August 25, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church of Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jhn 5:1-18 ESV] 1 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. 10 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said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well!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.” 15 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.
When I was a child, my siblings and I would go to the pool. It was something like 75 cents or maybe $1.25 to enter. And we’d have a lot of fun there. As a bit of a grammar nerd and a bit of a troublemaker I’d always laugh about the sign that said in big bold letters on the top “THE POOL RULES.” My response, at least in my mind, and in the slang of the day, was always, “Why Yes, the pool does rule.” But I suppose if I had actually read further I’d find that the sign wasn’t just telling me that the pool is a fun place but probably it would go on to list individual rules like “no running at the pool” or “no ice cream sandwiches in the pool” or something like this.
Now we come to a situation in our account from John’s Gospel where it seems there were no rules at the pool, or really the rule of the pool was “every man for himself.” This situation might even encourage running because the one able to run to the pool first was the first to get healed. So says the King James Version.
And then we see more rules in our account of the healing at the Bethesda pool. The Jews there take the laws of God about the Sabbath any apply them so strictly that there is no sympathy, compassion, or wisdom of understanding.
All of this then leads us to the one who makes the rules; God himself—whom we’ll see Jesus rightly claims to be.
Before we jump into the story, this is one occasion at which it will be instructive for us to read the text in the King James Version, for there is here a slight difference in the work of the translators as compared to that of the ESV version.
[Jhn 5:1-18 KJV] 1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep [market] a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. 5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time [in that case], he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? 7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. 8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry [thy] bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in [that] place. 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. 15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole. 16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day. 17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. 18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
This account of Jesus’s miraculous healing of an invalid occurs in Jerusalem to which Jesus has returned to attend another of the Jewish religious feasts. The text does not say which feast it is. Previously Jesus had been at the feast of Passover in which he cleansed the temple of the money-changers and the animal-sellers. Now he is back in Jerusalem either for the feast of Pentecost, the feast of Tabernacles, or the next year’s Passover feast. Which feast he is attending is not said and is not vital to the story.
The Apostle John explains that there in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate is a pool called Bethesda which has five roofed colonnades.
This is quite an interesting statement. The Sheep Gate is one of the gates through the walls of Jerusalem, and it probably gets its name because it was the place through which the sheep would be brought to the temple for sacrifices. And near that gate is a pool called Bethesda with five roofed colonnades. Some translate this as porticoes. The idea is that there are steps up to a flat area and it is all covered by a roof. Now the fact that there is said to be five of these roofed colonnades at the pool might seem at first to be quite peculiar. Have you ever seen a five-sided pool, shaped perhaps like home plate in baseball? Well, this pool was not like that. Rather, it was four-sided and each side was lined by one of these roofed colonnades. Then, the fifth roofed colonnade ran through the center of the rectangular pool dividing it in fact into two pools.
Now it is perhaps interesting the text that John says there IS a pool. He doesn’t say there WAS a pool. In the year 70 AD Jerusalem was almost entirely destroyed by the Romans. Some see John’s wording here — the present tense IS — to indicate that this Gospel was written BEFORE the fall of Jerusalem and its destruction. If so, this would constitute a considerable change in the generally accepted date in which he wrote this Gospel. Usually it is thought that John wrote his Gospel sometime towards the end of the first century, years after the fall of Jerusalem. But here we have a possible hint as to this Gospel being written earlier. Yet, this isn’t entirely persuasive because it does not seem that the pool itself was totally destroyed by the Romans. The pool is mentioned in the accounts of various travelers to Jerusalem over the next few centuries. So if the pool did survive the Roman destruction then John could still say “there IS a pool” even sometime after 70 AD.
At this pool, the text tells us, lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.
Now verse 4 explains why so many invalids were there. But, if you have an ESV Bible or an NIV Bible or another modern translation you’ll find that there is no verse 4! it merely has the number 4 and then the number 5.
These modern translations of the Bible largely rely on a theory that the earliest known Greek documents of the New Testament are the best documents. And in those earliest documents more often than not verse 4 is omitted. The editors of the modern translations theorize that verse four was added by a scribe as a gloss or an explanation of what was going on, first perhaps as a note on the side but later merged into the text by a latter copyist.
The King James Version, however, does have verse four. It reads, “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”
While the editors of the modern versions contend that this verse was added by later copyists, it is also possible that some copyists were embarrassed by this story and removed it from the text! The King James Version, which has this verse, is more closely based on the texts of the Bible that the church has copied down through the centuries which make up the vast majority of the extant ancient texts. In the earliest days of the church copyists would have had early copies or even original documents of the New Testament to look back to in order to correct mistakes. These texts handed down through the church were the most trustworthy and accurate while the early copies which now cause so much trouble in the modern versions were likely put aside because they were less than the best copies.
We find, in verse 5, that “One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” And when Jesus asked him “Do you want to be healed” 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.”
This explanation of the invalid makes a lot better sense when we include that verse 4 from the King James Version. He wants to be healed, and on occasion an angel would stir the water of the pool such that the first to step in would be healed, BUT as he is an invalid whenever the water is stirred he is unable to get into it before another person steps in.
So we see his very desperate situation. And he has been there for THIRY-EIGHT YEARS! Thirty-eights years an invalid hoping for a miracle.
Then, a miracle happens. Jesus, having met him just seconds earlier now says 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.
This was an instantaneous healing. Jesus doesn’t need the pool, he doesn’t need the angel to stir the waters, all he does is say the word. With the miracle, theman didn’t even need to re-learn how to walk. Not only his legs were restored to proper function but his mind was able to control his body so that he could walk. This is said to be Jesus’s third miracle in the Gospel of John. We’ve had the turning of water into wine, the healing of the official’s son, and now the healing of the invalid at the pool.
And this should make for a story worthy on its own rights to be included in the Scriptures. But this is just the beginning of the story. It continues with someparticularly instructive events. You see, Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. The text says “Now that day was the Sabbath.”
The Jews then—and when John says “Jews” he means the religious leaders—came to the man who had been healed. He is no longer called the invalid. He is now the man who had been healed. And they say to him “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.”
What an utter lack of sympathy, what an utter lack of compassion on this man who has been sick for 38 years. They should be praising God that this man is healed, but instead they are criticizing him for carrying his mat (or his bed) on the Sabbath day of rest. So the invalid answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.'”
You see, the law actually does forbid anyone to carry any burden whatever on the Sabbath day. Jeremiah 17:21 reads “Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem.” And in Nehemiah 17:15 the prophet laments when people do carry things on the Sabbath. It reads “In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food.”
So the Jews have found this law in the Old Testament and are keen on enforcing it.
But there is something very important to understand about Biblical law and ethics. That is, the laws are the laws OF GOD, not of man. And so God can override a previously given law. He is the lawgiver. So when Jesus said to the invalid “Take up your mat and walk” Jesus’s new command for that manoverrides the law against carrying any burden because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus Rules Over the Sabbath. It certainly was a violation of the law to carry a burden on the Sabbath, but Jesus Christ, by his own authority, overrides that law in this particular case. He is making a powerful statement. Jesus IS God.
We then read,
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. 14 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.” 15 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.
But now things are going to get even more heated. Because, as the text says
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.
So not only were Jesus’s actions displaying his divine nature but also his own words have made the same contention. Jesus is God as seen in his miracle-working, done even on the Sabbath, and now in hissaying that he isworking where his Father once did. The Jews rightly conclude that Jesus was making himself equal to God.
It is quite inexplicable how certain cults like the Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses can put Jesus as less than God when it is so clear in this passage that Jesus is equal to God.
Jesus is God. He is Lord of the Sabbath, and he rules over of the Sabbath.
Comment on Faith
Now, before we look at some applications, I want to note something very important here about faith.
Faith is not something man accomplishes as a prerequisite for salvation. God both grants salvation ANDgrants faith to those whom HE saves. The cure of this once invalid man cannot be ascribed to his faith since even after having been cured, he does not acknowledge his Physician. [REPEAT: The cure of this once invalid man cannot be ascribed to his faith since even after having been cured, he does not acknowledge his Physician.]
The text says that “the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.” He was healed, but he didn’t even known who did it. Certainly at the time of the healing the man did not have faith in Jesus, for he didn’t he know ofJesus. In the story it is later Jesus who finds the man. The man, in fact, can’t find Jesus because he doesn’t know who healed him. The text says “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple.”
So Jesus healed this man out of his own desire to do so; not because the man first had faith in Jesus.
A preacher I well-respect says of this passage:
“The miracle was performed without any kind of faith at all, and that certainly demonstrates the fact that the Arminians are just as wrong as wrong can possibly be when they make faith a condition to salvation. We are not saved by the Lord because we believe, we are saved by sovereign grace, and faith itself is a gift of God.”
1. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
I’m convinced that modern Christians just about all need to improve their observance of the Sabbath. Myself included. But our story today puts balance or perspective into our understanding of the Sabbath. In the other three Gospels Jesus uses that wonderful phrase “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is a great day of worship and rest for man. But good deeds can yet be done on this day. Don’t let the day of rest keep you from doing necessary things. If an animal falls into a pit on the Sabbath, rescue it. If you have work that necessitates employment on Sunday, don’t feel guilty about having to work. Throughout the centuries the church has properly understood that hotels, restaurants, and other services that cater to travelers must be allowed to operate on the Sabbath. And surely this applies to other types of work. From the story in view, we must certainly allow, for example, emergency room doctors to work on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So don’t carry a burden on that day if such avoidance is possible. But don’t make the Sabbath itself to be a burden. It is for you, not you for it.
2. Prayers are answered on God’s timing.
We don’t know if the invalid prayed or not. Probably, since he was most likely a Jew he would have prayed to God. But not all Jews did pray. The Old Testament is full of stories of how the nation fell away from God. Even if the man did not pray, he certainly did wish for and hope for a healing.
We must keep on praying. God wants you Christianand he wants me to pray to Him, and to trust Him. Even if it takes 38 years for your prayers to be answered, keep on praying. Our God is a powerful God and He can answer prayers because he rules over all things.
Amen, let us pray.