If you had the ability to heal someone, I mean really heal them, if you could make a disabled person well, you would think that that would be something everybody would rejoice in, everyone would be thankful for. But as we'll see in our text for this morning Yeshua's healing of a lame man causes much controversy and it appears that even the man healed is not thankful. Can you imagine being healed of a life long disability and not being grateful?
This morning we come to chapter 5 in our study of the Fourth Gospel. And we see a decisive change take place here. Up to this point Yeshua's signs and miracles were turning people to faith in Him. When Yeshua turned the water into wine the text says:
This beginning of His signs Yeshua did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. John 2:11 NASB
When our Lord went to Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple, He also performed a number of signs, which caused "belief in His name":
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. John 2:23 NASB
Nicodemus was convinced that Yeshua had come from God because of the signs He did:
this man came to Yeshua by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." John 3:2 NASB
The royal official received a miracle that resulted in his faith in Christ:
So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Yeshua said to him, "Your son lives"; and he himself believed and his whole household. John 4:53 NASB
This makes sense, if you saw a miracle take place that would get your attention wouldn't it? Notice what Mark says:
"I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home." And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this." Mark 2:11-12 NASB
Do you understand, when Yeshua said, "Take up your pallet and walk"? —the guy didn't lay there and think: "Well, I do feel stronger, I think I can move my toes a little." No, he got up, picked up his pallet, and he walked out! And the crowd was left wondering, How do we explain it?
The awestruck crowds were"glorifying God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this.'" Yeshua makes the claim to be God and then backs it up with a public display of supernatural power. That sets Him apart from every other religious leader and every other spiritual leader in the history of humankind. Yeshua claims to be God and supports that claim with public miracles. So the miracles that are described in the Fourth Gospel are not simply described in order to show that our Lord possesses supernatural power. The miracles were the authenticating signs of His deity and His Messiahship. And as people saw these signs, they believed!
But suddenly, when we reach this fifth chapter our Lord's miracles actually precipitate intense opposition and persecution. In this Fourth Gospel, the entire flow of persecution against Yeshua starts from this story of healing a lame man. And what has to strike us as odd is that that very important word for Lazarus, "believe," does not appear at all in this healing story.
After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Yeshua went up to Jerusalem. John 5:1 NASB
"After these things"—that is the things that had gone on in Galilee. We cannot be sure how long after the incidents at Cana this occurred because this temporal indicator is non-specific. Kostenberger says, "The 'after this' in verse 1 could have been as long as 1.5 years after the healing of the Galilean official's son." We really don't know how long it has been because in this Gospel, Lazarus is not primarily concerned with a chronological presentation of Yeshua's life. His desires, among other things, is to reveal and confirm the evidence for the Messianic claims and divinity of Yeshua.
"There was a feast of the Jews"—what feast? We don't know because Lazarus doesn't tell us, which to me means that the identity of the feast is unimportant for the interpretation of the text. Lazarus apparently mentioned the feast just to account for Yeshua's presence in Jerusalem. It was probably one of the pilgrim feast, which required the attendance of all Jewish men in Jerusalem. The pilgrim feasts were: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
"Went up to Jerusalem"—someone always travels "up" to Jerusalem since the holy city was located in the mountains approximately 2,600 feet above sea level. However, it seems to have been a metaphor of preeminence. Jerusalem, because of the Temple, was the high place of the earth and the center of it.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. John 5:2 NASB
Any guess as to why the "Sheep Gate" was called that? This was the gate in Jerusalem through which the sheep were brought in to be sacrificed. It was on the eastern wall just north of the Temple. It is mentioned several times in Nehemiah (3:1, 32; 12:39).
We are told that by this sheep gate is "A pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes"—this pool consisted of two adjoining pools with an overhead cover that was supported by five columns: four at the four corners and one in between the two pools. The pool may have been used for swimming, since the Greek word for "pool" is kolumbethra, which is a common word for "swimming pool" outside the New Testament. Keener says, "The pools were apparently as large as a football field, and about 20 feet deep."
Skeptics of the Bible used the lack of archaeological evidence of the pool of Bethesda, mentioned only in the Fourth Gospel, to attack the accuracy of the Bible until the 19th century, when the pool was discovered in Jerusalem.
William Hendriksen writes: "After much guess-work with respect to the identity of this pool, its site has finally been established to the satisfaction of most scholars. The pool (or, in reality, the reservoir which formed it) was laid bare in the year 1888 in connection with the repair of the church of St. Anne, in n.e. Jerusalem. A faded fresco on the wall pictures an angel 'troubling' the water. It appears, therefore, that by the early church this pool was viewed as Bethzatha. In the time of our Lord it had five porticos or covered colonnades where the sick could rest, protected from inclement weather." [William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-1954), p. 190.]
The manuscript evidence lists as many as 4 different names for this pool with the earliest manuscript citing "Bethesda". In 1960 this earliest reading was confirmed by the reference in the Copper Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls [column 11, line 12].
"Now there is in Jerusalem"—notice that Lazarus makes reference to a site in Jerusalem, in the present tense, (there is) that no longer stood after the 9th of A.D. 70 when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. Scholars who support a last date for this book say that John frequently used the "historic (dramatic) present" tense to describe past events. Therefore this verse does not prove that he wrote his Gospel before the fall of Jerusalem. But D. B. Wallace argued that the present tense in 5:2 is not to be understood as a historical present, and thus provides a significant clue to the early dating of the Gospel. Wallace pointed out that the equative verb estin, used here, nowhere else in the New Testament, is clearly a historical present. It is hard to believe that Lazarus could have written this Gospel after AD 70 and make no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem.
In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered,[ waiting for the moving of the waters; John 5:3 NASB
What are all these ailing people doing at the pool of Bethesda? Many disabled people used to lie in these porticoes because they believed in the healing properties in the water.
D.A. Carson makes the following comment about the significance of this third use of "water" in John's Gospel. "Just as the water from the purification pots of the orthodox could neither produce nor be mistaken for the new wine of the kingdom (2:1-11), and just as the water from Jacob's well could not satiate the ultimate thirst of religious people who may have looked to genuine revelation but whose views were widely viewed as aberrant (4:1-42), so the promises of merely superstitious religion have no power to transform the truly needy."
Did you notice that the end of verse 4 and all of verse 5 is parenthetical?
[waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] John 5:4 NASB
Does this verse sound strange to you? Where do we ever read of angels being involved with healing? Does God really heal someone because He can push His way into the pool first? This would mean that the sickest people would never get into the pool first.
The ESV doesn't have a verse 4. This passage is assigned as a footnote in most Bible translations because there is no Greek manuscript before A.D. 400 that contains these words. And it is marked by an asterisk in over 20 additional later Greek manuscripts, showing that this text was thought not to be original. Evidently scribes added these statements later to explain the troubling of the waters that occurred periodically (v. 7). But, these scribal explanations were probably based on a superstition. They appear to have been common in Yeshua's day.
Listen to what Carson has to say about this: "The invalid apparently held to a popular belief that the first person into the pool after the waters had been disturbed, and only the first person, would be miraculously healed. There is no other attestation of this belief in sources roughly contemporaneous with Jesus, but analogous superstitions both ancient and modern are easy to come by." [D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 241-242.]
How eager all of these sick people would be to believe the stories they heard about miraculous healings at this pool, even if they had never actually seen anyone healed. A more probable explanation for the troubling of the water is the presence of springs that occasionally gushed water into the pools below the surface of the water. And the water may have had a high mineral content that had medicinal benefits for people suffering from muscle and joint ailments.
We have thousands of Greek manuscripts or fragments of Greek manuscripts. We have many more copies of the New Testament than other ancient writings and the difference of time between the manuscripts dates and the original is smaller in reference to the New Testament than any other ancient writing as well. And the way we arrive at our reliable Greek and Hebrew and English versions is that these texts are compared with each other in painstaking and complex ways so that when some manuscripts have different wording, we can tell almost all the time which is original. And in the few places where we can't, there is no significant historical or doctrinal issue at stake. We have a reliable Bible!
A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. John 5:5 NASB
This man's sickness appears to have been paralysis, resulting at least in his inability to walk. What significance does this number 38 have? Where is Yeshua? He is in Jerusalem and this number is prominent in their history.
In Numbers chapter 13 at Kadesh Barnea Yahweh commands Moses to send out men, one from each tribe, to scout out the land of Canaan in preparation for the Israelite invasion. When they returned 40 days later only Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb of the tribe of Judah believed they could conquer the land; the others had no faith that God would help them conquer the land. The people of Israel, accepting the discouraging report of the 10, cried out against Yahweh and threatened to depose Moses and Aaron in order to return to Egypt. As punishment for their lack of faith and their open rebellion Yahweh condemned Israel to wander forty years, one year for each day the 12 men had scouted out the land, until every man of that generation had died except Joshua and Caleb.
When they came to the boundary of the country of Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan River 38 years had passed and all the men of the first generation had died except Joshua and Caleb:
"Now the time that it took for us to come from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed over the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war perished from within the camp, as the LORD had sworn to them. Deuteronomy 2:14 NASB
The man by the Bethesda pool suffered 38 years due to some unspecified sin (see verse 14), which is known by Yeshua, becomes a comparison to the suffering of the Children of Israel for 38 years in the wilderness because of their sin.
When Yeshua saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, "Do you wish to get well?" John 5:6 NASB
Some translations (NIV) say Yeshua "learned" about the man's condition instead of "knew." The meaning behind the Greek word used is that Yeshua "became aware" via supernatural knowledge. We talked about this before, Yeshua knew what He knew by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as He knew Nathaniel when He was sitting under the fig tree and just as He knew that the woman of Samaria didn't have a husband, so He knew the condition of this man. He knew this supernaturally through the power of the Spirit.
One of Yahweh's attributes is omniscience—He knows everything, which means He knows everything about us:
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all. Psalms 139:2-4 NASB
Yeshua knew that this man had been ill for 38 years and He knows everything about us.
And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:13 NASB
This can be comforting or it could be terrifying depending on what's going on in your life.
Notice Yeshua's question to the lame man: "Do you wish to get well?"—why would He ask him this? I think this was a real question put to this man. To understand why Yeshua asked this question you need to know the culture. Speaking about the blind man in Luke 18:35-43 that Yeshua healed, Kenneth Bailey says: "The difficulty with this profession [begging] is that some visible handicap is necessary. A man with one leg or one arm might manage to support himself by begging on a street corner, but a blind man is virtually guaranteed success. At the same time, a blind man, such as the beggar in this story, has no education, training, employment record or marketable skills. If healed, self-support will be extremely difficult. Indeed, is it not in his interests to remain blind?" [Kenneth Bailey, Yeshua Through Middle Eastern Eyes].
Certainly, the lame man was in the same boat as the blind man. What does he do if he gets healed? How does he support himself? James Baldwin observed (in Reader's Digest, 1/83), "Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch." If he became well, the man would have to stop begging and start working for a living. So Yeshua's question to him is a literal question.
The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me." John 5:7 NASB
Obviously the paralytic believed that only the first person to enter the water after its stirring would experience healing. This was probably the popular idea that arose from superstition. The man's statement that he had no one to help him may have been a veiled request that Yeshua would volunteer to be that helper. The invalid had the desire for healing but not the means to obtain it. I see this man as saying he wants to be healed but he needs help.
Yeshua said to him, "Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." John 5:8 NASB
Why does Yeshua heal this man? This is nothing but an act of compassion by Yeshua. He new all about this man and yet He has compassion on him:
When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:14 NASB
That word for compassion here is a very strong word. It means: "to be so moved on the inside that it compelled Him to take action on the outside." Sometimes we see situations, and we would say: "You know, I feel sorry for them." But that is not this word. This word goes well beyond that. It is to be so moved that we actually do something about it to help resolve the situation.
He could have seen the broken, blind, and hungry and rightly said: "I owe you nothing! You breathe My air, walk on My earth, drink of My rivers. I have given you far more than you deserve! You are sinful, unworthy, and rebel against Me. You have no intention to follow Me on your own. You're only following me because you want me to make your life more comfortable."
But instead, at the sight of even rebels with needs, Yeshua felt compassion. The word literally conveys the idea of a heart contracting convulsively. We might say, His heart was squeezed by what He saw, or He was overwhelmed by the consciousness of human need.
Remember Yeshua is revealing the Father to us.
But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth. Psalms 86:15 NASB
Here in our text is an illustration then of the compassion of Yeshua to a man who was in misery.
The pallet was a cloth cushion that the poor used for sleeping. For these sick, lame, and paralyzed people it served as a sitting pad during the day: (cf. Mark 2:4,9,11,12; 6:55; Acts 9:33).
Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. John 5:9 NASB
Yeshua speaks and immediately the man become well. Thirty eight years of disability healed in an instant. Normally we cannot immediately use muscles that we have not used for a long time because they atrophy, but this man had the full use of his muscles instantaneously. The prophets had predicted that when Messiah came, He would heal the lame:
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah. Isaiah 35:5-6 NASB
Here was proof—for all Jerusalem to see—that Messiah had appeared.
Let me ask a question here. Verse 3 says there was, "a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered" were at this pool of Bethesda. Here is a great multitude of sick people and Yeshua heals just one man. Why? The only explanation is the mere sovereign pleasure of Christ Himself. Paul tells us why Yeshua would heal one and not the others:
Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." Romans 9:13-15 NASB
Many Christians stumble over the doctrine of election, which runs from Genesis to Revelation. They want to attribute their salvation to their own "free will." But the Bible is clear that before we are saved, we are spiritually dead, blind, and crippled. Romans 3:11 says, "There is none who seeks for God." If you're saved, it's not because you were smart enough to choose God. It's because He was gracious enough to choose you. That way, He gets all the glory and you get none! (1 Cor. 1:26-31)
Notice in this text that there is nothing about the man's faith. He didn't have to believe for this to happen. He didn't even know who Yeshua was. So this miracle was not about his faith.
"Now it was the Sabbath on that day"—this healing miracle just happens to take place on the Sabbath. And yet Yeshua told the man, "pick up your pallet and walk." Didn't He know that would rattle the Jewish leadership? Of course He knew that. So Yeshua purposely brought about a Sabbath confrontation. He could have waited a day to heal the man, he had been sick for 38 years, what's one more day. He could have told the man to come back tomorrow and get his bed. But He didn't! By commanding him to do so, Yeshua was responsible for the situation that followed. Indeed He deliberately created it.
More than once Yeshua used His Sabbath activities to make the Jews consider who He was (cf. Matt. 12:1-14; Mark 2:23—3:6; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6). Here, He wanted them to realize that He had the right to work on the Sabbath, as His Father did. This is the first open hostility to Yeshua that John recorded:
So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet." John 5:10 NASB
Who are the "Jews" here? The reference isn't to the Jewish people in general, but to the Jewish leaders. According to the prevailing Jewish interpretation of the law, it was not
legitimate to carry anything from one place to another on the Sabbath:
'Thus says the LORD, "Take heed for yourselves, and do not carry any load on the sabbath day or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 17:21 NASB
Violating this constituted a capital offense that could result in stoning. The rabbis allowed for exceptional cases, such as moving a lame person, for compassionate reasons. Jeremiah is talking about commerce. Don't keep the normal commerce. But they had added dozens and dozens of prescriptions and binding commands to behaviors on the Sabbath Day.
The Tanakh had forbidden work on the Sabbath. But what is "work"? The assumption in the Scripture seems to be that "work" refers to one's customary employment; but judging by Mishnah (Shabbath 7:2; 10:5), dominant rabbinic opinion had analyzed the prohibition into thirty-nine classes of work, including taking or carrying anything from one domain to another (except for cases of compassion, such as carrying a paralytic). By Old Covenant standards, it is not clear the healed man was in conflict with the law, since he did not normally carry mats around for a living; according to the "tradition of the elders" the man was breaking the law, since he was in conflict with one of the prohibited thirty-nine categories of work to which the law was understood to refer.
Yahweh's intent in the fourth commandment was to free people from having to work to earn a living for one day out of seven (Exod. 20:9-11; Deut. 5:12-15). Therefore
this healed paralytic was not breaking the intent of the law, but he was violating the rabbinic interpretation of it.
But he answered them, "He who made me well was the one who said to me, 'Pick up your pallet and walk.'" John 5:11 NASB
The man who had just been healed after 38 years of sickness just throws Yeshua under the bus. The guy who healed me told me to pick up my pallet and walk. In his defense he was just healed and didn't want to be stoned by the religion's leaders:
They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Pick up your pallet and walk'?" John 5:12 NASB
What's strange about this verse? They didn't ask, "Who healed you?" They could have cared less about the miraculous healing. They totally ignore it! Who told you to carry your pallet? This is legalism at its finest:
But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Yeshua had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. John 5:13 NASB
This guy didn't even know who healed him. Don't you think you would have asked His name?
Afterward Yeshua found him in the temple and said to him, "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you." John 5:14 NASB
There would have been tens of thousands of people in the Temple during the feast, but Yeshua knew right where he was.
"Do not sin anymore"—this is a present active imperative with the negative particle, which often meant stop an act already in progress. It appears that this man's illness was due to his sin. Sometimes you're sick, and it's not a direct punishment for sin. But sometimes sickness is a direct punishment for sin. Paul said to the Corinthians, "Some of you are weak and sick and some of you have even fallen asleep because of the way you've desecrated the Lord's table." David said that God's hand was so heavy on him for his sin that his life juices were drying up.
"So that nothing worse happens to you"—what is worse than 38 years of illness? To neglect the inner, spiritual healing is to risk something worse than his disease. He could perish forever.
Syntactically, the two clauses, "Stop sinning" and "something worse may happen to you," cannot be interpreted independently. They are tied together: the meaning is "stop sinning lest something worse happen to you."
The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Yeshua who had made him well. John 5:15 NASB
He informs the Jewish leaders of our Lord's identity. He knew that they wanted to find Yeshua, because they considered Him a lawbreaker. Clearly this ungrateful man wanted to save his own skin by implicating Yeshua. In this whole text there is no expression of gratitude or appreciation toward Yeshua from the healed man.
We could be even more indignant against him if he weren't so much like us. How often are we ungrateful for all the Lord has done for us?
For this reason the Jews were persecuting Yeshua, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. John 5:16 NASB
"Persecuting" is from the Greek verb dioko, which means: "to chase, or to pursue, or to run down." And with hostility, in this case, and thus it's translated, to persecute, it's a present tense verb, or a verb of continuous action in the imperfect. It means they have been continually after Yeshua. Why? Because out of compassion He healed a man.
From the expression "He was doing these things" we can infer that this was not the only incident where Yeshua did miracles on the Sabbath [this is quite evident in Mark's gospel]. There is a continuity of apparent Sabbath breaking here that has greatly offended the Jews. In each and every Gospel, Yeshua is accused of violating the Sabbath.
But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." John 5:17 NASB
Yeshua defends His actions by pointing out that He is merely imitating His Father by working on the Sabbath. The rabbis regarded God as working on the Sabbath by simply maintaining the universe, otherwise, all nature and life would cease to exist. As regards men, divine activity was visible in two ways: men were born and men died on the Sabbath. But they did not accuse Yahweh of violating the Sabbath. Yeshua, too, viewed God as constantly at work, "My Father is working until now." Yeshua claimed to be doing Himself what God was doing, "I Myself am working." He described His work as co-ordinate with the Father's, not dependent on it. God did not suspend His activities on the Sabbath, and neither did Yeshua.
This was a virtual claim to deity. Yeshua was claiming that His relationship to the law was the same as God's, not the same as man's. Moreover, by speaking of God as "My Father," Yeshua was claiming a relationship with Him that was unique from that of the Jews corporately.
It seems to me that this man represents Israel. He experiences the power of God in his life and it has no spiritual effect on him. This shows us the deadness of man. Healed after 38 years of illness, and it has no effect on him. He isn't the least bit grateful for his physical healing. Unless God gives us life, we will remain dead in our sins. Despite the miracle, there is nothing mentioned about believing in this text.