John 5:1, “After these things (note-the previous chapter) there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Now it’s not “the” feast it would be better attested to say “a” feast of the Jews. This is probably not the Passover but it may be the Feast of Tabernacles but we’re not sure. If it were it would’ve happened on October 21-28 in the year 31 A.D. You can identify that. The events of John 6 are just before the Passover and that occurred on April 13-14 A.D. 32. You can date these. I take a 33 A.D. crucifixion. Some hold to a 30 A.D. crucifixion. I’m not going to lose sleep over it!
John 5:2, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.” We’re dealing right now in the first 15 verses with a cure. Now, this particular pool was actually not discovered until quite recently. Earlier archeological attempts to find it proved unfruitful and many therefore criticized John’s gospel as being non-historical because they couldn’t find this thing. It was discovered in 1888. It fits the description and we have this pool that’s adjacent to the church of St Anne inside old city Jerusalem. It’s right there for people to see and you can go in there and see the five porches. This is where this particular event took place. It’s very specific.
John 5:3, “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters;” There is a textual variant here and many texts do not have the next few verses. Mine has it in brackets because frankly some of the earlier manuscripts don’t have the remainder of v. 3 and v. 4. This is one of the biggest textual variations in the scriptures. No textual variations or various readings affect the sense at all in even a minor area of doctrine or practice. It may have been supplied later on. The moving of the waters refers to a superstition known at that time. That’s how the word got out! As soon as this legend came out it was never eradicated- that’s how it’s going to be.
John 5:4. “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]” That is implied and if it’s in the original text, that’s fine because it would explain why he says in v.7 that there’s no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up. This gives an understanding of why that verse is there. It may or may not have been there but frankly, at least this explains the actual tradition that was associated with it. In any case, this is what takes place. The tradition was apparently that in this pool the water would get stirred every so often, supposedly by an angel of God, and you couldn’t know when but the first one to hop in would be cured. They were all waiting for their opportunity. This poor guy has been going there for 38 years and he hasn’t been very successful.
John 5:5, “A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” It says there were sick, blind, lame and withered people there. It’s an image of the havoc that sin has brought into the world. It’s a portrait of the distortion of this world. This is not the world as it was meant to be. The Messiah would ultimately heal these infirmities. Look at Isaiah 35 and you’ll see the Messianic work includes this healing and ultimately this will be fulfilled. We see hints of it in this world. We see evidence of it in His ministry and hints even now. Every now and then, pieces of evidence that He’s done this from time to time. There will come a time when it will be universal among the people of God. Isaiah 35:3-4, “Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.” This refers to the time of judgment- after that apocalyptic time of judgment. Isaiah 35:5, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.” I hear Handel’s Messiah here in one of his arias! Isaiah 35:6-8a, “Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place, grass becomes reeds and rushes. A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness.” He describes what I believe are kingdom blessings that are ultimately to come. You’ve got to associate them with the Messianic work. Part of the problem is, as we’ve seen so many times, that Jesus didn’t fit their ideas of what the Messiah would do. They expected Him to come, at least the version of the Messiah they wanted, and would finally deliver the people and bring in physical prosperity. Jesus came instead to first provide spiritual healing and reconciliation with God, which is the far greater thing to do- the miracle of actually reconciling them with God. They didn’t really go for that option. They wanted to have the visible. That’s the way we’ve always been. We want the visible over the invisible- its just part of human nature. Ultimately what they couldn’t realize is that the two are one and the same. The Suffering Servant is also to be the reigning King. This is the thing we want to keep in mind. The One who came and was rejected was really the Prophet that Moses spoke about, as we’ll see. That Prophet will not only be greater than the greatest of the prophets, He will also be the priest who will actually become the One who offers the sacrifice and becomes the offering once and for all. More than that, He’ll not only be a Prophet and Priest but He’ll also be Israel’s coming King. He will then deliver His people and bring in an eternal reign of righteousness. He’ll fulfill all three offices of Prophet, Priest, and King. You know the mystery. How on earth could He be both a Priest and a King because to be a priest you have to be from Levi and to be a king you had to be from Judah? It turns out He’s not a Levitical priest but actually a higher order of priesthood, namely the priesthood of Melchizedek. He can actually function in all three roles in this unique way.
In John 5:5 we don’t know if this is some allusion but it is interesting at least there’s a certain parallel to the wandering of Israel of 38 years in Deuteronomy 2:14. There were an extra 38 years that was not planned for. In a way, you could almost say that this is a picture of Israel’s spiritual paralysis. This man turns out to be a paralytic. He was in a difficult condition because he’d been in that condition now for so much of his life. In v. 6 and v. 7 Jesus asks him a rather strange question at least at first glance.
John 5:6-7, “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” It sounds odd to ask someone if they would want to get well as they would say, well obviously I do, what do you think I am doing by this pool? But you’ve got to ask yourself this question again. Do you understand the implications of what will happen to you if you do get well? It will mean your whole identity will change. You can no longer define yourself as one who is carried here by your friends and dropped off and then basically lives off the charity of others who see your pathetic plight. It will mean your whole identity will change. It will mean that you have to move in another direction that you do not know. Are you sure you want that? All of us in effect are being asked this question. Do you really want to be healed? A lot of people, I find, resist coming to Christ, not because of intellectual issues, often you can help them think through the intellectual objections, but many times it’s because of the moral implications of what it might mean for their lives. That is to say, coming to Christ is not a neutral matter. It’s not a matter of coming to Christ and having a better life just on your terms. It’s a matter of surrender to His purposes. That’s a scary thing. It might mean there’s some change. A lot of people don’t want that change and so they resist Him. This is an issue. So He says to him, “Do you want to get well?” Now this man will offer Him some excuses because of his will in some way paralysis’ his body. We see here- compare it with John 5:40, “ and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” So He says, “Are you really willing?”
His excuse, John 5:7, “The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” We have a frustrated man with no one to aid him, as was the case of the paralytic in Mark 2- recall his friends brought him. They were aggressive. They opened the roof and lowered him down and then Jesus spoke to him. I want you to notice He says to this man here almost exactly what He said to that man in Mark 2. The contrast is intriguing. Recall when that man was lowered down and the account is found in Mark 2:1-13. Specifically, in v. 5 Jesus says,” Son, your sins are forgiven.” But then in verse 9, He said, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” That is a pretty strong claim. The point is, I’m on this pallet for a reason. I can’t walk, that’s the problem so why tell me to get up-you see? It sounds very strange at first.
John 5:8, “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” How can He possibly demand that he do something that’s impossible? It’s this. These men were healed by the power of His spoken word. He commanded him to do what he could not do but the command actually had the power of fulfillment. Take a look at Mark 3:5. It’s another example of this. He told the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.” That’s exactly what he can’t do. When he tried, he was able to do so. There’s a power in the word of Jesus then that actually makes the command possible. Similarly that’s an analogy of the whole spiritual life. There’s a power in His indwelling life that makes the Christian life possible. You and I can’t live it. But we’re inviting Him to do it through His indwelling word and His indwelling power. That’s what makes it possible for us to accomplish this. We see then this beautiful portrait of healing that takes place and then John underscores something.
John 5:9, “Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.” He underscores that the man became well not in gradual fits and starts but immediately.
The problem was the Jews didn’t care for this kind of a thing because actually, you’ll see in v.9 it was the Sabbath on that day. The scribes by this time had listed in the oral tradition some 39 tasks that were prohibited on the Sabbath. One of those 39 tasks was you couldn’t carry a burden. When they saw him picking up his pallet and carrying it, that was a violation of the Sabbath. They’re more concerned about their tradition than in his healing.
John 5:10-13, “So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.’ But he answered them, ‘He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’ They asked him, ‘ Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk?’ But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.” Jesus often slips away after these miracles because His time has not yet come. They have this issue and they want to find out who would be so audacious to heal this man on the Sabbath and then tell him to pick up his pallet and walk around with it. By the way, it’s not actually clear if this man personally responded to Jesus. You don’t see any personal response yet. He is grateful for the gift and that’s why Jesus meets him in the temple. He doesn’t seem to pursue the Giver as much as he’s happy for the gift and has gone to the temple to thank God.
John 5:14, “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Evidently, we are invited to see that there was some connection between this man’s paralysis and his sin. You have to be very; very careful- it’s a tightrope to walk here- because indeed certain sins can lead to physical consequences. You will recall in I Corinthians 11:30 that because of people’s abuse of the Lord’s Supper, some would get sick and also be disciplined with physical death. “For this reason, many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” There can be physical consequences of disbelief and disobedience to God.
What we don’t want to do is assume therefore that anytime something’s wrong it must be your lack of faith, trust or lack of belief. That’s a dangerous thing to say. Jesus, in fact, balances this out because He makes it very clear that sometimes things happen and it’s no one’s fault. Take for example Luke 13:1-5, “Now on the same occasion there was some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What He’s saying is this, these things happened to them, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time and He says I’m not going to speculate as to why this particular group and not another perished but you need to understand that it is a sign of our need to repent before God.
One thing we must learn from other people’s experiences is that that very thing could have happened to me and it better give me a desire to make sure my life is right before God. How can I presume in the future that I’ll be here 24 hours from now? See the idea? Don’t presume in the future and think you have all the time in the world. I know a lot of people who felt that you know, I don’t want to make this decision about Jesus, I’ve got plenty of time, I’ll think about Him later. Or some people want to say as Augustine prayed, “Lord, make me chaste but not yet.” Let me live it up a bit and then I’ll be ready. That’s a dangerous game to play. So He says, gain insight, you do not know the workings of the mind of God. He has mysteries here.
In John 9:2-3, there’s something else that balances this out if you recall the man who was blind from birth. “His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” So don’t be quick to jump and assume but on the other side don’t say or suppose that disobedience is the case. God can chastise and discipline us in a variety of ways and one of them can be a physical consequence as well but we don’t want to be simplistic here. Clearly, the text is inviting us to see that there was some kind of connection because in John 5:14 Jesus said, “Do not sin anymore so that nothing worse happens to you.”