Throughout the New Testament we receive a consistent theme from the world, it is set against the Lord. The scribes and Pharisees scheme against Jesus, challenge Him publicly, attempt to denigrate and discredit Him and spread rumors about Him and what they supposed He was doing. One of the worst things the false religious rulers and the falsely religious did was to take every good thing and spin it negatively. Some fabricated breach of protocol, a break down in etiquette nullifies all the good He could have done. If it did not fit their molded religion, what they were comfortable with they considered that unconventional activity sinful.
This is legalism. All mankind struggles with submission. When we see rules, we want to mold and shape them into our own personal world. Legalism presses our own personal worldly rules upon others, judges them according to that set of rules. Financially disciplined people see a dilapidated and trash strewn home with a new expensive car in the driveway and have to comment about a perceived problem with priorities. A common application is immediately demanding all who enter the church doors conform in dress, in spiritual maturity, in verbiage and lifestyle.
Legalism is NOT the application of clear edicts of scripture in our lives, or encouraging others in those clear godly requirements. People cry legalism when others encourage church attendance. Attendance is required (Heb 10:25) and the mark of a believer’s desire and confidence (2 Thess 2:1-3; Jas 2:18).
The Pharisees were afraid of Jesus because He threatened their hold on society. Jesus freed people from the grip of tyrannical religious systems to serve the one true God of Heaven through faith alone. Healing at the well of Bethesda is an excellent example. Jesus heals, provides comfort and an opportunity to serve God this man did not have before. Would the Pharisees chastise the angel they claimed descended into the pool? Shouldn’t the Angel be worshipping not working on the Sabbath, that he conform to their perceived religiosity?
They miss the point. Jesus is a heavenly being, the King thereof. If an angel can heal on the Sabbath, certainly the King himself can serve His people. Further, is it work on the Sabbath, or service to the King of Kings and His people? Loving service is never work, it should never be work to serve in love.