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John 5(2a)

February 11th, 2018
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Last week we saw Jesus has healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. But he did it on the Sabbath day!

John 5;15-17

15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.

They were the guardians of the Sabbath. They had the authority over holy matters. They determined what is appropriate or not.

The Temple authorities they control what is holy or not suitable in coming before God. This can lead to being very right in the prescriptions of the faith and has the danger of making people secondary to the religious authority.

We can strain at gnats and swallow camels.

They were forgetting a man had been healed after 38 years of hopeless suffering. Oh but he could have waited until the next day! Jesus had told a man to pick up his mat and walk on the Sabbath. Don’t rejoice over the healing – look for the technicality he has broken.

Religion can distort our knowledge of God. The God of freely given grace becomes contractual. If you do this I do that. And so we live in fear of breaking some rule rather than seeing who God really is towards us.

You could think worship was about us. How well we do it. But it is about the God revealed in Jesus Christ. He is worthy of our praise and trust because of who he is.

The Sabbath was not primarily about how well people observe it. It was about God and what they are remembering about him. What did Jesus want people of his day to learn about God from the Sabbath?

Listen to his defence.

17 In his defence Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’

Lets reflect on the context of the discussion.

It is the Sabbath. As originally given it was to celebrate the end of God’s work of creation. That’s how it is stated in the 10 commandments in Exodus 20.

The Israelites rested like God after the 6 days of creation. What a blessing not to be a slave people working 24/7.
After the punishment of exile into Babylon the Jewish teachers constructed very elaborate rules about this rest. This was to make sure they didn’t become guilty again of breaking their covenant with God. They had a religious zeal for God, but without the knowledge what the whole thing was about. Their response to Jesus who was the very fulfillment of the law – its very purpose, showed this.

But there is another wording of the Sabbath command which we can overlooked in this story. It is how the Sabbath is restated before Israel entered the promised land

In Deuteronomy 5:15

15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

There are two major things here to think about.

The Sabbath here pictured God rescuing people from bondage. Thus Jesus argues from this idea of salvation work.

We have Jesus just seen rescuing an invalid of 38 years. This pictures salvation. He is rescued from what held him prisoner. He was powerless to save himself from his infirmity. But notice how Jesus warns him about sinning. This points to a greater healing. A greater deliverance. A greater rescue.

But Jesus is also making a very important point about his Father and himself and the work they are doing.

Genesis 2:1-2

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

So what is this other point Jesus is making?

My Father and I created a very good world, a paradise, and then we rested. Not that we were tired, but we stepped back as it were and enjoy the perfect display of our own glory revealed in our creative handiwork. That’s what Sabbath is for—the restful, focused, enjoyment of God and the beauty of his creation.

But then sin entered the world, and through sin came sickness and tragedy and death. And from that moment, my Father and I have been working again. We have been working—in many ways that you don’t understand—to restore a Sabbath paradise to the universe. We have been working to overcome sin and sickness and death.

Even your own law, which contains the Sabbath command, was part of our working to conquer sin and hold back the miseries of unrighteousness. It pointed you forward to a Messiah, a Saviour, who would come and perform the decisive acts of healing and change toward the new heavens and the new earth. The Sabbath was pointing to the rest we would have in this Messiah.

Jesus is saying “When I heal a man, and intentionally do it on the Sabbath, I am showing you something about myself. What was happening at the pool of Bethesda was that my Father and I were revealing the world that is coming. It is a world in which there will be no sickness and a world in which there will be no sin. My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

Isn’t that a wonderful thought. God’s work today is our salvation. The physical world is sustained but its is effectively completed with all the wisdom and freedom God gave it to function.

So when you look at the wonders that science keeps discovering, all of this was completed. The recent Australian of the year is working in quantum physics and seeking to apply this knowledge of how things work at this level to computers. But it is already there working. We don’t create this knowledge – we discover it and learn to work with it.

But Jesus is saying God didn’t retire. He didn’t just walk away from his creation to be no longer involved. His greatest and most difficult work was still to be done.

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Message for the Day

John5(1)

January 31st, 2018
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The historical setting of the story at the pool of Bethesda (House of Mercy) has been verified.

Until the discovery of the pool with five-roofed colonnades near the Sheep Gate (although everyone was looking for a pentagon shaped pool at first), many did not consider the Gospel of John to be historically reliable.

However, both pools mentioned in the Gospel of John have been identified – the Pool of Bethesda in John 5:2 and the Pool of Siloam in John 9:7.

The pool mentioned in this chapter turned out to have five colonnades (as described in the Gospel), but it was not structured as a pentagon. There were four colonnades separated in the middle by another one, thus forming the five colonnades just as the Gospel described.

John 5:1-3

1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.

Jesus is in Jerusalem again. We don’t know which festival. He makes a point to go to a pool where people with diseases and disabilities are waiting for healing.

It is possible that the pool of Bethesda was a Jewish religious ceremonial water cleansing facility, mikvah, associated with the Jerusalem Temple. But there are other interpretive options as well.

One other view is that this structure situated walking distance from the back then walls of the city of Jerusalem was a healing center dedicated to Greco-Roman god of well-being and health – Asclepius.

Devotion to Asclepius was well spread through the lands dominated by Roman Empire. There were more than 400 asclepeions (Asclepius-related facilities throughout empire), functioning as healing centers and dispensers of the god’s grace and mercy towards those in need).

Asclepius was the god of medicine and health in ancient Greek religion. The god’s mythical daughters, for example, included the goddesses Hygeia and Panacea. We can hear in their Greek names our modern words for “hygiene” and “panacea” – key concepts associated today with medicine and health. Snakes were a key attribute of Asclepius’s cult of health and healing. Even today, one of the key symbols of modern medicine is a stick with a snake around it.

If this is correct, it could change our understanding of what is happening here. You see it is possible that the blind, lame, and paralyzed were not waiting for Israel’s God to heal them; but rather for the merciful healing act of Asclepius.

Second century Christian apologist Justin Martyr mentions popular obsession with Asclepius among his contemporaries saying:

When the Devil brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ? (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew, 69).

In a statement attributed to the second century Jewish Sage Rabbi Akiva we read:

Once Akiva was asked to explain why persons afflicted with disease sometimes returned cured from a pilgrimage to the shrine of an idol, though it was surely powerless. (Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 55a).

Asclepius was also known not only for his healing and life-giving powers, but for this attitude of goodness for the people, which made him one of the most popular divinities in the Greco-Roman world.

Jerusalem was the centre for religious Jews in Jesus’ days, but it was also a headquarters for Hellenized ideals in Judea which was under strict Roman control with the Antonia Fortress dominating the northwestern end of the Temple Mount.

Pool of Bethesda/Asclepion (Jerusalem branch) could have been a part of Hellenization of Jerusalem along with several other important projects such as Roman theatre, Roman sports complex, Roman baths.

It is probably referring to such Hellenization of Jerusalem that Qumranites devotees, authoring their commentary on Prophet Nahum wrote: “Where is the lion’s den, the cave of the young lions? (Nah.2:12b) The interpretation of this concerns Jerusalem, which had become a dwelling for the wicked ones of the Gentiles… (4QpNah).”

In that case, the pool of Bethesda (house of mercy in Hebrew) does not have to be a Jewish site at all, but rather a Greek Asclepion-affiliated facility.

It is interesting to notice that in this particular healing Jesus does not command the one he healed to wash himself in the pool (pool of Bethesda), while he does issue a direct command to go and wash at the pool of Siloam when it comes to the healing of the blind man (John 9:6-7).

This may be due to the pool of Bethesda being a pagan place (Asclepion), while the pool of Siloam was connected with Jerusalem Temple.

In  NIV, ESV, NASB there is no waiting for the waters to be stirred by an angel of the Lord.

But it’s there in the old Authorized King James version.

4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.

Why is it missing? The answer is that it’s not there in the oldest and best manuscripts.

There are thousands of Greek manuscripts or fragments of Greek manuscripts and the way we arrive at our amazingly reliable Greek and Hebrew and English versions is that these texts are compared with each other in painstaking and complex ways so that when some manuscripts have different wording, we can tell almost all the time which is original.

And in the few places where we can’t, there is no significant historical or doctrinal issue at stake.

Here it seems that somewhere along the way, a copyist drew a marginal note of explanation into the actual text. Verse 7 begs for an explanation. It says, “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.’”

It seems like only a few were healed (or maybe only one), when the water was “stirred up,” and if you were too slow, you missed out.

So verse 4 was an attempt to make sense out of verse 7 where the man says he can’t get to the pool in time.

Since it’s missing from the earliest manuscripts and has other marks of being added later, the more recent versions omit it so that we have a version that is as close to the original as possible. How the pool worked is not essential to the story.

The fact that Jesus worked is essential to the story.

John5:5-14

5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

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Message for the Day

Introduction to John5

January 30th, 2018
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A new series on John Chapter 5.

In Chapter 4 Jesus was in Jerusalem, then Samaria and returned to Galilee.

In Chapter 5

In first section: Jesus is in Jerusalem again, and he makes a point to go to the pool of Bethesda: where people with diseases and disabilities wait for the troubling of the waters, because it is believed that healings happen in this pool. Jesus walks in among this crowd of people.

Next Section: Jesus gives his first major public teaching, a keynote address (5:19-30), which is followed by a series of confirming witnesses (5:31-40) to him. His relationship to his Father is at the centre of this.

The chapter concludes with Jesus’ condemning accusation against his opponents (5:41-47).

The conflict that starts at that point will continue throughout John as the light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness fails to grasp it.

So it is a pivotal chapter – a turning point.

Some questions to reflect on in John5:

Why did Jesus ask “Do you want to get well or be healed?’

Why would Jesus do this unnecessary healing on the Sabbath day, thus provoking the Jewish temple leadership?

Why did Jesus say stop sinning?

What is the meaning of the Father and Son working on the Sabbath?

Who does Jesus claim he is?

What is important about understanding ‘‘I do not accept glory from human beings” in having true belief in Jesus?

These are some of the issues that come up in John 5 which we will explore over time.

Message for the Day