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Omnipotence Confronts Impotence

John 5:1-18

Stan Lee, founder of Marvel Comics, died November 12, 2018 at the age 95. Lee, who started in comics in 1939 created Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man, among countless other characters. In 2009, The Walt Disney Company bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. They have amazing abilities, but are very flawed individuals, often with dark personal issues. Our world fantasizes about people with supernatural abilities because we recognize how weak, flawed and temporal we are and what we need is someone with genuine omnipotence to confront our obvious impotence. Jesus did and continues to do so for people. But Jesus is not a caped crusader–He is God!

In John five, we see the circumstances of humanity (1-5). The man in the passage had a very sad plight. He sat at the pool of Bethesda (“house of mercy”), near the sheep gate, waiting for healing for 38 years. Whatever took place in the pool must have been spectacular or these desperate folks wouldn’t have been waiting. This man was miserable: alone, yet in the company of hapless victims, cynical about life, experiencing first hand sin’s havoc in the world. Christ’s healings were prophesied in scripture, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (Isaiah 35:5,6).

Our plight is not much different! The multitude languishing beside the pool is representative of mankind: waiting, suffering, despairing at the gate of dead religion, powerless to help. Romans 5:6 tells us as lost men we were “without strength.” This whole story is a picture of grace! It was grace that brought Christ to this unsavory place and his grace that sought one individual to heal from the entire pathetic crowd. There was nothing about the paralytic that made him more deserving than the others, nor was he seeking Jesus. The Lord didn’t choose him because He foresaw that this man had the faith to believe, in fact he never expressed belief that Jesus could heal him.

Next we see Jesus’ communication with the invalid (6-9). First, Jesus questioned him (6-7). The expected response was “Yes!” but the paralytic instead explained his condition. Years of failing to get to the water first left him embittered and hopeless. Sound familiar? Men and women often give up hope and settle into their miserable condition. Like many people, the paralytic’s expectations of what Jesus could do for him were limited by his belief system.

Then Jesus commanded him (8-9). Three imperatives express the power of Christ’s word and the completeness of the healing. “Get up, pick up your bed, and walk.” Even as Jesus spoke and the worlds were created (Col 1:16), Jesus had the power to speak and heal this man’s infirmity. Christ’s commands contain the inherent power of fulfillment if we respond in obedience. Immediately the man picked up his pallet and began to walk. (9) God enables us to do whatever he commands. “Walked” is the Greek word “peripateo” meaning to “walk about,” somewhat of a demonstration to the crowd. Unlike modern “faith-healers,” Jesus’ healings were complete and instantaneous, with or without faith. One of the cruelest lies of contemporary “faith-healers” is that the people they fail to heal are guilty of sinful unbelief. Jesus healed people who did not manifest faith beforehand and this case, never, that we know of!

Finally we see the controversy with the Jews (10-18). The Jews complained this man was working on the Sabbath. Instead of rejoicing over a miraculous healing, they were angry someone had defied their rules. They had 39 prohibitions for the Sabbath, the last one was carrying a load from one dwelling to another. What God originally ordained to be a blessing for mankind was turned into a burden by the Jews. Their legalistic regulations meant more to them than the people’s well-being.

This man was questioned by the Jewish leadership, but he couldn’t inform on Jesus because he didn’t know who He was. But he did try to shift the blame to Jesus. Leon Morris notes this man responded very differently than the blind man in John 9 who defended Jesus. “This man was not the stuff which heroes are made of.” Jesus found him and told him to “sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you.” What could be worse than almost forty years of extreme poverty, public exposure and dashed hopes? An eternity suffering in Hell. It is astonishing that this man would accept this healing after decades of terrible distress and then walk away from Jesus and show his loyalty to the Jews who hated Christ. This has to be one of the great acts of ingratitude and obstinate unbelief in Scripture.

The Jews wanted to prosecute the paralytic, but instead they persecuted Christ. This is one of Christ’s early miracles but the Jews were already plotting against Him–how blinded they were! God’s sabbath rest did not mean ceasing from good works. Mankind’s sin broke God’s Sabbath rest (Gen 3). That is why Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now [drawing sinners to redemption] and I have been working” (17).

In conclusion, let us heed these three warnings based on John 5. Don’t mistake religious rule keeping for biblical Christianity. Don’t permit hurt and disappointment to rob you of your faith in God’s power. Don’t allow ingratitude to disqualify you from receiving God’s greater gifts.