May 26, 2013

Jesus, Our Eternal Rest from Sickness & Sin

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 5:1–18

Sermon on John 5:1-18 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, May 26, 2013

Personal Encounters with Jesus Written for Our Sake

The Gospel of John is full of personal encounters with Jesus. To this point in the story, Jesus has encountered the prophet, John the Baptist, who announces that Jesus is God’s anointed Son. Jesus then encounters a small group of friends who—after spending some time with Jesus—can’t help but think “Surely, this is our long-awaited King and promised Messiah. His words are too good, his acts are too powerful, and his knowledge is too great for him to be anyone less.” A bit later, Jesus encounters a Jewish ruler named Nicodemus who believes Jesus must come from God, but he’s still a bit skeptical of some of Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God and how one obtains eternal life. Of course, we as readers see the encounter with Nicodemus screaming “Jesus gives eternal life! He opens the eyes! He gives the new birth!” Jesus then encounters an adulterous woman from Samaria—who’s a lot like us—he exposes her true need for eternal life, and reveals himself to be the Messiah, which then results in a spiritual awakening in the hearts of the woman and her village. And then the last encounter we saw is that between Jesus and an official whose son was on the brink of death and Jesus both heals the son and gives eternal life to the official’s entire household.

What all of these encounters with Jesus have in common is that more and more and more they show us Jesus. When we read of the disciples and Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman and the official encountering Jesus, we encounter Jesus in the Scriptures and have our eyes opened to who he really is. Each of the encounters with Jesus that John includes in his Gospel reveals to us something further of who Jesus is, what he provides, how he is working, and why we desperately need him.

This shouldn’t surprise us since John introduced his Gospel stating that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14). He dwelt among fishermen like Peter, and devout Israelites like Nathanael, and Jewish rulers like Nicodemus, and a lonely, adulterous woman of Samaria, and a daddy working in high places with a sick son—“he dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John includes so many real, historical, personal encounters with Jesus, because he wants us to see the glory of the only Son from the Father—because when we see the glory of Jesus Christ and embrace him as the only Son from the Father, we will gain eternal life. That’s the invitation I’m extending to all of you this morning. Come and see the glory of Jesus Christ with me.

Jesus Is Our Eternal Rest from Sickness and Sin

So what is it about the glory of Jesus that John wants us to see and believe through these next encounters with Jesus? Not only an encounter with a lame man of thirty-eight years, but also a fairly heated encounter with the Jews—what is it about Jesus that John wants us to see in these encounters? At least one thing John wants us to see is that Jesus is our eternal rest from sickness and sin. Let’s walk through the story together.

Setting the Scene

Jesus was last seen in Galilee and he comes up to Jerusalem to attend a feast of the Jews; and there is by the Sheep Gate a fairly popular pool of water (5:1-2). And a multitude of invalids—like those who were blind, and lame, and paralyzed, a whole bunch of suffering people—would regularly come and lay next to this pool under the covered walkways (5:3). Now, the text doesn’t tell us how this pool of water actually worked for the people. There are some manuscript traditions that say an angel would stir up the water and the first person in the water after the stirring would be healed; but, none of these traditions appear in the earliest and best manuscripts of our New Testament. That’s why it’s likely in a footnote in your English translation instead of the main text. So the Scripture text doesn’t tell us how this pool of water actually worked; it only tells us why the sick people used to come and lay beside it—which is all we need to know anyway. The man’s words to Jesus in verse 7 indicate that the people were hopeful that this pool could provide all the healing their bodies needed if they could only get themselves in the water fast enough.

So all these folks are laying beside the pool, trusting some superstitious possibility the pool might heal them; and Jesus comes to one man in particular “who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years,” verse 5 says. Thirty-eight years! A few of you have seen 38 years (I’m at 31)—and an even smaller number of you know what it means to suffer that long, or perhaps you have friends or family members who’ve suffered nearly that long. The point is that this man’s physical problem has been with him the majority of his life; and while it may not be 38 years, some of you are in the process of counting them. Maybe you’re on year one or five or ten or twenty, and your soul battles grief and frustration and discouragement because of your illness—“my body is not supposed to be this way.” There’s hope for you in this passage—there’s hope for all of us in this passage, even if you’re physically healthy right now. If Jesus tarries, our bodies will fail us and we all will die. But there’s hope for us all in what’s about to unfold with Jesus’ encounter with this lame man—and I’ll tell you now that a healthy body is only the icing on the cake of what Jesus wants to give this man and to all of us.

Jesus Asks not from Ignorance but from Fullness

Verse 6, “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time [Take courage in that, brothers and sisters. Jesus knew that the man had already been there a long time. He knows your predicament.], he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’” Now, in this story, Jesus isn’t asking the man ‘Do you want to be healed?’ in order to obtain information he didn’t already know. Not only was it obvious to all why a lame man was beside the pool—namely, to be healed—but John has given us several accounts already that have shown us that Jesus knows everything. He knows Nathanael’s thoughts, he knows the intentions of Nicodemus’ heart, he knows the woman’s marital failures and sexual promiscuity, he sees right through the initial motives of the official who wants his son healed—Jesus knows everything.

So Jesus isn’t asking the question to gain information; Jesus is asking the man ‘Do you want to be healed?’ as an offer beyond the man’s wildest dreams. This is the Son of God asking!—who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things were made, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life. (1:3). As the source of all life and existence, Jesus has infinite resources and power about which this man knows nothing at all; and in his great mercy, Jesus extends himself and his healing power to the man: “Do you want to be healed?”

But the man doesn’t buy it, because he doesn’t know who Jesus really is. Instead, he defaults to where we all usually do on one occasion or another—that is, to limiting God’s ability and power to possibilities only we can see or conjure up. So the man responds in verse 7, “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.” “So, man-who-I-don’t-know-yet-but-just-offered-me-a-new-life, let me explain to you my hopeless situation. Obviously, my religious assumptions about this water are true, and therefore God is limited to work only in the way I dream up he can. Also, my physical conditions do not make me very speedy. My legs have been this way for thirty-eight years and they make me kind of slow. On top of that, the present circumstances are that there are sick people who are faster than I am, and they’re a bit self-centered as well since they enjoy jumping in the pool before me. Thank you for your question, but healing is out of the picture.”

Jesus' Word Is Powerful to Heal

What’s Jesus’ response? “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And verse 9 says, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Just like the jars of water in Cana could not truly purify the people (2:6), just like the body of water in a mother’s womb could never achieve the new birth (3:4), just like the well of water in Samaria could never truly satisfy the soul for eternal life (4:12), so also this pool of water in Jerusalem could never truly heal the body like Jesus heals (5:8). Thirty-eight years of being an invalid—not even having the strength to scoot over to the edge of the pool—healed with one word from the mouth of Jesus Christ! We are foolish, brothers and sisters, when we doubt the power of Jesus’ word—when we live where this man is living, spiraling downward into despair and hopelessness as we preach to ourselves false religion and limit God’s power with present circumstances and blame everybody else for our present condition. Even if God, in his sovereign and wise and good plan, chooses not to heal us physically in this life—Jesus didn’t heal everybody by the pool—Jesus’ word is still powerful and Jesus’ word will heal us on the Last Day totally.

“An hour is coming,” he says, “when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who’ve done good to the resurrection of life.” Blindness, bad legs, AIDS, cancer, have nothing on the voice of the Son of God. So even if healing is delayed today or for another thirty-eight years and longer, we are reminded that Jesus’ word is powerful and mighty to heal. His word is final and decisive, not our physical ailments, whatever they may be. Not even death itself has the final say. That should be a great encouragement to those of you who fear death. That’s a good word to speak to those brothers and sisters nearing death. The power of Jesus’ word helps us when our spouse or children are diagnosed with something unexpected. Jesus has the final say.

Healing Is a Pointer to Total Healing Hoped for in the Sabbath

But there’s more to Jesus’ glory than simply seeing his ability to heal us physically. Jesus is also powerful to heal us spiritually. In fact, Jesus’ healing of the lame man is really only a pointer to a healing much greater than restored physical health. Physical health is included in the deal, but that’s not why God’s Son ultimately came from heaven to earth. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus could have spoken a word from heaven and healed our broken bodies. But that’s not what he did. He came to earth as a man. And the reason he came to earth, is that a much bigger problem loomed over the human race—namely, our sin and separation from God. Sickness is present in the world because we live in a world cursed because of sin. In order for Jesus to rid the world of sickness, he had to come and take away its sin by dying as our substitute. Healing the lame man is only a pointer to our much deeper need of complete restoration to God.

That’s why John brings up the Sabbath in verse 9 and why Jesus brings up turning away from sin in verse 14. Healing a body is not the end of the story, but only a pointer to a much greater story unfolding in Jesus’ coming—the story of God reconciling man to himself and bringing the entire universe to a restful end. No more cancer; no more tornadoes; no more sin and godless striving—only restful fellowship with God. That’s what I see unfolding in the next part of the story. John’s not just highlighting a controversy with the Jews in verses 9 and following; he’s highlighting the colossal reversal of the effects of the Fall that Jesus came to accomplish by working for our eternal rest. Let’s read it together.

Verse 9, “Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, ‘It’s the Sabbath, and it’s 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.”

Goal of the Sabbath Day

The Jews are so focused on the man breaking their interpretation of Sabbath law that they totally miss what the Sabbath has always pointed to in God’s saving purposes. The commandment in Exod 20 to keep the Sabbath day holy by resting from daily labors was never an end in itself. The Sabbath commandment was always built on God’s original creation goal of rest, meaning that he was teaching the people to long for a day when the brokenness and strife and hostility of the present sinful world would be lifted and again restored to its original rest. Gen 2:1-3, Exod 20:8-11, Deut 5:12-15, Ps 95:7-11, and Heb 3:7-4:10 all—when taken together—teach that God’s purposes in redemption were modeled after his purposes in creation. Just as the goal and fulfillment of the six days of creation was rest, so also the goal and fulfillment of redemption in Christ is rest—not in the sense of inactivity like the Pharisees were so concerned about (“Why’re you carrying around your mat?”), but in the sense of living in harmony with God as it was in the Garden.

Restful, peaceful, fruitful fellowship with God has always been the goal of redemption, because that was God’s goal in creation. So, for example, the goal of the exodus redemption was rest in the Promised Land, away from all their toilsome existence in Egypt. But even that rest wasn’t the end, the writer of Hebrews tells us. “For if Joshua had given them rest [in the Promised Land], God would not have spoken of another day later on” (Heb 4:8). All of this rest-talk surrounding the Sabbath foreshadowed a day when God would deliver his people from all their sins and deliver his creation from all its groanings. And how would this happen? By God sending his Son into the world to die for sinners, remove their curse, rise from the dead, gather a multitude from all nations, and ensure their final entrance into God’s peaceful presence in the new creation—which Revelation says will be a day when “God wipes away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Rev 21:4).

When Jesus intentionally heals this lame man in Jerusalem on the Sabbath and tells him to take up his bed; it’s not because he’s concerned that someone else might trip over his sleeping bag. He told him to carry his mat as a testimony to the Jews that God’s Son had arrived to bring the day of rest with God anticipated in the Sabbath. Telling the man to carry his bed was not a contradiction to the Sabbath—nor was it an attempt to undermine the Sabbath—it was a sign that Jesus was here to fulfill the Sabbath by restoring our fellowship with God. Whether sickness or the sin causing the sickness, Jesus came to take it all away.

But the Jews totally miss the point of his miraculous healing; and so does the man. That’s why Jesus finds the man again in verse 14 and says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” You see, Jesus is not only concerned about healing our bodies, but about restoring our relationship with God. Jesus wants the man to have stronger legs; but more than that he wants the man to have a heart that runs to God. He is patiently teaching this man who is in great danger of missing Jesus altogether for a better body. Jesus doesn’t have in mind a specific sin that, if the man committed it again, he would have an even worse illness. Rather, Jesus has in mind a life of sin, that should the man continue in it instead of in a relationship with God through Christ, he would go to hell. That’s what he means by “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” He wants the man looking through the miracle to see the glory of the only Son from the Father, who has come to deliver sinners and bring them into eternal fellowship with God.

We’re not told much more of the man—only that he “went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.” It seems that throughout the story, the man is more concerned with saving his own tail before the religious authorities than he is with following Jesus. His response of reporting Jesus to the Jews is very different from that of the blind man in 9:38, who tells Jesus, “Lord, I believe,” and he falls down and worships Jesus. The blind man of chapter 9 looks through the miracle and sees Jesus’ glory; this man misses Jesus for the praise and approval of men. What about you? Do you see that your only hope in life is Jesus Christ? Do you see that the only one who can bring rest to your weary soul is Jesus? Whatever sins you’ve dappled with—lying, theft, homosexuality, pornography, blasphemy, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, selfishness—whatever brokenness you know—broken marriage, broken home, broken friendships, broken spiritual life, broken emotions—whatever satanic tyrants crush your spirit day in and day out, do you see that Jesus has come for your rescue and eternal rest?

He has come to give you eternal rest from all your rebellious strivings, that you might know the peace of eternal life with God—and not that you might know such rest just somewhere in eternity, but that you might know that rest today by trusting Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit says to everyone in this room, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as others have done.” Do not go on sinning, but turn to the Lord Jesus and trust in him while the promise of rest still stands. He came to bring you eternal rest from sickness and sin, he died to remove every obstacle between you and that rest, and he rose from the dead to forever guarantee you that rest. “The Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath,” but John has written these things, that you might believe in Jesus and by believing have life in his name.

Missing Jesus Means Missing Everything

If the man in our story misses who Jesus truly is, he misses everything. And the same is true for us. If we miss who Jesus truly is, we miss everything and go to hell. But God didn’t inspire this word and John hasn’t written this Gospel so that we miss who Jesus truly is; these words exist to reveal Jesus to us that we might enjoy him for who he truly is and enter restful fellowship with God.

Already we’ve seen the glory of Jesus’ powerful word to heal us completely; already we’ve seen the glory of Jesus’ work to bring us eternal rest from our sickness and sin; and now we see the glory of Jesus’ person as God in the flesh. The situation is really much worse than we think. It’s not merely that the Jews don’t understand the Sabbath, in which they were to enjoy fellowship with God and wait for the day he would bring them final rest. It’s much worse: they’re blind to seeing God at all, even when he’s standing right in front of them healing people. They don’t understand what the Sabbath is about and they don’t understand who Jesus is: their own covenant God in human flesh. Their own God has come to commune with them in a way their Sabbath days have never known before, and they reject him.

So, in response to their opposition, “Jesus answers by saying, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’” In other words, all the saving work we see him pointing to through healing a lame man, all that saving work I spoke of earlier that Jesus is doing to bring our final rest with God—his life, death, resurrection, and second coming—all of that work is that of his Father. “Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (5:19). We’ll develop this more next week, but essentially Jesus is identifying himself with God. His Father has been working until now to save the world, bring a new creation and with it eternal rest, and whatever the Father is doing to bring that day Jesus is also doing. Their works fall into the same category as being God’s works. That’s true in creation. When the Father creates the universe, so does the Son. When the Father says, “Let there be light,” so does the Son. When the Father breathes into man the breath of life, so does the Son. We see the same with redemption—which is what I think Jesus is speaking of here. So when the Father is working to heal a lame man beside a pool in Jerusalem, the Son is working in the same act. When the Father is working to fulfill the Sabbath, the Son is working simultaneously to do the same.

Jesus’ point is clear and the Jews ironically get it right. They discern that Jesus was making himself equal with God. Only, it doesn’t drive them to worship him and to rejoice at his coming. Instead, verse 18 says, “the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him.” Even when their own covenant Lord tells them who he is, they reject him. As Paul puts it, they suppress the truth. But again, John hasn’t written so that you leave suppressing the truth today and miss who Jesus truly is. These words exist to reveal Jesus to you that you might enjoy him for who he truly is—God almighty in the flesh. He’s not merely a god—like the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses argue—the context and the entire Bible are clear that Jesus is actually God. He shares the same divine essence with God, his Father, and he has come from heaven to bring eternal rest for your soul.

Believe Jesus Is God for Eternal Rest

That means you must believe that Jesus is God if you want to experience eternal rest. If you refuse to believe that Jesus is God—as Jews, Muslims, Mormons, and a host of other religions believe—you will not experience eternal rest; you will experience eternal destruction and a life of endless, meaningless toil until then. If you’re wrestling with who Jesus really is, don’t leave today without speaking to another believer. There are many in this room who would be more than happy to speak to you about him; and I’ll even be at the front with the other elders to speak with you about him. And if you’re a lady and you feel uncomfortable talking to a man; we’ll find a sister who can talk with you about God and what he has done for you through Jesus. Don’t leave today without submitting yourself to Jesus as God.

If you already believe Jesus is God, then consider the daily—even hourly—assurance and comfort and encouragement you gain when you connect the dots between Jesus being God and Jesus working for your eternal rest. For Jesus to be God that means that he is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. If that’s true about Jesus, then think of the endless ways you can be strengthened when you realize he is the one working for your eternal rest. For example, since Jesus is infinite, he never lacks anything I need to be truly content and so I can ask him as many times a day as I need without fearing that I’m frustrating his resources [applies to prayer]. Here’s another: since Jesus is eternal, you need not fear when your illness or your suffering or your persecution brings you close to death [applies to fears]. He is risen from the dead never to die again; he’s the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and as long as he’s alive your rest is guaranteed—which means forever. You won’t find an insurance policy like that; and it’s free! By faith in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal rest in God’s presence.

Or another: since Jesus is infinite in power, there are no competitors to the rest he provides his people. It is eternally secure because he preserves it as the supreme King of the universe. No person, no sin, no demon, nothing in all creation is able to separate you from your fellowship with God in Christ [applies to depression]. Or, since Jesus is infinite in his goodness, there will never be a day that your rest grows boring. You do not get stir crazy in the kingdom of God because infinite goodness means that every day of living in harmony with God will be an ever-deepening experience of God’s goodness through his rest. Meditate on that when the pain is too much [applies to perseverance].

Or, let’s get a little closer to home, since Jesus is God and he worked for your eternal rest even unto death on a cross, then never should we doubt whether God really wants us to possess that rest when the circumstances get difficult. “Jesus, if you really cared for me, then my kids wouldn’t be acting up all at the same time, my boss wouldn’t be so difficult, my appointments with the doctors would be decreasing not increasing, my finances wouldn’t be stretched so thin.” All of our objections to God’s care for us fall flat when we consider that it was God himself who came down from heaven to win our eternal rest by suffering under eternal wrath in our place. God’s love for you is sure in the cross of Jesus Christ.

In summary, Jesus’ word is powerful, Jesus brings our eternal rest from sickness and sin, because Jesus is God himself, blessed forever, Amen.

other sermons in this series