38: The Rhythm of Life (John 5:1-18)
38: The Rhythm of Life
“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 5:1)
Back to Jerusalem. Again Jesus comes from a miracle that happens in Cana, via a stay in Capernaum, up to Jerusalem. Just like John 2:11-13.
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”
Jesus again went up to take part in a feast. He was participating in and maybe even enjoying the rhythm of Jewish life. By the time this story is over though, He has upset the Jewish leaders for breaking the rhythm of Jewish life. Jesus upsets them so much that they begin to persecute Him. That could have been easily avoided, if He had just stuck with the rhythm. In the end, a small adjustment to Jesus’ actions would have left all the people happy. But Jesus isn’t primarily interested with leaving all the people happy, in fact He leaves some of them, the powerful ones, very angry. Why would He do that? We’ll discover why as we unpack what happened.
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” (John 5:2-5)
Water again. So far we have had Jesus coming up out of the waters of baptism like the new land of God’s creation rising out of the waters that covered the earth. We have had washing water but Jesus makes it better and it becomes wine. We have had well water, but Jesus Himself is better and offers the water of life. Now we have healing water, miracle water but again Jesus is going to prove Himself better. Because the water can only heal one a day, only when the water is stirred. Jesus can heal many times a day, whenever the heart of His Father is stirred to do it. You have to get down into the water yourself or with a friend to be healed. Jesus, the healing waters of heaven, comes to us.
“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?’” (John 5:6)
What a strange question to ask. The man has been an invalid for 38 years, he has come every day to try and get into the waters first. He’s here even on the Sabbath. 38 years of trying to get healed and Jesus asks him if he wants to get well. Why would Jesus ask such a seemingly insensitive, almost accusing, question? Maybe the answer is in the man’s reply.
“ 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.’” (John 5:7)
Jesus is drawing out the truth of the situation so that His disciples and therefore the rest of us, will know. This man is an invalid. The Greek word speaks of feebleness and a want of strength. He can’t get to the water in time because he needs someone else to help him. He is at the mercy of someone’s patience and kindness. Patience, because he needs someone to sit with him and wait till the water is stirred and then do it again the next day if he doesn’t make the previous day and then the next day and the next day until they get there first. Kindness, because only an incredibly unselfish, thoughtful and merciful person would do that. The man does not have such a person.
He wants to be healed, but he can’t get there. After 38 years he hasn’t been able to get there. That is a long time. More than half a lifetime in those days. I wonder what he has missed out on in life because he has been here so often? Marriage? Children? Work and financial blessing? If he has not been able to pursue any of these earthly joys it is because they are waiting behind the door of his healing. That door has been firmly slammed shut in his face, not once but every day for 38 years. That is a huge amount of unfulfilled expectation and crushed hope.
He is an invalid. He can’t get there himself. If His life is going to turn around He needs someone with incredible patience and kindness to help him. Jesus wants us to know that.
“Jesus said to him,’Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” (John 5:8-9)
And just like that 38 years of the daily ritual of vain expectation and crushed hope is gone. All he needed was someone with incredible patience and kindness. Someone to help him into the only waters that are better than the miracle waters of the Pool of Bethesda. The only person in the world he needed was Jesus. And Jesus was right there to help him.
We have been talking a lot at church over this last year about the “suddenlys” of God. If you have been struggling for a long time with something, do a Bible search on the word suddenly, it will be an encouragement to you. God can turn 38 years of hurt into incredible joy in an instant. He has the patience and the kindness to do it.
“Now that day was the Sabbath. 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.’” (John 5:9-10)
Incredible! A man is healed after 38 years of being sick. Only God could have done that. A great miracle has taken place. God has visited his people. It’s a time for joy and celebration. But the Jewish leaders miss all that. All they can see is a man carrying his bed on the Sabbath. They have utterly missed their day of visitation. Not only have they missed it, their attitude is going to try and destroy it. Incredible!
It is easy for us to get upset with the Jewish leaders, but we need to remember that they thought they were doing the will of the Father too. They were told in the 10 Commandments to do no work on the Sabbath and they were observing the law with diligence. Too much diligence as it turns out. A diligence that lacked the patience and kindness that Jesus had. A diligence that lacked mercy and compassion.
We like to think that we are not even close to having their attitude, but is it possible that sometimes our diligence to preserve truth lacks patience, kindness, mercy and compassion? If it does, what does that say about our diligence? Are we really doing the works of the Father when we act like that?
I have discovered after many years in ministry and watching God at work and seeing people’s reactions (including my own), that a religious spirit will always try to take the joy out of the works of God.
The Jewish leaders are accusing the man of breaking the law and the consequences will be severe. He quickly passes the blame to Jesus. You can’t blame him, he’s only just got his strength back and has hope of a new life, only to have it threatened before he’s had a chance to enjoy it.
“But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” (John 5:11)
In common language he threw Jesus under the bus. He probably didn’t mean to, it was probably an instant reaction. He was instinctively looking to save the life he had just so recently found. If he did it unconsciously, he is quickly awakened to the ramifications of what he has done. These religious leaders aren’t going to stop until they have prosecuted and exacted judgment on whoever it was that healed him.
“They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 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.” (John 5:13-14)
Yes, they are going to prosecute a man for doing a work of God. Why? Because He apparently didn’t do it right. The fact that He couldn’t have done a work of God unless God was with Him is lost on them.
I wonder how many times the church has “prosecuted” others in our own courtrooms of opinion who have done works of God, but didn’t do it “right”. Has it occurred to us that it’s impossible to do a work of God without God?
The man probably feels their venom and is now grateful that Jesus left without introducing Himself. But the story is not done yet.
“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.’” (John 5:14)
This seems like a small addition to the narrative, but think about the implications. Does Jesus know that by revealing Himself to this man He is walking into a bear trap? Why did Jesus do this anyway? The man was already healed. Was He so concerned that the man would get back into sin and lose his healing? Apparently so, because the cost was pretty big. Jesus knew that He was revealing Himself to the authorities, he said this in the temple after all. Now He was a marked man.
Jesus literally put His life in the hands of the man whose life He has just transformed. He most likely knew what He was doing and He encourages the man not to sin because something worse will happen to him if he does. Unfortunately the man doesn’t take the advice.
“The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” (John 5:15)
Ouch. Now that’s really throwing Jesus under the bus this time. The Jewish leaders didn’t find him and ask him again, he went to look for them. He chose self preservation over gratitude. He wanted the approval of the Jewish leaders rather than the relationship with his healer. He had addressed Jesus as “Sir,” (Kyrios) when he had wanted something off him in verse 7, now he doesn’t think he needs Jesus any more and so he appears more than happy to throw Jesus to the wolves.
It’s an easy mistake to make. The Jewish leaders appear mercilessly angry. Jesus appears full of mercy. Who would I want to be on the wrong side of? Surely Jesus would understand?
But Jesus told him not to sin again and he did. He willingly chose preserving himself and his reputation with the authorities over covering the man who had healed him. He had knowingly kept himself on the path of life by throwing Jesus into the path of death. His actions are a stark contrast to those of someone else who was healed a few chapters later who was faced with the same choice but made a very different decision.
He had sinned again and as he walked (or probably ran) out of the temple that day, he probably thought he had got away with it. I hope he dealt with it before he died, by repenting and asking forgiveness of the One he had sinned against, because he wasn’t going to get away with it otherwise. One day he would face Jesus again in the courtroom of heaven and have to give an account to Jesus Himself of what he did. That is the something “worse” that could happen to him if he sinned again.
Back to Jesus in the courts of earth, the temple to be precise.
“And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” (John 5:16-17)
This is why Jesus got the Jewish leaders upset, because He insisted on healing people on the Sabbath. Jesus went further to insist that the only reason He healed on the Sabbath was because His Father wanted to heal people on the Sabbath. This was a day set aside to rest by God and it was clearly stated in the Torah, but Jesus (and by implication the Father) are now both working on that day.
The fourth commandment states: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
It is the most clearly stated and explained commandment of them all. Keep the Sabbath Holy, in other words, keep it set apart for God. Holy means not doing your own work, but it obviously does not include doing God’s work.
Healing people is obviously Holy to Jesus, because it is restoring someone to what God intended them to be. Healing is very appropriate on the Sabbath because it is adjusting the brokenness of a sinful world and restoring it back to God’s original plan. It is turning back to God.
The original Sabbath (the seventh day of creation) was a day of rest because everything that God had created was good and it was all finished. Since sin, everything is no longer good and so God is at work restoring His creation to a place of rest (where He can say again “it is good”). Healing is appropriate on the Sabbath because it is restoring a body to rest and because it is restoring a body to God’s original plan and design. That is why then Jesus tells the man to go and sin no more, because sin is what breaks the Sabbath rest. Sin is what destroyed the work of God from which He rested on the first Sabbath. Sin is what desecrates the Sabbath and to turn back and reverse the affects of sin is to restore the Sabbath. It makes things Holy again, set apart to God.
And the measure and results of healing are important. It wasn’t strictly that Jesus healed the man that got the leaders upset. It was the fact that he told the man to pick up his bed and carry it home. But what alternative did Jesus have? He could have told him to go home and leave his bed, in which case he would have got home healed but without one of his most important possessions. Or Jesus could have told him to stay where he was until the Sabbath was over. The Jews would have been happy. The man might have put up with it happily enough because he was healed. Everyone would have been happy, except the Father.
Jesus said in John 4:34: “My food is to do the will of My Father and to accomplish (which means to finish) His work”. The work wasn’t finished until the man was out of the place of his sickness, with his bed. Anything less would have been an incomplete work. The Jews may have been happy if he had stayed at the pool for a few more hours, or simply walked away and left his bed behind. The man would probably have been ok with it, but God wasn’t ok with it because it is His glory not only to do a work, but to finish it.
That is, after all, why the Sabbath existed in the first place, because God actually finished His work. Our sin undid that completeness and left a huge amount of unfinished work. Now God has sent Jesus to undo the curse of sin and to finish works so that God’s rest is secured for whoever He heals. Jesus is restoring the real Sabbath not desecrating it.
The Father wanted the man to have a life worth living. Being set free, only to remain partially bound by the fear and threat of religious observance, is not the fulness of life that He wants to give us.
Jesus claims to be on the same page as the Father. In their minds that would have made Him equal with the Father. That upset them even more.
It turns out that even though Jesus may have enjoyed some of the rhythm of Jewish life, He wasn’t interested in being bound by it. He was only interested in the rhythm of His Father’s will and sticking to that.
God’s rhythm is the only true rhythm of life.
Oh, and by the way, as a humorous aside, if the man is truly going to enter into God’s rest, he’s going to need his bed!!Posted on: June 12, 2018Peter Todd