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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The Great Physician brings healing to the weak and helpless
Text:John 5:1-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 29

Psalm 73:9 (after the law)

Psalm 103:1,2

Psalm 107:1,7,8

Hymn 44

Scripture reading: Job 1

Text: John 5:1-18

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

It was a spring morning in 1980.  At 8:32 AM on the 18th of May, 1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted in Washington State.  This volcano exploded with incredible force, forever changing the landscape around the mountain.  It sent ash 24 Km up into the atmosphere.  That ash spread into 11 American states and 5 Canadian provinces.  The eruption killed 57 people and thousands of birds and animals.  It was an event of mind-blowing destructive power. 

However, it’s important to realize that Mount Saint Helens didn’t just suddenly erupt without any prior warning.  In the weeks preceding, seismologists could see something was happening with the volcano.  There were earthquakes and other indicators pointing to a major eruption.  In fact, the Washington State governor proclaimed a state of emergency over a month before the eruption.  Everyone knew it was going to blow, they just didn’t know exactly when. 

Something similar is happening in our text this morning.  An eruption is coming.  There’s going to be an explosion of violence against Jesus.  The actual eruption takes place much further into John’s Gospel.  But here already there are rumblings.  There are indicators that a major cataclysm is soon to shake the world.  The world will never be the same after what the Jewish religious leaders do to Jesus.

Some of the first precursors to the eruption are noticeable in our passage this morning.  Here we see Christ as the Great Physician.  He’s bringing wholeness to a man who’s been broken for a long time.  And as he does this, the ground under his feet is beginning to shake.  The Jewish religious leaders begin to see him as a serious threat.  In their view, Jesus needs to be stopped by any means possible.  The amazing thing is that, in God’s plan, this is ultimately going to work out for our healing and the healing of all who believe in the Great Physician. 

Here in John 5:1-18, we’ll see how the Great Physician brings healing to the weak and helpless.  We’ll see:

  1. Who Jesus healed
  2. When Jesus healed
  3. Why Jesus found the healed man again
  4. How Jesus responded to the Jews

Our text begins by telling us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast.  We’re not told what the feast was, nor does it really matter for what follows.  But in passing, we ought to note that Christ was a faithful Jewish man.  There’s gospel encouragement in that.  When there was a feast commanded in God’s Word, Christ obeyed the command.  Unlike the First Adam, the Second Adam was obedient in every respect.  Unlike us, Christ was a perfect follower of God’s will.  The gospel assures us that he rendered all that obedience in our place.  He did it for us.  Jesus is your perfect obedience before the Father!

And his obedience leads him to be in Jerusalem at a certain place at a certain moment.  The Holy Spirit tells us in verse 2 that there was a pool called Bethesda.  We’re told the exact location:  it’s near the Sheep Gate.  Now here’s something interesting.  For many years, unbelieving scholars would mock what the Bible says here.  They’d say, “We know this is all a myth.  It’s clearly fiction.  Whoever wrote this, he wrote it long after any Jesus figure walked the earth.  We know that because there’s no pool called Bethesda in the north of Jerusalem near the temple.  This is all fiction.”  Then one year, archaeologists discovered the pool.  Then they discovered an ancient document which referred to it as Bethesda.  John knew what he was talking about.  You can trust the Bible, not because of archaeology, but because it comes from God.  There was in fact a pool called Bethesda with five roofed colonnades, covered walkways.  The colonnades are on four sides, and there’s a fifth one that subdivides the pool into two sections.     

Under these covered walkways or colonnades were all manner of sick people.  The blind, the lame, the paralyzed – all were laying there.  Why?  They were all waiting for healing. 

At this point, you need to have your Bible open and look with me at the footnote of our ESV Bibles.  You may notice there’s no verse 4 in the main text.  It skips from verse 3 to verse 5.  There’s an issue here with the original Greek manuscripts.  That’s why we need to look at the footnote from the end of verse 3.  Go to the bottom of the page and it says, “Some manuscripts insert, wholly, or in part, “waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water; whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.”  While I was working on this sermon, I had to sort this out.  Is verse 4 part of God’s Word or not?  After studying the matter, I’m convinced it is.  One reason is that verse 4 is not just in “some manuscripts.”  It’s actually in the vast majority of Greek manuscripts.  Not only that, but without verse 4, verse 7 doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Why does the man want to be put in the water when it’s stirred up?  Verse 4 answers that question.  There are other reasons too.   We’re going to take it as part of the passage.  Verse 4 is also God’s inspired Word. 

And it says that the sick gathered at the pool of Bethesda in hope of healing.  God had miraculously provided healing for his people at certain times in this place.  He would send an angel to move the water.  That would be the signal that healing was available for someone at that moment.  If you were the first one in the water, you would be healed.

Now our attention in verse 5 shifts to one person in particular.  The Holy Spirit says that there was a man there who had some debilitating condition for 38 years.  What was the condition?  The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what it was.  Sometimes commentators or preachers will refer to the lame man.  Scripture doesn’t say he was lame, only that he had a mobility issue, he was somehow disabled.  Maybe he was lame or paralyzed, but it could have been something else too.  I’ll say more on that later. 

Christ now comes in the picture.  He sees the man lying there.  For some reason, he singles him out from amongst all the other sick people.  Perhaps the reason is that he knew the length of time the man had been suffering with his condition and coming to Bethesda for healing.  How did Christ know this?  The same way he knows everything about you and your history.  He knows because he is God.  He has what we call divine omniscience.  Omniscience means that knowing everything.  God knows everything about everyone.  Because Jesus is God, Jesus too knows everything about everyone.  He is omniscient. 

Because he knew about the man’s condition and history, he asks him a question at the end of verse 6, “Do you want to be healed?”  Why did Jesus ask this?  In these words there’s a note of hope.  There’s a hint that healing is a possibility.  Jesus can help him.  But likely here there’s also the idea of bringing the man to acknowledge his need for healing.  He’s weak and helpless.  Does he see it?

Yes, his weakness and helplessness come out in his response to Jesus in verse 7.  He assumes that Jesus knows what happens with this pool – the waters are stirred and the first one in gets healed.  Whenever that happens, he misses out.  He misses out because he has no one to help him.  He’s obviously lonely.  He’s isolated, has no friends.  Moreover, no one has compassion on him.  Note what’s going on here.  The man is obviously Jewish.  He’s part of the people of God, circumcised on the eighth day.  There’s supposed to be a communion of saints where the weak and helpless are cared for.  But this man has been left behind, forgotten, ignored.  Apparently there’s a lot of selfishness going on around him.  So he’s not only weak because of his condition, he’s also been isolated and therefore he’s helpless.  There’s nothing he can do to help his condition.

You can see a picture of us here without the Holy Spirit.  Many people think that human beings are basically good.  So they’re able to do stuff to earn points with God.  Many people today are clinging to the hope that when they die, their good deeds will outweigh their bad deeds and they’ll get a pair of wings.  Look, it’s a false hope.  The Bible paints a far different picture.  The Bible’s picture of human beings without God is dark.  We’re like the man by the pool of Bethesda.  We need healing.  We can’t help ourselves.  And no other human being is going to help us either.  We’re in a pickle.  We’re weak and helpless.  What do we need?  We need someone to come along and do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  We need someone to address our greatest problem.  Our greatest problem is us.  We’re sinful.  We have sinful hearts in rebellion against the holy God.  Jesus is the solution to this problem.  The Great Physician comes with healing.  He comes for those who are unable to heal themselves or even take any steps towards healing.  He comes to live a perfect life in their place.  Jesus comes to be hoisted on the cross to pay for our sins, to be our substitute.  All of us need Jesus.  Without him, we’re lost.

Jesus brings healing to this weak and helpless man in our text.  He commands him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”  Notice something here.  He simply says words.  He doesn’t do anything else.  He brings healing to the weak and helpless through his Word.  This is still his pattern of working today.  For those who are completely unable to take any steps towards healing their dysfunctional relationship with God, Christ comes with his Word.  It’s through his Word that we’re made alive.  The Holy Spirit applies the Word of Christ to our hearts and he regenerates us and we’re made spiritually healthy again.  At the center of every conversion is the Word of God.  There are words, gospel words that bring spiritual healing to the weak and helpless.  That’s why we need the Word.  Loved ones, we need regular exposure to the Bible and the preaching of the Bible.  If we’re to have life and wholeness, we need the words of the gospel – all the time.  That’s how Christ is going to heal us. 

Verse 9 says the man was healed immediately.  The words of Jesus took effect right away.  It didn’t depend on the man’s response.  It happened just like that.  The man felt that he was strong and able, he took up his bed and he walked away.  The Great Physician had healed the weak and helpless.  Did this man deserve it?  Had he earned it in any way?  No, of course not.  That was 100% grace.  What is grace?  Let me remind you:  grace is dismerited favour.  It’s when we receive the opposite of what we deserve.  That man was a sinner just like us.  He didn’t deserve healing.  He deserved not just a lifetime of disability, but an eternity in hell.  Yet Christ came and gave him a gracious gift.  He granted him the opportunity to have his mobility back.  He gave him wholeness in his body.  Loved ones, that wholeness points to the wholeness that Christ gives to all who believe in him.  Through Christ, through his mercy, we are given spiritual wholeness, we’re restored to a healthy relationship with God and we’re being restored in his image.  We’ve been shown amazing grace, just like that man was!

Now right at the end of verse 9, the Holy Spirit says this healing took place on a particular day of the week:  on the Sabbath.  That means it took place on a Saturday.  That was the Jewish Sabbath.  The Fourth Commandment had said that believers were to rest on the seventh day of the week, just as God had rested on the seventh day of creation.  In time, the Jewish religious leadership began to discuss exactly what it means to rest on the Sabbath.  They decided they needed to make it more precise.  So they came up with 39 different categories of work prohibited on the Sabbath.  Very precise.  One of those categories had to do with carrying things.  According to the tradition, you weren’t allowed to carry things like beds or mattresses on the Sabbath.  The tradition became elevated to the level of God’s law.  They took a manmade rule, not found in the Bible, and it became binding for everyone.  Oh, they’d have said they developed it from the Bible, but it wasn’t actually literally found in the Bible. 

Today many Christians have ideas about what can and can’t be done on the Lord’s Day, on the Christian Sabbath.  Some are legitimate.  Some are directly and obviously connected to the essence of the commandment to rest and worship – for example, that we avoid unnecessary work and make worship a priority.  That’s fairly straightforward and a consensus that’s existed in the church for centuries.  But other ideas are only our conclusions based on other conclusions which are based on the Fourth Commandment.  The further away we get from the actual commandment the more we’re ranging into the area of our own ideas and then we better be careful about imposing that on others.  That’s what the Jewish religious leaders had done.     

So they saw the man who’d been healed walking around with his bed, meaning his straw mattress, and they had a go at him.  They reminded him that it was the Sabbath and what he was doing was, in their opinion, contrary to God’s will.  “It is not lawful” – that means that this isn’t pleasing to God.  The man was under the gun.  What do you do?  He did what many people would do in that situation:  he shifted the blame.  “It’s not my fault.  The man who healed me told me to do this.”  He points the finger at the one who healed him.  So they ask who that was and the man replies that he had no idea.  After healing him, verse 13 says Jesus disappeared.  He didn’t want a commotion about him with the crowd there.        

Some time passes.  We don’t know how long.  But Jesus is in the area again.  He’s at the temple and so is the man who was healed.  They bump into each other – not by coincidence, of course.  This has been orchestrated, because Christ has something more to say to the man.  What he says is intriguing.  He says in verse 14, “See, you are well!  Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”  We have to spend a moment on this. 

We read earlier from Job 1.  In that story, Job was a upstanding believer.  Though he wasn’t sinless, he didn’t live in sin.  He wasn’t perfect, but he loved God and was committed to him.  From a human perspective, you would’ve looked at Job and seen a godly man.  And yet all these horrible afflictions came his way.  He suffered loss.  He suffered sickness.  By the end of chapter 1, Job’s life was in shambles.  Eventually his friends come to try and comfort him.  But their idea of comfort is to tell Job that he sinned somehow and needs to repent.  He’s suffering because he sinned in some particular way.  God doesn’t send suffering for no reason.  There’s got to be a reason.  The reason must be with Job himself and what he’s done.  As it turns out, we know that there was a reason, but it had nothing to do with Job having sinned in a particular way.  God had a plan in Job’s suffering, but it wasn’t related to Job’s deeds prior to the episode.  One of the things Job’s story teaches us is that we have to be careful in jumping to conclusions when we see other people suffering.  Suffering doesn’t always mean that there was some sin that directly caused the suffering.  In a general sense, all disease and brokenness in this world is here because of sin – it’s here because sin came into the world in the Garden of Eden.  Sin brought disease and death.  But that truth doesn’t line up with the idea that disease and death are always directly caused by particular sins. 

But here in John 5, Jesus says, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”  We noted earlier that Christ is omniscient.  As God he knows everything.  Jesus knew what led to this man’s disabled condition.  From what he says here, he knew it had to do with some sin.  Christ had knowledge that no else could have.  That knowledge allowed him to be able to say this in this situation.  He could say this with authority, with absolute certainty that this was the case.    

So in this situation, the man’s condition was caused by some sin in his life.  He was disabled, he had some kind of a mobility problem.  How do we explain that?  Well, there are at least two possibilities. 

One would be that God directly sent his disability, perhaps paralysis, in response to some sin he committed of which he hadn’t repented.  In that scenario, there would’ve been no direct link between the sin committed and the disease suffered.  God could have sent any disease, but he chose this disability.      

A second possibility is that there was in fact a direct connection between the sin committed and the disability he experienced.  For example, there are sexually transmitted diseases that can be physically debilitating.   If that was the case, his promiscuity directly resulted in his condition.  If that’s what happened, then God used the natural connection between these things.  You’re sexually immoral and you get a sexually transmitted disease.   

Those are only two possibilities and perhaps there are others.  At any rate, there’s no doubt what Christ is saying.  Sin caused this man’s problem – some sin he committed in the past.  Now Christ warns him to flee from sin, lest something worse happen.  What could be worse than spending 38 years with this disability?  Try hell.  An eternity spent under God’s wrath would be infinitely worse.  Suffering body and soul into endless time would be the worst thing that could happen to you.  Christ was warning him and us about hell.  It’s been said that there’s no one in the Bible who speaks more about hell than Jesus.  That’s true.  Why does he do it?  He does it in love to warn people from it.  He warned this man to flee from sin and he warns us to flee from sin.  But at the same time, we ought to turn to the Great Physician who can bring us healing from what sin has done to us.  Loved ones, let us too sin no more and look to Christ as the answer to our sinfulness. 

But with this man, something strange happens.  You’d think this guy would be grateful to Jesus for what he did for him.  That would be a righteous and godly response to the grace received.  But instead what we find is that he goes to tell the religious leaders he now knows who healed him.  It was Jesus.  What an odd thing to do.  Instead of thanking Jesus, he basically betrays him.  He’s been healed, he’s been warned not to go back to a sinful life, but instead he hands Jesus’ name to the religious police.  It seems to me that there’s a sort of foreshadowing here of what’s going to happen later with Judas Iscariot.  This is part of Christ’s humiliation and suffering:  dealing with backstabbing, ungrateful human beings.  He graciously heals them, helps them, points them in the right direction, and then they betray him.  What a sad thing if that would still happen today with us!

The result of the healed man’s actions was that the Jewish religious leaders started to draw a bead on Jesus.  They had him in their sights.  They started persecuting the Lord.  They started doing it because they alleged he was a Sabbath-breaker.  By healing that man and telling him to take up his bed and walk, in their view Christ had crossed the line.

In verse 17, Jesus caught wind of the accusations that were being made against him.  We’re not told what the setting was, but he gave his answer to their accusations.  He said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”  That was a provocative statement in several ways.  First, he called God his Father, his own personal Father.  Jews sometimes addressed God as Father as a group, so as “our Father.”  But it was unheard of for one Jew to say, “God is my Father.”  That got their attention.  But then he also referred to the fact that God never rests.  That was a commonly held view and it’s true.  The Jewish rabbis rightly believed that even on the Sabbath day, God does uphold and maintain the world.  God is busy on the seventh day doing what God does every other day of the week.  That part isn’t provocative.  But then to say, “and I am working” – well, that was too much for the Jews.  Christ was putting himself on the same level as God.  That was as clear as anything. 

That’s why verse 18 says that from that point forward they were going to try to end him.  He was breaking the Sabbath, which was bad enough.  But now he was saying too that he was the Son of God.  If you’re the Son of God, and if you do the same works as the one you claim as your Father, you’re also claiming to be divine.  That’s why the Jews wanted to kill him all the more.  In their view, he was blaspheming.  Here was a man talking like he was God.  How could a human being be God?  To them it was unthinkable.    

I once had a conversation with an unbeliever.  He claimed that Jesus never said that he was divine.  He said Christians had made that up.  I asked him, “So why did the Jews want to kill him?  What was it about Jesus’ teaching that made them so angry that they would have him crucified by the Romans?  After all, if Jesus was just teaching love for your neighbour, why would that get anyone upset?”  He didn’t have an answer for that.  I told him he needed to read the Gospel of John.  He didn’t, at least not while I knew him, but if he had, he would have come to chapter 5 and verse 18.  It says here so clearly that their death sentence for Jesus had a lot to do with the fact that he claimed to be equal with God, he claimed to be divine.  That was what drove them over the edge. 

That provocation was all part of the plan for our salvation.  Christ made these claims with the same divine omniscience that we saw earlier.  He knew that saying these things would lead to the cross, where he would suffer and die in our place.  He knew what he had to do and how it had to unfold.  Jesus followed the path set out for him, so the weak and helpless would be healed.  He did it out of his love for the elect.  He did it for all who rest and trust in him as their only hope.    

Loved ones, in the rest of John there are more and more signs that a major eruption is going to happen.  The encounters between Christ and the Jewish religious leaders became more intense.  They grow in their hatred for Jesus and their desire to see the life leave his eyes.  Let’s remember this was all done for our healing, for our salvation.  The weak and the helpless have been raised to life through the Great Physician – and that’s why we’ll forever praise him, love him, and live for him.  AMEN.


Our Lord and Saviour,

We worship you as the Great Physician.  We were like that sick man.  We were weak and helpless, totally disabled by sin.  We were unable to do anything for our healing.  Yet you’ve sovereignly come to our lives.  You showed us mercy.  You have given us life.  You have given us healing through your Word and through the Holy Spirit.  Lord Jesus, we thank you for the salvation we have from you as a free gift.  Help us with your Spirit to go from here and sin no more.  You’ve healed us in your grace.  Lord, please give us strength to love you and live for you always.  We do love you Lord, and it’s our desire to see your Name praised through us.                                     

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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