The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany February 15, 2009
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
360, 43, 36, 45
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made 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, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.
Picture one of the old western movies or television shows. A group of men is huddled around the evening campfire with coyotes howling in the distance. Soon it’s time for bed, but before “lights out” someone is chosen to stand watch. You never know in these films what’s going to happen at night when everyone is sleeping. There had better be a hand ready to sound the alarm should wild animals or wild robbers come upon the unsuspecting as they sleep. Sweet dreams for most of the camp, but one must keep working all night long.
In our lives, it is God who is always working. It is He who must stay up 24 hours a day, seven days a week, constantly tending to the needs of the world. It is He who takes no rest from His labors. Yes, the Bible says He “rested” on the seventh day of earth’s history, but He didn’t “go to sleep” in the sense that you or I do. Although He had created what needed to be created, even on that day He was still alert, watchful, and ready to shower blessing upon all that He had made.
“He’s got the whole world in His hands,” as the song goes. God can’t take a break! He can’t stop doing what He is doing or everything would fall apart in an instant. In fact, that’s one of the things we take for granted will never happen. God wouldn’t be God if He just dropped the ball and turned His back on humankind. Psalm 121 says “He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:3 NIV)
Think about all that God must maintain. Think of all that He must have in hand while we carelessly wander about down here. The sun, moon, and stars must move according to their order. The rain and snow must fall at the proper times. Every seed planted in every garden everywhere in the world must germinate and grow.
Every animal must be provided for—the deer and the rabbits, the chickens and cows, even the ants, beetles, and rats. God must open His hand and give them all exactly what they need at exactly the proper time. He must keep track of the whole thing.
The tides must ebb and flow correctly. Every pregnant mother’s body must undergo the complicated changes to prepare for childbirth—this is so scientifically mind-boggling that you’re amazed the little one can be born at all—and God does this more than 4 times a second worldwide.
When you think about all God must do to keep His creation functioning, it really is incredible. Of course, He must always be at work! The Apostle Paul told the Athenians, “In Him [God] we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
Therefore it stunned the religious leaders of Jesus’ day when He first spoke the words we have read: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” [v.17 NIV] Jesus was making Himself equal to the Father in heaven by claiming that He worked even as the Father did—never resting, but always carrying out the business of caring and maintaining creation. If this were true, it could only mean one thing: that Jesus was God. The Jews who were persecuting him picked up on this immediately and tried all the harder to kill him.
Just like the Heavenly Father was always on duty, ever watchful, ever supporting what He had created and made, Jesus said, “I’m working too. I do that too.” Christ here made the point that He too “had the whole world in His hands” and therefore must be more than just a man, but be God in the flesh.
Does Jesus really carry out the work of God? Can we say that it is from His hand too that everything comes which is needed to keep the world alive? Or was He overstating things when He claimed to be working every day just as the Father worked every day? Not at all. For He had just finished performing a miracle which pointed to this very thing. The Jews were aware of the miracle too and the work Jesus had done. In fact, that is what caused them to approach Him in the first place.
In the days of Moses, God had instructed the Children of Israel to observe a Sabbath day. This was to be a day of rest in which they would do no regular work. Instead of doing their usual jobs in the fields or in the marketplaces or elsewhere, they would praise and honor God on this day and be reminded of the rest for their souls that the coming Messiah promised. Unfortunately, over time, the Jewish leaders had added no less than 30 additional regulations to the original Sabbath commandment, in these they had seen an opportunity to trap Jesus. For, according to them, He had unlawfully “worked” on the Sabbath day.
Jesus had been busy, that is true. He had come to the area of the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where there was a pool. The pool was a gathering place for many disabled people: the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed. If one could get into the pool at the moment it bubbled up during the day that person would be healed. Jesus came upon a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He asked the man, “Do you want to be made well?” [v.6] The man gave a rather hopeless answer saying that he could not get to the pool in time for healing. At which Jesus said “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” [vv.8-9 NIV]
There was no denying that Jesus had done something on the Sabbath day. But had He been breaking the commandment? Not at all, He was carrying out the very work of God. In an instant He had demonstrated His ability and willingness to fix something that the effects of sin had broken. In love to heal one of the wreckages of earth. There was no law against showing mercy toward someone else on the Sabbath and giving them your help. The Sabbath was not a day in which Israel was supposed to stop loving one another. Jesus did nothing against the commandment as God had given it. Rather He used the day to glorify God by sustaining and upholding His creation.
Just as God the Father works every day to take care of what He has made, Jesus Christ showed that He too was busy every day with that very same activity. The Father did not withdraw His gracious hand from the people every Saturday when the Sabbath came around and neither did His Son. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the Lord Jesus has His eye open for the sick, the lame, the miserable. Every day He supports, sustains, and cares for this world. The Apostle Paul surely echoed this thought when he writes of Jesus in these words: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17 NIV) Without Jesus holding everything together by His mighty, godly hand, all would tumble to ruin. “His law He enforces the stars in their courses and sun in its orbit obediently shine.” [Choral Anthem: Let All Things Now Living]
Why is Jesus busy with this activity? Why does He have such concern for a world which gives Him such rude treatment? Because He died for this very same world. Because He gave up His life in the most terrible of deaths on the cross so that this creation could be delivered up from its bondage to decay. He accepted the punishment for the world’s sin so that man could rise again from the dead and live with God forever. He offered Himself as the atoning sacrifice for the world. Should He not be concerned with it? He is obviously concerned with each individual for whom He shed His blood.
Look at how Jesus meets again in the temple the very same man He had healed by the pool of Bethesda. And He says to Him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” [v.14] Jesus was concerned not just about the man’s body, but further for his soul. Whatever sins had been his habit, Jesus knew that they were deadly—they had the potential to destroy him. Christ urged the man to think about the way God had healed him and to also see God’s spiritual gifts such as the forgiveness of sins.
So there was the whole package: Jesus—always alert, ever-bestowing God’s grace, always looking to care for and uphold the human race, always working on behalf of men.
Nothing has changed. Jesus Christ is still true God sent from the Father. He is still God in every sense of the word and He still continues His work even to this very day. To this very day in 2009 He is still causing rain to fall, still causing seeds to grow, still bringing healthy children into the world, still bringing healing through miracle and medicine, still caring for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air, still opening His hand to feed even the beetles and rodents. It all continues—In Him all things hold together.
In light of all this, it is a shame that we sometimes interfere in our own sinful ways. Just like the Jews tried to tell Jesus when He could or could not carry out the business of preserving life, so we try to “tell” Jesus when He should or should not take care of this or that.
How many times have you been upset with the Lord when He didn’t provide for you just the way you thought He should? When a job is hard to land, when finances at home are troubled, when sickness and disease don’t go away overnight—isn’t it easy then to complain that Jesus isn’t working the things He should be working. We place demands on Him, twisting His arm with words such as, “If Christ were really loving, He wouldn’t do this or that to me…” The truth is, our sinful flesh wants to question Jesus’ desire and ability to work on our behalf. It wants to question whether or not the Savior really takes care of what He has made or whether the planet is left on its own. When we think like this we are forgetting or ignoring what He Himself has said to us.
Worse yet, people sometimes want to “tell” Jesus when to withdraw His gracious hand as caregiver and preserver. The prophet Jonah had this problem. After He had preached to the city of Nineveh and warned them of coming judgment on their sins, they repented and turned to the Lord. It was then that Jonah became angry because God was merciful to the city and spared it. It is sinful to wish that God would not uphold, strengthen, preserve, or help someone else in their best interests.
The Lord, our God, is the only true God of Heaven and earth. He never stops holding things together. “He’s got the whole world in His hands” and we can be ever so thankful that each breath we take, each step we make, each season of seedtime and harvest—all of it is maintained by the One who loves us and humbled Himself for us, even to the point of death on a cross. He is One who will never quit His job and walk away and of that you can always be sure.
Now thank we all our God with heart
and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mother’s arms
hath blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love
and still is ours today. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.