Impotent Meets Legalist (2 of 2)
Let's start out by reading our passage from last week. Read: John 5:1-9
Joh 5:1-9 NASB 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." (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. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.
Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for an unnamed feast, and while there, He went to the pool called “Bethesda”... which means “house of mercy”.
This pool, though pretty ornate and in a beautiful setting... was filled with such a large amount of human suffering, that a more accurate name for it might be “house of misery”.
Out of this large amount of people, all waiting for the waters to stir... Christ chose only one man to heal. We don't know why He chose this man... anymore than we know why He chooses ANY man. There was nothing we know of that recommended him to the Savior more than any other. Jesus simply made a choice.
He listened to the impotent man's, well rehearsed excuse... then instantly healed him... eliminating all excuses.
He told the man... Joh 5:8 NASB ..."Get up, pick up your pallet and walk." At which point, he did. He obeyed Christ's command. He got up... picked up his pallet... and he walked.
Had he not obeyed... he might have stayed in that place until the day he died... never taking possession of the gift that had been given him. But he did obey. Not even knowing Who it was that was speaking to him.
But there was something about Him... something in His manner... the look on His face... the sound of His voice... the obvious authority He commanded... So, he immediately decided to obey.
And as is usually the case... when you decide to obey Christ... many times you will be going contrary to the world. Because the world doesn't like Christ. The world hates Christ.
And this man... because he has decided to obey... is immediately hit with...
I. The Accusation
Joh 5:10-13 NASB 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.
Legalism is a trap that we all can fall into with the greatest of ease. And, it almost always starts out by simply wanting to follow God and do His will. So as good Christians, we have some do's and don'ts that we do and don't do, right? And it's all in a sincere and earnest desire to follow after Christ.
For instance... we may put cigarettes away...or try to. We know they're bad for our health, and maybe we begin to feel that maybe they're also bad for our spiritual walk. So we quit... or at least struggle with quitting for many years until like me... you have a heart attack which becomes you're wake up call and you finally put them away for good.
Then maybe it's that beer that you've grown so fond of. You know that scripturally, there's no real prohibition against a beer now and then... but all too often... the now and then becomes all the time. And since there IS a strong scriptural teaching against drunkenness and alcoholism... you hopefully, put this away too.
Then maybe, based upon what you've read in the Bible... you've decided that you have to be baptized to be saved. Or maybe, as some more radical Pentecostal groups would say... you have to speak in tongues to be saved (because that IS a doctrine of the UPC, by the way)...
This list could go on and on... Some Christian groups believe you have to observe the Sabbath on Saturday. Others say that you have to observe the Lord's Supper every time you gather together... Some groups may believe that we are still supposed to celebrate the feasts and festivals of the Lord... or even Christ's birthday on December 25th (when there's absolutely no evidence the early church ever did this...)
But the point I'm trying to make is that Legalism usually starts out with good intentions... a sincere desire to follow Christ... and follow Him correctly... But before you know it... the original intent has been superseded by form and structure...
The action itself has become more important than the reason for the action... and before you know it... it becomes the law of the land for EVERYONE... then if you're not following it... well... then you're just a dirty rotten sinner, aren't you?!
This is what our now healed and no longer impotent man immediately runs into. He broke a Sabbath law against carrying a bed on the Sabbath (yes... they really did have a law against that)... someone saw him... and immediately began pointing fingers at him.
Now maybe I should have mentioned this earlier... but the last portion of last weeks' passage is the lynch pin of today's lesson. Everything hinges upon the last part of verse 9, which says... Joh 5:9 NASB ...Now it was the Sabbath on that day.
Because you see... had Jesus healed this man on any other day of the week... the religious leaders wouldn't have had anything to complain about. But, the fact that this all occurred on a Sabbath, well, that just makes this whole thing the highest form of blasphemy in their eyes.
They... the religious leaders... had done to the Sabbath what I had mentioned earlier. They turned it into something it was never intended to be. Though their intentions, at least originally, may have been sincere...
The form had now superseded the substance. Now let me explain this...
The traditions of the elders were the “interpretations” of the Torah (the Law). Rabbi's down through the centuries had “interpreted” the Laws to such an extent that they made life ridiculously miserable for all who simply wanted to live a simple and godly life.
The Sabbath laws had become so complex that if a person did nearly anything beyond getting out of bed that morning... they had probably broken some Sabbath tradition (law) in some way. To make matters even worse... these “traditions of the elders” had been elevated to such an extent that in Jesus' day... the traditions actually superseded the Law!
We see Jesus scolding the Pharisees for this in... Mat 15:6 NASB ...And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
So... this breach of Jewish legal tradition by Jesus and the impotent man, was more important to the legalists of the day than the fact that not only had a miracle been done... but a person's suffering had been relieved.
When I first started working on this sermon series... I read the passage to Terri and the first thing she pointed out, without any prompting, was how that anyone who claimed to love God could be so heartless toward a man who had suffered for so long. The fact that he was healed meant nothing to them. All they were concerned about was their Sabbath “traditions”...
She could see the problem immediately... because she instinctively knew through her understanding of God's Word... what Jesus taught us concerning things like this in general... and the Sabbath specifically... that the Sabbath was made for man, as Jesus said... Mar 2:27 NASB ..."The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
Now what that means is that after a hard week of work, man could not only have a day off from work... so he could chill... relax... rejuvenate... More importantly though... so he could worship.
God rested on the 7th day from all His labors. Gen 2:2-3 NASB By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. (3) Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
The Jews, though, knew that God didn't rest on the 7th day because He was tired. In fact... they believed (and rightly so) that God never actually rests, because as the Sustainer of all things... His sustaining power never ceases. If it ever did cease... even for a second... the entire universe would blink out of existence.
So, they knew that the Sabbath rest wasn't meant for God... but for man... because man DOES need physical rest. But the Jews had lost sight of that.
And not only that, but as Gerald Borchert notes in the New American Commentary that... “Sabbath obedience became in fact an eschatological issue because it was thought at least minimally that the coming of the Messiah was linked to the perfect keeping of one Sabbath.”
So... if keeping one perfect Sabbath would bring the Messiah and usher in the Kingdom of God... then in the Jewish leaders mind... anyone who broke the Sabbath laws not only disobeyed God... but it also showed complete disregard for your own Jewish heritage... and you were preventing the Messiah from coming!
Now... with all this understanding concerning the Sabbath, and how important it was to the Jews... and also how distorted the law of the Sabbath had gotten... We can begin to maybe understand our impotent man's reaction when he's approached by the legalist.
Because you see... he wasn't simply informed that he broke the Sabbath... in the same way we would tell a Christian brother or sister... “Hey! Missed you at church on Sunday! Hope everything's is okay!”
No... he is confronted... and accused... of committing a serious crime... He was not only a lawbreaker... but a Messiah “preventer” too! And because of this, probably out of fear... he immediately transfers all blame to Jesus. He doesn't even blink an eye when he says... Joh 5:11 NASB ...He who made me well was the one who said to me, 'Pick up your pallet and walk.'
Both in v.11 and also in v.13, we learn that our guy has no idea who is was that healed him. This implies that he was healed simply upon the word of Christ. No faith on his part because he didn't know who or what he was supposed to have faith in.
And since Jesus had slipped away... he was left to wonder about that for a while... but not for long... because we see that a little while later... Jesus runs into him again. Only this time... he's in the Temple.
And it's at this point that Jesus gives him...
II. The Admonition
Joh 5:14-15 NASB 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.
I think there are several reasons why Jesus finds this guy in the temple. And I believe that first and foremost... he was scared.
I mean, after all... he had been called a Sabbath breaker, and that was a serious crime. He may have gone to the temple to make atonement for that and to prevent being “put out” of the temple as a lawbreaker.
But we also have to keep in mind that whenever someone had a disease or an affliction like our guy did... if they were healed from that affliction... in certain cases they were required to show themselves to the priest... and then they needed to offer the appropriate offerings for their healing.
Now, there's still no mention anywhere concerning thanks or praise for his new found health. There's no... Act 3:8 NASB ...walking and leaping and praising God. like we see from the lame man that Peter healed...
You'd expect a little more gratitude... or excitement... after 38 years of affliction... wouldn't you?
But the situation is what it is... and when Jesus finds him in the temple he tells him... Joh 5:14b NASB "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you."
The healing he had received was complete! "Behold, you have become well... Because when Christ heals... He heals completely. He doesn't give us “part” of what we need... He gives us “all” that we need.
But with this healing... as with many others... there's a warning attached. Many times the warning is... (Joh 8:11) “Go and sin no more” ... This time there's an added admonition... Joh 5:14b NASB ...so that nothing worse happens to you.
And this reflects an important biblical truth... that although the Scripture is clear that illness isn't always the immediate result of personal sin... it does teach that some sicknesses and even death are directly related to sin in our lives...
Paul mentions this in his letter to the Corinthians... 1Co 11:30 NASB For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
Jesus' warning here is clear. Our guy is to quit sinning... or something worse than what he had may come upon him. It's hard for us to envision something worse than what he's already gone through... but maybe Jesus is talking about death?
This reminds me of the situation Jesus spoke of where the unclean spirit is cast out and then returns with reinforcements...
Mat 12:43-45 NASB "Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. (44) "Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came'; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. (45) "Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation."
* * * * * *
Now, another thing I get from this is that this man's affliction did in fact come upon him as a result of sin in his life. To me, that just seems to be the “natural” understanding of Jesus' warning here...
But the man's response would seem to indicate that he failed to listen to Christ's word... because without a word of thanks, or even appreciation... he makes a bee line to the Jews to “give up” Christ. In essence... he snitches on Him.
You know to me... it's just crazy that someone who's suffered for so long... though he accepts the healing... he shows no appreciation for it. He's a far cry from the blind man who Christ heals later... who defended Christ to such an extent that the religious leaders had him “put out” of the temple...
Our guy has to be an example of one of the greatest acts of ingratitude and obstinate unbelief in all of Scripture.
It's inconceivable to me that someone who had been given so much, should be so ungrateful. Yet, his attitude is but a taste of what we see in the world at large. Because this entire world has been given the greatest gift of imaginable... and its level of ingratitude far exceeds that of the impotent man.
You would think that someone who's drowning would reach for the life preserver that's been tossed to them, wouldn't you?... But so many push the life preserver away and simply drown.
If my house were on fire... I would be highly appreciative toward the fireman who threw his ladder up against the wall and breaks my window in order to save my life... yet many today would rather to sue the fireman for scratching their paneling and breaking their glass.
If the plane I were on lost all engines and began to fall out of the sky... I wouldn't hesitate to put on the parachute and jump... would you?... Yet even though there's a parachute available for everyone, most would rather take their chances with the plane...
So, as ungrateful we may think our impotent man is... this world is far worse. Because (all metaphors aside)... this world has been offered the greatest gift imaginable...
The Father sent His Son to the world... but the world rejected Him and killed Him. The world continues to reject Him even today. He promised that He would return one day soon.
If you don't know Him... you need to remedy that... quickly. Because there's still time. But when Christ returns... it'll be too late...