Does Jesus have authority to break the law? – John 5:31-47, Part 1

I often wonder if our church’s outdoor sign has any impact.  While I think it is good to have a sign with basic information such as our name and website, we don’t need to have a sign with a message board.  Most people learn about us online anyway.  But the message board is a small way to connect with the community, and we certainly have a lot of traffic driving by.

In my 20 years of being part of Faith Church, it is exceedingly rare that anyone has specifically responded to a message on that sign, unless it is for an event. Most our messages announce events.  Over the years, though, we’ve put a lot of other messages out there.  Such as this one, which is on the sign right now: “What step of faith will you take in the new year?”

How would you answer that? 

It seems to me that we Christians should be known as risk-takers.  Christians are to be people who are stepping out of our comfort zones on a consistent basis, so that we can participate in the mission of the Kingdom.   But do we step out in faith with any kind of regularity?  Do we get out of our personal comfort zones to step more in line with the Spirit? 

If not, I wonder if it is because we don’t believe Jesus is who he said he was.  In other words, can we really trust Jesus?  Does he have the wherewithal, the authority to sustain us?  Do we really believe him? 

Turn to John 5, as this week, we’ll be studying verses 31-47.  There were people in Jesus’ day who absolutely did not believe him.

In verse 31, Jesus is talking with the religious leaders, a talk that started earlier in the chapter, in verse 19.  This conversation stems from an incident which happened at the beginning of chapter 5. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, telling the man to get up, pick up his mat and walk.  Because Jesus was, in the viewpoint of the religious leaders, working on the Sabbath, he was breaking their laws.  In verse 16 we read that the leaders, therefore, persecuted Jesus, which means they “hounded him or followed him, keeping tabs on him,” not that they were physically harming him or jailing him.  Not yet at least. 

Jesus isn’t deterred by them in the least.  Instead, in verse 17, he basically says, “You’re concerned about me working on the Sabbath?  Let me be very clear.  My father is working, even to this very day, and I too am working.”  Jesus is saying to them, “Follow me all you want.  Keep an eye on me.  I’m not hiding anything.  I am working on the Sabbath. Here I am. I am living my life based on God’s heart and mission, not on your laws.  I’m not going to hide, avoid, lie, or run away.” 

Jesus’ boldness fires those religious leaders up.  Look at verse 18. They want to kill him.  Not only is he breaking their Sabbath laws, he is equating himself with God.  In the religious leaders’ eyes, Jesus is not just lawbreaker who is disrespecting the Sabbath; he is a heretic, a blasphemer, and he needs to be gone.

This is the beginning of the end for Jesus.  It will take some time.  Perhaps a couple years from this point.  But we know the end of the story.  They will kill him.  They just need to figure out how to do it in such a way that the people don’t rebel against them.  Jesus is growing in popularity, and the religious leaders cannot just take him out now or they could face the wrath of the people.  The religious leaders need to be smart. 

Jesus, knowing their evil intent, responds with a teaching.  In the passage we studied two weeks ago, verses 19-30, Jesus makes it clear that he is the way to true life.  Through him, people can have abundant life now and eternal life in heaven.  God the Father has given him authority, Jesus says, to offer this new life to all people.  To receive this offer of new life, people must believe in him, and they will show they believe in him by how they live.  In summary, Jesus has just shared the good news with the religious leaders and the people in the crowd that day. 

It is a wonderful message of hope, new life, redemption, reconciliation and fulfillment of promise.  Jesus knows, though, that the vast majority of the religious leaders aren’t buying it and never will.  They are clouded by their specific interpretation of the Old Testament, and by the many layers of legalistic laws they have placed on top of the Mosaic Law.  They certainly aren’t going to take some no-name unschooled traveling preacher’s word for it.  Many of the religious leaders listening to Jesus teach that day are thinking, “Life is found in him?  You’ve got to be kidding.” 

Why don’t they believe him?  There are many reasons.  But I think one reason is that they’ve done their homework.  It would not be hard for them to learn that just a few months before this, Jesus was a  handyman from a tiny town in Galilee called Nazareth. No tourists go there. It has no interesting history; no one who is anyone comes from Nazareth.  So these religious leaders are fuming that Jesus, the nobody, is not only disobeying them, he is also confronting them, telling them they are wrong. 

Here’s one of the most important questions running through the leaders’ minds: On whose authority is Jesus acting?  Since they first heard about Jesus a few months prior, it is highly likely that they’ve contacted the synagogue leader from Nazareth.  Does he know Jesus?  Of course he does.  Nazareth is a small town. Everyone knows everyone.  So what does the synagogue leader say about Jesus?  Probably that Jesus is a nice guy, lost his father years before, and then Jesus stepped up to the plate to help out his family.  Never married, which is kinda odd, as most men his age were already married. But you have to hand it to the guy.  He did the respectable thing, keeping the family business going to help his widowed mom.  So, yeah, Jesus…nice guy, no trouble.

Then you can imagine them asking the synagogue leader, “Well, what do you think about Jesus becoming famous all of a sudden?  Did you authorize him?  Did you train him?”  The synagogue leader doesn’t know what to think.  He didn’t authorize Jesus, and he doesn’t think Jesus had any rabbinical training.  Certainly not under him.  Jesus’ meteoric rise to fame as a prophet is surprising to him too.  He heard Jesus was a relative to John, the guy who was doing baptizing, so maybe John trained him?  Maybe Jesus is helping John out too?  The synagogue leaders says, “It will probably just pass.  Just a phase.  His mom seems concerned, as do his siblings, and the word is they are trying to get Jesus to come back home.” 

Of course, I am speculating.  But I think the scenario I described is likely.  My point in all this is that the religious leaders have had plenty of time to form opinions about Jesus.  They do not believe Jesus has authority to be breaking their rules and claiming some kind of divine right.  Jesus, in their eyes, is a nobody.  Under whose authority is he ministering?  Though they suspect he has no authority, they need to question him about it.  They need to get him to admit it in front of the crowds.  They need to undermine him, to shame him. They’ve tried this before.  Remember? 

They questioned him back in chapter 2, verses 13-22, when Jesus caused a riot in the temple courts, whipping up the animals into a frenzy and throwing over the tables of the money changers?  All the while yelling, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”  The religious leaders are watching the riot.  In chapter 2, verse 18, they ask him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 

In their view, there was no way Jesus had authority to cleanse the temple.  They absolutely did not believe he could perform a miracle.  Yet, Jesus’ response is unexpected: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  The religious leaders could easily say, “What kind of response is that?  You’re saying ‘destroy the temple, and I’ll rebuild it,’ because you know you can’t do a miracle to prove yourself.  Like we would ever destroy the temple just to test your miraculous ability.” 

Keep reading, however, in chapter 2, starting at verse 23, and what happens right after the temple incident?  Jesus is doing miracles!  Many people saw the miracles.  Right there in the city.  The city where the leaders have their headquarters, and where they have just challenged him to do a miracle.  Did the religious leaders see the miracles?  Did they hear about them?  Almost certainly.

But back in John chapter 5, when Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath and then makes a claim that God is his father, the religious leaders don’t care what they’ve heard about him.  In their view, he is a law-breaker, and he has no authority from God to tell this man to take up his mat and walk.

Jesus knows they doubt him.  Jesus knows they do not believe him.  So what does he say?  Can he say anything that might convince them otherwise? We’ll study what he says starting in the next post.

Photo by Navi Singh on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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