FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2007-12-16

Text: John 5:1-18

I would like to begin this sermon by talking about a timepiece known as the grandfather clock. Have you seen a grandfather clock? When I was very young I used to be fascinated by it whenever I visited my grandma's place.

It originated from an invention in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens of a clock that was controlled by a swinging pendulum. After Huygens discovered that wide swings made the pendulum inaccurate, the pendulum's swing was reduced to 40-60. This allowed the clock's case to accommodate longer, slower pendulums, which needed less power and caused less wear on the movement. The long narrow clocks built around these pendulums became known as grandfather clocks. Grandfather clocks became very popular and they remained the world standard for accurate timekeeping for 270 years, until the invention of the electronic quartz clock in 1927.

Most of the grandfather clocks you can find in homes nowadays are actually quartz grandfather clocks. These are extremely accurate because the timekeeping is no longer controlled by the swinging pendulum but by a quartz crystal which vibrates at a rate of over 32 thousand times per second. However, these modern grandfather clocks still have a pendulum that swings. But now it is the clock that controls the swing of the pendulum, which serves no other function than a merely decorative one. This is a fine example of how something which was originally designed to be a means to an end has become an end in itself. 

The same thing happened to the Commandment that God gave concerning the Sabbath day 'Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.' The 4th commandment was originally given to enable man to spend time apart from his usual work to rest his tired body and to refresh his soul through worshipping his Creator. But over time, Sabbath-keeping became an end it itself. As people became more and more concerned about keeping the Sabbath than about bringing refreshment to their souls, it progressed from being a great blessing to becoming a great burden for God's people. Why? Because of the many regulations that were invented to protect the Sabbath from being violated. 

These man-made regulations for Sabbath-keeping have caused much unnecessary anxiety and strife among men. And in our passage we see that it became the chief point of contention of the Jews against the Lord of the Sabbath Himself who is Jesus Christ. This contention began when Jesus healed a paralysed man on a Sabbath day and told him to carry the mattress he had been lying on. Instead of being amazed at Christ's power to heal so completely, the Jews were upset that He had supposedly profaned the Sabbath. Let us read the passage to see what happened. (Read).

This passage reveals three things to us: (1) The helpless condition of the sick man; (2) The healing compassion of our sympathetic Saviour; (3) The high-handed contempt of the sinful Jews. Let us first consider:

I. The Helpless Condition of the Sick Man (vv.2-7)

A. The Pool of Bethesda (vv.2-4)

The location of the account is given in v.2 as a pool which was called Bethesda. The name Bethesda means 'House of Mercy'. It was located on the northwest corner of Jerusalem and near the gate by the sheep market (Nehemiah 3:1). It was a large pool surrounded by a colonnade on all four sides and down the middle of the pool, making five porches in all. At the time of Jesus these porches were crowded with multitudes of people who suffered from all kinds of ailments - the blind, the lame, the disabled and the paralysed. All of them were there in the hope of being healed because according to v.4, the waters of the pool were occasionally stirred by an angel and whoever could step in first would be healed instantly. Some Bible scholars think that this belief was merely a superstition and that whatever healing that took place there was purely psychological. But it would be hard to explain why so many sick people kept crowding at that pool and waiting so patiently unless some real miracles of healing had already taken place there.

Others think that its healing properties came from the hot mineral springs that supplied water to the pool - something like a spa. But if this was the case, the sick people would not just be waiting in the porches around the pool, but soaking up the mineral salts in the pool. I think it is better to take v.4 literally to mean that there was real supernatural healing power in that pool because of the angel who stirred the waters at certain times. In the days of the Old Testament, God sometimes provided supernatural healing for His people through means like these. 

When the Israelites who were on their journey to Canaan complained against God, and were bitten by deadly serpents, God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and raise it up on a pole. Whoever looked at the bronze serpent was healed instantly. This bronze serpent was meant to be a preview of Christ. Hence the physical healing that was received by looking at that bronze serpent was really a fore-shadow of the spiritual healing that would come to sinners who look to Jesus. Perhaps the pool of Bethesda was also meant to be an Old Testament fore-shadow of the healing ministry of Christ. 

But such previews or foreshadows in the Old Testament were only weak and temporary representations of Christ. They were not meant to exist for long. They were no longer needed when Christ finally came. Therefore when Christ healed the sick at the pool of Bethesda, He was fulfilling what that pool had signified all along. And since the reality had arrived, the waters of that pool would cease to produce any miracles of healing from that time onward.

B. The Plight of the Sick Man (vv.5-7)

In v.5 the account focuses on the plight of the man who was healed. He was afflicted with paralysis and had to lie down on a mattress beside the pool. He had no strength at all to sit, stand or walk, but he was able to eat and talk. This had been his life for 38 years. Although we are not told how he became paralysed, from what Jesus said to him in v.14 we may infer that it was a result of some sin that he had committed in his youth. Having to bear such awful consequences of his sin he may have deeply regretted it and wished to be made whole again.

At some point in those 38 years he must have heard about the miracle healing that was available at Bethesda. Surely he could find healing from the angel that stirred up the waters. He might have gone through a lot of difficulty to find someone who would be kind enough to bring him there. But when he finally reached the pool he realized how futile his efforts were. There were too many sick people there, and there was only a tiny window of opportunity for anyone to be healed - it was only when the waters of the pool began to stir at certain times. And the healing was limited to one person each time. No one knew when this would happen, and some had probably waited for many months watching the water very closely day and night. 

It was just like playing a game where the first person to touch the goal when a signal is given wins the prize! The competition at the pool must have been very stiff and the atmosphere, very tense. In such a situation, the chances of healing for this paralysed man were almost nil. Each time he saw the waters moving, he became very anxious to get in and shouted for help. But no one came. His friends had abandoned him long ago, and the rest of the crowd would rather get into the pool first than help him to get in. Even when some kind soul finally heard his desperate cries and came to his aid, someone else had already got into the pool and used up his opportunity. Out of the hundreds of sick people at Bethesda, there was probably none who was in a more deplorable state than this paralysed man!

Imagine how devastated he was time after time to see others coming out of the waters happy and healed of their infirmities, while he was left to languish in his sorry state. Imagine what utter despair he felt as he went on like this for many years with no hope at all in sight. How frustrating it must have been, to be so near to receiving the angel's healing power and yet so helpless to receive it! Whatever hopes he had of receiving any angelic or human help had only brought him the greatest disappointment.

Lesson: Dearly beloved, do you know that the same thing can also happen to you? If you look for angelic help or human help in your deepest distress you will be disappointed. You think it is good to place all your confidence in your most trusted associates and friends. But when it comes to the final crunch, everyone looks after their own interests, and they are not there for you. When Christ was arrested, His own disciples forsook Him and fled (Mark 14:50). When Paul was put on trial during his final imprisonment in Rome, all men forsook him (2 Timothy 4:16).

Many non-Christians place their confidence rather unwisely in what they think is reliable supernatural help, e.g. astrology, feng shui, fortune-tellers, etc. They consult mediums and horoscopes to find an auspicious date to start their business venture or to open a new branch. They hope for their special window of opportunity to come when they can strike it rich. But they will be utterly disappointed, and worse still, they may find themselves snared by the devil, who uses these things to lure people into the occult. If you have been putting your trust or confidence in any of these things, please stop doing so. 

There is only one real source of help that you should place your trust and confidence in - and that is the Lord Jesus. This is the second thing that is revealed in our passage of Scripture: 

II. The Healing Compassion of the Sympathetic Saviour (vv.6,8 and 14)

We see this wonderful compassion of our Lord in the words that He spoke to the sick man. The first was a question (v.6), the second was a command (v.8) and the third was a warning (v.14). 

A. The Question that revealed the man's distress (v.6)

Verse six tells us that when Jesus saw the sick man lying on his bed, he asked him the question, 'Wilt thou be made whole?' It may seem rather strange at first that Jesus should ask this question, because: Who would not want to be healed from sickness? But there are at least two reasons why this question was asked. Firstly, it was asked to raise the sick man's hopes of being healed. Having been disappointed and frustrated for so long, his hopes of being healed had all gone by now. The question Jesus asked made him hopeful again. Secondly, the question was asked in order to reveal his great distress, as seen in his forlorn reply 'Yes, I do want to be made whole, but I can't. I've tried. I've done everything I know how. I want to get into that water but I lack the ability. And I have no one to help me! I've given up. I have no hope.' 

Dearly beloved, do you know that this a picture of what we were before we were saved? If we had stubbornly insisted that our own good works can make us whole, and that we can save ourselves from sin and misery, we would have remained blind to our real distress. It is only when we humbled ourselves and admitted our utter inability to save ourselves that God's help came to us and saved us! 

One of the biggest obstacles in bringing souls to Christ is to help people see the real distress that they are in. They must see that they are utterly helpless. They have no strength to work their own salvation from sin and misery. They must see that there is absolutely no one on earth who can help them. Only then will they turn to Christ and seek for His salvation. I want to say this now to anyone here who still insists that he can save himself - please open your eyes to see what great distress you are actually in. Perhaps you think you can earn your salvation by fulfilling all the requirements of the Law of God. No one can do that!

Now, the waters of the Bethesda pool are just like the Law of God. They promise life and healing, but only provided we are capable of keeping them. Unfortunately we cannot keep them no matter how hard we try because we don't have the capability to keep them. Sin has thoroughly incapacitated us. Like the paralysed man who could not fulfill the requirement of getting into the pool to be made whole, we cannot fulfill the Law's requirements in order to be made whole. No one is able to keep the entire Law of God perfectly. The Law does only one thing for us well: It helps us to see how much we need the Lord Jesus Christ! He alone can save us, and He alone must save us!

And just as Christ had compassion on that man to deliver him from his sickness, He also had great compassion on us to deliver us from our sinful state. And He did so by the command 'Believe, and be saved!' (cf. Acts 16:31)

B. The Command that worked the man's deliverance (v.8)

For the man, the command was 'Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.' This command from the Lord produced the most amazing results. The healing of the paralysed man was instantaneous. He did not have to wait for his atrophied muscles to grow back. He did not have to go through a long process of physiotherapy and rehabilitation. This immediate and complete work of healing clearly shows the mighty power of God.

One interesting feature of this miracle that makes it quite different from other miracles of Christ is that it was not preceded by the recipient's faith in Christ. In fact, this man did not even know who it was who healed him until much later on. And up till v.7 he was still expecting his healing to come from the waters of the pool. It was therefore not faith in Christ that delivered this man from his sickness. It was the powerful Word of Christ spoken to him that did it! His body was made whole by the words that Christ said to him, 'Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.' Strength suddenly flowed into his bones and muscles, and the man was then able to rise, take up his bed and walk.

How thrilled he must have been to be able to move his body, arms and legs again after 38 years of immobility. A moment ago this man had been pining for strength just to get into the healing waters before others could get in. But now, through the authoritative word of command from Christ, he was fully healed and did not need the pool any more. It is intriguing that the command he was given was not only to 'Rise up.'

To a paralysed man, attempting to rise up would require too much effort to do. Why was he then told, 'Rise, take up thy bed, and walk'? Perhaps it was meant to show the finality of Christ's work. It was just like saying, 'You are discharged. Leave this place and make no provision at all to return to it.' Leaving his bed there at the pool would only mean that he may return to it and to his old immobile state. But taking up his bed and walking out of that place meant abandoning his old life forever and not going back to it any more. We see this reflected in v.14 which was the final word that Jesus spoke to the man He had healed. 

C. The Warning that deserved the man's diligence (v.14)

'Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.' Jesus gave the man this warning after He had found him at the Temple. Here we can really see the tender love and compassion our Saviour had for this man. He not only wanted to see him made whole. He also wanted to see him remaining in that state of wholeness. Because of this Jesus went to look for him and He did not rest until He had found him at the temple and given him the warning that he needed to receive in v.14 'Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.' Jesus wanted this man to remember that it was sin that had wasted 38 good years of his life. Now that he was whole again, he must not return to that sin again. To do so would only plunge him into a deeper misery than he had before.

Lesson: Dearly beloved, let us learn an important lesson from this: The salvation you have received from Christ has made you whole. You have been delivered from your sins. You must not return to those sins - whatever they may be: e.g. pride and vanity, greed and coveteousness, deceit and hypocrisy. The Lord wants you to turn your back on them and leave them all behind. Your life now belongs to Christ and so it must be lived completely for Him.

As for the man who was healed by Christ in our scripture text, we do not know whether he finally heeded the loving warning that Christ gave him, or rejected it. Some Bible scholars think that he rejected the warning because they claim that in v.15 he turned informer to the Jews against Jesus, and incurred their bitter persecution of Christ over the Sabbath. If this is true than what he did was really the height of ingratitude and he was truly unworthy of the mercy that Christ had shown to him. But we have reason to believe that this was not the case. 

One very telling point is that when the man spoke to the Jews both in v.11 and v.15 he referred to Jesus not as the One who had told him to take up his bed and walk, but as the One who had made him whole. V.11 'He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.' V.15 'The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.' Perhaps he was sincerely seeking to convince the Jews that Christ had every right to command him to take up his bed and walk since He alone had the power to make him whole. Unfortunately, the Jews were not interested at all in the good work of Christ's miraculous healing. They were only concerned that their Sabbath-keeping regulations had been violated when the man carried his mattress away. You can say that they missed the forest for a tree.

III. The High-handed Contempt of the Sinful Jews (vv.10-18)

It is astounding to see how narrow-minded and spiritually blind people can be. It was so plain that a miracle of immense proportions had just taken place - a miracle that deserved their full attention and demanded a response of faith in Christ. The evidence was standing right before their eyes - a man who had been unable to move for 38 long years, now able to walk and carry a bed. Why could they not see this?

It was probably because they were so deep in their lawless law-keeping. They were much too concerned about their own Sabbath regulations. What kind of regulations did they keep? The Jews had spelled out 39 different ways by which the Sabbath could be violated by certain types of work. They might only carry of food something less than a dried fig. There were some kinds of knots that was lawful to tie on the Sabbath, and by tying others they broke the Sabbath. They must not write two letters of the alphabet that could be read together. A bed could only be carried if it had a person lying on it. Their regulations also spelt out the penalty for carrying objects on the Sabbath. If a person did it unwittingly he had to bring a sin offering to the Temple. But if he did it deliberately, then he had to be stoned.

One of passages they used to justify such regulations was Jeremiah 17:21-22 'Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Neither carry forth a burden out of your houses on the sabbath day, neither do ye any work, but hallow ye the sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers.' The prohibition in this passage of Scripture was clearly about carrying burdens to do business or to earn a living. This was not what the healed man was doing. 

He was merely carrying his bed to remove it from the porch at Bethesda and to bring it home. He was not about to sell his bed for profit. He was not going to receive any payment for carrying his bed. But to the Jews what he did was a grievous sin, and Christ who made him do it was guilty of breaking God's 4th commandment. From then onward they labelled Christ as a Sabbath-breaker and refused to listen to His word.

All this had happened because these Jews had turned the keeping of the Sabbath into an end in itself. How can we avoid falling into this error? We ought to observe the fourth commandment 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' God has given it to us as part of the Moral Law. But we must not become legalistic about it. Christ gave a very important principle in Mark 2:27 'The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.' This means that the Sabbath was not created for its own sake. It was not designed to put man into a straight jacket. It was designed for man's good - to provide rest from his labour and opportunity for him to worship to Creator. Therefore we ought to participate fully in the worship service, as well as participate in other ministries, like Sunday School, Children's ministry, Sunday lunch fellowship, evangelism, etc. We should be in church every Lord's Day with our families unless we are seriously ill or infirmed with age, called away for military or medical duty.

Christ also showed that there are three exceptions to the observance of doing no work on the Sabbath: (1) Works of Necessity: e.g. Preparing or cooking food necessary to eat (Mark 2:23-27; Luke 13:15). What the healed man in our text did in carrying his bed home is a work of necessity. (2) Works of Mercy: Healing the sick, saving lives and doing good to others (Mark 3:1-5; Matt 12:11; Luke 14:5); (3) Works of Service to God: Full-time servants of God (Matt 12:5). In our text Jesus said, 'My Father worketh hitherto and I work.' This refers to His work of sustaining the universe which goes on all the time. If He were to cease to do this even for a split second, all things would disintegrate! And we must be thankful that Christ is continually working not only to hold all things together but also to look after for every child of God. His care for us never ceases! 

Let us therefore guard against the error of making Sabbath-keeping an end in itself. May what we have learned today help us to fulfill the purpose of the Sabbath which was designed by God for our own good, in giving us rest and in affording us the opportunity to engage in holy worship and praise of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Vision & Mission


To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

February 18 & 25 - Fruit of Obedience

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:10