If you hang around Jesus long enough, you’ll realize that He isn’t interested in a popularity contest. He’s not a politician, and He doesn’t play by their games. It’s one of the things that enraged the religious leaders. No matter how much pressure they put on Him, He wouldn’t back down.
In fact, this passage has a shocking ending: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him…” What pushed them over the edge? These four shocking elements:
- The intractability of the disease
- The controversy of the Sabbath
- The superficiality of the healing
- The audacity of the Son
The intractability of the disease: Jesus comes upon a man with a disease by the pool of Bethesda. The man asks not for healing, but to be brought to the healing pool. And instead of bringing him to the healing, Jesus brings the healing to him. Jesus commands him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” Not only does the man stand, he hoists his bed and walks. Jesus is once more wielding the power of the Messianic Age, because in Jesus the Kingdom of God is at hand. You’d think this was something to be celebrated by the religious leaders, but the opposite happens.
The controversy of the Sabbath: The religious leaders’ response to the healing of Jesus missed the forest for the trees. In their zeal for obedience to the law of God, they were oblivious to the Son of God in their midst. But what’s also shocking is how quickly the man who was healed walked away from Jesus.
The superficiality of the healing: What could be worse than decades of misery as an invalid? Sitting feet away from the healing you need, but knowing you’re powerless to reach it on your own? Day after day, having your hopes dashed again and again; what could possibly be worse than that? Just this: if the man’s sin runs unchecked, a worse fate awaits. His physical ailments were just the tip of the iceberg. He thought his biggest problem in life was his crippled limbs. But Jesus showed him the deeper problem, the real disease that lies within each of us. Sin cripples our souls, and if it’s not dealt with, it will cripple us for eternity, far from the presence of Jesus, who is the only one who can truly heal us. By calling out this man’s sin, Jesus invited him to deal with the deeper disease and illness within. Unfortunately, he wasn’t ready to go receive Jesus’ offer. So he closed off, ran away, and turned Jesus in.
The audacity of the Son: The religious leaders accused Jesus of working on the Sabbath. Jesus could have responded a number of ways, but He said something shocking: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” In essence He said that God the Father works on the Sabbath, and so Jesus does too. He said that the exceptions that apply to God also apply to Him. Jesus ultimately claimed the prerogatives of Deity for Himself. Not only was He the Messiah, He was claiming to be the Son of God, with all the rights and privileges thereof.
What’s our takeaway? Jesus is our Healer, our Sabbath, and our God.
The reason so many of us find ourselves sitting by the pool, so close to — and yet so far away from — the healing we desperately need, is because we cannot bring ourselves to look to Jesus and in surrender, vulnerability, and desperation say: “I have no one to help me; I can’t get there on my own; would you help me, Jesus?”
Jesus has never left that prayer unanswered.