By Rosie Moore.
Series: Face-to-face with Jesus (John’s Gospel).
I wonder if you’ve ever heard this accusation: “You’re only a Christian because you need a crutch! Your faith is just a comfort to get you through life!”
Personally, I laugh whenever I hear this accusation leveled against Christians. It’s absurd when you think of the lives of Christ’s disciples and the price they paid for their faith in Jesus. And it’s a false caricature of the Christian faith as a crutch for the weak. In the 45 years that I’ve been a Christian, on more occasions than I can count, my faith has led me straight into the conflict zone and it’s been anything but a crutch. Being an agreeable person, I would always prefer to avoid conflict and quietly get on with my life. But Christ doesn’t give believers that option.
What’s crystal clear from the story in John 5, is that Jesus didn’t offer the lame man a crutch. Nor did He offer prayer, comfort or a well-meaning support group, as we might offer a sick, suffering friend. No, Jesus confronted the lame man with a question. Then he ordered him to get up, take up his bed, and walk! And that’s exactly what the man did. There’s surely no man on this earth who can do that.
An unavoidable confrontation.
It struck me that Christ’s healing of the lame man at the pool (John 5) led Jesus and the restored man straight into the firing line of the Jewish authorities, who cared more about their rules than about doing good. It would seem that Jesus deliberately healed the man on the Sabbath when he could easily have dodged offense by waiting until the next day. Jesus walked purposefully into the combat zone and the poor man didn’t have much time to enjoy his restored limbs before he too found himself facing the Pharisees’ outrage. This was the first of many conflicts which unmasked the Pharisees’ unbelieving hearts and their willful suppression of the truth that was evident for all to see. The extraordinary truth was that Jesus was the Son of God.
Whole, not hobbling.
Instantly the man’s dead cells, nerves, muscles, joints, ligaments and bones regenerated, as if obeying the order of a commander-in-chief. There was complete healing in every corner of his withered body.
After 38 years of paralysis, the lame man left the pool whole, not hobbling! Jesus made him into a new creature, not a cripple with a crutch.
With the Holy Spirit’s help, the reality of this extraordinary miracle should still stun us today:
“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 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?” 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.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 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.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 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. 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.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
That you may believe…
Let’s remind ourselves why John selected this miracle out of the hundreds of signs that Jesus performed: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).”
As readers two thousand years later, we must hear John’s clear purpose for writing this story down for us. He didn’t just fancy himself as an author of a biography about his Jewish Rabbi. We will miss the whole point of this true story if it does not lead us to personal, growing faith in Christ. John wants us to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be–Not just God’s Messiah, but God Himself.
“Do you want to be healed?” (v 6)
John doesn’t want us to gloss over the fact that the man’s muscles, bones and ligaments hadn’t moved for 38 years. His body had lain limp beside the pool, absolutely helpless and atrophied. The lame man didn’t show any understanding that Jesus was the Son of God, and there’s no evidence that he had any faith before he was confronted by Jesus. Yet, in verse 6, Jesus singles this man out and asks him a strange question: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6).
Why would Jesus ask this unnecessary question? Surely the answer was self evident and rhetorical? After all, wasn’t the lame man lying beside the pool, hoping to be healed? And why did Jesus single him out from all the other sick people?
It is a mystery why he chose to heal this particular man, but it’s also a wonderful illustration of the mystery of faith. Jesus fleshes it out a little later in the chapter when he says: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” (John 5:21). Jesus was pleased to heal this man.
Then Jesus told the man to do what he could not do. Being paralyzed, it was impossible to get up, or pick up his pallet, or walk (John 5:11). He didn’t have the strength to do any of these three things. But this man did exactly what Jesus told him to do. He responded in faith. As Spurgeon puts it, “Because Jesus told Him, he asked no questions, but doubled up his couch, and walked. He did what he was told to do, because he believed in Him who spoke. Have you such faith in Jesus?”
Do you remember the day, or period in your life, when you first heard the gospel, and Jesus confronted you with this same question, “Do you want to be healed from the disease and ultimate death of sin?” Do you remember when you responded to Christ in faith? The Holy Spirit begins to seek us out long before we seek God. Jesus singles us out and confronts us in our utter helplessness of sin. And throughout the Christian life, Jesus continues to ask us this same question: “Do you want to be healed?”
Jesus doesn’t force restoration on anyone. And just like the lame man in this story, if we say yes– even tentatively and without much understanding– Jesus will bring us complete healing from sin, death and judgment. There are no half measures with Jesus!
When Jesus heals us spiritually, He doesn’t give us a crutch, but sets our feet firmly on the road to a whole and holy life.
This true, face-to-face encounter with Jesus is a wonderful illustration of free, unearned grace and Christ’s perfect saving power. Like the lame man, Jesus will save us perfectly and completely if we respond in faith to his question. And there’s nothing we need to do except believe in the Son of God.
“Stop sinning that nothing worse may befall you.” (v 14).
But verse 14 contains another response from Jesus that initially sounds strange and harsh. Jesus finds the man in the temple and he gives him this warning:
“See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14).
Dick Lucas, the pastor who confronted my own dad with Jesus Christ many years ago, commented on Jesus’s response in verse 14, by explaining the difference between free grace and cheap grace:
“Christ gives him back his health, but now Jesus says that worse things will befall him if he doesn’t repent of sin. If Christ intervenes and forgives me, then He commits me to a lifelong battle against sin and evil in my life. Cheap grace is a perversion of free grace. I cannot ask Jesus to redeem me and then live as though I have no further obligations to him. Do we love our treasured sins? Do we love sin too much? We won’t be completely whole until the last day, but we are being worked on every day until then. We cannot snatch the blessings of eternal life and then continue to live our same old life. That is cheap grace. Jesus offers us free grace, not cheap grace.”
Jesus is surely the kindest and most loving person to ever walk the earth. Yet, He still remains offensive to many. Perhaps that’s because Christ speaks the truth when it comes to our sin. He doesn’t whisper about sin, but exposes it as the fatal disease it is (Mark 7:14-23; Mark 16:16; John 8:34). Even today, He confronts us like he confronted the lame man (Matt 5:30). Would Jesus be loving if He left us to suffer in our sins which enslave us? True Christian faith is about trusting Jesus to save us, and then waging war against self and sin every day of our lives.
That doesn’t sound like a crutch to me.
Father, thank you for the way in which you plucked me from the fire and turned my life around. I wasn’t looking for you, but you sent your Son to earth to seek and save a helpless sinner like me. I’m amazed that you singled me out and poured out your free and undeserved favour on me. Thank you for not offering me a crutch or a temporary comfort, but complete healing and restoration from my sin. As the One who spoke life into a lame man’s body, I submit to you as my Saviour and Lord again today. Please invade every corner of my life and help me to hate and wage war against sin in its sly and deceptive guises. Help me to do whatever you tell me to do in your Word, because I trust in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Join us next week as we look at the stunning claims Jesus makes in the remainder of John 5.
Dick Lucas sermon, The Cure of Souls.