February 14, 2019 – Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, Comes to Heal- John 5:1-18

Bethesda pool

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda which has five roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 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.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath.  So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”  Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.  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.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things 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 5:1-18 (ESV)

Jesus met up with a paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda (the name Bethesda means house of mercy) and asked him if he wanted to be healed.  For years the man watched as others had been dipped into the pool ahead of him, yet he lingered there, hoping that today might finally be his day for healing.

God’s timing is not always our timing. Our prayers are not always answered in the way or in the time in which we expect. Jesus is always at work in us and in the world, whether we see or recognize Him or not.  God doesn’t turn a blind eye to us, nor does He take a break. (Matthew 12:1-14) The Sabbath was put in place for our benefit, so that we would have an opportunity to rest and step back from ordinary work, to worship God and study His Word, as Martin Luther explains:

But to grasp a Christian meaning for the simple as to what God requires in this commandment,(meaning the Third Commandment) note that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and learned Christians (for they have no need of holy days), but first of all for bodily causes and necessities, which nature teaches and requires; for the common people, man-servants and maid-servants, who have been attending to their work and trade the whole week, that for a day they may retire in order to rest and be refreshed.

Secondly, and most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we come together to hear and treat of God’s Word, and then to praise God, to sing and pray. – Martin Luther, on the Third Commandment, from the Large Catechism

How fitting it was then, that Jesus would heal a person on the Sabbath, during the time set aside for us to be served by God. How sad that the authorities were not able to recognize God Himself- here on earth with us, healing a man from his suffering.

The Son of Man- Jesus- is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and the Author of all healing.

It’s not about whether or not we want to be healed or made whole.  Apart from faith in Christ alone, which in and of itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit, we can’t even realize we want or need healing or wholeness.  The reality that human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins (as the apostle Paul spells out for us in Ephesians 2:1-10) means exactly that- not wounded, not injured, but dead, save for life in Christ.

The fact that Jesus was healing on the Sabbath in defiance of the religious authorities made Him a marked man. It made the religious authorities even more incensed because even as they observed the letter of the Law, the spirit and the purpose of the Law remained far beyond them.

God Himself came down to serve humanity, including healing people on the Sabbath, the day of rest that God put in place for man.

We learn in Isaiah 53:1-5 of Jesus, the suffering Servant, the Man of sorrows, who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. His suffering and death bought our eventual freedom from the curse of death.  As He went from place to place teaching and healing, He was mocked. He was called a blasphemer for telling the truth about  Himself.

Jesus brings the House of Mercy to us. We are powerless to help ourselves, but by the gift of faith in Christ alone. We wait for Him in confidence, knowing that by His wounds, we too are healed.

March 30, 2018 – Good Friday- By His Wounds, We Are Healed – Matthew 27:45-54, Isaiah 53:5

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From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54 (NIV)

The promise of Isaiah 53:5 comes to fruition at that moment. He was pierced because of our transgressions.  He was crushed and broken for our iniquity.  His punishment purchased our peace.  He was wounded so that we could be healed.  It is important for us as Jesus followers to see and understand that His sacrifice for us was no small or inconsequential feat.  As we embrace the theology of the Cross, we take up our crosses as well.  Because of Jesus we are free to die to ourselves and live for Him.

The Lutheran tradition can be a bit divided on the imagery of the crucifix. Some find it a bit macabre and gory to have a crucifix displayed in the church, or a bit too solemn and joyless for to focus upon the Body of Jesus as He dies on the Cross.  Crucifixion is macabre. Jesus’ death was painful and dirty and humiliating. His grace- and our salvation- was infinitely expensive. We have no way to imagine the cost to our Savior.  We cannot fathom the weight and the agony of carrying the sins of the whole world, for all of time.

Jesus would no more have been remembered than any other common thief or insurrectionist, except for Easter morning. Good Friday would commemorate nothing more than one of many men being crucified for being an enemy of the Roman Empire, if it weren’t for Easter morning.   There was no shortage of crucifixions in Jesus’ day.  Public crucifixion was common, and there were plenty of dissidents and criminals who met their death in ignominious fashion on Roman crosses.  The difference is that for Jesus, crucifixion was not the end.  The Cross could not defeat Him.  The tomb could not hold Him.

We need to be shocked and appalled and brought to sorrow by the imagery of the crucifix just as much as we need the triumph of the empty cross and the empty tomb. It is good for us to regard Jesus as He is dying on the tree, as long as we understand that His death on the Cross is not the end of Him.  Isaiah was completely right about Jesus. The age old prophecy has been fulfilled.

May the Holy Spirit bring us to the same conclusion as the centurion today: “Surely this man is the Son of God!”  By His wounds, we are healed.

May 18, 2017 Playing Hooky, and More on Isaiah 53:5

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But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

I was never much for rocking the boat when I was in high school.  By the time I’d survived it long enough to get to my sophomore year (1983-4) all I wanted to do was to stave off boredom while still keeping up my GPA.  Keeping up my GPA wasn’t much of a challenge, but staving off boredom was quite another issue.  I do have to admit to reading every single issue of  Mad and National Lampoon from 1982-86, along with the works of George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and JRR Tolkien, and a somewhat extensive collection of the classics- including Dante’s Divine Comedy, many of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a fair number of scientific publications,  and a plethora of non-fiction historical works on WWII.

I didn’t have too many challenging classes in high school- with the exceptions of AP English and  AP music theory, but I did some major reading, mostly for my own edification and recreation.  Being a geek who stayed quiet and out of the spotlight, I had some advantages. On the rare occasion that I considered bending the rules, I was usually able to do it under the radar and beyond suspicion.  I got away with murder (in a figurative way, of course) when I wanted to- quietly and covertly.

maranathabaptist

Every year on Good Friday, since the powers that ran the school system didn’t really care if Spring Break coincided with Holy Week or not, Mom wrote us an excuse to skip the afternoon so that we could go to the Good Friday service at the Catholic church that generally lasted from about 1PM-4PM.   The service that is held in lieu of Catholic Mass on Good Friday is called Tenebrae service, which means “service of shadows.”  The Tenebrae service is also observed in the Lutheran tradition, and includes the reading of the Passion of Christ, and reflections upon His death.  Heavy, heavy somber stuff, as it should be on Good Friday.

We- meaning my sisters and I- were well acquainted with the Good Friday service, but being both teenaged and disinclined toward participation in religious observances on such a delightfully warm day, decided that we would spend the afternoon not in the shadows, but in the bright April sunshine.  We just didn’t have the somber thing going on that day.

That particular Good Friday was very good indeed, weather in the low seventies, bright sunshine without a cloud in the sky, and just a hint of  a light breeze.  Perfect weather in April in Ohio is almost unheard of. My oldest sister (who happened to be driving that day) wasn’t about to spend such a glorious day inside.  The only problem with not going to church was that her car- a bright orange ’71 VW- was readily visible.  We couldn’t hang around in town.

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She managed to find one of my favorite hideaway places- the railroad trestle bridge.  It’s long since been torn down and scrapped for whatever the steel was worth, but in 1984, though the line was dead and the tracks torn up, the bridge was still lingering over the river, a monument to obsolescence, a shadow still standing from a long-ago sphere.

bridge

It’s hard to describe the serenity I found that day.  Even though I was with my sisters, they left me alone for awhile and didn’t attempt to knock me off the bridge where I would surely be sucked into the brackish water and unspeakable muck below.  I would never recommend swimming, wading or touching the water in that part of the Scioto River today (and certainly not back then) but sitting about 30 feet above the river on the trestle bridge listening to the soft breeze and the running water is hard to describe.  It was a slice of rather undeserved, unearned serenity and peace.

The world has moved on since then.  Places like that old trestle bridge, those happenstance cathedrals that stay bright in spite of the crushing hammer of entropy, and in defiance of conscious efforts to unmake them, are harder and harder to find in a world where the new mantra is structure and order.  Even small children have every minute of their days scheduled and dedicated to a specific purpose.  We all know all too well what it is to be locked into the whirlwind of busy- going everywhere and getting nowhere.

busy drug

It’s hard to wrap our heads around the grace of God.  As much as I should, at the very least on that long-ago Good Friday, have been in that service of shadows, I was in reality sitting on a railroad bridge without a care in the world.  It’s not so much that dropping out and going to sit on the bridge and watch the world go around is a bad thing, it’s more that everything has a price.  It’s easy for us to say we want to walk with Jesus- until it’s shadow time.  History gives the apostle Peter a bad rap for denying Jesus three times, but isn’t that we humans in our weakness and fallenness do? Yet the reward Jesus bought for us, even though we fail and fall short all the time is that unearned, undeserved grace- the freedom and the ability to find serenity and peace and security in Him.

One of the beauties of the grace of God is that He knows our weakness.  He knows that our bodies are weak and our moral constitutions even weaker.  Although we are also called to carry the cross, like as not we end up playing hooky instead, spending our lives blissfully unaware and disconnected from the suffering our Savior bore in our place.

The good news is that even when we are faithless He is faithful.  He offers us His grace, purchased with His blood and suffering and tears.  He is the Reason why we can have peace and freedom and serenity, because He took the punishment that we deserved.