Some of you might remember the Monty Python skit about the four Yorkshire men. All trying to out-do each other about how MISERABLE their life was growing up.
It finishes like this;
You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down t’ mill, fourteen hours a day, week-in week-out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home our Dad would thrash us to sleep wi’ his belt.
Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at six o’clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of ‘ot gravel, work twenty hour day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would thrash us to sleep with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!
Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to ‘ave to get up out of shoebox at twelve o’clock at night and lick road clean wit’ tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife.
Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.
And you try and tell the young people of today that ….. they won’t believe you.
Things could be WORSE.
Today we meet a man with PLENTY to complain about. He hadn’t been able to walk for 38 years. Bad enough TODAY – with cars and wheelchairs and social security. But in those days it would have been terrible.
But things could always be WORSE.
But what could possibly be WORSE than 38 years as an invalid? I suppose there’s an obvious answer. 39 years.
And yet there IS something. I’ll tell you what’s worse than 38 years as an invalid. It’s spending “who knows HOW many” of those 38 years, holding out hope for a healing that’s JUST BEYOND YOUR REACH. The tantalising expectation of a cure. So close you can almost taste it and smell it. But missing out every time.
It’s perhaps the worst kind of . Starting every day with the hope “Perhaps TODAY will be the day”. But having your hopes dashed again and again. Your plans frustrated. Your expectations disappointed. And becoming more and more cynical and bitter and resigned every day.
THAT’S what’s even WORSE than 38 years an invalid. And it’s what the guy who meets Jesus has already put up with.
What could be worse than that? Maybe you’ve suffered yourself. Maybe watched people who’ve suffered. And you ask yourself what could be worse than that?
It’s the same sort of pain the long-term unemployed put up with. Application after application. Interview after interview. And every one finishes the same way – thanks, but no thanks. And in the end, they just stop trying. Because at least you don’t feel like you’re getting kicked in the face every day.
Or childless trying fertility treatment. Each attempt builds up their hopes. Perhaps it will be THIS time. So much emotional energy gets spent. And every failed attempt is such a tremendous let-down that it takes huge courage and determination to try again. To risk being DISAPPOINTED again.
What could be WORSE than THAT sort of frustration? Well, there IS something. And that’s what Jesus is warning about in John chapter 5. It’s hard to imagine. But, if we stop to think about it, the words of Jesus from verse 14 should send a chill down our spine – He says to the man he’s just healed. “Stop sinning… or SOMETHING WORSE may happen to you!”
We’re picking up the story at the start of chapter 5, you’ll see Jesus is back up in Jerusalem; for another feast of the Jews.
It’s the Sabbath day. And John tells us that Jesus is in the corner of Jerusalem that’s kind of like the sale yards. It’s near the sheep gate; probably the gate in the city wall where all the ANIMALS come in.
And just up from the Sheep Gate there’s a pool. A sort of MINERAL SPA… with legendary healing powers. A bit like the hot pools at Moree in Northern NSW. Or the mud pools in Rotorua, NZ.
And the Pool of Bethesda has got the same sort of reputation. Bethesda means house of mercy. And there are dozens of invalids hanging around it. Desperate for some mercy.
And in v4 you’ll see the explanation. … Can you find it? You’ll need to look in the small print at the bottom of your page, there’s a note that an early scribe added in the column of the manuscript a of hundred years later. He says every now and then the waters would move. Because, he says, an angel would stir the waters. And the legend was that the first one in after the water bubbled up would be healed. That was the legend.
And you can imagine, it only adds to sense of desperation. Because if you spot the start of a few bubbles, it was EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF. Trying to be first in the pool.
And there, in the middle of this crowd of blind and lame and paralytics, Jesus locks eyes with one of them. Verse 5. “One was there who had been an invalid… for 38 years.” Now they reckon waiting times in NSW Public Hospitals are bad. But this is A LIFETIME.
If there’s anyone who needed some mercy at the HOUSE of MERCY. This guy’s IT! And when Jesus saw him lying there and learned how long he’d been there, he asks him what seems like an obvious question.
Maybe it isn’t. Maybe the guy’s totally given up. Maybe he’s in that cynical frame of mind where the only fun he’s got any more is COMPLAINING. Or watching all the other poor suckers trying to get down into the water. After all, he hasn’t got a friend in the world who can help him get there first.
In fact, as you read the rest of the chapter, you get the feeling this is not a pleasant man. And yet out of all of them, he’s the one Jesus chooses.
So verse 6. Here’s the obvious question Jesus asks him “Do you WANT to get well?”
And the invalid, you’ll notice, doesn’t actually say yes. Perhaps he thinks he IS answering the question. “What do YOU reckon? What do you think I’m sitting HERE every day for? Every day for 38 years.
He says, “I’ve got no one to help me.” He says, “When the waters are stirred up, you’ve got to be first in the pool. And I’ve got no one to help me in when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
I WANT to be first. I WANT to be healed. But I can’t GET there.
Now can you imagine how FRUSTRATING that is?. You’re convinced that these are the waters of life. You’re convinced that this pool is the answer to your problems. But without help, you can’t even get in. And in the pounding crush of sick bodies to be first in the water, day after day, you’re always stepped over, or walked on, or shoved out of the way by someone stronger. Or someone with friends.
Perhaps you know people like that. People who need healing. But they just can’t FIND it. They’re doing the rounds – from one counsellor to another. One specialist to another. One treatment, or one set of medications. But never any solutions.
Or perhaps it’s a SPIRITUAL illness. Taste-testing every form of religion, or self-help book, or New Age mumbo-jumbo. Just looking for some PEACE, some PURPOSE. And never FINDING it.
And it’s the same with this invalid. Perhaps he thinks Jesus is offering to HELP. “Do you want to get well? I’ll give you a HAND” Sure, just hang around then throw me in! he says.
But, instead, look at Jesus’ reply. Verse 8. And let me give you the literal words Jesus speaks. He says “Rise! Pick up your mat and walk.”
Now will you hold in your mind a few minutes that the word he says there, the command he gives, it’s literally RISE UP. Which we’ll see shortly is a loaded kind of word.
And at once, says verse 9, in an instant; after waiting in futility for 38 years.
“At once, the man was cured. He picked up his mat. And walked”.
No bubbles. No dragging himself across the hard stones. No getting wet. No more waiting. No more frustration.
Not the end of the story
Now you’ll notice, that’s not the end of the story. In fact, in a way it’s just THE START. Because there’s trouble brewing.
You see, it’s THE SABBATH. And according to the Pharisee’s rules for the Sabbath Day, it’s a day for resting. And the rules for resting are clearly set down in Subsection 27 paragraph 14 clause b in the Pharisee’s Religious Rule Book.
Rules like, if you have to pick something up on the Sabbath Day, you’re not allowed to lift it above shoulder height. Rules like, you’re allowed to carry things INSIDE your home on the Sabbath; but not OUTSIDE.
And so when the Jews see this guy who’s been healed after 38 years as an invalid, and he’s walking and carrying his bed roll, they don’t say to him, that’s great news you’ve been HEALED. They say, what do you think you’re doing CARRYING YOUR BED ON THE SABBATH. That’s covered by the furniture removal clause 105.C. They say, “It’s the sabbath. The law forbids you to carry your mat.”
And the guy says, “The man who made me well told me to do it. It’s his fault. He said, Pick up your mat and walk.
So they ask him, who? Who is this fellow who told you to break the sabbath law… who told you to pick it up and walk?
And notice the incredible thing – they’re focusing on the fact he’s picked something up on the sabbath. When for the last 38 years he hasn’t been able to pick up anything at all.
But the guy who’s been healed has no idea who Jesus was in the first place. Jesus has slipped away in the crowd. Gone.
Things could be worse
But a bit later Jesus finds him in the temple and speaks to him. Those odd words we saw before. “See… you’re well again. Stop sinning. Or SOMETHING WORSE may happen to you.”
Now I wonder. What could possibly be worse than what he’s been through already? It’s like Jesus is saying, if he doesn’t stop sinning, if he doesn’t REPENT, he’s heading for a WORSE fate than what he’s been living with for the last 38 years.
They’re scary words. That there’s something worse than the suffering we experience in THIS LIFE. And they fly in the face of a comment I’ve heard at non-Christian funerals. I’ll often hear this sort of comment about the person who’s died. “They were really SUFFERING at the end. But at least they’re AT PEACE now. They’re suffering IS OVER”
And, so, the headstone reads. Rest in PEACE. Often, more out of wishful thinking than any confident assertion!
You wish they could have been given a warning like the one JESUS gives before it was too late.
The problem is/ if I know the person in the coffin wasn’t a Christian – wasn’t someone who looked to Jesus as the one who could bring them forgiveness and eternal life – then what they’re hoping for/ just ISN’T TRUE. And the person may very well be experiencing SOMETHING WORSE. (Not that I ever SAY that).
It’s a terrible thought. But Jesus is hinting at it. Stop sinning. Lest you find you’re facing something far worse. Because as he goes on to say in the rest of the chapter, JUDGEMENT IS COMING.
Equal, but not the same
Judgement. It’s one of the TWO jobs Jesus has been given by his FATHER to do. That’s the BAD news. But the GOOD news is Jesus’ OTHER job – giving LIFE to people.
The logic’s a bit hard to follow. But work hard to stay with me. It’s all to do with the relationship between Jesus and his Father. That they’re EQUAL, but not THE SAME.
And it all begins with this discussion of what you can do on the SABBATH.
The man who’s been healed, verse 15, goes away, and dobs Jesus in. “It was him. Jesus of Nazareth. Who told me to break the sabbath rules”.
And so the Jews lock onto their target. And begin to persecute him; and they want to see him .
And Jesus inflames things even more. He says the words you can see in verse 17. “MY FATHER is always at his work to this very day. And I too am working.”
It was an age-old argument. Back in Genesis, God rested on the seventh day from all his work of creating. But did that mean he rested on EVERY OTHER SABBATH? I mean, does God stops sustaining his world just because it’s a Saturday? The earth still keeps moving. The sun keeps shining. We all keep breathing. All because God’s still on the job.
And Jesus AGREES. My FATHER keeps working on the Sabbath. And SO DO I. Because I’m my Father’s SON. Like father, like son. You do the job you’re father did. You learned the trade. And SO DID I.
Which just makes the Jews even MORE angry. Verse 18, from this point they’re determined to kill him. Notice he doesn’t say our Father. He says my Father. And that’s got right up their noses. It’s making himself EQUAL with God.
Which, funnily enough, is something they get RIGHT. Jesus IS EQUAL with God. But not THE SAME. Which he goes on to EXPLAIN.
Pick it up in verse 21. And think back to the words of Jesus we looked at before. The word I said was worth remembering. He says
“Just as the Father RAISES the and gives them life, even so the son gives life to whom he pleases to give it.”
The FATHER raises. Jesus literally says to the guy back in verse 8 the same word. RISE UP. Just as the father is the source of life; Jesus is doing the same.
Dabbling with it at the moment. Raising LAME men not ones. But working up to the BIG one when the comes to the tomb of his friend Lazarus in chapter 11. And even bigger. When he’s crucified. And is raised. Himself.
Here is the one who does what the father does. Who SAYS what the father SAYS. Who shows God to us in a way we can see and touch and hear and understand. So that knowing God isn’t just a matter of guesswork any more.
I mean, what do you say to someone who says, well, your idea of God is just as valid as my idea of God and we can just imagine God to be whatever we like?
I spoke to a woman just the other day. “I like to think that god’s inside each one of us”. It’s what SHE LIKES TO THINK. But that doesn’t make it RIGHT.
But Jesus says, I’LL SHOW YOU WHAT GOD IS LIKE. He’s the one who raises up hopeless cases. Who gives life to the . He’s the one you see… when you look at me.
And so if you don’t honour THE SON, he says to them in verse 23, then you’re not honouring THE FATHER WHO SENT HIM.
Which has got something significant to say in our politically correct world hasn’t it? Where it’s okay to talk about God generically. Everyone’s IDEA about “God”. But it’s not okay to talk about Jesus.
Seventh Heaven was a syrupy sweet American TV show about a minister and his large family. Supposed to be Christian – but you never heard the name of Jesus mentioned. It was always about GOD. In fact, one of the daughters even married into a JEWISH family. And it was all apparently ALRIGHT.
Which Jesus would have been FURIOUS about. “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.”
And where the rubber hits the road is there in v24. This is way more important than some comparative religions question. Eternal Life or judgment DEPEND on it. V24.
24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent ME HAS ETERNAL LIFE and will not be CONDEMNED; he has crossed over from to life.
Or a bit further down in v28. Same two options. Life or judgment.
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out-those who have done good will rise to LIVE, and those who have done evil will rise to be CONDEMNED.
Read verse 24 again. Because it’s the heart of the gospel. The good news. The BAD news is, God’s judgement is coming. The GOOD news is, Jesus says whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me… no matter how spiritually sick or weak… no matter how badly you’ve performed… no matter how helpless or for how long… whoever HEARS MY WORD and BELIEVES HIM WHO SENT ME… has eternal life… and will not be condemned. He has crossed over from to life… already!
Which is why the Christian can live life… without any fear of God’s coming judgement. Not because of how good we’ve been. But because of how SAVED we’ve been. Judgement is just as real for Christians – it’s still coming … but we’re offered a pardon already. Because we’ve honoured the one who brings the words of life. And is ultimately, as we keep reading, going to pay our penalty himself.
So what could be worse? What could be worse than 38 years disabled? However many years frustrated that you can’t even get in the pool that everyone says will give life?
You think things are bad because you don’t have a job. Or your kids are sick. Or your husband or wife ignores you. Or the roof leaks and there’s no money to fix it. Or you’re in constant pain. You might think things are about as BAD AS IT CAN GET. But you’re WRONG.
What would be WORSE/ would be not putting your faith in Jesus. And on the last day finding yourself CONDEMNED because of that? What would be worse would be hearing about Jesus. And just kind of ignoring it. Letting it wash over you. And keeping on in your sin exactly the way you always have before.
What would be worse than an eternity separated from anything good? What would be worse would be on the last day standing before Jesus, not having listened to his voice and repented and put your faith in the one who raises people to LIFE?