On Tuesday I was speaking with a dying woman. What remains of her life is measured in weeks.
I spoke to her about Jesus and the life He offers so freely. She responded with ‘religion’ and her need to live a good life and earn favor with ‘god’.
Her ‘religion’ renders Jesus optional, even disposable. Though she claims to be a ‘Christian’, she’s missing the point completely.
Let’s look at how the third sign confronts ‘religion’.
See if you can discern the problem as you read these verses:
After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.
3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters;
4 for 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 the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.
5 A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, "Do you wish to get well?"
7 The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me."
It was during a “feast of the Jews” – a time that should have been a celebration of God’s grace.
A crippled man is lying beside a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda, meaning “house of mercy.” He’s been crippled for 38 years.
There is a legend that at certain times an angel stirred the water of the pool and the first person in is healed. So, to be healed you had to watch closely and move quickly.
It’s pretty obvious that the blind and the crippled – people who need healing – aren’t very successful.
In a way, this scene is a microcosm of Judaism – and ‘religion’ in general. There’s no mercy – no remedy – for those who need it most. A blind person can’t earn sight; a cripple can’t earn legs that work; a dead person can’t earn life; a sinner can’t earn forgiveness.
Jesus speaks to this needy crippled human in his hopeless situation.
The cripple desires healing. Without further conditions, Jesus says to him,
“Get up, pick up your pallet [or mat] and walk.”
9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.
The healing is Jesus’ gift of life to the cripple. Not only is the man no longer crippled, he is able to pick up his sleeping mat and walk immediately – something he hasn’t been able to do for 38 years.
The healed man becomes a flash point for religious reaction.
It was the Sabbath – a day in which Jews were to respond to God by resting from their work routines.
But the Sabbath had become encrusted with humanly-devised rules. No fewer than 39 detailed regulations dictated what people could and could not do on Sabbath.
For instance, a person was forbidden to transport an object (e.g., a mat) in public more than four cubits which is about six feet or two meters.
Jesus says “Pick up your mat and walk” – and we see the powerful grace of God manifest as the man steps out in life-ladened health.
‘Religion’ says “Stop, you can’t do that! You’re breaking the rules!”
So what insights do we gain to the question, “Who is Jesus?”
To the Jews persecuting him, Jesus says, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”
Here’s the issue: “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was [Jesus] breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18).
The religious authorities hear Jesus’ claim, but they don’t believe it. They ignore the miracle, and deny that Jesus is equal with God.
Jesus doesn’t alleviate the tension. He not only confirms his claim, he emphasizes the unique dynamic relationship between the Father and the Son (John 5:19-29). God is at work as Jesus and these religious people were completely missing the point.
Here’s our other question: “What difference does it make?”
Here are three points that contrast Jesus and ‘religion’:
1. The Jewish leaders were impotent; Jesus is omni-potent (all-powerful).
The Jewish religion was unable to heal the crippled man. For 38 years they had done nothing. Whereas Jesus spoke a few words and the man was healed instantly.
‘Religion’ is impotent; Jesus is omni-potent.
2. The Jewish leaders imposed rules to control behavior; Jesus offers himself as the answer to all our genuine needs.
‘Religion’ imposes rules; Jesus offers relationship.
3. The Jewish leaders sought to kill Jesus (5:18); Jesus dispenses mercy, forgiveness, and life at every turn.
At its root ‘religion’ leads to death; Jesus gives life.
There is a huge difference between Jesus and ‘religion’.
 I have used the text of the NASB translation which includes verse 4. If you’re reading other translations such as the NIV, ESV, NRS, or NLT you will note that verse 4 is omitted on the basis that it does not occur in many ancient texts.
 Mishna Tractate Shabbat 7:2.
Photo credit:"Christ Healing the Paralytic at Bethesda" by Palma il Giovane (1592)
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