is mistaken for a miracle but he is not the author of the law and has no rights over the law.

Secondly, Jesus is the Author of and Inspiration for Scripture. He is the author of the Law and the Prophets. He wrote the law based upon His eternal character. He wrote the Prophets based upon His eternal and transcendent knowledge. Think about this. When the Hebrew Scripture speaks about Jesus it is Jesus speaking about Himself.

All of the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scripture are fulfilled in the life of Christ. Because of His preincarnate omniscience, as God He knows everything, He saw and understood exactly what would happen and why. As God He is omnipotent, in control of all things. He brought together the circumstances needed to accomplish His will. This does not mean those who acted on their wills had not control or responsibility for their actions. God did move them to act in accordance with His will but not in violation of their character.

Jesus knew the pain He would endure upon the cross as a sacrifice for sin. Speaking to the serpent after the temptation God states I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” [Genesis 3:15 ESV]. Jesus knew what He was going to do from eternity. He told the prophets He would suffer and why. “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” [1 Peter 1:10-11 ESV].

Jesus told the two He traveled with on the road to Emmaus that the Christ would suffer.

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. [Luke 24:25-27 ESV]

He knew what was to happen, even telling His disciples He was going to Jerusalem to die. See Matthew 16:21-28, 17:22-23, 20:17-19 and Luke 9:22-27, 43-45, 18:31-34 for some of His predictions of how and where He would be sacrificed. Peter rebuked Jesus telling Him He would never die in the way He predicted. Jesus rebuked Peter. From then on whenever Jesus predicted His suffering and death His disciples either did not understand or were greatly distressed.

Even Jesus was distressed by what was to take place. Yet, His love for His creation is so great He willingly faced  excruciating pain and separation for those who would become citizens of His kingdom. These are the plans and actions of One who deeply and eternally loves those He created in His image. How great and eternal is His love.

Introduction: Matthew 5:17-20

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  [Matthew 5:17-20 ESV]

We like to do. Constant activity is a characteristic of the modern Western Church which has activities and programs for everyone, every age, every disposition, every need and want. Then, to legitimize the activity, we throw in a little Bible study or a few verses and a devotional and are quite satisfied with our progress and tell everyone God is smiling on us and what we do. “It’s a God thing.”

We cannot read Jesus’ words and honestly believe doing is enough. Jesus expects us to be a citizen of His kingdom from the eternal core of who we are to the last ounce of concentrated, responsible effort.

Jesus demands those who are His act according to His expectations, while examining their motivation so they are in line with His. He has spent the last 16 verses giving His expectations, showing us what it means to be a citizen of His kingdom. He tells us how the world, which hates Him, will react to those who are His as they are changed into His likeness and image. His likeness is characterized by righteousness and truth and more, and He places us throughout the world as evidence of His person, His authority, His character, His grace.

In these verses, I believe we are seeing the foundation for what He has just stated and what He will state. Living for God is not meticulously following His written laws or demanding others do so. God gave the Law, the precepts found in the books written by Moses, for a specific reason. God’s reason was not to give those who are His the ability to justify themselves before Him by keeping the Law. They could never do this. Only one sin is needed to bring God’s wrath and label the person a criminal, one who violates the Law of God.

Is not the Law a teacher, a means used by God to show man his sin and convince all the sentence and punishment for sin is just?

Paul’s argument in Romans 7 is simple. God’s Law identified covetousness as sin while  revealing and exposing every covetous desire. God’s statement “you will not covet” was not a command to do something any are capable of doing, but a statement revealing man’s utter inability, our total depravity. Still, Paul’s argument does not discount the Law as a teacher.

Ultimately, those hidden in Christ, covered by His blood in death, are released from the sentence of death demanded by the Giver of the Law because of His resurrection.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the Law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the Law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. [Romans 7:4-6 ESV]

Paul continued to covet. Christ still saves. From the time Paul was redeemed God began changing him, building into him the characteristics he would carry for eternity. These characteristics conform to God’s character upon which the Mosaic Law is based.

A lawyer, one of those who knew the Law, asked Jesus a question to trap Him, to make Him slip and contradict Himself and the Law. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” [Matthew 22:36 ESV]. Jesus, who is the Law, quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and then Leviticus 19:18, verses from the depths of the Law. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:37-39 ESV].  These two statements are not hidden. In Luke 10:29 the Lawyer tries to qualify his question.  For those in the world having such an answer allows them to keep the  letter of the Law without being held accountable to the substance of the Law. “And who is my neighbor?” the Lawyer asked. What do you think his intent was in asking this question?  Jesus proceeds to tell the parable of the good Samaritian.

Why did God give us the Law? Why did He reveal it to Israel and make it such an integral part of their culture? Why is the Law included in the canon of Scripture? God revealed the Law so those He loves would be driven to Him seeking His grace. Grace does not trump Law, doing away with it, or gutting it’s righteous requirements. Grace reveals the full extent to which God is willing to go to bring those He loves into His presence. It would seen the measure of our spiritual maturity is seen in the depth of love we have for both God and our neighbor.

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. [Matthew 22:40 ESV]

The Illogic of Persecution

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. [Romans 7:7-12 ESV]

What is it about righteousness which inspires the non-Christian to such hatred? Ultimately, it is the Law of God and the eternal character of God behind the Law which drives the unrighteous to such extremes. Without the Law there would be no standard to judge, convict and sentence. Do you remember the temptation of the first sin?

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. [Genesis 3:5-6 ESV]

Eve, and Adam, were tempt with equality with God, thus not needing God. If I do not need God and am capable of making my own decisions, according to the wisdom found within me, then I certainly cannot allow God, formerly my owner, to control or judge my words, attitudes and actions. Rejecting God does not steal any of His position and power away from Him. Rejecting Him does leave us with the inner bent, the attitude and motivation to ignore Him. When He cannot be ignored we become fearful and angry, motivated to destroy the thing which makes us both fearful and angry. Since we cannot destroy God or the Law which judges us we are left with the desire to destroy those who represent God and His Law.

Pay attention. It is not that we keep the Law and are therefore righteous. We do not keep the Law. We are as sinful as any in the world. Christians have recognized their sin, accepting the truth of its existence, of its reality, and of its devastating consequences. We know intimately the price paid by Christ to redeem us from the slavery of sin, that we do not deserve God’s mercy and love. We acknowledge God’s justice, according to His Law, and His absolute right to exercise judgment, condemnation and sentence against any and all who violate His Law. Upon Jesus’ shoulders was placed our sin and He bore the justified consequences of our rebellion.  He took our sin and gave us, as a gift, His righteousness. His righteousness was credited to us, not earned or purchased or acquired in any other way. We are not righteous because we keep any of the Law. We are righteous because He kept all of the Law. Like Abraham, we believe God, take Him at His word, and are declared righteous before Him.

It is the Law, the very eternal character of God represented by the Law, which inspires such violence and hatred by those rebelling against the Author of the Law and the Creator of those made in His image.

As God works in the Christian, building the image and likeness of His Son into those who are His, the Christian slowly, with great effort and discipline, exhibits to the world the evidence of God’s righteousness. As He purges sin from us, preparing us for eternity with Him, He uses us as a witness to the world. By living righteous lives, motivated by the Spirit of God in us, we live out the Law without becoming legalistic and convict those around us of their sin and Lawlessness. Some will see, be convicted and repent, drawn to God by His desire for them. All of the others, refusing to see the truth of their rebellion against God, will seek to silence the attitudes, words and actions of those declared righteous by God.

Persecution will come, not because of our righteousness but because of Christ’s righteousness in us. To understand this better, I am going to try to examine the Law, the Ten Commandments, to understand how the Christian keeps them and why the world hates them.

Jesus Mercy Toward …

One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he 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.” [John 5:5-7 ESV]

“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked a simple question. He did this often. His question strikes at the truth of the man’s hopelessness. God does ask us questions. His questions are designed to reveal our hearts, our motivations and objectives. He rarely offers us options. He never asks us to do something. He always commands we do what He tells us to do.

It is no surprise many carrying their handicaps as well as their sinful, immoral habits comfortably on their shoulders. If they were honest with themselves they would say “no” to Jesus’ question. They don’t want to be healed. For being healed sends them into an unknown, having to deal with parts of life they never had to confront. For most of us the answer to His question is “are you kidding? Of course I want to be healed.” Yet, being healed, being changed into something healthy carries great cost. We don’t want to confront our sin and live any differently than the comfort of our current situations.

Notice the one Jesus healed and those He did not heal. Near him lay a “multitude of invalids” all gathered under the same place all clinging to a superstitious belief an angel would stir water and the first one in is healed. He had been an invalid for 38 years. We can only speculate if his condition was all his life. He had been an invalid for so long he had grown comfortable with his lot. His focus was on the water and the impossibility of ever being changed. His faith was fixed on one thing and it wasn’t God. Besides, God made him this way. Why should God want to heal him?

His place was hopeless. He would die an invalid.

I wonder if Jesus, in order to not attract attention to Himself, whispered to the man as he lay in his usual place? I imagine the question was for him only. I wonder what Jesus saw in this man? Why did Jesus speak to him and not the others ? Why did Jesus show tangible mercy to this man and not to the others? I have an idea.

Jesus healed him to test the hearts of the religious leaders of Jerusalem. I say this for two reasons. First, He healed the man on the Sabbath and then told him to work. Jesus’ instruction Get up, take up your bed, and walk” [John 5:8 ESV] was a command and the man immediately obeyed. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath” [John 5:9 ESV]. This is neither the first nor the last time Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. But the Jewish tradition, building an impenetrable wall around the fourth commandment determined carrying anything was a violation of the intent of the Law. Jesus continually challenged the Religious leaders interpretation and application of Scripture. Jesus healed this man because He knew the Jewish leaders would challenge, not the reality of the healing but the violation of their traditional understanding of God’s Law.

Keep God’s law and He will reward you. Violate God’s Law and His wrath will fall on you. Their understanding of God’s Law was as superstitious as the invalid’s belief that stepping into a pool after the water was stirred by an angel would bring healing.

When we focus on the invalid and not the Lord we may draw many conclusions about what might have happened. How ecstatic he may have been. How worshipful and thankful to God he may have been. We do not know his emotional state beyond the hopelessness of his response to Jesus question. We do see the reaction of the Jews to one working on the Sabbath. Had not God decreed death to those who worked on the Sabbath? Working on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden. But then, so was every other sin. Jesus regularly challenged the thinking and heart motivations of the strict Jews whose faith was in the Law and not the God upon whom the Law is founded.

Our work of faith is the evidence of faith at work. Obedience to God is expected and carries no merit. We cannot say to Him, I obeyed now You owe me. It is our responsibility to obey God as His creation and servants. When we take His words, especially His Scripture, and add to them our own laws and expectations we supplant His authority. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath He had the authority to do so. When He commanded a man “work” He had the authority to do so. When he challenged the legalistic machinations of the Jewish authorities it was because they were challenging His authority.

Man’s interpretation of God’s Law is not merciful. Law trumps mercy when applied by sinful man and is manipulated and reconfigured to leave control with man and not God. Man’s understanding of justice demands the Law be applied strictly. It is the Law which becomes the object of faith, just as the pool was the invalids object of faith. However, when God is the object of faith then the Law only points out the sinfulness of man .

The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [Romans 7:10-14 ESV]

But God is merciful as part of His eternal character. He offers mercy but still demands obedience. The second reason is this: Jesus commanded the invalid to do two things, not one, separated by a short period. First, He told him to pick up his mat and walk, and the man did. But, later He told the man to stop sinning. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you’” [John 5:14 ESV]. What could be worse than being an invalid for 38 years? What could be worse than having the Jews angry with you for violating the Law? Being separated from God because of sin is worse.

God’s mercy trumps man’s interpretation of the Law. After all, it’s His Law and it conforms to His eternal character. When controlled by sin the Law is used to fight to keep power over those under it and is used to frustrate and even stop God’s mercy. God’s mercy and justice are not opposed to each other but are fully compatible. Jesus had mercy on this man, actively loving him by healing his body and giving him direction toward God. He no more deserved God’s mercy than anyone else in the world.

It was the Jews, whose object of faith was the Law and not God, who turned the Law into an idol, who wanted to kill Jesus because he challenged their dishonesty and superstitious use of God’s Law.

This was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, He healed on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ 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” [John 5:16-18 ESV].

It is Jesus’ equality with God, and His passionate substitution for us on the cross, which fulfills the law and energizes God’s mercy. Don’t allow any interpretation of Scripture to point away from Jesus and His active love for those who are His.