In my middle and high school years, our family used to leave our little town in south Jersey for much of the summer, and head down to Cape May, New Jersey, at the very bottom of the state. We had a camper, some tents and a large screen room (our Smith dining hall) where we would camp out for a couple months at a time. I have many good memories of that time, including the smell of burned sneakers placed too close to the campfire to dry, the hours spent out on the sand dunes near our campsite, and friends I made in those years. For a job, I worked some of that time at a farm near Higbee Beach baling hay and cleaning horse stalls. That is as close to farming as I have ever come.
When I recount my days, over the fifty-seven years of my life, I haven’t spent much time actually growing plants. I don’t cultivate, plant, water and harvest much of anything now, because much of my life has been centered on “city living.” I travel extensively as part of the ministry entrusted to me and that isn’t ideal for keeping a garden.
Yet, I have learned a few things about growing people, and some of those critical lessons have come from the text of today’s lesson in John 5. Today we want to see Jesus heal a man, and then watch how tempting it was for that man to become religious while losing faith.
Today we will learn…
Key Principle: Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not people of RELIGION.
That may sound strange, but it happens all the time. What begins with a move of God in the heart can quickly get covered in the ice of rules and regulations and become a religious exercise – with little heart remaining in the mix.
To look forward properly, let’s set the text in the series we have been studying. We are following “What Jesus DID” by looking at the collection the Apostle John put together and sent to the churches of the first century. When he wrote the Gospel, he was a pastor of a local congregation that was sourced from two different kinds of people. Some of the congregation came from the sons of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. They were Jews that had committed to follow Jesus. They didn’t leave Judaism; they found completion in Jesus as the promised Messiah.
The other part of the congregation came from what I term the “pig eating pagan” crowd of Gentiles. They heard the message of Jesus and decided to follow Him as their Savior, but knew much less about the promises God gave to the Jewish people generations before. They learned of these things after the came to Jesus.
Jews looked for the actions of a man to determine his real belief. Gentiles, influenced by Greek teachings, listened more carefully to self-claims of a public teacher to frame his belief system. In short, Jews cared more about what someone DID, while Gentiles hungered to know what self-claims they made in what they SAID.
John collected seven “I Am” statements of Jesus and paired them with seven “I Do” works, so that everybody in his congregation would be able to identify the truth about Who Jesus is, and why they should follow Him.
In the first two lessons of this series on what Jesus DID, we have observed these principles:
• In the story of the water into wine at Cana (found in John 2), we saw that Jesus transforms what is yielded to Him for His use.
• In the long distance healing story (found at the end of John 4), we saw that Jesus expects our firm trust in His Word.
In the third lesson of the seven works in John’s Gospel, the writer selected a tender moment between Jesus and a hurting and lonely lame man.
The book, up to that point, seemed to feature many “face to face” encounters or even interviews with Jesus. These included:
• A dialogue between Jesus and His cousin John about His identity (John 1);
• An exchange between Jesus and His mother during a crisis (John 2);
• A theological interview of Jesus by Nicodemus the Pharisee (John 3);
• An engaging conversation between Jesus and the “Woman at the Well” in Samaria (John 4).
The “face to face conversation” of John 5, then, wasn’t out of keeping with the book, but became like its connective tissue: one of the series of personal interviews with the Savior recorded to expose His true identity.
At the same time, the story in John 5 is unique among these personal encounters in its moral or lesson. This account vividly illustrated how some people seem to love the rules and want to make everyone around them do them, but don’t really seem to care as much about the people for whom the rules were made. They don’t appear to care as much about intimacy with God as they appear to desire controlling the actions of men. In short, they seem to be great at religion and lousy at faith. It is also a cautionary tale to warn us not to become what they were. Remember:
• Faith is about seeing things as God says they are, and becoming what you know God made you to be.
• Religion is about making people conform to what you believe they ought to be.
Faith has rules, but they are based on true caring. At their core, religious impulses are based on the control of another’s behavior.
Our text will push us to ask, “Which one are we trying to build? Will people around us be able to tell?”
Don’t forget: Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not RELIGION. People of faith love struggling people and want to walk daily and deeply with God. Let’s look at the story:
It opened with notes about “The Setting” (John 5:1-7).
John 5:1 After these things 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, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. 3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 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.] 5 A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus 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?” 7 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.”
Look closely at the detail and you will see three setting points:
• First, John set the scene at the point in time (John 5:1). The event appeared to be after some initial outreaches among the Samaritans (John 4) and the Galilee “long distance healing” (John 4:46ff) – if the events were intended to be in order. At that time, Jesus headed with some followers to Jerusalem. The feast was not specified, but is likely either Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot) or Tabernacles (Sukkot) as attendance was required for observant Jews in Deuteronomy 16:16.
• Second, John supplied the place in Jerusalem for the event (John 5:2-4). North of the Temple Mount where the ridge sets higher on the former property of the Zatha family, there was a pool cut into the solid rock of the mountain several hundred years before this story. The water entered by both the surface and some submerged vents that periodically caused the stirring of the water. The “probatic” pools were beside a well-established sheep market, and for a time the area was apparently dominated by a pagan Greek shrine from which the healings were reported in a superstitious way. Many Jews were part of Greek speaking communities, and some adopted strange practices as part of their eclectic experience of living among pagans. Some of these even made their way to Jerusalem.
• Third, to color in the whole event, John focused on a particular man who became the participant in the work of Jesus there (John 5:5-7).
He included three truths about the man Jesus encountered:
• The man was sick for a long time (5:5). The man appeared to be ill with a long term effect of suffering the inability to walk (the word for his ailment was as-then’-i-ah: a feebleness of mind or body). According to Jesus’ conversation with the man after his healing, the illness was because of some sin in his life that the man was fully aware of (So Jesus told him in John 5:14: “sin no more” using the term may-ket’-ee: no further — any longer).
• The man was quiet – not begging (John 5:6).
• The man was largely un-noticed by others around him, and felt alone, lonely and despairing (John 5:7). Crowds surrounded him, but few ever saw or acknowledged him.
The notes about the setting gave way to the record of the Miracle (John 5:8-9a).
John 5:8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” 9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk…
Notice how Jesus spoke to the man. Here the hold of the physical need was broken (John 5:8-9).
• Jesus didn’t promise to lower the man down a rope into the pool when an angel stirred the water.
• Jesus didn’t give him someone to help him.
• Jesus called the man to take responsibility for his own life, and follow Jesus. He didn’t get attached to another. His allegiance was to Jesus and His Word alone.
Clearly the man expressed he had NO ONE, but was able to obey Jesus ON HIS OWN.
The sin that bound the man had crushed his life and left him alone and broken (cp. John 5:14). The man knew what caused the problem – we don’t need to know. When Jesus encountered the man, He asked the man if he was ready to surrender yet. When the man cried, “I will, but I need help!” Jesus offered the only thing he needed to be helped – the Word of Jesus. The man added obedience and the deal was complete (John 5:9).
After the Setting and the Miracle, John noted the Problem (John 5:9b-16):
John 5:9b …Now it was the Sabbath on that day. 10 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.” 11 But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?” 13 But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.14 Afterward Jesus 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.” 15 The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.
The man followed the Word of Jesus, but that word was not the common idea of the day. Their understanding of Sabbath-keeping was that of the popular rabbis of the day, not from the text of the Law.
Here is the remarkable thing: People who had tripped across the man for thirty-eight years, not offering to assist him when he needed help, suddenly became interested in him when he didn’t do what they thought he was supposed to do.
That was a display of the worst of religion at work.
Remember John 5:14 made clear the lame man got that way because of some willful sin in his life.
John 5:14 Afterward Jesus 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.”
According to the text, the disturbed people who complained of his apparent Sabbath violations were not just religious leaders… they were people nearby. His sin didn’t get addressed before his illness. Help and assistance didn’t come IN his illness. That makes me wonder…
How many sexually confused young men will grow up in our churches and no man will ever take them under their wing and teach them to be a man of God until one day when in confusion they declare themselves gay?
I wonder why it is that many a young woman seeks desperate approval by allowing men to misuse her body that God loaned her, as she cries out for love, and few seem to say a word until she is pregnant and alone. The words they say then are more often condemnations than extensions of grace.
We have a lot to say when someone sins. Even believers are tempted to light up the phone line when moral failure is apparent, but what about when their insecurities are displayed before…
Do we take the time? Do we even know the names of people who are demonstrating deep insecurities and needs BEFORE their public humiliation?
Let’s remember these people thought they knew what God wanted, but misjudged God’s heart for the man who was sprawled out on the porch in front of them.
If you look carefully, you will see the man wasn’t told to break the Sabbath according to the standard of the Torah (the Law of Moses).
Genesis 1:1-2:3 offered the “story of the seven days and the Sabbath.” In 2:2-3 God stopped his creative labors, but He continued to maintain the life of the creation He built. Planets still were spun, solar systems still turned. God wasn’t creating anymore, but He wasn’t completely passive either.
Later, in Exodus 20:8-11, God told the people not to work in a way that would add to their wealth and comfort. What the people were referring to is specifically in Jeremiah 17:21ff. The people at the time of Jeremiah reasoned that they could carry burdens and make deliveries on the Sabbath as long as they weren’t actually working. They were skirting intimacy with God, trying to “pull a fast one on God.” The first twenty verses of the chapter dealt with the issue of deceit, and that is exactly why God addressed it through Jeremiah.
This man wasn’t violating the Sabbath. He was removing an obstacle in order to make the path safe, and then heading to the temple to worship and be declared clean! (John 5:13-14).
Only after the man encountered Jesus again did he become aware of the One Who healed him, and readied himself to share that with others (John 5:15-16). All attention left the man as the leaders went after Jesus. The man became INVISIBLE once AGAIN. Why? They weren’t asking him about the healing out of wonder or fascination – but out of a desire to CONTROL the actions of people.
Even those of us who have walked for a long time with God must face the fact that we may deeply desire to control the behavior of others. It is the religious spirit at work.
Some believe that the ethical commands of the Bible are license to do become the judge of everyone around them. Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that all rules are bad things. I am saying that God shared His ethical and moral standards that we would always speak of them with the deep desire to help the one we direct them toward (“speaking the truth in love” – Eph. 4:15, though there the original context appears to be believers who need instruction).
In contrast to these men, Jesus addressed what PEOPLE OF FAITH must recognize:
The remaining section contains several lessons about being people of faith (John 5:17-47).
If you take the time to read the remaining part of what John recalled from Jesus’s words that day, you will see several important truths about being a people of faith – and not a people dominated with a religious spirit.
Go to John 5:17 and 18. It is clear that people of faith understand the unique place of Jesus. Jesus, who is Lord of the Sabbath, claimed that He had the right to make the man carry his things, since God ALWAYS WORKED on Sabbath (5:17-18). This was an overt claim not missed by those who heard it! The Bible repeatedly made the overt and specific claim that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who was the agent of Creation (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3ff) and had specific conversation with His Father about coming to earth prior to His arrival (Philippians 2). He wasn’t presented simply as a Prophet or Healer, but rather as God in human skin.
Remember, that is the fallacy of “What would Jesus do?” You and I aren’t called to do what Jesus did, but rather what Jesus instructed US to do.
The text also reminds us that people of faith follow God’s Word closely, and must always be careful not to equate their preferences and deductions as equal to GOD’S STANDARD. They thought He was “breaking the Sabbath” while Jesus made clear He was following God, not fighting God’s standards. That is the point of John 5:19.
People of faith understand that direction comes through intimate connection with God. Out of love God showed Jesus what He wanted Him to accomplish, and promised even greater demonstrations (5:20). Jesus spent time with the Father and taught His disciples to spend time with Him in prayer.
A relationship of following edicts is not intimate; it is sterile.
Drop down a few verses as we close…Jesus said,
John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
People of Faith are convinced there is only one path to walk upon. They aren’t “Plan A” and “Plan B” spiritual journeys; there aren’t “many roads leading to Heaven.” They understand the one and only formula of eternal life is this:
• Hear (Listen to and conform life to) My Word.
• Believe my Father sent Me (trust the source of my message as from the very Creator).
• Bypass judgment and LIVE NOW! (5:24).
Don’t miss that Jesus offered three witnesses to His identity and veracity:
• His cousin John (cp. John 5:31-35)
• His works (cp. John 5:36)
• The previously disclosed Word of God (cp. John 5:37-47)
People come to Christ because of our testimony – something that only happens when we love and engage Jesus and other people. Jesus’ cousin, John, did at Jesus’ baptism and five men decided to follow Jesus. Following Jesus, His disciples watched what He did in the lives of people around them. They watched His works, and felt His warmth. They marveled at His power and gazed at His greatness. Finally, they tested Jesus against the prophetic Word of the Living God.
Others religious leaders were busy studying that same Word, but because of the spirit of religion, they were transfixed with controlling people – not throwing them a life-line.
Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not RELIGION.
People of faith love lost and struggling people. They want to walk daily and deeply with God. They work at allowing God to control them, and pay little attention to trying to control others.
A preacher named Derrick Tuper told a story a few years ago I found interesting:
In Atlanta, Georgia an 84-year-old widow started to become restless and bored watching TV and reading the paper, but she couldn’t drive anymore. A friend sat with her and she told them she felt the Lord calling her to DO something. Her friend asked her what she loved to do. She simply said, “I like to play hymns on my piano.” After a few days of thinking, praying and reflecting on that conversation, she decided she would use her ability to minister to others if God would allow her. She put a small add in the local newspaper which read, “Pianist will play hymns over the phone to shut-ins.” Within three days of issuing the advertisement, she received three hundred phone calls requesting her service. She worked out a schedule, and began to play her favorite hymns for people. In a short time, she began to connect people and listened to those who were alone, getting them a “buddy.” In a few short years, she grew her ministry to over 12,000 people. When asked why she did it, she replied, “My church taught me… to love people.”
I am hoping we are teaching that too. We need to set aside religion to gain Jesus’ view of “real faith.”