October 1, 2023
With words alone, Jesus healed a helpless man who’d been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Instead of rejoicing over the miracle, though, the Jews focused on broken Sabbath rules and traditions and sought to persecute, and ultimately kill, Christ. Alistair Begg explains how Jesus’ words can either radically transform a person’s life or inflame hard-hearted opposition, because they so clearly declare His deity. Yet Jesus still invites all who hear Him to believe and enjoy eternal life. Will you listen and be saved?
Sermon Transcript: Print
John 5 and verse 1. Follow along as I read:
“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 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.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 [is] 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.
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.’”
Father, as we turn to the Bible, we long for the work of the Spirit of God to quicken our understanding, to soften our rebellious wills, and to draw near to us in this printed page. Beyond the voice of a mere man, may we hear the voice that is your voice—the voice that had this man stand up; the voice that when the dead hear it, they rejoice and are made alive. Help us to this end, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Well, if you’re visiting, we began a couple of weeks ago to consider some of the “Truly, truly” statements made by Jesus as we have them in the Gospel of John. All the statements that Jesus made are true. All of them are of vital importance. But somehow or another, Jesus just marks the significance and the importance and the truth of what he’s about to say by introducing what he then goes on to say by “Truly, truly,” or “Verily, verily.”
And the verse that is our verse for this morning is essentially verse 19: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” says Jesus, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” Ryle—Bishop Ryle of old—commenting on that, he says, “To me [this] seems one of the deepest things in the Bible.” And it certainly demands our attention, and we will give our attention to it presently.
But what we discover is that the words of Jesus actually spark a controversy. And the Jews have seen in that statement by Jesus sufficient to actually decide to kill him. We ought not to pass over this because we’re familiar with it. The reaction of the religious authorities was to say to one another, “If there is any way that we can get this man and kill him, that is exactly what we’re going to do.”
Now, the setup for it, of course, is the healing of this man. It is the third sign in John’s Gospel: the first one in chapter 2, water into wine; the second one in chapter 4, the healing of the official’s son; and now here we have it in chapter 5, the healing of an invalid at the pool. Keep in mind that John’s purpose in giving us this Gospel, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, is not that he would include every sign that Jesus ever did but that he would, in producing the signs that he was able to record, provide sufficient information so that in considering that evidence, men and women might come to believe in who Jesus is, in what Jesus has done, and that in doing so they might have life in his name. The understanding of the Bible is that by nature, we are spiritually dead. We are not spiritually alive. We can’t make ourselves spiritually alive, either by our endeavors or our works or our attendance or whatever it might be. Only God is able to do that. And that is the overarching background to all of John’s work.
In tracing a line through these verses, I just have four words, and I can identify them for you if they’re helpful.
My first word is just the word transformation. Transformation. For what is described in these opening seventeen verses is just that. The background to it is there for your further study. My purpose is not to exegete the first seventeen verses—not to miss the impact of them, but nevertheless, not to tackle them piece by piece.
We know this: that Jesus has gone up to a feast. We don’t know the nature of the feast. We know that there was a gate there, and there was a pool. And we know that in that context, there were five roofed colonnades, or alcoves, if you like. And the picture is of these poor individuals who have been drawn to this pool because of the things that have been said about its healing properties. And if you imagine that the camera, scanning these alcoves, they just come one after another to these poor souls, each of whom is hoping to catch the moment when the waters are stirred so that they can get down into the pool. But if they’re not first, then they’re going to have to wait for the next time. That’s the way it was understood, and that’s the way we have it recorded for us.
Now, unlike the man in Mark chapter 2, remember, who was paralyzed—he had friends that took him to Jesus. But here, in this incident, this man is not brought by friends. He has no support system. And when Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” amazingly, he doesn’t say, “Oh, yes, please.” He just explains that he doesn’t have a support system. And you can see that. It’s there in the text: “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool, and when the water is stirred up… And so, when I’m going down the steps, someone goes down before me.” And Jesus essentially says, “You don’t need to worry about the pool. I’m not even going to put you in the pool. Get up. Get up!” “And at once the man was healed.”
Who can do this? Who can say to a guy who’s paralyzed for thirty-eight years, “Get up,” and he gets up? If the gravity of his situation is not made clear by the fact that he was thirty-eight years an invalid, the wonder of the change is made clear in the fact that he took up his palliasse, and he walked. Jesus saw him, Jesus spoke to him, and the words of Jesus transformed him.
For the Old Testament person, for the Jew that understood the Bible, they knew that there was going to come a day, a messianic day, when the Messiah would come. And when that happened, the ears of the deaf would be unstopped, the eyes of the blind would be opened, and the lame would leap like a deer. Jesus comes onto the stage of human history, and he says, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand.” One day, in all of its fullness, it will be there. But at the time being, we would anticipate that if the King, with all of the powers of his kingship, were present, we would begin to see these evidences. And this, of course, is one such evidence.
So, it’s so far, so good, except for the fact that as verse 9 ends, John introduces the fact that the day on which this took place was the Sabbath: “Now that day was the Sabbath”—which sets the stage for the confrontation that then follows. And a confrontation it is.
Think about this as well: What kind of person—what kind of person or persons—lose sight of the healing and of the opportunity to be glad? These people who are observers of this event are able to look at what has happened. It is unmistakable. It is undeniable. The man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years is last seen walking up the street. Who does this? Religious people. Conservative people. Hardhearted people. Fastidious people. People who, when they look at a transforming impact such as this, cannot see it for the fact that they cannot rejoice in what has been done because of their concern about what should not be done. You’ll see it there in the text. The “day was the Sabbath.”
Now, who are these people? When I was a younger man, when my children were small, some of them in the neighborhood put together a thing that they called “Citizens on Patrol.” And essentially, I think, what they were supposed to do was go around the neighborhood and find everybody who was doing bad things and then report it—which, given that they were most of the people doing the bad things, it was a very easy exercise. But these fellows here are citizens on patrol. This is the Sabbath secret police. That’s who these guys are. “It’s the Sabbath!” they said. “What do you think you’re doing? It is not lawful for you to pick up your bed. That is a violation. It is a Sabbath violation.”
Paul Simon had a song, remember, “There must be fifty ways to leave your lover.” And these guys have got “There must be thirty-nine ways to break the Sabbath.” Because added to the law of God in relationship to the Sabbath and its requirements, they had actually come up with thirty-nine additions that had to do with all kinds of things, including carrying stuff. And so he’s carrying his bed, and they say, “No! You can’t do that. It’s the Sabbath!”
Now, if this man had been carrying his bed and a few other beds in order that he could set up a stall and say, “Would anyone like to buy a bed?” that would actually be a violation of the commandment. Because the commandment provided for works of necessity and for works of mercy. Read Deuteronomy. You will find it’s right there. That is the difference, incidentally, between going to see your grandmother who is in hospital on a Sunday afternoon and going to see the Browns on a Sunday afternoon. One is an act of mercy… In fact, that might be an act of mercy as well.
The man doesn’t know who did the healing. Therefore, he can’t answer. But he passes the buck: “The man who said this to me, he’s the one. That’s why I’m carrying my bed.” Later Jesus meets him in the temple, tells him, “Don’t sin anymore. A lot worse could happen to you, like facing the judgment of God unforgiven.” And so the opposition steps forward: “This was why”—verse 18—“the Jews were seeking … to kill him.” He broke the Sabbath, they said. “He was even calling God his own Father.”
Now, Jesus knew it was the Sabbath. He could have performed this miracle any day of the week. He chose to do this. But he also was very aware of the fact that he wasn’t breaking the Sabbath. But by doing what he did, he was exposing the cruel hearts of the Sabbath police, so fastidious in their commitment to the externals that they couldn’t even rejoice in the provision of the Sabbath itself. The psalmist talked about, or the Old Testament talked about, calling the Sabbath a delight: the delight in the provision of God of mercy and forgiveness and joy and wholeness and rest and satisfaction—all of these things, all squeezed out by this fastidious commitment.
Some of you have experienced this in your backgrounds. You’ve come from very, very legalistic churches where people are more concerned about what is not being done than the good that is being done. I know something of it myself. I have vivid recollections as a boy being in places. I remember taking a ride on a boat for some kind of Sunday school elaborate picnic, and as we made our way down the river Clyde on the boat, there’s a great brouhaha broke out where I could hear the men talking very vehemently to one another. They were speaking in King James Version terms, because it was the 1950s. And the word that caught me was “pertaineth.” “Pertaineth.” And they kept saying, you know—and they were quoting Deuteronomy 22:5: “[A] woman shall not wear that which pertaineth [to] a man.” And apparently there was a lot of “pertaining” going on on the boat.
And when I finally, in my young mind, tried to figure out what it was, it was because the ladies were wearing pants. Right? That was a violation of Deuteronomy 22:5. The fact of the matter was that they ought to have been thankful that they were wearing pants, with the wind whipping everything up as we went down the Clyde. It would have been a far bigger problem for the Pharisees if that had got going than this. And furthermore, some of the men were wearing kilts! So I said, “Put that in your ‘pertaineth’ pipe and smoke it! I don’t get that at all. I don’t get that.”
Furthermore, if you want to know, when the Americans came with Billy Graham, then the women were immediately regarded as subspecies. Why? Because of lipstick. Because of makeup. Because of eye shadow. Because of earrings. The fastidious folks could not possibly believe that this woman could actually be anything other than something that you wouldn’t want to name.
That’s the environment. That’s the kind of spirit that is right here: people who can’t see the beauty of the works of God, clouded by their own predicaments.
Now, the Jews were opposing Jesus because they understood what Jesus was saying. They were opposing him because they realized the significance of the words of Jesus. He says to them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” They said to one another, “That’s it. The die is cast. He’s actually claiming to be equal with God.” That’s the issue.
That then leads to my third word, which is explanation. So, the transformation; the opposition that followed; the explanation that was then given, which gives to us our verse, 19. We won’t reread it. What Jesus is explaining to them is that his dependence upon God is perfect dependence. He shares the rights and he shares the power of God himself.
Now, you will perhaps recall that when Nicodemus came to him under cover of darkness as we looked at it last time in chapter 3, Nicodemus has a sense of this, doesn’t he? Because he says, “We”—presumably speaking on behalf of some of his colleagues—“we’ve concluded that you must be a prophet sent from God, because nobody could do the amazing signs that you are doing if God were not with him.” And what Jesus is actually saying here is “It’s not simply that I am in the company of God.” He’s saying that “the Father and I are one.” He’s making an express claim to his deity. And the Jews understood that. Why else do they want to kill him? It’s not because they misunderstood his statement. It’s the reverse. Jesus is unequivocally declaring this.
And if you just allow your eye to scan the text… For example, how is this obvious? Well, he says one of the ways in which this becomes apparent is that just “as the Father raises the dead”—verse 21—“and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” Surely only God has the power to give life. Surely only God has the power to raise people from the dead. God alone is the source of life. Jesus says, “The Son gives life to whom he will.” What’s he saying? “I’m God.”
He says it’s there— you see it—in the giving of eternal life. You go to the next verse, 22, and it is revealed in the execution of judgment: “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” Now, you remember when Paul is preaching—because, and remember, Paul didn’t believe a bit of this in the early part of his life, as a fastidious religious Jew—but now he’s preaching to the Athenians, and as he draws his talk to a close, at least as we have it as recorded by Luke, he says, “And God has appointed a day when he will judge the world. And he has appointed someone who will judge the world: it will be by the Son, to whom he has appointed the task. And he has given proof of this by the resurrection of him from the dead.”
Now Jesus is making the same statement. In verse 23: his deity is expressed in the fact that he can give life; that he will be the one who executes judgment; and then, thirdly, in verse 23, in accepting honor. Accepting honor: “… that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
Now, humility is a virtue that we look for in everybody who’s a leader of any kind. Nobody likes conceit. So you have to—if you’re a skeptic and reading this stuff—you have to decide: Is Jesus an egomaniac, or is he the person he declares himself to be? We’ve been singing about it this morning in that song: “You’re everything you say you are, Lord.” “You’re everything you say you are, Lord.” What is he saying he is? He’s the one who gives eternal life. He’s the one who executes judgment at the end of the age. He’s the one who receives honor to himself, just in the same way as the Father is given honor. If Jesus isn’t equal with God, then the claim that he makes here is beyond comprehension: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Okay.
Think Hinduism. Think Judaism. Think Islam. Think secularism. Think anything you want: “Oh, I believe there’s a God up there somewhere.” You play golf and people say, “The man upstairs.” What a load of absolute nonsense—and blasphemy, ultimately. Do you honor Jesus as the one who gives life, who you will face in judgment, and who is worthy of worship and honor and praise? “No, of course I don’t! I honor God.” No, you don’t honor God. You cannot honor God unless you honor the Son. Because in Jesus all the fullness of the godhead has appeared in bodily form. Everything that we could possibly know of the godhead as contained in humanity is there in Jesus. And that’s the point that’s being made.
What we’re dealing with here, incidentally—and I’m sure you already get it—is that we’re dealing with the doctrine of the Trinity. People wish that somehow or another you could go to some verse or two or a paragraph somewhere, and it just explains the Trinity. No. At best what we have is a formulation rather than an explanation. The creeds have done their best to try and give us Christian orthodoxy.
Let me quote to you from the Athanasian Creed. It’ll pin your ears back a little bit, but that’s okay. Some of you can come out of the second stage of anesthesia for this. This is what the Athanasian Creed says: “We worship one God in Trinity.” “In Trinity.” In other words, there is one divine being, and within this one divine being there are three centers of self-consciousness. We worship him “in Trinity”—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—“and [the] Trinity in unity, neither confounding the persons”—confusing them with one another—“nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, [and] another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.”
Now, that was put in there to deal with something called modalism. Modalism is actually alive and well in present circles—and it goes like this. If you listen to people talk and sometimes pray, it is clear that they don’t understand that there is one Father, there is one Son, and there is one Holy Spirit. What they think in their minds is that God represents himself—he takes on a mode here, and he takes on a mode there, and he takes on a mode there. So sometimes you might meet him as the Spirit, sometimes as the Son, sometimes as the Father. No! He’s always the Father, he’s always the Son, and he’s always the Spirit. That is so mysterious!
The Father… “But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one. … So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.” I’m still quoting. “And yet there are not three gods, but one God,” in the Trinity. “None is greater or less than [the other]. But the whole three persons are coeternal and coequal. … The unity in Trinity and the Trinity in unity is to be worshipped.”
This is a profound mystery. Right? It’s a profound mystery. You either jump into the deep waters of the mystery like a child (“Jump! Jump in! You’ll be fine! I’ve got you!”), or you sit on the sidelines, your intellect preventing you from bowing down before that which is ineffable, that is incomprehensible. It’s not irrational; it’s suprarational. And this is what we find in the Scriptures.
Says Ryle, again, “There are few chapters in the Bible, perhaps, where we feel our own shallowness of understanding so thoroughly, and discover so completely the insufficiency of all human language to express ‘the deep things of God.’”
This is a paragraph. Let’s just make sure we understand what Jesus is saying here. He’s claiming equality with God the Father. He is declaring that they will see “greater works”—“greater works” than this—“that will cause you to marvel,” he said. “Well,” he’d say, “if you think this was good, wait till you see what’s going to happen to Lazarus.” Right? And he stands at the grave of Lazarus, and he says, “Lazarus, come forth,” and Lazarus comes out. And again, after that, the Jews cannot rejoice that Lazarus was raised from the dead because of their concern for the Sabbath. You see what religion can do to you? It’ll make you a grumpy old person. You know the truth, the truth sets you free. Jesus is freeing from these things.
“In the mouth,” says Lewis, “of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any … character in history.” You must make your choice: A mad man? A bad man? Or the God-man? That’s the issue. No mere man, however great, would claim to do what Jesus says in verse 24—and with this we must wrap it up.
He gives another “Truly, truly” in verse 24. You get this free: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has”—present tense—“has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but [he] has passed from death to life.” Jesus is claiming that the eternal destiny of every living person is tied to his Word, his authority, and his invitation. Because you will notice that it is essentially an invitation. An invitation. It’s an invitation to listen to his voice.
That’s why when we pray, as I pray: “Lord, we want to hear your voice.” You can hear my voice. You can chill out my voice. But you won’t ever be able to chill out the voice of God. That’s why we want to hear God’s voice. I want to hear God’s voice when I study my Bible. I want to hear God. I want to meet God. I want to know God. This is not an exercise in sort of theological education. This is a life-transforming reality, that God—we just sang about it—his Word is powerful and fulfills his purposes.
An invitation to believe. An invitation to trust him. Because God has placed in the hands of his Son the determination of our eternal destiny. Go back and read this all again, and see if certain things don’t stand out to you. “Who is the man who said to you…” they asked in verse 12. That’s, I think, where some of you are. You haven’t answered that question. You haven’t come to a convinced position in terms of who Jesus is. You may even sing about him. You may even be in a small group. I don’t know. But if push comes to shove, you haven’t actually bowed down before him, said, “Lord Jesus Christ, you are the eternal Son of God. You’re worthy of all my worship, all my praise, all of my obedience, all of my everything.” That’s a different posture from “Jesus is my life coach.” “Who is the man …?” Better settle that question.
And then perhaps the more important question, asked by Jesus of the man: “Do you want to be healed?” “Do you want to be healed?” he says to him. Now, his healing is a picture of the spiritual transformation which he brings about. Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be saved? Do you want to know that the eternal record is settled?
John, who writes these words in chapter 5, then comes back to it in, interestingly, chapter 5 of his letter. And this is what he says: “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has[n’t] believed in the testimony that God [bore] concerning his Son.” What’s the testimony? “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
The purpose of the sign is to illustrate the claim that Jesus is the giver of spiritual life, that he’s the judge of all mankind on the last day. But it’s not the last day yet. But it will be a last day. That’s why the Bible always says today is the day of salvation. The ultimate divide as we walk out of this building is not rich, poor, White, Black, fat, thin, dumb, or stupid. The division is solely one: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” In other words, you are the walking dead. And God loves you so much that he sent Jesus so that you wouldn’t die in your deadness but that you would know the light of life. The invitation comes from Jesus himself.
Father, thank you that your Word is clear. Any cloudiness is my problem, our problem. “Your word is … fixed in the heavens.” Your love is so great, that you would see that man and do that for him; that you would see us and do this for us; that you look out on our world, and you see all these lonely people. And we’re like Father McKenzie: just going through the routine, darning our socks, wiping the dirt from our hands as we walk from the grave. O God, help our church not to become like these religious secret police. Help us, Lord, to rejoice always in every evidence of your transforming and liberating power. May we become increasingly the place where blind people see, deaf people hear, dead lives are made new. To the glory and praise of your name we ask it. Amen.
 J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: St. John (New York: Robert Carter, 1866), 1:283.
 See John 20:30–31.
 See Isaiah 35:5–6.
 Mark 1:15 (paraphrased).
 Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (1975).
 See Isaiah 58:13–14.
 Deuteronomy 22:5 (KJV).
 John 3:2 (paraphrased).
 Acts 17:31 (paraphrased).
 Andi Rozier and Brenton Brown, “Word of God” (2012).
 See Colossians 2:9.
 Ryle, Expository Thoughts, 1:282–83.
 John 11:43 (KJV).
 See John 8:32.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 2, chap. 3.
 1 John 5:10–12 (ESV).
 See 2 Corinthians 6:2.
 Psalm 119:89 (ESV).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Eleanor Rigby” (1966).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.