Sorry about the abrupt study last week. I felt that there was a lot in that chapter and I was getting way to easily distracting by going down rabbit holes. I hope that this week goes much smoother for both of us.
Chapter 5 opens with Jesus returning to Jerusalem for the second time in this Gospel. The first event we see is Jesus healing the lame man at Bethesda. Here we see Jesus meet the man right where he is at and asks “Do you wish to get well?” Followed quickly by the seemingly ridiculous command to “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:6 & 8, NASB). This healing though is very different from the one that happened at the end of the previous chapter. Here Jesus is within a crowd, which we can see because of the reference to “multitude” in verse 3 and the fact Jesus is able to slip away in verse 13. The crowd is within Jerusalem, where the previous healing was in Galilee. And, it apparently breaks the Law.
The Law in question is the Mosaic Law, and specifically the command to keep the Sabbath holy (Exodus 20:8 & Deuteronomy 5:12). Throughout Jewish history, the people of Israel had not done a very good job at being able to keep the Law. The Book of Judges, for example, describes the cycle of Israel following God, then not, several times. This pattern persisted up to, and beyond, Jesus’ time. The Pharisees came to power as a group resisting the Hellenization of Israel after it was conquered by the Greeks. The things they are most know for are the institution of several religious laws as a “guide” to help the Jews keep the Law, and as one of the groups that opposed Jesus.
The Pharisees are undoubtedly the “Jews” the (formerly) lame man encounters in verse 10. I make this assumption because the commands about the Sabbath merely mark them as a day of rest and worship. The Jews are commanded to do know work of any kind. However, here the man is questioned because he is walking and carrying his “pallet.” Clearly this group of Jews is considering this as an act of “work” and so breaking the command of not working on the Sabbath. Yet the man defends himself by saying, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’” (John 5:11, NASB). Which leads us to the source of the conflict in John’s Gospel; Jesus is doing what he came to do and the Jews seek to kill him because he is breaking the Sabbath and claiming to be equal with God (John 5:18).
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your Good has commanded you.”
— Deuteronomy 5:12, JPS
In this time period, a person did not go off to college, or apply for a job, or get an apprenticeship in order to find their vocation in life. Rather, it was passed down from father to son. Once a boy reached a certain age, he would start training with his father to learn the skills of the trade. This is why many families became known for what they did. In defense of his healing, Jesus explains to the Jews that he is merely doing the work of his Father. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:19, NLT). Jesus is showing the Jews that God still intervenes when it is necessary, even on the Sabbath. So as God chooses to bless people, Jesus is blessing people the same. Jesus is merely performing the trade of his Father and not making up rules as he goes along.
“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”
Jesus’ final statements towards the group of Jews is laying out all of the testimonies about him as who he says he is. The list of testimonies that he gives work almost in the opposite order of the ones John has given us to this point. First, Jesus speaks of John the Baptist, followed by proofs of his own miracles. The big one, however, is the testimony of Scripture. “You teach the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me: and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40, NASB). Jesus means to tell the Jews that every single piece of the Scriptures point to him and speak of him. The Jews are missing the single greatest testimony that is right in front of their faces.
“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”
— Zechariah 12:10
The thing that seems to jump out at me from this chapter is that it is easy to miss the obvious. The Jews became so focused on waiting for the Messiah that they completely missed him standing right in front of them. They were so focused on keeping a set of rules that were ordained by God, that they missed that God can act and break His own rules if necessary. I think we tend to miss this. Even now, after Jesus has come, far too many people want to put God in a box. I am not claiming that God will always act differently; that would make Him unknowable. Rather, we have a personal God who wants to be known by us. He so deeply desires for us to be made well that He breaks His own rules in order to break into our lives.
Next week Jesus is going to go out among the people one last time before returning to Jerusalem. Make sure to come back next week as we further this study. As always you can engage with this study by leaving a comment below.