1 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said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well!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. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
18 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.
It’s hard not to hear the Willie Nelson song, On the Road Again, playing in my head as we open chapter five. After some unspecified time in Galilee, Jesus headed back to Jerusalem for another long trek to another feast. There were three major feasts that all Jewish men were required to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate annually (Passover, Tabernacles, and Weeks). John does not say which one it was that drew Jesus back to Jerusalem. We can assume, therefore, that it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the feast was the cause of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem, which was the occasion for the healing He performed while there, which was the occasion for further anger and persecution from the Jewish leaders.
There’s a lot going on in this passage; a lot of questions especially (more than usual for me). What’s the Sheep Gate? Why was John silent on the feast, but exceptionally detailed about the pool? What kind of pool was it? Why were the invalids laying there? What happened to v.4? Had the man gone to the pool for all thirty-eight years he was crippled? Since Jesus knew what the pool was for and that the man had been there for a long time, why would He ask him if he wanted to be healed? What was the connection between being healed and the pool water being stirred up? How was it possible that the man talked to Jesus and was healed by Jesus, but didn’t see Jesus? What does it mean to take up your bed? What was unlawful about taking up your bed on the Sabbath? How was it possible for the Jews to be more focused on a man having taken up his bed than a thirty-eight-year invalid being completely healed? Do Jesus’ words in v.14 suggest that the man was an invalid because of his sin? Why did the man go to tell the Jews that it was Jesus who healed him? How does Jesus’ claim of perpetual work by the Father relate to the seventh day and Sabbath? Wasn’t it normal for Jews to think of God as Father? How was Jesus making Himself equal to God in this situation?
Those are just some of the questions that jump off the page for me when I read through this text. In this sermon, as I attempt to focus in on the main points, I’ll directly answer some of them, others I’ll only indirectly address, and the rest I’ll leave untouched. The (familiar) main points are these: (1) Jesus had the power to perform miracles, (2) He used His power to serve others, validate His claims, and glorify God and (3) The hearts of the Jews were so hardened that Jesus’ miracles and teaching made them violently angry. And my hope is that as a result of seeing these in the text, we will more eagerly worship, pray, and obey. Let’s pray and then consider each of those things carefully.
JESUS HAD THE POWER TO PERFORM MIRACLES
Jesus had the power to perform miracles. We’ve seen it before, we see it here, and we’ll see it again. Please keep in mind that John recounts these signs and wonders primarily to help us see that Jesus is the Christ. Who else but the Christ could do such things? And how could we fail to believe in Him in light of that?
Miracles in John’s Gospel
The first of Jesus’ miracles recorded in John’s Gospel is found in chapter 2. At a wedding, when the wine ran out, Jesus miraculously turned water into excellent wine.
In addition, without elaboration, in 2:23 John wrote, “Now when [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs [plural] that he was doing.”
John tells us that Jesus was able to supernaturally read minds and know hearts (2:25).
At the beginning of chapter 3, John recorded one of the leading Jews, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, acknowledging Jesus’ ability to perform signs (again, plural) as well. Even those skeptical of Jesus acknowledged that Jesus had the power to do things no one else could.
In our passage from just last week, John 4:46-54, we read of Jesus miraculously healing an official’s son, saving him from death, by merely saying that it would be so. He did so without touching or even seeing the boy, from a day’s journey away.
Our text for this morning records yet another miraculous work of Jesus, which we’ll consider in a moment.
As we continue to work through the Gospel, we’ll see Jesus miraculously feed 5000 people from five loaves of bread and two fish (6:1-15), walk on water (6:16-21), heal a man who was born blind (9:1-41), raise another man from the dead! (11:38-44), foretell Peter’s denial of Him (13:36-38), and rise from the dead Himself (20:1-10)!!!!
On top of all that, at the very end of his Gospel, John wrote, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which were not written in this book” (20:30).
Grace, by God’s design, the world ordinarily works in certain ways. Things fall at a constant rate from the sky, the earth rotates on its own axis and around the sun in a predictable timeframe, objects maintain their properties, and dead people stay dead, for instance. The key point for us to grasp—and one that is strangely easy to forget—is that Jesus is the author and sustainer of those ways. He is not bound by them. They are bound by Him. That’s awesome. Be amazed. Trust Him!
The Miracle of This Passage
Once again, in our passage for this morning, we read of another miracle of Jesus. There are several layers to this miracle, such that by looking at each of them in turn, we’ll be able to best appreciate the unique glory and mission of Jesus. In order that we might grow in our certainty that Jesus is the Christ, in order that we might believe in Him and have life, let’s consider the location, characters, question, miracle, and miraculous boosts described in vs.2-9.
- The location. As v.2 tells us, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.” This location was important because, as v.7 indicates, it was believed that this particular pool had healing powers. You may notice that part of v.3 and all of v.4 are missing from your Bible. That’s because what was likely included as a side note in the original and earliest manuscripts, somehow became incorporated in the actual text later. You likely have a footnote explaining that. As your footnote probably also explains, it was superstitiously believed that an angel would come down and stir up the water and the first person to get in the water after it was stirred would be healed.
- The characters. In v.3 we’re told that “In these [the roofed colonnades] lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” It’s not clear how many were present when Jesus arrived, but we learn from v.13 that there were quite a few. The key to story, though, is the fact that Jesus wasn’t there for all of them or just any of them, but for one of them in particular.
- The question. In v.6, we find Jesus walking up to the one man He’d come for and asking him a question. “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?’” This seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? The man had been crippled for nearly 40 years and was waiting by a pool (evidently for some time), hoping to be healed by its waters. Of course he wanted to be healed, right? He said as much in response to Jesus (in v.7), “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.” He basically said, “Of course I want to be healed, but I’m too crippled to get into the water first on my own and I don’t have anyone to help me.” Perhaps he was hoping Jesus would carry him down to the water.
Far from being a silly question, however, Jesus was dead-earnest. And His question was meant to do two very serious things. First, it was meant to expose the ridiculousness of the man’s current approach. “Do you want to continue playing superstitious games or do you really want to be healed?” And second, it was meant to cause the man to turn his eyes to the One who was truly able to do what the man wanted. “Do you know that the One standing before you has the power to do what the water cannot?”
What Jesus was offering this man in the physical realm, He also offers to all who hear of His gospel: Do you want to be healed? Are you mostly happy with your life and would like just a few improvements or do you long for something far greater? I am the something far greater! I am the way, the truth, and the eternal life!
- The miracle. Well, without even replying to the man’s explanation, again in an entirely understated way, “Jesus said to him [in v.8], ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ Just like when John recorded Jesus healing the official’s son, there’s no mention of any action—no prayer, no special gestures, no staff like Moses, nothing. Similarly, it seems that the man had no idea who Jesus was or what He was even talking about, much less that he had any kind of faith in Jesus. What’s more, it also seems like the man had some sort of sin tied to his condition, so it certainly wasn’t his righteousness that somehow allowed for Jesus’ healing. Apart from belief or merit on the part of the man or help from any mediating instrument, Jesus only needed to say the word “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked” (v.9).
- The miracle boosts. As if the miracle itself were not enough, there are three additional things Jesus did to amplify the miracle. Before I tell you what they are, make sure you recognize what I’m saying. Jesus performed a miracle, which is miraculous by definition. But rather than simply do something no one else could do, something that didn’t make any sense apart from supernatural power, Jesus went three steps further still.
Iowa has a wrestler who won his third straight national championship last year, a feat very few men have ever accomplished. As amazing as that is in its own right, however, two things make it even more impressive still. First, he was a junior, which means he has a chance to win a forth national championship this year. After winning the championship, he revealed to the TV reporter that he wrestled the entire NCAA tournament with two torn ACLs. Winning three championships is remarkable. Adding the fact that he was a junior and had no ACLs takes it to another level still. What Jesus did was kind of like that, but far greater still.
In addition to healing the paralyzed man, Jesus made sure to heal the one who had likely been an invalid longer than anyone else there. You may have noticed that I left out v.5 when describing the characters. V.5 says, “One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” Jesus made sure to heal hardest case of them all so as to leave no doubt as to His power.
The second miracle boost is found at the very end of v.9, “Now that day was the Sabbath.” As we’ll see in the final section, Jesus caused a paralyzed man to stand up and walk instantly, a man who likely had been paralyzed longer than anyone else in the pool, and He did so on the day that He knew would absolutely force the issue of His Christness in a way no other day would.
And third, while it seems that Jesus had every opportunity to do all of that and still avoid detection (because the man he healed didn’t recognize Jesus at first according to v.13), v.14 lets us know that Jesus purposefully went back to the man to reveal Himself to him and to call him to repentance. Again, Jesus not only performed a miracle, but He also made sure everyone knew it was Him even though it meant facing persecution.
Jesus has the power not only to do miracles, but the most miraculous miracles. In all of this, we must (1) stand in absolute awe and (2) never doubt the power of God to accomplish all that He pleases. Again, Grace, do not grow weary of trusting in God. He is perfectly faithful to His every promise and entirely able to answer your prayers. We all want to be like the official who had his request answered instantly. But consider the great glory of God in waiting 38 years to heal this man. Then consider the ailment that the apostle Paul carried with him until he died (God never healed him in this life). And consider that all three were equally best. Find your rest not in your own sense of timing, but in the perfect wisdom, power, and goodness of God.
JESUS USED HIS POWER TO SERVE OTHERS, VALIDATE HIS CLAIMS, AND GLORIFY GOD
Before we get to the final section, I want to draw your attention to something that is all over in John’s Gospel, but almost always subtly and implicitly; namely, the reasons for Jesus’ miracles—to serve others, to validate His claims, and to glorify God.
If the normal laws of nature didn’t apply to you, if you had the power to perform miracles, what would you use that power for? I’m honestly not sure how I would answer that question, but I have to believe I’d use at least some of that power to benefit myself; perhaps even in the way of something secret, simple, and good (rather than selfish), like making it so my ears would stop having problems.
If you’re able, recall the signs and miracles of Jesus that I listed a minute ago and consider the simple reality that not one of them benefited Him in any earthly way. Every one of them was for the good service of others. He blessed Hs mom and saved wedding guests from embarrassment, healed a dying boy at the plea of a desperate father, caused a paralyzed man to walk, fed the hungry, strengthened the faith of His disciples, gave sight to the blind, raised a friend from the dead, prepared a follower for faithfulness after sin, and saved the world! Praise Him, Grace. And join Him in using whatever strength, gifts, and power you have, not to grow your own earthly comfort and pleasure, but to serve others that they might know Jesus as Christ.
The second reason we find in John’s Gospel for Jesus’ miracles is to validate His claims. And there are at least two senses in which Jesus’ miracles validated His claims. In simplest terms, Jesus’ miracles proved that He had the authority to say what He said.
Imagine a 4′ tall six year old coming up to you and bragging that they could dunk a regulation basketball on a regulation hoop. Your first reaction would probably be to chuckle and assume they were joking. But what if they were serious? What would it take for you to believe them? More than likely, it would take actually seeing dunk a basketball for you to believe their words.
What then, would it take for you to reasonably believe someone had the authority to forgive sins and give everlasting life? It would probably take something that looks a lot like the miracle Jesus performed in this passage.
Finally, and most significantly, Jesus’ miracles glorified God. They put the unique power and authority of God on display for all to see. The beginning and heart of the gospel is the reality that God is greater than you could ever imagine. In no small measure, Jesus’ miracles help us to see that.
Grace, if you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a good deal of your life bored with God. For a long time I believed He was real and definitely more powerful than me, but not really that impressive. In that way I suppose I saw Him somewhat like a hydraulic press; impressive in power and fun to play with once in a while, but certainly nothing to get all that excited about. By God’s grace, however, I came to recognize that He is infinitely glorious, the true and greatest treasure, and the only truly satisfying thing in existence. Jesus’ miracles help give us a glimpse of that.
And that leads to the final section.
THE HARD, ANGRY HEARTS OF THE JEWS
The question we ought to be asking at this point is how the people would respond. A triple turbo miracle must have caused everyone to marvel and wonder and surrender and believe, right? It must have led them to see that God is greater than they’d imagined, right? This act of mercy, this validating act, this display of God’s unmatched glory, must have led to repentance and revival among those present at the feast, right?
Well, no. Not in the least. The Jews became violently angry. And more staggering still is the fact that the man Jesus healed seemed more concerned with the authority of the religious leaders than the one who healed him.
The Anger of the Jewish Leaders
The anger of the Jewish leaders is largely the subject of next week’s sermon, so I only mean to briefly touch on that here. Rather than respond in any reasonable way to Jesus’ miracle, the Jewish leaders became incensed.
16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 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.
According to these three verses, the two main reasons for their anger were that (1) By telling the man to carry his bedding on the Sabbath Jesus caused him to violate one of their traditions and laws and (2) that Jesus would claim divine authority.
Again, we’ll consider this more closely next week, but for now I simply want you to see that even the most miraculous miracles are not enough to overcome the blinding effects of sin.
The Unbelief of the Man Who Was Healed
Finally, then, we need to consider the most shocking example of a hardened heart yet. When the Jewish leaders heard that a man was healed on the Sabbath and that he subsequently violated one of their Sabbath rules, they went to him to question him.
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.”
At this point, had the man rightly responded to his miraculous healing, he would have been filled with belief and worship, he would have been shocked at the response of the leaders, and he would have quickly and courageously called them to see the truth. Instead, 11 … he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ”
Instead of testifying to the glory of God, the man threw Jesus under the bus. He blamed Jesus for his “violation.” When pressed further (12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”), curiously, the man claimed that he didn’t even know who it was that healed him ( 13 …for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.).
Grace, do you see what the man was doing? Instead of longing to be closer to his Healer, the man tried to distance himself from Jesus. On top of all of that, when Jesus did reveal Himself to the man, instead of gratitude and praise, the man told on Jesus, reporting Him to the Jews who had accused him of violating the Sabbath. 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
I mentioned last week that while we’re often surprised to hear that anyone might see a miracle and still not believe, the even more staggering reality is that of those who witnessed Jesus’ miracles, the vast majority did not believe. In this passage, we are given something more shocking still. Every indication is that the man who was himself healed by a double turboed miracle of Jesus after 38 years of invalidity, failed to believe. Not only is seeing a miracle no guarantee of genuine belief, but as we see here, neither is being the object of a miracle!
If you really understand this, it should do at least two things simultaneously. It should boggle your mind that we can be so totally dense, and it should help you to see that sin goes deeper than you realized. Sin is deadly.
Grace, in all of this we see once again that our only hope is the grace of God. There is nothing, not signs, wonders, or miracles, not even the gospel itself, that is able to save us apart from the illuminating grace of God. We need God’s grace to give us eyes to see His glory and ears to hear His gospel. Stories like this in John’s Gospel help us to see our need for both.
Let us be a people of prayer, therefore, constantly beseeching the God of heaven to give us (and all who we come into contact with) both the good news of Jesus Christ and the ability to see it for what it is, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.
Let me close by asking you, then, do you want to be healed? Jesus’ ability to heal physically was, once again, ultimately a validation that He could heal in an even greater way. Jesus can heal your body, but more importantly, He can heal your soul. Do you want to be healed? If so, turn in faith to this Jesus today!