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Loved By Jesus

The Audacious

Rev. Philip Miller | November 15, 2020

Selected highlights from this sermon

“This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him.” —John 5:18

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day grew ever more enraged with Him as He continued to minister to people.

Pastor Miller explains why Jesus’ healing of the invalid by the pool of Bethesda was so controversial in the eyes of the religious leaders. Jesus’ response to them enflamed their anger and desire to have Him killed. But more importantly, Pastor Miller reminds us that if we do not deal with the sin that deeply resides within us, it will cripple us for eternity, far from the presence of Jesus—the only one who can truly heal us.

The Audacious

If you hang around Jesus long enough, you’ll realize that He is no politician. Politicians have a tendency to tell us what we want to hear, right? Popularity is the name of the game, so you’ve got to play your cards right. You’ve got to keep your message on target. You’ve got to get in with all the right people.

But when it comes to Jesus, He just doesn’t play those games; He doesn’t kowtow to the powerful; He doesn’t back down from the elites and their pressure; He doesn’t compromise to be popular. That’s one of the things that drove the religious leaders nuts about Jesus, that no matter how much pressure they applied to Him, He would never fold. They couldn’t get to Him, and eventually, they realized the only option they had was to shut Him down entirely.

In fact, in the scene that we’re going to look at today, at the very end, it ends this way, this is what John says: “This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him.” That’s a shocking ending, especially when you see what happens before this. You have to ask the question: What pushed them over the edge into the shocking ending here?

Well, grab your Bibles. Let’s join together in John, chapter 5. We’re going to look at the first 18 verses today. John 5:1–18 and we’re going to see four shocking elements this morning together:

  • The first one is we’re going to see the intractability of the disease.
  • The second is the controversy of the Sabbath.
  • The third is the superficiality of the healing.
  • And the fourth is the audacity of the Son.

All right, it’s going to be fun this morning. Before we jump into God’s Word, would you bow your head? Let’s pray together.

Heavenly Father, we ask you now that you would come, that you would be our teacher. Send your Holy Spirit to open up our lives, our hearts, to see Jesus more clearly. We pray that Christ would be magnified, that we would be drawn to Him as He is glorified today through your Word. We pray this in His beautiful matchless name, Amen. Amen.

So first up here we see the intractability of the disease, the first shocking element in this story. So join with me. John 5:1 here: “After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.”

Now, pause for a moment. So here we have Jesus. He’s coming down to Jerusalem, down geographically, up in terms of elevation. The last time we saw Him, He was up in Cana, in Galilee, so He’s come down from the north to the south now. Of the seven Jewish feasts, one of which is at hand here, three are pilgrimage feasts. In other words, you left wherever you resided and came to Jerusalem to celebrate them. Those three pilgrimage feasts were Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths. And John has a tendency in His Gospel to highlight the Passover in particular on three different occasions, and so it is likely that this is one of the other two feasts here because he doesn’t mention it by name.

Now, just as Jesus is coming into the city of Jerusalem, He is just within the Sheep Gate, which is a little opening in the northern wall of the city, just near the north-east corner. And just as you come in there there’s a pool, a pool called Bethesda. It means in Aramaic “House of Outpouring.” House of Outpouring, blessing, outpouring of a blessing of God, something like this. The ruins are actually there in the old city today, and you can visit them.

It was a large pool surrounded by roofed colonnades for shade on all four sides, and one running down the middle, sort of dividing it in half. It was supplied by water from Solomon’s Pools, a little upstream, and also by an intermittent mineral spring, a chalybeate spring that fed from the bottom of the pool. So these were red iron salts that would have plumed up from the very bottom of the pool. These pools were known for their medicinal benefits, much like hot springs or mineral springs are today. People would come from all over and go bathing there for medical reasons. And whenever the spring at the bottom of the pool would gusher forth, there would be a plume of warm red water that came up from the bottom. And that was the good water. That was the healing water. And a kind of lore grew up in the early Jewish community around this spring that there was an angel down at the bottom, and it was spinning around in the depths of the pool, and it was stirring up those mineral salts. And if the first person who could get into that pool could get down there, they would receive some sort of supernatural healing. And that lore sort of underlies this story because in verse 3 we see that in these colonnades lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. And each of them is there waiting to be healed, for this opportunity.

Now the camera pans in, zooms in now, on one person in particular. Look at verse 5: “One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 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?’”

So Jesus here notices one man in particular. He’s been an invalid, unable to walk here for 38 years. Can you imagine? We don’t know exactly how old he is, but 38 years is a long time. I think it’s safe to say this has been the majority of his living existence. This is his permanent condition. This is his way of life. So when Jesus saw him there, laying there, and knew he had been there a long time, He says, “Do you want to be healed?” That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? “Do you want to be healed?”

Verse 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.’” He says, “In all these years I’ve never gotten in first. There’s nobody here to help me.”

Just think of how frustrating, how maddening this must have been. All these years. He’s so close, feet away from the healing he desperately needs for his body, and yet he’s so far away, helpless to get his healing on his own.

And can you hear the veiled request subtly in his defensive defeated response here? “Sir, I have no one to put me into the waters.” What’s the implication, the implied request? “Would you help me?”

“Would you help me? You ask if I want to be healed. The answer is ‘yes,’ but the only way that’s going to happen is if somebody helps me. Would you help me? I can’t get the healing I need on my own.”

Now instead of bringing this man to the healing, Jesus is going to bring the healing to this man. Look at verse 8: “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.”

Now it’s a simple enough statement, isn’t it? “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Anyone could have said it with no effect, but this is the living Word of God. This is the Word that spoke and made the universe. This is the Word now made flesh. This is the Word dwelling amongst us. This is the Word of Life, the Word that will one day speak “Get up!” and every soul will rise from the dead. This same Word of God speaks, “Get up!” to this man, and his deadened body rises to life. And just like that (snaps fingers)—38 years of infirmity, 38 years of atrophied muscles, 38 years of degenerated nerves, 38 years of rewired neuroplasticity—in an instant he is healed.

“Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And not only does this man stand, he hoists his bed on his shoulder and walks off into the crowd. Now this is amazing. Just think of how much PT and OT it takes to bounce back from even just a basic muscular surgery. It takes months of rehab. This is utterly amazing, this man’s recovery. And once again, friends, we are seeing that Jesus is wielding power of the Messianic Age.

That’s what Isaiah 35:5–6 prophesied: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Friends, in Jesus Christ the kingdom of God is at hand. It’s right there. All the signs are pointing to it. John wants us to see this. At His word, the water turned to wine. Remember? At His word, a boy’s fever broke 20 miles down the road. At His word now a man with 38-years of an intractable infirmity, it all vanishes in a healing without a trace.

Now you would think with all of this healing kingdom-power at hand, everybody would be celebrating. Wouldn’t you? Well, not so fast, friends, because it’s the Sabbath. Here’s the second shocking element in this story. It’s the controversy of the Sabbath. Verse 9, the second half there: “Now that day was the Sabbath. 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.’” (laughs)

So they see him carrying his bed, probably a large mat rolled up with padding, on his shoulders. So he’s hoisting this thing up and he’s walking through the crowd, and the religious leaders come and confront him. “It’s not lawful for you to take up your bed like this.”

Now, what are they talking about? Did you know that your Bible has a rule against carrying your bed on the Sabbath? Did you know that? Can you find me a chapter and verse on that? You can look, but you won’t find one. Nowhere in the Bible does it forbid you to carry your bed on the Sabbath, so what’s going on here? Well, it all goes back to the fourth commandment. This is in Exodus 20:8–11. This is where God commands rest on the Sabbath, the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

So the idea here is simple enough, that the Jewish people, to honor God in His creative work, were to rest on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, the end of the week, Saturday the Sabbath. They were to rest in the goodness and provision of God. They were to trust that in ceasing from their work, God would be their provider.

Now, in an Agrarian society, this is a big deal. If it’s harvest time and you’re asked to rest one day out of harvest as the crops are ready to come in, when weather can come and destroy it at any instance, it takes an incredible amount of faith and trust in God to not work. So this is the biblical command, “No work on the Sabbath.”

Now the key here though is to define work, isn’t it? What is work here? Now the rabbis got together and they decided that it was very clear that work was one’s customary employment, so whatever you did Monday through Friday for your job, your career, your pay, that was you work. That was the thing that you were to ease from on Sabbath. Now the question then became, “Well, what if you’re unemployed, what if you are a stay-at-home person?” You know, what do you do with that scenario? And the rabbis got their heads together and they discovered that there are actually 39 different classes of work in the universe. Did you know that? Thirty-nine, not 40, not 38. Thirty-nine exactly, including one category which is relevant here, which was the taking or carrying of anything from one domain to another. So, in other words, you could carry things around your house on the Sabbath freely, but carrying things from one domain to another, from one house to another, that would be work, and this is what comes to apply here.

So this man is not actually violating the Old Testament law, the moral law of God. He doesn’t carry mats for a living. This is not his job, but he is violating one of the 39 classes of work, one of the traditions of the elders that they not carry things between homes. And so they confront him, and he may be standing up straight because Jesus healed him, but he’s still spineless because look at verse 11.

“But he answered them. ‘The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed, and walk.”’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take up your bed and walk?”’ 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.”

Now there are couple of things that amaze me here.

Number one, the religious leaders hear a pair of statements here. They hear “The man who healed me. He’s the one who told me to take up my bed and walk.” So they hear about a healing and a command to take up the bed. And which one do they fixate on? (laughs) Talk about missing the forest for the trees here. In their zeal for obedience to the law of God, they were actually oblivious to the Son of God right in front of them.

The second thing that surprises me here, that amazes me, is that this guy has already lost his healer. He simply took his healing and walked away, and he lost track of his healer. How does that even happen? It’s amazing.

The third shocking element here is what we see next. It’s the superficiality of the healing. So this man may have lost Jesus, but Jesus has not lost him. And friends, that’s how it always is, isn’t it?  We may lose Jesus, but Jesus never loses us.

Verse 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.’”

This is curious, isn’t it? That nothing worse may happen to you? What is He talking about? What could be worse than 38 years of misery as an invalid, sitting just feet away from the healing you most desperately need, but knowing that you’re absolutely powerless to get it on your own, and sitting there day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, having your hopes dashed again and again.

What could possibly be worse than that? Apparently something, because Jesus says so. He said it. “Look, if your sin runs unchecked, a worse fate awaits you.” See, this man’s physical limitations were just the tip of the iceberg. He thought his biggest problem in life was his body, the way he was crippled in his limbs, but Jesus is showing him that he has a deeper problem, a more real danger, disease lying deep within him. Because friends, sin cripples our souls. Sin cripples our souls, and if we do not deal with the sin that deeply resides within us, it will cripple us for eternity, far from the presence of Jesus who is the only one who can heal us. And don’t you see here by calling out this man’s sin, Jesus is inviting him to deal with the deeper disease, the illness within his soul?

Just like Jesus with the woman at the well, how He turned the conversation from her physical thirst to her spiritual thirst. Remember that? He is now taking this man’s attention from his physical healing, a disease, to the disease that’s deep inside his soul spiritually. Jesus is inviting him into a deeper healing. And once again this man finds himself just feet away from the healing that his soul really needs.

Now, what would be the fitting response here? How should he respond? Exactly like he did before. “Sir, I have no one to help me. I’m powerless to reach the healing that I need so desperately on my own. I can’t get there on my own. Would you help me? Would you help me?” But that’s not what he says. Look at his response.

Verse 15: “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” Can you believe this guy? The little rat snitches Him out, doesn’t he? This is not the response of faith. There’s no embrace of Jesus here. He immediately takes his healing and then betrays Jesus. He runs back to the religious leaders, seeking to get in good with them.

Why would he trade Jesus, friends, for the religious leaders? Why? Well, at one level, because they are very powerful and he wants to be in their good graces, but I think there’s something deeper here. All the Pharisees, all the religious leaders asked of this man was external obedience to a code of conduct. Keep the rules and you’ll be okay. Just do the right things and you’ll be okay.

Jesus, on the other hand, is inviting him into a deep inner healing and transformation of the heart. And friends, he wasn’t ready for that. He wasn’t ready to go there. It was too deep. It was too personal, too exposing, too close, too vulnerable. And so he closes off and he runs away and turns in Jesus. So now the religious leaders are going to come after Jesus.

And we get to the fourth shocking element here which is the audacity of the Son. The audacity of the Son. Verse 16: “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (laughs) So apparently they confront Jesus about, you know, the Sabbath healing here because verse 17 says, “Jesus answered them.” Okay? So we don’t have a record of their confrontation, but we do have Jesus’ response.

Now, here’s what’s shocking to me. Jesus could have responded a number of different ways here. Okay? The rabbis made allowances for medically necessary work on the Sabbath, so if, you know, somebody was really in trouble, you could go to the E.R. and the doctors were allowed to treat him, that made sense. So you were allowed to provide medically-necessary care on the Sabbath. Jesus could have said, “Listen, this was medically-necessary care. Get off my case.” That’s not what He says. He could have reasoned with them. He could have said, “Okay, suppose I didn’t heal him directly but I healed him indirectly. I helped him into the pool and the water healed him. Right? God healed him through the little angel or whatever you believe is down there at the bottom of the pool. Are we okay then on the Sabbath if God can heal this guy on the Sabbath by just helping him to the water? Are we okay with that? Well, that’s all I did. I’m just a conduit of the power of God, just like the water is a conduit of the power of God. God’s allowed to heal on the Sabbath. Get off my back.”

That’s not what He says. What He says is, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (laughs) How audacious is this? “God the Father works on the Sabbath and so do I.” Who says that? This is one of these moments where I just really like Jesus. You know? I mean He doesn’t back down from a fight. He doesn’t back down an inch. He is so courageously humble.

Now let’s unpack the logic of what He’s saying here. It all goes back to Genesis, chapter two. This is what we read there. Genesis 2:2–3: “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

So this is the original basis for the Sabbath rest. God created in six days, rests on the seventh. This becomes the pattern for Jewish worship. Six days of work, one day of rest. But the rabbis, in talking about this text, realized that God’s work and rest were very different than ours, a different level.

Number one: Unlike us, God’s work isn’t strenuous. In other words, He just speaks and the world comes into being. This is not strenuous work. He’s not sweating and perspiring here.

And secondly: Unlike us, God’s “rest” isn’t passive. God’s rest isn’t passive. The rabbis realized that God Himself is always sustaining the universe, so whatever God’s rest means it can’t mean He stops sustaining the universe. He’s still doing that or the universe would implode. Secondly, new life is always coming into being, every day of the week, including on the Sabbath, and God is the only one who brings new life into being. So God is never stopping His generating work of giving life.

And thirdly: God is provident. He is ruling over His creation and there’s never a day when God is not ruling and provident over creation. He’s always on His throne. So in a sense, He’s always working as the King of the universe, even on the Sabbath. Okay?

So the rabbis said, “God clearly, in His rest, is not completely ceasing from His work. He’s allowed to continue working, you know.”

But then the second question is then how is God not breaking the Sabbath? If the Sabbath is part of God’s moral law for the universe, He has to adhere to it. So how is God exempt from these Sabbath restrictions? And the rabbi said God did not violate the Sabbath for three reasons. These are very clever. Listen to these. Number one: The entire universe is His domain. The entire universe is His domain. Therefore, God never travels outside of His house, and nothing He ever does is outside of His domain. Remember? Work is moving things between domains. God never leaves His domain because the whole universe is His domain. That’s clever, isn’t it?

The second reason, the second exemption for God, is that God permeates the whole world. He’s omnipresent and thus His work does not require real movement. (laughs) God is everywhere and therefore any work that happens is happening with reference to the material world. But since God is everywhere it doesn’t move with reference to Him. Okay? So He’s not really moving things around in the universe.

Third: God lifts nothing to a height greater than His own stature. (laughs) So, in other words, real work is when you hoist something on your shoulder. God never has to do that because He’s really, really big. Right? So everything He does in this universe is just like shelving a book on a bookcase. It’s no big deal.

Now, when Jesus says, “My Father is working until now, and I am working,” what is He saying? He is saying that the exemptions (exceptions) that apply to God for working on the Sabbath also apply to Him. (laughs) In other words, “This entire universe is my domain,” Jesus says. “I permeate this entire world, and this life-altering healing of a man, paralyzed and crippled for 38 years, amounts to no more than shelving a book on my bookcase.” Jesus here is claiming the prerogatives of deity for Himself. Not only is He wielding the power of the Messiah here, He is claiming to be the Son of God with all the rights and privileges thereof. And they fully understand His meaning. Look at verse 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.”

Now, what does this mean for our lives? There are three takeaways for us here this morning.

Number one: Our disease runs deeper than we know. Our disease runs deeper than we know, friends. Contrary to what we often think, our biggest problems in life are not external, but internal. Our biggest problems are not out there. They’re actually in here, and so often we want God to heal and deal with the things that have gone wrong on the outside, don’t we? “God, fix my health.” “God, fix my employment situation.” “God, fix my marriage.” “God, fix my family.” “God, fix this virus.”

And yes, Jesus does come and sometimes bring healing in those places. Not always. But those, friends, are the symptoms of a deeper problem that we really have. See, the deepest problem in our life lies deep within our souls. In the anxiousness of our lives lived without Jesus, in the selfishness of our orphaned hearts, in the sin-infested corners of our souls, in the deep alienation we experience in a life lived without God, in the unmoored identities that are just floating around in the ether, in the enslavement we feel to our own sinful desires, friends, Jesus offers us a healing that goes deep, that goes beyond the superficial, all the way down into our very souls.

This is why Jesus came, friends. This is why He died on the cross in our place and for our sake. This is why He bore all of our sin and shame. It’s why He rose again to make us right with God. He was pierced that we might be whole. He was wounded that we might be healed, the one who laid down His life that we might have life.

The second takeaway is this: Outside-in can never really heal us. Outside-in can never really heal us. There are all kinds of outside-in strategies in this world: self-help books, law enforcements, societal pressures, and all of those things curtail us, keep things from getting out of hand. But friends, and even religion, even religion, as it often is presented, is an outside-in project. It’s about sin management and behavior modification, cleaning up the outside of our lives so we’ll know we’re okay. But friends, Jesus offers us something entirely different. He offers us Gospel transformation.

If we will open ourselves up and let Jesus all the way in, if we will surrender to Him and allow Him into the deep places of our lives, friends, He can change us from the inside out. But like this man, many of us find that just too risky, too invasive, too exposing, too vulnerable, too much loss of control here. And so we trade the life-giving inner healing that Jesus offers for the externals of manmade religion. And Jesus is inviting us, friends. “Let me heal you. Let me free you all the way down, all the way in.” Because, friends, Jesus is our healer. He is our Sabbath, and He is our God.

Jesus is our healer, friends. He alone can heal us from the inside out. Jesus is our Sabbath. He alone can give us the rest out weary souls long for. And Jesus is our God. He alone is God come to find us.

Friends, the only way we get this deep inner healing, the only way we’ll ever experience this deep soul-rest is to embrace Jesus as our God with all the rights and privileges thereof.

C.S. Lewis writes this in Mere Christianity:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him (Jesus): I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

See, friends, the key to experiencing the deep, transforming power and healing of Jesus in our lives is to fall on our knees, like Thomas will at the end of the book of John, and cry out, “My Lord and my God!” This is, in the end, the only way we can have Jesus, and in having Jesus, it is the only way in the end we will ever have ourselves.

And friends, if we are honest, one of the reasons so many of us find ourselves sitting by the pool so very close to the healing we desperately need for our souls, and yet, so far away, is we cannot bring ourselves to look at Jesus, and in surrender and vulnerability and utter desperation say, “I have no one to help me. I can’t get there on my own. Would you help me, Jesus? Would you help me?” Help! Help!

Friends, Jesus has never not answered that prayer. Help!

Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be healed?

Let’s pray.

Father, we admit that we are far more sinful than we ever did realize. Our problems are so much deeper than the externals we walk around and people see. No, we know our hearts. We know our deep brokenness, our deep sinfulness. We need healing, not on a superficial level but all the way down. We thank you that Jesus comes not just to clean the outside, but to clean us on the inside. So right now we let Him in–all the way in. We open every door inside the house of our lives, let Jesus see into every room, every nook, every cranny. We ask that He would bring healing to the deep places in our lives. We thank you that this is why Jesus died. It’s why He came, and to our astonishment we discover that we are far more loved than we could ever dare hope because Jesus came for us.

And so, Father, we cry “help.” Help us, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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