I would like you all to take a brief moment to reflect on something that was so significant in your life that changed you profoundly, or perhaps changed the direction of your life. Typically, you may think of meeting someone or speaking with someone that led you to your current job. Or perhaps someone introduced you to your future husband or wife. Still others may have in mind something that someone said or something they read that lead them to change what they do or what they eat, or the sport they play or city or indeed country that they live in. Yesterday I read on the front page of the Manawatu Standard of a man who used to be 135 Kg in weight and was told he was well on the way to developing diabetes. He shed 55 kg at the end of his high school year and now runs his own personal trainer business.
In our series in John we have over the last few weeks come across a variety of people whose lives have been interrupted with an encounter with Jesus Christ, the Messiah. There was Andrew and Peter and Bartholomew. There was Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night and was introduced to his need to be born again. Then there was the marvellous account of the woman of Samaria, and some of the townspeople that she knew that believed in Jesus the Messiah. At the end of Chapter 4 is a brief account of an official of some sort who sought Jesus for healing for his son. Jesus challenged the people around him that their interest was only in signs and miracles and this man was quite abruptly dismissed to go home, but his son would be healed. He was remarkable in that he took Jesus at his word, his son was healed and he and his whole household came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. These people all had an encounter with Jesus which changed their lives profoundly.
Today, we read about another person whose world changed in a moment. This encounter tells the story of a cripple who no faith at all, at least initially. This chapter contains the account of a remarkable healing, but it also provides us with some in depth teaching about the deity of Jesus and about eternal life.
Firstly, consider the problem this man had. He had a calamitous problem. Imagine being a cripple for 38 years. He was an invalid. It seems that he was unable to do anything for himself. He was utterly helpless. He wanted to get into this pool which seemed to get stirred up once in a while but no-one would help him.
He seems not just helpless, but to be honest, he seems clueless. He had no idea who Jesus was. I am not sure he was even aware that Jesus could heal people. Jesus speaks into this context and asks, “Do you want to get well?” “Do you want to be completely whole?” This is in one sense a bit of an odd question. Surely the man wanted to be well. After all he was crippled. We will come back to this question in a moment.
Jesus in his mercy and grace cuts to the chase and in one word both issues a word of command to get up and walk, and he is instantly healed. He is cured. This is remarkable. The man does not even know who Jesus is! In some ways, this healing is done in the context of absent faith. He had no knowledge of the person standing in front of him and yet Jesus unilaterally meets his immediate need. He is completely cured. What mercy! What grace!
There is more to come. Jesus found him again in the temple (v.14). The man still did not know who Jesus is. Jesus comments, look, you are well (i.e. physically well), and then commands him “Sin no more”. The man had as yet a deeper unmet need. In this particular instance it does look as if this man’s physical sickness was related to some particular sin or to some ongoing sinful action. We do read of other instances in scripture of sickness and death relating to sin. Consider Annanias and Sapphira in Act 5, or consider Abigail’s husband in 1Kings. However in other places the Bible seems to see sickness and ill health to be a general consequence of the fallen world we live in rather than something specific. In fact in John 9 we have recorded a healing of blind man where Jesus specifically comments that his illness was not related to any specific sin but rather that the glory of God be displayed.
So, this man in this situation, seems to have had a problem regarding some sin either in the past or perhaps some ongoing issues. Here then is a call for repentance and for a commitment to walking in sin no more. This is no cheap grace offered simply to heal this man of his crippled state. Of course Jesus wants him to be healed of his physical sickness. Of course! But Jesus wants to touch him deeply and cure his deepest need. He is a sinner. He needs eternal life. He is called to renounce whatever he was doing or had done and to offer the rest of his life to following Jesus.
Let me simple restate how the story of this man’s cure is a parable for our own predicament. His need illustrates our own struggle. You see we also have a calamitous problem. We are sinners. We are born that way. We are estranged from God. We are helpless. We do not have a solution. All the education in the world, all the chasing around for different things to look for significance is a symbol of the fact that we are clueless in finding a solution to our deepest need. In fact quite often we do not even recognise our deepest need, nor do we turn to the only one who can cure us of our problem. The question that Jesus asked this man could also be asked of us: “Do you wish to be healed?” or perhaps more correctly, “Do you want to be made completely whole?”.
God in his grace and mercy offers us his salvation through Jesus Christ and offers us a complete cure. This is no cheap grace. There are profound implications. We cannot simply pretend that nothing changes. This is a life giving God, with a life giving change and so there is a call to us to repentance and a call now to commitment. God calls us to partake freely of the salvation that is offered in Christ but this is no cheap grace with no implications. He calls us into this commitment of following him.
And so back to the question that was asked of the man: “Do you want to be healed”. Do you want to be sound and healthy? This question has more in mind than just his physical illness. Jesus has in mind the complete restoration of body mind and soul. The question we have to ask ourselves is likewise, “do we want to be made whole”? Are you aware firstly of your own helplessness? Do you understand who it is that offers you life? Are up for it? Are you prepared for a life of repentance and following after Jesus Christ as Lord and King of your life.
We turn now to another issue. Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath. This was a big deal to the Jewish leaders. He could have healed this man on Friday or on the Sunday or some other day, but he chose to heal on the Sabbath. This meant he deliberately brought himself into conflict with the Jewish Leaders of the day.
Jesus could have easily answered the objections of the Jewish people. It was perfectly acceptable to help someone even on the Sabbath and he could have easily provided this kind of explanation. But he chose differently and inflamed the situation further. Why?
The answer is found in the somewhat cryptic reply that Jesus gives in v.17: “My Father is working until now, and I am working”. What does he mean? He simply means that God the Father is clearly working on the Sabbath. After all the whole universe is under is control and direction. In the Jewish way of looking at things the whole universe was God’s house and dwelling. There is no work involved in looking after your house on the Sabbath. The problem which the Jews found with Jesus’ answer was simply that He was also working, i.e. He was also looking after the house. He was making Himself equal with God.
The Jews were outraged. How could a mere mortal make themselves equivalent to God? This was preposterous and heretical. And of course, here is the irony. No mere mortal can make themselves equal to God, but here is the very point. Jesus was claiming quite directly that he was not a mere mortal. He was God! God made flesh. God the Son.
And then Jesus goes on to spell exactly what that means in v.19-24.
The Son is not only equal to God but also does exactly what the Father does, and yet he also acts in complete submission to the Father. The Father has a deep love for the Son and shows him all the he is doing. This kind of revelation was not available to the Jews who thought they were the sons and daughters of God. Jesus was claiming to be The Son who had a unique relationship of equality with the Father. The Father gives life but the Son also give life. The Father has put all judgement into the hands of the Son. The Son can expect the same honour as the Father.
Jesus then speaks these words in v.24 “24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
This is the life that Jesus wishes to give us. He rescues us from judgement and brings us into life, eternal life.
So, back to our original question. “Do you want to be completely whole”? Sound in body and mind and soul! If so, who do you go to in order to get this kind of wholeness? Who do you trust? We need to trust in the giver of life, in Jesus the Son of God. He calls us not just to eternal life for the future, but in a very real sense, he calls us to a life now of repentance and commitment to him. He wants us to live life soundly and well in fellowship with God the Father.
God in his grace and mercy may heal you from some physical sickness. Our bodies are amazingly made to cope with some illnesses, we live in a privileged time and society where much can be done to help people with illness, and a few of us may have experienced some sort of miraculous healing. Praise God if that is so. But, the writer of this book is at pains to point out that Jesus did not just come to do miracles. They were important to help validate his ministry and work and to draw people to faith. But the main reason Jesus came and lived and worked among us was to show us the Father, and to bring us to eternal life. He calls those of us who believe and trust in Him to renounce our previous way of life and to live life in fellowship with Him.