John 5: 1-27
What’s the longest time you’ve spent in a hospital waiting room? Health care in Ontario is amazing. In an emergency, I’ve seen ER staff work fast! But with a triage system, urgent cases are seen first. So when your problem is less serious, you wait before seeing a Doc.
I’ve sat there as a patient and as a parent. I’ve spent hours waiting! Even when you understand triage (and it’s always good when your problem relatively less serious), it’s annoying to see people arrive after you get called to see a Dr. before you!
In John 5, we meet a man lying among the blind, lame, and paralyzed in the colonnades around the pool of Bethesda. We don’t know how long he’s been there, but he’s been an invalid for 38 yrs! While waiting to slip in the healing water, others beat him to it.
The water of Bethesda allegedly had healing properties. The pools are north of the temple. These pools were once part of a temple to Asclepius, a Greek god of healing. Although the altars to Asclepius were removed, the hope of miracles of healing lingered.
A note was added in John’s gospel to explain how. Vs. 4 isn’t in the oldest, most reliable manuscripts so it isn’t in the NIV. You’ll find it in other versions:
In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 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. John 5:3–4 (NKJV)
So here’s a man, lying by the pool among the others, waiting to be healed, to be made whole. He’s annoyed he can’t get into the pool w/o help. Others are getting in before him! And Jesus asks,
“Do you want to get well?”
Is it an odd Q? The man is physically disabled and tried and tried to get in the pool for healing!
What if the wellness Jesus has in mind is more than physical healing; more holistic. Is Jesus offering Shalom? – all relationships repaired and whole. Every part of his body restored to wholeness and working in harmony: restored family, renewed community, harmony with Creator and heavenly Father!
Isn’t that Jesus’ goal for all people; for all creation?
But where do you find healing? Jesus’ Q presents a Y in the road:
Pursue uncertain results from the mysterious stirring of the water in the pool of Bethesda?
OR put faith in Jesus as healer and giver of life.
The man’s initial response to Jesus’ Q was pointing to the pool. I need help getting into the pool when the water is stirred.
That’s not the help Jesus gives him. Jesus speaks; the man is healed.
Don’t underestimate the faith it takes to rise up and pick up your mat when you haven’t been able to rise and carry things for 38 yrs. He had enough faith to experiment with obeying Jesus. He tried to move and he could! He rose, picked up the mat, and walked!
This sounds like other miraculous signs John describes. John calls Jesus’ miracles “miraculous signs”. That term isn’t used here but one commentator suggests that once the author introduces the idea, we’re supposed to keep thinking of miracles as signs.
So, if this is a miraculous sign, what does this healing point to? That’s why we need to read further.
in John’s gospel: events lead to discussion
Jesus talks to the Jewish leaders about the work he’s doing. Jesus describes his work like a Son apprenticed to his Father. He does the same work; continues the family business of giving life.
Jesus’ heavenly Father is the Lord, the giver of life. Many of the Jews believed God the Father could raise the dead. Jesus builds on that:
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. John 5:21 (NIV)
John unpacks all his evidence that Jesus is the source of life.
In this chap., Jesus calls someone who has been crippled for 38 years to rise, take mat, and walk
In ch. 11, Jesus calls Lazarus to rise from the tomb.
At the climax of this gospel (John 19), Jesus is raised up on a cross to hang until he dies.
On 3rd day, Jesus rises from tomb!
It’s the confirmation that Jesus has come to give life to all who put their faith in him. If you’ve been reading through this gospel with the congregation, you’re becoming familiar with the refrain we find throughout the gospel of John: faith in Jesus = life
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24 (NIV)
But there’s something missing in this miraculous sign at Bethesda. We expect to read that this healed man put his faith in Jesus.
When a royal official from Capernaum tracked Jesus down in Cana, asking for his son to be healed from a deadly illness, we read that he believed Jesus and went home. B/c his son was healed his whole household believed!
This man’s story is different. Something holds him back from more than physical healing. We get hints of what it is in the whole smozzle about Sabbath-keeping.
According to the traditional interpretation among the Jewish leaders, carrying a mat on the Sabbath broke the commandment about resting on the Sabbath. Do you think that’s the sin Jesus warns him about in vs. 14 when Jesus says, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you”? Is Jesus saying, “Gotcha! You should have waited until the Sabbath was over”?
I don’t think so. Jesus doesn’t do “gotcha.” He doesn’t tempt people to sin.
Keeping Sabbath isn’t just about not-working. It’s about trusting God. It’s about obeying God.
I suspect Jesus’ warning against sin is about the direction of this man’s faith and actions. All the man’s expectations and hopes are all off-kilter. At the start, instead of appealing to God for life and healing, he’s sitting around waiting for healing near the pool of Bethesda.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying anything against alternative medicine. Ideally, whether you go to a medical doctor, an herbalist, a chiropractor, or a practitioner of traditional medicines the idea is that you recognize that healing comes from God who developed the principles of health that these specialists use.
But this man seems to have forgotten that he was created and then healed to be a steward w/in God’s creation. Instead of using his newfound strength and mobility to follow Jesus and explore what life looks like with Jesus, he runs off to report Jesus’ name to the Jewish leaders. Does that seem right to you?
This miraculous sign of healing fails to reorient this man to Jesus’ mission. The healed man is so mixed up that he uses his newfound mobility to run around currying favour w/ Jewish leaders. Isn’t that a symptom of the misplaced faith Jesus warns him about?
Looking for life, acceptance, and hope apart from God the Father and the Son of God who has come into the world to give life and hope and a future.
Living far from God is worse than 38 years as an invalid!
Reading from John’s gospel this week, we’ll read a description of the miraculous sign Jesus did in the wilderness, feeding 5000 people. There’s something basic about bread in Jewish culture. It’s a staple, like rice in other parts of the world.
When I was a kid, my parents taught us to pray after every meal. All 4 of us repeated one after the other: “Lord, thank you for this food for Jesus’ sake, Amen.” It was a way to teach that the food, plain or fancy, came from God. Complete dependence on God was the goal. It’s like the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, which includes the line, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
It seems that this man was missing out on that basic dependence on God. Instead he chased in other directions for stuff he ought to have found from God:
healing from the mysterious pool of Bethesda
approval & acceptance of Jewish leaders by reporting on Jesus
This man missed out on the basics of faith in God as the source of all good things, including physical health and a healthy sense of belonging. Ultimately, he missed out on God’s invitation to have no other gods; to depend completely on God. He doesn’t have the faith in Jesus that John’s gospel aims for.
Personal Q: Can you relate?
It’s tempting for us to look in all the wrong directions for acceptance and pleasure, healing and purpose in life. Sometimes even our prayers of gratitude become less genuine – like when we raced through our “Lord thank-you” prayers as kids at top speed.
God’s word invites you to examine your own attitude, particularly this week as we prepare to eat bread and drink the cup at the Lord’s Supper.
Who do you really depend on?
What direction are your hopes and goals pointed?
Jesus has come to rescue us from attitudes that lead away from God. He’s come to restore our faith and dependence on God. Jesus became human, subject to the same temptations that all the rest of us face. But Jesus did something nobody else has done: he trusted his heavenly Father and fully obeyed his Father’s instructions.
So Jesus is a source of life, just as his Father is. Taking the punishment for sin and dying on the cross, Jesus invites you to believe in him: to rise up and walk. He invites you to walk in faith, completely trusting in him as the source of all good things.
The gift Jesus offers isn’t just physical restoration. The miracle of healing in John 5 is a sign of deeper renewal. Physical healing is just the tip of the iceberg of blessing, renewal, and life from God.
In the fullness of time, all relationship will be healed; all creation will be renewed. Eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper table, shoulder to shoulder with others who share your faith is a taste of renewed relationships; adoption in a renewed family, life as a child of God. The bread and cup are a taste of Shalom, a taste of life in God’s kingdom.
It’s a gift we receive by faith in Jesus. At first that faith is small and simple – like this man daring to flex his muscles and rise to his feet. But the goal of a life of discipleship is to rise and walk in faith. To see and trust that good things are from God: to love and trust God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then: with confidence in God to risk obeying God, to love your neighbour as yourself.