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Can One Do Good Works on the Sabbath?

Can One Do Good Works on the Sabbath?

JOHN 5:1-16



Jesus has accomplished a lot during his great ministry in Galilee. However, in saying, “I must also declare the good news of the Kingdom of God to other cities,” Jesus has in mind more than just Galilee. Thus, he goes “preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” (Luke 4:43, 44) This is logical because it is now spring and a festival in Jerusalem is approaching.

Compared with what we read of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, we find little in the Gospels about his activity in Judea. Even if the general reaction in Judea is apathetic, it does not stop Jesus from preaching actively and doing good works wherever he is.

Soon Jesus is heading to Judea’s principal city, Jerusalem, for the Passover of 31 C.E. In the busy area near the Sheep Gate, there is a large colonnaded pool called Bethzatha. Many sick, blind, and lame come to this pool. Why? Because it is commonly believed that people can be healed by getting into the pool when the water is agitated.

It is now the Sabbath, and Jesus sees a man at this pool who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus asks: “Do you want to get well?” The man answers: “Sir, I do not have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am on my way, another steps down ahead of me.”​—John 5:6, 7.

Jesus says something that must surprise the man and anyone else who hears it: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8) And that is exactly what he does. Immediately healed, the man picks up his mat and begins to walk!

Rather than rejoice over the wonderful thing that has happened, the Jews see the man and say judgmentally: “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry the mat.” The man answers them: “The same one who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” (John 5:10, 11) Those Jews are critical of someone who is healing on the Sabbath.

“Who is the man who told you, ‘Pick it up and walk’?” they want to know. Why do they ask the man that? Because Jesus has “slipped away into the crowd,” and the healed man does not know Jesus’ name. (John 5:12, 13) But this man is to have another encounter with Jesus. Later, in the temple, the man meets Jesus and learns the identity of the one who healed him at the pool.

The man who was healed finds the Jews who had asked him about his being made well. He tells them that it was Jesus. On learning this, the Jews go to Jesus. Do they go to learn by what means Jesus is able to do such wonderful things? No. It is, rather, to find fault with Jesus for doing good things on the Sabbath. And they even begin persecuting him!