John 05:01-18, “Jesus: Who Does He Think He Is?”

English: Icon of Jesus Christ

English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scripture: John 5:1-18

What do you think of Christ? That is the most important question that you and I could ever answer. What we think of Christ, and what we do with him determines the meaning of life now and in eternity.

On one occasion, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am? (Mark 8:27).

Another time, he asked the Pharisees, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42).

In John 5, we find the story of a lame man with some lame responses, and some religious leaders who get upset because the lame man is no longer lame, but carrying his mat on the Sabbath. But the real story is about Jesus, what he said, and who he claimed to be. It’s about who he thinks he is. In fact, it is in this story that we find out why the religious authorities wanted to kill Jesus.

Background

Every writer writes with intention or purpose, but not every writer is as clear as John is about his purpose. John shows from the opening of his Gospel to the closing of it that he is writing with intention. He has a clear goal in mind. He is wanting to accomplish something important. He is writing to convince you and me, his readers, of something that will change our life and our eternity.

John writes about seven miracles — signs, he calls them — things that Jesus did. John calls them “signs” because they signify something about who Jesus is. He includes some signs and leaves out others. In fact, he tells us that Jesus did so many miracles — signs — that it would be impossible to write them all down. So he chose certain signs to show us who Jesus is.

This is how he says it near the end of his Gospel:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31 ESV).

So John tells us what Jesus did, so that we would believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God. In fact, John tells us from the opening words of his Gospel what we are to think about Jesus. He writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A few verses later, he writes in 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And if that is not clear enough, in verse 18, John calls Jesus “the only God.” Here are his words: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

John includes the story about the healing of the lame man in chapter 5, to show us who Jesus is.

Summary of chapters 1-4

We saw in chapter one that Jesus was called the Lamb of God, the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel, and the Son of Man.

In chapter 2, at the wedding in Cana, Jesus changed the water into wine. His disciples saw his glory and believed in him.  In chapter 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless one is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. In chapter 4, the Samaritan woman at first thinks that Jesus is simply a rather strange Jewish man, but then sees that he is a prophet, then understands that he is the Christ, and finally discovers with the other Samaritans that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Now in chapter 5, John makes it clear exactly who Jesus is, and why the Jewish religious authorities want to kill him.

Scene 1: Healing at the Pool of Bethesda

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 ¶ Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids– blind, lame, and paralyzed. 4  5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “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.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 ¶ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath (John 5:1-9 ESV).

Setting

This story takes place in Jerusalem. Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem because of a major Jewish feast. He goes to the pool of Bethesda (“house of mercy”) where there was a multitude of sick people: blind, lame, or paralyzed.

One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” 7 “I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me” (John 5:5-7 NLT).

John tells us that there was a multitude of sick people gathered at this pool. Apparently there was some kind of spring or artesian well and occasionally the waters would be stirred up. The people thought that there was some curative power in the water when it was stirred just as today, some people think that natural hot springs can improve one’s health.

Jesus sees that this man has been ill for a very long time. Thirty-eight years, to be exact. He has been lame so long, that he probably cannot imagine life any other way. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed?”

Not everyone wants to be healed. Being healed would be a major change in this man’s life. John does not say so, but it is likely that this man was a beggar. If he is healed, he might have to begin to work to earn a living. He might be comfortable just complaining about his existence. When Jesus asks him if he would like to get well, he does not say that he would. He only complains that he is unable to get to the pool. He has no one to help him, and others always get there ahead of him. Perhaps he hopes that Jesus will help him get into the water.

A Helpless Situation

Let’s face it. Thirty-eight years is a long time to be paralyzed. I can’t imagine what that would do to a ma, or how helpless it would make him feel. But the truth is, he was helpless. There is nothing that he could do to heal himself.

ILLUSTRATION

Christopher Reeve was the famous actor who played Superman in the popular film series. In 1995, Reeve was thrown from his horse “and sustained a cervical spinal injury that paralyzed him from the neck down.” But he “believed that the nervous system could be regenerated.”[1] He had all the money that he needed and the best of medical care, but tragically, he died nine years later in 2004 at the age of 52.

Christopher Reeve, perhaps better known to some as Superman, was absolutely helpless. The man in John 5 had been paralyzed for 38 and was also absolutely helpless to change his situation.

That unnamed man is you and me. We don’t like to hear this, because like Christopher Reeve, we believe that we have the power to regenerate ourselves. But the Bible says that you are I are worse than paralyzed; we are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are totally incapable of regenerating ourselves. We need someone else to come and help us. The best that was can say is, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool. I have no one to help me get out of this miserable state of affairs. I am unable to change.”

Sometimes it is easier to complain about our lot than to change. But Jesus tells this man, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” Instantly, the man was healed! His muscles became strong. He stood up. He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!

After 38 years! This was a great miracle.

Thirty-eight years is a long time. And maybe it takes a long time for us to realize just how helpless we are. But after 38 years, Jesus came into this man’s life and everything was changed. He had had no hope, but that is because he did not have Jesus. How long have you been paralyzed by sin and destructive lifestyles? Do you want to be healed? Well, I have good news for you! Jesus is the Master of hopeless situations. Thirty-eight years or a lifetime is nothing to him. He is the Master of time.

Scene 2: The Authorities Confront the Man

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place (Joh 5:10-13 ESV).

Sabbath Controversy

It is only now that John tells us that Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath. This means trouble, at least for the man who was healed. The Jewish leaders see this man carrying his mat and tell him, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!”

Really?

Actually, the law does not say anything at all about carrying your mat on the Sabbath. The Law of Moses forbade anyone from working on the Sabbath. But was this work? What is work? The rabbis had decided that they needed to define work. So they had constructed an elaborate system of thirty-nine things that you could not do on the Sabbath. They called it a “fence around the Law.” The fence was to keep people from getting to the Law. And, of course, if they couldn’t get to the Law because of the fence that they had put up around the Law, the wouldn’t be able to break the Law.

So, a man could not anoint his eyes, for example. That was considered work. We’ll see that again in John 9. You couldn’t knead dough to make bread because that was work. “A mother could pick up a child on the Sabbath but if the child was holding a stone, she had violated the Sabbath law. A woman was prohibited from looking in a mirror on the Sabbath—she might see a gray hair and pull it out, violating the Sabbath.”[2] A man carrying a sleeping mat on the Sabbath violated their Sabbath law. And healing a man on the Sabbath was a violation of their Sabbath law.

These violations were not found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. These were regulations that the rabbis had added to the Law. And they reacted very negatively when they saw this man — a man who had been lying paralyzed for thirty-eight years — walking and carrying his bed. Instead of responding to the miracle of his healing with joy and praise to God, they said, “Why are you carrying your bed?”[3] “The Jews were so caught up in the rules they had added to the Law of God that they were more concerned with this man’s disobedience to their rabbinic tradition than with rejoicing and glorifying God for the man’s astonishing deliverance from suffering.”[4]

An Unwilling Witness

The healed lame man was a rather pathetic person. He should have been excited to be able to walk and run and jump after 38 years. Remember the Samaritan woman? She could hardly wait to run into town and tell everyone that she had just met the Messiah. But this man, although he is now healed, is still blaming everyone else for his problems.

But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'” (John 5:11 ESV).

R. C. Sproul says that this man is an unwilling witness:

In essence, the man was saying: “It wasn’t my idea. Somebody came along and told me to pick up my bed and walk for the first time in thirty-eight years, so what was I supposed to do? I only did what He told me to do. If you have a problem with that, go talk to Him.”[5]

The Mystery Man

At this point in the story, Jesus seems to be the “mystery man.” We must not forget that John is writing this story for us, his readers. He is writing with intention. And while he is telling us what happened, he has chosen this event so that we would believe something crucial about Jesus.

So in these verses 11, 12, and 13, John raises the question as to the identity of Jesus. The question is, “Who is this man?” The Jewish authorities have told the man that it is not lawful for him to carry his mat.

But he answered them, “The man who healed me,

that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. (John 5:11-13 ESV).

This is what John is driving at. He wants us to begin thinking about who Jesus is, and we will soon find the answer to that question in the mouth of Jesus himself.

Scene 3: Jesus Finds the Man

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (Joh 5:14 ESV).

The lame man does not know who Jesus is. He doesn’t know his name. Apparently he had not yet heard much about him, and everyone is wondering at this point who it would be that had healed the lame man on the Sabbath and had told him to take up his mat and walk.

Although the lame man does not know Jesus, Jesus knows him and finds him in the temple. Perhaps this man had gone to the temple to offering thanksgiving to God. If that is so, it is one of the few redeeming factors in this man’s life.

How often are we blessed and fail to recognize the source of our blessing?

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17 ESV).

The sunshine and rain, the air we breath and the food we eat, all are gifts from God.

Jesus found this man, just like he found Philip in chapter one. He found the Samaritan woman in chapter four. He will find the blind man in chapter nine. But here he finds the lame man who can’t even tell people who healed him.

“See, you are well!” Jesus says. Jesus reminds him that he had had no hope of getting into the pool, but it was not the pool that healed him, but the powerful word of Jesus: “Get up, take up your mat, and walk!”

Now Jesus has a word of warning for him: “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14).

There are two things that we cannot say regarding sin and sickness. First, we cannot say that all sickness is the result of the sick person’s sin. The Book of Job is about a man that the Bible described as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1 ESV). Furthermore, it says that he did not sin with his mouth. Yet, he lost everything and was afflicted with sore from head to toe. His comforters falsely accused him of sin.

In John 9, we will find a man who was born blind, and when his disciples asked who sinned to cause this great tragedy, Jesus told them that neither he nor his parents had sinned. But God would use the tragedy to manifest his glory.

But that does not mean that sickness is never the result of sin. In 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, Paul tells the church at Corinth that many of them have been sick and some have even died because of the way the treated other members of the Body of Christ.

In speaking with this man in John 5, Jesus clearly indicates that sin can bring upon us something far worse than being paralyzed for 38 years. “Sin no more,” Jesus says, “that nothing worse may happen to you.” The New Living Translation puts it like this:

“Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you” (John 5:14 NLT).

What could be worse than being paralyzed for 38 years? Eternal damnation in hell.

Scene 4: The Authorities Confront Jesus

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (Joh 5:15-18 ESV)

Now the question of who Jesus is comes into clear focus. The man had blamed Jesus for his violation of the rabbinic tradition: “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’”

“Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk?’”

But the man did not know who it was.

Now he knows for Jesus has found him. You would think that out of gratitude to Jesus, he would say nothing to the Jewish authorities. But no, this little man finds the authorities and tells them that it was Jesus who had healed him and told him to take up his bed and walk.

We now have an important explanation from John the writer. We must always remember that John has us readers in mind. He wants to make sure that we are following him in his presentation of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. So he explains what is going on. In verse 16, John tells us,

And this was why the Jews were persecution Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.

“Because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” Not only was the healed lame man in trouble with the Jewish authorities for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, Jesus is now being persecuted for healing the man on the Sabbath.

What right does Jesus have to heal people on the Sabbath? That was the question. Jesus’ answer is short but packed with meaning:

“My Father is working until now, and I am working” (5:17).

Jesus did not say that he did not work on the Sabbath. In fact, he will call his miracles “works” in verse 20. He said that his Father was working and so was he.

Even the rabbis agreed that God held the universe together on the Sabbath. Jesus says that he is only doing what his Father is doing. He is claiming the right to do what God is doing. This is an astounding claim, but it is even more astounding when we consider his language.

Jesus does not simply say that God is working, so he is working. He does not simply state that since God works the Sabbath, Jesus also has the right to work on the Sabbath. He refers to God as his own Father.

This is the first of 21 times that Jesus refers to God, not as “our Father” but as “my Father.”

John tells us immediately what his means:

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18 ESV).

“He was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18 ESV).

This is John’s commentary on what is happening. He is telling us what Jesus mean and what the Jewish authorities understood. Jesus was making himself equal with God.

All along through this Gospel, John guides us as to what we are to understand about Jesus. For example, in chapter 2, when Jesus challenged the Jewish authorities to destroy “this temple,” and they thought that he was talking about the temple at Jerusalem, John tells us that Jesus was not talking about the literal temple, but about his own body.

Another example is found in chapter 21 when people thought that Jesus had said that John would live until Jesus returned, John tells us plainly that Jesus did not say that.

John will correct misunderstandings, but this is not a misunderstanding. This is John telling us what Jesus meant and why the Jewish authorities were plotting his death: by calling God his own Father, Jesus was making himself equal with God.

Why did the Jews kill Jesus? John tells us. Jesus claimed to be equal with God. The Jews were waiting for the Messiah, but they had failed to understand that he would be God himself.

Every time Jesus called God “my Father,” he was claiming equality with God. Every time he identified himself as the Son of God, he was claiming equity with the Father. Jesus’ statement strongly argues for His deity — and the unbelieving Jews understood it as such.”[6]

This is the purpose of John’s Gospel. He tells in the first verse who Jesus is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Time and time again in the Gospel, John shows us that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh.

That is what it means to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. “These things were written,” John says, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you might have life in his name” (20:31).

Conclusion

So where are you in all this? Are you like the healed lame man who didn’t really know who Jesus was?

Or are you like the Jewish authorities who were hostile to Jesus and who plotted to get rid of him?

Or are you like the true disciples of Jesus who came to understand that the signs that Jesus did and the words that he said, show us that he is equal with God and that he alone can save you from the paralysis of sin.

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Reeve

[2]Paul Enns, Living the New Testament, Daily Readings from Matthew to Revelation.

[3]R. C. Sproul, John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary).

[4]R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary) (Kindle Locations 1111-1113). Kindle Edition.

[5]R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary) (Kindle Locations 1115-1117). Kindle Edition.

[6]Paul Enns, Living the New Testament, Daily Readings from Matthew to Revelation.

See also “Gospel of John”:

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