Let’s turn in our Bibles to John chapter 5:
As you’re turning let me tell you a story I read recently....once upon a time there was an explorer by the name of “Guitan” who was famous for his daring adventures and grand discoveries. Now one day Guitan heard that there was a treasure in a cave just off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Even though this was a far journey the treasure seemed worth it, so he hired some sailors and a group of men, and set sail for the coast. But he ran into all kinds of unexpected difficulties, such as extremely rough seas and storms that required them to dump some of his food and supplies overboard to keep the ship from breaking up. He wrote in his diary nearly every day that things were getting worse, that they were daily losing supplies, and that they feared for their lives because of the rough seas and the distance they had yet to travel.
As the days went by he began recording the deaths of various sailors due to lack of food and supplies, and eventually in 1598 there were two men who reached the shore, Guitan and one of his sailors, and both were so weak from lack of food, and dehydrated from lack of water that they didn’t have the strength to go and search for food. They saw the cave in the distance, and they set out for it, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling, and along the way Guitan’s one remaining sailor died, but Guitan driven by the desire for treasure pressed on and came to the cave where it was said that treasure was hidden. But Guitan was weakened to the point of death, and his last diary entry was from the entrance to the cave, it was one sentence long, and it said, “So close, yet so far away.” And he died at the mouth of the cave, within a few feet of the treasure.
G. K. Chesterton says these two things about faith, "Men live on the brink of mysteries and harmonies into which they never enter and, with their hand on the door latch, they die on the outside." So close and yet so far away.
We have come to the beginning of a new chapter in the Bible, John chapter 5, and today I want to give an overview of this chapter, and in the following weeks we will look at it more closely. But I’ve titled the message this morning, “So Close and Yet So Far Away.”
I want to read Acts chapter 1 verse 1 to you. Acts was written by Luke the Physician, and he writes in Acts 1:1:
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Acts 1:1
All the gospels are about what Jesus did and taught. These two are always connected because what He taught explained what He did, and what He did confirmed what He taught. And so accordingly we have in John chapter 5 a miracle (what He did) and a message (what He taught).
Keep in mind the title, “So Close and Yet So Far Away” because there are two groups of people shown in this chapter who are very close, but are so far away.
First the miracle. We have the scene set before us, the scene is that of a pool that those who were disabled would lie around. People who were blind, lame and paralyzed used to lie around this pool because somehow the pool had healing properties to it. Do you notice how your Bible, if you are using the NIV goes right from verse 3 to verse 5? Where is verse 4? Well verse 4 is included in the King James version of the Bible. Now I have no desire whatsoever to enter into the KJV only battle, because that would defeat our purpose today, but I do want to quote verse 4 from the KJV:
“and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.” Ah, now that gives us some important background information; the reason why all these disabled people were at this pool is because somehow it contained healing properties, as an angel would stir up the waters and people would be healed.
But there was one man that we are introduced to in verse 5 who had been an invalid for 38 years, and was unable to get into the pool. He can see the pool, he can probably smell the pool, he’s seen many other people go into the pool and come out healed. He’s so close, but so far away. He might as well be lying a million miles away, he can’t get to the pool.
Well we see from verse 1 that Jesus had just come from Galilee to Jerusalem, and I want us to notice this morning the very first place Jesus goes in Jerusalem. He does not go to the palace, or to the citadel or to the houses of the rich, no the first place He goes is the hospital. He goes where the sick people are. This gives us an indication of His mission. He came to this earth not for the well, not for the whole, not for the healthy; He came to this world for sick people. And that’s where you’ll find Him today. With those who are physically sick, and with those who are spiritually sick through sin. Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. That’s who Jesus came for, because it’s not the well who need a doctor, but the sick. It’s not those who think they’re ok that need Jesus, it’s those who’ve messed it up. And I’ll tell you today that our churches ought to be hospitals, too, where those who’ve messed it all up can come to us and find forgiveness and receive healing grace and truth.
And so Jesus goes to where the sick people are and he comes to this man who has been an invalid for 38 years and Jesus asks him a very revealing question: He asks him in verse 6, “do you want to get well?” What kind of a question is that? Of course he wants to get well, that’s why he’s lying by the healing pool. I mean if you walked into any hospital today and started asking the people there, “do you want to get well” they’d think you’re nuts, they’d say “of course I want to get well, what kind of a question is that?”
Well to this man, this paralyzed man, it was a very revealing question, and to us today it’s a very revealing question. How is it revealing? Well because of verse 14. After Jesus healed the man he found him in the temple and said, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you." And sometimes people who are sinning don’t want to stop, they don’t really want to get well. Oh they may get close to the pool, they may see others get healed of their sin-sickness, but they somehow never quite make it into the pool. They’re so close, but yet so far away.
I mean if you think about it, it’s not so bad laying around the pool all day long having people bring you food and drinks and stuff. That’s not such a bad life. Well yeah, you’re paralyzed, you’re an invalid, but hey you’re getting some good rays, probably listenin’ to some good tunes. This life really isn’t so bad is it? I mean, do you really want to get well? Jesus’ question is very revealing, both to this man, and to us. Do you want to get well?
The man says in verse 7, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred.
Well Jesus performs a miracle in verses 8 and 9: 8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. John 5:8-9
Sick for 38 years, cured at once! Let’s apply this to ourselves just now: this paralyzed man is a picture of all of us, because each and every one of us were born in sin, and sin is absolutely paralyzing. We’re paralyzed by pride, and by fear and by doubt. And we are not active in building up the kingdom of God, we’re sitting off to the side.
And sin is something that only Jesus Christ can heal. Look at what the man said in verse 7: “I have no one to help me.” This is the condition of all people by birth: paralyzed in sin with no one to help. But Jesus is the Great Physician, who brings healing through His own death and resurrection. The Bible says 2 things about this: “By His stripes we are healed” and “the Sun of Righteousness rises with healing in His wings.”
Now considering the length of time this man was an invalid, considering how miraculous it was that he was healed, considering that he can now be a contributing member of society, shouldn’t we expect a whole lot of praising going on, as everybody rejoices with this man? I mean this person was 38 years basically rotting away, off to the sidelines, not contributing in any meaningful way to society and here he is healed and healthy and happy. Wow, it’s time to celebrate. Wouldn’t you think people would be just awestruck at the power of Jesus?
Look at verse 10: 10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat." John 5:10
Whoa, time out! Wait a minute, that’s it? That’s all you have to say you Jews? Where is the praising God? Where is the rejoicing? What is wrong with these people? What’s wrong with them is that their eyes are focused on the law and on rules, rather than on Christ and on people. And wherever you find people focused on the Law and on rules, you find people who are not free to worship God, and not free to rejoice and celebrate with others when Jesus heals them. People who are focused on Jesus Christ and His cross are able to worship God and rejoice with others.
You see this miraculous act of Jesus should have solicited the highest and loudest praise to God, and these Jews should have been throwing a party for this man, rejoicing with him in his new life. And instead it’s “the law forbids you to carry your mat.” And in verse 16 they set out to go kill Jesus. And by the way, the Law did NOT forbid people to carry their mats on the Sabbath, the Bible says nothing about that, it only says you will do no work on the Sabbath. They had simply added to the Law and interpreted it in this manner. It wasn’t the Law’s fault, it was the wrong focus of these Jews.
And I would like to encourage us this morning that as Jesus Christ does miraculous acts of healing people in our church, that we simply praise God and rejoice with people.
Now from here on out in this chapter we have Jesus Christ speaking with the Jews, as they set out to persecute Him and try to put Him to death for “breaking the Sabbath.” And what Jesus does here is absolutely amazing. He brings out four witnesses that show why the Jews should believe in Him. And all I’m going to do this morning is just mention these four witnesses. Notice with me that Jesus says there are 4 witnesses that testify about Him:
1. Verses 32-33--John the Baptist: 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. 33 "You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. John 5:32-33
2. Verse 36—the Miracles: 36 "I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. John 5:36
3. Verse 37—the Father Himself: 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, John 5:37
4. Verse 39—the Scriptures: 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, John 5:39
See here were the Jews, they had 4 witnesses: they saw John the Baptist with their own eyes, they saw the power of his ministry, they were so close but yet they didn’t believe. They saw Jesus’ miracles with their own eyes, they interviewed the paralyzed man who had been healed. They could see him, they could touch him, they were so close but yet they didn’t believe. They knew God the Father had testified about His Son, they heard the thunder at His baptism, but didn’t believe. They held the Word of God in their hands, that Word Whose primary message is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, resurrected, reigning, and returning. They read their Old Testaments, they had it memorized, they saw Jesus in person; they were so close and yet they didn’t believe. So close, and yet so far away.
See in reality these Jews were exactly like the paralyzed man. Jesus’ teaching to the Jews and His miracle to the paralyzed man were related. The paralyzed man is a physical picture of the spiritual condition of these Jews. They were inVALID to the kingdom of God, paralyzed in unbelief, sin had a hold on them and they did not really want to get well. They are so close to the healing waters of Jesus Christ, but so far away from being healed by faith.
But you know what? This is actually a very common condition among human beings. In Acts 26 the Apostle Paul is brought before King Agrippa and shares his testimony, the purpose of which was that King Agrippa would be converted, that he would become a Christian. And after Paul shared his testimony he said in verse 27, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do.” And King Agrippa responds in verse 28 now I’m going to read from the KJV: “28 Almost you’ve persuaded me to be a Christian.” King Agrippa was an “Almost Christian.” He was so close, but yet so far away.
But I want to tell you about one other man who was an “almost Christian.” For years I went to church, sat under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, and then went right back to my sinful bondage. I halted between two opinions, wanting to be a genuine Christian but couldn’t get out of my sin. I would hear the Word of God and understand it, but sin had such a hold on me. Sometimes I would skip church because I couldn’t stand the conviction. When I would go to church I would just cry over my failures, but still I couldn’t stop failing. For years there was a horrible wrestling match going on in my soul; I was truly paralyzed in my sin while being so close to the healing waters. In January of 1999 God called me to surrender all to Him, to stop fighting, to take my mask off and humble myself in His presence.
And it breaks my heart that in churches throughout our land there are people who are so close; they hear the Word preached, they sing the truth in songs, they pray, they’re decent people, but inside themselves they know sin has a grip on them. They know what they turn to when they’re lonely or bored or stressed out. They know there is something missing, and they know their pride is keeping them from crying out to Jesus. They’re so close, they’re almost Christian.
Is there anybody else here who is the way I was? Is anybody else here so close? Are you sick and tired of the pride that is holding you back from crying out to Jesus? Jesus is here today, and He can heal you and deliver you if you will but call to Him and surrender to Him as Lord.