Saturday 28 December 2013

Those who hear will live (John 5:1-30)


In today’s passage, Jesus heals a guy whom I can only describe as pathetic and a bit of a jerk. Jesus heals him. In case you think I’m being too hard on this guy, let me just say that he and I have a lot in common. I love making a big deal about my problems. I can talk about my problems all day long. Some of us do that in a group - we call it a prayer meeting. We go round and round; and talk about all the bad stuff that’s happened to us this week - complaining about our boss, our doctor, our spouse. And when we finally do pray (in the last few minutes), we even complain about God - “Oh Lord, why don’t you do something about this painful situation in my life?”

Well, that’s me, honestly. Maybe, that’s some of you here today. And that’s the guy we meet in John Chapter 5.


Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie - the blind, the lame, the paralysed.
John 5:1-3

It’s a strange scene. What we have here is a swimming pool for sick people - the blind, the lame, the paralysed (verse 3). So, it’s not exactly Cambridge Parkside Community Pool. These sick and paralysed guys sit around the pool all day long - they are not there for a game of water polo.

John tells us that the pool is surrounded by five covered colonnades, and archeologists have actually dug up this pool called Bethesda - so it’s a real place in Jerusalem. There is a covered walkway that goes all round the four sides of the pool and one walkway that goes right across the middle of the pool (so from above the whole thing looks like a digital number ‘8’ on your old Casio watch). These walkways provided shelter for the blind, lame and paralysed people sitting all day under the sun.

It was not a very pleasant place to be. These guys can’t exactly go to the toilet any time of their own choosing and they just sit there all day long. It’s a stinky place, to say the least.

Why were they there? Well if you look at verse 4, you’ll notice something interesting. It’s missing! Verse 4 isn’t in most manuscripts which means it probably isn’t in the bible. Somewhere down the line, someone thought it would be a good idea to add that verse, to explain what was going on with all these sick people sitting around the pool all day. And if you look down in your footnotes, you’ll see verse 4, which says, “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 such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.”

Every now and then, they believed that God would cause the water to bubble up. When that happened, the first guy into the pool won the lottery. Whatever disease he had - blindness, paralysis, whatever - if he was the first in, he was healed. We don’t know if that’s the real story, but it does explain why they were there.

But Jesus comes to this place filled with sick people - who all have a story, who all have needs - but Jesus chooses to heal just one guy - a man who has been paralysed for 38 years.


One who was there had been invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
John 5:5-6

That’s a strange question to ask a guy who’s not been able to use his legs for 38 years. “Do you want to get well?” You don’t go to the cancer ward in Addenbrooke’s and talk to the guy lying in bed with five tubes sticking out of his body only to ask him, “Do you want to get well?” Of course, he does! That sounds like a silly question. That sounds insensitive. Of course, he wants to get well!

But for those of us who have been here in the Chinese Church, studying the gospel of John the past couple of months, I think we have come to expect that surprising question from Jesus when he first meets someone. We tend to expect Jesus’ opening words to be something profound - “I am the light of the world; I am the resurrection and the life” - and Jesus does say that (in this same gospel of John, I might add). But Jesus always begins when he first meets someone by dealing with their expectations. He deals with their baggage, if you like. “What do you want?” he says to the two guys who want to sign up as followers. “Woman, why do you involve me?” he says to his mom. “Can you get me a drink?” he says to the Samaritan woman by the well provoking a scandalous response. Each time, Jesus deals with our expectations first - what we really think of him; what we expect him to do for us; what we read about him in Time magazine - before revealing who really is and what he has come to do in his own words and on his own terms. He needs to do that because all of us have baggage. All of us have preconceived ideas about Jesus - positive and negative.

He says to the man - paralysed for 38 years - “Do you want to get well?” It’s a good question because the man’s answer to that question says a lot about about his expectations from the people around him.

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no-one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
John 5:7

His problem, according to him, is the people around him. There’s no-one to help him into the pool and someone else gets there first. That’s his story. It’s never his day. Someone else always wins. No-one’s there to help him. That’s the reason why he’s stuck in this situation for 38 years.

He sounds bitter. He sounds miserable. He sounds as if he’s given up. So when Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get better?” instead of saying, “Yes,” or instead of getting angry with the question, “Of course, that’s why we’re all here, to get better!” what does the man do? He complains about the people around him. “My life is so unfair!”

Friends, why are you here today? The church is a gathering of sick and broken people and yes, you should come expecting the people around you to be gracious and compassionate towards your needs. But is it possible that you’ve turned up today just to complain; just to get attention; just to feel sorry for yourself? Like I said before, he and I have a lot in common. I can talk about my problems all day. Do you know where I get to do that most? Here in church. It’s tempting use the time we have at bible studies, at prayer meetings, at Sunday gatherings as forms of therapy. But instead of getting better, we become more and more bitter. That’s because God is our heavenly psychologist, who doesn’t actually do anything for us, he just sits back and asks us how we are feeling today. But when Jesus says, “Do you want to get well?” that’s not an invitation to whine about our day. He is offering to completely change to lives.

Jesus could have talked to any other person at that pool that day. Yet he chose to focus on this guy - a man who needed his help; and yet a man who wasn’t looking for help. All this man wanted was attention and the chance to feel sorry for himself. Out of all the sick people Jesus could have talked to that day, Jesus chose to talk this man. Jesus chose to heal this man!


Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
John 5:8-9

Instantly and completely, the man is healed. There is no recovery period - “At once,” the bible says, “the man was cured.” There is no physiotherapy involved: he is strong enough to pick up his mat and walk.

And all Jesus has to do is say the word: “Get up!” Jesus commands the man to rise up and he does. Jesus gives a command and his power to heal - to completely restore a man from 38 years of paralysis - that power lies in the authority of his word.

But after that, the guy who has just been healed doesn’t stop to say thank you to Jesus. He doesn’t even know his name. In fact, what we see next is this guy going out of his way to get Jesus into trouble for healing him in the first place.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry you mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
John 5:9-11

The man gets into trouble with the authorities. The Jewish rabbis say to him, “Hey, you’re breaking the law of the Sabbath,” by which they mean: he shouldn’t be carrying his mat around on the Sabbath day. The Sabbath day, which was holy in the Jewish religion, was a day when God said, “You shall not do any work.” It’s one of the Ten Commandments. Breaking the Sabbath was breaking God’s law and the religious police were threatening to punish this man for his crime.

What does the man have to say in his defence? “It’s not my fault. The guy who healed me - he made me to do it.” Seriously, that’s what he does in verse 11: he points the finger at Jesus. The thing is, he doesn’t know his name. That’s why he calls him, “The man who made me well.”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd who was there.

Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
John 5:12-15

Jesus looks him up again in the temple. What does the man do? He reports Jesus to the authorities. “Hey, that guy you were looking for who told me to break the law of the Sabbath? I saw him in the temple. His name is Jesus.”

It doesn’t sound as if this man is very grateful to Jesus for healing him. He’s doing the same thing he’s always done: complaining about the people. Blaming others for his pain. “Jesus got me into trouble. Why did he have to heal me on the Sabbath? Why did he tell me to carry my mat? I was minding my own business sitting by the pool when he turned my life upside down!”


But I wonder if the reason why he was also upset was because of what Jesus said to him at the temple in verse 14, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Whoa! Who does Jesus think he is telling me not to sin, warning me that something bad might happen? What does he know about my life? I’ve been suffering for 38 years. He thinks because he said some magical words he can tell me how to live my life?

Now I want to be careful about what I say about the connection between sin and suffering; about what the bible teaches us about the consequence of our sin. It’s not always a one-to-one correlation: as if, you sin therefore you will suffer this pain. That’s a mistake the religious leaders make in Chapter 9 when they say to a blind man, “You were steeped in sin at birth!” They were saying God was punishing him with blindness. Yet in the same chapter, Jesus says about the same man, “Neither this man not his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” It’s not always the case that pain, illness and tragedy are a result of a personal wrong or sin and Jesus actually warns us about making that connection in Luke Chapter 13, when he refers to an incident of a tower collapsing in Siloam: “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

But here in John Chapter 5, Jesus does make that connection between this man’s sin and his paralysis. “Stop sinning,” Jesus says to him, “or something worse may happen to you.” The 38 years of paralysis was bad; there is something worse that God can do if you continue to rebel against him. Now remember, Jesus has just healed him of his paralysis, so this warning comes in the light of an amazing display of grace and mercy. But the healing was not an end in and of itself. The healing was a sign to turn to God in repentance and faith. This is not the case of manipulating someone in a painful and vulnerable situation into going to church or to give money. No, this guy is healed! This guy has had his slate wiped clean - no more problems, no more pain, no more suffering. And yet, here is someone who is blinded by his sin, not because of his pain, but because of his prosperity.

People today who claim we need more faith in order for God to heal us; who claim we need more faith for God to work miracles in our lives - are clearly wrong in their understanding of the purpose of such healings and miracles in the bible. This man had zero faith. Jesus healed him. This man, as far as we can tell, was not a Christian when he was sitting by the pool of Bethesda. Yet Jesus healed him. Why? Because the healing was not an end in itself.

If all you want Jesus to do is heal you from our physical suffering, frankly, you have no idea who Jesus is. Jesus has come to heal us from a more serious condition - something worse than the 38 years of paralysis the man suffered. Jesus has authority to raises the dead to life.


Now, you will have to bear with me a moment because the way in which Jesus raises us from death to life comes at the end of this section. It is important not to skip the part in the middle because some of us need to know who we are dealing with - kinda like the man who was healed but had no idea who healed him. We need to know who Jesus is before we can truly say, “Yes, I believe in him.” Otherwise, we might walk away thinking we’ve been blessed by God when we’ve not; we might walk away better only to become bitter. We need to hear what Jesus says to us about himself.

To put in simply, Jesus says that he has come to do his Father’s work.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 5:16-18

Remember that the Jews were really upset about the Sabbath law being broken by the guy carrying his mat but it looks like the guy has successfully deflected all the attention towards Jesus, “He’s the trouble maker. It’s his fault, not mine.” So, the issue Jesus is dealing with here is the Sabbath law: You shall do no work, says God.

How does Jesus answer? Jesus does not say what many of us would say. We would be tempted to say to the religious leaders: You’re too extreme! You have misread the law! The Sabbath was a command to stop work - not carrying mats around. God meant us to lay down our tools, to cease from our labour. What the religious leaders had done was come up with additional stipulations - 39 additional descriptions of work - one of them was carrying anything in public. You could carry stuff - like your bowl of cornflakes or your iPad - in your own home, but not out in public because that is work! You are “transporting” an item from one place to another. It was possible to use that argument, but notice that Jesus doesn’t say any of that.

Neither does Jesus argue for acts of mercy. Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 12), Jesus says it is lawful - not unlawful - to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus is healing people. He is helping them get well. Yet, that’s not the argument Jesus uses here either.

What does Jesus say? “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” Instead of breaking the command, Jesus is saying: I am fulfilling the command. Why do they have the Sabbath? Because God gave the Sabbath in the ten commandments, yes, but also because God finished his work of creation in six days and rested on the Sabbath, according to the creation account in Genesis. The Sabbath is the fulfilment of God’s work. Like when you finish that big project - an assignment, a painting, an XBOX game - and sit back with an ice-cold Pepsi and go, “Ahhhhhh, that’s good!” It’s the accomplishment of work. God sits back and looked at his work of creation on the seventh day and said, “It is very good!”

But the fact that Jesus says, “My Father is always at work,” means, God is working towards a final, ultimate goal that is the new creation. The Sabbath is a hint that something amazing is still to come. And Jesus says, “That’s what I was sent to do: to finish my Father’s work.”

The Son

Very quickly, he gives us four implications of that working relationship with his Father in the following verses: God’s pattern, God’s passion, God’s power and God’s judgement.

Firstly, God’s pattern. Verse 19: “Jesus gave them this answer, ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” When Jesus is healing the paralysed man, he is not merely acting as a doctor, he is bringing in the new age when all death and decay will be removed from God’s creation. What Jesus is doing is imitating his Father’s work on redemption.

Secondly, God’s passion and this is his passion or love for his Son. Verse 20: “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” God wants all glory to go to Jesus, that’s why he sends him into the world. So that, verse 23 says, “all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father.” It is the language of inheritance. Jesus is taking over his Father’s business.

Thirdly, God’s power seen in the resurrection. Verse 21: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.”

All this is relates to the fourth implication: God’s judgement. Verse 22: “Moreover, the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son.” This is God the Father handing over all his authority - to raise the dead, to pronounce judgement, to grant life and forgiveness to Jesus.

If you see these four implications of Jesus doing the Father’s will, carrying on the Father’s work as his Son, we can now understand how this fits in with our response to him. What did Jesus expect the paralysed man to do when he healed him? What does Jesus expect us to do today as we read these words from the bible?

He wants us to hear his words.


“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father as life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has granted him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”
John 5:24-27

These words are in the present tense. Whoever hears my words… he has crossed over from death to life. A time is coming… and has now come when the dead will hear… when those who hear will live.

What does Jesus want us to do today? To hear his words and live. He raises us from the dead. Those who hear have crossed from death to life. That is something that happens and can happen right now if we hear his words today.

Later on, Jesus makes a distinction with what will happen on the last day.

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
John 5:28-29

On the last day, Jesus will come again and all will hear his voice. “John… rise up!” “Calvin… rise up!” Good and bad will all hear his voice. By the way, the word for “rise” as in “rise to live” and “rise to be condemned” are the exact same words Jesus says to the paralysed man, “Rise up! Take your mat and walk!” It is his command that speaks life to the dead. Not even death will prevent us from facing him on that last judgement day.

The question is: Will you hear his voice today? “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says in verse 24, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” To hear his word and to believe God are not two separate responses. To hear is to believe. Jesus says, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me.” He is saying: To trust in his word is to trust in God who sent him. His voice is God’s voice. He speaks with all of God’s authority. When we gather like this on a Sunday to hear the bible read, we are hearing Jesus; we are listening to God speaking to us.

That is so important because here Jesus is speaking to a group of people - the religious leaders - who think they can trust in God’s word on the Sabbath by ignoring what he says about the Sabbath. He is talking to a man so aware of his physical suffering but so blind to his spiritual condemnation. “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you,” Jesus says only to be ignored by the very man he healed. “My Father is at work, so am I,” Jesus says to the religious leaders who become all the more determined to persecute him and eventually nail him to the cross. Here is a guy in the temple; here are leaders of God’s people - all thinking they are doing God’s will by ignoring God’s only Son.

We are no different. I say to you quite soberly, we are no different, unless we strive to make this word - this bible - the very centre of who are and all we do here in the Chinese Church, we will have been no different from these pathetic men. We will be tempted to make a big deal about our problems. When times are tough, we whine and complain. When times are good, we are less inclined to turn to God in repentance. Only God’s word speaks life into the dead. Only God’s Son can raise us from the dead.

Make this word the centre of who we are and all that we do. God is speaking today and he speaks to us by his Son in his Word. These are the words of eternal life. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says in verse 25, “A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” 

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