Man-made rules are trumped by the will of God. In churches throughout the world today, we seem to forget this very simple axiom. This miracle brought into question a man-made understanding of one of God’s commands and how it was flawed. The key point Jesus makes is that when we have processes and traditions, no matter how dear and/or established, if they are in conflict with Scripture, they need to go.
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.”
But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.'”<
They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?”<
But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
– John 5:5-15, NASB
Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath and then told him to pick up his pallet and walk. The man obviously obeyed, and then he was stopped by other Jews, asking why he was working on the Sabbath. Stop right there for a second. Picking up his bedding was considered work. And this is where the man-made interpretation of setting aside the day of the Sabbath for rest conflicted with what God intended. And this has been taken to an extreme, even in today’s world. For instance, professional chess players that are trying to strictly observe the Law can play chess on the Sabbath, but they aren’t allowed to press down the button on their chess clocks. Playing chess isn’t considered work (though that is partially how they make their livelihood), but hitting a tiny plunger with a finger is. And while this may seem crazy, if you are part of a church or congregation, think about some of the things that go on there. Some of them, when you take a step back and look, may seem pretty crazy, too.
The thing to take away from this miracle is not to be an impediment or a speed bump to what God is trying to do. While God can and will do what He wills and He can and will overcome our resistance and opposition whenever He needs to, why should He have to? If we’re His people, we should be working within His will and not against it. And that’s the point those who stopped the man didn’t understand. Surely he was known to be unable to walk. They missed the miracle because of their man-made rules. They missed what God had done because they were caught up in the their traditions. Tradition has its place, but that place is not in the way of what God is doing.
And note, Jesus wasn’t done with the man. Later they meet up and Jesus cautions him not to sin any longer. He gives a vague warning about something worse happening, and we understand that to mean eternal damnation as a condemnation for sin. Also consider where Jesus found this man: in the temple. This man went to honor God. And there he learned who his healer was: Jesus. And subsequently he went and told those who asked him about his healing that it was Jesus who did it. Again, he was honoring God. When God moves among us, we must honor Him. When we feel His blessing and His love, we must honor Him. It’s not something to put off. Man-made reasons are not a satisfactory justification. I don’t have to wait until Sunday to hit the altar. I can hit my knees right where I am. That’s what God desires of us. He wants no man-made obstruction between Him and us. After all, He went to the Cross to take away the sin that kept us from Him. Why would He tolerate anything else that provides separation between Himself and the people He has redeemed? Why should we? The Scriptures are our authority, not our traditions.