The Sixteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
You would imagine that if someone who had been lame (and an invalid) for thirty-eight years was miraculously healed, there would be great rejoicing. You might also imagine that the man who was healed, as well as those who witnessed the healing, would be praising God for his mercy and compassion. Yet when Jesus heals such a man in Jerusalem, the man directs those persecuting Jesus (the Jewish religious leadership) where to find him, and says not a word in gratitude or thanksgiving for all that God had done. And then those who witness their own Messiah healing the sick as a sign that the long-expected messianic age was now underway, accuse Jesus of being a law-breaker for healing this man on the Sabbath. But such a sad state of affairs is what we find in our text. Human sin is not only the root cause of all our sickness and suffering, but such sin blinds us to the grace of God and causes us to hold fast to our own humanly devised traditions and self-righteous judgments. Here we begin to see what Jesus meant when he said people love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil.
We are continuing our series on the Gospel of John and we have made our way as far as John 5. The scene now shifts from Galilee back to Jerusalem when Jesus returns the city to celebrate a feast of the Jews. Although Jesus was not truly honored by the Galileans while in Galilee (they did not truly understand who he was, nor what he came to do) nevertheless, they gladly welcomed back the miracle-worker who had created such a stir through his signs and wonders in Jerusalem and in Galilee. Jesus was Israel’s Messiah who came to usher in a new age of salvation from the guilt and power of sin–the signs and wonders were proof. But the Jews throughout Judea and Galilee, it seems, were not concerned with the question as to whether or not Jesus might be the long-expected Messiah. As we have seen, to this point in John’s Gospel, the Jews do not seem very concerned with the reality that human sin was the reason for the diseases and demons which plagued them. They cannot see beyond the effect to the cause.
As the knowledge of Jesus’ miracles spread throughout both the Galilee and Judea, so too did the size of the crowds who followed him, as well as the scrutiny of his ministry by the Jewish religious leadership. This becomes clear as we look at the structure of these early chapters of John, where we see two important things beginning to emerge. The first thing to notice is that Jesus performs signs and wonders to confirm his identity as Israel’s Messiah and the Son of God, who, as his miracles attest, is that one promised throughout the Old Testament. Jesus does not perform signs and wonders to create faith or attract crowds–although, we have seen, large numbers of people begin following Jesus for all the wrong reasons. The miracles confirm faith and the truth of the word our Lord preaches. Yet, those who are in need seek Jesus because they are desperate, not because they care about Jesus’ true identity.
Although Jesus has performed many miracles which are not reported, John has recounted three of these miraculous signs so far, two in Galilee (Jesus turning water into wine in Cana, and Jesus healing the Galilean official’s son) and one in Jerusalem (when Jesus cleansed the temple). In John 5, John recounts a fourth sign–the healing of a lame man in Jerusalem. All told, there will be seven of these signs in John’s Gospel, symbolic of Jesus’ entire messianic mission and only representative of the large number of miracles which Jesus performed, and which John says cannot be counted.
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