Faith, Frailty and Miracles (John 4:46-54; John 5:1-17)

John 4:46-54 As Jesus traveled to Cana (the village in Galilee where He transformed the water into fine wine), He was met by a government official from Herod’s court. This man had heard a rumor that Jesus had left Judea and was heading to Galilee, and he came in desperation begging for Jesus’ help because his young son was near death. He was fearful that unless Jesus would go with him to Capernaum, his son would have no hope.

Jesus said, ”My word is not enough; you people only believe when you see miraculous signs and wonder.”

The official replied, “Sir, this is my son; please come with me before he dies.”

Jesus said, Go home. Your son will live.”

He believed and returned to his home. Before he reached his village, his servants met him on the road celebrating his son’s miraculous recovery.

The official asked, “What time did this happen?”

His servants replied, “Yesterday about one o’clock in the afternoon.”

At that moment, it dawned on the father the exact time that Jesus spoke the words, “He will live.” After that, he believed; and when he told his family about his amazing encounter with this Jesus, they believed too. This was the second sign Jesus performed when He came back to Galilee from Judea.

JOHN 5:1-17

When these events were completed, Jesus led His followers to Jerusalem where they would celebrate a Jewish feast together. In Jerusalem they came upon a pool by the sheep gate surrounded by five covered porches. In Hebrew this place is called Bethesda.

 Crowds of people lined the area, lying around the porches. All of these people were disabled in some way; some were blind, lame, paralyzed, or plagued by diseases; and they were waiting for the waters to move. The people believed that from time to time, a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool, and whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease. In the crowd, Jesus noticed one particular man who had been living with his disability for 38 years. He knew this man had been waiting here a long time.

 Jesus said to the disabled man, “Do you want to be healed?”

The man replied, “Kind Sir, I wait, like all of these people, for the waters to stir; but I cannot walk. If I am to be healed in the waters, someone must carry me into the pool. Without a helping hand, someone else beats me to the water’s edge each time it is stirred.”

Jesus replied, “Stand up, carry your mat, and walk. ”At the moment Jesus uttered these words, the man was healed—he stood and walked for the first time in 38 years. But this was the Sabbath Day; and any work, including carrying a mat, was prohibited on this day.

The Jewish Leaders said to the man who had been healed, “Must you be reminded that it is the Sabbath? You are not allowed to carry your mat today!”

The formerly disabled man replied, “The man who healed me gave me specific instructions to carry my mat and go.”

Who is the man who gave you these instructions?” The Jewish leaders asked, “How can we identify Him?”

The man genuinely did not know who it was that healed him. In the midst of the crowd and the excitement of his renewed health, Jesus had slipped away. Some time later, Jesus found him in the temple and again spoke to him. ”Take a look at your body; it has been made whole and strong. So avoid a life of sin, so that nothing worse will happen to you.” The man went immediately to tell the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the mysterious healer. So they began pursuing and attacking Jesus because He performed these miracles on the Sabbath.

 But Jesus said to them, “My Father is at work. So I, too, am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

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Though the primary reason of these miracles is to establish Jesus' divinity (more on that next Sunday), there are three secondary topics here that I want to address:

  • How Jesus works in the world in the midst of our faith and frailty.
  • The importance of the question, “Do you want to be healed?”
  • How our lives can point toward the awesome work of Jesus

I think you will find that I’m only scratching the surface, and I encourage you to read, pray, and meditate on this passage on your own.[1]

1. Jesus responds to both our faith and our frailty

The royal official sought Jesus and asked for his help. When Jesus told him that his son would be okay, the official believed; specifically, he ‘trusted in Jesus to aid in obtaining or doing something.’ He had faith in Jesus’ power, which was at least a start. After he found out about his son’s healing, he began to embrace what Scott Norris called a ‘full-body faith.” He went from believing in Jesus as healer to believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The lame man didn’t even know who Jesus was. This man made no cry for help. He didn't grab Jesus and say, "Son of David, have mercy on me." When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, he basically dodged the question (more on that later). The text doesn't record that he ever worshipped Jesus as a result of being healed, yet Jesus healed him and encouraged him.

Though the city official exercised a form of belief, neither man was what we would call “saved” when Jesus performed miracles on their behalf. We could even include the Samaritan woman (whom we read about earlier in chapter four) in this discussion. She was worshipping idols when Jesus encountered her, yet he saved her and her village.

There is a perspective in Christian circles that we must reach a certain threshold of faith before God can move. The Bible is clear that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11). But these miracles show that God seeks and even helps those whose faith is not full (the city official) or strong (the lame man).

I hope this brings us all great hope. If you wonder if you have enough faith for God to act on your behalf, take heart. Don’t assume that God has given up on you. Pray; ask God for move and work in you to build your faith, but don’t forget - God moves in in our faith and in our frailty. He brings us life and hope not because we are strong, but because He is.

2. “Do you want to get well?” is a question we must all answer

So, Jesus moves in our faith and in our frailty, but if we want God's miraculous intervention in our lives to deepen our spiritual maturity and bear long-term fruit, we must want to be healed. Let me explain.

The Bible does not unpack the lame man’s personality, though there are hints in the story. There are differences of opinion about how to view the lame man, but I side with the majority of commentators:  I believe Jesus chose to heal a man who  lacked faith (the Bible never records that he became a follower of Jesus) and whose life on the margins of society was probably compounded by his poor choices. I will give you several reasons.

  • Most Jews associated sickness with sin. The rabbis said, "The sick arises not from sickness, until his sins be forgiven." (Later, when Jesus heals a blind man, he makes clear that this one-for-one correlation is not true, though he seems to allow that it is true in this case).
  • When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, the lame man dodged the question. He didn’t say ‘yes’. He basically responded, “I don’t have any friends.” After decades of being lame, he had no family or friends who cared enough to get him to the front of the line. That seems like no small matter.
  • Interestingly, he was probably taken care of decently by the Jewish community – which might actually explain his apparent unpopularity. A story in the Talmud gives us some insight[2]"A beggar once came to Rava who asked him 'What do your meals usually consist of?' 'Plump chicken and matured wine' answered the beggar. 'Do you not consider this a burden on the community?' asked Rava. The beggar retorted: 'I do not take from them – I take what God provides.' At that moment Rava's sister, who had not seen him for 13 years, appeared bringing him a fat chicken and matured wine. 'Just what I told you!' said the beggar."

That story is one of many in Jewish literature that captures some of the tension in the Jewish community: God commanded them to take care of the poor and lame, but they sometimes took care of them so well that it was advantageous to be poor or lame, and the broader community became resentful.

James Baldwin wrote, “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.” Why? Because with great healing comes great responsibility (sorry, Spider-Man.).

  • If he became well, the community provision would go away.
  • If he got well, he couldn’t complain about his circumstances.
  • He couldn’t blame those who didn’t care enough to help him into the water.
  • He may need to address sin in his life.[3]

Jesus’ question is loaded with insight into human nature - which makes sense, since He created us as image bearers. And because He knows us, he knows that  if we aren’t careful, we can begin to love our sickness.

  • Have you ever avoided doing something you didn’t want to by stretching that cold or flu out one more day?
  • Have you ever used a stressful day at work to get out of some chore at home that you could have done, or to excuse grumpiness or laziness?
  • Have you ever used something from your past as a crutch, a way to justify something you are doing now that you know you should change? (“I know I’m really fixated on money and things, but I grew up poor!”)
  • I already find that “I had a heart attack” is a really easy way to not do something I could do because everybody will give me the space.

If we are not careful, our physical, spiritual, or emotional illnesses can give us a reason to blame others, to think God owes us something, or to avoid responsibility. I am not saying we automatically do that; I’m saying we have to be careful. Sometimes, we don’t really want to get well because we can leverage our inability to our favor.  Surrendering to the lordship of Christ will involve taking ownership of your life.

If you have ever been in a recovery group or know someone who has, you know this principle to be true. Individuals must want to be clean and sober; if they are forced into it, they almost inevitably revert. They did not want to be healed.

Now let's take this principle to a deeper level. If Jesus really was pointing out the connection between the man’s health and his sin, he is offering an observation that is of eternal importance: some people love their sin so much that they would rather remain spiritually sick then be made well. They might not like what they reap, but they don’t want to stop sowing. They want to be healthy, but they don’t want to be well.

“Do you want to get well?” is a question that must be answered honestly.

  • Do you want your marriage to be better even if that means you have to address the dysfunction that you bring to it?
  • Do you want your addictions to be gone even if it means rehab and accountability?
  • Do you want to fix your relationship with your kids (or parents) even if that means owning the damage you cause with your words and attitude?
  • Do you want to let go of that anger, that lust, that pride that has been such a close friend for so long?

Jesus healed the lame man, but the man turned around and reported him to a clearly hostile group of Pharisees. In addition, the Bible does not record that the man became a follower of Jesus after this miracle. Jesus healed a man who was lame of almost four decades, and there was no fruit. How is this possible? Because even though God moves in our faith and our frailty, we must want to be healed if we want God's miraculous intervention to make disciples of us.

3. God intends for our past to point others to Jesus.

Jesus told the lame man to pick up his bed and walk. What better conversation starter was there to point toward Jesus? I can see people who knew him saying, “What on earth happened? How is this possible?” It’s an almost guaranteed way for this formerly lame man to point to Jesus.

The lame man apparently did this, but I don’t think he did it in the way Jesus intended. That unnecessary bed was meant to be a sign pointing to Jesus, an opportunity for others to hear about what Jesus can do – and so point to the Jesus as Lord.

We don’t carry our beds, but we have equivalent opportunities. Karl did that last Sunday. He said, and I paraphrase, “I was a grease fire – and then Jesus.” That’s a powerful story. One of the best ways to point toward the awesome majesty of Jesus is to let people see what God has done in our lives. It’s one thing to say that Jesus saves and heals; it’s quite another to show that Jesus does these things.

  • People need to know that God can deliver from pornography – which might mean you have to tell them how he delivered you.
  • People need to know that God can heal people with destructive personalities and habits– which might mean that you have to tell them how God healed you.
  • People need to know that arrogant, judgmental fools can be refined and matured – which might mean you have to tell them how that happened in you.
  • People need to know that those who are spiritually dead in their sins - hurting those around them, imploding through bad choices, ignoring or shaking their fist at God – can be forgiven, restored, and transformed into the likeness of Christ. And that might mean you have to tell them about you.

An author named Asia Mouzone said, "Never silence your testimony. It's meant for someone else; not you." God intends for our past to point toward Jesus. ‘Believing’ and ‘trusting’ includes surrendering our shame, our guilt, our pride. We are meant to take up the beds to which our brokenness had condemned us and carry it with us to a world that needs to see that Jesus saves.

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[1] This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water.
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death (John 11:25-26)

[2] “Begging and Beggars,” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0003_0_02291.html

[3] Commentators have different opinions on this. That his particular sickness had been caused by his particular sin seems to be implied by the text. However, Jesus may be telling him that if he thought being physically sick was bad, it was nothing compared to being spiritually sick and going to hell. Or perhaps Jesus was taking the opportunity to remind him of both.