Join us we learn how we should continue to seek God, and see that He is good and wants to bring us hope, freedom, and a basic sense of trust in HIM.
November 5, 2023
by Ben Caldwell
History: Jesus and his disciples (who are all Jewish) are traveling, and they pass through this area where the people are half-breeds, half-Jewish. So Jesus and his followers come to this town. And Jesus sits to rest by the town’s well, while his followers go to buy food. He ends up miraculously changing this woman’s life and because of that miracle, many people in the town come to trust in HIM. So he stays with them for two days. And the people profess a kind of faith in Jesus that is based on what they hear and understand. It says, “We have heard him and we know that this is the savior of the world.” But we are about to switch gears. Jesus is going to a place where there will be doubt. They faith will be based on what Jesus can do for them.
John 5:1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.
So let’s pause there. We are told that these events happen “some time later.” But we don’t know how much time has passed. Could be a couple of days. Could have been a year or more. John will tell us in John 20:30-31:
John 20: 30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
So John hasn’t said it yet, but he is going to tell us: Jesus did way more than just what is written here. There were all kinds of miracles and signs. That let his disciples know He really is the son of God. John is just writing to help us understand who Jesus is. So the events for today happen some time later.
Jesus is in Jerusalem for a feast. We don’t know which feast this is. John doesn’t tell us. A colonnade is a porch. And for long time non-Christian scholars believed that this was made up. But over time as different areas of Jerusalem were excavated, scholars discovered these two pools that butted up against each other, an upper pool and a lower pool which were divided by a wall. Eventually they discovered that this was the pool known as Bethesda which had been surrounded by four porches… one on each side and a fifth porch running across the wall in the center of the upper and lower pools. This not only accounts for the pool described here in John but also takes into account Isaiah’s reference to an upper pool in Jerusalem. I am telling you this because we sometimes think that religion is all about made up stories to teach us life lessons. But Judaism and Christianity are firmly grounded in history and validated by archaeology. These things are true, not made up.
The name Bethesda means both house of mercy or House of Grace but it can also mean “shame” or “disgrace.”
Oh, and I should also mention that the middle of verse 3 all the way through verse 4 creates a difficulty. Look at verse 4 in your Bibles. Not finding it? There is a reason for that. When the Bible writers wrote these things down, they put them on a kind of paper or sometimes a kind of animal skin. And over the last 2 to 4 thousand years, those writings have worn out. So copies were made. And sometimes there are variations in what is written. Like these verses. Once scholar explained that this verse in particular probably excluded the second half of verse 3 and all of verse 4, but that bit was added later to help people understand the cultural context (which is actually verified in verse 7). But there is a whole branch of study called textual criticism that is dedicated to making sure what we have is absolutely accurate. So textual critics would say, leave out the explanations that weren’t original to the text. You see, they are making sure you and I have what was originally written. The way they have handled it in the pew Bible is that they made that editorial note a footnote at the bottom. Verse 5 goes on:
5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
Does that seem like a strange question? Do you want to get well? At first, don’t you imagine that this guy would be like: “Well yeah! Duh. Why do you think I’m here?” But after you have been in a certain situation for a while, you sort of get used to it. You might get comfortable. I have known alcoholics who say, “of course I don’t want to be an alcoholic.” But when I suggested they make some life changes, they weren’t willing to change anything. Heroine addicts want that next hit more than just about anything. One pastor cited a study done on the people who stand beside the road with a sign that says, “Hungry. Will work for food.” Or “Please help.” John 5:1-36 - Skip Heitzig - YouTube
Many of those people are legitimately hungry. But some are not. In this study, one man reported making $300 a day. If you made that 365 days a year, you would earn $109,500 for just sitting on a bucket and holding a cardboard sign. Another couple reported making $800 a day. That’s $292,000 tax-free dollars in a year. If you asked those people, “Would you like to change their situation?” They might say, “Yes.” Or they might say, “No. Not really.”
What I am suggesting is that this guy could have been glad to be where he was and living off the money people gave him. But listen to his response:
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
This man seems to genuinely be trying to make himself well. He wants to be healed. But he seems to feel like he is losing. I want to be the first, but I’m always a loser, and I don’t have anyone to help me. Isn’t it crazy that he is so focused on his own means of healing that he seems totally unaware that he is talking to Jesus, the one who has absolute authority to heal him. John has described Jesus as the means of creation. Last week he merely though the thought that a young man should be healed and instantly that young man was better 15 miles away. So here is this invalid face to face with Jesus and unaware.
And I should mention… Could people actually be healed in this pool? Is it real or a placebo? Are people being made well or is the rush to get into the water, just a big adrenaline rush that makes them feel better? I don’t know. I know God is more than able to heal people. He could have allowed this or caused an angel to stir these waters as described. OR maybe some legend had been developed that isn’t true at all. I just don’t know. I DO KNOW THAT THE NEXT BIT IS TRUE:
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk? 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Isn’t this interesting. The guy was made well. And maybe in his excitement, in is enthusiasm, in his joy, he missed asking the name of the guy who just healed him. I don’t know all the details. In a minute we find that guy at the temple. So maybe he was in a rush to go thank God for his healing… maybe not. But these Jewish people see him carrying his mat on the Sabbath and they totally miss what just happened. You know? We can only guess at his problem. Let’s say he had been a paraplegic… that has been a problem for him for 38 years… and now he is well! And all the “religious people” care about is that one of their rules has been broken. What they are calling LAW is not even in the scripture. It is a commentary on what someone thinks the scripture means. These are human-made regulations, not God’s word to people. But this chapter, John chapter 5 represents a shift in John’s writing. He no longer is telling us about Jesus’ identity; he is now telling us about how the religious leaders begin to oppose the things that Jesus did and said.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
So two things here. ONE: I love that Jesus came and found him at the temple. God still seeks us out. And TWO: what an odd warning that Jesus gives this guy.
What does he mean: “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Is Jesus saying that he was an invalid because of some sin in his life. Maybe yes. If you are somehow infirmed, is it because of some sin in your life? Probably not. Jesus actually combated that idea in John 9. In that passage people ask about a blind man. And they say, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he would be born blind.” And Jesus basically says neither. So Jesus’ comment here doesn’t seem to be a blanket statement for all people for all time. I think the question is: What is Jesus warning him about? What could be worse than being an invalid for 38 years? Maybe the warning is about Hell. Stop moving away from God or you could end up in hell, as far away from God as you can get forever.
Jesus’ warning is about sin. Don’t keep on sinning, but what sin did they guy commit? Nothing is explicitly stated here. But I believe the bigger issue is the way this text serves as a kind literary pivot for John. And the text definitely highlights three significant issues.
First, It serves as a Warning against Hopelessness
Imagine for just a minute that you are this guy. You are sitting next to this pool, because there is a legend that if you get in the water when it is stirred, then you will be healed. And every day he lies there hoping, waiting, longing to be the one who gets healed. And every time the water is stirred for 38 YEARS, he isn’t the first. He loses. He loses and he loses and he loses (We don’t know if he has been by this pool for the whole 38 years… so lets say for the last 20 years he’s been losing, because he doesn’t have anyone to help him move his legs and get into the water. Imagine you are in His shoes. You lose and you lose and you lose. Pastor David Guzik says, “This is the picture of hope and hopelessness side by side. He has just enough hope to keep him trying, but just enough failure to create a kind of despair.”
And then one day… this crazy turn of events happens. In a number of the Biblical stories crowds are following Jesus. People are shouting out to him: Heal me, son of David! Or they are pushing in close to try and touch his garment, thinking… If I can just touch him, I’ll be healed. But in this story that isn’t happening. No one seems to know who Jesus is. And no one seems to be looking for him. Jesus walks up on this crowded set of five porches and there are “a great number of disabled people… the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed.” AND Jesus asks about this man. When he finds out how long the guy has been here, He doesn’t worry about everyone else. Jesus walks up to this man. Jesus picks him. He could have healed everyone in the crowd. And he might have, for all we know. But all we see is him healing this man. And boom! Hope is alive! Can you imagine?
What is shaking in your world?
People feel empty; young people cut themselves to feel alive. They chase alcohol, drugs, and sex; they change their identities to be someone… more than who they are. But they still feel empty and alone.But WE, Christians, we people who live in God’s promises, have HOPE. We know there is something better, something more than the right here and now. We know we are loved by a God who sends us out to demonstrate His love to others. And when we do… we are made whole. Don’t give up hope. Because I suspect that you are here today because Jesus chose you as the one He would heal. Pursue Him and His will to find just what HOPE will lead you to.
Second, This Passage Serves as a Warning against Legalism.
These “religious” people are more concerned with the fact that the guy is carrying his mat around on a Sabbath day than they are about the fact that God has physically healed him. Legalism has a way of skewing the way we see the world.
What is legalism? According to a google search, it is “an excessive adherence to laws or formulas.” It is “dependence on moral laws rather than on personal religious faith.” It is a kind of living that focuses on methods rather than understanding the big picture.
Isn’t our passage the perfect picture of legalism? Can you imagine.
I think God is more concerned with invading our lives and changing who we are than he is about our human traditions or OUR concepts of what the rules should be. I mean God does have some rules for us. But sometimes we get hung up on things like: Did you see what so and so was wearing at church! Or this morning during bible study, I heard Boudreaux say a cuss word in the hallway! RULEBREAKER
Or Suzie told me she watched a movie that was on our “No watch” list. Or did you see that gay couple hold hands in the parking lot!
We need to be careful that our set of rules doesn’t get in the way of people drawing closer to God.
Third, This Passage Serves as a Warning against Disbelief
How so? That Guy who was healed wasn’t looking for Jesus before he was healed or after he was healed. The religious leaders didn’t care that the man was healed at all! They cared that the one who had healed him had broken one of their rules, not a biblical rule.
Who in this story listened Jesus and really tried to understand who He was and what He was about? No one. We talked about that last week. Are we looking for what God wants or are we looking for what God can do for us? The people in todays passage aren’t concerned with God at all! No one even thinks, “Hmm, I wonder what God could be up to here.”
In 2 Kings 6 and 7, there is this story about the Prophet Elisha. God speaks through him routinely, but there is this king who refuses to listen. Any time there is trouble, he blames Elisha for the problems. Elisha is telling him, God is bringing hardships to you and the people because you have left God behind and refuse to listen to him… DISBELIEF. So this king outside Israel raises an army to come and destroy the Israelites. And at the same time God causes a famine. And it is terrible. As time passes the scripture tells us that people were paying about $50 for the head of a donkey. Now let me tell you that is not exactly the choicest of meats. But they were starving to death. It go so bad that people began to eat people.
And Elisha told the king that by this time tomorrow, the prices of grain and food is going to go back to normal. Everything will be cheap again. And the king didn’t believe. The guard who stands by the king says, “No way. Not even if God opened a window directly from heaven; it isn’t going to happen.” And so God said, “It will happen. You’ll see it, but you won’t eat any of the food.”
God caused the invading army to think that they heard the sounds of an approaching army. And they panicked and ran away. When the Israelites discovered what had happened, they went out of their cities and realized the other armies had run away so quickly, they left all their stuff behind, all their possessions and food. So much was left, that all the prices returned to normal and people who had been starving pushed and shoved their way toward the food and trampled that guard that didn’t believe.
Where am I going with all this? An almighty God who can create a universe can bring hope, freedom, and belief into your life. He can heal your wounds and help you become whole.
Every Christian needs to wrestle with doubt and disbelief. A faith unquestioned and untested is no faith at all…. Even the disciples of Jesus had to find their way through this dark, discouraging tunnel. At the very moment when belief should have come easiest to them – when the Risen Christ Himself stood in front of them on a mountaintop in Galilee – Matthew records that “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). So you’re not alone. As a matter of fact, you’re in very good compa
Christianity isn’t about having faith in faith alone. Faith… is a derivative of persuasion…. In other words, it’s not merely a blind, mindless acceptance of the things our mothers and fathers told us. Instead, it’s a solid confidence based on compelling evidence. That’s why Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, has nothing but praise for the Jews of Berea, who, after hearing Paul’s preaching of the Gospel, “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11)…..
As you pursue God, what do you need help with? Your feelings of hopelessness? Hurt that you have sustained because of someone’s legalism?
Maybe you have a bent toward unbelief.
Continue to seek God, and see that He is good and wants to bring you hope, freedom, and a basic sense of trust in HIM.