In our two passages today, Jesus heals a lame man and then he feeds a hungry crowd. Both of these stories are filled with the awe and the wonder of the power of Jesus over our pain, our suffering, our fears, our deepest longings and our unsatisfied hungers.
I think that the reality is that everyone of us knows what it’s like to live with a deep sense of unsatisfied hunger and a deep sense that our physical bodies are wasting away day-by-day. It’s in these two deep places of hunger and physical limitation that Jesus meets us today.
JOHN 5:1 – 18
1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 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 going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, “Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, “Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
JOHN 6:1 – 15
1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
#1: JESUS HEALS A LAME MAN (5:1 – 18)
Sickness and disease and physical suffering are all part of the human experience as a result of the fall of man into sin. Another way to say this is to say that sin is like a ferocious virus that has infected every part of our existence as human beings.
To be human is to face physical suffering at some point regardless of your age, your nationality, your ethnicity, your gender or your social economic status.
Physical suffering plays no favorites because Satan, Sin and Death do not discriminate. The sin-virus that results in physical suffering knows nothing about partiality.
This sin-virus, it affects everything within the categories of our spiritual, emotional, relational and physical wellbeing. The reality is that no human being can journey through this life without becoming infected with the effects of sin.
Our physical wellbeing will always ultimately become compromised at some point in this life. We see this front and center in this season with the Corona virus reeking havoc across the entire world.
We’ve all witnessed and experienced physical limitations (sickness, disease, death) as a result of living in this sin-infected world. We’ve probably all found ourselves in a place where we’ve been devastated by the physical limitations we face.
Many of you have faced the pain of losing loved ones because of sickness and disease. And I think all of us have faced our own unique battles with some kind of sickness or disease that plagues us for longer than we expected it to.
Some of us have even experienced sickness and disease for long periods of time before finding relief and others of us are still battling daily with some kind of physical illness that keeps hanging on like some kind of leech. And the questions that many of us ask when we are facing our physical limitations are:
“How long Oh Lord must I suffer? How long until you relieve my pain? When will you step in and remove these painful circumstances? How long must I wait? Where can I find rest in the midst of this sin-infected, sickness-inflamed, disease-ridden world?”
And the beauty of this first story in John 5:1 – 18 is that while all of our questions won’t be answered, there is an answer that will sustain us for all of eternity. Look at the text again with me.
Jesus rolls into Jerusalem and he stops off at a healing shelter (like a hospital) for people who’ve been devastated by the effects of sickness and disease (vss. 1 – 2).
There’s literally five massive shelters set up around some kind of healing pool that were used to house the blind, the lame and the paralyzed and one of these dudes has been lame for thirty-eight years (3 – 5).
Can you imagine waiting for thirty-eight years to be healed? Thirty-eight years of being carried around on your bed. Thirty-eight years of getting sponge baths. Thirty-eight years of not walking, not running, not taking a stroll in the park, not jumping or dancing. It’s not just that this man wanted to walk for thirty-eight years. It’s that he wanted to be able to do anything that accompanies the ability to walk.
Can you imagine the overwhelming sense of desperation in this man? Can you visualize the myriad of things that this man was unable to do? Brings new meaning to the last couple of weeks that we’ve experienced in the face of a worldwide pandemic.
And then, in walks Jesus. He walks right into this man’s most painful and most desperate of human moments and he already knows what the man’s story is (vs. 6). Be encouraged by this. There isn’t a single circumstance in your life that Jesus doesn’t already fully know and fully understand.
And hear me out on this, Jesus knows and he understands and he has the infinite power to change you, to heal you and to set you free from your physical limitations in the blink of an eye whether in this life or in the life to come. And in this story Jesus does just that; he heals this lame man in the blink of an eye after asking him if he wants to be healed (vss. 6 – 9). What a miracle right?
But check this out; Jesus doesn’t heal everyone in this story does he? Why not? Did the others not have enough faith? Did Jesus not know their circumstances? Did he not love them as much as he loved this lame man?
Now I admit that these are tough questions to answer. They’re questions we all ask at some point. And I don’t want to be dismissive nor do I want to belabor the point too much.
But the reality is that you and I don’t know all the answers to these questions. We know that the Lord has purposes for what he allows in our lives that are way beyond our understanding. I always try to remember that while I don’t know everything and I don’t understand most things, I can trust that Jesus knows and he does understand and in eternity I’ll see things a lot more clearly than I do now.
It’s quite possible that Jesus healed this man while leaving the rest to look forward to complete healing as they walked through the doors of Heaven in the future. Jesus might have done this miracle just so that he could reveal his power over sickness and disease on this sin-infected earth. If he is able to do this here on this sin-infected earth then imagine what Heaven will be like where there is no sickness, no disease, no death, no mourning and no pain.
It’s quite possible that this healing was meant to invite us into a deeper longing for the rest and the renewal that we will experience in Heaven.
Let me say that again. It’s quite possible that this healing was meant to invite us into a deeper longing for the rest and the renewal that we will experience in Heaven. This point seems to be underscored by the rest of the text where we read that all of this took place on the Sabbath, the day of rest and renewal (vs. 9). You would think there would be much shouting and celebration when this lame man was healed but that’s not the way the story goes is it?
Enter the enemy (vss. 9 – 15). The religious crowd. The rule keepers. The tradition holders. The list makers. The checkmark counters. The legalists. The moralists. The self-righteous hypocrites. The white washed tombs. The brood of vipers. The hoard of snakes. They have their Bibles in one hand and they have their favorite commentaries in the other and they can’t believe that this man would dare to carry his bed on the Sabbath.
“Who does he think he is anyways? Doesn’t he know that doing any kind of work on the Sabbath is a big no-no? What kind of example is this going to set for our families? How will we explain this to new believers? How will unbelievers ever come to know the Lord with this kind of licentiousness running rampant in the church? This is going to bring such dishonor to the Lord if he doesn’t put that bed down and stop being such a law-breaker. Somebody has to say something to this man!”
Never mind the fact that this man hasn’t walked in thirty-eight years and he is now walking and carrying his bed!
Here’s a simple truth, Legalists always turn the joy and the celebration of our freedom in Christ into heavy burdens of working to keep rules and lists in check. What an exhausting place to exist. What a pitiful place to live.
I would submit that these legalists are more lame and more blind than any other person present in this story and they can’t help but to share their self-righteous pity with others. They love to share their legalistic virus because misery loves infecting company.
This is so evident in the text by the way that these religious leaders start quizzing the healed man and then once they find out who the culprit is (that allowed this man to break their manmade rules) they set out to kill the one who has the power to make the lame walk, the blind to see and the deaf to hear. Their rule keeping literally drove them into a murderous rage. And I can just hear their sweet little gentle apologetic tones.
“Forgive me for asking sir, I’ve made mistakes too, but don’t you know this is a day of rest? Where’s the man who told you otherwise? We need to find him and make sure he doesn’t spread his diseased message any further. We can’t have people rebelling against the clear rules of rest. We think it’s best of we just plan to take him out. That will stop him from hurting anyone with this horrible message of… what did you call that? Freedom? Healing? Rest? If that were true then why are sinning by carrying your bed around on the Sabbath? You need to go back and lie down by the pool my friend. We can talk about what he did for you after we take care of him for good.”
Can you just hear the whispers of the enemy here? Notice what pushed these dirty snakes over the edge in verses 16 – 18. It wasn’t just that Jesus broke their man-made rules of Sabbath keeping, it’s that Jesus made himself equal with God. Now you might nod your head in agreement because you can clearly see this in the text.
But let me provoke you a little bit. When Jesus says that “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (vs. 17) what does he mean? Didn’t God take a day off on the seventh day? Didn’t he rest on the seventh day in Genesis? Doesn’t he ask us to do the same?
Now let me drop this thought provoking idea here… did God really stop working on the seventh day? If he did then who held the moon and the stars and the planets in place? Surely this holding of the cosmos together is far more work than carrying your bed home isn’t it?
Maybe the problem here is not so much about not working as much as it is about a transformation of our working. Maybe it’s that God entered his Sabbath rest on the seventh day in Genesis and he’s never returned from it.
Maybe the seventh day rest is actually fulfilled in the finished work of Christ at the cross (Heb. 3 – 4). Maybe this whole story is much more about the transformation of the Sabbath and our work than we think!
The religious crowd couldn’t believe in a message that short-circuited their ability to prove their worth through their hard work of keeping their man-made rules.
They couldn’t see just how blind and lame they really were. They had no cognitive understanding of their spiritually sick condition. But there was one man who did understand the story of the radical transformation that gave his heart and soul great rest as we worked to carry his bed home.
The reality of this text is that Jesus has the power to heal us, to help us walk in freedom and to transform our working into resting.
- Is it possible that God in his unique and sovereign care over you has actually given you an opportunity to reorient your theology of work and rest and transformation in this story today?
- Where are you working in your own little man-made way to earn the grace of God?
- Where do you experience moments of deep frustration because someone else doesn’t follow the man-made rules you’ve attached to the gospel?
- Where is the Lord opening your eyes to your spiritually lame state right now?
- Where is he working to transform your heart from that of a legalist to that of a transformed son or daughter?
#2: JESUS FEEDS A HUNGRY CROWD (6:1 – 15)
One of my love languages is food. It’s not just that I love to cook food and eat food but I also love it when someone cooks some food or buys some food and eats that food with me. They always say that the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and that’s definitely true for me!
But I also know what it’s like to go hungry for short periods of time. I grew up poor and therefore there weren’t always large tasty meals on the table. I learned how to get by with ramen noodles and hotdogs and scrambled eggs with a glass of water.
But even more than that I learned what it was like to go without many of the things that other people took for granted like new clothing, shoes without holes in them, fast food, central heat, air conditioning, cable TV, friends.
You don’t have to have the same experience that I did to identify what hunger looks like in your life. It’s not hard for all of us to think about the ways we attempt to feed our starving hearts.
We do it by managing relationships, collecting belongings, amassing wealth, acquiring popularity, gaining control, seeking power (aggressively or passively), earning job security, etc., etc.
The bottom line here is that we all have deep hungers inside of us that we are often completely ignorant of.
This is what makes our second story so fascinating. It’s a familiar story. Jesus has a large crowd following him now because of the first three miraculous signs he had done (vss. 1 – 2).
The crowd loved a good show. Their hearts were hungry for more. Jesus’ traveling circus offered so much more pop and bang than the religious leaders did with their measuring sticks and their watchful eyes.
How much fun is it to know that someone is always watching and waiting for you mess up so they can pounce on you and let you know just how bad you’ve failed to make the cut?
Certainly the signs that Jesus was performing were so much more satisfying of an experience for people. So here Jesus is. He knows that the crowds are following him because they love the circus and he also knows that religious fanatics are watching his every move (vss. 3 – 5).
What does he do? Take a sabbatical? Build himself a house deep in the mountains to avoid the crowds? Practice some social distancing? Nope!
He uses the opportunity to practice some discipleship and he asks his disciple, Philip, what he thinks they should do about the hungry crowd (vss. 3 – 6).
Of course, Philip is only evaluating the situation through his physical capacity and he surmises that it would be very costly to feed such a large crowd (vs. 7).
If you know the infinite costliness of the cross looming in front of Jesus then this story takes on a different shape. Doesn’t it? If Jesus is willing and able to spend his life for sin-infected, lame, hungry, legalistic, entertainment infatuated people, then how much will the lack of money in the bank or food in the pantry, stop him from showing up in a miraculous way?
And in steps Andrew, Peter’s brother, with a really audacious solution; there’s a little boy with five loaves of bread and two fish; certainly this little offering won’t come anywhere close to satisfying the hunger in this crowd (vss. 7 – 9).
And the rest of the story is history as we say; Jesus blesses the small offering and then distributes it and miraculously everyone is satisfied with enough leftovers to feed many more people (vss. 10 – 13).
How would you respond if Jesus showed up in this miraculous way right now? Would you believe in him even more or would you be so satisfied that you would live like you don’t even need him?
How do the people respond to this sign? Well John tells us that the people get really excited and believe that Jesus is a great prophet so Jesus withdraws because the people start planning to make him into some kind of human political leader (vss. 14 – 15).
I absolutely love the fact that Jesus abandons the crowd because they are about to make him into their famed political leader. The people were completely ignorant of the fact that they believed that political change was going to bring about the satisfaction that their hungry hearts longed for.
They weren’t truly interested in having a Savior who would satisfy their every hunger. They were interested in electing an earthly king who could change their immediate circumstances.
Who could blame them? The Jews had been living under the oppressive rule of another nation since roughly the days of the Judges (1,000 years maybe?). Their nation was severely fractured. Even the religious crowd who claimed to follow God was severely divided.
They were starving for change in their nation so they mistakenly seek to make Jesus their political king. They failed to see that true contentment isn’t the result of physical food or earthly kings.
The Bread of Life has just nourished their stomachs miraculously. Surely this same Bread of Life could have satisfied the deepest longings of their souls as they learned to live on every word from the mouth of God (6:22 – 59).
I think the people in the crowd would have told you that they loved God and that they believed that Jesus would satisfy their hunger for national change if they could just get him into office.
The reality of this text is that Jesus is the only one who can satisfy our hunger eternally.
- What you are running to for satisfaction?
- What do you hunger for the most right now?
- Where are you aware of resistance to the things I’ve said today?
- Could it be that your deepest hunger exists in the same room as your deepest resistance?
- Does the implication that you may have at least a little religious hypocrite running around inside of you make you angry?
- Does it cause you to want to justify yourself? To get your lists out and start working your way through them?
- Is it possible that you’ve traded the Bread of Life for a circus attraction?
- Could it be that you’ve spiritualized your longings for national change to make your idols seem more palatable?
I admit that these are tough questions to wrestle with and if I’m honest I’m wrestling with them too. It’s hard to admit that my heart is more prone to legalism, attraction and physical results than it is to real transformation in the presence of Jesus.
It’s good for me to be reminded that Jesus is the only one who can satisfy my hunger eternally.
In conclusion we always ask why does this matter? Why does it matter that Jesus healed the lame man and fed a hungry crowd? I really don’t think the application of these stories is a real big secret.
I think we can all identify ways that we’ve bought into legalism (unless we are spiritually blind and lame). I don’t think it’s too hard to see some ways that we all seek to turn Jesus into our own personal circus attraction.
But what do we do with these realizations? I think we need to pick up our beds and take them home. I also think that we need to bring whatever small offering we have within ourselves and surrender to Jesus (for the very first time or for the gazillionth time).
The reality is that Jesus loves to see lame people run after him. And he loves to see starving people find their satisfaction in him. The place that lame people learn to walk and the place that starving people find fulfillment, is kneeled down at the foot of the cross, in the doorway of an empty tomb clinging to the promise of Heaven.
I really just don’t know how else to apply these stories to our lives today. If John’s gospel was “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have eternal life in his name” (Jn. 20:31) then I would be remiss if I were to invite you to a neat and tidy list of ways that you could please God or change the world. The only thing that I feel impressed to do is to invite you into the presence of Jesus who is our Healer and our Bread of life.
Will you join me in asking the Spirit to do work on your heart? The cross and the empty tomb and the promise of heaven isn’t just a cool slogan it’s the summary of the gospel that teaches us where every lame person, every blind person, every sick person, every lonely person, every ashamed person, every guilty person, every broken person, every tempted person, every legalistic person, every moralistic person, every rebellious person and every spiritually hungry person can find rest and renewal and satisfaction and healing and transformation.
Will you join me there? Will you find a place to kneel down before the Lord and ask him to do a work in your heart? Will you ask him to revive your heart? Will you ask him to deepen the hunger of your heart for more of him? Will you ask his forgiveness for ways that you have traded the power of the cross and the empty tomb and the promise of heaven for earthly kings and earthly things?
I pray that you would join me in humbling ourselves before the Lord who is our healer and our satisfier.