Everything in the book of John is written intentionally to show the character of Jesus. When we skip ahead to the conclusion of this gospel, John doesn't want to leave a doubt as to what his purpose is: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."
John is written as a sort of testimony of what the author had seen and experienced. It’s written as a friend sharing a story to try and show you the truth about something. It’s not simply stating facts, but purposefully sharing story to reveal what the author believes to be true. That’s not to say that John’s stories aren’t exactly how things happened, but more that a relisting of facts isn't the point of the author’s writing.
It’s similar to when you tell the story of how you and your significant other met, or the stories of that idealized summer, or the trip you still talk about 10 years later. The point isn’t to list all the facts, but to invite the listeners to experience what we experienced. To wade into the experience of others. To bring some understanding, to elicit some emotions.
John even admits in his writing that there are more things and miracles that Jesus performed that he doesn’t write about. So John isn’t written as a history book, but as a story to help bring understanding to people he cared about. He writes with conviction and hope for his readers.
His careful crafting of these texts shows the care he had for his readers. These would have been the early disciples of Jesus, and the people in their “local.” While the writer wanted these people at some level to know more about Jesus, it is also clear that simple knowledge about Jesus wasn't the entirety of their purpose.
Relationships are complex. Early in a relationship, it can feel like facts are all that matter. What’s their name? What do they do? Do they have any pets? Do we have shared interests? Are they kind? Safe? Sane? What’s their family like? What do they do with their free time? What movies, books, shows, music do they like? These are ice breaker, first date, first interaction type questions. They exist to collect information.
What would be the effect of a relationship that was only about collecting information about the other person?
I feel like a lot of times we in the Church give lip service to this idea that “it’s a relationship not a religion.” While I totally get where this comes from and even connect deeply with that idea, the problem is that we then turn around and our entire faith becomes wrapped up in trying to debate others and ourselves into belief. Faith is then boiled down to the facts that we can unequivocally prove to be true.
At what point do you know enough about Jesus to have a real relationship with him?
The problem is that faith isn’t found in facts; faith is discovered in the unknown.
John is not just a grouping of Jesus facts. It is John’s invitation to process, in order to walk towards seeing that Jesus is the Messiah and that there is life in relationship with Him.
What are some important things to know about Jesus?
As we have mentioned over and over in our study so far, John is a user of hyperlinks for deeper meaning, for cross referencing, for reminding of stories and situations, and for repetition. One of the hyperlink themes that John uses is water.
Here’s where we’ve seen water in John already: John the Baptist baptizes people in water. Jesus turns water into wine. Jesus tells Nicodemus that people must be born of water and Spirit. Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and offers her living water so she will never thirst again. The crowd in Galilee, who had seen or heard about the water being turned into wine, wants to see another miracle in order to believe.
Water symbolizes life. Today we are going to come to a moment where John moves this symbol of water on to Jesus. Before we jump into the narrative today, let me ask you this deep end of the pool question:
What does a relationship with Jesus add to a person’s life?
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, 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. (John 5:1-13)
Jesus had started performing signs and miracles, and even though people didn’t know He was the Messiah, they still knew about Him. A lot of people knew where he came from and that he was a rabbi and a teacher.
But here’s a moment where Jesus performs a pretty big miracle, brings healing to this person, and then when this guy is asked, “Who did this to you?” he has no idea.
Imagine having any ailment at all for any number of years. And think about if someone came to you asking if you wanted to get well, and you said yes, and so they healed you, but it was in a different way than you expected, and here’s the kicker, they were a complete stranger and you literally had no idea who they were. That might be a little strange.
And we can often view miracles and the things God does as ways for Him to get our attention and for us to know who He is. I think that’s true, but one of the most apparent complexities of this story is that this guy didn’t know who Jesus was. He was completely unaware, and most likely had the experience of being healed by a stranger. Jesus comes back to him and reveals Himself at a point, but just imagine yourself in this guy’s situation for a moment.
Why didn’t Jesus start off by saying, “Hi I’m Jesus, you may have heard of me, and I’m the Messiah, and to prove it to you, I’m going to heal you.” He just heals him, and then walks away. What does it mean that this guy had no idea who Jesus was when He healed him? Jesus literally healed someone who wasn’t a follower or believer.
Why would Jesus heal someone who didn’t even know who He was?
Imagine one of our local lakes having a small pool area where, once a day, an angel shows up and stirs the water and whoever gets in first gets healed. And imagine how many people would live near it, or have lived in the area and go to visit daily just to get an opportunity, that maybe they could be the one to get it today. Maybe they could be the special chosen one. And imagine how many people travel from out of state just to see this pool as a spectacle, and how many people travel from out of state to try and get into the water.
There are many modern-day references to these kinds of things. I remember my neighbor growing up had cancer. We were pretty close to them as a family and they let us know at one point that they were travelling to go visit this priest who supposedly could heal people. And our neighbor had heard stories about this guy, that he had prayed for other people who had been healed of their intense sickness, even leukemia and cancer. I remember feeling an intense amount of hope, that once my neighbor made it up to where this guy was, and had him lay hands on her for healing, she would surely be healed.
But it didn’t happen and she passed away. I remember the sadness I felt, and the questioning of “God I believe you heal people, and Lindsey loved you and did what she could to get healed, so why didn’t you heal her?” There’s a lot of complexity to that story, and I think there were probably a lot of people in Jesus’ time who might have experienced something similar.
There can be a lot of questions when it seems like God doesn’t show up or do things in the way we’d hope or expect.
How do you respond when God doesn’t meet a need or a perceived need in the way that you thought He would?
I think about all the people who lived by this pool for weeks and months and years, watching this process take place each day, and seeing each opportunity pass by. It’s literally a lottery. But this man didn’t even really have a ticket on account of being crippled and not being able to even get to the water when it’s not moving, let alone when the angel came to stir it.
This is the context of Jesus’ interaction with this man--a man who probably had no hope for healing but had great need. Who stayed mostly because he didn’t have another choice, but would probably have loved to leave that place.
And the thing is, Jesus, the healer, was right in front of him and the multitudes who were looking to be healed, yet they missed Him. They were looking at this pool.
Does God show up in ways that we don’t know it’s Him? Or maybe there are parts of God we’re unfamiliar with? We have access to relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean at this current moment we know everything about God. I’m not sure we will ever know everything about God, though we’re invited to know Him more and more through relationship with Him. But there are absolutely ways in which he moves and acts that are foreign to me.
What about when you’ve been able to see God only retrospectively? Have you missed him in a moment, but later recognized that He had been present or done things?
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. (John 5:14-15)
Oh, that guy who healed me was actually Jesus. The Son of God. The Messiah.
This water symbolism is strong. Remember, just a chapter before, Jesus speaks of Himself as living water, that if someone would drink of Him they would never be thirsty again. This Samaritan woman is looking for water that would quench her thirst but Jesus shows Himself as a different kind of water.
Here in this moment is a similar situation playing out. If you get a chance, go through the book of John and just make note of all of the pictures of water. It’s very poetic.
And in our current context, I don’t want us to be a gathering of people who are looking to some kind of pool with magical water when Jesus is standing right over there, albeit maybe in the background, but He’s the source of everything we’re looking for and hoping for and needing.
So why did Jesus heal this guy at the pool instead of pushing him in or carrying him over and parting the people like the Red Sea? Because all along Jesus came to point to Himself as the bread of life and to God as the source of life. All along, people had been using systems and looking to things to bring them health and healing and wholeness and life, and Jesus came to present Himself as all of those things.
We all have needs, and all of us have some thing or things that we know aren’t “right.” And this is not a moment to feel shame. This guy was crippled for decades, and even though culture would have said the reason was because he sinned, or his parents sinned, Jesus comes along later and actually points out that this is an incorrect assumption.
In our need, or our brokenness, or whatever is keeping us from experiencing fuller life, Jesus doesn’t point us to the things that will make us whole. He offers us wholeness through connection with Him.
What are the effects of seeing Jesus as someone who can direct us toward good things instead of seeing Him as the source of good things?
What are the effects of having Jesus meet your need even when you aren’t aware of Him?
There’s all kinds of ways people got healed all throughout scripture, and even Jesus performed healing miracles in different ways. One person touched his cloak. Others were healed by their faith. But here’s a moment where Jesus is the one who takes initiative to perform healing.
At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Jesus healed him, and John at least makes a little bit of distinction that he was healed even if he wouldn’t have gotten up to check. The healing wasn’t based on his testing it out, but on Jesus’ spoken word. But the experience of the healing was found in this man choosing to take Jesus at His word, in light of being crippled for 38 years, and getting up, taking his mat and walking. Jesus was literally creating an opportunity for faith.
This man could have made an okay living begging. And it was very familiar. I mean, imagine living in the same spot for 38 years, and then in one moment everything changes, and that spot that was so familiar to you can no longer be yours. It’s not home anymore. Even if it’s good, that has to be overwhelming.
This guy on the mat “didn’t get it.” The religious authorities “got it.” But Jesus pursued relationship with the guy on the mat.
If you’re on a mat, and “not getting it,” Jesus is okay with that and it doesn’t keep Him away from you. You’re actually probably more in line for connection with Him than you would be if you thought you were getting it or thought you had it all together.
What is your mat or bed? What is the water that looks as if it can cure you? Where is Jesus in your situation?
What do you know about Jesus? What do you need to know about Jesus? Jesus is looking in the eyes of the people that would have been thought to have known “everything.” They may have even thought that about themselves.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; 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)
And now it is a time for John to blast the hyperlink world:
“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:45-46)
I can hear the religious authorities: What did Moses ever say about this guy? Is He defaming Moses? What does He even know about Moses?
John is building this oscillation between the people that should have gotten it and didn’t, and the people that had no reason or right to get it and did.
When I think of Moses from 30,000 feet, I think of the story of people in need and God delivering and helping them in spite of themselves. When I think of Jesus’ interaction with the man laying at the pool and His interaction with the religious authorities who now wanted to kill Him, I think of this story of people in need and God delivering and helping them in spite of themselves.
We end today not a question of belief, but a question of God’s love. With all that we have talked about today:
Why is God engaged in people’s lives?
When we focus on God’s character of grace, how does it impact your understanding of His engagement in our lives?
If Jesus is gracious to those that don’t get Him, how is He gracious to you/us?
Take It Deeper Questions:
Read John 5:1-15
When you are sick, what are you like: Oscar the Grouch? Superman? Eeyore? Buddy Elf?
Why does Jesus help this man in the story?
How does God help people?
How much does a person need to know in order to be helped by God?
What does a person need to do in order to be helped by God?
How are you challenged, focused, encouraged and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan: