Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man
We’re in the third week of a series on seven miracles in the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John is the fourth book of the New Testament, and John was a disciple of Jesus, eye-witness of these events, and author of 5 New Testament books. John organizes the first half of his gospel (chap. 1-12) around 7 miracles performed by Jesus.
These miracles are “shallow enough for babies to wade in, but deep enough for elephants to drown in.” Their basic account of how Jesus supernaturally met real people’s physical and social needs is simple and easy to grasp. But they are also profound “signs”—symbolic acts pointing beyond themselves to Jesus' divinity and designed to lead us to faith in Jesus so he meet our deepest spiritual needs (see Jn. 20:30,31). Let’s see how this works with the third miracle, in which Jesus heals a paralyzed man . . .
Read 5:1,2. The action has switched from Galilee to Jerusalem. Critics used to claim that the author could not have been John because no such pool ever existed—but the Bethesda pool has now been excavated exactly as John describes it here.
Read 5:3,4. 5:3b,4 was not written by John and therefore does not belong in the biblical text. It should be bracketed (as in NASB) or deleted (as in NIV) because it is not in any of the earliest manuscripts, and where it appears in later manuscripts it is often marked to signal probable spuriousness.1 It is probably a marginal explanatory note (of 5:7) that later got incorporated into the text—namely, it explains a local superstition about the pool, but the biblical text does not affirm this belief.
Read 5:5. Lying among the multitude of handicapped people is a man who has been paralyzed (as we’ll see below) for 38 years. With no governmental social services and probably ostracized by the religious leaders, this man has a wretched existence—spending most of his daytime hours by this pool . . .
Read 5:6. Jesus could tell by the man’s atrophied limbs that he had been paralyzed for a long time. What kind of question is this to be asking this man? He’s paralyzed, isn’t he? He’s down by the pool, isn’t he? But the man’s answer reveals the wisdom of Jesus’ question . . .
Read 5:7. He doesn’t answer Jesus’ question! Rather, he focuses on how he has been mistreated by others. The man is so beaten down by life that his sickness and the negative results of his sickness have become inseparable from his identity as a person.
Read 5:8. Jesus redirects the conversation by speaking an authoritative word. As with the royal official, Jesus (implicitly) promises the man he will heal him, and issues a command by which the man is to express his trust in Jesus’ word.
Read 5:9a. As the man acted by faith, he experienced the supernatural fulfillment of Jesus’ word. This is very different from the kinds of “healings” done by the “healer-dealers” today! Many are nothing more than rank charlatanism—staged events designed to fleece sick people of their money. Others involve mainly invisible ailments like insomnia, migraines, and back pain, and produce only partial and/or temporary restoration. This healing (like all of Jesus’ and the apostles’ healings) was incontestable (everyone knew of his obvious sickness), instantaneous (paralysis is gone) and complete (even his atrophied muscles were also restored so that he could walk away).
SUMMARY: By seeking out and healing this man, Jesus demonstrated both his compassion for those who suffer and his authority over serious chronic illness. So much for the miracle—what is the “sign?” What does this miracle reveal about Jesus’ true identity as the Son of God and his ability to meet the deepest spiritual needs of those who believe in him as the Son of God (re-read 20:31)? There are two ways in which this miracle is a “sign” . . .
The “Sign” – Jesus is God
The first clue is when Jesus healed this man (read 5:9b). He wants us to know that Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath.
This begins a new section in John’s gospel (ch. 5-10), in which Jesus is portrayed as the One who fulfills Israel’s Old Testament holy days. In each case, Jesus precipitates a conflict with the Jewish religious leaders—which becomes the occasion for Jesus to verbalize and validate a claim about his true identity.
That’s what happens here. Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath, and this lands the man and him in trouble with the religious leaders (read and explain 5:10-16).
God commanded Israel to observe the Sabbath primarily to expression his compassion. As their Creator and Provider, he commanded his people to take a day of rest each week for themselves, their servants and their animals. This was both a gracious recognition of creaturely limitations and a way for them to express trust that God would meet their material needs.
But by the first century AD, Sabbath observance had become so neurotic and cruel that it completely reversed God’s intent for it. Religious Jews had become obsessed with what determining exactly it meant to "work." In the Talmud, there are 39 classes of work forbidden on the Sabbath—redefining the meaning of “anal.”2
So by healing this man on the Sabbath and commanding him to carry his mat, Jesus was deliberately committing a double-violation of their Sabbath laws. Religious leaders viewed this as blasphemy against God—a capital offense.
Interestingly, Jesus does not defend himself (as he could have and did in Mk. 7) by pointing out their misapplication of the Old Testament Sabbath law. Instead, says he has the right to work on the Sabbath (and display God’s compassion) because he is God!
Read 5:17. The rabbis agreed that God could work on the Sabbath. “I have the authority to do the same thing because I am God’s Son.” To claim to be “the Son of God” was not some pantheistic platitude (“God is in all of us.”). To a monotheistic audience, this was a unique claim to share the same divine nature as God (read 5:18). This is even greater blasphemy! And so they (and we) can’t miss this claim, Jesus continues to elaborate on it in 5:19-29.
Read 5:19b,20. He claims to have unique intimacy and working harmony with the Father. Therefore, this healing has the Father's approval in spite of their censure.
Read 5:21. He claims to be able to bestow life just like the Father (1 Sam. 2:6; Jn. 1:4). They have no authority to tell him when he can do this; he has the authority to do this for whomever he wishes.
Read 5:22. He claims to have the authority to judge—which belongs exclusively to God (Deut. 1:17). He is not under their judgment; they are under his judgment!
Read 5:23. He claims to have the right to be honored in the same way people honor the Father. Therefore, instead of persecuting him, they should be worshipping him!
In other words, this miracle is a “sign” because it reveals Jesus as God. “The only One who had the authority and power to heal this man on the Sabbath is God—and that is who I am!”
So what? So Jesus was either who he claimed to be (in which case our only fitting response is to embrace him as our Lord)—or he was a liar or insane (in which case we should completely reject him and warn others to do the same). The politically correct notion that he was a prophet or spiritual master or moral philosopher—and that therefore we can just tip our hats at him—is both irrational and immoral.3 This is why Jesus said Matt. 12:30a (read). Once you understand Jesus’ claim, to refuse to bow to him and worship him as God is to reject him. What is your verdict?
But there is even more to this miracle. It is a “sign” that teaches us another wonderful lesson about Jesus. He is not only God who deserves your worship—he is also the Savior who is willing and able to restore you to spiritual life.
The “Sign” – Jesus is willing & able to restore you to spiritual life
Jesus came into this multitude of broken people, he sought this man out in his hopeless physical condition, and he restored him to physical health when the man believed his word. But this healing is not an end in itself; it is a “sign” of Jesus’ offer to restore you to spiritual life if you believe his word.
This is why Jesus sought out the man again later and warned him that he was still in need of a far greater deliverance (read 5:14). Jesus is not saying: “God made you paralyzed once for some sin that you committed—so you’d better watch how or he’ll do it again!” He is saying: “It’s great that you are physically healed, but you have a far more serious problem. Your moral guilt will bring you justly under God’s judgment unless you get deliverance from this.” Like most of us, this man wanted only temporal solutions to his temporal problems. Jesus was warning him not to neglect his spiritual problem. Good advice for us . . .
This is why after saying 5:8,9 to the man, Jesus says 5:24,25 to all of us. Just as the man was healed the moment he responded in faith to Jesus’ word (“immediately”), so we receive eternal life the moment we respond in faith to Jesus’ word (“has eternal life”). “Eternal life” is a personal relationship with God (Jn. 17:3), and it begins now (not after you die)—the moment you put your faith in Jesus as the one who can make you well.
No matter how broken your life is, no matter how badly other people have treated you, no matter how many past attempts to fix you have failed, Jesus can radically heal you by restoring you to a love relationship with God. You will still have issues to deal with because we still live in fallen world—but Jesus will heal you at the most profound level, he will give you a new identity as his beloved child that puts hope in your heart, and he will initiate a healing process in every major area of your life.
Jesus asked this man “Do you wish to be well?” And he is asking you the same question: “Do you wish to be well?” Do you want to be restored to God today? All you have to do is admit that you are broken and cannot heal yourself, and tell Jesus that you believe he can make you alive to God.
1Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1994), pp. 90,91.
2 For example, you were allowed to pick up a chair and put it down somewhere else in your own home—but you weren't allowed to drag it because this might make a groove in the dirt floor and thus be "plowing. Women were forbidden to look in the mirror on the Sabbath, because they might discover a white hair and pluck it out—which was "reaping.” You could dip a radish into salt, but not too long, for this would be to “make pickle.” Sabbath laws also forbade healing sick people unless their sickness was life-threatening. In the area of "carrying," you couldn't carry anything heavier than a dried fig. If a man threw an object up with his right hand and caught it with his left hand, this was carrying. But if he threw it up and caught it in his mouth and ate it, it was not carrying because after being eaten the object no longer existed. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Tines of Jesus the Messiah, Book II, pp. 778-787.
3 "There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him `Are you the son of Bramah?' he would have said, `My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.' If you had gone to Socrates and asked, `Are you Zeus?' he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, `Are you Allah?' he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off . . . The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question . . . the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God, or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man . . . We may note in passing that he was never regarded (by his contemporaries) as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects - Hatred - Terror - Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval." C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 157,158.
Next Week: John 6:15-21 - Jesus Stills the Sea
Copyright 2004 Gary DeLashmutt