This passage lies at the beginning of a unit within the Gospel that continues through 12:50 that covers the major Jewish festivals. The specific festival in question here in chapter 5 is not identified by the text, so for our purposes we will not worry about trying to speculate on this point, although there are various theories put forth by commentators; the application here is not affected by which festival is involved.
The pool at Bethesda was stirred periodically, we don’t know how often, and the first lame person into the pool when it was stirred would be healed. The man who is the subject of our text was so disabled that he was not able to move quickly enough to be first, and had suffered his disability for 38 years. In our text, Jesus will heal him, command him to pick up his mat and walk, and then slip back into the crowd. The aspect of this event that we will concentrate on today is the reaction of the Jews, while next time we will concentrate on Jesus’ response to them in vv. 16-47.
The first three verses are discussed in the introduction, however you might notice that the NIV does not have a verse four. It is contained in the footnote and omitted from the text. The King James renders verse four thusly: “For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” This verse does not appear in the early manuscripts, yet in the latest ones it suddenly appears. This is considered to be the result of an early margin note giving the local explanation (myth?) that had later been incorporated into the text.
Jesus walks up to the man and asks him a simple question: “Do you want to get well?” The man’s reply demonstrates that he had little hope. Not only had he been in this condition for 38 years, but the pool rules required that he be first into the pool, and only people better off than he had any chance of making it; he appears to have been demoralized. Jesus did not argue, lecture or pity, He simply gave a command without further comment: The man complied without hesitation. I wonder if we would be so bold in this man’s condition! The man believed Jesus; he took Jesus at His word. There were no questions, arguments or hesitations: He followed Jesus’ command. All appears to be well until verse 9… it was the Sabbath.
In verses 10-13, we cannot help but be amazed at the ridiculous reaction to this miracle: It was the Sabbath and you aren’t allowed to carry your mat. Nobody said, “Wow, aren’t you the guy who was crippled for 38 years… and now you are healed: Praise God!” No, there will be no rejoicing for what God has done, only condemnation because the guy picked up his stupid mat. The man told them that he had the mat because the guy who healed him had told him to pick it up, and of course they demand to know who had done that. (Conspiracy to break the Sabbath!) The man had no idea…
A curious thing happened: Jesus ran into the man later and warned him to stop sinning lest something worse happen to him and the man ran to the Jews to report who his co-conspirator was. There are several possible reasons for Jesus’ words to the man although it seems to me that the most likely meaning is to warn the man not to sin lest he receive condemnation at the final judgment. It seems unlikely that Jesus was talking about carrying the mat on the Sabbath. Notice also the lack of the man thanking Jesus for his healing, could that be the answer? In any case, the man ratted on Jesus to the Jews. Curious, don’t you think? This act, of course sets up the next part in this story which we will consider tomorrow.
For today, it is interesting to consider where all of these Sabbath rules came from. Rest assured that it was not from the Law, but rather they came from the Jews’ interpretation of the Law, a very strict interpretation that converted a day of rest and relaxation into more of a heavy yoke of obligation that Jesus dealt with over and over again.
Do we Christians make up rules of conduct that Jesus didn’t give us and turn our faith into a heavy burden instead of its being a joy? This should make for an interesting discussion…
Last time, we saw Jesus and His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. As their conversation was just about to wrap up, His disciples who had gone into town to buy food come upon the pair; this is what followed…
Upon their return the disciples were a bit shocked to see Jesus speaking with this woman for the reasons recounted last time, but they did not insert themselves into the situation. It seems unlikely that they would question Jesus’ morality, and by now they would certainly have noticed that He didn’t observe all of the usual customs of the day; they waited for her to leave. She leaves her water jugs behind and rushes into town to tell the people to come and see this man who has told her everything about her life. These townsfolk would most likely be aware that there was much to tell, and her testimony has power in their eyes. Her conclusion that He was a prophet she freely gave, but notice that His statement that He is the Christ she is cautious about; “Could this be the Christ?” The people came to find out…
The disciples want Jesus to eat something and Jesus tells them that He has food they know nothing about. As always seems to be the case, they take Him literally, wondering if somebody else has given Him food; maybe that woman?
Jesus explains His meaning: His food (nourishment) is to do His Father’s work. Then He proceeds to change the subject to the harvest of souls. His main device in explaining this to them is to point out that it isn’t always the same person who sows the seed and also reaps the harvest. In their case, they have gone into town to buy the food that someone else planted, worked and harvested. They did no work, they just paid for it; someone else did the actual work. The harvest of souls is near; Jesus wants His disciples to see that the time has come to reap this harvest. Of course all of this sowing and reaping is analogous to the Gospel; First the Word of God will be planted in the people, in fact it has already been done; the people expect the Messiah to appear. It is for Jesus and especially for His disciples to bring in the harvest of those who will believe that they might turn to God and receive eternal life.
Because of the woman’s testimony about Jesus, many of the townsfolk believed in Him. As a result they asked Him to stay in their midst and He did so for two days. During this time, even more believed because of His teachings. Now, not only did they believe because of the woman’s testimony, they also had the opportunity to see and hear Jesus for themselves: The harvest in that small town had been reaped. The people there understood that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.
Isn’t it interesting that when we share our testimony about Jesus, some people respond right away in faith while others resist and refuse to accept it? Could it be that those who respond easily have had the seed of faith planted by someone else, maybe years before? Could it be that those who refuse our plea may respond easily to someone else weeks or years later?
Certainly Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that they were to bring in the harvest of the crop that was ready for harvest, and to plant the seed for the harvest that would follow later: I think we can learn from this.
The first four verses of this passage set the background for the story; John the Baptist has been arrested (3:24; Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:20). Opposition was brewing amongst the Pharisees in Jerusalem because Jesus’ reputation was growing and He was gaining followers and Jesus decided that this was the time to move back to Galilee. It seems that the arrest of John had the affect of freeing Jesus from John’s ministry; John was decreasing, Jesus was increasing. Jesus takes the mountain road that goes through Samaria that He would later send His disciples on (Acts 1:8). When Jesus arrives in Samaria our story begins.
The plot of ground referred to here is referred to in Gen. 48:22 and is roughly a half mile from Jacob’s well (see also Josh. 24:32). Jacob’s well was certainly a well-known location, famous for the spring of bubbling water that it created access to. Jesus arrived there that day at about noon, tired and thirsty.
Approaching a woman at the well He asked for a drink, and the woman’s response is interesting in that she seems to have assumed a superior tone; you are a Jew and yet you ask me for a drink? Jews did not associate with Samaritans; in fact the Jewish teaching of the time said that associating with Samaritans would cause a Jew to be defiled. If that were not enough, Jewish men did not speak to women in public; not even their own wives and here is Jesus boldly walking up to a Samaritan woman and asking for water.
As was His custom, Jesus went directly to the lesson He was going to teach, ignoring the customs and traditions of men. The ‘gift of God’ and His identity are the real topics they would discuss: Jesus could provide ‘living water’ and if she understood this she would be asking Him for a drink. Taking Him literally, she notes that Jesus has no means by which to draw water and asks him if He is greater than Jacob whose water isn’t so effective. Of course when Jesus mentions water that would quench a thirst for a lifetime, the woman is interested so that she wouldn’t have to draw water anymore which was very hard work. Notice that in v. 14 Jesus refers to a “spring of water welling up” which is a direct reference to the reputation of Jacob’s well. The water that Jesus was talking about here is a metaphor for eternal life that was the ultimate gift of God; accomplished by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Himself.
In verses 16-19, an interesting thing happens: In response to Jesus directive to go and get her husband, the woman tells a falsehood with a half-truth. Jesus knows the whole story, to her amazement and this insight on His part is the probable reason for why she is drawing water at high noon instead of in the cool of the morning with all of the other women. Apparently shocked, she perceives that Jesus is a prophet.
Changing the subject, the woman goes on to religious matters… after all Jesus must be a prophet. Jesus tells her that God isn’t really interested in where a person worships; God cares how a person worships. In God’s sight what is important is that a person worships in ‘spirit and in truth’: The time has come for this epochal change. From the coming of Christ forward the old regulations and traditions are set aside and replaced with reality. In modern vernacular you can almost hear the woman say “whatever”. She says that when the Messiah comes he will tell us all about this (not you, a mere prophet). Jesus’ reply reveals to her who He really is, for He is the Messiah. (v. 26)
Isn’t it interesting how much like this woman we are!
Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the ruling council came to Jesus in the night with a question, and although he never actually got around to asking it, Jesus gave him considerably more of an answer than Nicodemus had bargained for. In fact, Jesus in His answer gave what many commentators believe is an example of His early preaching; a wide ranging explanation of how a person can be saved through the New Covenant He would make with Man. He will speak of many things in this conversation, and by the time it concludes He will have set out God’s plan for Mankind.
Nicodemus opens the conversation with a statement; saying that “we” know that Jesus is from God for His miracles have confirmed the fact. The use of “we” is interesting, for it implies that as of this early date many or all of the Pharisees had come to the realization that Jesus was the real deal. In His reply, Jesus goes ahead to answer the question Nicodemus is working up to when He tells him that he must be born again.
Nicodemus, as most people would do, has taken Jesus’ statement literally; it seems at first to be ridiculous. Jesus, on the other hand is speaking of an entirely different kind of life, a life that is entirely apart from this physical realm. This birth is of “water and the Spirit” rather than from flesh and blood. Keep in mind that from the OT Jewish point of view, a person is born into God’s Kingdom (earthly Israel) through physical birth. This is a shadow of things to come, for what will become reality through Christ is “rebirth” into the Kingdom of Heaven. This will be accomplished through water at baptism and the Spirit through the Gospel message ( cf. 1Cor. 4:15 and 1Peter 1:23 ). This kingdom is not a small and weak little nation that is living under foreign occupation, but a majestic and ultimately powerful kingdom headed by God Himself that will cover the entire globe forever.
Verse 8 illustrates Jesus’ remark in verse 6: When something is born of flesh, you know where it came from, but something born of the Spirit is like something borne by the wind, you don’t know where it came from or where it is going, because your physical senses can’t quite perceive these things. Someone or something born of the Spirit can only be perceived by someone else who is born of the Spirit.
Poor Nicodemus is having trouble following this, and so would we in his place… ad so does anyone who is not “of the Spirit” today. Jesus’ main point here is that He has been teaching the people about earthly things, and they haven’t believed… even though He has been telling them about things that He has witnessed. Thus, He has been giving testimony. In the same way, nobody can testify about heaven unless he has been there; Jesus has come from there and is giving testimony of what He has seen, heard and knows for a fact. It’s as though Jesus were telling Nicodemus: “Come on buddy, you’re a teacher of Israel, you’re supposed to understand this stuff. If you didn’t know about it before, you’re supposed to be educated enough to recognize reliable testimony and believe it: stay with me here!”
Jesus continues to attempt to communicate with Nicodemus by using an illustration from Israel’s past that he would be familiar with. This illustration comes from Numbers 21:4-9 when God sent a plague of snakes upon His grumbling and rebellious people. When the serpent was lifted up before then and they gazed upon it in faith, they would live. If not… they would die. In the same way, Jesus will be lifted up before the people (on the cross). Those who look to Him on the cross in faith will live.
Verses 16-18 are probably the most familiar part of this text of all to Christians; it is the very heart of the Gospel setting out just exactly the whole core of Christian Theology. God has sent His Son into the world to save Mankind from the consequences of rebellion against God. Those who believe Him will have eternal life; those who refuse will perish for they have condemned themselves by their refusal. God loves all Mankind and genuinely wants them to be saved, but He allows them to exercise their free will on the matter: How will you decide?
The final verses of this passage use the illustration of “light”. Jesus is the light, the truth that shines in a dark world. The world has done evil, it has rejected the light; it has rejected the truth. Yet, if we do what is good, if we believe the One who was sent by God as the light of the world, we will move into the light and our testimony will light the darkness and the world will see that we are doing God’s work. Again, this is a thumbnail of the Gospel message at work in our lives. In the remainder of this chapter, John has set forth the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus. It is interesting to note that John (the author) has put these passages together in this way. First, you have the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus sets out the whole Gospel plan to a Pharisee, who presumably will report on it, and second you have the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus is the Christ and about the Gospel as a third party validation. Jesus’ teaching, followed by a third party validation: John is pulling out all of the persuasive stops in this section!
I say my oldest friend, yet we never met; that’s how good Vin Scully is as a play-by-play announcer.
When I was a boy, I listened to him on the radio when I went to bed, when I was playing in the yard or walking around the neighborhood on a warm summer evening; his voice was everywhere in those days. He would be played on loudspeakers in the stores, every dad had him on the transistor radio in their garage, every mom had him on the radio in their kitchens; you could literally walk all over the place and never miss a play because every house had a radio on and a window open…
Yet what makes Vin special isn’t that everyone in my home town listened to him, it is the way he described the game, for unlike other announces, Vin paints pictures with words, he tells stories that mesh with the game as it moves forward in a way that is pure genius, and all the while he is speaking as though talking to you personally as a close friend.
Several years ago, I began subscribing to MLB.TV so I could hear Vin Scully again after being so long away from the Los Angeles area; my wife thought that was odd to say the least. Having grown up in the Midwest, she really hadn’t become familiar with him, even though he did national broadcasting in the late 70’s and 80’s, but she too was hooked in an hour or two of listening to him; everything is good when Vin is there.
What’s even more amazing about Vin is that he approaches his job as though he’s no big deal, just a red-headed kid from New York who is doing the thing he loves, a guy who doesn’t really know what all the fuss is about. That might just be his most endearing characteristic in an age when everyone wants to be a big shot.
Oh yes, I’m going to miss Vin Scully!
If you have a minute to spare, here’s a fantastic tribute that you will enjoy, even if you’ve never heard of my oldest friend.
Since people would have travelled to Jerusalem from all over, they would not have been able to bring animals for sacrifices with them and still be able to meet the ceremonial requirements for perfection. Having a marketplace right within the Temple (Court of the Gentiles) would have been quite convenient. At the same time, it would have been quite convenient for the priests who received a percentage from the sales. In addition, Temple taxes were required to be paid by the Jews in the coin of Tyre. Money changers were on hand to exchange other coins for the ones required for Temple taxes, sometimes at high fees: Clearly, Passover was a time for commerce in the middle of the National House of Worship.
Jesus was filled with righteous indignation and drove the traders out, overturning their tables and ordering all of the goods to be removed. Note that He did not harm the animals or confiscate the money; He was not doing this to cause harm, but rather to stop the desecration of the Temple. His whip was made of rope, not leather. It would have gotten a man’s attention, but it would not have caused anyone serious harm. The issue that Jesus reacted to here was not that running a market and engaging in commerce was a bad or sinful thing in and of itself, but that the Temple was not the place for such things. Remember, the Temple in Jerusalem during the Old Covenant was the dwelling place of God (in the Holy of holies). The dwelling place of God, the place of His worship, was not to be taken callously and turned into a marketplace for personal enrichment; it was reserved for reverence.
In verse 17, John is quoting from Psalm 69:9. The Psalmist is consumed with love for God’s house, and so is Jesus. Jesus’ zeal for God’s house as a house of prayer has interesting possibilities for us to consider. First, He certainly had a zeal for the Temple as a place of prayer, but a careful look at the Gospels will reveal that He is never portrayed as praying there. He is mentioned to be praying in the desert, mountains and Sea, but not particularly at the Temple. Of course, creative students will recall that the Temple in the OT is symbolic of a NT reality as mentioned several times in Hebrews. In the NT, many will say that the Temple represents the church, not a building, but the Body of Christ wherein He dwells through the Holy Spirit. It may be said that this approach is a bit of a stretch to apply to this passage, but it is interesting to ponder. What is clear however, is that His consummation took place at the time of His crucifixion, which was done for the forgiveness of sins that His people could be redeemed… and so that all peoples could be redeemed into the Body of Christ.
Naturally, the authorities demanded a sign of His authority. What Jesus gave in reply seemed ridiculous to those who can only think of the physical, but after the resurrection, His disciples understood that the Temple He referred to was that of His own Body.
Hmm… so what do you think?