The fifth chapter of John’s gospel is going to express to us proofs and evidence that Jesus is God. The purpose of John’s gospel was stated in John 20:31, “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believe you may have life in his name.” So as we study through this chapter we want to spend our time making careful analysis of how John is showing us that Jesus is God.
The Sign (5:1-9)
The narrative begins with revealing that there is one of the three feasts of the Law of Moses which compels the people to come to Jerusalem. So Jesus has come to Jerusalem. We are presented a sorrowful scene. As Jesus is in Jerusalem he decides to go to the Jerusalem nursing home. There is a roofed porch area in Jerusalem, and listen to who is there: invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed (5:3). These are the disabled people of Jerusalem all placed together in this porched area. This is the way of the human heart: out of sight, out of mind. But not for Jesus. Jesus goes out of his way to enter into a mass of people with disabilities. There is nothing glorious about this place. If you have been to a nursing home, then you know the kind of atmosphere that would exist in this place, yet only worse, since there are not paid, full time workers caring for these people. The scriptures say there lay a multitude of disabled people, helplessly lying there. Of all the myriads of blind, lame, and paralyzed people in this porched area, Jesus selects one person. He is a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Verse 6 tells us that this invalid man had been there a very long time. Years and years this man had remained an invalid. Nothing has made him well and so hopelessness has set in. When Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well, listen to his answer: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” These are words of hopelessness. Sir, I have been here a very long time and I have not been healed. I do not have anyone to put me into these waters for healing. Yes, he desired to be healed but he had desired such for so long that it seemed like there was no chance it would ever happen.
Jesus responds. “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Instantly the man who had been disabled for 38 years would now walk. He grabs his mat and walks. No need for physical therapy. Imagine what the condition of those legs that had not moved for 38 long years. The carrying of the mat was a sign of victory over suffering and death. It demonstrated his healing to all who would see him. But the end of verse 9 records a forceful statement: Now it was the Sabbath! These feast days often prescribed various days as holy days, and hence were considered sabbaths because of the holy day (cf. Leviticus 23). So it’s a feast day and therefore it is a Sabbath rest.
The Conflict (5:10-18)
Verse 10 reveals the conflict. The Jewish leaders see this man carrying his mat on this Sabbath rest day and they approach him. “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” The healed man responds that a man healed him and was told to take up his bed and walk. Now listen to what the Jewish leaders ask. “Who is this man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk?'” Think about this with me for a minute. Rather than rejoicing with this man who has been disabled for 38 long years, they want to know who told him to break the Sabbath by carrying his bed! They do not see the sign that the great healer of the people has come. They only see their traditions being broken. The healed man does not know who healed him. He did not know that the person he had been talking to was Jesus and Jesus is not there at this moment. He has withdrawn and the crowds were forming around this man who had been healed.
Afterward, Jesus finds this healed invalid in the temple. There is the man, most likely in the temple glorifying God for the healing he has received and participating in the feast day that he had not been able to enjoy previously. So Jesus approaches the healed invalid and says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” There are a couple things we need to observe from Jesus saying this to the healed invalid.
Something worse can happen.
What is the worst thing that could happen to you? I would like for you stop for a moment and consider what is the worst thing you think can occur against you. I want you to go back and feel the helplessness and hopelessness of this invalid. For 38 years he has been unable to walk and for a long time was left in this covered porch area in Jerusalem with the rest of the disabled. But Jesus says that there is something worse that could happen to you. We have a cliché of sorts that we say to one another when we are suffering. It is not a cliché we really like to hear, but one the basis of Jesus’ words, the cliché is quite true. “It could always be worse.” Something worse could happen to us. As terrible as our suffering can be and as difficult it can be to deal with the challenges we have in life, there is worse: eternal punishment. There is something far worse. I don’t know that we always have this kind of life perspective. Not that things could be worse, like I could get hit by a bus, which is the way we often use this cliché. There are horrible things in this world. There are horrible things that we experience. Things that will just about break us, crush our spirit, and seem to destroy us. But there is something a million times worse than anything we can possibly experience in our bodies on this earth. Eternal punishment.
Healed for holiness.
Why was the invalid to sin no more? He is to sin no more because he had been healed.
You have been healed for a purpose. You have not be healed so leave and go your way. You have been healed to be holy. You have been healed to glorify God. You have been healed to go and sin no more. The life of holiness begins with seeing that we have been healed. Jesus has come to the world of spiritually disabled people and has healed you from your sins. In last week’s lesson we saw the holiness of the Lord from the perspective of Isaiah. The seraphim are crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” God’s holiness and our healing is to lead us to service, as we noted in that lesson. Our healing must lead us to raise our hand in the air and ask what we can do for the Lord. Today we add to that thought that our healing will also lead us to changed living. We will seek pure lives because of the healing we have experienced. His healing is the catalyst for our turning our lives to Jesus. “See, you are well! Sin no more.”
Let’s step back as we conclude and consider why John chooses this miracle and what the sign is which we are supposed to learn. Why did Jesus pick this man among the multitude of disabled people? The text tells us that there was one man who had been in this condition for 38 years. Keep in mind that chapters 5-6 of John are set to a historical backdrop of the wilderness wanderings of Israel under the leadership of Moses. Chapter 6 is about the bread from heaven that God gave in the wilderness. The time marker is the Passover, when God set the people free from Egyptian slavery and took them through the wilderness on the way to the promised land. Chapter 5 began by noting that this was a feast of the Jews. We do not know which one, but all of them centered upon being slaves in Egypt and the freedom God gave to deliver them as they passed through the waters and walked in the wilderness on the way to the promised land. In chapter 3 Jesus described himself as the bronze serpent on the pole which was erected in the wilderness because of the people’s sins that all who look to him would be healed.
Jesus selects a man who has been an invalid for 38 years. He is utterly helpless and utterly hopeless. Listen to the words of the writer of Deuteronomy:
14 And the time from our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the entire generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. 15 For indeed the hand of the LORD was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished. (Deuteronomy 2:14–15 ESV)
The 38 years is the time frame of the death of the Israelite people, as God killed them for their sins. The hand of the Lord was against them for their sins. That is why they were in that desert. A journey that should have taken less than two weeks turns into a 38 year death march because the people sinned. They are helpless and hopeless. There is no one who can help. There is no one who had deliver these crippled, disabled, sinful people from their condition. Though this man wants to be healed, he simply cannot be healed. The pool water of Bethesda, like all the water seen in this gospel so far, is ineffectual, leaving the man paralyzed until Jesus comes to heal him. Jesus’ living waters of John 4 replace the water of John’s baptism (1:31-33), the ritual purifying waters (2:6), Jacob’s well (4:14), and now this popular healing pool. The law system of Moses left people as invalids, perishing from their sins. But now the true deliverer and leader has come and he rescues the perishing. He is the prophet like Moses who will finish the work and will not leave the people to die in the wilderness from their sins. Only God can heal through our Lord and Savior Jesus. Everything else leaves us empty and dead. What false hope are you holding on to in this life? You have been crippled and disabled your whole life because of your sins. There is no help but in Jesus. Only he can heal you and set you on the path to holiness.