Yesterday we finished Chapter 4 and today we move into Chapter 5, which begins a new section of John’s Gospel. As chapter 5 unfolds, John describes Jesus healing a lame man on the Sabbath. The Jewish leaders responded by accusing Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The Pharisees’ vitriolic response provided Jesus an opportunity to offer a glimpse into his self-understanding. After they challenged Jesus on his comments, he called a series of witnesses to confirm the truthfulness of his self-testimony. He concluded with an explanation of why the religious leadership did not believe in him. The question of Jesus’ identity is as controversial now as it was during his earthly ministry.
The next major section of this Gospel is John 5:1-10:42. The events recounted here are characterized by escalating conflict. John selects typical events and discourses to illustrate the Jewish people’s response to Jesus. This large section is sometimes called the Festival Cycle because John shows how Jesus fulfilled and surpassed certain features from some of Israel’s great festivals: Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles and Dedication/Hanukkah.
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [ ] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath—5:1-9
Chapter 5 opens with Jesus’ second trip to Jerusalem recorded in this Gospel. It is impossible to know how much time elapsed between the events in the previous chapter and the healing in this chapter. John does not indicate which festival brought Jesus to Jerusalem on this occasion. The healing took place by a pool called Bethesda. The man whom Jesus healed had been crippled for 38 years. His situation had been hopeless. It does not appear that he had any idea of Jesus’ identity. The crucial point is that the healing took place on the Sabbath, as indicated by the repeated references to it. The Sabbath was considered a weekly festival and governed by strict rules. Jesus broke one of the rabbinic rules governing the day by healing on the Sabbath. In addition, Jesus’ command for the man to carry his mat broke another of the Sabbath regulations. John highlights this healing as the third sign Jesus performed. Previously Jesus had turned approximately 175 gallons of water into wine and healed a boy from a distance who was near death; here he healed a man who had not walked for four decades.
and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”
The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.—5:10-15
The Jewish leaders’ response to this healing is the first open hostility toward Jesus recorded in this Gospel; however, conflict was foreshadowed already in the prologue. The religious leaders confronted the healed man about carrying his mat on the Sabbath. He did not know who healed him, because Jesus had slipped away before the man could identify him. Later, Jesus found the man in the temple and warned him about continuing to sin; possibly some sinful activity caused his lameness. The man may have reported Jesus to the religious leaders because he was angered by Jesus’ rebuke.
Now let’s talk a little bit about the Jewish/Old Testament Sabbath. The Old Testament Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, which meant and still means that the Sabbath occurs on Saturday and not Sunday. Keeping the Sabbath holy, which was God’s command to the people of Israel, meant and still means setting it apart and making it different from other days. No one was to work. Instead, they were to use it as a time of rest from normal activity and to worship and honor God. Their focus was to be on spiritual and eternal things. The Israelites were expected to follow the example God himself set when he rested after six days of creation. God set this day aside for our own good, to provide a day of spiritual, mental and physical refreshment. The Sabbath was a sign they belonged to God. It also remembered them of their miraculous rescue from slavery in Egypt. But as we have already seen in just this short secretion of chapter 5 the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had taken a day that was to be set aside as a reminder of God’s love for the people of Israel and had turned it into something else. And unfortunately we still do the same thing today, and we will pick from here tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
1 Samuel 8-9, John 6:22-42, Psalm 106:32-48 and Proverbs 14:34-35