Jesus is Working (John 5:1-18)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: John 5:1–5:18
I. Jesus the Workaholic?
If a child told you that his father was always working, you might be concerned. If that child's mother, the man's wife, told you that her husband was always working, your concern might deepen. If even the man's supervisor confirmed that he was always working, you might understandably label the man a 'workaholic', someone who compulsively overworks; someone who works long hours, often as a way to cope (or not cope) with difficult issues in his or her life.
But if you heard that Jesus was always working, would you be concerned? Would you label him a 'workaholic'? Let's look together at John 5 this morning and see just what it tells us about this topic of 'Jesus working'.
II. The Passage: “And I am Working” (5:1-18)
You may remember that the Gospel of John is a book of signs, miracles that the Apostle John chose to include in his account in order to persuade and strengthen his readers in terms of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. In chapter 2, we read about Jesus' first sign, changing water into wine at a village called Cana in Galilee. At the end of chapter 4, interestingly, we return to Cana and read about Jesus healing a civic official's dying son. You may recall that what was striking about that second sign is that Jesus and the sick boy were separated by 16-17 miles when Jesus announced his healing.
I wanted to remind you about these miracles, these signs, because this morning, we've come to sign #3. Let's read about that sign in verses 1-9.
1. Recounting the Healing (5:1-9a)
This is what John tells us, beginning in verse 1...
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. [you can visit the remains of this same pool today in Jerusalem]  In these [colonnades] lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.  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?”  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.”  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.
Some things I want you to notice about this miraculous healing: first, when Jesus asks the man about being healed, notice how the man is thinking in terms of the healing power of the water...
...not the healing power of Jesus. Your Bible may not include a verse 4 in this chapter. Why is that? Because verse 4 is not found in the earliest copies of the Gospel of John. If it's included in your footnotes, then you'll see that it may represent a scribe's note about what the Jews believed in terms of the healing power of the water when it was stirred. Some belief like that helps us make sense of the man's desire to get into the water to be healed.
Second, notice how Jesus initiates this sign. The first sign took place after a request from his mother. The second sign came after a request from the dying boy's father. But in this instance, Jesus himself initiates the healing. There's not even a mention of the man's faith. Jesus simply tells the man to “get up, take up your bed [or mat, or pallet], and walk”. The man seems to sense the immediate healing mentioned in verse 9, then responds.
Finally, third, notice the details John includes about the length of the man's affliction: verse 5, the man had been disabled for thirty-eight years. But I don't think that's simply an interesting factoid. John is sure to tell us in verse 6 that Jesus “knew that he had already been there a long time”. Why mention this? Well, it may be a reference to the supernatural knowledge Jesus' possessed, as we've already read about in earlier chapters. John may also want to highlight the compassion of Jesus. He knew how this man had suffered for many, many years.
But another factor may be the 'hard to fake' aspect that characterizes all of these signs. Jesus didn't simply change a cup of water into wine (something that could have involved slight of hand). He transformed over a hundred gallons. Jesus didn't simply attend to the sick boy in person, like a doctor might. He spoke from miles away and the timing of the healing was corroborated by third-party witnesses, The same is true here. This man is not an unknown, mildly ill beggar. This man was most likely a fixture at the pool and had been lame for 38 years!
But once again Jesus demonstrates his incomparable power. And as we see here, it's not only power to heal, but power to restore. As the prophet declared in Isaiah 35...
(v. 2) They shall see the glory of the LORD... (v. 4) Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God... (v. 6) then shall the lame man leap like a deer...
2. Rejecting the Healer (5:9b-18)
But look with me at the final detail about this healing that John provides at the end of verse 9: “Now that day was the Sabbath.” Why does that matter? Well, look what happens next... v. 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.” [i.e., to carry your mat]  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.  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.”  The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.  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.”  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.
Why is it significant that this healing took place on a Saturday, that is, on the Sabbath? Because the sight of this man carrying his 'bed roll' gets the attention of the religious leaders. Though God, through Moses, had called the Israelites to rest on the Sabbath, it was later teachers who developed detailed interpretations of the Law, interpretations that often went to extremes about what was and was not considered work. Though these leaders are shocked by the man's behavior, we should be shocked by the fact that these men have no interest in investigating the miracle itself, only in interrogating the miracle-worker.
Though not stated, the man seems scared of these leaders, and does what he can to get out of their crosshairs. So when he finally finds out the name of his healer (again, Jesus also initiates that second meeting), this man goes back to the Jewish leaders and tells them what he knows.
But verses 16-18 seem to be a summary of numerous interactions that Jesus had with some of the Jewish leaders about the Sabbath. You may recall that the other Gospels contain similar stories of healings and confrontations on and about the Sabbath. But in this instance, notice how Jesus responds to their criticism. Verse 17... But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” But what exactly is Jesus saying here?
If the Sabbath is a recognition of the seventh day of the creation week, then Jesus wants his listeners to understand that God did not rest, and does not continue to rest, because he was exhausted, or because he has nothing else to accomplish. On the seventh day God ceased from his original work of creation. That is what the Hebrews were to recognize and honor on the seventh day. But cessation from that original creation work did not and does not mean inactivity for God. This is how one of our readings from last week expresses it:
“You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.” (Nehemiah 9:6)
And preserving or sustaining or upholding creation is just one of God's ongoing works. As God revealed through the prophet... “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10). How does Jesus express these same truths to the Jews in John 5? Verse 17... “My Father is working until now...” The Sabbath was never meant to prescribe rest from the mission and mercy of God. This is exactly why Jesus continues in verse 17... “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” As Jesus told his disciples in the previous chapter, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (4:34)
You see, John introduces here what will be an ongoing theme of opposition in the book, and he gives two reasons for the antagonism of these leaders: verse 16... And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. Also 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.
The way Jesus spoke about God as his Father (esp. in light of his other claims and authoritative teaching), communicated that he believed himself to be of the same nature as God. Notice that John does not correct this conclusion... he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. That's not surprising, John has already described how the Word was “with God” and “was God” (1:1). So once again, John describes how a miracle by Jesus is more than just an astounding act. It goes beyond that, providing an opportunity for Jesus to confirm a claim we find in the other Gospels: “For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8)
III. Working Still?
“My Father is working until now, and I am working.” What did that work look like in John 5? It meant healing. It was the work of Jesus as Healer. And it didn't matter which day of the week it was. The mission and mercy of God were and are always at work through Jesus. Do you believe that? Do you know Jesus Christ as your healer? Do you believe his claim in verse 17? Do you believe it for today? “...I am working.” (2x) Isn't it interesting that the first sign that John recorded had to do with Jesus' power to transform creation. The second sign moved to Jesus' power to restore the creature, the human being; but that was from a distance. But now, with this third sign, we see Jesus' power present, on the scene, power to restore working directly with the person afflicted. “...I am working.” Think about what the passage reveals about Jesus the healer:
First, you may not always understand the healing work of Jesus. The man who had been an invalid for 38 years did not know who Jesus was. He didn't understand how Jesus wanted to help him. And afterwards, he seems more concerned with getting out of the spotlight than getting to know the light of the world. Our questions, confusion, and even ungratefulness, do not disqualify us when it comes to God's healing work through Jesus.
Second, your healing is always a result of Jesus' initiative. As we saw in this passage, it wasn't this man seeking out Jesus. Jesus sought out this man... twice! While the Gospel accounts confirm many instances where people came to Jesus for healing, this man is a beautiful reminder that at the end of the day, God always takes the initiative when it comes to our healing, because our healing is always part of his big, grace-filled plan. And because he takes the initiative and gives the healing, he always gets the glory.
Third, Jesus' healing power is the power of God. John doesn't shy away from this radical truth that Jesus is God. While healing can come to you through many channels for many reasons, the greatest healing, the truest healing, the most enduring healing comes from God himself. Is God, through Christ, your healer this morning. That leads to a final point...
Fourth, whatever the felt need, Jesus reminds us of our need to be healed from sin. His need for physical wholeness was obvious to the man (and to everyone who knew him). But look again at what Jesus tells him in v. 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.” The clear implication here is that sinful choices had led to this man's injury or affliction. That certainly isn't always the case, but Jesus wants to sensitize this man to sin, and a far worse fate than physical lameness.
This morning, you may have needs that you are bringing, or want to bring, to Jesus the Healer. And He wants you to bring them. But in a culture in which it is easier to talk about victimhood and brokenness than guilt and sinfulness, it's so important that we remember our ultimate need to be healed from sin. This is what Peter emphasized when he wrote about Jesus fulfilling the messianic prophecies in Isaiah 53. I Peter 2:24... He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Does that healing keep us from all sin? No. But it keeps us from the eternal consequences of our sin, AND wonderfully, gives us power to “live to righteousness”. Jesus is always working. But that doesn't means he's a workaholic. Not at all. Instead, it demonstrates that He is a living Lord and a faithful friend. He will not sink back into the crowd, as he did in John 5. He abides with us. As Paul prayed... [that] he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith... (Ephesians 3:16-17).