A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

John 5:8-13 "Keeping the List"

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath,  and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

One of the problems with legalism (religion based upon rules) is that it always ends up as keeping a checklist of does and don'ts rather than allowing attitudes and behaviors to be shaped by love for God.  Legalism does not produce either intimacy or relationship -the best that can be said is "I kept the rules."

Because life is complicated, however, and every contingency can not possibly be covered by a list, rules need to be interpreted.  This where legalism becomes a slippery slope.  Because keeping a list of rules does not produce intimacy or relationship, legalists cannot use knowledge of God or God's heart or God's character as a basis for interpreting God's rules.  Instead, they must interpret the rules with their own unspiritual understanding and thinking -which usually results in more rules that are not necessarily God's rules.

Even worse, legalists seem to think that the best way to prove their zeal for God is by forcing their new man-made rules onto everyone else.  What always results eventually is people sincerely believing that they are serving God by imposing rules that are actually contrary to God's desires.   We see an example of that in this story.

God's law was simply that we should not work on the Sabbath -and instead keep it set apart as a day to remember Him and worship Him.  The temple leaders decided that Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath was work and that the healed man picking up his mat and walking home was work.  Instead of their hearts being moved to worship such a compassionate, loving, merciful God (as evidenced by the healing), their hearts were moved to anger because they believed rules had been broken.

In the big picture, this legalism trap can be avoided by actually learning to love God and love others -by making what Jesus called the greatest commandment primary.  Jesus said if we could love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves, the law would end up being fulfilled.  

We might wonder, then, are God's rules and laws irrelevant?  Not at all.  They set the proper boundaries for our lives.  It's just that we cannot interpret them correctly by adding new rules -we only interpret God's rules correctly in light of His love.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

John 5:1-8 "Healing Choices"

After this, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a religious festival.  Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool with five porches; in Hebrew it is called Bethzatha.  A large crowd of sick people were lying on the porches—the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.  A man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus saw him lying there, and he knew that the man had been sick for such a long time; so he asked him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered, “Sir, I don't have anyone here to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am trying to get in, somebody else gets there first.”
Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” 

 This has always been an interesting passage to me because of the sick man's response to Jesus.  Local legend said that an angel occasionally stirred the waters of the pool of Bethesda (Bethzatha) and that the first sick person to enter the water after it had be stirred would be healed of any physical ailments.  The Bible doesn't teach that this was true, just that the local people believed it.

Evidently, this particular man who was an invalid and could not walk had been coming to the pool for 38 years.  Jesus saw him laying there beside the pool on a mat and was moved with compassion.   He asked the man, "Do you want to be well?"

We would think that the man would say, "Of course I want to be well!  That's why I'm here.  I want to walk and run and jump. Yes, I want to be well."  But that's not what the man said.  Instead, he responded with an excuse of sorts.  he explained why he would never be well..."I don't have anyone to help me..."  

It seems that his physical condition had become his identity.  He was the poor lame man with nobody to help him and that's just the way things were.  In this story, of course, Jesus healed him anyway.

As I read this, I am reminded of how much we are just like this lame man.  We have all sorts of physical, spiritual and emotional problems that Jesus is willing to heal.  He asks, "Do you want to be well?" And in our hearts we put up walls and refuse to hope and decide not to risk exercising the faith to believe that Jesus has something better for us than our current damaged, broken condition.  We have taken our identities in sin and shame instead of in Christ.  Yet Jesus continues to ask us, "Do you want to be well?"

Sometimes the right response is simply, "Yes, Lord Jesus, I want to be well."