This past Sunday my pastor preached on John 5 when Jesus heals a lame man at the pool of Bethesda. Not surprisingly, Jesus, in doing good, stirs up trouble for himself. First, he heals on the Sabbath, which upsets the Pharisees, who see this as breaking the Sabbath. Second, he asserts that he is God (cf. v 17-18), which also upsets the Pharisees. I want to focus on the first issue, because it is in fulfilling the Sabbath that Jesus demonstrates that he truly is who he claims to be.
When Jesus says in v 17 that he is doing God’s work, he is telling us that doing good on the Sabbath is not breaking the Sabbath but is actually the truest expression of the Sabbath. Rest as relief from the effects of the fall (e.g., sin and sickness) is what the Sabbath is all about. Hence Jesus says, “my Father has been working until now.” Jesus says deliverance from affliction and sin is the work God is doing as an expression of the Sabbath, and, therefore, he is doing the same. Our hope is that Christ will complete this work of redemption, and we will enter into that full and final rest in glory.
Here Jesus is telling the Pharisees not only that they got the Sabbath wrong, but that they got God wrong. Does God prefer to watch people suffer so he can keep a rule, or are his rules intended to stop the suffering that resulted from the original broken rule? And is he working to ensure his rules are kept or is he working to save the rule-breakers by keeping his own rules for them? Jesus wants the Pharisees to see just how far they’ve fallen from the Biblical picture of the Lord of the Sabbath.
Jesus said his Father “is working until now, and I am working.” When you think of God working in your life, is this what comes to mind? Mercy, restoration, forgiveness, healing? The expressions of God’s love and grace towards you his beloved child? Or does your mind go more towards what you need to do better, how you need to improve your performance, what you need to cover up and hide?
This isn’t to say God doesn’t warn, rebuke, or correct us. Jesus warned the man that a life of unbelief towards Christ as Savior and Lord spent on sin would result in something much worse than the sickness he just healed. And Jesus certainly corrected and rebuked the Pharisees. But the emphasis of this passage is on God’s initiative to express mercy to us, not our initiative to get ourselves together or even to ask for help. In this story in particular, Jesus approached the man. This man didn’t even know who Jesus was when this happened, and he continued in his ignorance until Jesus came and finally made himself known. Isn’t it the same with us? God starts the exchange. And God carries it to completion.
As believers, this is us. This is all of us. We are the lame man by the pool who can’t get ourselves the help we need. Jesus is the Savior we never imagined coming to people who didn’t know him and giving us the rest God intended for us from the beginning. If you find it hard to see yourself this way, ask God to break you. It is only the needy who can receive help, and it is only those who see their need who will accept or ask for help. If you find yourself feeling quite like this man – disabled, debilitated by life or sin or something – Christ asks, “Do you want to be healed?” Say, “Yes.” Pour out your need for strength or forgiveness or healing or wisdom or whatever to the God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). Then fight to rest by remembering God fulfills his promises because he loves us and is gracious, not because of any merit on our parts. And then watch to see what God does.