Sermon, February 14,2021 | Grace Reformed Church
Last week we considered the lessons for us in the story about the official’s, or the nobleman’s son. It was the second sign that John points to in his gospel to prove to us that Jesus is the promised Messiah. We’re going to keep seeing these signs, because they keep proving that point, as we go through the book, and they’re going to get more intense, more powerful.
The first sign showed Jesus’ control over things of nature—he turned water into wine. Compared to some of the other things we’re going to see, that’s a relatively simple miracle, transforming one liquid into another kind or liquid. The second sign, we saw last week was one that showed Jesus’s power and control over health, by suddenly, from miles away, healing the official’s son who was so close to death—I guess if we were going to put miracles in levels of “miraculousness” that one would be greater than the wine. That’s kind of a silly thought, actually, but this third sign will be in the same category—miraculous healing—but it will not be a healing of an acute illness, it will be the healing of a decades-long handicap. That’s a next-level healing. But these signs will all ultimately lead to proving that Jesus has the power over life and death itself, when he raises Lazarus from the dead.
Let’s read together, what God has for us this morning in this first story from chapter 5 in John’s gospel. Read with me now, beginning in verse 1 and continuing to verse 15. Listen, this is God’s Holy Word:
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “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.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
The Word of the Lord.
Here in our text, we actually have two characters that Jesus interacts with, and their stories have different applications, so we’ll deal with one this week and the other next week. The first thing in this story is the man, the man who was healed from his 38-year crippling, the benefactor of this great miracle of Christ that was worked so suddenly. And the second character, or group of characters is the “Jews” referred to later in the story. Their dispute about the Sabbath is what leads to the discourse from Jesus in verse 19 and following. So today we’re going to focus on the first relationship, the one between the crippled man and Jesus. We will talk about the man’s interaction with the Jews also, but we’re going to leave aside their primary dispute about the Sabbath until next week, and instead stay focused on what we can learn about ourselves and our lives from this man. And I’ll warn you, there’s a lot of cautionary tale here about how we shouldn’t respond when God grants us great blessing. As we look closer, we’ll see that this man bungled that quite a bit. So let’s walk back through the story with a little bit more detail.
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
After this, so meaning after Jesus got back to Galilee and healed the nobleman’s son, and the words used indicate that it was relatively soon after, not just some nebulous time after. That has of course led to discussion and dispute over exactly what feast this was that Jesus again traveled back to Jerusalem, and what year specifically, but I won’t bore you with those arguments because they’re not central to what we’re talking about here. The bigger point is that Jesus was returning to Jerusalem. We just read in chapter 4 that Jesus and the disciples left Jerusalem because of increasing suspicion and pressure from the Pharisees, from the religious elites, and so he was going to “lay low” in Galilee for a bit so that things could calm down. And now he’s returning to Jerusalem for a feast, and the result of that is that Jesus is once again opening himself up to a possible threat. Jerusalem is not the safest place for him.
And this is not a long trip to Jerusalem, in chapter six we’ll see him leaving Jerusalem and going back to Galilee, across the Sea of Galilee, even, so this was just a trip to Jerusalem for a certain feast, a short time. The last time Jesus was in Jerusalem, his ministry, how it was succeeding and growing, planted something in the minds of the Pharisees—that Jesus was greater than John the Baptist. That made them nervous. And Jesus takes the occasion of this brief trip to Jerusalem, using a miracle, to establish something that will make them even more nervous. On this trip, Jesus asserts in so many words that he is not only greater than John, that he is actually the Son of God. That is actually the result of this whole episode, summarized in verse 18, which will be part of next week’s sermon:
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
I love those little summary verses that we find in John, framing the whole situation. In the synoptic gospels, like I said, sometimes the authors leave you to assume something like that after reading the narrative, but John likes to constantly point us back, narrow our focus. By what he said, he was making himself equal with God, so they wanted to kill him.
So that’s the overarching goal of this trip to Jerusalem, Jesus doing something that intensifies the hatred of the Jews for him, because he claimed equality with God. But we’ll set the rest of that aside until next week, and instead remain focused on what happens next, in verse 2 and following.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “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.”
Sometimes when we read these stories, we just don’t ask enough questions, don’t pay quite enough attention. Why was this man wanting to be put into the pool? What is all this about the water being stirred up? Is there some sort of race? Or more curiously, why does John chapter five have no verse four? Did you notice that as we were reading? It goes straight from 3 to 5.
Well, the reason John 5 has no verse 4 is because of verse 7. You’re all following me really well, by now, I’m sure. No verse 4 because of verse 7. It has to do with this stirring. The end of verse 3 and all of verse 4, in most translations, has been removed because the earliest manuscripts of John don’t have that verse-and-a-half. They were inserted later on to explain what this stirring of the water is. In the King James, verses 3 and 4 read like this:
In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, (and here’ the addition) waiting for the moving of the water. 4 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.
That explains the race to the pool. The man says to Jesus, “When the angel comes and stirs the water, I can never get in first and get that miraculous healing, someone always beats me to it.” Was there really an angel that stirred the water and provided miraculous healing? We have no idea, and we don’t have to believe that there actually was, because verse 4 was added later, it’s not actually binding scripture. It started, in manuscript, as an explanatory note to verse 7 and then at some point that note was moved into the text. It may have just been hot springs that occasionally bubbled up—that would explain how there would be various “stirrings” of the water as the springs would in time be more and less active. And people have looked to actual healing powers of mineral springs for thousands of years, so much that there could have been great superstition attached to this pool. In the end, it’s unimportant, angel or not—what is important is that this is what the many invalids lying around the pool believed would happen when they were first into the pool. They believed they would be healed, and that’s why they were there.
And there were many of them. The pool is now gone, but we know where it was. And it is described has having five roofed colonnades. That suggests a large amount of space, and you can imagine it filled with as it says, a multitude of invalids. This would be the place to be if you were an invalid. Not only was there this healing-water lottery that played out from time to time, this was probably one of the only places available to you with shade, under the hot sun in Jerusalem. And this is where Jesus goes to perform a miracle.
It’s well-established here that this was no temporary affliction this man had—it was 38 years of being, as some translations put it, “withered.” This man’s legs were of no use, perhaps since birth if he was 38. The thought of this man walking is insane. Even if he somehow suddenly gained use of his legs, how long would it take for someone with withered legs, devoid of muscle, how long would it take them to build the strength to walk? A long time for sure.
And this plays out much like Jesus’s other miracles that we’ve already read about, plays out like almost every conversation that we’ve read about so far in this gospel. Jesus asks a question, and the human response to Jesus is faulty, because Jesus is always referring to something bigger behind the question. Nicodemus responds to Jesus talking about spiritual rebirth by dodging toward talking about physical birth. The Samaritan woman kept dodging by talking about physical water when Jesus was talking about spiritual thirst. The disciples remain focused on actual food when Jesus is talking about spiritual food, which to him was to do the work of his father.
So, true to form, how does this conversation begin? Jesus asks, “do you want to be healed?” What a question. Of course he does, right? He would rather walk than not walk, right? Why does Jesus ask this question, and in this way? We will come back to that when we consider the next time Jesus and this man meet in verse 14. What is the man’s response? Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “yes, of course I want to be healed.” No, instead he says, “My problem is that I can’t get into the pool, someone needs to carry me there.” I’ve gotten myself this far, to the edge of the pool, but I need help with that last step, and then I will have accomplished my goal of being healed. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s this error of almost everyone we’ve encountered to John up to this point, and one that we are all so prone to. It’s the human condition, the natural inclination to want Jesus to give us that last leg up so that we can solve this salvation thing for ourselves. Wanting tweaking, not transformation. If John keeps saying it, I have to keep saying it, sorry.
And, true to form, what is Jesus’s next point, what does he do next? He says, I have pity on you, I will help you. I’ll get you in a good position, and the second that water starts stirring, I will get you in there so you can be healed. No, that’s not how Jesus works. He says, “your plan is bad, I’m not going to work that way, how about a new plan?” He simply says, “Get up, take your bed, and walk.”
And here we find our first great lesson, resting in the good plans of God. He’s promised that everything that he’s planned—the timing, the blessing, the suffering—it’s all ultimately for our good. And that is perplexing to us. But we can rest in it. Maybe that rest isn’t something that we find when we look logically at our situation, like the plan of the man to get to the miraculous pool. But that rest is something we can truly experience when we are meditating on the Words of God in scripture, and go to him in prayer. There is rest there.
his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
This finding peace, resting in the plans of God, in his Word, it’s something we were all reminded about acutely this week. It hurt my heart and still does, and will for a long time, that Misty is no longer with us. It was sudden, unexpected. She had plans, we had plans, and though we rejoice that she is now gloriously freed from her broken body—something she felt more acutely than most of us, certainly myself—though we’re rejoicing in that, we are still stunned and we mourn her. But it was God’s will that she come home this past week, and it is for our good and for her good. My plan would have been for Misty to stay with us, to finally have the surgeries that were going to improve her mobility and vision, but God’s plans are greater than mine, and in that I must rejoice.
And in the remainder of the story that we have here of the man healed by the pool, we have another great lesson, the one I promised at the outset—how not to react to the blessings of God, when and as they come.
This man, with completely withered legs, is commanded by Jesus to stand up, take his mat and walk. And he does. Let that sink in for a second, how miraculous that would be. Jaw-dropping. It reminds me of another time that a lame man was healed in scripture, in Acts 3. I remember singing a children’s bible song about that very story. We don’t have time to go into all the comparisons between this and the man by the pool, but what about the end? Here, in Acts 3:
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Where is the walking and leaping, and praising God in our story? This man, lame for 38 years, just stood and walked, rolled up his mat and carried it with him. Where is the gratitude? We read on in the story that yes, Jesus did withdraw from the crowd, but this man didn’t even get his name? The Jews come to him and ask who it was, and he has no idea. It doesn’t seem like the most appropriate response to a miracle.
And it gets worse when the man is confronted by the Jews. The Jews are worse, and this conversation is mind-blowing.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.”
The Jews are so blind! They see a man, that they are certainly aware of being a lame person for decades, and what do they see. They don’t care about the fact that this man is well, they just want to know why he is carrying something. Because their Sabbath rules say that he cannot carry anything. This lame man is walking, and they don’t say “Who healed you, how can this be?” Such blindness. And what does the man say in response? He passes the buck:
11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’”
He responds by saying it wasn’t me, it was that man whose name I didn’t bother to get, he told me to do it so it’s really not my fault. Wow. And this seems to appease them at least in his case, because they don’t say “well, you still shouldn’t be carrying it, even if someone told you,” no, they say, “who told you to do it?”
Like I said, the wrong way to react to a miracle, on all accounts. And then how does the story end? Jesus finds this man again in the temple, and then the man makes the effort to go back to the Jews and tell them it was Jesus, now that he learned the man’s name who had healed him. He didn’t have to do that.
As I said earlier, when we dig a little this is an unbelievable way for this story to unfold. There is a greater purpose to the man being healed at all, and that is to illuminate the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees by their interaction with them. We’ll talk much more about that next week when we consider their specific charge over the Sabbath and how Jesus answers that, but for today, on the surface we can marvel at how not to react to a miracle. Our reaction to all of God’s blessings should always be humble thanksgiving. This is not just about supernatural displays of God’s miraculous power. It’s also about the natural, because that is its own miracle. Every week in the pastoral prayer, I am led to begin it by trying to marvel at the miracle of each day, because that is something I so easily take for granted, and it is something for which God deserves to constantly be praised. We should be walking and leaping and praising every day, for the gift of every day!
And then the final related lesson is in what Jesus says to the man when he encounters him in the temple. He says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” And there are a few things we can point out about what Jesus says in those three phrases. First “See, you are well!” You should be rejoicing about this miracle, you are well! Instead of running around the temple telling everyone who will listen about his healing, he’s been ratting Jesus out to the Jews. It suggests that though this man has been physically healed, the spiritual healing has not yet taken place. Instead of falling down before and following Jesus, he is still trying to please the religious elites, which is why he goes and tells them about Jesus once his identity is known.
Second, Jesus tells the man to sin no more so that nothing worse may happen. In this, Jesus is suggesting that the root cause of his affliction, his being lame, was actually a sin. At the very root, all affliction is the result of sin and we must discern if a sin in us is what is causing pain and suffering in our lives. Sin is the root of suffering, suffering is produced by sin, so if we are suffering it is worth taking time to see if our sin is producing that. But it is not always a specific sin that we have individually committed that leads to our suffering—look at Job—so we need to remember that. But in this case, it seems Jesus is pointing to a specific sin that was reconciled that led to the man’s healing. And he tells the man to sin no more so that he may not heap more suffering on himself. Will the man sin again? Of course he will, just like all of us whom Christ has called, as long as we still live in the broken world. But Jesus sets him on the journey of spiritual healing with this command. Remember, Jesus’s commands always come with him giving us the ability to follow them. He told the man to walk, and then enabled him to do so. He told the man to be free of the bondage of sin, and then regenerated him so that was possible.
It comes back to the first question he asked the man, and it’s something he’s asking all of us here in this room this morning. Do we really want to be healed? Nicodemus, do you want to be born again? Samaritan woman, do you really want the living water? Disciples, do you really want the spiritual food of doing the work of God? Do we really want to be healed, and all that being healed entails, all that comes with it? I pray that God uses that question to awaken the hearts of the unbelieving to say, “yes, I want to be healed, in a more complete way than I can even imagine!” And for those of us who believed long ago, let us continue to set our sights and our hearts always on that more complete healing that we have in Jesus, that healing not for these bodies, but our souls in eternity. Do you want to be healed? Jesus is waiting always, holding out to us greater gifts than we can even imagine, and when he commands us to do things we know that the commands come with the ability to perform them, because that is how God works. He is the answer to all the questions. Amen. Let’s pray.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gifts you continue to shower on us each and every day. We know that you call us to follow you, and then at the same time give us hearts that want to do just that. We pray that you continue in your great work of sanctifying us, making us more like Jesus each day even now on earth, and we look forward to that great day, when our perfection is completed, and we can stand before the throne in our new, perfect bodies. What a blessing, what a promise, what a Savior. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.