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"Kill - or Cure?"

May 3, 2015 Jn.5:1-18


Health and wholeness are not just physical, but spiritual, too. Physical health is one of those things you may take for granted until it's gone. Then we suddenly become very concerned about it and are willing to undertake radical measures to try to regain it.

A week ago, as most of you are aware, my wife finished her first round of chemotherapy for an inoperable brain tumour which has reappeared after a long and welcome hiatus. When the neuroncologist prescribed chemo pills, I went online to read up about that particular drug. The website gave some stern precautions about handling it:

"If any of the capsules are broken or leaking, do not touch them with your bare hands and be careful not to breathe in the powder from the capsules.You should wear rubber or latex gloves when you handle broken or opened capsules so that your skin does not come into contact with the powder.If the capsule contents do touch your skin, wash the area well with water right away.Swallow the capsules whole; do not empty, chew, or crush them.You may vomit after you take the medication..."

I'm thinking, SERIOUSLY? And you're asking someone to swallow this stuff? Sounds like great medicine, if it doesn't KILL ya first!

We have to be very careful when handling toxic substances. Chemo pills are basically a type of poison that acts by stopping cells from dividing. That targets "rogue" rebellious cancer cells which have cast off the normal regulatory limits and are multiplying rapidly to form tumours. Unfortunately chemo also affects healthy cells in the bone marrow and digestive tract which are supposed to be reproducing. The dosage and timing of treatment has to be carefully monitored so those 'good' cells don't take too much of a hit.

There is a cancer of the spirit as well. We wouldn't want to inhale the fumes from chemo pills, yet all the time we are taking into our minds messages and being impressed by other people's attitudes and influences that may be just as toxic, damaging or deadly to our spiritual well-being. In today's reading, Jesus heals a man physically, yet is attacked for it by religious folks who've been infected with toxic beliefs.


Chapter 5 in John's gospel opens with Jesus going up to Jerusalem for a feast, which should have been a time of rejoicing when the Jewish people celebrated and remembered God's saving acts in history. But vv2-5 describe a scene that is anything but joyful: "Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.Here a great number of disabled people used to lie - the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years."

"Bethesda" in Aramaic means "House of Mercy" or "flowing/living water" or "house of outpouring". It seems the pool was connected to a natural spring which caused the water to bubble up occasionally. John MacArthur notes, "Some ancient witnesses indicate that the waters of the pool were red with minerals, and thus thought to have medicinal value." Sort of a spa, like the hot springs people gravitate toward today for health benefits.

Although it was called "House of Mercy", the scene must have been more a House of MISERY. Multitudes of disabled people lying under the five roofed areas: blind, lame, paralyzed - all sorts of medical conditions which had people trapped. It must have been a disheartening sight, an overwhelming vista of human suffering, absolutely pathetic. And what were they doing there? Waiting for the waters to bubble up, trusting some superstition about the first one in getting healed.

One man in particular had been waiting a long time for healing, and it never came. Jesus singles out this one individual amidst all those gathered, lying around in helplessness. V5 says he'd been an invalid for 38 years! For us, that's like since 1977 - a long time back. Understand his predicament. Vv6-7 NRSV "When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me."" Cut off at the pass. Wouldn't that make you pretty hopeless after it happened over and over again?

He's stuck in a closed system. Even when the water bubbles, he never gets there first. Has he given up hope? Would you? So much so that, when someone comes along asking if you even WANT to get well, it seems such a lost cause that all you can do is WHINE how pathetic your predicament is, you're all abandoned and alone?

Roger Fredrikson comments, "So often people succumb to their illness, 'bedding down' with their alcoholism or heart trouble or partial paralysis, or whatever. They become psychological and spiritual invalids, retreating within themselves, avoiding responsibilities, becoming more and more self-centred as they demand sympathy from others." That can be a trap, too.

Think about Jesus' question, "Do you want to get well?" A person who's feeling trapped may have resigned themselves into despair. Christ, with His supernatural knowing, doesn't ask questions to get information; perhaps instead He's asking the question to CREATE HOPE, to shatter the man's accepted limitations.

It's not just paralysis or addictions or other debilitating ailments that can get people stuck in despair. There's a whole worldview out there called "naturalism", very prominent in today's culture, that likewise leads to despair. Naturalism holds that nature is all there is; there's no spiritual dimension, just time plus chance plus matter, a closed system WITHOUT God. It leads to despair. For example, Bertrand Russell said: "That Man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms...that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Does that worldview have you trapped, paralyzed in despair? Jesus sought the man out; He's seeking YOU out, to bring freedom, a fresh start, new possibilities with more hopeful outcomes.


In response to the lame man's whining, Jesus issues a command that, like the Creator's words in Genesis 1, carries with it the power to accomplish its object. Vv8-9 "Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked." Just like that! No waiting for waters to bubble, no scrambling to rush to get in the pool, no more waiting for 38 years - just one simple sentence, and he's better! Hallelujah! End of story. Or...NOT?

It's a short-lived triumph. John continues in vv9-10, "The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat."" WHAT?! The man's been an invalid 38 years, gets cured in an instant, and you're at him right away for carrying his mat? He's been healed! It's a great miracle! Let him pick up an ox cart if he wants, for crying out loud! Check out those new quads and biceps.

But that's not how it works, not in that religious system, anyway. Angels may have been rejoicing at Christ's healing miracle, but to the Pharisees and other religious leaders, what mattered was keeping the letter of the law. THEIR law. Nothing in the Old Testament specifically forbade picking up one's bedroll; but their oral tradition had added on picky particulars that forbade such a minor task. The law of Moses said in Exodus 23:12 "Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed." That's talking about work-livelihood, not bedrolls.

Jesus maintained the Sabbath was made for man, not vice-versa (Mark 2:27). He, the Son of man, was "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mt 12:8). But this threatened the carefully-honed religious system which gave the chief priests and scribes control over people's lives, the detailed laws that had been added-on by rabbinic tradition that required years to study and master, along with curious loopholes. THEIR version of the law had to be defended at all costs. How DARE some upstart preacher from the back-country come along and start challenging their code by basic principles!

Isn't it tragic that the Jews' religious legalism caused them to completely miss the wonder of the great miracle that had just been performed? Their faith had become toxic. Like those chemo pills that could kill you if handled or used the wrong way: what was meant to bring HEALTH had instead turned DEADLY.

Steve Arterburn and Jack Felton wrote a book called Toxic Faith. Bill Jackson has done a summary of it. One section is called "21 erroneous beliefs that can fuel toxic faith (various forms and degrees of unhealthy Christianity)":

1) Security and significance with God depend on my behavior [no, our security is based on what Jesus accomplished for us]

2) When tragedy strikes, true believers should have a real peace about it [rather: read how the Psalmist cries out to God in tragic circumstances]

3) If you had real faith, God would heal you or the one you are praying for

[That one hit home especially this week when a well-meaning friend sent me a Facebook message with a link to a a video clip with the title "Jesus didn't just purchase our healing, He purchased our health." The preacher implies that if we just had enough faith we would be in as good a shape as Moses at 120.]

4) All ministers are men and women of God and can be trusted

5) Material blessings are a sign of spiritual strength [what about those poor Haitians that somehow have more joy than us?]

6) The more money you give to God, the more money he will give to you [so, who's the real 'god' here? God or mammon?]

7) I can work my way to heaven [nice try, sinner]

8) Problems in your life result from some particular sin [sometimes they do, but not always]

9) I must not stop meeting others' needs [recipe for burnout]

10) I must always submit to authority [good practice generally, but authorities can go wonky]

11) God only uses spiritual giants [forget Gideon, Rahab the harlot, and a host of other Biblical heroes]

12) Having true faith means waiting for God to help me and doing nothing until he does [what are those hands for?]

13) If it's not in the Bible, it isn't relevant (all truth is in the Bible) [but that won't help you on your driver's test]

14) God will find me a perfect mate [better be REAL patient]

15) Everything that happens to me is good [wake up - bad stuff happens to good people]

16) A strong faith will protect me from problems and pain [it will definitely help you through them]

17) God hates sinners, is angry with me, and wants to punish me [God hates and punishes sin but loved the world so much He sent Jesus so we could be forgiven]

18) Christ was merely a great teacher [if so, He wouldn't have been crucified for claiming to be God's Son]

19) God is too big to care about me [better read Psalm 139 again]

20) More than anything else, God wants me to be happy (free from pain) [God wants you to take up your cross daily, and that may involve considerable discomfort, building character]

21) You can become God [sorry, that spot's taken]

So, those are wrong beliefs you hear from time to time that may sound true but really are unbiblical, and lead you astray. Like Jesus' critics missing the miracle because they focused on man-made traditions, such ideas can be toxic.


As John's account proceeds, the paralyzed man cannot tell the authorities who it was that healed him because Jesus had slipped away, probably to avoid causing a scene given the "crowd" that was there (5:13). V14 "Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, "See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you."" Note the reference to two levels of condition: physical and spiritual (or moral) - "you are well", healed physically; "stop sinning" - get your spiritual affairs cleaned up. There ARE a lot of sins that result in physical damage, like the fellow who testified at the Teen Challenge banquet that his drinking led to cirrhosis of the liver, which God healed once he became a Christian and sobered up. Lust and sexual sins can likewise result in sickness. Perhaps Jesus was referring to something like that. But the speed with which the man ran on his newly-healed legs to rat Jesus out to the authorities makes one wonder whether he actually revered God.

Which in turn makes one wonder: with all those blind, lame, and paralyzed people lying there - WHY did Jesus choose to heal someone who would turn on him so quickly? Unless, of course, He intended to expose the Jews' hypocrisy and rejection of His true identity - which becomes clearer in the rest of chapter 5.

Anyway, the upshot is, this miraculous healing lands Jesus in hot water. Vv16-17 "So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working."" Here we see Jesus' solution to both the DESPAIR of naturalism and the DISAPPOINTMENT of legalism, namely, the DELIGHT of Providential Paternity. He was simply doing what He saw His Father doing: when God the Father drew His attention to that single man in the crowd of hurting, God the Son followed through and healed the paralytic. What a providential gift, to be the instrument of His Heavenly Father's healing power! Thus the Father pointed to the Son's unique Messiahship.

Jesus introduces us to this delight as His followers who likewise enjoy intimacy with a Heavenly Father through the indwelling Holy Spirit. He taught us to pray saying, "Our Father..." (Mt 6:9) After rising from the dead Jesus told Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples in Jn 20:17, "I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." What a privilege for believers to know God as Father, and be co-workers with the Almighty! We are to be daily about the Father's business - "What's next? I can hardly wait to see what God's up to!"

Jesus is the "only-begotten" unique Son in a sense none of the rest of us are, for He is God and existed with the Father before time began (Jn 1:1). He did not hide this: v18 "For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." This was blasphemy in their eyes, worthy of death, and Jesus did not try to correct their inference from His deliberate use of the words "MY Father". For that was His point, and the reason for performing miracles in the first place, to highlight their need of Him as exclusive Saviour: their religious system was bankrupt without Him.

If God is willing to sacrifice His own unique Son for us - what other resources would He hold back? Romans 8:32 "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Delight in knowing that.


Knowing the Father makes a difference in how we carry out our work. I have been reading the 143-page workbook in preparation for this week's EMCC National Assembly in Calgary. In it, Director of Global Initiatives Lou Geense shares how their team's witness in a construction project in India caught people's attention...(emphasis added)

"A small team of four went to Allahabad in November 2014...The actual building process, the collaboration...went well, but certainly not without some major bumps in the road.There will need to be much more direction and actual hands-on interaction from the start of any further projects.Also significantly tighter controls need to be in place when working with suppliers and shippers in the country.It was evident that the suppliers modified our order to suit the way they are accustomed to doing the construction.It is definitely not the way we want it done, nor is it the best way to have it done.

"I could elaborate with a number of stories, however suffice it to say that the Lord was in this thing in many, many ways.Several people called it nothing less than a miracle that we were able to get the building up in the three weeks we had.The most blessed thing to happen was when the three engineers speaking with Rev.David Phillips stated that they were learning so much from the Canadians.David said it was good that they learn since they needed to teach the material in class.'No,' they said, 'If this were our project with all that was done incorrectly, we would be screaming at the top of our lungs.Yet here are these Canadians, not angry, not upset and in great spirits carrying out the corrections and making things work.We could learn much from these Christian men.'

"That morning at the breakfast table before leaving for the job site I had prayed, 'Lord, help us to be like you in our attitudes, behaviour and character.' He answered in ways we had no idea He would, and made it a testimony to His grace. PTL." Let's pray.