Do you know what "tradition" is? Is tradition a good thing? Is tradition a bad thing? Better yet, will following tradition get you into heaven?
Well, you might say that tradition is the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation. In other words, it is the passing down of customs or practices. So, you might conclude that tradition, in and of itself, is not a "bad" thing. But, is it always a "good" thing?
Let's look at some traditions. Summer vacation: Good or bad? It's good for those who need a break from work or school. It's good for those who rely on vacationers for their livelihood. How about ham and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day? What about turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas? What about chicken ANY day of the week? All of those traditions seem to please some of us.
But Saints, there is always a different view! For everyone who likes the summer vacation period, there are those who don't like it. For all of us who like ham, black-eyed peas, turkey, and chicken, there are still others of us who'd prefer a totally vegetarian meal.
What I'm trying to say is, "all tradition is not good for all people." I guess it's like saying, "you can't please all of the people all of the time."
That's what our Savior, Christ Jesus, was facing on this particular Sabbath Day in Jerusalem. It seems that in verses 8 & 9, Jesus had healed a man by the pool of Bethesda. It seems that there were, on any given day, a whole slew of infirmed waiting for an angel to appear during a certain season, to trouble the water in that pool. Then, who ever was the first to step in the water, after the water had been troubled by this angel, was cured of any affliction he had! Amen?
There was one man by this pool of Bethesda [Bethesda means 5 porches], who had been infirmed some thirty-eight years. Verse 5 says he was "ill" for thirty and eight years... Not that he was laying by the pool thirty-eight years [Saints, be aware of what God's word is saying. Don't go out there making stuff up! The Bible says that he was sick for thirty-eight years]. For all we know, that could have been his first day at the pool of Bethesda.
And, look at your Bible. Verse 6 says that Jesus knew that the man had long been in that case, meaning Christ knew that the man had been ill a very long time - NOT that he had been at the pool a long time.
Now, here comes "Brother Stupid." Jesus asks the man, "Wilt thou be made whole?" What is his response? "Well, you see, Sir, every time I get ready to climb into the pool, someone else beats me to it!" All Jesus asked the man is if he wanted to be made whole. We are so busy telling God what he already knows, until we fail to notice that He's there to answer our prayer! We haven't hit the text yet, but hear me out: There ain't nothing like turning a deaf ear to God! You don't hear Him when He's telling you how to get out of the mess you've gotten yourself into, and then you complain that He doesn't answer your prayers. Saints, Lesson #1, you've got to stop talking long enough to hear God talking to you! If you can rant and rave, while at the same time listen to your gracious Master talking, see me after service...I've got to hear how you do that!
Back to the text. Jesus understands that the man didn't know how to say, "Yes, Lord, I want to be made whole." So, assuming that the man was there to be healed, Jesus -- on the Sabbath Day -- told the impotent man to, "rise, take up your bed and walk."
Now, I say, "on the Sabbath," because every Bible student knows that the 1st century Jews, who worshipped Yahweh, did not work on the Sabbath. If you did work, you'd have to make a new lamb sacrifice, and pay the ruling council [the Sanhedrin, a group of seventy men, composed of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes] at least a talent, or two, to receive a pardon for working on the Sabbath. That was the "tradition" for over one thousand years!
Let's get to the lesson. Exodus 20:10 says that on the Sabbath Day, Jews were not to work, "But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work..." And, Nehemiah 13:19 says that Jerusalem was shut down on the Sabbath, "And, it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to get dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they not be opened till after the Sabbath.." Even Jeremiah got into the act, when in 17:21, he wrote that God said no burden should be borne on the Sabbath, "Thus saith the Lord; 'Take heed yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day.." So, why, in our text, does our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, fix this sick man on the Sabbath? Why does He go against tradition? Somebody once told me, "because he was there." And, I says, "Yeah, but there were a bunch of sick people there." Then, the fellow says, "No! Because Jesus was there!"
I guess it doesn't matter why Jesus singled out this man. Maybe, as was suggested in verse 6, Jesus knew this man had suffered a very long time, and that the man's only hope for a cure was for some type of miracle. Maybe it was because the man's faith hadn't waned for the length of time he had been coming to the pool. Whatever the reason, just seven words from Jesus, and the man was all right.
Watch out, now! Here comes those people who like to rain on your parade. The second something good happens to you; the second one of your prayers is answered; the second God blesses you: Here come the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes! You know who they are: those righteous people in the church who rely on your fear to control how you act and react to God's blessings. They tell you that the new man in your life used to stand on the corner twenty years ago. It doesn't matter that for the last 19 years, he's been an upright citizen, has held the same job, saved his money, bought a house, and been born again, a new creature in Christ. To make you cut this man loose, they tell you that they can remember when he stood on the corner!
Or, men, they'll ask you, "Why do you want that woman? You could have any woman in the church. She used to hang in the bars. She was in jail once, too. For stealing, I think." They forget to mention that she has raised her children on her own; that she has gone to school and gotten her degree; that she's still in school working on another degree; that she has accepted Christ as her Savior; and that she wears long dresses because she doesn't want any of those Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes trying to "cop a peak."
Or, better yet, they will stand in God's pulpit, and tell you, "just because you've earned a degree, don't mean nothin." When, in 2 Timothy 2:15, God tells you, through the apostle Paul, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." But, because you think that they hold the key which will get you into heaven, you say, "Amen," and then look down on anyone who is trying to educate themselves. Who you going to believe? The Pharisee in the pulpit, or, 2 Timothy 2:15? Lesson #2, Don't let any man -- including me -- stop you, or scare you, from learning God's word.
So, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes first try to strike fear in the newly healed man's heart. Notice, they say nothing about being happy that the man can now walk. What they tell him in verse 10 is that it was unlawful to carry his bed on the Sabbath. It didn't work because the cured man says, "Hey, dudes. That cool dude that fixed me up told me to pick up my bed and walk! And, here I be!"
And, Saints, if you're smart, you'll do the same thing. 'Cause you won't find Jesus, or the virgin Mary walking around in our churches today. WE ARE ALL SINNERS! That woman you're interested in might have once been in a bar [But guess what? The person who told you must have been there, too. How do you think they saw her?]. What you'll find is a born-again Saint who's trying to get to heaven. You'll notice that although they have a past, they've also quit smokin'; they've quit drinkin'; they've stopped gamblin'; they've stopped druggin'; they don't hang out in the bars; they don't hang out on the street corners; and, they're home when the sun goes down -- unless they're at church, or out with their children.
Anyway, when fear doesn't work, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes immediately try to find out who it is that told the man to commit this grievous sin. They'll settle for His hide! The man didn't know who had healed him. That is, not until Jesus met him in the Temple and told him to sin no more. So, the man told the Jews it was Jesus who had fixed him up.
Now, in verse 16, the Jews want to persecute and slay Jesus because He had worked on the Sabbath. What? Let's read that again! Yep. It says that the Jews sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath Day, but, the deal was to sacrifice a young lamb, and cough up a talent or two to the big guys...NOT GET KILLED! I think I smell a rat!
Jesus then tells these righteous people, look at verse 17, that His Father worked, and so will He [Jesus]. Now, the Jews want to kill Jesus even more. Not only did He work on the Sabbath, He also claims to be God's Son!
No, no, no, no, no, Saints! Jesus wasn't going to be killed because He healed someone on the Sabbath -- nor, because He said he was God's Son. Jesus was going to be killed because He was breaking with TRADITION!
If Jesus had only reserved His healing powers for the Jewish and Roman elite, those same Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes would have left Him alone. If Jesus had healed those people and said He had been given the power to do so by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, they would have left Him alone. If Jesus had collected money form all those whom He had healed, and gave it to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes, they definitely would have left Him alone. But our sweet Jesus made the decision to "rock the boat." Jesus did not stay with tradition. He chose to do what His Father had told Him to do: fulfill the law. The PS&S boys wanted to maintain tradition. Tradition was their "status quo."
You want to get a present day Pharisee mad at you? Tell the church body that the Missionaries don't have to wear white in order to get to heaven! Tell the Deacons that they don't have to wear those funny-looking ties in order to get to heaven. Better yet, tell them that the church has decided that no auxiliary is allowed to wear a uniform, anymore -- including the ushers. Church Over! Close the doors!
Have you ever heard anything like this: "Well, you know, we, um. we always collect money on first Sunday for a love offering for the third Sunday guest preacher. That's in case you don't come on third Sunday. At least we have your money!" Or, "Our Deacons always wear white ties with the gold crosses on first Sunday, and red ties with gold crosses on third Sunday." Or, "We've been baptizing people on second Sunday since I was a child. We never do it on any other day." Or, "The Ushers always wear white. Unless it's a man Usher, and he likes to wear black suits, and the same color ties that the Deacons wear -- but, on opposite Sundays." Or, "The Deacons sit there. The trustees sit over there -- and, don't you forget it." Or, Pastor likes to hear a lot of 'Amen's' , so only the 'amen people' can sit on the first two rows."
But, I pose a question, Saints: Does the wearing of white get you to heaven? No! Does the wearing of funny-looking neck ties get you into heaven? God, No! None of those "traditions" get you to heaven. So, why are we doing it? Saints, the only thing that will get you to heaven is your fervent belief that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is your Lord and Savior; that He died on the cross; was buried; and, that He rose from that sleep on the third day; that He ascended into heaven to sit on the right hand of God, the Father; that soon, real soon, He will come again to claim His bride, the Church; and that we should love God and love man. That, my brothers and sisters, is what gets you into heaven!
Every time you attempt to break with "tradition," you stand the chance of being ostracized. A red flag will go up, and before you know it, the Deacons, Trustees, and maybe even the Pastor, will be trying to run you out of the church. Fact of the matter is, Saints, most of us fear change. So, even if the "tradition" we practice is wrong, we fear that the change will cause us more harm. Thank God that those in power in the church of today don't have the power of those PS&S boys. Because there'd be a whole bunch of dead "Tradition breakers" today.
Jesus stepped on the feet of those in power. He was so good at doing His thing, that those in power knew He'd eventually replace them. They would eventually be out of power. They would no longer have control over the people. Jesus Had To Go! "No, we can't have Him kill a lamb and pay tribute. We got to KILL this dude!" Lesson #3: Buck "Tradition" and you are sure to put your life in danger. Just ask Martin Luther King, Jr.
But, I urge you to be like the newly cured man. As you are threatened by those in power; as they attempt to instill fear in your heart, just do what the healed man did: tell them that your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, told you to do it. Just do what Christ did, when tempted by the devil in Luke Chapter 4: quote Scripture. Go on the offense. Tell them to show you in the Bible where following that "tradition" will get you into heaven. Tell them to show you in the Bible where Jesus, or His disciples, followed that "Tradition," and commanded others to do so under penalty of going to hell if they didn't. Tell them that them, nor any man, can get them into heaven or hell. Tell them that your belief in Christ Jesus, through the grace of God is paramount in your spiritual life.
I'm not telling you to become a trouble maker for trouble making's sake. I'm telling you that you should know when you are being led by man's "tradition" and not by God's will. Man's "Traditions" weaken the foundation of the church. Man's "Traditions" are forever meant to please a few in power, and protect them from losing that power; to signal them out from among those of us who call ourselves "Saints."
God's will, on the other hand, is expressly stated in His Scripture and it written to guide and protect everyone who believes in His Son, Christ Jesus. God's will, as stated in Matthew 28:19-20, is that we teach all nations; and, baptize all nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And, in case you get scared in carrying out that Great Commission, He said -- look at it -- that He'd be with you always.
Not following "Traditions" is what got our Jesus killed. What "Traditions" are we following today, Saints, that are killing Jesus' Church?
Rev. Dr. S. Stewart Poullard, Th.D., is pastor of the Angel of the Lord Baptist Church in Passaic, NJ. Pastor Poullard holds a Masters in Theology [Th.M.] from Andersonville Baptist Seminary, Camilla, Georgia, 1999 and a Doctorate in Theology [Th.D.] from Andersonville Baptist Seminary, 2000. He will undertake Masters study in Pastoral Counseling in May 2001.Formed "Angel of the Lord Baptist Church" in February 2001. Motto: "We Teach and Preach Christ." Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author and are used by permission.