Some time ago, I was speaking with a dying woman. What remained of her life was 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’ rendered Jesus optional, even disposable. Though she claimed to be a ‘Christian,’ she was missing the point completely.
Let’s look at how the third sign of Jesus gives life in the face of the impotence of ‘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 celebrated God’s grace.
A crippled man was lying beside a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda, meaning “house of mercy.” He had been crippled for 38 years.
There is a legend that sometimes an angel stirs 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 obvious that the blind and the crippled—people who need healing—are not very successful. After all, how do you see the ripples or get into the pool in time?
In a way, this scene is a microcosm of all ‘religion’ in general. There is no mercy or remedy for those who need it most. A blind person cannot earn sight; a cripple cannot earn legs that work; a dead person cannot earn life; a sinner cannot 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.”
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, but he is also able to pick up his sleeping mat and walk immediately—something he had not 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, such as a sleeping mat, in public for more than four cubits, about six feet or two meters.
In contrast, Jesus says, “pick up your mat and walk.” Yet, amazingly, the man springs into action—what a demonstration of the powerful grace of God.
We can hear the ‘Religion Police’ shouting,
“Stop, you can’t do that! You’re breaking the rules!”
There is a lot more in this chapter.
For one, the religious guys confront Jesus for breaking their rules. Imagine these petty tyrants who have let this man languish in his disability for 38 years and dare to confront Jesus, who healed him in a moment. How blind can they be?
For another, they take issue with what Jesus says about his relationship with God. That will be expanded in another post.
At this point, we ask, “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 (5:18):
“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”
The religious authorities heard Jesus’ claim but did not believe it. They ignored the miracle and denied that Jesus was equal to God.
Jesus does not lessen the tension. On the contrary, he not only confirms his claim but also emphasizes the unique dynamic relationship between the Father and the Son (John 5:19-30). God is at work as Jesus, and these religious people completely missed 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 (no power); Jesus is omnipotent (all power).
These religious people were 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 omnipotent.
2. The Jewish leaders imposed rules to control behavior, whereas 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), whereas 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.’
What other thoughts do you have? Let me know by clicking here.
 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 because 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)
Helpful resources provided to 'living theology' subscribers.YES!