Jesus Challenges Our Beliefs
1 March 2015
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
I don’t know if you realize it, but there are people out there who want to challenge your beliefs. Many don’t like your beliefs and they want you to question those beliefs, find those beliefs to be built on a rickety foundation, and then for you to toss those beliefs.
Jessica grew up in a Christian home and simply adopted her parents’ beliefs. As a girl, she believed what they believed. She happily answered questions like: Is there a God? What is He like? Is there life after death? Kids generally start out by accepting their parents’ beliefs. But there came a time in Jessica’s life when those beliefs were challenged. She had to ask herself, do I really believe all this? No one should be surprised. Being challenged is normal. What matters is whether you rise to the challenge or let the world and the devil erode your foundation and take away your godly beliefs.
It might surprise you that Jesus also challenges our beliefs. Jesus will challenge Martha while her brother Lazarus is still dead. Jesus will say a pretty amazing thing about Himself and will ask her, “Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:26). But Jesus’ challenge has an entirely different purpose. He wants us to discover which of our beliefs are truly taught in Scripture and then to stand firm on them. Then, He wants us to put them to good use as we make our way through this tricky and difficult life.
What happens throughout the Christian life is that God challenges our beliefs. He brings us through valleys that give our faith a good shaking. He is asking us if we really believe what we believe. And then if we really believe it, do we make good use of what we believe to steer us safely through life. This doesn’t only occur in our trials. Sometimes we are faced with very pleasant options. Again, God challenges our faith. Why do we choose what we choose? Do we choose this option over another because we believe it will please God? Will we choose rightly?
The world and the devil challenge us in order to tear us down. Jesus challenges us in order to build us up. Over the next several lessons in John 5, we’ll get to see how Jesus’ challenge can give our faith a good shaking, but how that challenge should leave us with a more solid foundation.
Here is what we’re going to look at this morning: Jesus heals on the Sabbath to challenge His people’s belief about God. That is, Jesus heals on the Sabbath because He is God.
You see, a right understanding of God is required if we are going to rightly accept the Gospel. In each period of history, God revealed more and more about Himself and He required that people believe it. In the present age, Messiah has revealed Himself and He is Jesus, the Son of God. People absolutely must believe that if they are going to be saved. Notice…
I. Jesus challenged a disabled man’s beliefs through an exercise of power (John 5:1-9, John 5:11, John 5:14-15).
John takes this opportunity to interrupt Jesus’ Galilean ministry to share an important episode that happened in Jerusalem during one of the feasts. Over his many years of ministry, John had learned that God brings events and circumstances in our lives—pleasant and unpleasant—to challenge our beliefs, strengthen our faith and teach us to choose rightly. God conforms us to the image of His Son. God works all things—bad and good—to accomplish good things in us (Rom 8:28-29).
North of the temple, near the sheep gate of the temple complex, was a pool called Bethesda (house of mercy). A portico is a covered walk area. The roof is supported by columns and so it is often called a colonnade. This pool was actually two pools next to each other and resembled one long pool. It had a covered walk area along each of the four sides, and one that went in between the two pools. With five porticoes, there was ample room for many disabled people to gather.
It is truly sad to picture the number of disabled people gathered here daily. They have no real hope. You may have noticed that part of v. 3 and all of v. 4 are either in brackets or are in a footnote. This is because these words are not found in the earliest manuscripts. They may have been inserted to explain why the people regularly gathered here. We don’t know if the people of Jesus’ day believed this or not. And Scripture nowhere suggests healing provided in this way—a sort of cruel contest for disabled people. But in their hopeless condition, people will believe nearly anything.
Jesus selected a man who had been disabled for 38 years. John doesn’t tell us what the man’s disability was but it slowed him down when trying to get into the waters. His situation was hopeless. Jesus knew that this man had been in this situation for a long time.
Why does Jesus ask this man if he wants to get well? Isn’t that obvious? I think Jesus wanted to bring the man’s hopeless situation to the front of his mind. Then Jesus will provide the help he needed. What a picture of sinners! Jesus helps us to see our hopelessness then provides the salvation that we need! John shows us how effective Jesus’ word was. Immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk. Muscles that hadn’t been used for many years were completely restored and strong.
Later, in John 5:14, Jesus sought out the man and found him in the temple area. Jesus’ command to this man was, do not sin anymore (do not continue sinning). First we should point out that not all sickness is caused by specific sins (Jn 9:1-3). But a natural reading of the text here suggests that this man’s illness was indeed due to his sin. Scripture does connect sickness and death with specific sins at times (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor 11:30; 1 Jn 5:16). Jesus wanted the man to realize that the condition of his soul was far more important than the condition of his body. The something worse probably refers to eternal judgment. If the man doesn’t repent of his sin, he will perish forever.
Let’s talk for a minute about this man’s responses. When Jesus asked if he wanted to be made well, he didn’t reply, ‘Yes’. Instead, he complains about how no one will help him and others selfishly outrun him to the pool. There is also no sign of gratitude for Jesus’ kindness. He could only see the trouble that Jesus got him in. And as soon as he finds out Jesus’ name, he took that information to the authorities, probably to get them off of his back. What little we know about this man is that he was a complainer, ungrateful and only concerned about saving his own skin. Leon Morris writes, “The man who had been healed seems to have been an unpleasant creature” (p. 307)! Like His Father, Jesus is good even to ungrateful people.
II. Jesus challenged the religious leaders’ beliefs through an exercise of authority (John 5:10-16).
Jesus saw that this would come to the attention of the religious leaders in order to challenge them too. He could have told the man to leave his pallet there until the next day. But He commanded the man to pick it up and carry it now. The Mosaic Law had forbid working on the Sabbath. Jesus taught in Mark 2:27 that the Sabbath was made for man’s sake. Jesus’ theology of the Sabbath differed sharply from His opponents. God gave the Sabbath for man’s benefit.
But religious teachers through the years added many more laws to this and made it complicated and put a great burden on the people. Ex 20:8, 10 forbids work on the Sabbath. What constitutes ‘work’? ‘Work’ refers to a person’s normal employment (confirmed by Neh 13:15; Jer 17:19-27). But the rabbis came up with thirty-nine classes of work! One of those involved carrying something from one place to another unless you were carrying a paralytic. But a healed paralytic couldn’t carry his own mat home! Rather than viewing Sabbath rest as pointing to salvation rest—resting from attempts to earn salvation—they turned it into a day of strict moral work to earn salvation (Heb 4:1-10)!
There’s a touch of irony here. After hearing about a wonderful healing, the RELIGIOUS leaders only care about their rules! Their misunderstanding stood in the way of people ever finding true salvation rest. The doctrine of the Sabbath rest is essential to Jesus’ Gospel. Salvation has always been by faith alone. Faith is resting in Jesus’ work on our behalf (Heb 11).
III. John challenges the beliefs of his readers with two truths about Jesus (John 5:17-18).
In v. 17 John mentions that Jesus answered them. That is, He gave a defense to His accusers as to why He was performing good works on the Sabbath. Even though God rested on the seventh day after Creation, Jesus pointed out that His Father has been continually working—even on the Sabbath. God sustains the universe by exerting His power all day every day. So, it is not wrong for God’s Son to do works of mercy on the Sabbath or to tell a healed man to carry his bed home.
Jesus referred to God as My Father rather than the more common “our Father.” Jews would not say “my Father” unless followed by something like “in heaven” to prevent familiarity. But Jesus claimed: 1) the closest possible relationship to God the Father; 2) that God was His Father in a special sense; 3) as Son, He claimed to be of the same nature as the Father; 4) He claimed equality with God the Father. His opponents didn’t miss any of this. This was a definite claim to deity.
In their mind, if Jesus was equal with His Father, He would be the same as the Father. Or maybe He claimed there were two Gods. They didn’t understand how God could be three persons but still only one God. God the Father and God the Son can share the same nature but still be distinct persons.
While this sign points to Jesus as the Messiah (Isa 35:5-6), it does much more. It also identifies Jesus as God. Jesus used this miracle to set up a discourse in which He identifies Himself as the unique Son of God, and therefore divine. Jesus rightly clashes with men’s corruption of His Law regarding the Sabbath. They had lost sight of His original intent. By getting the Sabbath wrong, they would get salvation wrong. And they would fail to recognize the Savior. This was an important miracle.
If you follow Jesus, do you have a rickety foundation or a rock solid one? When you share the Gospel, do you challenge the rickety foundations of the lost person? Jesus has the authority to correct us and instruct us. Let us learn how to stand firm on His truth. Let us learn how to call others to that One who Himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life.