In the movie Braveheart, Mel Gibson plays the Scottish hero William Wallace. William Wallace is fighting for Scottish independence from England. In one memorable scene before a battle, William Wallace rides out to meet the English captains. When asked where he was going, he replied: “I’m going to pick a fight.” As Chapter 5 begins, Jesus arrives back in Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews to pick a fight. At this feast, Jesus begins having major conflicts with Jewish leaders over His identity and His works. The Jewish leaders see Jesus (primarily His signs and teaching) as a problem. They begin to persecute Him and seek to kill Him for what they believe to be blasphemy. The first conflict arises because Jesus intentionally healed a man who had been sick for 38 years on the Sabbath and told them He did so because He is equal with the Father.
The Sign: Healing of the Sick Man (5:1-9)
Jesus found this man at the sheep gate of Jerusalem by a pool called Bethesda. The man was at this location because he believed that an angel would stir up the water and whoever went into the water first after the stirring would be made well. This sick man was lying by the pool when Jesus asked, “Do you wish to get well?” (5:6). The man replied, “I have no man to put me into the pool” (5:7). Jesus replied, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (5:9). This sign revealed that Jesus is the Son of God who is able to heal those who are physically disabled. The man picked up his pallet and walked.
The Significance: Who Do You Think You Are?
Rather than rejoicing that the sick man was made well, the Jewish leaders rebuke the man and Jesus for supposedly violating the Sabbath.
Jews’ 1st Complaint: You Can’t Work on the Sabbath (5:10-16)
The Jews saw this man carrying his pallet and rebuked him for working on the Sabbath. They believed carrying furniture like this was a violation of the fourth commandment (5:10). The man didn’t know who healed him at first but later found out it was Jesus. He told the Jews that it was Jesus who healed him and the Jews began persecuting Jesus (5:16).
Jesus’ 1st Rebuttal: The Son Works like His Father (5:17)
Jesus answered the first complaint by saying that since He is equal to God, He can work. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17). Jesus is speaking of God as His Father and that He has a closer relationship than the average person.
Jews’ 2nd Complaint: You Can’t Make Yourself Equal with God (5:18)
Jesus says that He can work on the Sabbath because His Father is working on the Sabbath. This caused the Jewish leaders’ heads to explode. At first they didn’t like that Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, now they are furious because they believe Jesus is guilty of blasphemy. John 5:18 says, “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (5:18).
Jesus’ 2nd Rebuttal: The Son is Equal to His Father (5:19-30)
Jesus answered the second complaint by teaching He is doing what God the Father wants Him to do. Father grants the Son (Jesus) ability to do His works (5:20), raise the dead (5:25), and Judge (5:27). The Father has also determined that the Son will receive the same honor as the Father (5:23). In order to further make His case, Jesus gives five (5) witnesses to verify His identity as the Christ, the Son of God:
- Jesus. “If I alone testify about Myself…” (31). His own testimony is valid because He is the Christ. However, in order to uphold the Law, He called upon at least two or more other witnesses (Deut 19) to testify.
- John the Baptist. “You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth” (5:33). John clearly spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
- Jesus’ Works. “But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish–the very works that I do–testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me” (5:36). As Nicodemus testified in John 3:2 “We know you are from God because of the signs You perform.”
- God the Father. “And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me” (5:37). The Father said, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” (Luke 9:7).
- The Scriptures. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (5:39). “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words” (5:46-47). The Scriptures testify of Jesus as the Christ.
What should we learn from this important chapter?
Legalism is not Obedience
As Christians, we must remember that legalism is not obedience. The conflict arose because the Pharisees were legalists. They claimed to love God but hated Jesus. The legalist obeys rules in order to earn the praise of others; not because they love God. Psalm 119:24 says, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” Ask yourself why you serve God. Are you an obedient servant who loves the Lord and His commands or are you simply following a rigid set of rules to be marked off a list? If you are simply following a rigid set of rules: prayer will be boring, church will be a chore, and Christ will remain a stranger to you. Hear the words of Jesus: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt 12:7).
Jesus is Worthy of Divine Honor
Jesus is worthy of divine honor because He works as the Father directs. Jesus said, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (5:23).
Jesus Works with Divine Power
Jesus works with divine power because He has the power to do what He sees the Father doing. Jesus said, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (5:19).
Jesus Works with Divine Favor
Jesus works with divine favor because He is loved by the Father. Jesus said, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel” (5:20).
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