Teaching series from John

The Giver of Life

John 5:1-29

Teaching t05620


This is the third of seven signs. Remember that a sign is a miracle performed by Jesus which points beyond itself to teach us something about Jesus and his provision for humanity. Usually Jesus couples his sign with an explanation so that no one will miss the point. In this sign, Jesus' subsequent explanation makes the point unmistakable: he is the giver of life.

The Sign (vs 1-9a)

Read vs 1-4. Vs 3b,4 were not written by John and therefore do not belong in the biblical text. It is (or should be) bracketed because they are not in any of the earliest manuscripts, and where is appears in later manuscripts it is often marked to signal probable spuriousness. [1] It is a marginal explanatory note that later got incorporated into the text. It explains what people believed concerning the pool, but the biblical text does not affirm this. It was probably a local superstition, like Fatima or Lourdes today.

THE PROBLEM: When God looks at the human race, what does he see? Something like vs 3! People who are sick, helpless, banking on false cures . . . 

We don't like to look at it this way. We think, "I've got a few problems, but I'm basically OK. So I can't succeed in relationships? So I lack direction and purpose for my life?" We're so used to our condition, it doesn't seem so bad (SKID-ROW BUMS' SMELL).

But God says we are "lost," "without hope" (Eph. 2:12); "sinners," "helpless," "enemies" (Rom. 5:6,8,10)! We are alienated from him to such an extent that we would never seek him unless he first sought us. We are broken people, damaged in every area (physically, psychologically, emotionally, intellectually, etc.) as a result of our alienation from him. This is the true human condition!

THE QUESTION: Read vs 5. This man is especially helpless. So Jesus asks him vs 6b. This sounds like a stupid question--but the man's answer reveals the wisdom of it. Amazingly, he doesn't answer Jesus' question--he just complains about the neighbors and the injustice of the system (read vs 7)! He is so thoroughly defeated that he has given up all hope and is just waiting to die.

This is what so many of us are like. Christ is asking us "Do you wish to get well?" but we're focused on how bad we have it, how others have mistreated us, on how much better others have it than we do, etc. There is a perverse pleasure and security in playing the victim. ("It may be a mud puddle, but at least I'm familiar with it!") Some of us would rather complain about our situation than allow Jesus Christ to make us well!!

In his love, Jesus cuts the man off and speaks a word of command that contains an implicit promise (vs 8). As with the royal official in 4:50a, he calls on this man to respond to his Word by taking a step of faith.

THE RESULT: This healing was incontestable, instantaneous and complete. Not only was his paralysis healed--but his atrophied muscles were also restored so that he could walk away. This is typical of Jesus' healings--so different from the so-called "healings" of invisible ailments (insomnia; back pain) which are only partially (at best) restored.

It is also a picture of salvation. When we agree that we are alienated from God, helpless to save ourselves, and when we are willing to put our trust in Jesus Christ's promise to reconcile us to God, we are instantaneously and completely restored to spiritual life. Jesus draws this connection for us a little later in this chapter, but first we have a controversy . . . 

The Controversy (vs 9b-16)

Read vs 9b . . . uh-oh! It was the Sabbath! Read vs 10 (SABBATH POLICE >> SIRENS >> "PULL OVER, BUDDY!"). Why is this a problem?

The Old Testament law commanded Sabbath observance to memorialize God's work of creation, to give people and animals a break--and to remind his people to trust God to provide their material needs according to his covenant promises (HARVEST TIME).

But by this time, Sabbath observance became a hallmark of Jewish piety. Religious Jews had a super-anal obsession with what determining exactly it meant to "work." In the Talmud, there are 39 classes of work forbidden on the Sabbath. You think we've had BLUE LAWS!! This discussion takes up 24 long chapters and goes into such detail that "one would scarcely imagine a sane intellect would seriously entertain." [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." You could spit on stones, but there was a grave debate on whether it was lawful to spit on the ground--because this too might 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." There was a huge debate over whether you could repair a broken sandal on the Sabbath. You couldn't tie or untie a knot. You could dip a radish into salt, but not too long, for this would be to make pickle. You couldn't climb a tree, or ride, or swim, or clap your hands, or dance.

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. And of course, Sabbath laws forbade helping sick people unless their sickness was life threatening. [3]

So this man, and Jesus, were definitely guilty! Read vs 11. Did they say, "What? He made you well after all those years? Praise God! Who was this guy? He may be the Messiah, because the prophets predicted he would make the `lame leap like a deer' (Isa. 35:6)." NOOOOO!! Read vs 12. As we'll soon see, they wanted to know who it was so they could get him for conspiracy to break the Sabbath!

Read vs 13-15. Jesus is probably telling him that his spiritual condition is more important than his former physical malady, and calling him to believe in him so he doesn't go to hell. The man's response may have been a witness for Christ rather than ratting on him . . . 

Read vs 16. This is a religious misuse of morality! This is not just a Jewish problem! This is religion world-wide, and it is still with us today!

Christianity upholds the Law of God, which has real moral content (LUST, GREED, HATE, USING PEOPLE; LACK OF LOVE). When we focus on it, it makes us aware of our true moral guilt so we realize we need God's forgiveness through Christ.

But religion focuses on man-made, external, keepable rules (2 MPH OVER SPEED LIMIT; "GOSH; DARN; HECK;" DON'T RE-USE UNMARKED STAMP;" NO "R" MOVIES). By doing this, we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are righteous. This provides a way to avoid admitting real moral failure and come to God with honesty and humility.

Religion is therefore the enemy of biblical faith. Religion called God the devil (Mt. 12). Religion nailed Jesus to the cross. Religion killed the God it claimed to love.

No wonder Jesus hated religion! No wonder he reserved his harshest words for these guys (Matt. 23 curses)!! He confronted the "sinners," but not with this kind of fierceness, because they knew they had a problem with God. But the religionists deceived themselves into thinking they were righteous >> PHARISEE & PUBLICAN.

The Claims (vs 17-29)

Jesus knew it was the Sabbath, and he purposefully healed the man on this day to provoke this controversy! The controversy between them hinged on the issue of authority. If Jesus rejected their authority to interpret the Sabbath law, what higher authority did he appeal to? His answer is to assert that he has divine authority--because he is God!

Vs 17,18: The rabbis agreed that God could work on the Sabbath. Jesus claims to have unique relationship with the Father, thus sharing his nature--and he does not correct their conclusion! "You're talking to God right now, so adopt a different attitude!"

Vs 19,20: He claims to have a unique level of personal intimacy and working harmony with the Father. Therefore, this healing has the Father's approval in spite of their censure.

Vs 21: He claims to be the bestower of life just like the Father (1 Sam. 2:6; Jn. 1:4). He is not under their authority; he has the authority to give life to whomever he wishes.

Vs 22: He claims to have the authority to judge--which belongs exclusively to God (Deut. 1:17).

Vs 23: Therefore, he claims to deserve the same honor as the Father.

Especially when we realize that these claims were made to strict monotheists, it is undeniable that he was claiming to be the one true God. This is very polarizing. You can't make Jesus into one more good teacher who only pointed to God--because he claimed to be God. You can't make him into one more pantheistic spiritual master who said we're all God--because he simply isn't saying that. You have to reject him as a liar or a nut--or you have to cast yourself on him as your Lord and your God. Which will it be???

But the emphasis of these claims is that Jesus gives life--both now and in the future. Read vs 24-29.

The man lying by the pool was dying--but Jesus gave him life. We, like the man, are also dying. It's just a matter of time. Jesus offers to give us life, to make us alive to God right now, and to spare us from judgment and have eternal life in the future.

Billy Graham at Nixon's funeral: “This death should cause you to think about your own death . . . when what matters will not be what people think about you--but what God thinks about you--his judgment, his verdict.” You may say, "I don't believe in a final judgment." Well, Jesus says there will be a final judgment whether you believe in it or not! Your beliefs do not create reality; they need to come into line with reality as it is revealed to us through God's Word!

What determines whether you are raised for life for judgment? Sabbath-keeping? Religious rule-keeping? No--belief in Jesus (vs 24). The "good" in vs 29 refer in context to believing in Jesus as God's Messiah and Savior. The "evil" refers to refusal to believe in him.

Jesus doesn't just make these claims without giving us any evidence for them. NEXT, we'll look at the different lines of evidence he gives--sufficient evidence to make a decision to trust him. Are you willing to hear the evidence?


[1] Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1994), pp. 90,91.

[2] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Tines of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), Book II, p. 778.

[3] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Tines of Jesus the Messiah, Book II, pp. 778-787.