Please open your Bible now to John 5. This is a very important story about a man whom Jesus healed. That in itself is a rather common occurrence, but for the man, of course, a remarkable experience. There are a couple of reasons why this story is memorable. One is because of the name, the Pool of Bethesda. The other is the fact that for 38 years this man had been paralyzed.
But there’s much more to the story. This is not just a story about a healing, this is a story about the power of false religion, the damning force that false religion exerts on people’s minds and souls, even in the face of the truth. The emphasis of this story is found in its conclusion. Look to John 5:16, “The Jews were persecuting Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.”
So His signs were His miracle works, and His Words were the true message of salvation. It is the works of Jesus and the words of Jesus that authenticate His Messiahship and His deity. Matthew 7:29, “the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Matthew 4:25, “Large crowds followed Him from Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan.”
However, it is motivated by curiosity. It is superficial. Why? Because these people are captive to a false religious system. And it has a stranglehold on people. It is important to understand the power of false religion. We’ve all come across it in our endeavor to communicate the gospel to people who are Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or other religions.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” False religions imprison people in ideological fortresses which are hard to defeat.
They were faced with a choice, either follow Jesus or follow the system of Judaism. Behind this system were primarily the scribes and the Pharisees. Engulfed in it were the rabbis and accommodating it were the Sadducees and even the Herodians. That system was damning and deadly. What did the leaders say about Jesus? According to John 8:48 they said He is a Samaritan and He has a demon.
In Matthew 12:24 they said Jesus does what He does by the power of Beelzebub, does what He does by the power of Satan. They spent their time working on the people in their system to keep them loyal to the system, to not allow them to defect to Jesus so that by the end of His ministry, in Judea they gather in the Upper Room, there are only 120 believers after three years of this miracle ministry.
And in 1 Corinthians 15, there was a gathering of five hundred believers in Galilee. Six hundred people committed to Christ, gathered in His name after a miracle ministry of three years. There was a rising tide through the gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but it was of opposition that was based on the influence of the religious leaders who kept saying that Jesus was demon possessed.
They wanted to see His miracles. They were in awe of what He said. But there was a general indifference to Him as the Messiah and the Son of God. John 7:25 says, “Some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill?’” So here we are relatively early in the gospel of John, and the people already know that their leaders wanted Him dead.
In John 8:52, “The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died and the prophets also and you say if anyone keeps My Word, he will never taste of death.” You must be demon possessed. This was their constant comment about Jesus. John 8:59, “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but He hid Himself and went out of the temple.”
The tide is a wave of hatred. And it is continued by the leaders of Israel who are the gatekeepers of an apostate, damning religious system. They’re producing, Jesus said in His own words, sons of hell just like themselves. They were so effective that when you come to Matthew 27:23 - 25, the people all scream, “Crucify Him, may His blood be on us and on our children.”
And so, in John 5, 6 and 7, opposition to Jesus now becomes the theme. From John 1 till John 4, it was the deity of Christ on display by His omniscience, by His miracle power, by His authority exercised in the Temple and even by the declarations of John 1 of His deity as the Creator. All of the first four chapters focus on the person of Christ and His deity and focus on His words.
There are three elements to this story and they’re around the personalities of Jesus, the Jews, and this man, and three amazing realities. The amazing compassion of Jesus, the amazing contempt of the Jews, and the complacency of the man. All of this comes together to ignite the persecution. Now let’s start with the amazing compassion of Jesus, that’s how the story begins.
Psalm 86:15 describes God as full of compassion. We read in Matthew and Mark, that Jesus was moved with compassion many times. All His works and all His words are compassionate. God is by nature compassionate and so is Jesus. Here is an illustration then of the compassion of Jesus to a man who had received no mercy. Jesus shows him real mercy. So let us read the story.
John 5:1, “After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” It is an unidentified time and it is an indefinite feast. But we do know in Deuteronomy 16:16 that there were three feasts every year that all men had to attend. Even though the system was apostate, it was still a command to celebrate those feasts that came from the Word of God and so Jesus was faithful to do what God had commanded.
Verse 2-4, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.”
Bethesda means house of mercy. That may go along with the idea that there was a superstition about an angel coming to stir the waters and that it had healing properties. Verse 5-6, “Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
Jesus again shows His omniscience which is the declaration of His deity. Now, people have mocked that question. Of course he wants to get well. But, it is the right question to get the man’s attention, He directed His conversation at his need. So Jesus speaks directly to the issue as He did with the woman at the well when He talked about thirst and moved right into her spiritual thirst.
Is there anything left of hope within you? And that shows that Jesus cares. A stranger extends kind conversation to him. Remember that this man because of his illness over such a long time is considered an outcast by the Jewish leaders because they believed that this is punishment from God because of his sins. Nobody of any importance would have spoken to this man.
Verse 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.” He had bought in to the superstition. He doesn’t make any mention about angels stirring the water. Whatever the superstition was, he believed it but it did not make a difference in his life. This man has no idea who Jesus is.
Verse 8-9, “Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.” It’s just really a stunning moment which means he was lying flat because of this illness. And he began to feel strength come into his useless legs and arms. And as he began to stand up, he had the power and the strength to stand up.
You have to understand that the healings of Jesus were complete and instantaneous. They needed no rehabilitation, there was no progression. He was like a young man with full strength. He stood up. Nothing about faith. He didn’t have to believe for this to happen. He didn’t even know who Jesus was. Verse 9 continues, “And that day was the Sabbath.” That’s the point of this whole miracle.
Jesus could have done this thing on the next day. This man did not have a terminal illness. This man had a chronic problem. This man could have been healed three days later or two days earlier. Jesus picked the Sabbath because that’s the whole point of what’s happening here. He picked the Sabbath for the express purpose of beginning a confrontation with the leaders of Israel.
Verse 10, “The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” Of course Jesus knew that. The Jews had perverted the law. God had given the Sabbath Law all the way back in Exodus 20 and repeated it in Exodus and Deuteronomy. God had given the Sabbath as a time of rest, relaxation, enjoyment and doing good.
The thing you were not to do was the normal work and business. In Jeremiah 17:21, “Take heed for yourselves and do not carry any load on the Sabbath or bring anything in through the gates of Jerusalem.” But they had added hundreds of binding commands to the Sabbath Day. In Matthew 23, the burden was so oppressive because they had perverted the Sabbath into the worst day of the week.
The Jews wanted Him dead because of what He was doing on their Sabbath. The Sabbath was the focal point of their apostate, self-righteous, legalistic, religious system. Jesus even declared that He could do whatever He wanted on the Sabbath. Listen to Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man,” Jesus said, “and not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
So Jesus purposely brought about a Sabbath confrontation with the leaders. And that leads us to consider how serious they saw this breech and how Jesus paid no attention to their traditions. He refused to observe the legalistic man-made Sabbath regulations of rabbinic tradition, only the law of God is important. Matthew writes about it and Mark, Luke and John, as we’re seeing here.
Jesus knows that they have substituted the traditions of men for the Law of God. He knows the Sabbath is a means to glorify God and honor God. It is a gift to mankind. The Jews have turned it into a burden and a way in which they can demonstrate their false righteousness. So He attacks them at the heart of their system and He does it by showing compassion to a lame man on the Sabbath day.
Verse 11-12, “He answered them, ‘He who made me well said to me, Take up your bed and walk.’ 12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” They couldn’t care less whether that man was healed and could walk. They were ugly, indifferent. They had nothing but contempt for that man, believing that he was in that condition because God had punished him.
Verse 13-14, “But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.” This man is intimidated. And that’s what leads to the third and most compelling part of the story, the complacency of the man. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”
Jesus found the man in the massive crowd in the Temple. He finds that man who is now walking and no doubt talking to everybody he can find about what has happened to him. That man has no idea who did this, where the power came from. What’s the implication of that? That his 38 year illness was connected to sin? No, in John 9 Jesus said, at times you’re sick but it’s not a direct punishment for sin.
But in the case of this man, his sickness was related to his sin. And Jesus’ sobering warning to the man is, “You’ve been made well, now you need to go a different direction, away from the sin that has marked your life.” And Jesus is saying, “Thirty-eight years of illness as a result of sin, but that is nothing compared to the wrath of God. You have been made well. Go and sin no more.”
Verse 15-16, “The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.” Yes it is a tragically sad miracle story. Not a story about a man who was healed and then became a believer. But a man who was healed and still became a rejecter.
Almost all the people Jesus healed rejected Him because He healed massive numbers of people and there were only a few believers at the end. That is the power of false religion. Our Lord here is confronting Jewish legalism at its very heart, the Sabbath. He challenges the traditions with His authority as Lord of the Sabbath, as God. He heals a man. And He warns him about living in sin.
What about you? Do you love Christ? Do you embrace Him as your Lord and Savior? Or are you captivated by a religion where your loyalty is led by false teachers who are telling you lies and making you a prisoner of their deception? There’s only one hope of salvation and that’s in Jesus Christ. Beware of any false religion because of its power and its deception. Let us pray.