Work is Work

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Gospel of John 5:14-47

14 After this Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “Look, you have become well. Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you.” 15 The man went away and informed the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the one who had made him well. NET

This case involves a man who was unable to walk for thirty-eight years. Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk. When the Jewish leaders saw the man carrying his mat, they asked him, ‘Why are you carrying a load on the Sabbath?’ The man told me to. Who? What man?

Now we return to Jesus in the Temple. He sees the man and advises him to give up sinning. We moderns know that sin does not directly cause physical illness. We also know that alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and overeating can cause serious physical issues. Abuse of just about anything can cause problems. But is that sin?

It was not until the sixteenth century that medical professionals began to talk about causes without mentioning sin. In the mid-nineteenth century, doctors in German hospitals started talking about the Germ Theory. That theory became accepted by the beginning of the twentieth century in most of Europe. But only by the youngest doctors in the US. Sadly, the older US doctors did most of the treatments during the Great War, and too many men died needlessly.

Chrysostom about 390 CE made the standard statement on sin as a cause. But someone might ask, “Do all diseases proceed from sin?” Not all, but most do. Jesus did admonish his disciples once that sin had not caused a man’s illness because they all assumed sin caused all illness. It would be easy to say that Jesus believed that as well, except that God the Father was aware of bacterium and viruses.

John knew nothing of modern medicine, so wrote what he remembered happening some sixty years earlier. By now, we should have a strong sense that Jesus did what God directed him to do. God sent him to the pool of Bethesda to look for a specific man. When they meet again, the man learns the name of Jesus. Jesus also told him, Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you. John does not tell us why Jesus said that. But Jesus would know the state of the man’s relation to God. He would also know the cause of his condition, and it may have been the result of sin.

16 Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began persecuting him. 17 So he told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason the Jewish leaders were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God. NET

John spells out the issue about working on the Sabbath. The Jewish law is found in Exodus 20:10, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gatesNET Jeremiah 17:21-22 expands the law, at least in the minds of the leaders. 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gatesNET

Those two passages of scripture left room for improvement. The rabbis created a comprehensive list of what labor is. The Mishnah records many of the decisions over the centuries. Here are a few. A tailor should not go out carrying his needle near nightfall. A scribe should not go out with his pen. On the Sabbath, one should not search his clothes for fleas or read by the light of a lamp. They do not soak ink, dyestuffs, or vetches on Friday afternoon unless there is sufficient time for them to be fully soaked while it is still day.

No wonder Jesus was at odds with the leaders. Yes, Genesis records that God took the day off, yet nothing stopped; the sun and moon continued to rise and fall, rain came and went, animals needed feeding. Genesis 2:1-2. The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. JPS Torah

Jesus told the leaders that God is working today, and so am I. God does not stop loving on the Sabbath, nor does he ignore people’s suffering any more than we would ignore an animal that had slipped into icy water.

John records a lengthy speech by Jesus. John likely remembered many of the statements made by Jesus on that day. But he also came to understand them better in the intervening decades. What he records includes the meaning and the words of the Word.

19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. NET 

The Son can do nothing on his own. We should be clear; Jesus is not saying he is a robot. Unlike us, Jesus has an unbroken connection with God the Father. The Son would never do anything contrary to what the Father wished. Jesus does not have to be told ten times to take out the trash.

The next sentence, for whatever the Father does, tells us that God continues to work in the world even on Sabbath. William Barclay writes, Jesus teaches that human need must always be helped: that there is no greater task than to relieve someone’s pain and distress and that the Christian’s compassion must be like God’s—unceasing. Other work may be laid aside but the work of compassion never.

These two verses are part of John’s effort to maintain the new and changing Christian Church as a monotheistic religion. Near the end of his life, John wanted Jews and others to know that Jesus only claimed to be one with God, not a separate god. John’s Gospel did not solve the problem. It took the church more than three hundred years to once-and-for-all establish that God is present in three forms, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the Trinity. It was argued and debated until 381 CE when the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was adopted.

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. NET

Most Jews of the first century believed in life after earthly death. Only the Sadducees rejected the possibility. Passages such as Isaiah 26:19; the dry bones in Ezekiel 37; Job’s belief in a coming redeemer in Job 19:25-27; and Daniel 12:2 with multitudes rising from their graves. In Jesus’ day, the Jewish belief was that God alone would raise the dead.

At this point in the Gospel, John has not recorded Jesus raising anyone from the grave, so John has Jesus saying that he gives life. [Lazarus will come in chapter 11.] Based on verse 21, we could say Jesus never raised anyone from the dead, God alone did that. In fact, Jesus always gives credit to God the Father, except for judgment, as verse 22 clarifies.

Having read some of the Old Testament, I remember passages involving God’s judgment. Is Jesus saying that he alone judges, or is he saying that he will be the exclusive judge from now on?

God alone is the Judge in the Old Testament. Yet, the New Testament has passages in agreement. Hebrews 12. 22But you have come to Mount Zion, the city[a] of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly 23and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, NET

1 Peter 1. 17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. NET There are others.

In the Synoptics, there are numerous parables in which Jesus appears as a judge, although in some, God judges. [The word parable appears 23 times in Matthew, 23 in Luke, 15 in Mark, but only once in John.]

John alone has Jesus saying that God the Father has given the duty of judging to him. But he adds in 5:30 and 8:16-16 that Jesus’ judgment is because he does what the Father wants.

There is also a paradox in John’s reporting of Jesus as judge. In John 9:39 and 12:47, Jesus claims he came to save the world. That would seem to contradict the role of the judge. As with all other paradoxes involving Jesus—the lion and the lamb—he has both savior and judge. John will let both play out as we read on. Jesus offers everyone the chance to enter God’s presence and will judge those who enter and those who do not enter.

24 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming—and is now here—when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself, 27 and he has granted the Son authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. NET

In case we have forgotten, all that Jesus is saying is in response to the Jewish leaders accusing Jesus of violating the Law of Moses about carrying burdens on the Sabbath. The man holding the load—his bed—gets a free pass because they were after Jesus. They do not see him as the Messiah because they are too busy counting all the law violations.

The one keyword in verse 24 is, believes. Once we believe Jesus is who he says he is, all the rest will follow. There is a great deal that follows. Within a decade of the resurrection of Jesus, hundreds of house churches developed and shared a verbal instruction ‘kit’ for—as it was first called—The Training of the Lord Through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles. It is known today as the Didache—Did-ah-Kay. It is brief—2,190 words (in Greek) and is a step-by-step training manual. It could take weeks or months for a (non-Jewish) novice to learn what was necessary to be a true and faithful follower of Jesus the Messiah.

How ever we do it, we need to learn, learn, learn. The Jesus Way is not the easy way.

Jesus told the thief on the cross that his belief, his faith in Jesus, earned him entrance to Heaven. Faith first.

Those who hear will live. Jesus speaks of the dead hearing Jesus’ voice. They are believers in God and the Son of God and have not died but await the call. Those who turned against God will never hear the call. I like this image. Only those who have life can hear the Word.

In verse 27 Jesus adds a new wrinkle, authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. The Son of Man was a well-known image in Judaism of the day. They said the Son of Man is the Messiah. Jesus took Son of Man for himself. We find it 30 times in Matthew, 30 in  Luke, 16 in Mark, and 13 in John, nearly all spoken by Jesus about himself.

Just before that statement, Jesus did refer to the Son twice, suggesting the Son of God. If his listeners did not like that suggestion, he softened it with the more familiar Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation. 30 I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. NET

These verses give more detail on the judgment. Here, there is resurrection for both believers and non-believers. The non-believers are not going to be happy about theirs. See Daniel 12:2.

I do not seek my own will. We do not give enough credit to Jesus as the obedient Son. We tend to see him as wise, able to decide the right thing to do quickly. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to have God fully present in our every moment, never having to wonder if our choices are the right ones. Yet, that should be our natural state and will be after the resurrection.

How can we achieve the goal of doing God’s will every time? Again, from the Didache. Be gentle, long-suffering, merciful, harmless, clam, good, and trembling through all time at the words that you have heard. You will not exalt yourself; you will not give boldness to your soul, your soul will not be joined with the lofty, but with the just and the lowly you will dwell. [my paraphrase]

The (walking) dead are those who stop trying to do what God wants us to do. We die when we stop feeling sadness for those lost. We die when we stop thinking and asking questions, even asking God, Why?

31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies about me, and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true. 33 You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 (I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved.) 35 He was a lamp that was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice greatly for a short time in his light. NET

Jesus is now presenting his best case to ‘prove’ his innocence on the charge of violating the Law of Moses. First comes the testimony of the Baptizer. We will see later that Jesus will be taken to the Sanhedrin on charges even more severe than violating the Sabbath. Under Jewish law, at least two witnesses had to be presented with the same testimony to prove a charge against a person. Jesus says here that he is not testifying about himself; that would not be allowed in court.

36 “But I have a testimony greater than that from John. For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete—the deeds I am now doing—testify about me that the Father has sent me. NET

God the Father has given me tasks to complete, and those deeds witness to me as Messiah.

37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me. NET

The greatest witness of all is God. Where do we find his testimony? In the Scriptures.

You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, 38 nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent. 39 You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, 40 but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. 41 “I do not accept praise from people, 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe, if you accept praise from one another and don’t seek the praise that comes from the only God? 45 “Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?” NET

Jesus gave them four witnesses but knew they did not accept them. You are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. That brings us back to faith. We must believe first.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

Signs and Miracles

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Gospel of John 4:46-5:13

46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. NIV

You’ll remember from last week that as Jesus entered Galilee, people mobbed around him because they had seen and heard all he had done while in and near Jerusalem. They probably asked, ‘Where are you going?’ If so, he told them Cana. In a land with no other means of communication, word-of-mouth can be amazingly quick. The royal official likely heard the news before Jesus arrived in Cana.

The unnamed man would have been serving Tetrarch Herod Antipas. He was one of the sons of King Herod the Great. The Romans insisted that the three boys split up the kingdom when the old Herod died. Not long after that, the Romans moved Phillip out and brought in Roman governors, with Pilate in charge during Jesus’ ministry.

The Tetrarch’s capital was the town of Tiberias, located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, about halfway to the southern end. Capernaum is about ten miles to the north. This official would have been the power in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. Note; Tiberius served for a thousand years as the major city in the north for Jews and is still a vital city of eighty thousand today, and still called Tiberius.

You will recall that the walk between Capernaum and Cana is about sixteen miles, an easy day’s walk. Of course, the royal official had to walk uphill, about eleven hundred feet. The official would have had considerable power in his domain, but now he begged Jesus for help. That often happens when we think we may lose a child.

48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” ESV

Why did Jesus have the little outburst about signs? Remember that John stresses signs in place of the Synoptics miracles. In our study, they are almost interchangeable, except that a sign points to something else. Miracles are signs of God at work in the world, and Jesus, the conduit for the miracles.

It is tempting to say that wonder is just another word for miracles. That is, like signs, partly true. The Greek word is teras, meaning prodigy, omen, wonder. It seems that any of those words could fit here, but I agree with most English translations that wonder is the best choice.

The official is a powerful man and used to giving orders, but not in this situation. He calls Jesus basiilkos kurios, literally noble lord. Earlier, he was said to beg; now, he bluntly says ‘come.’ It could be an additional effort to curry favor, but it is more likely the typical speech of a politician, at least when he wants something.

In answer, Jesus says go. No comment about the man’s faith, but that may be because he was not fully Jewish. The family of Herod was Edomites from Arab roots. They lived in southeastern Juda and took the religion of Judaism. But Hebrews never accepted them as ‘real’ Jews.

Faith is implied in that if Jesus touched the child, healing would happen.

50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. ESV

The man believed and went. Understand that the official had no way of knowing if Jesus would carry through or not, but he started walking home. Jesus would have known the man’s state of faith, but he did not comment on it.

Some have taken this story to be the same as the Centurion in Matthew. It seems unlikely to me. Over three years, there could have been dozens of similar healings by long distance. In an age when the local herbalist was the best doctor around, people were always asking Jesus for his well-known healing touch.

The proof that Jesus healed the boy came as the official was a few miles down the road where he met some of his servants coming with the good news. When they compared times, it became clear that the boy was at once out of danger. Because the official lived in Capernaum, it would have been natural for him to tell Jesus, or at least his disciples, about the servants’ message when next they were in town.

Looking back at verse 45, some Galileans saw Jesus do signs in Judea, especially cleansing the Temple court. But the specific number of two signs would seem to refer to this healing and making water into wine; so two signs in Galilee. John has Jesus giving Nicodemus the Good News, then the sign of the wine, followed by the Good News for the Samaritan woman, capped with a healing sign.

1Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. NIV

Some time could mean days, weeks, months, or a year. A year is doubtful because that would put us back to the spring Passover. The Greek is heorte, meaning a feast. If Passover is intended, it will read, he heorte, which is not the case here. Jewish men attended Passover, Shavuot—Feast of Weeks, and Sukkoth—Tabernacles. I vote for this heorte to be Shavuot because it is fifty days after Passover. [Not really, because the count begins on the first Sabbath after Passover—forty-nine days, the next day is Shavuot. If Passover falls on a Sabbath, they wait seven days before they start counting.] People commonly called it Pentecost. Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth make up the Pilgrim feasts. The High Holidays are Rosh Hashanna—New Year, and Yom Kippur—Day of Atonement.

Unlike the Synoptics, John records several trips ‘up’ to Jerusalem. He is an old man, probably around eighty, as he writes this Gospel. Unlike most Christians alive in that final decade of the first century, John could remember attending those holy days and attending them with Jesus. He also remembered their significance, especially that of Pentecost.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. NIV

Neither the gate nor the pool locations are known for sure. The Sheep Gate is believed to have been used only to bring sheep into the Temple, but the location is unknown. The name of the pool is debated. The old manuscripts record Bethesda, Bethzatha, and Belzetha. Bethesda has been recognized for centuries as the best reading, and it is supported by recent archaeological work. But Bethzatha has many manuscripts and scholars supporting it. Only one script uses the third version, so it is not a contender.

Saint Anne’s Church, built by Christian Crusaders, seems to be the most likely site for the pool, though it does not sit on the pool. Archaeological digs have uncovered a double pool with five roofed colonnades near the church.

This one is longer with plenty of detail.

Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. NIV

Verse four is not found in the older manuscripts, so most modern translations do not include it, as here in the NIV. Here is how it reads in Phillips. (They used to wait there for the “moving of the water”, for at certain times an angel used to come down into the pool and disturb the water, and then the first person who stepped into the water after the disturbance would be healed of whatever he was suffering from.Phillips He did write it inside the parentheses.

The following verses have a good description of what people believed happened at the pool. The man waited all those years but could not move into the pool in time to be healed. Still, he kept coming back.

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” NIV

If the man had been there every day for thirty-eight years, he surely saw at least some people healed, or he would have stopped coming. Perhaps I should add that he had help getting there and back home, likely relatives.

If the answer to the question was in doubt, I would think the thirty-eight years would explain a strong will to be whole again. Remember that Jesus already knows the faith level of the man. His daily helpers dumped him and left, so they were not there when the water stirred.

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” NIV

‘Do you want to get well? Get up.’ Jesus has not forgotten it is Sabbath. He walked down the steps to the pool level and approached the man the Spirit pointed out. ‘You are healed. Take your mat with you.’ Apparently, Jesus and his followers leave as well.

What were all the other people thinking? Why did he not heal at least some of them? We cannot know the mind of God, but there was a plan, and Jesus stuck to it.

The leaders threatened the man with violating the law about carrying loads on Sabbath. Did they know he had been there all those years? Were they suspicious something evil was going on?

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. NIV

‘Jesus had slipped away.’ We do not know how the man came to be unable to walk. What we can know is that he was in his place at the pool because God intended for Jesus to both heal the man and use the incident to confront the religious leaders. They would prefer to punish a healed man for doing what he had not done in years so they could collect a gold star on their report cards. By the time we finish the conflict with the leaders, I think it will be apparent that the healing is an excuse for a greater Godly agenda.

We will take up the struggle next week.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence