Sermon: John 5:1-18: Arise, Take up Your Bed, and Walk

Reading of God’s Word

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:1–18, ESV)


This story marks the beginning of a new section in John’s gospel.

Chapters two through four clearly go together. They begin and end in Cana of Galilee. Two miracles – the turning of water to wine and the healing of the official’s son – bracket the section, beginning and end. We learned a lot about Jesus from chapters two through four.

As we move forward notice that chapters five through six also go together. Both chapters are patterned in the same way. Both begin by presenting us with a miracle preformed by Jesus.

In chapter five we are told of the healing at the pool on the sabbath; and in chapter six we are told of the feeding of the five thousand. But notice also how both stories give way to long speeches from Jesus. Our red letter versions of the Bible are helpful here in that we see the pattern at a glance. Notice that 5:1-18 is printed mainly in black (the story of the miracle) whereas verses 19-46 are in red (Jesus’ teaching in response to the miracle). The same pattern is present in chapter six:  Verses 1-24 are mainly in black (the story of the miracle) whereas verses 25-71are mainly red (Jesus’ teaching in response to the miracle).

The reason I point this out is to reiterate what has already been said concerning the miracles of Jesus: they are signs. Signs have this function – they point to something greater. They are not an end to the themselves but direct our attention to some greater spiritual, heavenly, and eternal reality. And that is how John uses these miracles in his gospel. They certainly get the attention of the reader (just as they would have captured the attention of the eyewitnesses) but they soon give way to words of explanation – words of interpretation which explain more fully the meaning of the miracle – the significance of the sign.

Two things will happen in chapters five and six.

One, it will become clear that a serious division exists between Jesus and many of the Jews. The conflict was hinted at in chapters two through four, but it will grow and become more obvious in chapters five through six. The religious powers will seek Jesus’ life. The multitudes who follow him will prove fickle and will desert him in the end. There is no mistaking it in John’s gospel – Jesus is headed to the cross form the outset.

Two, Jesus’ true identity and true mission will grow more clear in chapters five and six. It is here in these chapters that Jesus will speak most directly and most clearly concerning his who he is and what he came to accomplish.

And wouldn’t you assume that the more Jesus revealed concerning himself the more people would be drawn to him? Not so. In fact the the opposite is true. The more specific and direct and open Jesus was concerning his true identity and mission, the more people rejected him. Look at the result near the end of chapter six: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66, ESV)

So that is the lay of the land – that is where we have been and where we are headed.

Let’s Consider the Setting

Notice that in verse 1 we find ourselves back in Jerusalem. John is not concerned to tell us how we got there, nor is he concerned to tell us how much time has passed between Jesus’ visit to Cana of Galilee and this second visit to Jerusalem – the significant thing is that Jesus is there again. Notice that he is there at a feast of the Jews. We do not know which one. Many have speculated. This too seems to be unimportant to John. The significant thing is that Jesus is walking in the way of his people. He is observing the feast days. He is walking with his own, shining as a light amongst them. He is there in their most significant city, observing their most significant holy days, interacting with their most significant people. Jesus came to his own, but, as we will see, his own people did not receive him.

As the story picks up we find Jesus at a pool called Bethesda, which was near a very famous gate called the Sheep Gate, located in the northern part of Jerusalem, to the northeast of the temple square. The pool was probably fed by natural springs.

Notice the detail that John provides. He tells us that there were five colonnades surrounding the pool. You can picture this, can’t you? A pool of water with five large verandas, or covered patios, surrounding it. Sounds like a beautiful place, doesn’t it? But John tells us that, “In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.” (John 5:3, ESV)

I don’t know if you have ever been in a place with a high concentration of suffering and sickness. Hospitals are a bit like this, only more sterile and organized in our day. The slums of India are like this. I’ve been to orphanages in Mexico where handicap children are cared for. Places like these have a way of stirring compassion within the heart. I think it is very significant that, of all the places Jesus could have been, he is found here walking amongst the needy.

Verse 4?

The question that naturally arises is, why are these people gathered here at this pool?  

How may of you are reading from either the ESV,  NIV84, TNIV, NLT, or NET? Do you notice something peculiar about verses three through five? Yes! There is no verse four – we move immediately from verse three to verse five.

How many of you are reading from the KJV, NKJV, NASB? Your versions contain verse four. And it reads, “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (John 5:4, NKJV)

How are we to explain the discrepancy? The simple answer is that certain manuscript traditions contain the words of verse four whereas others do not. In my opinion the ESV, NIV, NLT,  and NET are based upon the more reliable reading. I will slow way down when we come to chapter eight of John’s gospel and teach a bit on textual variances and the discipline of textual criticism when it comes to the ancient Biblical manuscripts. For now it will have to do to simply say that their are two readings found in the ancient manuscripts. The shorter of the two readings (the one lacking “verse four” seems to be the original).

You can imagine a scribe copying the gospel of John and, after copying verse three – “In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water” – thinking to himself, I need to explain why these invalids were gathered here. And so he wrote (perhaps in the margin) the explanation  “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” Over time this note probably found it’s way into the text itself.

It is a helpful explanation, isn’t it? We, as modern readers are unfamiliar with the pool of Bethesda and so it is good to know that there were a great number of people who were sick and superstitions gathered at this pool. At certain times the water would stir.  They believed it to be an angel. And they believed that the pool had healing potential. They were superstitious.

The note of explanation is helpful, but probably not a apart of the original gospel – thus the jump from verse three to five in many of our modern translations. If you are troubled by this please talk to me, or wait a couple of months until we come to John 8 where more time will be devoted to this topic.

The important thing is to notice that Jesus was there walking amongst the very needy. There is a great multitude of them. They are clearly desperate.

The Invalid 

Notice that Jesus, though he certainly could have touched and healed every one of these, sets his attention upon one particular individual. We are told in verse five that, “One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” (John 5:5, ESV) The story zooms in upon him.

This man is desperate. He has been in this state for thirty-eight years. That is a long time. Perhaps he was thirty-eight years old, having been born this way. Perhaps he was much older than that, having been paralyzed later in life. We don’t know. But we can sympathize with him. Thirty-eight years is a long time to suffer in this way. He was desperate. He was probably willing to try anything. So far the pool of Bethesda thing was not working to well for him.  We don’t know how long he had been at the pool. The text only tells us that Jesus “knew he had already been there a long time.”

It’s hard to believe that, having been there a long time, he never made it down into the pool. I would imagine that he did. But you know how superstitions go. If you get into the water and it doesn’t work, an explanation must be provided – Well, you need to be the first one in; Or, you need to have more faith as you go in; Or, you need to say these words as you go in – or something like that

Clearly this man is in a place of desperation and despair. This man is buried in hopelessness. Year upon year of disappointment has been heaped up upon him.

The Sign

And then Jesus, the Son of God arrives. He – the one who spoke the universe into existence – looks upon this man with compassion and simply says, “Do you want to be healed?”

Jesus knew the answer to the question. Obviously the man wanted to be healed. Jesus asked the question to involve the man. And notice how he responds! Verse 7: “The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’” He’s utterly clueless concerning the identity of the man standing before him.

This kind of response should sound familiar to you by now.

To Nicodemus Jesus said, “you must be born again.” Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’” (John 3:4, ESV)

To the woman at the well Jesus said, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’” (John 4:10, ESV) The woman response? “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11, ESV)

Jesus offers healing to this man and he, like the others, could not see beyond the things of this world. His eyes were fixed upon the here and now – upon the physical and tangible. His only hope was the pool of Bethesda – he could not see beyond that. The great irony is that the Son of God – the one who spoke the universe into existence – was speaking to him, offering him healing, and he didn’t perceive it.

Notice that Jesus heals him anyways, despite his lack of understanding.

He healed him by simply speaking a word. The eternal Word of God healed the man by speaking a word“Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked…” (John 5:8–9, ESV)

That’s quite a miraculous thing. We talk about the miracles of Jesus often so they may become common to us. Think of it. A man could not walk for thirty-eight years and he stands up and walks when Jesus speaks a word. That is incredible. That is a miracle.

The Jews and the Man

The last six words of verse nine serve as a transition. The text says, “Now that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:9, ESV) This will become very significant.

The scene shifts from the working of the miracle to the interaction between the invalid-man-made-whole and the Jews.

Tell me, how would expect the Jews to react to an event like this? You would expect them to rejoice! You would expect them to stand in awe! You would expect them to inquire of Jesus concerning his ability to heal.

But how do they respond to the man? Surprisingly they rebuke him for carrying his mat on the Sabbath!

This is terrible for two reasons.

One, it is an abuse of the Sabbath command. The fourth commandment forbids the people of God from engaging in work on the Sabbath. It is to be a day of rest and worship. To claim that a man – just healed – is breaking the fourth commandment by carrying the bed he had been bound to for thirty-eight years is a complete misunderstanding of the fourth commandments, and an abuse of it. As it is said elsewhere, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a gift to man. It still is. We are to rest one day out seven. Now that Christ has come we rest on the first day, not the seventh, because of his resurrection. We call it the Lord’s Day. It is to be obeyed, but in the right spirit and and without the added trappings of legalistic religion. Some in Jesus’ day had transformed the Sabbath from a gift into a great burden.

Two, this response of theirs was terrible in that they were so concerned with the details of their man made religion that they were unable to see the glory of God displayed before their very eyes. A man paralyzed for thirty-eight years was walking before them, carrying the thing he was once bound to, and they are unimpressed.

I picture a child bringing an assignment home with an “A+” on it beaming with excitement. He shows it to Dad expecting the Father to rejoice with him. Instead the Father says, look you misspelled this word. You can do better next time. Such a response would be unthinkable, and yet this is how many of the Jews responded to this miracle. “It is not lawful for you to take up your bed on the Sabbath.” Wow. Talk about blindness.

The invalid made whole responded to them saying, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” (John 5:11, ESV)

I’m not sure I like his response.

Notice that there is a tone of blame-shifting here. “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’”  You would expect the man stand up to the critics and say, are you kidding me! I am walking and you are concerned about me carrying my mat. Instead he cowers before the religious leaders and shifts the blame to Jesus, though he does not yet know him by name. He does not know Jesus by name because, according to verse thirteen, “Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.” (John 5:13, ESV)

The Man and Jesus 

Now in verse fourteen we are told of yet another interaction between Jesus and this particular man. “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’” (John 5:14, ESV) 

Notice that Jesus found the man; the man was not looking for Jesus. This says something about the condition of the man’s heart. Though he had been made whole at Jesus’ command he does not seem interested in finding Jesus. Instead he is enjoying his health in the temple, associating with those who had just criticized his Sabbath breaking.

Notice also what Jesus says to him. in verse 14: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Some have taken this to mean that the paralysis experienced by the man was the result of some sin and that Jesus was urging repentance so that some worse physical ailment would not come upon him.

That interpretation is possible. The scriptures are clear concerning the relationship between sickness and sin.

One, all sickness is the indirect result of sin. Sickness and death did not exist before the fall.

Two, some are ill because of specific sin. For some, there is a direct link between their sin and their sickness.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:27–31, ESV)

Three, not all illness is the direct result of sin. Jesus addresses this most specifically in John 11:4, saying,  “But when Jesus heard it [the sickness of Lazarus] he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’” (John 11:4, ESV)

So it is possible that when Jesus warned against something worse happening to the man he had something worse physically in mind.

I think it more likely that Jesus is here concerned for the man’s soul. The worse thing that he has in mind is not physical sickness, but the final judgment.

Notice that this man seems altogether uninterested in knowing and following Jesus. He was healed, and did not know the name of the man who healed him. When he was confronted by the Jews concerning his breaking of the Sabbath he does not confess Christ – he does not defend Christ – but shifts the blame to him. Furthermore, he does not look for Jesus but rather Jesus has to look for him. He simply enjoyed the blessing of physical healing and wanders freely about the temple. In verse fifteen we see that after he learns the name of the man who healed him, he actually goes out of his way to report him to the Jews. Verse 15: “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” (John 5:15, ESV). Also, in the following passage (the one we will consider next week ) Christ responds to all of this emphasizing two things – his ability to give eternal life and also to judge.

Therefore, when Jesus warns the man, telling him to repent so that nothing worse may happen to him, he is concerned, not for his health, but for his soul. This man is in danger of gaining the world but loosing his own soul – of being healed in body, but not in spirit – of experiencing life in the here and now but suffering eternal death at the judgment.

I think all of this becomes even more clear when we compare this story with John chapter nine and the story of the healing of the man born blind. The stories share much in common, but the response of the men who were healed could not be more different. The blind man confesses Christ, defends him in the face of persecution, and is finally expelled from the synagogue by the Jews, being comforted by Jesus afterwards.

So Jesus healed the invalid, but that was not his deepest concern. He finds him and addresses more serious things – eternal things – things pertaining to the salvation of his soul. Sadly, the healed man simply disappears from the story, which suggests that he was uninterested in following Christ – uninterested in trusting in him for the forgiveness of sin. It is a tragic story in the end.

The Jews and Jesus

The story eventually leads to the first direct conflict between Jesus and the Jews.

Verse 15:  “The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” (John 5:15–16, ESV)

The Sabbath becomes a prime source of tension between the Jews and Jesus. They have have heaped rules and regulations upon the biblical concept of the Sabbath, Jesus keeps it correctly.

Notice Jesus’ response in verse 17: “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” (John 5:17, ESV)

Two things should be observed.

One, Jesus points out that when God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day, he did not rest from all his labors, he rested specifically from his work of original creation. His work of providence continued. He continued to rule and reign. He continued to preserve the world he had created. Jesus was following his the Fathers example in his observance of the Sabbath – he certainly rested from his labor, but he did not give himself over to total inactivity. He still engaged in doing acts of mercy.  We know from other texts that he still gave himself to acts of necessity (picking grains and eating with his disciples).

This is what we believe concerning the Christian Sabbath and teach our children:

Q. 65. How is the Sabbath to be sanctified?

A. The Sabbath is to sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days, and spending the time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy. (Lev. 23:3; Isa. 58:13,14; Isa. 66:23; Matt. 12:11,12)

Notice, secondly, that Jesus makes a tight link between he and the Father in verse 17.  He says, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” In other words, these works preformed by the Jesus are the Fathers works. Jesus was doing the will an work of the Father.

Verse 18 concludes, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath [that is, the Sabbath according to their customs], but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:18, ESV)

What does this text mean?

First of all, it is important to recognize that this story is about much more than physical healing.

I suppose that some would read this text and say, do you see! Jesus came to heal physical ailments. That was his primary mission, and it is his primary concern still today – to heal those who are sick. That is the will of Jesus for you! That would be a misinterpretation of the text.

One, notice that Jesus healed one man out of a great multitude of people who were sick. If physical healing were his prime concern you would expect Jesus to set up a clinic there in that place.

Two, notice that Jesus was not finished with the man after he healed his body. He found him expressing deep concern over his soul.

Three, notice that Jesus explains the reason for this miracle in 19-29, a text we will explore together next week. There he makes it clear that this miracle was a sign which signified some greater spiritual and eternal truth – namely the Sons authority to give life to whom he choses (5:21).

Physical healing is not the main point of this text. Jesus’ ability to give life is.

Secondly, this story calls people away from trusting in superstitious religion. The man could not Jesus for who he was because eyes were so fixed upon the pool of water in front of him. He was blind to Christ because his eyes were fixed upon the things of this world.

This is common today. People are superstitious in their religious devotion They say, if only I could touch that icon, or, if only that man would pray for me, or, perhaps it is true if I sent money to that ministry blessing will come my way. We are to look to Christ, trusting in him alone, resting in his him, humbly submitting to his will for us.

Thirdly, this story warns against the absurdity of legalistic religion. Legalism in religion – that is is the adding to the commands of God, or the belief that keeping the commands of God will lead to life eternal – has a way of deadening the soul to the things of God. The legalist cannot see the glory of Christ; he can only see his rules and regulations. The cross is foolishness to him. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is unintelligible to him. So it was with many of the Jews in Jesus’ day.

Fourthly, this story warns against the emptiness of worldliness.  The man was healed in body, but lost in soul. Many, I fear, go on enjoying the blessings of God in this life – they eat and drink, and laugh and play – and yet they do not give a thought to the God who made them, from who’s hand these blessing come. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, ESV)

Fifthly, this story exalts Jesus.  He is kind and compassionate. He has the power to give life. You and I are helpless apart from him. We, before we came to Christ, were in a most desperate state. The only reasonable thing is to call out to him for life. And once we have been raised up, the only reasonable thing is that we would follow after him with all we are.

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