Summary: God shows the purpose of life to those who truly believe in Jesus as the Messiah.
The events we are about to read occur after Jesus’ healing of a paralytic. An invalid for 38 years, this man’s only hope was the rumor of an angel coming down from heaven, dipping his wings into a pool, and creating a healing balm for the first person to enter the water. But, as he told Jesus in John 5.7: “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.” So Jesus heals the man.
He does so for at least three reasons: to demonstrate his power, to prove his authority, and to point to himself as God’s Messiah (God’s chosen answer to the separation we experience as a result of sin). Unlike modern claims, this miracle is verifiable, dramatic, instantaneous, lasting, and done so as to prevent deniability of either the disease before or the cure afterwards.
We might anticipate a response at least of respect and possibly even reverence for such a work. But, instead, Jesus is rebuked for dishonoring the Sabbath. Today we hear his response, which is centered around this theme “You don’t know who I am; let me tell you so that you can understand.” If you have a Bible and would like to follow along, I will be reading John 5.16-29. [Pray.]
The transition from spring to summer is a significant time for many people. Students graduating from High School are preparing for college and a completely different life. Others are beginning a career, and life will never be the same. In addition to these seasonal events, some of us are dealing with sickness in our families, death of a parent, daily difficulties which make us examine our lives. Plus this is Memorial Day weekend, and beside thoughts of expensive gasoline, many people do reflect on war and death and sacrifice and the purpose of life.
Is the bumper sticker correct? “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Is that why you learned to read, struggled with math, maybe continued your education, got a job and bought insurance? So you could purchase toys and then protect them from theft or damage? Is that the point?
This text actually does not ask that question, nor directly answer it. The passage is about Jesus – his person and his power. But in telling us those things, Jesus also teaches us that who he is and what he does is the key for answering all sorts of questions. In the context, he is criticized about the Sabbath; but rather than deal with the concern directly, he responds by stepping away from the details of their debate in order to give a broader and bigger picture.
Distance is often helpful to understanding. Some of you are history students. You know from your studies that while a person is in the midst of events unfolding, it can be impossible to know what is really happening. That is one reason soldiers are taught to follow orders – not because they cannot be trusted, but because others stand above the fog of war to determine the best course of action.
You know it from watching football. You see the safety blitz, but no matter how loudly you yell at the television, the result is a bone-jarring sack. The quarterback flawlessly executed a three-step drop and had an open receiver in his sight. But his perspective did not include the whole field.
We must work to overcome the error of focusing on the fine points so much that we miss the main event which gives the details meaning. This problem often troubles the church. We see it here with the Jewish leaders, but similar difficulties have hurt our denomination. Sometimes we agonize over one word in the confession or one detail of theology, and may lose track of the One we are writing about.
The most effective people, the leaders with the greatest influence, the women and men who help an organization advance while holding it together, are usually those who do both. They care about the details and work to solve specific problems; and they never lose sight of the big picture. They see how the gory details relate to the greater drama. Athanasius fought “against the world” over one letter. How did he know the detail was worth fighting over? Because he also kept in mind the big issue – the insistence of this text that all honor the Son as they do the Father.
The men who accuse Jesus missed the drama. They are so focused on what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath day, that they do not see the God who created the Sabbath when he performs fantastic miracles. So Jesus pulls them back, he gives a “wide angle” view. He teaches who he is and what authority he has – and expects this new perspective to redefine their Sabbath questions. That same perspective should guide our pursuit of purpose. There are three reasons we need help with a greater perspective. Notice, first…