Summary: We are freed when God breaks all our rules.
When people picture Jesus, few imagine a man intentionally offending others. Yet that is exactly what he does in John 5. Jewish teachers had strict guidelines for keeping the Sabbath. Jesus knew them and he flaunts his disregard for their rules. It seems so reasonable to us to add guidelines to protect people from sinning. Yet God is offended by our efforts to guard his law by adding our own. Jesus breaks our rules, because our rules keep us from the Gospel. Follow along, please, as I read in John 5, verses 1-18. [Pray.]
Early on the morning of February 22, 1901, the great, passenger steam ship, City of Rio de Janeiro approached San Francisco in a dense fog and behind schedule. Though sailing totally blind, the captain and pilot risked entering the harbor, and at 5:18 am, the ship ran aground. Arthur O’Neill said it was “like an earthquake intensified many times.” Most of the passengers were Chinese or Japanese immigrants seeking America. The language barrier prevented lifeboats from being deployed correctly and boarded. 131 people died.
One survivor was a young American journalist. In the wreck, both of his legs were broken, and he lost consciousness (either from the shock or blood loss or both). Somehow he fell into the water, where he regained his senses, but all he could do was float. Several hours later, rescuers found him nearly drowned and completely helpless, and pulled him to safety.
Harry Ironside, the famous pastor of the Moody Bible Church in Chicago happened to be on the beach that morning. He later heard the story of the rescued journalist and observed that his story was similar to the healing of the man at Bethesda. Both legs of the young journalist were broken; he was nearly drowned; and he could do nothing to help himself.
And so it was at the pool. The “multitude of invalids” were helpless; they could not see; they were weak and withered. It was a pitiful collection of broken humanity. It is a “proverb” that “God helps those who help themselves.” But that cliché is not in the Bible; instead, texts of this sort insist that Jesus rescues those who cannot help themselves.
1. We Worship Jesus as Messiah Because He Alone Gives Life (John 5.1-9a)
One way studying John has surprised me is discovering the frequency in which Jesus “enacts” his teaching through what we might call, “living parables.” Jesus rarely gives systematic theology lectures.
The Apostle Paul does. For example, concerning the total inability of mankind to please God by good works, Paul clearly articulates a doctrine of spiritual deadness apart from salvation.
Romans 3.10-11: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…. [N]o one does good….”
Romans 7.18: “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” And then he goes on to explain that this is why “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” Romans 8.8. Any good in us must come from God.
And when explaining the same idea in Ephesians, Paul describes us as spiritually dead apart from God’s giving new life. Ephesians 2.1-2: “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked….”
All of these truths are incorporated into the ministry of Jesus, but rather than state them as doctrines, he more often acts them out as dramas. In today’s text, upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus goes to the pool called Bethesda, near the Sheep Gate. This was not the normal place for a Rabbi to be seen. Apparently here the sheep were washed before being taken into the temple for slaughter. And this is where the destitute, the invalids, the desperately sick and poor gathered.
Some of you have a New King James translation and you may have noticed an additional sentence in your version that I did not read. Where my text ends verse three after saying, that the people were “blind, lame, and paralyzed,” some versions add: “waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.”
Sunday morning is not the best time to untangle the riddle of textual variations. But I feel I ought to give some explanation. After John wrote this book (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit), men made copies for reading in local churches. Though John wrote without error, mistakes occasionally appeared in these hand-written copies. We have hundreds of these copies preserved in monasteries and discovered in archeological finds flung wide and far over the then civilized world. The copies agree in virtually every detail. There are, however, instances of differences where we do not know what John wrote in the original. This is one.