“Our Need for Healing”

John 5:1-18 Preached @ Harambee Church by Pastor
Michael Gunn on January 7, 2007

Last week we saw Jesus heal the son of a nobleman, taking the nobleman’s faith from hopeful to believing. John is taking us on a journey that slowly reveals the person of Jesus Christ, inundating us with penetrating encounters and vignettes of different human situations and responses. Our passage today is no different. We have another healing incident in the book, and each healing incident gives us more of an understanding of both our own propensity as humans, and deeper insight into the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is hard to truly ignore Christ. He was loved or hated, and there isn’t much difference today. As people get to know Him, both reactions are true. He is not just a “good man” as the liberal skeptic may be inclined to acknowledge; His words simply do not allow for it, which is what prompts ex-atheist C.S. Lewis to say that “Jesus was either Lord, a lunatic, or the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.” His claims are too specific and too nuanced to be simply mistaken interpretations as some try to refute Lewis’ assertion. Jesus continues to build a case for His own divinity, which is either delusional or mean spirited. In today’s story we have three scenes that are similar, but vastly different from the three scenes we see in the healing of the blind man in chapter nine.

From the Head…
Scene #1 (John 5:1-9a)
We begin with Jesus encountering a man who had been paralytic for 38 years. Jesus went up to Jerusalem to attend a Jewish feast. Some theologians think that chapter six precedes chapter five as it flows better, but the theory is usually attached to speculation regarding what feast Jesus was in Jerusalem for, and we simply aren’t given that information by John because it’s really not the primary point that John is making. The fact is, Jesus was present in Jerusalem and the use of “a feast of the Jews” highlights this truth. The pool is well attested to in archaeological finds, and it was customary for the infirmed to come and lay down. The NIV and ESV omit a variant reading included in both the NASB and KJV., which most likely describes a local superstition that indicated that “an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.” This is purely descriptive, and quite possibly a result of marginal glosses added by scribes.

Either way, Jesus approaches the man. It is God who takes initiative in our lives. The text says that when “Jesus saw him lying there and ‘learned’ that he had been in this condition for a long time,” asked him once again a very peculiar question, “Do you want to get well?” This guy’s been an invalid for 38 years! Isn’t it obvious that he wants to get well? The word learned is from the word ‘gnous’ which suggests a perception, not a real act of learning. Jesus once again is probing this man to move beyond his current malady to something else. The man isn’t struck at all by Jesus and abruptly begins to blame others for his problem. This man is bitter and crotchety; a condition related to hopelessness. Jesus seeks out those that have no hope to restore the one thing we can have in the midst of our pain. Jesus commands the man to get up, no doubt restoring the feeling of life and then hope into the man’s limbs. So the man gets up and takes his mat and walks. Once again we have Jesus the “Word” speaking life into a lifeless man, and the result is newness and order. It is not positive thinking, or “faith language” that heals this man, it is Christ, the word of the Lord, the “Logos” commanding and, “It was so!”

Scene #2 (John 5:9b-13)
Now it would be a pretty good story if it stopped right there, but the heart of the story rises a notch in this second scene. The problem is that Jesus healed on a Sabbath, and the man walked with his mat on a Sabbath, both of which were forbidden by rabbinic law (oral laws reflected in the Mishnah had 39 categories of things forbidden on the Sabbath, and carrying a bed/mat was one of them). It is strange beliefs like this that would prompt Jesus to say in other accounts that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” This is the problem with organized religion (Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Protestant or Catholic). We arbitrarily attach traditions and rules to an otherwise beautiful relationship with God. The more organized and older we get the more we become entrenched in policy, and fail to live by the Spirit. This is what law does, it forces us to observe, and not celebrate. Instead of celebrating the great thing God had done, they persecuted. They were spiritually paralyzed by their own religion. They couldn’t bring themselves to joy, because their tradition was violated. They saw God in legal terms, and failed to experience His grace. This man himself was healed by Jesus, but had no idea who Jesus was. Jesus doesn’t work on an agenda, but works to show Himself to those He wants. The man–though healed, does not seek out Jesus–is void of the joy that Jesus offers. The authorities question him, but he doesn’t know who Christ is. He is spiritually no different than he was before in spite of what God did for him.

Scene #3 (John 5:14-18)
Scene three adds to the tension of the plot. Working on the Sabbath is the least of Jesus’ problems. When the man encounters Jesus, and Jesus confronts him with his sin, he rats Jesus out. Jesus seems to infer that this man’s condition is a result of his sin, a reality that is NOT always true (As attested to in John 9:3-6). This no doubt irritated the religious leaders because Jesus was violating their idea of holiness. Sound familiar? But this really is not Jesus’ main problem, because Jesus uses the opportunity to reveal who He is, and what He is there to do. He is the Son of God, and He is there to do His Father’s work. This embitters the rulers against Jesus because He was, “Calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” Jesus raises the ante by confronting sin, and revealing the truth of who He is to those that already hate him; all this for a seemingly ungrateful man who quite possibly learned nothing from God’s grace.

…to the Heart
What does this say about God’s grace and love for humanity? What does it say about our feelings toward Jesus? Are we ever grateful for the hope He provides in this otherwise meaningless and hopeless world? Are we living our life embittered at God and others for predicaments that we have placed ourselves in? Are we remaining blind to the word of God in our own lives? Are we embittered against Him and His word and falling into an ever spiraling life of sin? Jesus reaches deep into our souls and asks us, “Do you want to get well?” This is not a psychological ploy to get the man to take the first step. There is no first step out of hopelessness, it is a question to prepare the man’s heart for what he would experience in the presence of Christ. Are you ready to experience Christ in a way that accepts the healing as an act of His grace to you? I pray that we all are willing to dig deep in our souls to let go of bitterness and reconcile with God and those that we have blamed the u-turn our lives have taken.


11 comments so far

  1. Bryan Zug on

    Cool idea amigo — need to get a link to your feed int he sidebar — both for the main posts and the comments — that will set you up for some very cool collaborative conversations.

  2. Bryan Zug on

    Here’s a link tot he comments feed for this blog —


  3. Bryan Zug on

    And here’s the link to the main feed —


    One recommendation on this — enable full feeds — that way the text of your entire post gets sent out — right now it looks like a blurb just gets sent out — you should be able to check the help section of admin to figure out how to do this.

  4. Jenn Wright on

    One thing I wanted to comment on is the idea that, as Joni Eareckson-Tada noted, our relationships with God are often begun by or strengthened through the suffering we endure, whether it’s due to our sinful nature or something else. I know that until this past December, even after the last 3 1/2 years of health crises, Greg and I still FELT self-reliant. But in the stress and wildness and profound uncertainty surrounding my life lately, it wasn’t until December that we finally KNEW that God was our only hope, and grasped Him with everything we’ve got.
    Like Mike said, I wouldn’t wish paralysis or blindness–or gastroparesis–on anyone, but God will get our attention however He needs to, and when we respond to Him in humility and acknowledge our helplessness, we find the joy and fullness that goes FAR beyond physical healing.

  5. sermonrant on

    Thanks Bryan
    I am going to make the changes. It may take a bit.

  6. sermonrant on

    Thanks much for your insight! You are so right, I appreciate your wisdom.
    God bless!

  7. Jen Zug on

    Mike, I really enjoyed the sermon this week – you connected with us really well on a practical level.

    I spent a lot of time meditating on this passage as I came out of my depression, and wrote about it a little bit here.

    I think it’s one of those interesting questions that God already knows the answer to when he asks us – much like the “where are you?” question in Genesis 3. God knew where Adam and Eve were, but he wanted to know if THEY understood what they were doing.

    Anyhow, thank you for starting this blog.

  8. sermonrant on

    Thanks Jen Z. Great point re: Adam and Eve!

  9. Jenn W. on

    Jen Z.,
    wow–never thought about the question in Genesis 3 from that perspective… Always thought it was kind of a silly thing to ask, but in this context it really makes sense. And it really does tie together well with Jesus’ question to the paralytic. So many times with sin issues I have to ask myself, “Do I REALLY want to stop doing this?” And, to be honest, I’m not always sure the answer is a positive one. I’m beginning to wonder if I avoid these types of questions–from myself or from God–precisely because I don’t like to hear my own response?

  10. Michael Smith on

    In echo to Jenns and Mike. I too have realized how limp my grasp is of Jesus’ hand. My last years’ financial crises have brought me almost to my knees. (read almost, I am getting there) I wish it took less to get me there. As much as I am yielding now, there seems to be further for me to go. At least now I know my limitations.
    The best news from my perspective is that now I have the desire to have God be truly all I need.

    In expectation of perfect Joy, MS

  11. mike G. on

    It is amazing as you all have experienced and reported how easy it is to shun a deep assessment of our own wellness, and subsequently shun the healing hand of God in the process.

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