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.” [John 5:5-7 ESV]
“Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked a simple question. He did this often. His question strikes at the truth of the man’s hopelessness. God does ask us questions. His questions are designed to reveal our hearts, our motivations and objectives. He rarely offers us options. He never asks us to do something. He always commands we do what He tells us to do.
It is no surprise many carrying their handicaps as well as their sinful, immoral habits comfortably on their shoulders. If they were honest with themselves they would say “no” to Jesus’ question. They don’t want to be healed. For being healed sends them into an unknown, having to deal with parts of life they never had to confront. For most of us the answer to His question is “are you kidding? Of course I want to be healed.” Yet, being healed, being changed into something healthy carries great cost. We don’t want to confront our sin and live any differently than the comfort of our current situations.
Notice the one Jesus healed and those He did not heal. Near him lay a “multitude of invalids” all gathered under the same place all clinging to a superstitious belief an angel would stir water and the first one in is healed. He had been an invalid for 38 years. We can only speculate if his condition was all his life. He had been an invalid for so long he had grown comfortable with his lot. His focus was on the water and the impossibility of ever being changed. His faith was fixed on one thing and it wasn’t God. Besides, God made him this way. Why should God want to heal him?
His place was hopeless. He would die an invalid.
I wonder if Jesus, in order to not attract attention to Himself, whispered to the man as he lay in his usual place? I imagine the question was for him only. I wonder what Jesus saw in this man? Why did Jesus speak to him and not the others ? Why did Jesus show tangible mercy to this man and not to the others? I have an idea.
Jesus healed him to test the hearts of the religious leaders of Jerusalem. I say this for two reasons. First, He healed the man on the Sabbath and then told him to work. Jesus’ instruction “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” [John 5:8 ESV] was a command and the man immediately obeyed. “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath” [John 5:9 ESV]. This is neither the first nor the last time Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. But the Jewish tradition, building an impenetrable wall around the fourth commandment determined carrying anything was a violation of the intent of the Law. Jesus continually challenged the Religious leaders interpretation and application of Scripture. Jesus healed this man because He knew the Jewish leaders would challenge, not the reality of the healing but the violation of their traditional understanding of God’s Law.
Keep God’s law and He will reward you. Violate God’s Law and His wrath will fall on you. Their understanding of God’s Law was as superstitious as the invalid’s belief that stepping into a pool after the water was stirred by an angel would bring healing.
When we focus on the invalid and not the Lord we may draw many conclusions about what might have happened. How ecstatic he may have been. How worshipful and thankful to God he may have been. We do not know his emotional state beyond the hopelessness of his response to Jesus question. We do see the reaction of the Jews to one working on the Sabbath. Had not God decreed death to those who worked on the Sabbath? Working on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden. But then, so was every other sin. Jesus regularly challenged the thinking and heart motivations of the strict Jews whose faith was in the Law and not the God upon whom the Law is founded.
Our work of faith is the evidence of faith at work. Obedience to God is expected and carries no merit. We cannot say to Him, I obeyed now You owe me. It is our responsibility to obey God as His creation and servants. When we take His words, especially His Scripture, and add to them our own laws and expectations we supplant His authority. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath He had the authority to do so. When He commanded a man “work” He had the authority to do so. When he challenged the legalistic machinations of the Jewish authorities it was because they were challenging His authority.
Man’s interpretation of God’s Law is not merciful. Law trumps mercy when applied by sinful man and is manipulated and reconfigured to leave control with man and not God. Man’s understanding of justice demands the Law be applied strictly. It is the Law which becomes the object of faith, just as the pool was the invalids object of faith. However, when God is the object of faith then the Law only points out the sinfulness of man .
The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. [Romans 7:10-14 ESV]
But God is merciful as part of His eternal character. He offers mercy but still demands obedience. The second reason is this: Jesus commanded the invalid to do two things, not one, separated by a short period. First, He told him to pick up his mat and walk, and the man did. But, later He told the man to stop sinning. “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’” [John 5:14 ESV]. What could be worse than being an invalid for 38 years? What could be worse than having the Jews angry with you for violating the Law? Being separated from God because of sin is worse.
God’s mercy trumps man’s interpretation of the Law. After all, it’s His Law and it conforms to His eternal character. When controlled by sin the Law is used to fight to keep power over those under it and is used to frustrate and even stop God’s mercy. God’s mercy and justice are not opposed to each other but are fully compatible. Jesus had mercy on this man, actively loving him by healing his body and giving him direction toward God. He no more deserved God’s mercy than anyone else in the world.
It was the Jews, whose object of faith was the Law and not God, who turned the Law into an idol, who wanted to kill Jesus because he challenged their dishonesty and superstitious use of God’s Law.
This was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, He healed 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” [John 5:16-18 ESV].
It is Jesus’ equality with God, and His passionate substitution for us on the cross, which fulfills the law and energizes God’s mercy. Don’t allow any interpretation of Scripture to point away from Jesus and His active love for those who are His.