“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.” [John 5:18 NIV]
Look at what happened. It looked like a good thing that Jesus did. A man who lived a miserable incapacitated life is suddenly freed by Jesus; on Sunday. The religious leaders should have been ecstatic with joy that this man who had suffered so much was now up and walking around. But no, they were more concerned about when Jesus healed the man. In focusing on the Law, they had lost all compassion or even sympathy for those who are suffering. Because they focused on ‘form’ they missed the ‘proof’ of Jesus being their long awaited Messiah. Their formality twisted their ability to make sound judgments.
This is the first of five instances that the Apostle John records the religious leaders seeking to kill Jesus. It was from this point forward that the conflict between the religious leaders and Jesus reached a point of no return. They would not rest until Jesus was executed and thereby restoring the status quo.
It was never for criminal activity that they wanted to kill Jesus. What they hated was that He was defying their man-made regulations of what constituted ‘work’ activity on the Sabbath. To further add fuel to the fire, what made this so galling was Jesus’ own defense of what He was doing. Jesus “was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” That gave the leadership the most serious charge against Jesus. The Jews understood what Jesus was claiming. This was not a case of mistaken identity or of misspeaking. The Jews clearly understood what Jesus was saying. He was claiming to have the same nature, the same privilege and the same power as their Sovereign God. This was, for the Jews, a crystal clear case of blasphemy. Death, with no provision for appeal, was the only punishment.
The religious leaders were suffering under a heavy burden of envy. They had a problem. Jesus had just done a great miracle but not according to the way that they thought things should be done. Envy creates hypocrites. A hypocrite’s actions belie what he says he believes. The religious leaders said they honored God and demonstrated that they loved God by doing what He commanded. But by their actions they showed that their love was not for God and His concerns, but in reality hatred for anyone who rivaled their coveted place in religion.
Jesus knew that His breaking the Sabbath and claiming equal authority with God would bring on their wrath. He was intentionally bringing the Jewish leadership’s crosshairs into focus on His execution. Barnes makes this note:
We may learn from [Jesus’] answer:
1. That we are not to keep back truth because it may endanger us.
2. That we are not to keep back truth because it will irritate and enrage sinners. The fault is not in the “truth,” but in the “sinner.”
3. That when any one portion of truth enrages hypocrites, they will be enraged the more they hear.
[Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible]
The lesson here is to be careful with what you and I think is scared. It is so easy to fall into a false religiosity in form and loose the beauty in freedom of worship. It is so easy to let petty restrictions gobble up the grace that God wants to extend to those around us who are hurting.